I returned from our Grand Lodge communication a few months ago, and I was happy to see that we finally have a Grand Master that broke with Tradition. He did several things differently that stood out to me. The first was that he had a group of young men who were still members of DeMolay but who were also Master Masons open our Grand Lodge session. I was impressed by this display. As Worshipful Master of Homer #199 in Homer, Illinois, I have a hard enough time fighting my nerves when opening lodge alongside brethren who I have known for years. I can’t imagine the nerves that these fine young men had on this day. But of course, this didn’t stop a brother within my earshot from criticizing their performance. You see, quite simply, they were “doing it wrong” and he could do it better.
The second was that on the second day, traditionally (at least at the past 4 sessions that I’ve attended), the Job’s daughters perform the Living Cross. This year, the Rainbow Girls and Job’s daughters performed another ceremony, where they laid flowers of the color of Freemasonry and its appendant bodies on the altar. I personally felt that the change was refreshing. However, this didn’t stop from brethren around me from muttering their disapproval under their breath. Once again, in their minds, it was being done wrong. Why Change something from the formula that has been working in past years? Nevermind that most of these brethren are talking to each other, or on their phones and not really paying attention. Change is bad!
How many of you have experienced this scenario? A newly raised Master Mason attends his first lodge meeting. As per usual, there is barely a quorum and the WM asks the new Master Mason to fill in as JW. There is some quick instruction given to the new MM regarding what to do and how to respond. This usually takes place 5 – 10 minutes before the meeting. The WM tells the MM not to worry about getting everything right. The MM stumbles through the opening and closing of the meeting. The grumpy old Past Master comes up to the MM after closing, and proceeds to tell him everything he did wrong, and puts him through the paces to “Help Him”. The MM leaves the meeting, never to return.
I could continue to fill this article with examples of this. We’ve all seen, experienced, felt, or probably thought something like this at one time or another. Quite Frankly, I don’t think it’s a relatively new thing. I’m sure I could go back through the minutes of any of the lodges that I belong to find instances of someone complaining about something being “wrong” in the past. The problems that we have as fraternity are not new. We’ve all been doing it wrong for a while now.
Fundamentally, I think we have forgotten the important lessons taught to us in our degrees. If we follow the three tenets of Freemasonry, namely Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, we shouldn’t be criticizing one another. We need to remember: “By the exercise of Brotherly Love, we are taught to regard the whole human race as one family - the high, the low, the rich, the poor - who, as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabiting the same planet, should aid, support, and protect one another. On this principle, Masonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion, and promotes true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.”
If we are criticizing someone or something, are we aiding them or it? We are taught: "To relieve the distressed is a duty incumbent on all men, but particularly on Masons, who are linked together by a chain of sincere affection. To sooth the unhappy, to sympathize with them in their misfortunes, to compassionate their miseries, and to restore peace to their troubled minds, are aims we have in view. On this basis we form our friendships and establish our connections." I think we can all agree that by criticizing, by saying or thinking that someone is doing something wrong, that we are not sympathizing with them. We are not being compassionate. We are not helping restore peace to their troubled minds. If anything, we are causing their minds to be more troubled. We are causing strife, not promoting relief.
We are taught: “Truth is a divine attribute, and the foundation of every virtue. To be good and true is the first lesson we are taught in Masonry. On this theme we contemplate, and by its dictates endeavor to regulate our conduct. Hence, while influenced by this principle, hypocrisy, and deceit are unknown among us, and the heart and tongue join in promoting each other’s welfare and rejoicing in each other’s prosperity.” Again, if we are criticizing are we pursuing truth? No. We are being hypocritical. We are not promoting each other’s welfare, nor are we rejoicing in each other’s prosperity. We are not following lessons in almost every volume of sacred law which is most eloquently summed up by Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you will be judged.”
We need to remember that we represent the Fraternity not just when we are in a tyled lodge, but outside of it. Nowhere is this more important than on social media. It’s very easy to forget to subdue our passions, and forget our tenets online. More often than not, I can on a given day, find someone that is a “Friend” on Facebook criticizing someone for something (more often than not their political or religious beliefs). Hell, we’ve all done it. I’m just as guilty as everyone else. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the ever available reality show that is social media. It provides an instantaneous outlet for our passions. Sometimes I see so many posts from my brethren that I contemplate bringing up a ritual change at our next Grand Lodge. “The twenty-four inch gauge is an instrument made use of by operative masons to measure and lay out their work. But we, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of dividing our time. It being divided into twenty four equal parts, is emblematical of the twenty four hours of the day, which we are taught to divide into three equal parts, whereby we find eight hours for the service of God, eight for our usual vocations, and eight for Facebook and sleep.”
If you’re on Facebook wearing a square and compass in your profile picture, but you continually post negative or critical things on social media, are you doing a good job of representing the Fraternity? I think we can all agree that answer is "No". If you’re out in public wearing an item of clothing with the square and compass but you’re rude and obnoxious, how are you representing the Fraternity to the public? I think we can answer: “Not in a very good light.” Before you think I’m being hypocritical and criticizing my brethren, I’m not. I am just pointing out that in all forums, not only when we are in public, but also when we are online, we need to remember our tenets and our lessons and act accordingly.
If we want to blame anyone for members not attending our lodge, or the decline in membership, or someone not getting ritual correct, or any other thing; we need to take a hard look in the mirror. We need to ask ourselves “What am I doing wrong?” Once we answer that question, we can help to fix the things that we might see as being done wrong. If your lodge is lacking in attendance, are you doing enough to help make your meetings interesting and/or educational? Or are you content with your lodge just reading minutes, paying bills, arguing over repairs, and discussing plans for the next Pancake Breakfast? If you’re not bringing in members, are you trying to press your lodge towards being more active in the community? With the aforementioned “Inside the Freemasons” program on Netflix, as well as the AMC show ‘Lodge 49’, fraternalism is finally getting some favorable exposure in Mainstream Media. If your only communal activity as a Lodge is a pancake breakfast every 3 months, do you think you’re going to attract potential members? If no one knows you exist, then it’s unrealistic to expect growth. If you are sloppy with ritual, are you practicing? Are you stepping up to defend that new Master Mason just learning the ropes when the overbearing grumpy Past Master tries to “correct” him? Are you aiding him in his learning? Or are you content with allowing him to walk out of the lodge room never to return?
Ultimately, the onus is on each and every one of us to do our part. It’s a group effort. If you’re the only one in your lodge that is trying to improve things, then it might be time to find another lodge. You won’t be able to fix things by yourself, and if no one around you cares enough about your lodge to try to help, is your energy really worth it? Visit other lodges, find like-minded individuals, and work on improving the experience for yourself along with them, or convince them to help you form a new lodge that will provide the experience that you are all seeking. Maybe then, you’ll attract the attention of some other Masons, who *gasp* might even comment that you’re doing it right.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.