Mindfulness and the Working Tools

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Erik Antony Marks, 32, LICSW

It is commonly held and well documented that meditation is a practice, since about 1500 BCE in areas of India. From there, the famous story of the Buddha was popularized in the west by Herman Hess’ work, Siddhartha. Meditation of some form is found in all of the major religions of the world and have significant presence in lesser recognized religions and spiritual practices. We can find in the esoteric branches of the major religions—Gnostic, Sufi, Vajrayana or Tantric, Kabalistic, a strong emphasis on meditation. In Freemasonry we agree that no major task or important venture should be started without the invocation of Deity. Mindfulness meditation can often be used as a preliminary practice to prayer, be mixed with prayer as in Trappist Monk Thomas Merton’s Contemplative prayer, or be prayer in and of itself: a prayer without words, a prayer of presence.

There are gigabytes of resources on the internet about how to practice mindfulness, meditation, contemplative practices. Brother Chuck Dunning has an excellent book about the subject in relationship to Freemasonry, which I refer to often and recommend highly. You may ask why, then, would I write this? I do better when I find the authors like Dunning, Chödrön, Trungpa, Merton, which speak to me, with whom I feel a more personal connection. The author’s voice gets my attention or a detail they attend to, matches what I need. So, with the hope this will speak to you in a new way, here is my just-past-midnight version of encouragement to use the focus on the breath in mindfulness meditation as a tool.

In my usual vocation, I sit with people to talk about what either matters to, or troubles them most. More than half the time, this involves some form of nervousness, worry, anxiety, or panic. Daily, I return to the practice of sitting still with the mind, my own--theirs. Mindfulness meditation has been such a gift in my own life that from the moment I started working in human services, I’ve tried to incorporate it. There are lots of ways to incorporate the practice. It may mean teaching them to use this technique, or incorporating a practice they already have for a therapeutic purpose. It may come only in the form of practicing on my own time so I may be more present for them. There are times I ask them to stay with something difficult or complicated...don’t move on too quickly, let’s see where this thought/feeling takes us, you. Together, we delineate, circumscribe, an area of mind to attend to and stay within those bounds, intentionally. When we draw the lines, we know when we are outside, when our desires or passions have pulled us from our intended place or course of action.

Many people find they get stuck in thought loops, ruminate, worry: “I’ve always been a worrier” I hear multiple times a month. When in those states, it can feel challenging to get some distance on the mental process. It can even be difficult to remember to stop to practice or work with the mind in some moments: we are caught in a passion about reality, or concerned about a potential scenario. We may experience a fear of our own creation and then blow it out of proportion in our thoughts. We may churn about the future, or running over the same ground of a past experience or exchange that bothers us or how we may have hurt someone we care about. All of these are workable, with practice.

I like focusing on the breath since its with us wherever we go. In most situations, the people with whom I meet agree on this focal point and find it useful. I encourage them to focus on the rise and fall of their belly or the feel of the air moving in and out of their nostrils. Don’t try to change or control the breath, just try to notice it as it is happening. When your mind wanders to anything, say to yourself: “thinking,” and come back to the breath. This is akin to getting out the mental gavel and “knocking off” an idea. There is no judgement involved, the rough edge, thought, simply needs to be removed in that moment for the ashlar to become smoother. Over the course of a minute, that process of leaving with an idea and coming back can happen many times. Sometimes we “leave” with a thought and significant time goes by before we realize we’ve forgotten the intention to return. Its ok, its only thinking. Caveat: in some religions, denominations, or spiritual practices thoughts are not “just thoughts,” they are sin. The only claim I’m making is that for the purpose of dealing with the here and now psychology of human experience, thoughts are a cognitive process, contained in our minds, until we take action, which includes speaking. A longer conversation could occur about the use of mindfulness practice to enhance prayer and/or focus, generally, as well as the remedy for thoughts as sin.

Many people return to the next session and say “It didn’t work,” or “I failed,” or “I don’t think I did it right.” I know, it happens to me too, every week. If you sat down to have a practice, put in some intentional effort, you probably did it right. Having strong feelings, mind wandering, or getting angry with self for wandering are all part of the practice and evidence its proceeding correctly. Compassionately label it all as thinking and return to the focal point--subdue the criticism. We become more adept over time, and minds still wander. I once presented with a colleague at a college health conference in which he said: “The mind secretes thoughts like the pancreas secretes insulin.” It seemed apropos. We may not be able to stop thoughts or emotions from arriving, but we can work at what to do with them once they are here. Sometimes we don’t want to be as vigilant and we indulge a little. It's ok, you’re learning your own process and how passions pull at the mind. If you cut corners, you’ll know; there is no need to be harsh or mean with yourself, just try it differently next time. You’ll see, know, and feel it.

Sometimes sitting still in silence can cause us to worry more or feel increasingly anxious. It may be so intense you may want or need to “stop early.” You can and you may. I encourage taking the longest, slowest, deepest, and most quiet breath possible before stopping and then, stop: breathe in for as long as you can, hold it as long as you can, then exhale as long as you can stand it. Done. The meta-process of that self-intervention is that moment you subdued the need to escape your experience by superimposing another on top of it. You offered your conscious mind an idea and physical process to focus on instead of focusing on, and amplifying, the anxiety about the experience of the moment. Breath as tool; breath as compasses. In that moment you taught your amygdala that the fear of the moment gripping you was not, in fact, a saber-tooth tiger about to scramble your consciousness and wreak ruin in your life. You reprogrammed, rewired, your brain…just a little bit. In return, some part of the brain, and you, said: “huh, I didn’t lose it, I didn’t freak out…I’m ok...maybe I could have tolerated a little more.” Staying present at the boundary and observing allows an unique vantage point of our felt pain or discomfort in the moment; it allows us to recalibrate our gauge and then measure our emotional experience of time differently. Then next time that nervousness or anxiety happens, you may feel calmer, grounded, centered. You may be better prepared with the lesson from the previous experience and you may feel a little less worried: try two long breaths this time before stopping. Note: for the vast majority of people, these tools don’t work in the midst of full-on panic.

Last year, I attended a memorial service for a good friend, colleague, mentor, at a friend’s (Quaker) meetinghouse. My memory of the instruction was: sit in silence until you feel moved to speak. Though wait and see if you are moved to speak by divinity and not by some other purpose (ego, showing off, being heard). Many times through the service I felt a swell of emotion and memory, and wanted to say something. But I waited and in each instance, the something was about me, not about my friend, really. There was no sermon, not liturgical charge, no directive, no rapturous music, just silence and the words of others who felt moved to speak. It was one of the most powerful “services” I had attended. I believe it was one of the most powerful because the instruction was to fully attend to the moment and my use my working tools to shape the expression of my intentions: my work was to be fully present for, and honest with, myself in the service of the memory of my friend and those in the room.

Sitting still with one’s mind doesn’t change the present, or the problems. Jon Kabat-Zin (Full Catastrophe Living) and Saki Santorelli (Heal thy self) at UMass Medical Center have decades of data about how mindfulness meditation helps with pain management, increasing tolerance to stress, improving mental functioning, shortening recovery times from illness to name just a few. Mindfulness as a daily practice isn’t a panacea, but it does help us know ourselves better, and be more understanding of our process. It helps us be less reactive and more present. It causes us to deny nothing and feel ready for anything. Even thirty seconds a day can help the mind keep coming back to the present or keep the idea of not reacting on the menu card of the moment. The more we work with our tools, the more proficient we become. The more we practice, the greater the probability we will be able to subdue our passions in the moments they occur.

Brother Erik A. Marks, 32º, LICSW, is a clinical social worker whose usual vocation has been in the field of human services in a wide range of settings since ’90. He was raised in ’17 by his biologically younger Brother and then Worshipful Master in Alpha Lodge in Framingham, MA.

At the Auction

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Gregory J. Knott



Todd Creason and I recently attended the auction of the contents of Martinsville Lodge No. 603 (IL). Martinsville lodge merged with another lodge and they decided to sell everything in the lodge building. You could literally have furnished your own lodge with everything that was there. The bidding was fast and furious as the chant of the auctioneer got both the locals and brethren actively bidding to buy some of the great masonic treasurers.

I hadn’t been to Martinsville before, but was looking at the downtown area. This town isn’t unlike hundreds of others in rural America. Older buildings on Main Street, several of them closed or in poor condition. The bank and post office were still open. There was a restaurant, hardware store and a couple of antique shops. But overall, the best of times were in the past for the business district.

