Did We Make Them Better?

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. William Aemisegger


Did we really make our new Brother better? Have we prepared them for the new knowledge and growth which our great fraternity has to offer? We say we make good men better, but did we do that in the best interest of the new Brother or for a dues card? I firmly believe our early brethren did not join for business meetings and halfhearted Masonic Education. Once we open the eyes of our Brothers, we fall short on showing them how to use and apply the knowledge of the lessons and working tools of the Craft. They are either exposed to the officer line and administrative committees, or they are bombarded by the allure of the appendant bodies. From my experience, sitting after Lodge with Brothers more senior in experience than I taught has me more than any business meeting. I learned about life, business, etiquette, and much more.

There is a significant deficit in teaching the great lessons and applications of the ceremonies through which they just passed through. How can we make good men better if we don't give them a foundation to expand their mind and thirst to be better? Sure, the appendant bodies offer an enlarged view of the Masonic Education, and that is great. I sometimes get the chance to ask Brethren more senior than me about how they manage to have time for all the events they attend. Their answers make it clear that they are not effectively using the 24-inch gauge. I usually inquire why they don't use this tool, and the response is often "I never thought about the gauge like that."

Simply put, I find they know the words but have forgotten to stop and contemplate the meaning and application. This fails to build the foundation for any further progress in becoming better. We are making the road harder to travel and setting ourselves up for failure.

Here is my simple view. Our more ancient Brethren are heralded as some of the greatest thinkers of their time. Why? It's because they studied the lessons in the degrees and applied them to their worldly pursuits. They understood the meaning of the working tools and how to apply them to daily use. They contemplated the charges and the allegory within the degrees. We would do well to educate our new and established Brothers on how to use the working tools--how to contemplate the lessons in the degrees to better themselves. If effectively done, it prepares them for the exploration of other appendant bodies, be they Masonic or otherwise.

Teach the speculative uses of our working tools to manage our lives better--help them reflect on the moral lessons within the lectures. Engage the Brothers in discussion regarding our teachings. We opened their eyes; now, let's teach them to use those "secrets." It seems we focus on getting them to the degree of Master Mason but not on making sure they are duly and truly prepared to work as a Master Mason. We are setting ourselves up for failure by not building the foundation of the Education we gave in the degrees.

Our lectures and tools are not one-time-only use. Have we failed the appendant bodies by not indeed preparing the Brother for what lay ahead? Or did we blindly give tools and knowledge and expect them to figure it out themselves?

The solution to this is far simpler than one may think with a huge impact. This impact will be felt locally at first but will spread like wildfire when we awaken the true Mason within. The Search for more light will show you the way.

For the individual Brother looking for your own education ask questions. Go back to basics get in the habit of asking why. The question why is a great place to start. Why is that working tool important? Why is that verse quoted in the degree? Brother Steve Harrison has a great article on this subject that you can find HERE. You are the master of your own education.

To the Brothers bringing a candidate from darkness to light. This is a serious responsibility. You are responsible to communicate our greatest knowledge in the best way you can. Be mindful of what and why you are doing this. You are their first impression of the Fraternity, make it a great experience. Furthermore, any Brother interacting the new Brother is responsible for mentoring and leading him in the Fraternity.

To the Lodge Officers simply be mindful of your Brothers. Engaging the Brothers in active conversation is the best way to nurture education. Engage them on the masonic education presented. Host a Q&A after the presentation or after the meeting. Really take the time to know the Brothers that are members. Take the time to make sure they understand what is going on with legislation, education opportunities, committees, or other local activities. Remember you are the Officer for the Lodge you have a responsibility for the care and stewardship of the Brothers within.

~WA


Brother William was raised in September of 2013 and is a member of both Hernando-Bushnel No. 30 in Florida and Utica-Macomb No. 64 in Davis Michigan. He works at giving back to the fraternity all that it's given him.










Freemasonry's Obsession with Empty Chairs - Rewind

Originally published February 4th, 2015

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason33°
Here's a little known fact about Freemasons--they are obsessed with empty chairs.  You don't have to talk very long to just about any group of Masons, and the subject of all those empty chairs comes up.  "We've got to fill those empty chairs in our Lodges!" they'll exclaim.  The Blue Lodges are worried about empty chairs.  The Scottish Rite is worried about those empty chairs.  The York Rite is worried about empty chairs.  The Shrine.  Amaranth.  Order of the Eastern Star.  "We've got to fill those blessed empty chairs!"

