Whither Are We Traveling - Part Eleven

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


As we finish our exploration of Dwight L. Smith's seminal work, "Whither are We Traveling?", we begin to explore his answers to the ten questions he posed for self-examination of the state of Ancient Craft Freemasonry in 1963.  The questions he asked are as important and relevant now as they were then. This week we look at Question 10: Are there not too many well-meaning Brethren who are working overtime to make Freemasonry something other than Freemasonry?

MWB Smith begins by saying that "Whither Are we traveling?" was his anxious question when he began his exploration of subjects that had disturbed him in recent years. He then recalls the promise that he made at the beginning of his exploration, stating that he: "shall propose no bright new ideas – not one. All I am going to advocate is that Freemasonry remain Freemasonry; and if we have strayed from the traditional path, we had better be moving back to the main line while there is yet time to restore the prestige and respect, the loyalty and devotion that once was ours."

He continues to say that with the above he was serving notice that he would not be aligning himself with anyone who seeks to make Freemasonry over and bring it up-to-date; because he understood that in doing so, it would be out-of-date the next day. 

He then begins section one, proclaiming that in all the land there was weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth as the Masonic Gimmick Manufacturing Company, Unlimited worked overtime to "modernize" Freemasonry and align it with all the other organizations that were competing with it for the attention of what he calls the: "Tribal American".  He then lists the products of the above fictional company that he says Freemasonry is urged to try:
  • Abandon the “free will and accord” rule which has placed our Craft far above the mine run of societies, and permit outright solicitation.
  • Ape the service clubs. Get busy on “projects” galore in the best Babbitt fashion.
  • Go into the organized do-good business in a big way. Find an area of the human body that has not been exploited. Exploit it. Set a quota, have a kickoff dinner, ring the doorbells.
  • Subsidize other organizations right and left, and, in the doing, ignore, neglect and starve the parent body.
  • Feminize the Fraternity. Carry “togetherness” to even more ridiculous extremes than we have already.
  • Hire press agents to tell the world, like Little Jack Horner, what great boys we are. (“Masonry is not getting its proper share of publicity,” complains one Grand Master.) Never mind actions; concentrate on words.
  • Imitate Hollywood. Stage an extravaganza. Bring in all the groups that ever fancied themselves remotely related to Freemasonry. Form the parade, blow the bugle, beat the drums and cheapen the Fraternity.
  • Let Freemasonry “take a position” on public issues of the day. Stand up and be counted (assuming, of course, that the position the Craft takes is in line with our own pet prejudices.)
  • Go all out for materialism. Raise money; spend it. Build temples, institutions.
  • Subsidize; endow. Whatever can be had by writing a check, get it.Centralize, centralize, centralize. Pattern Freemasonry after Washington bureaucracy. Let nothing be done modestly by an individual or a Lodge; do everything on the state or national level the super-duper way. Make a great to-do about local self-government, but accept no local self-responsibility.
MWB Smith then asks: "Why does not someone suggest that we try Freemasonry?"
Going on to state that we haven't been trying it these many years.  He proclaims that we have experimented with just about everything that anyone could imagine, so why not just get back to our roots?

Let me address some of the above. I agree with many of the points above, however, there are a few that I will address that I disagree with Dwight on.  Dwight might be turning over in his grave because of many Grand Lodges that have adopted a program to invite members.  In Illinois, we call it the invitation to petition program.  It has worked with some success for many lodges, while it has not worked for others. In any case, I see nothing wrong with soliciting men that you think would be good Freemasons to join the Fraternity.   They still need to join of their own "Free will and accord".  Investigations (including background checks) still need to be done, and the west gate still needs to be guarded, however, I don't see invitations to petition doing the Craft any more harm than the one-day degree festivals, which are essentially just feeding men to the appendant bodies instead of their own Craft Lodges. 

Dwight might also be upset by the: "Not Just a Man, A Mason" campaign but I still believe that campaign alone has been very successful.  Speak to any Grand Lodge secretary if you don't believe it's having an impact.  Once again, it's still up to the individual lodges to do everything in their power to guard the West Gate, but is having too many potential candidates to interview a real issue?   

The whole idea of feminizing the Fraternity has been written about by me several times.  While I personally have no issue with Co-Ed Masonry, as I have seen a Co-Ed lodge work due to my membership in the OddFellows, I understand why many brothers have an issue with it.   This being said, I do not think that allowing Women to have their own lodges under their own Grand Jurisdictions is hurting anyone, nor do I think that they practice "Irregular" Freemasonry.  I would like nothing more than to have their lodges recognized so that I might visit them and they can visit ours but I understand that is a reality that I might not see in my lifetime.  I do think that using it as a "solution" to cure the ills of Freemasonry is a gimmick, which is a position that I used to think was a viable solution.  While I still have no ill towards them, I do not think that we would see an influx of members in allowing Women to join the Craft.   

Lastly, I think that Freemasonry should "take a position" on some public issues. We have done so in the past. Look no further than our great nation's founding to see how Freemasonry directly impacted the formation of public policy and our government. There was a time not too long ago that Masons were involved in starting public education in several states. I believe that Freemasonry is uniquely qualified to help combat the incivility that is plaguing modern society.  We should be able to stand united against the forces of darkness that plague our modern world and combat the ignorance of the conspiracy theories that Freemasonry is a target of. If we do not stand up against hatred of our members that are minorities due to their religious or ethnic background, are we being true to ourselves as an organization?  I personally believe that Freemasonry should embrace our beliefs and be proud of them. It is an unfortunate problem of modern society that everything is politicized and that even in making a statement in favor of supporting the "inalienable" rights of man, Freemasonry could find itself as a victim of that. 

MWB Smith continues into section two, stating that the greatest need of Freemasonry is a membership that has a better understanding of what Freemasonry is and what it is not. He claims that there are only a few Master Masons that know what Freemasonry is, and even fewer are those that know what Freemasonry is not.  He states that seniority and rank have little relationship to this ignorance and that the number of Masters, Past Masters, and Grand Masters who are ignorant is appalling. 

He then asks what happened, saying that we assume that Freemasonry is a fad of the mid Twentieth century and that we are impatient when Freemasonry does not behave like something that follows a conventional pattern, maintains lobbies, publishes its aims and objectives, conducts drives, and campaigns, try to grab headlines and writes checks to every benevolent society in an effort to have a finger in every pie. He then states that Freemasonry does none of these, and that isn't it strange that Freemasonry has gained a position of honor and prestige when it doesn't behave in a conventional manner. 

He begins section three by asking, "What is this Freemasonry to which I urge our Brethren to return? What are its aims and objectives? What does it do?"

He then answers by saying that the answer is the First Book of Kings, and that even that answer will come as a disappointment.  He then goes on to relate the story of Elijah and how he was in a cave on Mount Horeb convinced that he was the only one of God's children who remained faithful to his trust.  He went forth from the cave and stood upon the mountain due to a command from God.  Elijah then recounted what happened.  From this lesson, MWB Smith says that Freemasonry erects its temples within the hearts of men and that even though we may not understand what we are saying, when we state: “Through the improvement and strengthening of the character of the individual man, Freemasonry seeks to improve the
community.”

He then goes on to say that we say to candidates (I'm assuming this is from his home state of Indiana's ritual) that the "Design of the Masonic Institution is to make its votaries wiser, better, and consequently happier".  He remarks that in this statement there is no mention of mass action, pressure groups, resolutions on matters of state policy, no pro or anti discussion, no undertakings to cure the ills of the world by making everyone fit one pattern, no running around like chickens with their heads cut off in search of do-good projects to gain favorable notice, no biting of our nails to compete with the service clubs, and no endless busyness which loses sight of Freemasonry's objective.  Instead, the message of Freemasonry is the same message that Elijah recounted, that the Lord was not found in the wind, earthquakes or fires that he witnessed, but rather in that still small voice.  He then states the purpose of Freemasonry is the same as it was when the stones were hewn, squared, and numbered in the quarries in preparation for King Solomon's Temple.

