Masonic Random Thoughts

A place for Masonic news, thoughts, discussion and education

It’s What’s on the Inside That Counts

Some of the more progressive and “dangerous” ideas in Masonry are quite obvious such as the idea of universal brotherhood, accepting all faiths and the statements in the obligations. Each of these things for their time in the 17th and 18th century were quite dangerous to the status quo of society, political and religious power and so were often veiled in allegory or only transmitted from mouth to ear.

Other progressive and “dangerous” ideas are hidden in plain sight, however, and are just as powerful but as we no longer live in the 17th or 18th century, they often get overlooked.

One such idea is given in the Fellowcraft charge. The newly passed Fellowcraft is told during the charge:

“…it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man who Masonry regards…”

While on the surface this may seem like a fancy way of saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but upon further examination, the importance of this short phrase becomes more apparent. (N.B.: this concept was allegorically introduced when the candidate was asked for “…something of a metallic nature…” and found he was destitute)

I believe that there are two possible sources for this revolutionary idea and they may be intertwined and therefore it’s impossible to say with any accuracy, which influenced the creators of our ritual more. Nonetheless, let’s look at this concept from both a Biblical and a 17th/18th century prospective.

The original source of this idea may well have been the book of Samuel. The book of Samuel (divided into two books in Christian theology) tells the story of the rise and fall of David and is not considered historical as there are no extra-biblical sources that confirm the stories. Nevertheless, the book records a critical period in Israelite history, the transition from charismatic leadership, with leaders appointed at times of need, to an established, dynastic monarchy, politically uniting the Israelites. (Shawn Aster / www.myjewishlearning.com).

In 1 Samuel 16:1:13, (N.B.: if you are not familiar with the background of the whole story, I recommend you read the entire book) we find Samuel being directed by God to go to Bethlehem and contact Jesse and that from his sons, a new king will be chosen (Saul hadn’t really worked out). Samuel is reluctant to do so but eventually does as he is bade by the Lord. Samuel finds Jesse and has him present each of his sons, starting at the oldest, to see if one of them is the man whom God will have him anoint as King. Samuel expects it to be the first-born due to traditions surrounding first-born male children and because he is a fine-looking, strong man. But he is rejected! This continues through the other sons of Jesse and Samuel is confused. It is at this point that we find what may be the basis for our admonition to look on the “internal qualification of a man” in Masonry

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (NIV)

So here for the first time we find the concept of judging someone by their intentions, actions and inner qualities and not by their physical appearance, birthright or other worldly things! In the big scheme of things, those items matter not. Even for the time of Samuel, this was a very different lesson to learn!

Now how would people in the 17th/18th century have looked at such an idea in the FC Charge?

Life in this time was all about the external as far as how people were judged. If you were born to the “right” family, you could be King or a Lord of a great estate regardless of your moral or personal values. If you were born to a poor family, that is where you would stay with little or no chance of being able to move up in the strata of society. The Church at this time was also, paradoxically, divided in the same manner and looked upon their flock in the same manner. Wealth, position and power controlled the lives of people of this time and had done so for many years. It was even worse for women and people of color, as they were generally regarded simply as property!

However, as England and Europe moved into the time we call the Enlightenment, much of this began to be challenged and change. As philosophers (the first scientists) began to explore and explain the world around us, it became harder to control knowledge and therefore the masses. People began to believe that they could understand the world and the will of God as accurately as the Church if not more so. Understanding physical processes through science gave many an avenue to build an industry and raise themselves out of the dirt. The grip of Church and State was being thrown off and changed to be more in the favor of the common people. The philosophy that all humans had value began to pervade thinking. So it is very likely that our fore brothers interpreted this idea in the charge from the massive changes going on about them in thought and society and boiled it down to the simple phrase “…it is the internal and not the external qualifications of a man that Masonry regards…”

Regardless of the source of inspiration, it doesn’t take much imagination to see how radical this idea was and how dangerous it would have been to the status quo. By meeting on the level, many prejudices can be broken down, ideas can be exchanged freely and if followed purely, the correct man can be chosen for the job at hand, not simply by title, wealth or position. The society becomes more peaceful and therefore more productive and progressive.

