How does Freemasonry make good men better?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce


I was just a little over halfway into my 40-minute run. I have been training to run my first 10K this year; when races reopen, I will be ready. Next to my faithful running partner, my dog Samantha and my favorite running shoes, the Nike Run Club (NRC) app is my companion for every morning run. I had just made the turn at the mid-way point that morning when she delivered a sentence struck me to the core; its intent carried past the finish line.

"Good parents are good teachers. Good parents are good coaches."

Paula Radcliffe is a marathon world record holder. She joined Nike Running Coach Cory Wharton-Malcolm on "Run with Paula," in the NRC app. During the 40-minute run, Paula shared her incredible story of how she trained to set the Women's World Marathon Record with a time of 2:15:25. One would assume that her story would include a rigorous training schedule; it did with details of the specific endurance tactics she used to build her strength and speed abilities in Colorado. Her story also included a series of personal setbacks, a string of top-five finishes in cross-country races before clinching the first-place spot. And like any champion, Paula also had to overcome injuries, including a surgery that sidelined her for almost a year.

What caught my attention was when Coach Cory asked her about her starting line. Typically, a runner describes the day of "their big run," the race that put them on the map in the sport. Radcliffe briefly paused then began to set the stage for the London Marathon, Coach Cory jumped in, assuming she was going to detail the 2003 race when Radcliffe set her last women's marathon world record. She corrected him. Her starting line was the 1983 London Marathon. She recalled watching Ingrid Kristiansen, one of the best female long-distance runners in the 80s, zoom past her as she stood in the crowd. Radcliffe related it a slow-motion fly-by, and at that moment, wanted to capture that feeling for herself.

Paula Radcliffe was blessed with the talent of running. She developed her skill for competition through her father, an amateur marathon runner. Radcliffe summarized her father's influence by saying, "good parents are good teachers. Good parents are good coaches." It was at that moment that my mind connected to Masonry. I had found my answer to the question of how Freemasonry makes good men, better!

Every summer, I pick up my ritual book to study a particular section of the work. This year I am examining the degree Charges. These are essential portions of our degrees that can sometimes be overlooked by the end of the evening. I reached out to Bro. Timothy Stockton (Evening Star Lodge #75 and Mount Zion #311) who has impressed me with his proficiency and mastery of the Charges. He summarized that the charges convey what to do with the esoteric aspects and teachings communicated through the ritual. Our conversation focused on how the Charges aid in making us a better man and parent.

An Entered Apprentice is a newly made Mason, still learning his footing in the Craft. The first degree centers around the individual's relationship with God. There are two versions of Charge in the Standard and Work of the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. Both speak to the importance of obedience, not just in society, but also demand respect shown toward God. One of Bro. Stockton's favorite lines are grounded on our duty and debt as a Freemason and upright man to God. As a father of three young children, Bro. Stockton bids to impress that into the mind of his oldest son, Nate, who is eight-years-old. "It's an admonishment on how to behave. I try to convince my son how to act in a certain situation. For myself, I am reminded that I need to be an upright man, one who is patient with my children."

In the first degree, we learn the hierarchy of God, neighbors, and self. Bro. Stockton shared an interesting perspective; one lost on this father of teenagers. He related this idea to how children form their perception of leadership based on their home life. Children possess a natural curiosity to seek order in life. There was a smile in his voice when he spoke of the surprise his son displayed when he learned that Daddy has a boss, who has a boss... How the Charge mirrors the social structures that society follows.

My favorite Charge is in the second degree. In my jurisdiction, the Fellowcraft Charge has two versions. The first edition contains a moral which extends the lesson of the Point Within A Circle we are introduced to in the first degree. We are taught to be mindful of our personal contact with others. In our second version of the Charge, we are told to act peacefully among fellow Masons. As the first degree focuses on the individual, the Fellowcraft degree pertains to our relationships with others, including our Brothers. To them, we must be fair when judging their acts. I found myself pulling inspiration from this work when speaking with my son about one of his close friends he was at odds with.

While I may not completely understand the details of the situation, I can now see why my Dad would make a specific face when I shared my teenage drama. From what I could process, my thirteen-year-old son and his friend got into an argument while playing basketball that extended to a fallout when playing basketball online. I had to hold in my laughter when my son described his experience. It was easy for me to remember being a middle schooler who would "unfriend" a best friend over a stupid argument, only to be best friends again end of the week. I used this opportunity to teach my son why we accept apologies, the meaning of forgiveness, and acceptance.

When you re-read the Charges (again, there are two in my jurisdiction) in the Master Mason degree, how does the word respect, not come to mind? The teaching of this degree places the duty of being the best man, son, husband, or father on YOU. We also learn how we should view our place in life; we come last. That we, as individuals, are not what is important. Our focus should be on God first, then others. "I do that with my kids in terms of the prayers we make at the dinner table. God comes first, neighbors and loved ones come second, we are last - in that order. Those parallels connect the ritual to my everyday life," Bro. Stockton added.