The purpose of Freemasonry according to MWB Smith is to take an individual-just one man at a time and as good of a man as possible- and try to make a better man out of him. He exclaims how much the world needs that, and if that technique is outmoded then the experience of two thousand years is all wrong.  Smith goes on to say that the mere fact that men do not comprehend the purpose of Freemasonry does not mean that Freemasonry has no purpose, it only means that the stones are not being well-hewn and squared in the quarries where they are raised.  Smith then points out that Freemasonry has not been tried in the balance and found wanting: it has been found difficult and not tried. 

He goes on stating that more than anything else today, the world needs the kind of gentle healing influence in the hearts of men, and the Masonic institution is looked upon with scorn because it does not operate in the standard convention of our times; but that it is prepared to bear witness to the fact that the conventional way of life in the modern age leaves much to be desired, and that it stands upon its own majestic affirmation that the way to change human systems is to change human lives. 

He then goes on to quote Dean Roscoe Pound, who stated: "Freemasonry has more to offer the Twentieth Century than the Twentieth Century has to offer Freemasonry. "  MWB Smith then asks: "Whither, then, are we traveling?"  and says that he has come to the conclusion of his exploration of his faith in the ancient Craft and that it is unshaken, and he is convinced that the solution to Freemasonry's problems is Freemasonry, and then finishes with "Why do we not try it?"

While I agree that Freemasonry tries to be too many things to too many people, I also think that this answer taken on the surface is a cop-out.  I don't know that you can raise so many interesting questions and have so many interesting points regarding Freemasonry and truly believe that Freemasonry (as it is constituted today) is the answer to its own problems.   Instead, what I believe he is trying to say in a somewhat confusing matter is that the problems of Freemasonry will be solved in a return to those traditions that Freemasonry once embraced.  He is issuing a call to action to return to our roots.  To embrace those practices which now have been embraced by the Traditional Observance movement.  I feel that is what he is wanting.  A return to the things that worked, and having Grand Lodges embrace these things before it is too late.  

In the past eleven articles, I have done my best to address this seminal work of Freemasonry through a modern lens.  I feel that like MWB Smith, many of my own issues with the Craft would be solved by the return to the roots of Freemasonry.  The issue of course is getting your particular Masonic Jurisdiction to buy into the idea.  I hope I live to see a day in Illinois where the T.O. concept is allowed to thrive.  Until then, if you agreed with my observances, we must continue to attempt to make changes to our Constitution and By-Laws to allow Freemasonry to become what it once was.  Only together, united, can we make change happen.  It all depends on the type of Freemasonry you want.   I personally won't stop fighting until I get that. 

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.  

The Virtue and Vices of Trust

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski

Allegory of Virtue and Vice - Lorenzo Lotto

We long for the times when a handshake and a person's word meant something. But even in those olden days, we couldn't always wear rose-colored glasses and survive unscathed. Part of the reason we became Masons is to be around people who really trust each other -- and live up to deserving that trust. And yet there is still occasional impropriety, and embezzlement is no stranger to the Craft in spite of our oaths and admonitions.

I know this isn't the most exciting topic, but I'm going to talk about one of the best ways to maintain trust within an organization, and it's not what you think. Instead of thinking of trust as not needing accountability and oversight, why not use such things to solidify trust?

First of all, let's examine if trust is transferable. We treat it that way in Masonry in many ways. We vouch for those entering our ranks such that if a Brother trusts someone to become a Brother, we assume we can trust them as well. (We can argue over how often this is or is not true, but we pride ourselves in being able to ask for and give help based on a lapel pin.) If a member of our jurisdiction is expelled, we expect that no other jurisdiction will ignore that. In fact, my own jurisdiction is still working out recognition with another Grand Lodge over just that.

But there are limits. A Right Worshipful I know gave a petition to someone at a party who had never previously met anyone (except his girlfriend, the Eastern Star Sister he came with). Not the worst offense, but then he proceeded to ask other Brothers to be his character references. When asked what he was thinking, he defended the idea that if one Brother signs, the other Brothers should trust his judgment and be willing to follow suit. So then why bother with three references at all?

First, such trust would be misplaced. He doesn't see it this way, but he was asking them to lie -- accepting yourself to be used as a reference implies you know their character, not merely shaking their hand at a party and trying to remember their name. But he was also expecting them to defer their judgment and trust him.

There's another limit built into our officer's duties. No one person handles the money. The secretary receives it and the treasurer uses it. It passes through two hands. Their records can be checked against each other. And in many jurisdictions, the Master's signature is required, and even only then after a due vote of the Lodge (or within a voted-upon budget). Some bank accounts (and even vouchers/warrants in some jurisdictions) require two signatures.

We could say this is because of legal requirements and tax codes. After all, the Benevolent Laws of New York State were formed specifically to harmonize state law with Masonic Laws that existed even before the state was incorporated. (Eventually, these laws were applied to all fraternal organizations.) Most of it deals with Trustees but it sets an example of financial transparency for membership and even the public. And it is more honest to state that the profane followed the Masonic precedents than the other way around.

But why go to all the trouble? We trust our Secretary. We trust our Treasure. We trust our Trustees, hence the very name. It's why we elected them. I'll tell you why. It's so people who don't know them don't have to go by someone else's trust. It goes too far. Second-hand trust is a precious commodity between individuals but breaks down like a game of telephone the larger the group. It's like telling someone a secret, believing they will not tell another person, but then they tell someone they "trust" not to tell anyone else. It all goes round-robin until everyone knows and the only anger is over blaming the next person who violated secrecy exactly the way they did themselves.

That's why these safeguards are in place. If people are held strictly to certain administrative processes and are regularly audited for errors and other issues, there is no question of trust because there is no question. You cannot trust every other person's personal judgment, but you can trust the proof within a process. And this isn't just about members -- even if we could infallibly trust our officers to not only be honest but error-free in their records, that isn't good enough for the public or the State. We need to be able to prove we are impeccably trustworthy and impeccably competent. The only way to do that is impeccable accountability.

We see what happens when we have trust without accountability. It could be priests or politicians or officers of the law. Some of these we are taught since childhood to explicitly trust on sight. The problem isn't that we can't trust any particular one. It may be reasonable to extend some level of trust to anyone with a collar or office or badge. Even when trust is broken by one or more human beings in those roles, we (or rather most of us) don't easily condemn all of them. But what if there aren't safeguards against misconduct, and instead there are policies, indemnity laws, or even unions that shield them from a level of accountability expected of other important professions like doctors and teachers? In other words, what level of trust can we expect of society for a profession, no matter how noble, when it is even perceived that wrongs go too often unaddressed or are buried? It's hard not to see where this leads, and those in the professions themselves, regardless of any individual virtue and blamelessness, can fall under wholesale persecution.

Heck, it happened to us. In 1826, a printing house in Upstate New York that was going to publish a Masonic exposé was burned down. The author, William Morgan, was harassed with questionable civil suit charges and incarcerated for them. Bail was paid by Masons, who took him away by force and basically made him disappear. There was no body. Even today, some believe he was taken to Canada as some sort of extrajudicial exile. The county sheriff lost his job for his involvement, and even a postmaster was involved, whose descendant, a Mason that I know personally, brags about his ancestor being the boatman that took Morgan across the Niagara River (at least partway).

This was the spark that ignited a powderkeg of anti-Masonic sentiment that had been growing for at least a generation. Masons occupied prominent political and civic posts and it is reasonable to assume from the aforementioned incidents that a "good-ole-boy" network was in force. As in the United Kindom today, there was a public fear that Masons can get away with anything because their members fill the ranks of bobbies and judges. Masonic privilege, however real or imagined, created the sentiment of oligarchy with non-Masons as second-class citizens. In due course, the Anti-Masonic Party was founded and became the largest political third-party in American History. After that subsided and paused during the Civil War, Evangelical elements took over, and Morgan was metaphorically their patron saint and martyr. There's even a monument to him.

