Whence Came You? Three simple words. A question follows. What came you here to do? Another Question. You are a Mason, I presume? Another Question. What makes you a Mason? Another Question. However, is the answer to this last question really all that makes you a Mason? Yes, technically, but aren’t we more than that? Is the answer to the last question what really makes you a Mason? I just can't believe that. I believe that it’s part of what makes you a Mason, but being a Mason is more than just that two word answer.
I envy the Odd Fellows. They know exactly what they are all about. At the end of every Odd Fellow meeting, you recite the Odd Fellow Valediction. It is pretty much their mission statement. It is as follows:
If you ask any Odd Fellow, what the Odd Fellows do, they can recite this and give you a pretty good idea of what they are about.
What would happen if you ask a Freemason about our Mission Statement? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you ask ten Freemasons this question, you’re going to get ten different answers. This is part of the problem we have. We don’t have a singular identity. Yes, we have a long history that we like to talk about. We have a list of famous dead people (for the most part) that were Masons. We talk about the halcyon days of Masonry, when all of these magnificent buildings were built, when Pike and Mackey were writing, when we think the lodges were packed to the rafters with Masons. The truth is, that Pike and Mackey were experiencing the same things we're seeing now. To compound matters, there are so many differences from one grand lodge to another in the United States, that ther's hardly anything to unify us as a fraternity.
Do we need a valediction like the Odd Fellows? I don’t think it would hurt to have some idea of what our Mission is. I believe if we have one, it’s in pieces in our ritual. In order to not break my obligation, I’m going to just try to piece something together, paraphrased from our ritual. Here’s what I came up with:
Does the valediction above sum up what it is to be a Freemason? Would this be something that you’d be willing to repeat in your lodge at the end of your meetings? I think it gives a good summary of core beliefs, but I’m not sold on it. There is one thing that really bothers me about it. The phrase: “Improve myself in Masonry.” What does it mean? How does one improve themselves in Masonry?
How many of you have been at the end of the third degree to hear one of the various men assembled say something like this to the newly raised Master Mason?: “You get out of Masonry what you put into it!”? Are we not already basically telling the new Master Mason, “Hey Bro., I’m glad you’re a Mason! Don’t sweat coming back though. As long as you pay your dues, it’s cool.”? Don’t we need to set our expectations, instead of lowering them? The idea that we're perpetuating, is that we only care about the candidate until he’s raised. After that, they're on their own. In many cases, we don’t seem to care about the guy once he walks out that door as a Master Mason. This is utterly and completely wrong.
It also irritates me when someone hands the newly raised Master Mason a petition to an appendant body right after his degree. I mean seriously, give the brother a break. If he wants to join the Shrine/Grotto/York Rite/Scottish Rite, he can do it in due time. Let him enjoy his moment in the sun, don’t shove something in his face, and pressure him to join xyz body. It’s rude, and unbecoming behavior for a Mason. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
You see my brothers, there is a relationship between the expectations we should set for a newly raised Master Mason, and those we should have for ourselves in order to improve ourselves in Masonry. I believe that they are one and the same. We need to be educated. This should be the first and foremost duty of the Lodge of Freemasons. We like to say that we take good men and make them better, but how do you do that? You have to teach them, and that means that there has to be education. How do get teachers? You have to educate and make them. We need to start a train the trainer process. Those that have knowledge, need to give that knowledge to those that do not. I’m not only talking about Masonic knowledge. Part of becoming a better man, is in-fact, learning how to be a better man. We need to teach each other how to behave in public, on social media, in private. We need to teach each other what to wear to lodge, and the importance of a good suit. We need to teach each other how to use technology. We need to teach each other how to be leaders. Then of course, we need to share our knowledge of ritual, floor work, esoterica, and our ideas about the history of Freemasonry. We need to mentor each other, and the mentoring shouldn’t be a one way process. It should be reciprocal. Each man should have something that he can contribute that the other man or men in the lodge don’t know. By sharing this information, we learn and become well rounded individuals.