Grand Lodges come up with plans to increase membership.  Here in Illinois, just since I've been a Mason we've had several different ideas about how to fill those chairs.  We went from 2B1ASK1 to being able to ask somebody if they'd like to join our Fraternity.  We still have empty chairs.  One of our Grand Masters, a good friend of mine, had a great plan.  Every member should add a member to their Blue Lodge.  He was known to always have petitions in his pocket.  We did add members, but we still have empty chairs.  My York Rite Chapter back when I joined came up with a magic number of new members they'd like to add that year, and they worked tirelessly, putting on degrees, and putting guys through the Chapter.  They added a large number of new members.  I was one of those guys that went through then.  Guess what?  They still have empty chairs!

The problem is, we're asking the wrong question.  The question isn't how can we fill those chairs--the question is why are those chairs empty to begin with?
When I joined the Lodge, it was because I was looking for something.  I wanted to improve myself.  I wanted to learn new things.  I wanted to gain new skills.  I wanted to be more active in my community.  I wanted to be a part of something traditional and something ancient.  In an ever changing world, I wanted something in my life that remained steady and consistent.  And I've found all those things, but not entirely within the walls of my Lodge.  Much of what I've gained has been through my own explorations and studies into the Craft.  If it hadn't been for my own initiative I'm not sure I would have found that greater meaning that makes my Lodge attendance and participation so fulfilling.

Our chairs are empty because so many of our Lodges have gotten so involved with the business of Freemasonry, they've forgotten the purpose of the Craft--to make good men better by constantly working to improve ourselves.  We spend so much time reading minutes, and reciting committee reports, we forget that we're supposed to be learning something as well.  The expectation of our membership versus the reality of our meetings is the reason so many of our chairs are empty.

The world is a busy place, and very few men are willing to waste a couple hours of their time once or twice a month to sit through a meeting when the only thing they might learn in that meeting is that the Lodge's building insurance went up 8% from last year, and somebody needs to make sure we have enough pancake mix by Saturday's breakfast.
There's no sense in worrying about how to fill those chairs in your Lodge if you aren't willing to figure out why they are empty to begin with.  We must do better.  Like it was said in that famous movie "Field of Dreams"-- if you build it they will come.  Your Lodge will start seeing fewer and fewer empty chairs when you start giving your members, old and new, the thing we promised them in the beginning.

Light!

~TEC

Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and continues to be a regular contributor. He is the author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and currently serves as Secretary.  He's also a member of Homer Lodge No. 199.  He is a member the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, the York Rite Bodies of Champaign/Urbana (IL), the Ansar Shrine (IL), Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Charter President of the Illini High Twelve in Champaign-Urbana (IL), and a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research.  He was recently awarded the 2014 Illinois Secretary of the Year Award by the Illinois Masonic Secretaries Association.  You can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.org

It's the End of the World as We Know It

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


"It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" is a song by the American rock band R.E.M., from Athens, Georgia, which first appeared on their 1987 album Document. The song's satirical title pretty much sums up my current state of mind, as I live in my own version of the movie "Groundhog's Day." I don't feel fine. I miss going to lodge, I miss going to degrees, and I miss the fellowship I share with the Brothers in the Lodges that I belong to, and being able to hang out with those Brothers outside of the Lodge.

Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do is write another Covid-19 related article. However, after sheltering in place for the past 2 months, and witnessing how brethren have reacted to it, I've made some observations. They are outlined below.

As a disclaimer, the opinions below are my own and do not reflect the opinions of the Grand Lodge of Illinois, any other of the contributors to the Midnight Freemasons blog, nor any of the lodges or concordant bodies that I belong to. Now that is out of the way, here are my observations.

1. Online meetings will never replace the real thing, but there are things we are doing online currently that we should keep doing after this is over.

One thing that has amazed me during the pandemic is the absolute number of opportunities for virtual Masonic education and fellowship.