But it was much worse.

Masons were killed. Temples were burned. Lodges closed or stopped their work for decades, and on a vast scale. In my area, not far from where the Morgan Affair took place, not a single Lodge survived and it wasn't until 1854 that another Lodge was chartered.

So what does this have to do with trust? Distrust grows in the soil of opacity. The profane world interprets our secrecy as a sociopolitical tactic rather than a moral discipline. And they can only see how we act in the World. Even in living memory, there have been businesses and municipal departments and so forth that de fact required membership in the fraternity. I suggest we ought to consciously avoid exercising this human trait of fraternal nepotism. We ought to have our books externally audited, and use non-Mason building inspectors to make sure we aren't endangering anyone. Doing so is NOT about mistrusting ourselves, but making it crystal clear to anyone within or without that we are above board without question.

In our personal practice, we may do deals with a handshake. But sometimes we may want to consider contracts, not with the expectation we will need them for accountability, but for clarity of each party's responsibilities. Consider the Old Charges which established (among other things) the relationship between masters and apprentices. It could be referred to at any time. It was likely committed to memory. And they were placed on a pedestal in front of the Master's station before we later resorted to a Volume of Sacred Law on an Altar. Would a simple handshake have sufficed? Or does a rule and guide help keep harmony?

Perhaps we should care enough about our promises to write them down and hand them to someone -- and expect them to do the same. This isn't distrust. It's a covenant that removes fear of distrust. That is the whole point. But we are wrongheaded about it. We shy from formal agreements because having them feels like an accusation that without one, our word will not be kept. It's more natural to breed distrust rather than trust, even if subconsciously, from insistence you don't need one.

But nothing is more important in applying this principle than guarding the West Gate. We must wonder how fewer Masonic charges would be thrown around (both frivolous and egregious) far less if we had more properly investigated candidates instead of trusting the judgment of their beloved Past Master relative, or their devoted first-line signer. Many a scandal could have been avoided.

And what of background checks? It is not legal to require it of some candidates and not others, but one of the objections for requiring them at all is because some Brothers feel offended their own grandson has to go through ANY process of examination. They feel it is owed to their progeny. However, there are too many instances, Masonic or otherwise, where genetics do not determine character. Likewise, personal feelings do not correlate with trustworthiness.

You see, when you make a decision that impacts others, you are deciding for them. You are expecting them to accept your own judgment, which is why there ought to be at least three on any investigative committee and you still require a vote of the Lodge. It's why we blackball. It's why we can stop a degree with a single objection. We ought to trust as we may, but trust for ourselves, not for the whole Fraternity.

And when we can say all our members undergo a background check and are held accountable if they grievously err, the World cannot question what it otherwise could not directly know. THAT builds trust, rather than an unverified and unrealistic belief that we are all beyond sin.

A virtue is a mean between extremes. If trust is a virtue, then what are the extremes? Surely we should not be untrusting in general, nor live such that we cannot be trusted. But surely we should not demand people to trust us unreasonably without safeguards, nor eschew requiring accountability in the duties and obligations of others toward you or the Craft. All this comes down to a seemingly contradictory axiom -- blind trust jeopardizes trust. In contrapositive fashion, safeguards and proofs establish it.

The larger lesson? Accountability is the collective practice of responsibility. Let's not use trust as an excuse to forget this in how we deal with our Brethren and how we run our quarries.

~JP

Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski is a member of West Seneca Lodge No.1111 and recently served as Master of Ken-Ton Lodge No.1186. As webmaster for NYMasons.Org he is on the Communications and Technology Committees for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. He is also a Royal Arch Mason and 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, serving his second term as Sovereign Prince of Palmoni Council in the Valley of Buffalo, NMJ. He also coordinates a Downtown Square Club monthly lunch in Buffalo, NY. He and his wife served as Patron and Matron of Pond Chapter No.853 Order of the Eastern Star and considered himself a “Masonic Feminist”. 

Childlike Wonder

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Randy Sanders


Occasionally I find myself occasionally jaded or even burned out by disappointment.  This might be disappointment in others’ actions or maybe lack of actions I expected.  Sometimes I just get overextended and have to refocus on why I decided that sleep and health were more important than getting that last email or spreadsheet completed before bedtime.  This leads me to a sometimes rather negative perspective of questioning myself as to why the responsibility lies with me?  Why can’t others just simply do what’s expected of them?


Disappointment can be a downward spiral, and I am blessed to have had good role models and mentors that took time to demonstrate both responsibility and how to adjust our outlook when negative events occur.  I like to think of it as childlike wonder mixed with gratitude.  The childlike wonder comes and goes, and gratitude simply takes practice to change into habit.  Doing things for others simply because you see the need, being the responsible adult without asking for recognition, that is the lesson of building internal character. 


The wonder of the world through the new eyes of a child never ceases to be amazed.  Discovery of new things, learning something fun and making a game of it, finding ways to play, to create, to become whimsical may seem far away or not.  I remember my childhood playtime and reading time, not so much the individual events but more the general feelings of happiness and contentedness, simply escaping in my own mind with fantasies of driving fast with model cars or reading books until my eyes were filled with sleep.  I remember the feeling of internal happiness and pride I felt when I was recognized by my parents or friends as being helpful and appreciated.


We learn gratitude in many different ways.  We often learn of it in church reciting or listening to prayers of gratitude to Deity.  We learn to say please and thank you with intent and meaning, not just for polite society.  Gratitude extends inwardly with lessons of turning pride into gratitude as can be examined through the Masonic lessons of Charity/Love.  That in itself could be a paper or even a book topic for those studying psychology.  I learned the lesson of gratitude from a dear friend and mentor through of all things, just a simple passing comment.  He simply said, paraphrased, we need to remain grateful for all things, and that gratitude leads to love and wisdom.  


Wow!  That struck me like a lightning bolt.  Gratitude leads to love and wisdom.  The simplest of phrases, yet the impact was felt at my core as I realized the connection between my own humility, gratitude, and the paths that open with remaining humble.  I reflected in childlike wonder at that powerful message, and I still use gratitude and humility as a base for my meditations.  Am I worthy to even be writing this to you?  No, but maybe not for any expected reasons.  I can only open the veil into my own life or experiences and humbly offer my thoughts and expressions.  I can only do so with the hope, the childlike wonder, the gratitude felt, while connecting and maybe helping others on different places we share as we climb the mountain together.  My own honest reflection into my experience connects with some, connects with different people differently, and so will your own experiences connect with others.  I learn far more from reaction and interaction after I write these than what went into the writing.


Freemasonry teaches the lessons of humility, gratitude, love, and wisdom.  These lessons repeat in the degrees, lectures, and charges.  The opening and closing of the lodge reminds us of gratitude and focus on internal reflection, and we are repeatedly reminded that we are all on the way toward perfecting our ashlar, not that we have perfected it.  


We as Freemasons use the symbols and working tools for a mental focus toward perfection, and we must be vigilant that we don’t hold ourselves on any pedestal for others to emulate; we must keep our egos in check.  We must not fall into the trap of grandstanding our views to others while we still have much work to do internally.  That trap starts with: “Why am I having to do this?”


Take a moment to stop, look someone in the eye, and say please or thank you, or you’re welcome, with focus and intent.  Let’s break that down into actionable pieces.  Maybe we go through a door at a local business, and we hold the door open for the next person behind us.  Maybe we catch the door that was held by the person ahead.  Expressing gratitude takes no real effort, but maybe it changes someone’s day.  Maybe that person ahead of you or behind you is having a rough time, and simply taking a second to look them in the eye and thank them lifts their spirits.  Maybe you’re opening the car door for your wife.  It doesn’t matter if the other person even acknowledges your action because you don’t do it for their reaction.  Do it.  Say it.  Mean it.  Put focus behind it.  Walk the walk of gratitude, humility, and find ways to help others even through simple intent of please, thank you, and you are welcome.  Reflect upon your actions while never losing that childlike wonder of discovery.