It would be nice if we could look at this and say “Well that was then, this is now, we don’t have that issue anymore” but that is patently not the case!

[The need to follow this precept] rings out loudly in our cultural context. We rely for almost everything on our sight, but it often proves untrustworthy. Advertisers know that the quickest way to get their fingers into our wallets is through our eyes–by bombarding us with images of sexuality and excess. Do we really think that wearing the same watch, as Heidi Klum or Tiger Woods will make us more attractive and successful? Apparently, since we buy the watches. And the cars, hamburgers, and light beer. We also tend to pick our leaders–politicians, principals, coaches, celebrities, and so on–based on our society’s norms about appearance. For the last century or more, the taller of the two final presidential candidates has almost always won. (Rolf Jacobsen / www.workingpreacher.org)

Only in the last century, have we as a society began to look at the harm judging by external factors has created in society and every so slowly we are working on adopting a more internal rule by which to measure our fellow-man. Masonry has known this to be an important concept for over 300 years!

In the Fellowcraft degree we are taught about construction of physical objects but also the world and the person. We are introduced to those things that we should study to improve upon ourselves, and the world around us.

If the Entered Apprentice was about youth, and the Fellowcraft about manhood, then you can no longer be excused for the mistakes of youth. Nor have you attained the wisdom of your elders. You must take on the hard work of building yourself and the world around while you can. This means confronting such difficult concepts as Brotherhood based on internal qualities and shared values and not on those temporary things that separate us in the external world.

One the most difficult things any of us will do as a man and a Mason are to try to live up the precepts of Masonry, especially this particular precept. As visual creatures and flawed humans we constantly fall into the trap of judging by external and not the internal qualifications. But as Mason’s it is incumbent upon us to realize that natural failing and work constantly to overcome it. Thereby we will not only be happier and wiser but will set the correct example for the world, thus fulfilling yet another goal of Freemasonry.

 

Questions / Observations

  1. Should we put more emphasis on this concept?
  2. Why is it only in the FC charge and not in the obligation if it is important? (Think of the difference between the goals of each. Charges are hortatory)
  3. Will we ever truly be able to live in this manner? Why or Why not?
  4. Read the book of Samuel, it reinforces this idea even deeper. Saul was a choice of the people based on their visual assessment of Saul. Turns out he didn’t really have the right “heart” and so God replaced him.
  5. The three degrees could be seen as a retelling of the arc of David’s life. EA is his youth and service under Saul, FC is his good days as King of the Israelites and MM would be his downfall (the sword will ever be with the house of David…The lion of the tribe of Judah will prevail (in Revelation it’s the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (i.e. the Davidic line) that opens the book)

A Progressive Science

Ritual tells us that Masonry is a progressive science and the phrase can probably mean many different things depending on your outlook on the practice of Masonry. One way to interpret this phrase would be that it tells us that what we learn and “know” about Masonry will change and grow as we progress through our lives.

The renowned New Testament author, scholar and university professor Marcus J. Borg expressed this idea of progressive learning as a three-stage process

Stage 1 – Pre-critical naiveté — In this stage, we hear and accept without question or effort that the information, in this case Masonic ritual, is true. Intellect and heart are not involved. This is a child-like acceptance and many people get stuck at this level.

Stage 2 – Critical Thinking – At this stage we begin to evaluate what we learned against our life experiences and modern knowledge. This is the stage where doubt and skepticism often arises. Unfortunately, this can then lead to disengagement with Masonry and disillusionment with the Craft.

Stage 3 – Post–critical naiveté – This difficult to achieve state is where one gains the ability to discern wisdom and insight in the metaphorically expressed “truth” of the myths and stories that make up Masonic ritual. The Brother begins to recognize that their truth does not depend upon their being literally or historically factual. Borg expresses this as an intuitive and trusting discernment of heart, mind and spirit.

Reaching this third level is difficult work, yet for Masonry to be a relevant and useful endeavor, we must engage in this work daily. The Fellowcraft charge encourages us to constantly be improving our minds by serious study and it is by this constant study that we can reach the third stage of understanding and learning from our ritual.