One thing struck me was that on the same side of the street were three fraternal buildings, almost right next to each other. The Odd Fellows, The Order of Redman and the Martinsville Masonic Lodge. The Freemasons were the longest survivors of these fraternities. I don’t know when the others closed, but I assume they had suffered the same fate as the masonic lodge, declining interest and membership. These lodges had been a vital part of the social fabric of the Martinsville community and now they were dark.

Todd was able to purchase the masonic pillars from the lodge and I purchased all the officer jewels. Both of us would just have assumed to see the lodge stay open, but these will be great additions to our personal masonic collections.

Everything has a season.

~GJK

WB Gregory J. Knott is the Worshipful Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 in Ogden (IL) and a plural member of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC.

Don't Like Your Lodge? Find Another

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Robert E. Jackson


"I've had it. I'm done. I can't believe they voted that way. I've worked so hard for this effort, but the Lodge doesn't seem to care. I feel so passionate about this subject, but the Lodge simply will not support it."

I've spoken with a Brother recently who had stated that at one point in time, he had considered demitting from the Craft. And here I thought I was the only one! It doesn't take much to want to throw away membership in something, especially when you don't have much ownership.

If you find yourself at odds with your Lodge, speak with the Master. Ensure they understand your concerns. Offer solutions, because believe me, when the Master hears problems, more often than not they will want to address it. Without approaching with a possible solution, though, the statements can be received as a simple complaint that is easily dismissed. A solution proposed, however, offers a starting point from which to build that structure.

If you feel as if the Master isn't listening to you, make sure they know. These are difficult conversations to have, but the fortitude is required for progress. If you still feel like you have nothing left with which to build your moral and Masonic edifice, then it's time to move on. But don't demit. Don't just stop paying dues. But also, don't continue to support a Lodge if you don't believe in their direction.

I'm lucky enough to reside in the state of Massachusetts. We certainly have our issues, but in my opinion (and statistics show) Freemasonry is strong within this state. If I grow frustrated with my Lodge, there are a dozen (or more) within an hours drive for me to visit and see if I feel at home.

Yes it's a Lodge and we are all Brothers, but some times siblings don't get along. Find a group where you feel welcome, appreciated, and loved. I may take flack about suggesting a Brother find another Lodge, but in all honesty, if a Brother doesn't feel welcome, appreciated, or loved in their Lodge, it doesn't help anybody to have them continue in that capacity. It doesn't mean they should stop building though. There are other resources that can be tapped to help.

~REJ

Robert Edward Jackson is a Past Master and Secretary of Montgomery Lodge located in Milford, MA. His Masonic lineage includes his Father (Robert Maitland), Grandfather (Maitland Garrecht), and Great Grandfather (Edward Henry Jackson), a founding member of Scarsdale Lodge #1094 in Scarsdale, NY. When not studying ritual, he's busy being a father to his three kids, a husband, Boy Scout Leader, and a network engineer to pay for it all. He can be reached at info@montgomerylodge.org



Masonic Publications to Look Into

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson



Often times we find ourselves looking for something to read or maybe just wishing for it. If you're lucky enough to have free time that doesn't require also splitting it with paying attention to the little ones, congratulations...I digress.

As a podcaster I find myself constantly looking for material to either write about or read on the show, (if the publication is cool with it). The list of publications I'll give here are ones that I enjoy, even though some of them do not allow reprinting or readings ;) Take a look and if I can assist you in answering questions about them, please feel free to email me.

The Plumb Line - A publication of the AASR Research Society. You essentially join the Research Society. Cost is about $50 and you get a quarterly newsletter (usually with a great article in each one) and a hard cover book (usually by de Hoyos). Totally worth it.

The Fraternal Review - Probably the hippest and most relevant in terms of knowing what it's readers love, and is inexpensive for what you get. 11 issues for $37. In fact probably the coolest damn thing is that they do is a "Lodge Subscription" for $92. A lodge subscription gets you 3 physical print copies of each issue. They also offer a digital subscription for $27. It's printed on nice paper, is in color and usually comes in the usual length of a good magazine, sans all the advertisements. Just do it.

The Journal - A publication of the Masonic Society is  similar in nature to the Philalethes. Cost is $45 per year and is released quarterly. This magazine is also printed in a very nice way. Full color, good paper weight and consists of slightly more academic papers. They adhere to their quarry style guide as well, which is Like Chicago Style. Anyone in good standing can subscribe. Cost is $45.

The Philalethes - The oldest Masonic research publication in the United States, the Philalethes is Americas version of AQC, (at least that's how it feels to me.) In any case, this publication is also in color, published quarterly and has good paper weight. The cost is $50 for 4 issues.

The Rocky Mountain Mason - Another full color Masonic publication with great articles and who is more concerned with it's readership than the pomp and circumstance of other publications. That is not to say that those who are published in the magazine are not scholars, to the contrary they are. In fact many propose amazing and new research not examined before. Subscription to this publication will set you back a whopping $33 bucks for this quarterly masterpiece. ( I'm not being sarcastic. I legitimately enjoy the heck out of this one.)

The Working Tools by Cory Sigler was a wonderful magazine as well. Alas it's no longer in print. In addition, The Living Stones magazine which was published by Robert Herd was also just amazing. Although it too is out of print, Robert made all issues available for free in digital format. You can access them at the link below. CLICK HERE TO ACCESS THE LIVING STONES MAGAZINE.

Happy subscribing and happy reading everyone!

~RHJ

RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183 UD. 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 focus 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.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone + The Royal Art of Freemasonry

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners



FORWARD: RJ had been after me to give the readers a little taste of the “Harry Potter and Freemasonry” presentation that I’ve been giving to lodges in the 7th Eastern District in Illinois.  We were in a pinch for an article so I present part of my presentation below. I hope that it is well received.  - DL  

It may or may not come as a surprise to you that author JK Rowling has gone on record to say that the symbol of the deathly hallows from her Harry Potter series of books may have been subconsciously inspired by the Masonic Square and Compass.   In the below link, you can hear her in her own words discuss this.  (https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/jk-rowling-deathly-hallows-symbol-harry-potter-inspiration-mason-a8025626.html)  Although Harry Potter is filled with a plethora of interesting symbolism, I see a lot of other symbols used in Harry Potter which have connections with Freemasonry.  I will attempt cover one of these below.

First and foremost, the monomyth or hero’s journey is applied quite well to the journey that Harry Potter takes in each of his books, as well as the overall series.  Our own progress through the degrees also follows the monomyth.     

Step 1: The Ordinary World - This is where the hero exists before his adventure begins. The hero is oblivious to the adventure to come. In general, this part of the monomyth humanizes the hero so that we can identify better with them and empathize with them during their journey. This is Harry prior to getting his invitation to attend Hogwarts. Masonically, this would be a candidate prior to petitioning a lodge. 

Step 2: The Call to Adventure – This is where the hero receives the invitation for his adventure For Harry, this occurs when Hagrid shows up at the Dursley’s doorstep with his invitation to Hogwarts in his hand.   Masonically, this represents the candidate when he decides ultimately to petition a lodge, undergoes his investigation, and ultimately is accepted to receive his degrees in Freemasonry.  

Step 3: Cross the First Threshold – When the hero enters the world which is foreign to him.  This occurs when Hagrid brings Harry to Diagon alley and to Gringots, he introduces him to the wizarding world.  Masonically, this occurs when the candidate knocks 3 times on the door of the preparation room and enters the lodge for his first degree.   

Step 4: Trials, Friends, and Foes –  Just as it suggests, the hero has trials, meets allies and his foes.  In the Sorcerer’s Stone,  Harry meets Hermoine and Ron, they make it past Fluffy and enter the trap door in the forbidden corridor,  together overcome the obstacles in their path, allowing Harry to confront Voldemort for the 1st time, who has partially possessed Prof. Quirrell.  You continue to see Harry repeat this step in the subsequent novels where he overcomes obstacles with the aid of his allies.  Masonically, this represents the candidate who is received by the Senior Deacon, who leads them around the lodge, where they are challenged by the Junior Warden, Senior Warden and Worshipful Master. 

Step 5: Magical Mentor (or the Mentor with Supernatural Aid) – The hero meets an older and wise mentor, often with magical powers and/or possessing a magical object. In the Harry Potter novels, Dumbledore fills this archetype (giving Harry the Invisibility Cloak in the Sorcerer’s Stone), however Sirius Black (Gives Harry the Firebolt Broomstick) and the other members of the Order of the Phoenix, and Dobby (gives Harry the Gillyweed in the Goblet of Fire) also act as Mentors for Harry.  Masonically, the Senior Deacon would fulfil this role, as the Senior Deacon who escorts the candidate around the lodge, and assists the Worshipful Master with the candidate at the altar where they take their obligation, receive the due guard, sign, pass and token of each degree. 