~RS

Randy and his wife Elyana live near St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Randy earned a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry with an emphasis in Biochemistry, and he works in Telecom IT management. He volunteers as a professional and personal mentor, NRA certified Chief Range Safety Officer and enjoys competitive tactical pistol, rifle, and shotgun. He has 30 plus years teaching Wing Chun Kung Fu, Chi Kung, and healing arts. Randy served as a Logistics Section Chief on two different United States federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams over a 12 year span. Randy is a 32nd degree KCCH and Knight Templar. His Masonic bio includes past Lodge Education Officer for two symbolic lodges, Founder of the Wentzville Lodge Book Club, member of the Grand Lodge of Missouri Education Committee, Sovereign Master of the E. F. Coonrod AMD Council No. 493, Co-Librarian of the Scottish Rite Valley of St. Louis, Clerk for the Academy of Reflection through the Valley of Guthrie, and a Facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society. Randy is a founding administrator for Refracted Light, full contributor to Midnight Freemasons, and an international presenter on esoteric topics. Randy hosts an open ongoing weekly Masonic virtual Happy Hour on Friday evenings. Randy is an accomplished home chef, a certified barbecue judge, raises Great Pyrenees dogs, and enjoys travel and philosophy.

Whither Are We Traveling - Part Ten

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


As we continue to explore Dwight L. Smith's seminal work, "Whither are We Traveling?", we begin to explore his answers to the ten questions he posed for self-examination of the state of Ancient Craft Freemasonry in 1963.  The questions he asked are as important and relevant now as they were then. This week we look at Question 9: Hasn’t the so-called Century of the Common Man contributed to making our Fraternity a little too common?

MWB Smith begins this section with a legend from the Napoleonic Wars about a young man who was too young to fight who was permitted to carry the banner of his regiment. During an engagement, his unit was advancing on the enemy under heavy fire. The young man, full of enthusiasm, went so far ahead of his unit, that he was almost out of contact. The commanding officer sent a runner to him bearing a message to have him come back to the line.  The lad sent a reply to bring the line up to the standard. He then goes on to discuss a politician of his era that referred to his time as the "Century of the Common Man", although no man considers himself as common and every man wants his sons to be more than common. 

He goes on to say that the concern is that when we put too much emphasis on common men and common things we make something that should be uncommon into something common. He then states that he sees evidence for what might be called a Masonic Gresham's Law, in which we witness the sad spectacle of the standard being dragged back to the line instead of being thrilled by the line being brought up to standard. He then says that like it or not, the trend in Freemasonry (in this case in his home state of Indiana, but one could be read this to be universal) is to alter the pattern to fit the cloth.  He goes on to confess that he is not merely unburdening himself of a personal irritation, but he is putting into print what has been whispered into his ear for the past 15 years (so since 1948, since this was published in 1963).

He then says: 
"When we cease to set a lofty mark and expect our Brethren to measure up to it, when we permit a downward adjustment to conform to practices and manners that are casual and lax and crude, we are dealing our beloved Fraternity a double blow:

First, a blow from without. Certainly, we must not expect to retain the prestige the Craft has enjoyed in the past if we can lift our sights no higher than the bowling lanes, the drive-in hamburger stand, the picnic grounds.

Second, a blow from within. Will not men respect and venerate Freemasonry more if they know there are certain rules of gentility – of behavior, of dress, of speech and decorum – which they are expected to observe?

What am I talking about? All right, then, let’s spell it out:

1. The appearance and actions of Master Masons in public ceremonies. Not
always do they create a favorable impression. Only on rare occasions may
Freemasons perform their ritualistic work outside the Lodge hall, usually a funeral
or the laying of a cornerstone. It requires no great degree of imagination to see what
damage can be done the entire Fraternity when men do not possess that priceless
gift known as “a sense of the fitness of things.”

One time I attended the funeral rites for a beloved Brother. At the conclusion of the
church service the Brethren filed down the center aisle in view of all in attendance
to take their places in the escort. The bearer of the Three Great Lights did not know
what to do with his head gear. So, down the aisle went the procession with a faded
straw hat on top of the Holy Bible, Square and Compass.

What am I talking about? Aprons that are crumpled and soiled. Whether worn
without the Lodge room or within, the apron itself is disgraced when it is anything
less than spotless, and the Fraternity is cheapened, to say nothing of the
psychological effect upon the wearer himself.

Yes, and I am talking about the ridiculous spectacle of the Master Mason who
appears anywhere with long apron strings dangling from the rear, all too suggestive
of the limp tail of an old white cow I used to know. Must we go out of our way to
make ourselves a laughing stock?

2. Then there are the coarse and boorish performances by self-appointed
comedians, and by the Glue Factory Craft Club, in conferring the Master
Mason degree. I have seen the Sublime Degree lose all its sublimity in a matter of
seconds when immature men forfeited their opportunity to convey a never-to-beforgotten lesson and chose instead to show off like little boys. On my private black
list are the names of Lodges in which I simply choose not be present when the
Master Mason degree is conferred. Some of them, I am sorry to say, are in Indiana.
Twenty-four years ago Carl H. Claudy was saying the same thing in a Short Talk
Bulletin which the Master of every Lodge would do well to obtain and read again
and again.

3. Finally, let’s lay it on the line. I am talking about the lack of respect shown by
the Masons for their Lodge as reflected in the attire they wear to its meetings.
It was Past Master’s Night. An invited guest, I sat on the sidelines to witness the
always pleasant conferring of the Sublime Degree by those veterans who had borne
the heat and burden of the day.

At first, all went well. The ritual that only Past Masters know was executed as only
Past Masters can. Then King Solomon approached the East. The man who
represented that wise and noble ruler wore a slouch felt hat a half-size too large that
caused his ears to droop forward. Coatless, his loud pattered sport shirt was
buttoned at the throat without benefit of a necktie. Taking his place in the oriental
chair, he laid the heel of a yellow right shoe on his left knee, and began chewing his
gum thoughtfully.

“Even Solomon in all his glory,” I mused to myself, “was not arrayed like one of
these.”
Yes, I know the subject of a man’s personal appearance is a touchy one.
Nevertheless, I stoutly maintain that appropriate dress for Masons while attending
meetings of their Lodge simply is not a debatable issue. A Lodge hall is dedicated
in the name of Jehovah. It is set apart as a place in which the Great Architect of the
Universe is an object of our reverence. Why, then, should there be any question
about proper and respectful attire in the Lodge room any more than the Church?

Recently a distinguished officer of the Grand Lodge of California prepared a most
effective pamphlet under the title, If Freemasonry Is Good, Let Us Talk About It. This
one paragraph deserves frequent repetition: “The Mason who creates a bad impression, in whatever field of activity, can bring discredit to the Craft. I am in the women’s clothing business, and in our business we are concerned about what our female employees wear ‘off the job’ as well as on. Our salesgirls make an impression at all times – and we want it to be a good impression.”

Let us not cloud the issue with pious mouthings about how Masonry regards no man for his worldly wealth and honors; that it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man that render him worthy to be a Mason. The question is not one of honors – it is of respect for the dignity of our ancient Craft. Mark it down: If the internal qualifications are there some of those qualifications will show through on the outer side. A Mason need not wear a Hart, Schaffner & Marx suit to show proper respect for his Lodge, but certainly there should be a high point below which even laziness and negligence will not permit him to descend.

Sometimes I wonder what a serious minded young Mason must think when he looks about the Lodge room and sees his Brethren attired as they would for an outdoor steak fry. Does his mind go back to the time when he received his preliminary instructions prior to initiation as an Entered Apprentice? Perhaps he recalls two significant sentences: “Put on your freshest and most immaculate garments,” he was told, “that their spotless cleanliness may be symbolic of the faultless purity of your intentions. With your body clean and your garments spotless you are more suitably prepared to receive that spotless and faultless
philosophy which Masonry will offer you.”

