When I stepped behind the pulpit for the first time last April, I realized the journey to that place had started 37 years ago. I never thought I’d actually get there.
When I was 18 and had just graduated high school, what I wanted to do was be involved in ministry. At that point in my life, what appealed to me was missionary work. Apparently, I was a bad speller and wound up in the “military” instead of the “ministry.” But even when I was in the army, I looked into what it would take to be a chaplain.
But then life happened. The army didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped. I got married way too young. I started a career in a bare-knuckles competitive environment where success was measured by your ability to be ruthless and vicious. I made some really big mistakes in life, and they began to pile up. I got divorced. My church took my ex’s side and basically kicked me out of the congregation. I took up fishing and drinking beer as hobbies, and became fairly proficient at both. The more life happened, the further I got away from the church, and the further away from that idea of ever being involved in ministry became. I still thought about it sometimes, but I knew I was no longer suitable material for ministry . . . or so I thought.
So what changed my trajectory? Two things initially. The first thing was I met my wife Valerie just over 25 years ago. The second thing was a chance conversation I had one evening 17 years ago in a local pub with a Freemason. I joined shortly after.
Masonry changed everything for me. It restored my faith in mankind. I met men from every faith, race, and background. I saw what one man could accomplish through hard work and determination, and more importantly, what men from all these different backgrounds could do together under the banner of a common set of values. It didn’t take months. It didn’t take years. It took almost no time at all. I learned from ritual. I learned from books. Most importantly, I learned from my Brothers. They became my family, and my family changed me. I became very involved. I studied. I wrote books and articles. I started this blog in about 2006--shortly after I published my first book (just over a year after I joined). After 8 years of marriage, Valerie and I started a family that year, too. My daughter Katie was born almost a year to the day of my being raised a Master Mason. The change was dramatic, and the change happened fast.
And I found my Bible again, too. Looking back, I can see God was at work in my life from the beginning, but I don’t know how I could have gotten from where I was to where I’m at without my friends. My Brothers. Freemasonry got me back to where I started, and back to the plan God had for me all along. I got a second shot at it. And all that living I did, and all those regrettable mistakes I made will serve me well as I serve Christ.
I get concerned sometimes when we talk about guarding that west gate. I see a lot of conversations these days about who we should let in and who we should keep out. I question the motives of members who talk this way. The qualifications for admission into a lodge are few, and the reasons for disqualification should be even fewer if the petitioner sought us out with sincere intentions. I’ll be honest with you, based on some of these conversations I’ve seen lately I don’t know if I’d be able to get into the west gate now in some of these Lodges. I certainly couldn’t have sixteen years ago when I knocked. There’s no way.
When we talk about “what kinds of men we should admit” into our Fraternity we’re creating obstacles for men that may very well have something unique to contribute if they’re given a chance. When we talk in terms of what kind of values one should have when petitioning a Lodge we need to remember they are petitioners at that point and not Freemasons—they’ve come to our door with a desire to improve themselves. We should be focusing more on why they knocked rather than on where they’re at in their life. There should be a very compelling and easily justified reason to close that door.
When we start thinking of petitioners as “not our sort of people” or “a little too rough around the edges” we are doing ourselves a great disservice. If you read my books you’ll quickly see that some of our most celebrated members weren’t exactly stellar examples of gentlemanly sophistication when they knocked on our door. Our strength is in our diversity in both the kinds of men we call Brothers and the diversity of ideas they bring to our Lodge. Our strength is in our shared experience as Freemasons and Brothers, but it is also the life experience and unique perspectives of our members. Our Fraternity understood from day one that we’re all different and our Lodges were built so that we could all come together one the level! Different, but equal. Our purpose is to improve ourselves and our Brothers, and we do that by learning from each other and sharing and encouraging each other. But if that’s our purpose, we need to remember that those who seek us out aren’t perfect and they’re coming through that west door looking for something.
I’m reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 3:32 “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
So who are we here for? Freemasonry would be of little use to a perfect man, but to a man seeking improvement in himself, it has the potential to change his entire life.
Todd E. Creason, 33° is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog, and an award-winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. Todd started the Midnight Freemason blog in 2006, and in 2012 he opened it up as a contributor blog The Midnight Freemasons (plural). Todd has written more than 1,000 pieces for the blog since it began. He is a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL) where he currently serves as Secretary. He is 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 Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is a Past EHP. He is a charter member and Secretary of the Salt Fork Shrine Club. You can contact him at email@example.com