|Apron design by|
Ari Roussimoff. You can see his works HERE.
As I fully expected, the first installment of this series received a large number of cheers and a quite a few jeers as well. Most of the readers of the last installment understood what I was saying. Ritual is an important part of our Masonic tradition, and without question, there are aspects of ritual that are very critical to our education as Freemasons. I don't think anybody expressed it better than my good friend and Brother Brian L. Pettice who said, "Learning ritual introduces us to the lessons that, if internalize, will help us to be the better men we want to be. Learning ritual and floor work teaches us to be intentional in our thoughts, words, and actions." He went on to say, "The problem is when learning the ritual becomes the end. It is not the end." Brian was making the same point I was. Ritual is important, but it is only the beginning of what should be our ongoing and lifelong education and growth as Freemasons.
That being said, there is a lot in the ritual that IS education IF we teach it. I've seen several presentations that take the ritual and explain it in detail. They explained the history of the degrees and where they came from. They explored the deeper meaning of the words by putting those words into the context of the time in which they were written--instead of being merely memorized words, those words took on a different meaning for me once the context was explained. They explained why things are done in a certain precise way. They went back into history to explain what each chair in the Lodge actually represents. Likewise, I've seen (and given) many great presentations that go in much deeper detail on the ritual lectures, and explore the meaning of the symbols introduced in the ritual. I give a pretty good twenty minute presentation on just one of the symbols we are introduced to in the 1st Degree, and believe me, I could easily go an hour.
So there is a lot there within our ritual that is education. And as Bro. Pettice pointed out, there is great value in the patience and effort it takes to learn the precise movements and memorize word for word the ritual as written in an arcane English. But the ritual is just the beginning of that journey Masonic education is what comes next.
So what is Masonic education?
Well, there isn't just one answer. One definition is that it involves teaching each other how to apply the principles of Masonry into our everyday lives. It's about our history as a Fraternity. It's about character development. It's about leadership development. I think today, that role in character and leadership development is more crucial than ever. We aren't teaching values to our children as well as we once did. They often don't learn them in the home. Fewer and fewer Americans are going to church. Our schools are far too busy teaching kids specific subjects so they can pass tests--there is no time to teach kids values that would be useful in helping develop their character. I see Freemasonry filling that critical role. Teaching young men positive character traits, ethics, and morals that they can apply to their everyday lives.
That's one area that our new Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter, is exploring. We have a particular focus on education, and twice now, we've had some very in depth discussions with our members. The first discussion was on the topic of civility. We talked about what we thought that meant. We talked about how we could improve ourselves in that area. And we talked about how we could apply it to our everyday lives. We followed that discussion up recently with another moderated discussion on honor. That discussion was even better than the first discussion. We talked about honor, respect, and tradition in that discussion. Our members enjoy those discussions, and they take something away with them when we have them. One of our members told me that he's thought differently about civility ever since that discussion several months ago--he's made changes to a couple areas of his life, particularly in his social media discussions, and in the way he reacts to opposing points of view. That is Masonic education in the form of character development.
A few months ago, my Lodge hosted a Leadership Development Seminar put on by the Grand Chapter of Illinois. It was open to all Masons, and we had a good turnout. We had a couple excellent presentations, followed by some good questions, and meaningful discussion. We all left that event thinking about where we're strong in leadership, and where we needed to improve. I thought particularly about one comment made during that presentation about delegation--I tend to do too many things myself that others could help me with. I've made a few changes there since. Again, that's Masonic education in the form of Leadership Development.
I'm a student of history, and have been all of my adult life. I've written books, I've written magazine articles, and blog posts, and give presentations and speeches--almost always involving in some way history and Freemasonry. I'm fascinated with how Masonic values have influenced history. I'm fascinated by how famous Freemasons have changed our world. I'm fascinated by the ritual, by the symbolism, by the questions about where our Fraternity came from and how it evolved over time. I'm interested in the esoteric side of the Craft. And I love to share the things I learn. I'm not an expert. Not even close. I know more than some, but not nearly as much as others. I continue to learn, and I continue to share what I learn with others. What I do is Masonic education in the form of historical perspective.
These aren't the only forms of Masonic education. There are many more. Masonic education is a tool we share with our Brother than he can use in chipping away on that rough ashlar of his. And as we all learn together, we also all grow together. You'll find as I have, that Lodges and Masonic bodies that provide meaningful Masonic education to their members attract new members more readily than those that don't. I drew a lot of criticism in the first installment when I said providing training and education to our members is the solution to most of the problems we have as a Fraternity today. I stand by that. It is. Masonic Lodges are repositories of light. They are places of learning. If we're not going to teach those values we hold in such high regard then we're just a social club with a few ritual traditions.
So how do you get meaningful education started in your lodge?
Well, that's not always easy to do. In the last installment, I'm going to tell you what we've done in my part of the world, and how we've done it. And I'm going to give you some ideas I hope you'll be able to use in developing your own Lodge education program.
Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and is a regular contributor. He is the award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is the author of the From Labor to Refreshment blog. He is the Worshipful Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754. He is a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research. (FMLR) and a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org