Yes, perhaps the young Mason does remember those sentences. He may be one of the sizable army of newly raised Brethren that drift away from their Lodges never to return! 

All these practices and many more serve to cheapen Freemasonry in the eyes of the
public and in the eyes of the Brethren themselves.

Much more could and should be said. For example, my criticism has been confined to the Symbolic Lodge. But the Symbolic Lodge does not stand alone in the cheapening process, by any means. Organizations which restrict their membership to Masons and which profit by their relationship to the Craft are doing their part rather well in dragging the standard back to the line.

Now let there be no defensive bleating that the Grand Secretary has gone over to the silk stocking crowd and is promoting tea parties. The choice is not bowling league attire versus white tie and tails. I only insist that Masons, of all persons, should have that fine “sense of the fitness of things;” a wholesome respect for the Lodge and the place it should occupy in the lives of men; the same kind of respect a man should show his church when he goes to worship, or the family of a friend when he attends a wedding, or his host when he is invited to Thanksgiving dinner. Just plain good taste, that’s all.

Will the Brethren complain if Lodges insist on dignity, decorum, respect? Will
interest lag, attendance fall, membership decline?

Well, take a look at interest and attendance and membership now.
When good men are summoned to the highest and best within them, they usually respond with the highest and best. We might be pleasantly surprised at the reaction of our Brethren if challenged to bring the line up to the standard where it belongs!"

I apologize for the long quotation, but I felt that everything MWB Smith said here needed to be together for context. The first point, MWB Smith has driven home time and time again in my examination of his work, is that if we want Freemasonry to be taken seriously by the public, then we must act and dress seriously.  However, I wonder what he would have to say about Freemasons on social media.  I would expect as I have driven the point home previously that he would feel that the same rules apply.  Speaking about bringing the line up to a standard, I feel that he would be saddened by seeing brethren attack each other because they disagree on the things that we don't discuss in the lodge because they bring disharmony.

Reading between the lines, his second point, I believe is to remind brethren that the degrees, especially the Master Mason degree, are about the candidate.  I have seen time and time again the same men that decry the lack of other brethren wanting to participate in degrees bad mouth the young men that attempt to participate for the doing the same things that they do.  Is it not the most hypocritical thing that a brother can do is to exert his ego during a degree that is all about killing the ego?  

Don't come at me about what happens in the Prince Hall Third degrees.  What is acceptable behavior in their degrees has no bearing on what we do in our degrees. I am not attacking that behavior, but rather those that ignore the code 365 of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Illinois which specifically states: "The second section of the Third Degree constitutes a most solemn and impressive portion of our ritualistic work. In it we are taught the ultimate lessons of Masonic philosophy--victory over death and the immortality of the soul. Nothing must be allowed to impair the deep impression which should be made upon the mind of the candidate. Accordingly, the Grand Lodge forbids any levity, horseplay or roughness and insists that there be no such actions and no audible laughter or other noise in the Lodge room which might distract the attention of the candidate. Failure to comply with this Code, and any action by any officer or member in violation of or inconsistent with the language of this order shall constitute grounds for disciplinary action."  

Lastly, MWB Smith discusses attire in the lodge. Echoing some of the points he tried to make in point one, He is correct in stating that our attire reflects our personal respect for the Craft. If we dress like slobs, then we are not giving Freemasonry the respect it is due.  Not only that, but we are also setting a poor example for those that come after us. I feel that MWB Smith the nail on the head when he says: "Let us not cloud the issue with pious mouthings about how Masonry regards no man for his worldly wealth and honors; that it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man that render him worthy to be a Mason. The question is not one of honors – it is of respect for the dignity of our ancient Craft. Mark it down: If the internal qualifications are there some of those qualifications will show through on the outer side." 

What MWB Smith says above reflects back to his Chapter 3, which was aptly entitled "A sleep at the West Gate." We find a general lack of respect for the Craft because we have lowered our standards.  Let's face it, in many lodges, a pulse and a checkbook will get you in the door. Investigations are done poorly, or not at all. Many Grand Jurisdictions including Illinois do not require a background check for prospective members.  Many lodges won't even google a potential member to find out if they are on the sex offender list, have any pending criminal court cases or look at their social media footprint to see if they are posting conspiratorial nonsense about the Craft itself. We recently in Illinois have not only endured a rash of Anti-Masonic literature being placed at our lodges but also have had our Grand Lodge offices and other Masonic buildings vandalized.  One would think that now more than ever, we would be vigilant, but there has been no change in our policies regarding vetting our potential members.  Many of our problems, especially ones that MWB Smith has highlighted in this work, are due to not guarding the West Gate vigilantly during his lifetime, and the trend has sadly continued into the present day. 

Let me state this as clearly as I can, the problems that WMB Smith has highlighted that we are facing in Freemasonry will not go away if we continue to admit men just because they “might” have something to contribute to Freemasonry if given the chance. The fallacy of the argument is in believing that every man comes into Freemasonry with a desire to improve themselves.  I find it ironic that certain Freemasons that believe that men that are known to have beliefs antithetical to the ones taught in Freemasonry should be given a chance to join Freemasonry because they might just have a "Change of Heart".  It seems that they have forgotten this question which we all have answered in our Entered Apprentice Catechism, which is: "Where were you first prepared to be made a Mason?" and its answer: "In my heart".  

Probability dictates that a very low percentage of people that have indoctrinated beliefs that are counter to our core values are going to have an epiphany and change their belief system once they join the Fraternity.  If you believe the above rationale, do you believe should we start allowing Atheists into the craft because they might benefit from Freemasonry?   Then stop pretending that we should allow Racists into the fraternity because they might benefit from it.  The probability that an atheist might find God due to Freemasonry is the same probability that a white supremacist would be able to peacefully sit in a meeting on the level with men that have a different skin color or practice the Islamic, Jewish, or any other non-Christian faith and admit the error of his ways.  That probability, while it may not be an absolute zero, is pretty close to it. Not all men are redeemable, and every year when I sit through the jurisprudence report at our Grand Lodge Sessions I am reminded of the type of "men" we have allowed in thinking they would “have a change of heart” but instead have them tarnish our reputation.     

MWB Smith believed that Freemasonry should not be as common as the prize at the bottom of a cereal box. We do a great disservice to the Craft is by not caring about the type of men we admit to the Craft.  If we continue to allow everyone who petitions to join Freemasonry, we have lost our perspective and I fear we continue to have lowered our standards.  Freemasonry is something that we should reserve for the small percentage of men that want to live their life according to its tenets.  Not every man deserves to be a Freemason. 

I have been more than forthright in saying in my previous articles on this very blog that I probably shouldn't have been allowed to be one had the investigation committee done its job properly.  Thankfully, I was given the chance to join and attempt to live a life in which I follow the lessons of Freemasonry.  However, for every one member that has attempted to live a life inspired by the lessons of Freemasonry, there are hundreds if not thousands that have joined and do not.  

The men that have the internal qualifications will be those that display this convincingly to you and to the brethren of your lodge.  They will be the men that do not talk about what they can do for Freemasonry, but rather what Freemasonry can do for them.  They will show a desire for self-improvement not only in word but in action, a desire for joining and participating by showing up for those pre-lodge dinners or other events for months prior to petitioning, and continuing this while awaiting their degrees.  My point is that when you stand at the ballot box, you need to be sure that the ballot is being cast correctly, and if you have any hesitancy as to why you should allow a man to join, it is your duty to protect the Craft and to deny their membership.  

In my next article, I will explore the next question MWB Smith poses, which is: Question 10: Are there not too many well-meaning Brethren who are working overtime to make Freemasonry something other than Freemasonry?

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.  