Alex Powers of the "Historical Light" Podcast, Various members of the Refracted Light and Winding Staircase Facebook groups, Jared Stanley of the "What is a Mason?" podcast, RJ Johnson of the "Whence Came You" podcast, and many others have provided these opportunities.

Many of the appendant governing bodies like the S.J. and N.M.J. of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite have risen to the challenge, providing online degrees and educational presentations as well. I certainly hope that these do not end once we are back to whatever the new normal is going to be.

Another thing that I've observed is that some of the more mundane aspects of a Lodge's stated meeting can be handled virtually. Do we really need to continue to have committee reports, meeting minutes, bills, finances, new and old business discussed at length in a meeting? Many of the lodges I belong to were already sending out the minutes and financial information to its members prior to the meetings via email, and if there were no objections or corrections from the members present, the Master was approving them as read. This should be expanded to include committee reports, as well as old and new business items. Let me provide an example of how I see the handling of the committee reports, old and new business being handled virtually before some of you grump past masters out there blow a gasket.

For committee reports, I think this is a given. There is no reason to have a committee report read in open Lodge. The reports, like the minutes and financials, can be disseminated to the membership prior to the meeting. Questions regarding the reports can be answered by the committee prior to the meeting. If an item requires a vote, then the vote will need to take place in the meeting; however, the item itself could be referenced briefly and voted upon. For old and new business, I see a similar process.
Here's an example of business that came up at the last meeting of one of my lodges prior to the shelter in place order. We have been sponsoring a little league team as a Lodge. The sponsorship costs X amount of dollars. We get to pick the color of the shirt the team wears, and we can put a logo on it. We've gone with the square and compass in the past, along with our Lodge name. One of our members asked that we get a schedule of games so that we can, as a Lodge, have an outing. We can pick a single game or a few games, and go and see the team we sponsor play and root them on. The item would require a vote of the membership to sponsor the team or not sponsor them. Other than the vote, every other item of the business could be disseminated to the membership, any questions about it asked in return to the one bringing up the item, the question answered, and then the item being referenced in the stated meeting and being voted on. Will it completely reduce old and new business? Absolutely not.

But it can help streamline the meetings. The time that is saved by streamlining the meetings can be used for education or fellowship opportunities. If you could have a boring two – three hour stated meeting or a 20 minute stated meeting followed by a festive board at a local restaurant with an educational speaker, which would you choose? I would hope it would be the latter.

2. Remember that you don't stop being a Freemason outside of Lodge.

While on the subject of boredom, I get it. You're stuck inside, bored, and the lowest common denominator of entertainment is to scroll through your social media feeds and comment on everyone's social media posts. That's your right, although I would argue, trying to learn some new ritual is a better use of your time. What has really disturbed me recently is the number of brethren that I have seen that have been critical in social media of the actions of the government at the Federal and/or State level in their handling of the crisis usually due to their political leanings. While I understand that you're entitled to your freedom of speech, I also remind you of something that is in the charge to the Entered Apprentice, at least here in Illinois:
"As a citizen, you are enjoined to be exemplary in the discharge of your civil duties, by never purposing or countenancing any act which may have a tendency to subvert the peace and good order of society; by paying due obedience to the laws under whose protection you live, and by never losing sight of the allegiance due to your country."
I don't understand why it's so difficult for someone who is a Freemason to realize that they are not just a Freemason while in Lodge. Can we stop ourselves from posting on social media about Politics and/or Religion, or worse? Most of us are guilty of posting something we regret at one time or another. We've seen something that we disagree with from our point of view, and we feel the need to engage in an online debate about how our side is correct and your side isn't. In my experience, it never ends well. Someone is going to be offended and/or angry because social media isn't a place where you are able to have a civil conversation about these topics. Mob mentality usually takes hold, passions are enflamed, and things are written, which will remain somewhere in cyberspace forever. These are things that usually aren't very intelligent and do not help portray the Craft in a positive light.

I continue to read posts from a certain number of Brothers, many of whom I've heard say things like: "I never speed because of the square and compass on my car," but seem to forget that they represent that same square and compass in their social media posts while criticizing the insanity of a political ideology that they don't agree with. I understand that you're "outside of the Lodge room," but you're also representing the ideals of political and religious tolerance that we pride ourselves upon by wearing that square and compass on the hat you're wearing in your profile picture.