Step 6: Dragon’s Lair – When the hero crosses a second threshold, he faces a significant physically and psychological risk.  This would be represented by Harry’s journey to his second confrontation with Voldemort at the end of the Goblet of Fire, where upon touching the triwizard’s trophy at the same time as Cedric Diggory, it reveals itself to be a portkey, bringing them both to a graveyard where his blood is used to reconstitute Voldemort.   Masonically, this would be when the candidate takes his steps toward the altar, to undertake his obligation.  

Step 7: Moment of Despair – The hero is close to defeat, and he has to dig deep inside himself to be able to escape the moment. In the Goblet of Fire, Harry uses knowledge he has been taught (the disarming spell) to counter Voldemort’s killing curse.  The wands are connected, and the spirits of Voldemort’s past victims emerge from his wand.   Once the connection is broken, the spirits remain, protecting Harry and allowing him time to grab Cedric’s body and escape by grabbing the trophy. Masonically, this can be thought of when the candidate takes his obligation.   He must honor the obligation every day for the rest of his life, or face the penalty of his obligation.    

Step 8: Ultimate Treasure – The hero receives a prize for successfully escaping from his moment of despair.  The reward can take on many forms, however it normally is secondary to the personal transformation the Hero undergoes.  For Harry, the second confrontation with Voldemort transforms him, helping instruct Defense Against the Dark Arts to Dumbledore’s army in the Order of the Phoenix, as well as giving him courage to face the obstacles ahead of destroying the horcruxes and defeating Voldemort .  Masonically speaking, the reward given to a candidate is the password, grip or token, due guard and sign, how to wear their apron and their working tools, as well as the explanatory lectures and charges for that degree, but also the transformation that takes place where the candidate becomes a brother.       
Step 9: Homeward Bound – This represents a retracing of the hero’s steps in reverse order.  This means that once again the hero must face challenges, resolve to defeat his enemy and return home. There might be a moment where the Hero is forced to choose between personal objectives, or to answering to a higher cause.  For Harry, this covers the events of The Deathly Hallows, where Harry and his allies hunt Horcruxes, they are captured, escape, and ultimately Harry faces Voldemort for the last time.  Masonically, this can be thought of as the beginning of the second section of the third degree, where the candidate represents Hiram Abiff, and the three ruffians attempt to pry the secrets of a Master Mason from him.     

Step 10: Rebirth & The Champion’s Return – This is the climax of the hero’s journey, where he faces his final and most difficult encounter with death and returns back to the Ordinary World changed.  For Harry, this occurs when he goes to the Forest encampment outside of Hogwarts and allows Voldemort to kill him.  He wakes up in a dreamlike version of Kings Cross Station, where he meets Dumbledore and learns that he hasn’t died.   He learns that the protective charm his mother Lily placed on Harry is kept alive inside of Voldemort, because Voldemort used Harry’s blood to reconstitute himself. Thus, Voldemort could not kill Harry, and Harry can now go back and finish him off.  In Masonic terms, I think this is pretty self-explanatory to those that have gone through the 3rd degree. There is a deeply moving and profound thing that happens which transforms the candidate.

It’s probably appropriate that Harry’s journey begins in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone.  It’s during this first book that Harry begins his adventures as a Wizard.  In the book, the philosopher’s stone is an artificial stone created by an alchemist named Nicolas Flamel.  The stone is used to create the Elixir of Life, which extends the drinker’s lifespan, as well as transmute any metal into Gold.  The main villain of the series, Lord Voldemort, wants the stone so that he can regenerate his body as he only exists in a non-corporeal form.  As a quick aside, Voldemort’s name roughly translated from French means “Theft (Flight) From Death”, which is an illusion to his obsession with conquering death.   He’s robbed death of taking him at Godric’s Hollow by his creation of the horcruxes.  He spends the first few books attempting to regain his corporeal form, only doing so in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  In legend, the stone was an alchemical substance with the powers as ascribed above.  

The perfect ashlar that all Freemasons aspire to transform themselves into is another representation of the Philosopher’s Stone.  By following the lessons of Freemasonry, we transform ourselves from imperfect material to a perfected one, much like the Philosopher’s stone would transmute imperfect metal (like lead) into Gold.   The elixir of life from the Philosopher’s stone that grants immortality parallels the idea that since we as Masons are humans in an imperfect state, we aspire to become a perfect one, so that we may obtain immortality in that lodge on high which was not built with Human Hands.  Manly P. Hall states in The Secret Teachings Of All Ages (https://archive.org/stream/The_Secret_Teachings_Of_All_Ages_-_Manly_P_Hall/The_Secret_Teachings_Of_All_Ages_-_Manly_P_Hall_djvu.txt)

“Albert Mackey sees a correspondence between the Philosophers Stone and the Masonic Temple, for both represent the realization and accomplishment of the ideal. In philosophy the Stone of the Wise Man is "supreme and unalterable Reason. To find the Absolute in the Infinite, in the Indefinite, and in the Finite, this is the Magnum Opus, the Great Work of the Sages, which Hermes called the Work of the Sun. He who possesses the Philosophers Stone possesses Truth, the greatest of all treasures, and is therefore rich beyond the calculation of man; he is immortal because Reason takes no account of death and he is healed of Ignorance --the most loathsome of all diseases. The Hermetic Stone is Divine Power, which all men seek but which is found only by such as exchange for it that temporal power which must pass away. To the mystic, the Philosophers Stone is perfect love, which transmutes all that is base and 'raises' all that is dead.”

In order to create a perfect ashlar, we are instructed as an Entered Apprentice Mason to use the common gavel.  In using the common gavel, you will begin to remove these rough edges and shape your character so as to "divest your heart and conscience of all the vices and superfluities (excesses) of life".  In order to first do this, the Entered Apprentice must look deep into himself and examine his own soul.  We see a parallel with Harry looking into the Mirror of Erised.  Harry discovers the “Mirror of Erised,” a mystical mirror that shows us the “deepest and most desperate desires of our hearts.” The mirror shows Harry images of himself surrounded by a loving family, and he becomes entranced by the images he sees, wanting to return to the mirror again and again to stare into it. The school’s headmaster, Dumbledore, warns him, “The mirror will give us neither knowledge nor truth,” and that “it does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Later Harry is able to retrieve the Philosopher’s stone from the mirror because as Dumbledore puts it:”Ah, now, I’m glad you asked me that. It was one of my more brilliant ideas, and between you and me, that’s saying something. You see, only one who wanted to find the Stone – find it, but not use it – would be able to get it, otherwise they’d just see themselves making gold or drinking Elixir of Life.”

A man can only become a Freemason if he is uninfluenced by Mercenary motives, as affirmed by his answer to the secretary during the 1st degree interrogatories.  If he enters the lodge due to someone else’s desire or due to his own desire to use Freemasonry for personal gain, then he is not able to form himself into the perfect ashlar, ie: Posses the philosopher’s stone.  The freemason that aspires to become the perfect ashlar does so only out of the pureness of his own heart and spirit, and without any thought of selfishness or material gain.

~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

The Masonic Education Paradox - Rewind

Editors Note* When Steve first wrote this piece, I read it and thought, "Wow...are we just apathetic?" And today, I still wonder. You see, there does seem to be a general problem and when solved, no one cares and they go on complaining. What's the answer? I'm not sure. But read this piece and by all means, give us some ideas of why programs like this aren't appreciated or utilized. Give us some examples of how you’ve changed the education of your lodge. What have you taken it into your own hands?~RHJ

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR



The Grand Lodge of Missouri has on occasion conducted surveys asking the Brothers, among other things, what they want from Masonry. It probably won't shock you to discover the number one thing on the list is "Masonic education."

So, hats off to the Grand Lodge of Missouri — it listened to the Brothers, went to work and came up with a Masonic education program. It works this way: On a regular basis the Grand Lodge sends an information packet to each Lodge Secretary. Included within that packet is a document containing a piece on Freemasonry. Then, at a stated meeting, the Secretary, Lodge Education Officer or any Brother can read the piece and perhaps conduct a discussion afterward. Note that the program also has the added advantage that Lodges across the state are all working on the same subject simultaneously.