~MA

Brother Michael Arce is a member of Mt. Vernon Lodge #3 in Albany, New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at michael.arce@me.com

Paying My Respects

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR


Driving north on Holmes Avenue in Kansas City after lunch with family, I saw the imposing Mount Moriah Mausoleum looming in front of me. On an impulse I turned in and parked by the massive stone structure. I went inside to see if someone could help me locate a grave site – no one there. I went up a half flight of stairs and was surprised to find myself inside a darkened Masonic Lodge room. It was obvious the building was empty but I made a mental note to come back when I could explore the place.


Absent help from someone, the website findagrave.com gave me the information I needed. The section I was looking for was right behind the mausoleum. In the distance I could see a lone pine tree with a bench beside it. I walked out there and found the grave I was looking for. "Frank S. Land," it said, "Founder, Order of DeMolay."

A large gray plaque at the site tells the story of the man buried there, and the stone bench, bearing Land's name, is situated so a visitor can sit and read the inscription. It's a modest monument for a man who did so much.

Young Frank Land didn't have a lot going for him. His parents divorced and his mother moved him to an unfamiliar city. He didn't have many friends and became shy and withdrawn – he missed his father. He worked at the restaurant his mother and grandmother owned and purchased it at the age of 18, a move that forced him to drop out of high school. Ironically, the profits of the establishment had been intended for his college education.

He took evening classes at the Kansas City Art Institute where he met his future wife, Nell. For a time after completing his courses he worked as an artist for the Kansas City Star.

On his 21st birthday his grandmother gave him $50 and asked him to use it to join the Masons, a fraternity which his grandfather had loved. Frank joined Ivanhoe Lodge 446 and quickly followed up by joining the York and Scottish Rites as well as the Shrine. Not long after joining, he sold the restaurant and went to work for the Scottish Rite as administrator of the newly-formed Mason's Relief Committee. He didn't realize it but, at the age of 24, his destiny was now laid out before him.

In the years that followed, Land built the program into one of the premier relief organizations in Kansas City, helping secure hundreds of jobs for the unemployed and distributing food and clothing to the needy. The organization grew and, in time, Land needed assistance, so he hired 17-year-old Lewis Lower to help him during evenings and weekends. Lewis had just lost his father. Land understood how much Lewis missed his father due to his separation from his own dad as a youth. Brother Land was so impressed with young Lewis that in February 1919 he suggested forming a club at the Scottish Rite temple in Kansas City for Lewis and some of his friends. The following week Frank Land, Lewis and eight of his friends met together for the first time.

Land was Commander of the DeMolaii (sic) Council of Kadosh in the Scottish Rite. Jacques DeMolay, its namesake, was the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Rather than betray his God, DeMolay defied Philip the Fair of France and was burned at the stake. This inspired Land to tell the boys about DeMolay, whose courage and strength of character so impressed them they named their club after him. Land, the original nine boys and twenty-two others met as DeMolays for the first time on March 24, 1919. Too old for the boys to call him "Frank," and too young to be "Mr. Land," the boys began to call him "Dad." For the rest of his life he was "Dad Land," and every DeMolay advisor today holds the title of "Dad."

The Order of DeMolay grew quickly, reaching a peak membership of 210,000 just prior to the Depression. Frank Land became known around the world as the organization expanded. In 1926, President Calvin Coolidge was so impressed with Land's success he asked him to promote his nationwide program of youth development. It was not the last time such a request would be made of him. For the remainder of his life, Land moved in the circles of diplomats and presidents, including his beloved friend, Harry Truman. With Truman's help and support, Brother Land became the Shrine's Imperial Potentate in 1954. A year later, he became only the 28th man ever to receive the Scottish Rite's highest honor, the Grand Cross, and he was one of the very few men ever to receive the Thirty-third degree in both US jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite.


Today, with its headquarters still in Kansas City, DeMolay has expanded across international boundaries. It has attracted thousands of boys and young men who have gone on to make an impact on the world. Its members include those who became world famous men in nearly every endeavor.

In March 1959, Brother Land developed a rare disease, scleroderma, a buildup of collagen in skin and organs, which tends to affect people in a variety of ways. It is sometimes, but not always fatal. The disease remains a mystery today and was certainly not well understood in the late 1950's. Against doctor's advice, he kept working at a frenetic pace, with none of his friends realizing how ill he was. Then, on November 8, 1959, the news of his unexpected death rocked the Masonic world by its foundations.

Among those thousands of boys who have been DeMolays were my father, my brother and myself. As a youth, I was a passionate member participating in all its activities and learning its cardinal virtues. DeMolay taught me leadership skills I have carried through life, and is one of the major reasons I am a Freemason today.