Many of the jurisdictions already have social media codes of conduct or rules in place that can end up in Masonic discipline for those that continue to violate them; however, many jurisdictions do not. While I know many of you might not agree with such policies, it's obvious to me that they have been put in place because a majority of brethren are unable to subdue their passions online. Don't put your Grand Lodge in the position of having to police you. If you're afraid of speeding because you don't want to portray the Craft in a negative light, remember that your words on social media are immortalized. Not only can your "friends" or if you don't have security set up properly on your social media, "the profane" can read them, and your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, etc. will be able to view them. Remember the answer that the Senior Warden gives to the Worshipful Master when opening on the 1st degree to the question: "What came you here to do?" The answer: "To learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Masonry." Practice some restraint.

3. It is time to reconsider the ban on alcohol in the lodge building.

Speaking of restraint, at the beginning of this mess, some brethren from UGLE (United Grand Lodge of England) revived a tradition of the 9 o'clock toast to absent brethren. They accomplished this by communicating via various social media and online platforms and invited brethren from all of the world to join in. Every Brother that I have seen participate has handled themselves with the proper decorum fitting of a Freemason. This made me think that if we can do this virtually, then why shouldn't we be able to do this person once we start to meet again?

I want to be very clear. I'm not advocating for alcohol to be present in the Lodge room under any circumstance. However, I see no reason why brethren should not be able to enjoy an alcoholic beverage outside of the Lodge room in the lodge building. If some Brothers want to retreat to the dining room for a nightcap, why should we not let them? If some of them want to go outside on a lodge patio and enjoy a cigar and scotch, it should be allowed. Many of our brethren across the pond in UGLE have bars in their Lodge buildings. While doing so might require additional insurance, liquor licenses, brothers to keep track of tabs, some auditing process to make sure that money is properly accounted for, keeping an accounting of inventory, having a bartender, etc.; if a lodge wants to and is able to do so financially, I see no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to given that the proper local/state laws are followed.

I think it can be done respectfully enough to allow those that want to participate to be able to do so while not infringing on those who do not want to. Once again, we need to act with enough self-governance to not turn the means of refreshment into intemperance or excess, but we should be able to enjoy fellowship over an adult beverage if we so desire. If we truly are "Good Men," then the various Grand Lodges which are prohibiting alcohol on individual lodge property should trust us to behave as such. If we are truly gentlemen, treat us as such.

4. It is time to enforce a dress code for stated meetings/degrees.

Part of being a gentleman is dressing like one. I don't know about you, but I've spent enough time in athletic and or sweatpants during this isolation. I am looking forward to the opportunity to dress up again. The meetings/degrees that we are having should be treated as events. We need to set an example for those coming into the Craft, the community at large, as well as a respect for each other and the Craft by dressing like gentlemen.

Obviously, there will always be exceptions to the rule (for example, a Hawaiian or tropical shirt theme night at the Lodge), however the more that we slack off and allow sweatpants, shorts, tank tops, t-shirts in Lodge, the further we slide into irrelevance. Let's act like we care enough about Freemasonry to at the very least dress in business casual with a collared shirt and slacks, and in my opinion, in a suit and tie at the bare minimum. If we want to maintain our traditions, let's be somewhat traditional. We need to start enforcing a dress code for our meetings and degrees, or at the very least whisper wise counsel into a Brother's ear about his dress of cutoff jean shorts and a tank top at the District Deputy Grand Master's official visit or officer's installation. If you don't have a suit or the means to buy one, talk to your Worshipful Master. Don't be embarrassed. I'm sure that your brethren will gladly contribute to getting you looking dapper in no time.

Coming out of this, we are presented with a real opportunity to reshape our Lodges the way that we see fit. While some of my views might seem elitist, and I suppose that they are. We are going to be living a new normal shortly until there is a vaccine or wide-spread testing. As we adjust to whatever this new normal is, use it as an opportunity to improve the Craft at your local Lodge. As we are going to have to change the way we have been conducting our work, we need to think about what changes we can make in order to make our experience not only memorable but unique.