There you go… Masonic education handed to you on a silver platter.

What more could you ask for?

I'll tell you exactly what: you could ask for the Lodges to make use of it. I attend my share of Lodge meetings. While "reliable sources" tell me there are some Lodges that do, I have never sat in a Lodge that uses the material.

So let's recap. The number one thing Brothers want is Masonic education; the Grand Lodge provides it; and (generalizing) the Brothers don't use it. It's a bit of a paradox, isn't it? Maybe the next survey should ask, "What do you really want?"

So, I have a suggestion. If you want Masonic education more than anything, appoint yourself your own personal education officer. Read, research, write, learn everything you can; but don't stop there. Make a commitment to take it to Lodge. It doesn't take much. Maybe start by reading an article from the Midnight Freemasons Blog, or maybe an excerpt from MNF founder Todd Creason's Famous American Freemasons book. (Modesty… ahem… prevents me from mentioning you could read something from one of my books). Likely as not, just a few minutes on a subject will spark a discussion. If my experience is any indication, your Brothers will thank you for doing it. Try it: just a few minutes of Masonic education can turn a mundane meeting into a memorable meeting.

If that works, take it a step further. Ask your Brothers to do the same. Maybe think about "upping your game" and turning it into a presentation. Take it to other lodges. Ask those Brothers to do the same.

In the words of that great litterbug Arlo Guthrie, "Let's start a movement." Before you know it, we might be swimming in Masonic education.

~SLH

Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Worshipful Master. He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. His latest book, Freemasons: Tales From the Craft & Freemasons at Oak Island. Both are available on amazon.com.

The Image

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Brother Paul Nevins


I’m not going to say what I do for work. It would take too long and, to be honest, there are plenty of days I’m not even exactly sure what my job is technically. Let me just say it has a lot of downtime where I’m sitting in my truck overseeing a jobsite, taking notes and trying to stay awake.

One day last fall was just one of those slow days spent watching and waiting for the time to pass. I was in Cambridge for the day and dreading the traffic on the way home later.

Most people who know me can testify I’m not a social person. Especially when it comes to strangers. And even more so when I’m outside on a dreary and rainy Tuesday morning compounded by the fact that I didn’t get my coffee yet. I’ll be blunt, most days I generally want to be left alone until noon. I’m just not a morning person.

Anyways, this older gentleman whom I’ve seen a couple times in the area came up to my truck and asked what was going on with the project. I really didn’t want to talk but mustered up all the politeness I could and explained what I could. He somehow shifted the conversation to the weather, and I realized to my hidden dismay that this conversation wasn’t going to be over anytime soon. Nonetheless I kept smiling and talking to the old man who quickly introduced himself as John.

A couple days later, I was back at the same site. Again, John made an appearance when I’d rather spend my morning quietly alone. Same thing the next day. In fact, each morning that I was there, I swear he was watching out his window waiting for me to arrive. It wasn’t that he was a nuisance or a terrible person. In fact, it as quite the opposite. He was a great guy. I, on the other hand, just preferred to wait further into the day before any social interaction. I quickly picked up on that he was just an old guy who just seemed to want someone to listen to him. Topics ranged from sports to history to current events. Luckily politics was left out.

The last day I was there on that site, he asked about how long I was involved in the Masons. I was taken back a bit as my involvement in the fraternity hadn’t been mentioned to that point. I was pretty sure I wasn’t wearing anything with a Masonic emblem or symbol. I rarely wear my ring to work especially on cold days. How did he know? I’m sure my confusion was obvious to him when I politely asked with a smile. John laughed and pointed out the square compass on the tailgate which has been there so long I never think about it anymore. He said that was what made him approach me that first day.

John then told me his father and uncle were both Masons. He knew nothing about the Fraternity other than growing up just assuming it was some sort of bowling club. They didn’t really share much with him about it. He even said, that for a couple of his teen years, he was a bit hurt that they never invited him or showed any interest in having him join.

He told me that he really didn’t know much about Freemasonry other than the occasional news article or tv show. He wasn’t much into, as he called it, “…watching things on the computer web” which probably was good considering the conspiracy theories on the Internet easily eclipse the truth about Freemasonry. So, he spent the next hour or so asking questions about the Fraternity. I answered the best that I could. I suggested to him that he stop by the Cambridge Masonic Temple on Mass Ave when the next Open House came around. While I know a few Brothers from there, I’ve never had the chance to visit. However, from pictures, it really is a beautiful building. He promised me he would check it out and somehow, I could tell that he would.

Its about this point in my story where the purpose of sharing all that becomes evident. I was driving home that day when I first saw the bigger picture of my encounters and talks with John. I was a Freemason. Whether I accepted it or not, I now represented not just my Lodge but the principles of Freemasonry as a whole as I go through life. Not just with John but with everyone I meet each and every day. It was a sobering thought that, even now, I have trouble putting into words. Not only was I a Freemason, I was a Freemason even when I had no idea that people saw me as a Freemason yet they really did know. Hopefully that makes sense.

Being my usual grumpy self in the morning, I could have at anytime been inadvertently rude or dismissive to John. I could have just asked him to leave me alone. Luckily, I never did.

It was all a quick reminder that, after I took upon myself my Obligation years ago, how I conduct myself every single day is now reflective of not just my values but also the values and ideals of my Brothers, my Lodge and my Fraternity as a whole. I embody them all. Every Brother does. Sometimes we lose sight of that.

I believe it was C. S. Lewis who once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” Now I see that, like it or not and whether you realize it or not, people are watching. Represent the Craft well.

~PN

Looking for A Speaker?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson



Greetings fellow Masonic readers! Over the past few weeks I have been at work contacting Masonic scholars and presenters in the hopes that they would "bite". I had a vision, likely you've all had it to--a website where you could go to check out Masonic speaker, read about them and their prepared talks, then book them.

So I made it. We're off to a wonderful start, with 14 speakers listed. I must say, that I do not manage them, I claim nothing, I don't charge them anything, and this is not a co-op or a group of branded anything. This is simply a way to arrange men willing to travel and bring Masonic Education to our lodges. A one stop shop for you and an easy way to contact them.

My thanks goes out to all those who've accepted the invite. I only wish I'd had something like this when I was planing my year in the East, a few years back.

So, if you're a Masonic Speaker, and you want to be listed, contact me by clicking HERE. If you know someone who should be on this listing, let them know. But most importantly, visit the site, read through the amazing prepared lectures these fine scholars have, and perhaps...email them. Bring some education back to your lodge!


~RHJ

RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183 UD. 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 Theatrewhich focus 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.

Why Your Lodge Should Do A Joint Degree

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce

Photo credit: W:. Michael G. Koshgarian

The case for providing the best experience for candidates and members

Stop me if you've experienced this... your lodge is hosting a degree and the only thing secured is the candidate's name. Your scrambling to fill the chairs. One Brother with an important role only knows half of his part, really, he just started learning it after having weeks to prepare. It's degree night and another Brother, the who only seems to show up on degree night (we all know that guy), is asking out loud, "What's for dinner? Who is doing the prompting?" Forget about practice or rehearsals, you can barely get a team assembled for degree night. Does this sound familiar?

Many years ago, my district floated the idea of creating a database of Brothers who can perform parts of our ritual. While there are lodges who have members who can fill every degree role, some feature a bench so deep with alternates and backups - just in case. For many lodges that need help filling open parts and positions, the thought was, if we compiled a list of "specialists" who could be contacted in advance, this resource would help the lodge coordinating the degree. Bringing in help is one way of pulling a degree together. However, the other idea also provides the best experience for the candidates and members of the lodge. A joint degree showcases the Masonic principle of how the best work is done together, in harmony.

A Joint Degree


I had the pleasure and honor of attending and participating in a Joint Degree featuring SIX candidates from THREE Lodges in TWO districts: Van Rensselaer #87, Clinton Lodge #140, and On Da Wa #820. Clinton Lodge hosted the degree. When I spoke with their WM Larry Rivenburg about the work in bringing this degree together, he said, "there was a lot of paperwork." I volunteered that evening to assist the Brothers in the preparation room who would be taking their Fellowcraft Degree that night. I also served as a conductor to one of the Brothers, in a line that just barely fit in the area needed for the floor work.