The Rite of Destitution – That Hopeless, Empty Feeling

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


Think back to that day you became an Entered Apprentice. You had waited with patience – perhaps for months, perhaps not exactly so patient – for this big moment. You knew you had a long way to go in your journey, but you, the man they finally addressed as Brother, were now a Freemason. You stood before the Master of the Lodge among your Brothers, knowing you were a part of things… accepted… perhaps you even had a small sense of accomplishment. 


Then, it all momentarily fell apart. You were asked for something you could not produce, and all of those warm, positive thoughts evaporated into a hopeless, empty feeling. You were the new guy. You wanted nothing more than to please your new Brothers. You saw an empty hand stretched out. You wanted to comply. You couldn't. Now what? Were they going to expel you for this? As your mind reeled, the Master explained what this was all about. You just received, in a graphic way, one of your first Masonic lessons.


Every Freemason, even if financially well-off, has for at least one fleeting moment known the despair of not having enough. That little object lesson, sometimes called the Rite of Destitution, certainly cannot compare to the reality of a life of grinding poverty, but the hope is it will teach you, the new Brother, that it is your duty – not your option, but your duty – to treat those in that condition fairly, to be able to empathize with them and, if at all possible, contribute to the relief of any such person "so far as his necessities may require and your ability will permit."


Freemasonry being, as we are instructed, a progressive science, this is not the end of your lesson in charity. Elsewhere in our Masonic journey, we learn Relief is one of the great tenets of our craft. We in the United States and even the Western world are privileged in most cases to have the means to support ourselves and our families, but even here there are those who cannot do so. So we, as Freemasons, do what we can, both as Lodges and individuals. 


It is a never-ending task. Jesus himself admonished us that, "the poor will always be with you." So undiscouraged, we remain aware that every little bit helps, and we never give up. Lodges, institutions, and persons of great means can – and do – make a significant difference with their contributions. The Shriners Hospitals, for example, have an immense impact on humanity with their charities and, with support, have the means to do it. We, as individuals and smaller Lodges, do not operate on the same level, but the spirit of our contributions is no less significant. 


Most of our Brothers are individuals who would be generous to those less fortunate anyway, but it does not hurt to have that Rite of Destitution gnaw at us as a reminder that practicing the great tenet of Relief is the duty of every Freemason.


~SLH

Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°  is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships is the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also 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. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35-year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

Ringling Brothers: The Six Lost Aprons - Revisit

I didn't write this.  This was sent to me, I thought it was interesting, and thought I'd share it.  The following article was adapted from a piece which appeared in the Baraboo News-Republic titled, "Yesteryear Revisited." The text and accompanying photographs were prepared and submitted by Brother Steve Emerson, a Baraboo Lodge Past Master.

Apron belonging to Alf T. Ringling

The night of January 21, 1891 in Baraboo, Wisconsin was a special night for many of the men of Baraboo, and it has a direct connection to a special happening, some 111 years later. The story includes six soon-to-be-famous brothers and involves the ceremonial regalia they wore on that special evening.

In those days the Baraboo Masonic Lodge No. 34, Free and Accepted Masons, still met, as did all other fraternal organizations, in rented upstairs halls in downtown.

The Lodge at this time, however, was strong enough that a building of their own was being considered. Members had arrived on horseback, by carriage or on foot, for the decisive evening, and the Temple was full.

Also, in Baraboo of that day, the spectacular seven-year rise to national prominence of the Ringling Brothers Circus had brought not only respect but also good fortune to many of the brothers. Their father, August, had been a struggling harness maker.

As is well known, there were seven Ringling boys, and young Henry had only recently become old enough for Masonic membership. It was most unusual for as many as six of the Ringling Brothers to be in town at the same time. It was especially unusual on this evening that the six brothers occupied many of the major chairs in the Lodge. All seven Ringling brothers, including John, were members of Baraboo Lodge, before the year was out, Father August Ringling would join his sons in the Masonic Order.


Special Aprons Made

On this particular night in 1891, with such famous brothers occupying the chairs, some very special aprons had been ordered as gifts. Made of the finest blue velvet instead of the plain white linen usually worn, each apron was embroidered with silver thread and tassels.

Central to the blue border was white lambskin, with the symbols of the office or chair being occupied embroidered thereupon. There is some speculation that the aprons were designed and produced by the Ringling Brother's Circus wardrobe department in Baraboo.

On the back of each apron is the name of the Ringling brother and the chair he occupied: Alf T., Worshipful Master; August, Senior Warden; Al., Junior Warden; Charles, Senior Steward; Henry, Junior Steward; and Otto, Tiler.

Religiously speaking, the Ringlings were members of St. John's Lutheran Church, but nearly every church in Baraboo was represented among the other brothers present that night.

Aprons Emerge

What happened over the years to the blue velvet and white lambskin aprons, with their silver embroidery, is of some interest.

It is known that Mrs. Ida (Henry) Ringling, not to be confused with Ida (Ringling) North, gave the aprons nearly 50 years ago to one Richard (Joe) Bennett, boyhood chum of Ida's grandson, Henry Ringling III. Henry III died in an auto accident near Baraboo in 1961, and Bennett had become a friend and frequent visitor to Ida, Henry's grandmother.

Among the gifts she gave to Joe were the aprons. It is presumed that they had been in the possession of Ida's husband, Henry Sr., and later with his wife Ida, since 1891.

Recently, an alert brother of Baraboo Lodge noted an apron listed for auction on E-bay.

Upon investigation, it was determined that not only was this an authentic original apron, but that all six were available!

Moreover, thanks to some caring people during the last 111 years, the aprons were in mint condition and were still kept in the original boxes. In some cases the original protective tissue paper was still present.

Significant financial outlays were promptly made by five Baraboo Masonic Brothers-Lee Hoppe, Merlin Zitzner, Dave Deppe, Skip Blake and Rick Lewison. Others have made contributions for preservation of the aprons. This made it possible for the aprons to be returned to Baraboo, and they are now in possession of the Lodge.

Plans for the Ringling aprons are incomplete, but because of their historic importance, they may be offered for display at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. A similar display may appear on occasion at the Al Ringling Theatre, not even a dream for Al Ringling when his apron was presented to him in 1891.

It would be 24 years before Al would build, in Baraboo, what the Theatre Historical Society of America calls the very first of the theatre movie palaces, which became so popular throughout the country. It still operates today, in its entire pre-revolutionary French architectural splendor, as perhaps the longest-operating motion picture theater in the county. The stage is used some 60 times each year for live performances as well.

Back to the Meeting

So, as we take up the story of that special night in Baraboo Lodge in January 1891, the Ringling Brothers occupied the chairs, the aprons were presented, and the Lodge prepared to build its own building. It is known that a committee was appointed and a fine building was9 built, on the NW corner of Oak and Second Avenue.

It was this building, approved at the 1891 meeting, with the Temple rooms upstairs and McGann's Furniture on the ground floor, which would burn some 65 years later. This fire in 1957 destroyed nearly all of the Lodge records, regalia and artifacts.

By good fortune the ceremonial aprons had been removed by someone, and were cared for properly for 111 years. Now they have been returned to their rightful home in Baraboo, relics of a special night.

Special Ties

Baraboo Lodge No. 34 observed its 150th year in 2002. The anniversary booklet published to commemorate the event reports that eight Ringlings were raised in Baraboo.

Alfred T. (Alf) Ringling was raised on January 22, 1890; John was raised on March 1; Albert was raised on March 29; and Otto on April 9.

Eleven months later, on February 4, 1891, August G. Ringling was raised. Henry came next on March 18; and August, father Ringling himself, joined the Craft on August 19, 1891.

The city of Baraboo has a heritage of two communities: the circus and the Masonic community. On the surface they may appear completely different-the Circus being an entertainment form for "children of all ages," and the Masonic Lodge being a fraternal organization created to help men better themselves and their community.

A connection between these two organizations began when seven Ringling brothers and their father became Masons.