I joined several years after Dad Land died, yet I feel like I knew the man. Now, I found myself paying my respects at the foot of his grave, near a simple memorial to a great man. I remembered the friends I had made in DeMolay, the fun, and the important lessons learned. I wondered what I would say if I could talk to him. Many things ran through my mind but, in the end, there is only one simple thing I could say: "Thank you, Dad Land, thank you."

~SLH

Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°, is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships is the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35-year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

Gratitude as a gavel

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Erik Marks



Application of the working tools is a constant topic of conversation with my brother. How do we, from moment to moment, choose to use the tools? The reason I put so much emphasis on mindfulness meditation is its utility as a training tool. Over time, the practice helps me stay present in the moment, notice my reactions, and then chose a response to something internal or external. In other words, I grant myself the space to choose what to do next rather than allow a patterned response to take command. 
 
In the gap between event and response, I can choose to be grateful. Gratitude is a key to a positive, transformative, constructive, outlook. The emotions I experience may not be a choice, my response to them can be. It is constant, conscious, choice to work or labor to get to that frame of mind. I think the work is worth the effort. 
 
While holding gratitude for an experience I can remain aware of my outdate reactive responses. I allow myself to see them without judgement: that is beauty. 
 
With gratitude, I can persevere to stay present and accept myself the way I am without harsh criticism or punishment: that is strength. 
 
In the transition as I move on from the moment, I can recognize that something different is possible. I can break off the old, automatic, habitual with the love of gratitude. From there, I can be or act in a new way: that is wisdom.

In moments of distress, gratitude gives access to emotional experiences of connection, positive outcomes, and resilience. By intentionally choosing to remember those bolstering memories in instances of pain, we can “knock off” some of the distress and reactivity and see the truth of each moment.

If an example would be helpful, I’ll offer one. If you’ve already understood my point and don’t need one, stop here.
 
In the past when I was in an accident or was injured in some way, I would get angry, often swear loudly, sometimes hit inanimate objects to express the pain I was experiencing. Somewhere along the way, due to the reactions of family, I realized maybe my anger-pain performance wasn’t necessary. It surely communicated I was hurt and upset about it. But what did it change? Nothing. And it didn’t help anything. In some instances, it scared people—which is not my goal. 
 
I started to train to circumscribe my reactivity, this unfortunate passion that seemed to overtake me. I would go back over old injuries and imagine I could just experience the event without reacting. For a while I switched from swearing to saying “oh yeah that’s good…I’m alive. The pain reminds me everything is working just fine…I’m fully alive.” Sure, it’s ridiculous. It’s also true. More importantly, in that moment, I changed. I planned and when the moment arrived, I chose to feel grateful for the pain and broke the old response off with the gavel of gratitude. I chose to experience the pain as a confirmation of being alive, of my humanness, and the miracle that one part of my body could communicate effectively that it was injured and damaged to my brain. 

I also started to notice things hurt less. The pain didn’t last as long because I wasn’t amplifying it with my pain performance. This insight is still new even if a few years old now. I was able to translate it to a more relational moment the week before writing this. Corinna gave me some important feedback about my words at the family dinner table. She had decided to delay communicating to me a little while after the event. As she spoke, I could feel myself get defensive since the feedback stung a little. She was right on target. Rather than respond reactively, I set the compasses and drew a circle around my reactive response… 
 
Next, I used gratitude for her and the communication of her experience to break off my reaction before I spoke. I reminded myself “this is a person who loves me, who has my, and our kids, best interests at heart.” As I listened to what was previously painful to acknowledge, my old patterned reaction subsided. I heard how my words at dinner furthered a dynamic neither of us want our sons to inherit. Some part of me didn’t want to believe I “did it again.” If I hadn’t accessed gratitude and allowed myself to become defensive in the moment, I would have “protected” myself from the truth through denial. I would have diverted us from light to an argument about my being defensive. I would have missed the painful truth, a blessed gift, a secret that I needed to receive.

~EM

Brother Erik Marks is a clinical social worker whose usual vocation has been in the field of human services in a wide range of settings since 1990. He was raised in 2017 by his biologically younger Brother and then Worshipful Master in Alpha Lodge in Framingham, MA. You may contact brother Marks by email: erik@StrongGrip.org

Freemasonry can found anywhere and in everything

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce

Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.
Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing.

Arthur Morgan was not a real person, yet, his untimely death still saddened me. I was shocked to feel such a loss over a (stupid) video game character. I felt like I lost a close friend. I also felt a little silly wanting to spend more time with Arthur after learning that his death was imminent.

I should probably start explaining.