While in the Lodge room, that's when it hit me; I'm a member of two Lodges in this district, guiding a Brother from another Lodge in a room FULL of members. That point was shared when I spoke with the Senior and Junior Deacons after the degree, they both were excited performing a degree in a room with 40 Masons versus the handful who typically attend their meetings. Looking around the room there were the purple aprons of Right Worshipfuls, an Assistant Grand Lecturer in the Marshall's chair, and the DDGM of a neighboring district (Saratoga-Warren-Washington) delivered the Middle Chamber Lecture, with a level of proficiency and comfort that connected and engaged all listening to his voice. Excellent job, RW!

Sure, there were the usual pauses and prompts that come with any degree. But overall, this was the first degree I have attended where, as a someone on the sidelines, I got something out of the evening's performance. I witnessed Brothers representing many lodges come together and work as one for the benefit of the Craft. It didn't really sink in until my drive home that magnitude of what had happened that evening, how different the experience for the candidates would have been if their mother lodge had attempted to confer the degree on their own.

After the degree, another first - every Fellowcraft shook the hand and thanked every Brother in attendance that evening. Without knowing the work that goes into conferring a degree, the recognized and appreciated the efforts of those who made this experience possible. There were smiles, exchanges of invitations to visit each other's meetings, and fond farewells. This is what Freemasonry is about. This is the impression our degree nights should be leaving, that reminder that we work best - together.

I was happy to see the text message on my phone the next morning in my lodge group chat, the Master of Clinton Lodge had expressed interest in doing a joint degree with my lodge in April. A smile warmed my face as I recalled the words from Psalm 133, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!"

 ~MA

Brother Michael Arce is the Junior Warden of St. George’s #6, Schenectady and a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at: michael.arce@me.com

Washington’s Birthday

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor

Celebrating the birth of American Freemasonry’s most famous Brother


Today, Freemasons and Americans all celebrate the birthday of the man, the military hero, the Freemason, and the legend - George Washington. Author Ron Chernow once estimated that more than 900 books have been written about George Washington. A majority of those books detail his life, his military service, and his time in office as the first President of the United States. Master Mason’s in good standing with the Grand Lodge of the State of New York have access to the Livingston Library, as they seek additional Light in Masonry. There are 17 reading courses, each containing 5-6 titles selected by the Library. Washington is prominently featured throughout the reading list either as a subject or topic. At his visit to Mount Zion #311 in Troy, New York, our DDGM RW Ken White focused his remarks on Washington. I reached out to RW White afterward to share some of his insight into His Excellency, Worshipful Brother George Washington on his 284th birthday. Below are his thoughts.

Washington’s lesson in leadership


The symbol of the Leader of the Free World is the President of the United States. To date, we have had 45 Presidents all of which have had diverse backgrounds in age, creed, education, careers, wealth and family. Fourteen of these men were Freemasons, we can call them brothers. Fourteen out of 45. Just under 33 percent (31) or one-third of all our Presidents. That’s a pretty good batting average and in the sport of baseball that gets you into the Hall of Fame!

Of course, when thinking of our Masonic Presidents, the Hall of Famer in my mind is George Washington. There’s no need to dive into detail on all his accomplishments for they are well known. He set the bar for the position as well as an example for all Brothers to follow in the Craft. Just think his character, how our Founding Fathers not only chose him to lead the troops but later looked to him lead our country’s fledgling government. He was the rock star of his time who made such an impression, we named our children, schools, states, towns and whatever else we could find to honor him. Think of what a person would have to attain nowadays to reach such admiration.

There are four known leadership types, and all have different attributes. The first is the creator or the artist. He is clever and creative. They envision change, so their influence is based on anticipating a better future in generating hope in others. Being original is highly prized. They express themselves in spontaneous, creative responses to their surroundings. They are imaginative, able to handle a high degree of ambiguity and are comfortable with abstract ideas. Success for this type is defined by expressing new ideas and prototyping those ideas when possible. Washington subscribed to a fundamental belief in creating a new nation from the tyranny of England. He showed spontaneity and creativity with his surprise crossing of the Delaware River. Washington embraced the idea of being original, serving as the prototype of a new government position - President of the United States, not a king but a leader for the people.

The second leadership type is the competitor or the athlete who is aggressive and decisive. This leader actively pursues goals and targets and is energized by competitive situations. Winning is the principal objective. These leaders are hard drivers and producers, very demanding of themselves and others. Speed, stealth and discipline are keys to their approach. Success for this type involves energizing and expanding opportunities for problem-solving by deploying resources. Washington displayed these characteristics as General of the American forces during the War for Independence, continually having to improvise his tactics to remain competitive against the dominating British Army. As a gentleman farmer, in his letters home, he frequently asked about his crops keeping detailed records of their growing patterns. Washington was also a land speculator who believed that America’s destiny lay in expansion to the west. He shared his dream of linking the Potomac River through a series of canals and roads to the Ohio River - opening trade and commerce.

The collaborative or Sage leader is caring and empathetic. This third type of leader is keenly aware of others and cares for the needs of individuals. They are skilled in building a community of people and sharing knowledge between them. They seek interactions among community members and allies and use processes by conflict management and consensus decision-making. Their success is defined by the creation of healthy relationships to dialogue, trust, and understanding. Outcomes of these collaborative practices are shared values and commitment. They use their team orientation and cooperative nature to accomplish their goals. Morale and commitment or actively pursue. Masonically, we can trace the traits displayed by Washington in his ability to build consensus among his officers. He presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, which addressed the weak role of our new government in federal and state issues, much like a Master would rule and govern his lodge.

Lastly, the controller or engineer is a well informed technical expert. These leaders are diligent, meticulous, and function based. They influence others based on the control and management of information. Improving efficiency through process redesign and the implementation of reliable technology is a hallmark of the engineer. Success for this type is improving quality through the use of procedures. This leader is risk-averse and seeks to take variation out of the system, valuing standardization consistency. Measurement is used as a tool to achieve these values. It may seem hard to imagine Washington behind a surveyor’s scope, but he began learning how to measure land during his teenage years. He carried that skill professionally during his expositions out West both personally and as a professional soldier. All good Masons would also recognize that in his Masonic portraits, Washington holds the trowel, the perfect representative of his character.

As we remember Bro. Washington today, let’s pause to review his lesson on leadership. Masons work to improve ourselves, our Lodges, and our communities. Good leaders keep an open mind and know their weaknesses. Good men respect that everyone has a worldview and therefore a bias towards a particular strategy or perspective. Leaders partner with others that challenging them. Sages and engineers challenge each other, as do engineers and artists. Great leaders will develop the appropriate culture and competencies in their organization is to produce the desired value proposition. Finally, my Brothers, let’s embrace the portrait of Washington with the trowel, ever remembering that we have obligated ourselves to lead a good and responsible life, using the trowel to cement ties between each other, and spread Brotherly Love.

RW Kenneth M. White is District Deputy Grand Master of the Old Seventeenth District representing the MW William M. Sardone Grand Master of Masons in the State of New York. Ken is a First Vice President of Wealth Management and Senior Portfolio Manager for UBS Financial Services. As a youth, Ken was an Eagle Scout and has carried those ideals into his adult life by being active in many community activities. He is a member and past master of Wadsworth Masonic Lodge #417, Albany, NY, a member of Ancient Scottish Rite Valley of Albany, and a member of Cyprus Shrine.

Can You Be A Christian And A Freemason?

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°

There’s a couple reasons I wanted to address this topic—primarily it’s due to the number of comments and questions I get on this subject. More often than not they aren’t questions, I get told “you can’t be a Christian and a Freemason.”

That’s not true. I’m a Christian and a Freemason. And I have things in my life aligned in the right order, too. God first, then family, then my job, and Freemasonry taking up the rear. I’ve been a Christian for over thirty years now. I’m a regular Bible reader, and I attend church. Nothing is more important to me than my relationship with God. I’ve worked hard in my life to apply those values I find in the Bible to my life, and like all Christians I fall short. However, I’ve never found anything in Freemasonry that conflicts in any way with what I’ve read in the Bible. And I’ve never been involved with a church that had a prohibition against Freemasonry—in fact one of the Deacons in a church I belonged to for more than a decade was a 33rd Degree (long before I knew exactly what that meant).

Some denominations and some individual churches however prohibit their members from joining the Fraternity, for a variety of reasons. I won’t go into all of those reasons, but the most common complaint I hear in my area is the fact that our Fraternity is open to all men who believe in the existence of God—so it’s open to all the major religions. Our opening and closing prayers are nonsectarian so they can be applied to any of the major monotheistic religions. Because  Freemasonry welcomes men from all religions, we don't close our prayers with "in Jesus' name we pray."  Some Christian denominations and churches have an issue with that. And that’s their right, and I can even respect their position.