Throughout the years, there have been many Masons with circus backgrounds, including members of the Gollmar family (circus owners), the Moeller family (circus wagon manufacturers), General Tom Thumb, Harry Houdini, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Baraboo's own Jimmy Williams (a.k.a. Happy the Clown), Tony Vinicki (Smaha), Robert Hocum (great-grandson of the charter Junior Warden).

The formation in the early 1870s of the Shrine helped create the bonds that grew between the Circus and Masonry. The circus is one of the largest fund raising events for Shrine clubs. It is also a major source of income for circus performers.



Todd E. Creason is the author of Famous American Freemasons: Volumes I & II where you'll find many other great stories about famous Freemasons.

Whither Are We Traveling - Part Nine

by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


As we continue to explore Dwight L. Smith's seminal work, "Whither are We Traveling?", we begin to explore his answers to the ten questions he posed for self-examination of the state of Ancient Craft Freemasonry in 1963.  The questions he asked are as important and relevant now as they were then. This week we look at: 
Question 8: What has become of that “course of moral instruction, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” that Freemasonry is supposed to be?

MWB Smith begins this section by talking about how there was a young Master, who was determined to take the admonition of giving "good and wholesome instruction" seriously.  He ordered a copy of Carl H. Claudy's The Master's Book which became his personal "Volume of Sacred Law".  He had underlined three lines in the book and lived by these.  He claims that following the advice of these three lines, brought Masons who hadn't been in Lodge for years back regularly for Light and more Light and further Light. Nothing in 25 years has changed his conviction that the formula that Claudy laid out would not fill the sidelines with regularity.  That young Master was Dwight L. Smith, and the three lines are:

"One thing and only one thing a Masonic Lodge can give its members which they can get nowhere else in the world. That one thing is Masonry… The Master whose instruction program is strictly Masonic has to send to the basement for extra chairs for most of his meetings."

He goes on to state that he knew little to nothing about adult education.  The only equipment he possessed was a little imagination and a resolute purpose to avoid standard schoolroom methods. He ruled out long-winded lectures; stunts or cheap entertainment in favor of teaching by means of symbols, parables, allegories, and legends.  He claims that the brethren came because they wanted to, not because they were a captive audience, and most importantly that he had to send out for extra chairs like Claudy had claimed he would. 

MWB Smith then asks: "Come to think about it, has not the Master of every Lodge an obligation to give the Craft good and wholesome instruction?"

He then answers by saying that he is proceeding under the assumption that every candidate for the degrees sincerely desires the Light Freemasonry has to offer him and expects to receive it.  But then what happens is that we memorize and recite, and if memorization and reciting does not appeal to him, that we have nothing further to offer.  Then he states that we wash our hands of him, and he hears about the other organizations that elaborate on the three degrees, and he turns to them for the further light that his Lodge should have provided or as he puts it: "He asks for bread; we give him a stone." 

Dwight then goes on to state that we are weak in Form and in Substance.  He also respectfully submits that we fall short at the Grand Lodge level where the designs are placed on the trestleboard, and at the Lodge level where the designs are executed.  He then states the ramifications of the subject are too great to discuss at length, and that he can only plant the seed.   

He then says:
"Let’s face it, then:
1. The Word. The very term Masonic Education is a liability – a frightening word
suggestive of impractical theories and dull abstractions. What a blessing it would
be if some creative soul could coin another: Masonic Light, or Advancement, or
Instruction would be an improvement.

2. Our Designs. There are too many systems too hastily conceived, too much
running wildly hither and yon in search of bright ideas. We pursue Masonic
educational systems in the same manner that teenagers pursue fads. Let a bright
idea be advanced in one Jurisdiction and a score of Grand Masters will cry, “Lo, it
is here!” Like sheep, they rush to follow the bellwether. And why? If Freemasonry is universal, do we need “57 Varieties” of instruction programs? After all, Master
Masons respond in much the same manner the nation over.

3. Our Architects. They are too amateurish. An effective program for further Light
can not be designed by whoever happens to be officers of a Grand Lodge in a given
year. It is a job for men with special talents. Always there should be one or two men
with down-to-earth experience in adult education; a public relations man to
interpret human likes and dislikes; a newspaperman to tell the story in everyday
English. And all should be thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals of
Freemasonry.

4. Our Working Tools. One of the marks of an amateur writer or speaker is that he
attempts to tell everything he knows each time he writes or speaks. With rare
exceptions, the printed materials for Masonic education programs are like that. They insist on telling everything. Forbidding in length and appalling in scope, they are too ponderous, too dull, too windy. Ever hear of the Tractarians? We could well
emulate their example." 

I agree that the term Masonic Education is frightening to many. I think Masonic Education is frightening because it's misunderstood.  I have a personal belief that anytime Masonic Education is mentioned, many Freemasons immediately have their eyes glaze over because they have no idea what it is or they immediately have visions of skulls, chambers of reflection, and esotericism dance in their heads. 

However, I don't think renaming it to be called Masonic Light, Masonic Advancement, Masonic Instruction improves matters.  I believe it muddies the waters.  In fact, when I think of Masonic Instruction, I think about the same memorization and reciting that MWB Smith rallied against above.  Masonic Instruction teaches you how to be a Mason within the Lodge room.  This consists of the skills of reciting rituals and the proper floorwork that are needed to properly operate and do all the things that are done within the Lodge room.  Masonic Education teaches you how to be a Mason outside of the Lodge room.  Masonic Education is what happens in the degrees during the explanatory lectures.   It is the why behind the how.   

While Masonic Instruction teaches you how to walk and talk in the lodge; Masonic Education teaches you not only why you walk and talk that way; but also how the lessons of Freemasonry can be applied in the Profane world.  This is often where some lines blur.  It is my personal belief that Masonic Education does not need to be strictly Masonic to teach our members how to be a better man outside of the Lodge room. Skills, like teaching a younger member how to change a tire on a car, or teaching older members how to identify potential fraudulent calls, texts and/or emails are not Masonic,  yet they teach the membership valuable skills that improve their individual knowledge and skills that can be passed on to their loved ones, friends, and family. By improving our member's life skills, we are practicing Brotherly Love in a way that isn't directly Masonic.         

As for MWB Smith's commentary about our designs, our architects, and our working tools; I believe they are interconnected, at least in my personal experience.  Let me explain. 

I currently serve the Grand Lodge of Illinois as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area.  This entitles me to sit on the Grand Lodge Committee for Masonic Education.  I am one of the Architects, along with a Committee chairman and the other Area Education Officers and members of the committee.  This being said, the Committee Chairman reports to the Grand Master and the Grand Lodge officers, whereas the Area Educational Officers report to each Area Deputy Grand Master.  The Area Education Officers used to report to the State Education Officer, who headed the committee and reported to the Grand Master.  In my short time as Area Education Officer, I have had two State Education Officers.  Also every two years, there is a New Grandmaster and each has their own ideas of what Education should be or shouldn't be.  What I am stating is that it's difficult to be an Architect to design an Educational Program when you have little to no autonomy to do so and/or the direction of what the Educational Program keeps changing.

In an ideal world, what would happen is that instead of the Committee Chairman being told what subjects the Education Committee should be working on, the Committee should be given the authority to design a program to present to the Grand Master.  The Grand Master then would have the authority to approve the program or send it back to the committee with his suggestions.  Once the program was approved, the Grand Master would back it with his authority as much as he backs any other program that the Grand Lodge puts forward.  In my experience, the Committee's tasks are prioritized by Grand Master, which because he is Grand Master is within his right, but as MWB Smith states: An effective program for further Light can not be designed by whoever happens to be officers of a Grand Lodge in a given year.

To further complicate matters, we have other Grand Lodge committees and officers sending out communication to the Masonic Leadership in our state that has lists of Topics that the ADGMs are having their Education Officers Work on.  In turn, the ADGMs believe that because the email came from a Grand Lodge official, it is exactly what the Educational Committee is doing and expectations are set on what I as an Area Education Officer should be focused on. While the message of the communication was in the right place, before any communication is sent out, they should have consulted our  Education Committee chairman to align their goals.  In not doing so, the person I report to directly, the Area Deputy Grand Master, has a belief that I am doing the five things in the email that the Committee Chairman sent out.  