My teenage son turned me on to the game "Red Dead Redemption 2" (RDR2 as the kids call it) one weekend early this summer. I noticed that he was coming out of his room less for snacks and drink re-fills. I knocked on his door in search of proof of life. Instead of finding him bouncing up and down, engaged with his friends, yelling into his headset while playing Fortnight or NBA 2K20 --- he was quietly sitting at the edge of his bed. His attention was intently focused on what looked like a desert mountain scene from an old John Wayne movie. "Son, " I asked, "what are you doing?" His concentration was solid; he didn't move when I spoke. "I'm trying to find the Legendary Buck, Dad," he replied in a hypnotic trance. That's when I sat down to watch a few minutes of gameplay.

On the screen was a cowboy with a horse in a fictitious world set during the turn of the century Old West. This land was complete with wild animals, ruthless border gangs, Native Americans, saloons, and even infectious diseases, like cholera and tuberculosis. My son has a bit of my history nerd gene; it was easy to see how he was hooked. When he handed me the controller during one of his snack re-fill breaks, I was too. I wanted to play the story of Arthur Morgan, an outlaw with a backstory full of tragedy and missteps that led him to seek a better life. As Arthur says during his interactions with other game characters, he's not a bad man, but he has done some bad things.

I'm not the only man in his early 40s who plays video games. But after dinner, instead of sitting on the couch for another binge session of a Netflix series that I'm never going to get past the first episode of, my wife makes "that" face when I slip away to play this game. It's addictive because it's so immersive, you feel like you are living through this character - not controlling him. You make decisions that will affect his storyline, yet, you don't pay the consequence for bad choices. If you were a fan of the first season of "Westworld" on HBO or the book (and movie) from Michael Crieghton, this game's morality component would capture your attention. Then there are the graphics and sound production. You can actually see the wind blow through the trees. My dog comes in the room when she hears a distant gray wolf howl. Every detail is painstakingly accurate, even down to the historical references and connections.

Get ready for the Masonic connection because it's coming.

Not to spoil your interest in the game, but what turned me from a casual player to die-hard fanatic --- the kind of guy who watches RDR2 YouTube videos now on his lunch break --- was the plot twist in Act 2. This occurs in the fictional town of Saint Denis, representing New Orleans, where Arthur passes out in the street. It's a pretty scary experience because you "control" him during the coughing fit, leading up to him dropping unconscious in the street. Cut to a scene in a doctor's office where you are diagnosed with tuberculosis ("consumption") and are told to move somewhere dry and warm. Tuberculosis (TB) was the leading cause of death in the 1800s as no medicine existed for treatment. Penicillin wasn't discovered until 1928, leaving patients around the turn of the century with a disease that caused massive weight loss, a nasty cough that led to hacking up fluids, and eventual death.

This news is saddening on many levels! First, the diagnosis scene is nothing like you will find in any other video game. The emotions are a real break in the storyline; something would experience in a movie or book - not a (stupid) video game. Second, watching Arthur stagger out of the doctor's office left with memories of close friends and loved ones have said to him over the years as he contemplates his life is moving. Finally, this event takes place after you have invested a good 60 hours of gameplay; it totally knocks the air out of your sails. "Are you kidding me? He's going to DIE!" I wanted to yell out loud.

I was sitting at dinner with my wife, who coyly asked, "are you going to play your (stupid) game again tonight?" It was embarrassing to say this, but I looked at her and calmly replied, "I just want to spend some time with Arthur tonight." I then gave her the Reader's Digest Version of what I have just shared with you. She wasn't impressed. As my gaze fell to my empty dinner plate, a second thought came to mind. "Ryan was right," I said out of nowhere. My wife's look is probably similar to yours right now, dear reader. If you feel like you missed something, you didn't.

Brother Ryan Cerone, the Secretary of my Lodge, invited me over to his house for a social-distanced Memorial Day gathering. Nothing says "Summer 2020" like celebrating with hamburgers, hot dogs, and beers in lawn chairs six-feet apart. During our conversation on our feelings on Freemasonry, Ryan shared his belief that "Freemasonry can found anywhere, and in everything, you can find Freemasonry." Okay, I gave him more line instead of reeling him in. I asked, "like esoterically?" "It can be, but my point is much simpler than that," he continued. "Say you are into video games, sports, or whatever there has to be something in that, that can relate to Masonry." His point summarized the lesson in the EA degree on dividing one's time. Ryan honed in on the amount of time we invest in our hobbies and interests. "If it brings joy in your life, you can relate that to Freemasonry."

And that's where he got me.

Ask anyone who has played RDR if they played the game differently KNOWING that there was a real chance Arthur wouldn't make it until the end of the game... and I will point to a group of men pursuing the virtues of a legendary Master Mason during the building of King Solomon's Temple. Sometimes the hero doesn't make it to the end of the story, and it falls to his Brother to continue his work.

~MA

Brother Michael Arce is a member of Mt. Vernon Lodge #3 in Albany, New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at michael.arce@me.com