This position on admitting members from all religious beliefs isn't new to Freemasonry.  In fact, Freemasonry has served a very important role in our nation's history on this very topic of religious toleration and religious freedom in America.  In America, we have the freedom of religion. It’s in our Constitution—it’s there BECAUSE of the Freemasons. That concept of freedom of religion came from the Masonic Lodges.  In fact, there were a few concepts in addition to religious freedom that were borrowed from Freemasonry by our Founding Fathers when they were drafting the United States Constitution. Because Freemasonry yesterday and today respects ALL religions, ALL Americans have the right to worship as they wish.  And because of those rights secured in part because of the traditions of Freemasonry, those churches today have every right to prohibit their members from joining our Lodges if they feel it conflicts with their religious beliefs.

How do you like that, huh?  This was our idea!

So I’m not going to argue whether or not denominations or churches have the right to make rules like that—they clearly can. And I’m not even going to argue whether those prohibitions are right or wrong. If those are their beliefs then we need to respect that.  And one thing we should never do as Freemasons is to discuss religious beliefs in our lodges, or pass judgements on these policies or these beliefs--I see this a lot on social media.  Questioning someone's religious views or their church's policies is the surest way to start a fight--it's something that's deeply personal.  One of the surest ways to divide your Lodge and alienate one Brother from another is to discuss religion among yourselves--the second way is discussing politics.  We all know we shouldn't discuss religion or politics in Lodge and the reasons why.  Another reason I wanted to touch on this topic is because of some of the ugly things I've read on social media lately aimed at churches and denominations that have a prohibition against joining a Masonic Lodge.  As a member of the Fraternity that helped found the concept of religious freedom in America, we should practice what we've been preaching for so long.

Not all churches feel negatively about Freemasonry--far from it! Many respect the organization, and many even join with the Freemasons in raising funds to support local causes. I recently joined a church I’d been attending for some time, and before I joined, one of the things I asked the Pastor of that church was how that church felt about Freemasonry. That church respected the good work that our Fraternity does, and there are a few Freemasons that attend my church—I noticed Masonic license plates in the parking lot the first morning I attended so I was pretty sure I knew how he was going to answer that question when I asked it.

I’m a believer. I’m also a Freemason. In my experience I don’t see the two conflict with one another. In fact, I think they complement each other. Many of the morals and tenets taught in the Bible are mirrored by the teachings of the Fraternity as well. Concepts we strive towards as Freemasons like truth, brotherly love, charity, toleration, etc., are the same concepts the Pastors of Christian churches are preaching on every Sunday. The Fraternity gives me opportunities to apply those principles. It gives me instruction on how to incorporate those concepts into my life each day. It encourages me, like my church does, to continue to work at improving myself and my moral character. I don’t see any conflict at all . . . for me.

But getting back to my original question. Can you be a Freemason and a Christian? I clearly can and am!  But whether you can be a Freemason and a Christian is between you, God, and your church. But any Freemason will tell you that you should never put the Lodge before your relationship with God. And if that means you don’t join a Masonic Lodge because of a prohibition against membership, then you should respect that.

I can only answer this question for myself, and you must do the same.

~TEC

Todd E. Creason, 33° is an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series.  He is the author of the the From Labor To Refreshment blog.  He is a Past Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary.  He is a 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).  He is a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and currently serves as EHP.  He is also a member of Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge No. 316.  You can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.org

Reruns

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
RW Dan Lort


In a recent short essay, I expounded on the word “convenient” as it relates to our duty and obligation of heading out on any particular evening to attend a lodge meeting. What drives us to go or what holds us back one might ask.

Perhaps at the core of what makes a Lodge thrive or what contributes to their slow and deliberate death, we should look at why our Brothers are staying home. Why are they resisting their duty to answer and obey a regular summons to a meeting? Could it be that, outside of our wonderful degree work and ritual that we’ve become BORING? Is every meeting a RERUN of the last one?

Every day, we witness the consolidation of Lodges and Masonic Districts as they shrink in size. Why are we seeing Masonic districts comprised of 15-20 lodges 20 years ago with 5 now remaining? What makes a Lodge of 40+ members ask to turn in their Charter? What causes a Lodge that had 150 members 10 years ago to wither to 30 members today?

Across every jurisdiction we hear Grand Masters, District Deputies, Staff Officers, and Worshipful Masters talking about the works on their Trestle boards. How many trestle boards are distributed with the date of the meeting followed by “TBD” for the work of the evening? To Be Decided. An acronym for “beats me”, “I’ll wing it”, or “we’ll make it a business meeting only”? Who among us has worked through the “convenient” hurdle as we watch our early evening TV or dine on an early dinner and decided it’s time to get suited-up and head to lodge only to arrive, sit through an opening, business meeting, and closing and be home and back at the TV within an hour? We then ask ourselves the question, “why”? A great many Lodges have taken this to heart and are presenting interesting and diverse programs each meeting. Many others struggle to have one or two speakers or programs during their lodge year.

Yes, it was good to see my brothers who, like me, came out tonight to attend Lodge. We had plenty of time for a program of some sort. Not even a Short Talk Bulletin. Maybe Bro. James talking about his bee-keeping. Hey! What about asking the local precinct commander to come and speak about crime fighting efforts in our neighborhood? So many possibilities. How do we make these happen?

One very simple but underutilized word---PLANNING. Interesting and engaging events seldom happen on their own. Sure, every now and then we’ll look on the sidelines and see a brother who has a particular skill or vocation that we could ask him to speak about “off the cuff”. As Worshipful Masters, we owe it to the Brothers who have elected us and to the Lodge as a whole to do everything in our power to see the Lodge not just survive but to thrive and grow. To do this we need to exert a certain amount of EFFORT. This effort may involve everything from putting together a Trestle Board during the summer before our Lodge comes back in session to personally calling our officers the day before a meeting to let them know the plans for the evening (and to gently remind them of the importance of their attendance). Perhaps a summer meeting with the Wardens to put together a Trestle Board and brainstorm about programs for evenings with no degree work.

Of course we sometimes hear comments from some long-time members saying things such as “We don’t need to do something special every meeting.” or “Some of us...” just like to have a meeting and get home. The Brothers we don’t hear this from are the ones who are so bored with the program-less meetings that they stop coming to Lodge in lieu of other options. These are the Brothers we need to target. They are the future of our Fraternity. They are the ones who will take the place of our senior members as infirmity and the Celestial Heavens take over.

Keeping our meetings vibrant, contemporary, and interesting is vital if we are to keep our new andseasoned members engaged. Being now enabled in the NY jurisdiction to open and close our Lodges on any degree has become a wonderful tool to maintain the connection with our EA’s and Fellowcrafts as they progress through the degrees. Keeping our regular communications interesting is a mandate we need to understand and put into practice if we are to stem the flow of those leaving us because we’ve become “boring”. NO MORE RERUNS! What could be easier?

~DGL

RW Bro. Lort is a Past Master of Alexandria Lodge #297 in Alexandria Bay, NY and a plural member of Gasport Lodge #787 in WNY. He is also a member of the NYS Grand Lodge Committee on Consolidations as well as several other GL committees. He is a 32°member of the A.A.S.R Valley of Syracuse, serving as CH for the Sackets Harbor Chapter RAM, & a member of the Divan of Media Shrine, A.A.O.N.M.S. RW Bro. Lort is a past DDGM of the Jefferson-Lewis District, Grand Lodge of NY and currently is a Grand Lodge Regional Asst. Grand Lecturer. He is a retired Law Enforcement officer and enjoys many outdoor activities. He attributes his successes in Freemasonry to his early days in DeMolay in Western NY.





Masonry is a Progressive Science?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM


Sometimes it is hard which phrase to believe. “Masonry is a progressive science.”, which means the Craft has been changing since time immemorial. On the other hand,  some Brethren say, “Freemasonry has been the same since time immemorial.” and still yet, others say, “The landmarks of Freemasonry can never be changed.” So, which do we believe?

If we stop and really think about it, anyone who has studied the history of our Fraternity for any amount of time knows we aren’t the same groups as we were three hundred years ago. If James Anderson or Benjamin Franklin were to have the ability to visit a Masonic lodge of the twenty-first century, I truly believe they would not recognize it as the same organization.

Lodges are meeting inside their own buildings or grand temples instead of above taverns, regalia made in a factory instead of by hand at home…etc. The changes we don’t think about which have occurred since the founding of the grand lodge system have been numerous. So why do we as Freemasons find it so hard to embrace change in our Fraternity?

