Are You a Traveling Man? – What the TSA Can Teach Us About Freemasonry

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor

WB Martin O’Brien

“Make sure your laptop is out of its bag and your belt is off”. The TSA officer’s voice carries with authority over the quite shuffle of humanity. Collective sighs are heaved and the line progresses slowly forwards. The New Year has begun in an atypical fashion for me. Normally I don’t have to travel much for work but 2018 has started off differently. I have spent this month bouncing from airport to airport and from hotel to hotel and as those of you who have travelled on business can attest, the days have a tendency to blur together and time starts to be measured in terms of boarding passes and complimentary pretzels. While I can’t, with any legitimacy, count myself among the ranks of the grizzled road warriors that spend most of their working lives like this, the travel has toughened me some and the idle time between flights has afforded me some quite time for reflection. The result has been surprising insights into Freemasonry.

On one morning in particular I found myself in Bradley International, Hartford CT without any coffee and a 5AM boarding time. Despite the lack of caffeine, I had the mental acuity to be struck by the similarity that exists between passing though the TSA security check and our beloved Craft. “That’s ridiculous!”, you say. Wait a moment and let me explain. First, passengers are duly and truly prepared and they had better be or else the process can become much more personal than one would like. They are then divested of all metallic substances. They make their way along the winding stairs demarcated by pylons and nylon straps. They are caused to meet with obstruction until at last they reach the inner chamber, the sanctum sanctorum of the concourse proper and are no longer tormented by ruffians. Some candidates don’t make it through smoothly owing to some shortfall in preparation. These unfortunate travelers are shuffled to the side and are, perhaps, never seen again. Now doesn’t that sound like a Lodge?

The line waiting to pass through security is a scene of uncomfortable and self-conscious chaos as travelers unlace shoes and being neither barefoot nor shod, wrestle laptops and liquids out of bags. Take belts and jackets off and place them in those too small grey totes to later be invested with that of which they had been divested. In many ways this scene reminded me of the challenges that can present themselves as we try to move candidates and brothers through the degrees. And like those misfortunate travelers that are shuffled to the side, inevitably we lose some men who, for one reason or another, do not complete their degrees, do not return their proficiencies and so do not continue on the path laid out before them by our fraternity. In some cases, this is because the man is intimidated by the memorization work that is required, in others scheduling issues result in the new Brother losing interest and drifting away. 

In others still, the man, having dipped his toes into the waters of Freemasonry, determines that it is not to his liking and after making several excuses for why he isn’t available to meet his coach slips away into the ether. How can we retain good candidates? I suggest the problem is not one of retention but of election. We must closely look to our duty to guard well the West Gate. This is not a world shattering revelation and much has already been written on this topic. In my own Lodge we considered this problem from many angles and tried many strategies to overcome it. We made proficiencies easier, we made it more difficult, we picked candidates up in a limo and took them to their initiation. We met with them for several months before initiation, we initiated them as soon as they came through the door and still we lost some. Raising one in five. No strategy we adopted following their election to receive the degrees ensured that they would make it through.

I have become convinced from our failures that the answer lies in electing for degrees only those men who truly want to be Masons, men who are truly prepared in their hearts to be Brothers of the Craft and willing to pick up the working tools for their own betterment and the betterment of their communities. Let us not allow our fears of a declining membership to cloud our judgement and cause us to accept men who are deemed fit simply because they knock on our door and can fill a chair. Men who we determine will benefit from Freemasonry but never consider if Freemasonry will benefit from them. This way leads to frustration, doubt and ultimately the weakening of our order.

Let us return to our TSA analogy. While there is a winding line of travelers awkwardly preparing themselves to pass through scanners there is another group for whom no such burden is levied. These are the travelers for whom TSA has already guarded well the West Gate. These are those travelers who have already obtained the TSA Pre-check. There is no fumbling with luggage for them, no long lines that cause anxiety about whether or not flights will be made. For these well-prepared travelers there is only a steady and sure progression from the door to the inner chamber. There is far less uncertainty for these wanderers. They know for where they are bound and they have prepared themselves and been prepared sufficiently. So it is with our Lodges. Let us guard well the West Gate. 


WB Martin O'Brien is a Past Master of Cuyahoga Falls Lodge #735, now Star Lodge #187 in Cuyahoga Falls Ohio. He is a member of Cuyahoga Falls Chapter #225 Royal Arch Masons and Cuyahoga Falls Council #144 Royal & Select Masters.

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