This can be done by investigating the underlying concepts taught in ritual, talking with other Masons and through the practice of ritual. Often times, a concept or lesson doesn’t become clear until it’s been heard multiple times.

Remember, we refer to Masonry as “work” because you have to actively be working at Masonry for it to have its effect upon your life!

 

 

Why Masonry is Dangerous

Recently, for the education sessions for my Lodge, I took an in depth look at the obligation for the Master Mason degree. My intent was to look at how it was developed in relation to what was common for obligations in the 18th century and how that might have influenced the authors of our ritual work.

When I got to the part about the actual core of the obligation, I was suddenly hit with why some groups have considered Masonry so dangerous.

So, let’s turn our attention to the core of the obligation. The specific things that your obligation is binding you to do and are worth risking the penalties both secular and spiritual.

At this point, I had originally thought to take each of the “I further more promise and swear” statement and examine it’s meaning and how it would still apply over 300 years later to modern day Masons. But as I was reviewing these clauses and comparing them to other secular and religious obligations, I was struck by a difference that is so important it literally defines Masonry and why it has had such a powerful effect on man and society, and why our obligations have often been the source of much disapproval by outside groups.

My research into obligations that were being used during the formative years of the Masonry we now, there were several common obligations in use in England and Scotland. In fact, if you look up the original text of these obligations, you will notice that the founders of Masonry “borrowed” heavily from what was in common use.

As the various families battled for the crown and the Catholic and Protestant faiths became embroiled in a battle to be the state religion, it became common for someone living in England and Scotland to have to take various oaths of allegiance to the King and abjure the Catholic church in part or in whole. Obligations became a tool for the Crown to control the Church and it’s subjects simultaneously.

If you take the time to look up the original obligation to King and Church, they all have a common goal. They are constructed to subsume the individual to the needs of whomever or whatever group is demanding the obligation! There is no wiggle room, no shades of gray, no situational ethics. They all very clearly demand absolute obedience to the obligation and therefore the person requiring the obligation. It does not say you will always support the King unless his policies are not productive for the people he rules, then you reserve the right to effect changes. It says I will support the King and do nothing against him…period, full stop, black and white.

This is typical of all of the obligations I could find from this time and nearly all of them since. The key is always for the obligant of the obligation to give up their right to think for themselves and have independent actions.

Now let’s look at the Master Mason’s obligation. The 10 “I further mores” (in Nebraska work) plus the preamble, state a desired condition or state of some interaction with the world or your own conscience and also end with instructions that require that you think about the situation, gather data and make the best decision based on YOUR knowledge, abilities, experience and situation; to be active in and a part of the decision. In other words, free will, free thought and no blind obedience!

I used to think of these instructions as “escape clauses” for doing anything but now see that that was a very immature way of looking at them. They are, in my opinion, valuable lessons and the unique thing that set us apart from religions, cults, oppressive regimes or political systems.

This is why the Masonic obligations were so radical for their time and still are to a great extent. The obligations forced upon the masses by Church and State all reduce man to an unthinking, blindly obeying cog in a greater machine. You are not to think for yourself, just do what the “Authority” tell you without question.

Living in a society of such unparalleled freedom of thought, expression and self-awareness, it is nearly impossible for us to imagine how mind boggling the Masonic obligation was and how threatened the established power structures would have been…and still are. For example, while we take for granted that the government governs by the consent of the people, it was certainly not the case for most of history. This need to control thought and action so minutely has been the downfall of religions and political systems throughout history and because of this, change has only come about through very violent and disruptive means.

Yet the designers of Masonry realized that true power, true knowledge can only be gained through each person making their own decisions within a framework of accepted standards. So they gave us a framework that shows us the perfect example but at the same time allows us to be human (self directed and make mistakes) and takes into account that we have to work hard to learn how to master this great power. And once learned, these lessons can be applied to all of your interactions with the world, leading eventually to a more ordered and peaceful society.