In this instance I am not talking about the usual force against change, the stereotypical elderly Past Master we envision sitting in the North of the Lodge room with a scowl on his face, reminding all of us how things used to be-- but a larger group which, until recently I included myself in.

This week I was listening to the current episode of the Scottish Rite Journal podcast. The piece entitled “The Purple of our Fraternity: Caring for our Material Culture” which was an article written by Heather Calloway published in May/June 2014 Scottish Rite Journal discussed how the House of the Temple cares for the priceless artifacts of our past. At the beginning of the article, Heather describes how the Scottish Rite has changed the way the group communicates over the last two centuries.

In the beginning, the Rite would confer degrees by just reading the ritual to the new members. Once he heard the story, the Brother attained that degree. The current system of degrees didn’t come about until the Albert Pike era. With the advancement in theatrical technology and a larger membership valley, they began to have the manpower and budget to produce beautifully done degree work for new members, with actors in beautifully ornate costumes and with props and backdrops obtained from companies which specialized in fraternal merchandise. This period of degree presentation has lasted for over one hundred and fifty years.

Today in the twenty-first century we live in a fraternal world with a lot fewer members. Those members we do have are either elderly and can no longer do the work involved in putting on a large production of twenty-nine degrees like acting, lighting, costumes, stage crew, sound whatever their specialty was, or they have retired to a warmer climate and are no longer active. The younger men in many valleys are trying to balance family commitments, their job, and their other Masonic obligations, because chances are, they are also active in their Blue Lodge, York Rite or other Masonic bodies. 

They can only fold that twenty-four-inch gauge so many ways! Even if they had more time to commit, the number of young members would still be difficult to fill all the positions it takes to put on such elaborate productions. They might even have the issue of where to hold these large reunions. A good example of this is the Scottish Rite Valley in Fort Wayne, Indiana where I took my degrees. A few years ago, they had to sell their beautiful auditorium and now has a small office in a business park. Degree work must be done at a different location. It no longer has the luxury of a place to store large backdrops, enough costumes for many men and twenty-nine degrees.

I know many Valleys have begun to just perform a handful of degrees every year and communicate the remainder of them by the officers coming out on stage and perform what some have called “a blessing" on the others (Kind of like, "Okay, you have now just received such and such degree because I said you have.) Lots of Brethren were against this because it took away from the degree work and the candidate didn’t get the moral and the meaning of the degree intended to be conveyed. Sadly, I believe this was done out of desperation of the circumstances mentioned above, and the officers of the bodies couldn’t come up with a better way to accomplish the task.

The last few years, there has been much crying and gnashing of teeth of the collective Masonic world because The Scottish Rite Northern Jurisdiction has begun the practice of filming their degree work and presenting it to the candidates in a smaller venue on a movie screen instead of an elaborate stage show.

This degree work in the films is performed by Masons in various valleys around the jurisdiction in full costumes and with theatrical effects, much like seeing the work performed in person, on stage but in a movie format. No shortcuts are taken, and nothing is left out. The candidate still receives the same message by watching the degree performed in this form versus our current system of degree delivery. I know this isn’t what many of us believe to be the way a new Brother should receive these degrees, but after some reflection, I think these series of videos might be more beneficial to the Rite on several levels.

FINANCIAL: I’m sure this is obvious but without the need to maintain and upkeep a large theater (Not to mention the heating and cooling of such a building) which is only used a few times a year, Valleys can better use the funds they collect for such things as an almoners fund for members and their widows and orphans who are in desperate need of help in hard times.

The funds can also be saved for rainy days when their building needs emergency repairs or other unforeseen expenses. Instead of passing the hat or endless fundraisers that require manpower the body doesn’t have or rarely and barely break even instead of providing much-needed revenue the group could be on a solid financial footing.

MANPOWER: Anyone who has organized a reunion weekend, or any large Masonic event knows how frustrating it is trying to find Brethren who will commit (and show up) to assist in putting on an event, can attest to how frustrating it can be. Back in the day this usually wasn’t an issue. You would have multiple men volunteer or just show up to help. But today many times you begin to feel like a one-man band.

Rehearsals no one shows up for, finding members to fill roles and then asking them to fill multiple roles because no one either volunteered or was a no-show. Hoping you can find people to set up tables for lunch…etc. In the end, it will get done but not to the standards or vision you had at first perceived it would be, and those few volunteers you had will eventually burn out and begin not to show up anymore.

With a scaled down reunion, a handful of Brethren can set the room up the night before and have everything in place for the next morning. Not only will the candidates have a pleasant experience, but your crew will also! No one will have to wake up at 4am on Saturday morning to set things up. They will be able to enjoy themselves and go home that night without being exhausted. They might enjoy it so much they might volunteer for your next event!

RETENTION: The two reasons I listed above are pretty much common sense. But I don’t think many people have really thought about how we can retain members with the model I am discussing. But I feel this could be an important point and so far, (as far as I know) has been overlooked.

As we know most incoming members have no idea about the degrees, how they are performed, what they contain, whatever. From many studies we have heard about over the years they are just looking for education, deeper meaning for life. They don’t care about “How it used to be done.” They just want to become better men, as we tell them can be done, by putting on a Masonic apron.

As it is now, a man sits down in a theater seat, watches a couple of plays, sees some officers tell him the plays you didn’t see are “communicated” to you (Whatever that means) and BAM! You are a Scottish Rite Mason! No explanation of what he just experienced-- just a dues card and a lapel pin. "Thanks for coming! Make sure to come back again and see the same degree next year or visit a reunion in another city and hope they present different degrees than your valley does."

One hundred and fifty years ago it was common for a young man to attend a vaudeville show or a play as a form of entertainment. For today’s twenty-first century man attending a live stage show (Other than a concert) is a rare event. In this age of “Netflix and chill” if a man does venture to a theater it would be to see a big screen special effects laden movie. In my opinion, live plays, with amateur actors might be a new concept for him and the message of the play could be lost just because of the novelty of the experience.

We all know that the society of today is heavily influenced by movies and television. We constantly quote movies in our daily lives. We as Freemasons know movies influence young men thanks to the joining boom after the National Treasure movie was released. Video can be a tremendous influencer on our incoming members.

When the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction polled its membership and potential members one of the top things, they said they wanted was Masonic Education. They didn’t specify how it was delivered. They just asked for Masonic light (Sound familiar?) I don’t know how many times I’ve heard Brethren wish they could have seen all the Scottish Rite degrees instead of just a few at a reunion. (Or all of them crammed into a weekend).

Video allow for so much more Masonic Education than a stage play. During a reunion men can be seated comfortably in a Lodge room and after each video an instructor or leader could lead a group discussion on what the candidate believes the moral of the lesson way, and what was the symbolism used. The group can interact amongst themselves with guidance of the leader before they move on to the next lesson. In this way, a candidate has an idea of what the Rite is trying to teach him and what Masonry expects from him. It also helps the candidates get to know each other as they progress through the degrees, building teamwork and friendships. It also eliminates the constant complaint of degree work “being taught like drinking from a firehose instead of a garden hose.”

Videos also allow for Scottish Rite bodies to take degree work “on the road” to lodges in areas that are difficult for Brethren who live a great distance away from the Scottish Rite Temples. This could spark interest from Brethren who feel driving to the city for a meeting every month isn’t worth their time or gas money. If the Brethren see that a meeting is more than just the reading of minutes, that they actually could benefit from attending they might be more apt to attend meetings more regularly.

These videos would also be a great way to hold Masonic Education nights for interested members. They would be fantastic if they could be incorporated into study clubs which work in conjunction with the Master Craftsman program or The Hauts Grades Academy. Think of the discussions and positive Interaction among members!

Brethren, these are just a few examples of ways this small change could lead to a positive effect on our Fraternity. I’m sure creative minds who gather together could come up with even more benefits and uses for this new way of doing things. Like I said before, nothing I propose is a “Masonic landmark” and has not been done since “time immemorial”. It was once an innovation to the way things are done in the new age, just like what I am proposing. I am just asking you to sit down with an open mind and consider what I have laid out here.

Like the book by Alan Deutschman entitled, “Change or Die”, if we don’t change the course of how we are doing things, eventually there will be a time when we can no longer continue with our current methods. If and when the time comes it might be too late to try and change. I’m sure one thing we all can agree on is no longer having a Scottish Rite body to be a member of is a change none of us wish to see happen.