We need to be held accountable. How many times have you been at a stated meeting and had an activity in the community or socially in the lodge come up for a vote? Everyone thinks it’s a marvelous idea, and everyone votes unanimously to do it. Then the time for the event comes, and it’s you and one other brother who shows up. My brothers, this is unacceptable. If you don’t want to participate, don’t vote for an activity. If you vote for an event, then in my mind, you’re basically volunteering to be there and participate. It is quite frankly disheartening for me as a Worshipful Master to say that this happens time and time again in my own lodge. Yes, I understand that family and work comes first. Which is why I stated above to not vote for something if you have no intention of showing up. This doesn’t just apply to social gatherings or community events. If we have a degree or other work, we need to show up. There’s a good chance the date for the degree was discussed in the meeting. If you can’t make it, then you can explain why in that meeting. That’s assuming that you’re coming to the meeting in the first place.
We need to remember that we represent something bigger than ourselves. How many times have you seen something on Facebook posted by a fellow Mason that is in questionable taste? Remember that if you post an opinion and you have a Square and Compass as your profile picture, people are going to make assumptions about Masonry. We shouldn’t be engaging in religious or political debate on Social Media if we have Masonic symbols all over our Facebook homepage. We also need to watch what we say in public. Don’t cry about the lack of Millennials joining lodge when you were just calling them "snowflakes" a minute ago. I’m tired of having to bite my tongue when certain brothers sound off about sexual orientations, African Americans, Muslims, Jews, insert minority or religion here. I don’t agree with you. I don’t want to say anything because you’re a brother and I’m trying to be respectful of my obligation, but you’re not being smart if you’re doing this. Don’t put brothers in a position where they need to hold you accountable in public (or on social media). You should be able to hold yourself accountable (See the part about subduing my passions above.). Remember, you represent Freemasonry all of the time, there’s no off duty time.
We need to make our meetings into quality events. We should have a nice meal before the meeting. We should think about having a nice cigar or drink after the meeting. We should dress up for every meeting. We should have quality education at every meeting complete with discussion about the education we just received. We should keep the business to a minimum so that we can focus on the above things. The same holds for degree work. We need to set a standard that everyone agrees to follow. We need to work so that everyone who is there knows their role. Because once again, it boils down to expectations. If we set the expectation with our degree work for the candidate, they think that this is what Freemasonry is all about. Telling them that they get out of Freemasonry what they put in has led us to our current predicament. Set the expectation of having them come to meetings and make the meetings so spectacular that they don’t want to miss them. Continuing to read the minutes, communication, etc. was necessary when we didn’t have the ability to mass communicate. Now most of the business can be done via email, a private web page or Facebook group. The business part of meetings shouldn’t be taking 2 hours. If they are, you’re doing it wrong. Trust me, I’m currently worshipful master of a lodge doing it wrong.
We need to guard the West Gate. When we begin to only admit men that will adhere to and buy into the above, then we will be able to advance ourselves and the craft. If the current members of our lodges aren’t buying into what needs to happen, it’s because they weren’t vetted properly. If we continue to vote in every man with a checkbook and money for dues and degree fees, what are we really doing? We need to be closing the doors and guarding them, not letting them remain open for everyone. Not every man deserves to be a Freemason. Call it "elitism". I only want the best for the Fraternity. If we profess to make good men better, then we should only be admitting good men. We need to admit men that agree with the core principles I’ve laid out above.
You see not every Mason takes the meaning of improving themselves in Masonry to heart. If they did, we wouldn’t have to set out the expectations above time and time again. We say our obligation, we kiss the bible, but do we really understand the words? Do we listen during the lectures? Should we already be doing the things I’ve mentioned above. Not every Mason is. We think we are working on our rough ashlars, but it’s quite clear that we are just making them rougher. We are not subduing our passions.
"So what’s the solution?", you may ask. My answer is this. If you are not getting the experience in Masonry that you desire, either join a lodge that gives you this experience, or find like-minded individuals and form a lodge that gives you this experience. You can’t expect to change Freemasonry wholesale. It’s too institutionalized. There are too many members that will resist any change we offer, even if it makes the most sense. So I say, reject their reality, and substitute your own. Create your own little corner of the world with some like-minded brethren. It’s going to take work, but wouldn’t you rather work for something that you have a say in building and creating? I know I would.