Having the kind of power to make the kinds of decisions that we are obligated to make is a difficult task and a tremendous responsibility. That may be why we say that Masonry is a progressive science and that it takes a lifetime to understand. It may be why the obligations go from the very simple to the quite complex and were meant to be learned over a long period of time, and that the study of the 7 liberal arts figures so prominently in our ritual. The obligant needed the time and experience to build up their abilities and knowledge to be able to fulfill the obligations.

This feature of the obligation should also give us pause to consider more carefully the kind of men we bring into the Craft. Those candidates that we propose must have the ability, the temperament and spiritual and mental maturity to take on or learn to take on weighty responsibilities such as making life and death decisions.

Once again, we see how serious an undertaking it really is for a man to take the Masonic obligations. If he understands their true purpose and strives to uphold/complete the obligation, he will by natural consequence, have to live life carefully, thoughtfully but also with a freedom that is beyond the common man.

 

Sapere Aude!

Amos and Freemasonry

While we will never know for certain why the creators of Masonic ritual used the material they did from the Bible and elsewhere, it often times seems to match the ideals set down in a particular degree so well that there isn’t any question in our minds that that particular Biblical phrase or passage is right for that degree.

However the passage used during the candidate perambulation about the Lodge in the Fellowcraft degree (Amos 7:7-8) has always seemed a bit mysterious and perhaps even out of place to me. Using Occam’s razor, it could be that Preston needed an “operative mason” sounding reading that matched the length of time of perambulation and this passage fit. However, I would like to think that Preston put a bit more thought into the selection and that this reading holds some message for us as Masons beyond “sounding masonic”.

So who was Amos, what did he have to say and why might this particular reading be of importance to us as Masons?

Reading the entire book of Amos cleared up part of the confusion on the use of this passage. It is not until you look at who he was and the context in which he prophesied, that parallels to Masonic lessons become apparent.

Amos was one of the Twelve Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible (minor in this case does not denote lesser importance but that they wrote relatively short books compared to later prophets) who lived in the southern Kingdom of Judah and was active from 760 – 750 BCE. He was not the stereotypical prophet that we often think of from the Bible. In fact, he was a simple sheepherder and farmer of sycamore figs, a common man with no previous history or family connection to the business of prophesy. But God comes to him and instructs him to carry a very specific and important message to the Israelites. (Raising a common man to do uncommon work for God is a reoccurring theme in the Bible and may also have Masonic implications).

At this time, the Israelites have escaped Egypt and are settled in the Promised Land and have established two kingdoms…the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah (from whence we get the term Jew). Things are going very well from a societal standpoint. They are quite prosperous, they are not being threatened by any of the border countries and the two Kingdoms even have an uneasy but peaceful relationship.

Unfortunately, all this wealth and comfort led to the Israelites “backsliding” on their covenant with God as the chosen people. Some had gone back to worshiping older gods from the area, they were building idols and practicing idolatry and the gap between the rich and the poor was becoming very great. This gap between the rich and the poor and the resulting social injustice is expressed in Amos 2:6-8:

 

Thus saith the Lord; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes;

That pant after the dust of the earth on the head of the poor, and turn aside the way of the meek: and a man and his father will go in unto the same maid, to profane my holy name:

And they lay themselves down upon clothes laid to pledge by every altar, and they drink the wine of the condemned in the house of their god.

 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. They are also convinced that if they just go though the motions of the rituals of the Torah precisely enough, then they will be prosperous forever. God, however, informs them (Amos 5:21-23):

 

21 

I hate, I despise your festivals,

  and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

22 

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,

   I will not accept them;

and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals

    I will not look upon.

23 

Take away from me the noise of your songs;

    I will not listen to the melody of your harps.

They also believed they were exempt from punishment as the chosen people of God.

God is upset with this behavior, especially since he’s sent other prophets and various natural disasters to wake up the Israelites but they have ignored him. This is especially vexing to God as the Israelites are his chosen people and are expected to set the example.