~BH

WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

In Darkness, Wishing for Light

Expanding the Definition of Masonic Relief

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro Erik Marks

*Disclaimer: The following article cannot be used to diagnose or treat any condition, nor is it intended to imply, impart, or provide a clinical training process or be a substitute for professional care.*

In darkness, wishing for Light: expanding the definition of Masonic Relief. Erik Antony Marks, 32, LICSW (Originally published in a modified form in the Fall 2018 issue of Trowel Magazine for Massachusetts Masons: http://tiny.cc/TrowelMagazine).

Brethren, when we first kneel at the Altar of Freemasonry, we acknowledge we are in darkness. Ignorant to the teachings of this Gentle Craft, we supplicate the Worshipful Master and Brethren to aid our Psycho-Spiritual development by providing Light in and through Freemasonry. At other times in our journeys, we may know we are in a different kind of darkness, though perhaps uncertain as to how that darkness descended. As the rough ashlar, no person is immune to the ruffians of the mind and spirit, the mental or emotional afflictions of life: anxiety, depression, shame, trauma(s), substance abuse, loss, existential crises or those of faith, financial or relational distress can affect any of us, at any time. Any one of us may be experiencing these presently or know others who are or have. 

Within Freemasonry, the Charity and Relief we hold dear affirms to our Brothers there is always hope; that help awaits. I propose we support each other by providing a non-monetary, and possibly far more enduring, form of relief. Through discussion, education, and support about emotional and psychological distress it is my hope we will co-create stronger light to shine into the lives of our Brothers, their families, and our communities. To be clear: This missive has multiple purposes, 1) proposing an expansion the definition of what we consider charity or relief; 2) to help one another recognize signs emotional and mental health distress that manifest as part of our humanness and how to help by talking about these openly; 3) as a starting point to look for resources to be of assistance to those in need and 4) to identify when a Brother, Family Member, or Member of our Community may be at risk for death by suicide and direct them towards help. Approximately 45,000 people died by suicide in 2016 and is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States according to The National Institute for Mental Health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, rates are rising and offered this Technical Package on Suicide Prevention. I have heard it said suicide, a public health epidemic, is one of the most preventable. We are in a unique position to fulfill one of our primary missions and assist in prevention by sharing and expanding upon about what follows.

In Masonry we build, with ancient tools and modes of recognition, a trust and bond sufficiently solid to offer a strong grip to our brothers in distress. We could endeavor to lift (br)others back to the possibility of Light, so they, and we, may enjoy greater ease and efficacy in daily life. In the discharge of our obligation of relief to one another, I think it is essential to develop fluency in this conversation. The more we practice the words and phrases, the easier they become to perform. Consider these starting points toward an expand use of our tools:

First, gather information and have a plan. Notice changes in someone’s behavior and routine. Some changes or states may be obvious, some may be subtle depending on the person. It is more important to notice and respond than to try to figure out the reason someone is in darkness: a diagnosis or label is unnecessary for the provision of relief. In this expanded form of relief, our perception or notice of changes in their mood or behavior is the other’s “application,” to us for relief. Look for any of the following changes in (but not limited to): very high or low mood, sleeping too much or too little, appetite increase or decrease, isolation, irritability, too little or much energy, loss of interest in many or previously cherished things or activities, increased substance use, reckless behavior, statements of hopelessness or giving up.

Second, respond. One of the greatest gifts we can give is to listen deeply and attentively; one of the most valuable resources we provide is our time. Actively listen by making eye contact, emphasize phrases they use, ask for clarification, and paraphrase to confirm understanding. It is better to engage not knowing what to do than to not reach for the person at all. If you worry the person is such distress, they could be having thoughts of suicide, it is probable they already are and therefore essential to ask. Inquiring will not put the idea in their minds. To the contrary, knowing you are willing to say the words and ask the question signals to the person that you care enough to step into darkness with them and seek Light, together. It exemplifies, though word and action, that you have done your work to meet them on the five points: walk to where the person is, emotionally and/or physically. Steady their gait with yours. Stay in contact using beauty of your authentic words and strength of an open Heart. Then…speak the word(s). 

I’m allowing you to attach each point without saying them outright. Statements are sometimes made by people in distress that they or those around them might be “...better off if I was gone” or dead. This kind of statement, even if made “as a joke,” must always be taken seriously. Sometimes people will let such statements accidentally or unconsciously slip out and can be an opportunity to ask more. Other times, it is a direct request for help: our inquiry about what they feel and what they mean may not come in the public moment they make the statement, it may be prudent to step aside to inquire in a low breath. Asking in private increases the probability the person will feel comfortable and take your intention of care to heart. Though we are sworn to secrecy with regard to modes of recognition, do not let yourself be sworn to secrecy with regard to this information!

It may feel strange or uncomfortable at first, to ask about things more personal and private. Yet, we already have a method for this type of catechism. However, in this conversation, only our part may be practiced, the responses will be as unique and varied as each individual. Practicing with a brother or brothers before the words are needed, trading parts, will help with fluency, authenticity, integration, and ability to stay present when it counts:

“Hey, haven’t seen you in a while…could we get together this week?

“I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down lately…how’s it going?

“I get the sense something is really bothering you…”

“On the third…what’s going on?”

“Sometimes, when people are feeling what you’re describing, they can also feel hopeless, like giving up. Sometimes the idea of dying crosses their minds. Are you having thoughts like that?” If there are clear signs or statements of imminent threat to self or other, calling 911 is appropriate and caring.

Third, stay in contact and begin to seek more help using the following tools and ideas. Connecting with others and/or getting back to Lodge, Lodge of Instruction, other Fraternal events could be a good start. Share a meal, at home or out. Scaffolding the person and sharing the work with other Brothers lightens each individual’s labor. Psychotherapy or counseling are effective ways to address many of life’s challenges—though I think of the two as different, for the present purpose they can be used interchangeably as many people use them that way already. The premise behind this tool is to have a consultant who is practiced in addressing the complexity of how thoughts, emotions, and relationships can become painful or debilitating. With the therapist/counselor, two people pool their life experiences and expertise to consider how to improve things for the one seeking assistance. It’s a protected conversation to allow for more self-exploration and developing more personalized tools to help oneself. For some, clergy trained in a similar manner may be a more comfortable path to find assistance. A useful on-line resource to begin the search for a psychotherapist/counselor is https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists. (Disclosure: I have no financial interest in this resource and am not listed as a provider on the site).

Medicine is a tool to be used in conjunction with psychotherapy or counseling. Many find that a combination of both simultaneously has the best outcomes depending on the presenting problem(s). Unless clearly indicated, I usually start without medicine and encourage people to introduce it when all other avenues are exhausted or if the person makes the request at the start or along the way. Some people prefer to start with medicine rather than talking. Psychiatrists or Nurse practitioners who specialize in mental health issues are the preferred provider. Alternately, many primary care providers now have experience prescribing medicine for anxiety or depression, and the pre-existing relationship may make it easier to start with this person; the primary care physician can also facilitate a referral if needed or recommended. Exercise and mindfulness-meditation are excellent self-interventions with little to no start-up cost and can be especially potent when enjoyed with a family member or Brother. There are numerous on-line or on-phone apps or resources with which to experiment to move towards healing. I’ve known people who have used a variety of alternative or adjunctive methods to help with symptoms or changes in mood—though beyond the scope of this article.

As Masons, we labor to manifest Charity through Brotherly love and affection. Reaching into the darkness to offer companionship and light might be one of the most powerful expressions of Relief we have to offer. Who would not come to the aid of a Brother? Not letting him sit alone at lodge is analogous to not letting him sit in the metaphorical north of his inner lodge or temple. If we suspect or notice distress and know that stepping into darkness is further than our cable tow will allow, we communicate, alert other brothers, family members, and/or professionals who may have resources of time, means, or experience to respond. I encourage commitment to having this conversation with one another in an ongoing way to extend how think of what is Charitable. We can exchange information and experience about the previously secretive topics of emotional and mental health throughout our jurisdictions in the service of greater relief. I have faith that we can work together to build a stronger structure from which to shine The Light for our Brothers and Communities.

Brother Erik A. Marks, 32º, LICSW, is a clinical social worker whose usual vocation has been in the field of human services in a wide range of settings since 1990. He was raised in 2017 by his biologically younger Brother and then Worshipful Master in Alpha Lodge in Framingham, MA. You may contact brother Marks by email: erik@StrongGrip.org