Therefore, I present some other suggestions to improve the Craft. Many of these are suggestions come from the works of the Knights of the North, namely in their work, Laudable Pursuit (http://theknightsofthenorth.org/laudablepursuit/). If you've not read it, please click on the link, download the pdf and do so. I'm not going to address every point, but I will list them below. 
 
1. Slow down the degree process.
2. Only have one candidate per degree.
3. Thoroughly vet our candidates.
4. Start cherishing our time together as brothers and engage in fellowship outside of the Lodge.
5. Start embracing some of our traditions like using a chamber of reflection before degrees, use of ambient lighting or candlelight, burning incense prior to the meeting, using music during our meetings and degrees in order to make the lodge/degree experience truly an experience.
6. Embrace masonic education, including not being afraid of talking about esoteric topics.
7. Start practicing masonic charity towards our brethren, their widows, and orphans instead of the local P.T.A. or little league team.
8. Allow men that have non-traditional or eastern religious beliefs but have belief in a supreme being to be accepted into our Craft.

I hope that you try to implement some of the ideas I've put forth. Freemasonry can only be impacted or changed at the local level, at your Lodge. It just takes some brethren to not be afraid to try something new. Let's come back stronger and better than before. If we are truly trying to make good men better, then shouldn't we be trying to make the organization that we are using to do this better as well?

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.

We Owe Them Our Best - Eternity Through Remembrance

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson


Every year at the Midnight Freemasons, we put up a new article on Memorial Day. We’ve covered a lot over the last decade. We’ve talked about POWs & MIA, we’ve talked about being reflective and about those we’ve lost. I didn’t know what we were going to do for the blog this year. I woke up one recent morning and realized that Memorial Day was upon us, and I didn’t have anything for the blog. I sat that there for just a minute when the notion wandered into my head.

As we progress in Masonry and in our humanity—our perspectives progress too. When I was a kid, Memorial Day meant that the Friday before the three day weekend was an easy school day. Color a picture of the flag in grammar school, write a letter to a widow/widower in high school, and in my twenties? Nothing. Like a “lost boy”, from Neverland, just like that—I had forgotten.

You would think with a family history of Naval service I wouldn’t forget, but I did. At best, I was apathetic, I think many are. Then, Freemasonry happened to me. I was 27 years old with a good education, a solid job, and a budding family. Freemasonry has a large basis in civic engagement, in the transformation of the consciousness of a person, and hopefully, the uplifting of the human condition. This transformative art, so well exemplified in our degrees DID change my thinking. It woke the sleeper—I remembered.
“My family is with me today. They wanted to come with me. To be honest with you, I wasn't sure how I'd feel coming back here. Every day I think about what you said to me that day on the bridge. And I've tried to live my life the best I could. I hope that was enough. I hope that at least in your eyes, I've earned what all of you have done for me.    -James Ryan at Captain Miller's grave.
I think we all know it isn’t about the barbeque, or the day off of work or school. The ancients didn’t know if our consciousness was in our head (the brain) or in our hearts. I tell you it has got to be at least, a little of both. Because at the center of it all, it’s about giving and those who gave so we could continue on, and maybe, just maybe, through the sacrifice, our lives and our children’s lives would be better.

For the men and women who serve the cause of protecting Freedom, Liberty, and Justice—sacrifice means something a little different. It means they might not come home. It means they hope against hope in the direst of circumstances that it won’t come down to the last stand—but also knowing it might and that they are ready to stare death in the face to protect the rest of us.

So Memorial Day is about the gift. The gift of corporeal endowment—of remitting a body and conscious experience in the trade, for us all to enjoy the greatest freedoms, and also the most basic qualities of life. Is there anything else more stoic? More honorable? More deserving of a place within our minds, where they might live on forever?

I'd like to call to your attention, to a document. Likey you haven't read it since the last time you were made to. As we age, we tend to read things differently. Instead of just stringing words together, we understand--like a new language somehow unfolded before our very eyes, thanks to some unknown force. That document I am referring to is something very special, something I can never read allowed without choking up. The Gettysburg Address. I leave you now with the final paragraph. I challenge you to see it, to feel it, and to understand it.
"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." - President Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19th, 1863

They gave—let us remember.

~RHJ

RWB Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.