Even though many of the things that he sent while not incorrect are contradictory to the list of items that the Grand Master wants us to focus on. When other Grand Lodge officials and officers are dictating their own agendas by sending out their own communications about Masonic education, we are forced to then address those items as well.  When MWB Smith talks about our designs, architects, and our working tools, I couldn't agree more.  There is obviously a disconnect between what we as the education committee want to do and what others want us to do.  As I have shown, in my own personal experience, there are too many architects that are putting too many designs on the trestle board.

Don't get me wrong, I am very proud of what our Committee has done so far.  We have been publishing a monthly electronic magazine, called The Lyceum; which provides ready-to-use short educational pieces which have questions for discussion in the Lodge to every Master Mason in Illinois.  However, I worry that it's only a matter of time before this working tool is put aside because our ever-changing priorities change again.  

Smith continues:
"Again, let’s face it:
1. Our Unfinished Labors. By and large, instruction is not a part of the program in
the average Lodge. Such efforts as may be made are sporadic, conceived as an
afterthought, treated as a stepchild. We have not caught fire with the possibilities,
for we are so obsessed with question-and-answer memory work that we think all
instruction begins and ends in a catechism. Nothing could be further from the
truth.

2. Many Are Exceedingly Anxious. We know not the meaning of patience. When
we do attempt to provide good and wholesome instruction, we try to do too much
too rapidly. A first-grader is not handed a set of books which will tell him all he
needs to know for a high school diploma. Rarely is a young Mason a Ninety-Day
Wonder, yet when we instruct at all, we give him huge doses, without regard to his
needs, likes or dislikes, and we expect them to do the work of a Vitamin B-12 shot.
It isn’t that simple.

3. Rubbish In The Temple. Regrettably, too many of our programs are tied to stunts
and cheap entertainment used as bait. Masonic teaching must be Masonic or it is of
no avail. We defeat the purpose when we insult the intelligence of the man who
seeks."

In my personal experince, I agree that Masonic Education is not prioritized.  I, along with other authors on this site, have written numerous articles on the subject.  The sad fact is that many men do not want Masonic Education.  Many brethren are content to have their lodge be a social club, and fail to understand the lessons of our degrees that challenge us to become better men.  The only way to give these brethren education would be to force it upon them by having the Grand Master issue an edict, which won't accomplish anything other than having them go through the motions of education which will only leave their members worst off than had they not attempted it.  

As for MWB Smith believing that many of our education officers are anxious; I am in disagreement.  I don't know that they are anxious.  I think that they are not properly instructed in how to be educators.  In my own personal experience, this is something that I have to do a better job of as an Area Education Officer.  However, many of the brethren that are being appointed to be District Education Officers do not have any desire to be educators, nor do they want to be.  They are essentially appointed to be the right hand man of the District Deputy Grand Masters.  So if the DDGM is open to having education in their district, then as the Area Education Officer, I have an opportunity.  However, that is usually the exception, not the rule. 

I disagree with MWB Smith when he states that Masonic teaching must be Masonic.  As I expressed above, it is my belief that any skill that is taught which helps our members to be better men outside of the lodge room even if that skill might not directly be Masonic is still valuable. As illustrated in my example above, it is my belief that many of our members can benefit from learning skills that might not be purely Masonic but that help them as individuals.  Is teaching a member how to tie a bowtie or how to buy a suit Masonic?  No, however it helps expand their knowledge which then expands their wardrobe choices when one goes to a lodge event or in real life.  In fact, I think that teaching these life skills can be tied into different Masonic lessons given enough effort.

MWB Smith then asks:
"Then where do we start?

1. Most important of all, Masonic Light must come from the East. Instruction
provided by a teacher who knows less than his pupil is neither good nor
wholesome. “If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch.”
It has long been my contention that the place to insist upon proficiency is in the
man who wears the hat and holds the gavel. If that means minimum standards,
training courses, written and oral examinations, then let’s have them. I would have
made a much better Master if I had had that kind of preparation.

2. Our approach must be an intelligent one. The program must have diversity, the
doses must be small, and it must avoid dullness as a plague. Men of high
intellectual attainments should have study clubs; those of limited academic training
should have “capsules,” and for those in the wide range in between, the possibilities
are unlimited.

3. Instruction must be lifted to a place of honor and respectability in Lodge
affairs. Above all, it should be geared to the Hour of Refreshment – not to the
lecture room nor the graduate seminar. Let self-improvement become a privilege
to be enjoyed, and not a chore to be endured.

4. We need to discard about nine-tenths of our curriculum materials. Masonic
authors whose works are authoritative and have human interest appeal could be
numbered almost on the fingers of one hand. With profound apologies to local
writers and compilers in every State, I maintain we could do better to stick to the
classics.

5. Any program of further Light must be pursued continuously and with
infinite patience. The parable of the Sower always should be the theme. Even
though great quantities of seed will be wasted, some will take root and bear fruit –
and that some is worth all the effort.

6. And then, humbly begging pardon of the Sacred Cows, if Plans and Programs
and Systems there must be, there is only one which has stood the test of time. It
is that which is carried on within the framework of the Lodge, inside its four walls,
by its authority, under its control and responsible to it. Nothing should be left to
whim or fancy of individuals who may be ill prepared, inaccurate or irresponsible.
Textbooks, manuals, short courses, schools, forums – these should not operate as
substitutes for the work of a Lodge. We can only hope that such tools may assist
and inspire. But the stones must be hewn and squared in the quarries where they are
raised.

Visionary? Impossible of attainment? Of course it is. The Temple within the hearts of men is never finished. No one has suggested that the building of human character is a quick and easy job.

Who among us has faith to “lay his course by a star which he has never seen, to dig by the divining rod for springs he may never reach?”"

While I agree that the Worshipful Master of each Lodge needs to prioritize Masonic Education, I disagree that they should be solely the only person in the Lodge responsible for dispensing light.  In Illinois, the Lodge Education Officer should be solely responsible for this.  However, if the Worshipful Master has not appointed one or a committee to handle it, then he is that by default.  I agree that the approach should be intelligent, however I don't believe that having three seperate educational structures in the form of "Study Clubs" for more intelligent members, "Capsules" for those of limited academic training, and then another program for those in between does anything but cause disharmony by not allowing education to happen on the level.  Those that want to learn more will seek out that knowledge.  The best education is that which presents a subject and then stimulates discussion of that subject among all the brethren.  By allowing every member of the lodge involved, not only do we learn important things about each other, but we also create that cement of brotherly love and affection.  

I agree that Masonic Education should be given a place of honor in the lodge, and therefore it should be moved to the beginning of the stated meeting. I don't believe that having it during the hour of refreshment is going to do this unless it is a part of the festive board we discussed in our previous article. The only way to guarantee the participation of everyone is to prioritize it as being the first item of business after opening the lodge stated meeting.  As for curriculum materials, I believe that we should not limit the imagination or the resources for our Education officers.  I don't believe that in 1963, MWB Smith could have envisioned anything like the internet.  Whereas in some jurisdictions, there are standardized programs of education, in those that don't have that luxury, we need to be able to draw upon every possible resource to allow our Educators to dispense Masonic light. 

Lastly, I do agree that Masonic education must show patience and must be continuous.  I have shared above how having changing priorities can damage the process of establishing an educational program. I do agree that education should not be a substitute for the other work of the Lodge.  It should be complementary to that work.  I also agree that: "The Temple within the hearts of men is never finished. No one has suggested that the building of human character is a quick and easy job."
This is why education is important.  How can we make better men of our members without some form of Masonic Education?  

In my next article, I will explore the next question MWB Smith poses, which is: Question 9: Hasn’t the so-called Century of the Common Man contributed to making our Fraternity a little too common?

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.