God then chooses Amos, a common man, to go to the Northern Kingdom and explain to them what they have done and what God is about to do to correct the problem. God shows Amos several visions of coming tragedies for the Israelites. In the first vision, God is creating a storm of locusts that will eat the crops of the Israelites; however, Amos pleads successfully with God to not follow through. Then God shows Amos a vision of fire that will consume the Israelites. Amos again, successfully pleads with God not follow through and God relents. It is the third vision (Amos 7:7-8) that is used in the Fellowcraft degree and is the “operative mason” reference that we hear during perambulation.

When first encountered and without the context of what came before and after verses 7 -8, it seems pretty simple. God is using a plumb line as a metaphor to measure or judge the actions of the Israelites. The problem comes with the last line “…I will not again pass them by anymore”. As if often the case when studying the Bible or any ancient writing, the words used to translate the original may no longer mean the same thing to us in our time. The version of Amos used in the Nebraska Monitor is from the King James Version of the Bible, which was published in 1611. English has undergone a few changes since then. My first thought when hearing this last phrase was that God was going to stand by the Israelites and not ignore them. So I took it as a very positive sign about the relationship between God and the Israelites. However, this didn’t make the usage of that part of Amos in the Fellowcraft degree any more understandable to me.

It was not until after checking different translations of the passages and then reading the complete book of Amos that this began to make sense to me as a part of the Fellowcraft ritual.

In checking translations both by Jewish and Christian authors, it became clear that a more understandable (for our use of English) translation would be “…I will no longer pardon them” (www.chabad.org). So this passage is an allegory using operative masonic terms stating that God has measured his people, found them wanting and is no longer willing to look the other way or let them continue with their wayward ways! This is completely opposite of how I had been interpreting the passage. Checking different Bible translations of Amos such as the NRSV, NOAB, ASV and several Jewish translations (see source list), each agreed with the Jewish translation and used similar language. Analysis by both Jewish and Christian biblical scholars agrees that this passage is stating that God was done overlooking the actions of the Israelites and was going to take action to correct the mistakes. The analysts are in agreement that there are several main ideas that Amos is trying to teach:

 

  1. Justice, especially social justice
  2. Prayers and sacrifice do not make up for bad deeds.
  3. Behaving justly is more important than ritual.
  4. What being the Chosen People means
  5. Moral behavior. Maintaining certain moral standards.

So Amos went to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and delivered God’s message and as often happens to those who bring negative news, he was rejected and his message was ignored. Soon after, as foretold by Amos, the Assyrians came from the north and conquered Israel and eventually, the Kingdom of Judah ending this period of great prosperity for the Hebrews.

As a Mason, I choose to see a connection between the lessons of Amos and Masonry in the following manner:

  1. Choseness: The Israelites made the mistake of thinking that because they were the chosen ones by God, they were exempt from the rules. This is contrary to what God wanted them to be, which was for them to be examples to the rest of the world as to how to keep the word of God. The same can be true for Masons. We think of ourselves as a “cut above” the rest of the world and deserving of respect and certain privileges. But that is only true if we strive to do the right thing at all times and set an example for the profane world. We need to see our special place or choseness from a servant standpoint and not as being exempt from the rules.

 

  1. Justice for the poor (Social Justice): This part of Amos is particularly relevant in today’s society. The gap between the rich and poor and the need for compassion and help for the poor is greater than ever. As Masons, one of the cardinal beliefs we hold is what our ritual refers to as relief. Such an application of social justice whereby we realize and act on the idea of being one family and supporting each other will keep us from “…selling the poor for a pair of sandals”.

 

  1. Behaving justly is more important than ritual: The Israelites were simply going through the motions of the things that were required of them by God, when what was really required is that they believe in those things, practice those things both within and without the Temple with all their souls. As Masons, it is easy for us to be pious and practice perfectly within the Temple (Lodge) but it can be very hard to live those values outside in our everyday lives. Amos reminds us that prayers and sacrifice do not make up for bad deeds. Behaving justly is more important than ritual. You must live what you practice.

 

  1. Moral Behavior: As the Israelites became more prosperous and had less strife and conflict in their lives, they began to drift from the moral standards that God had set for them and that had served them in the past. We can see this same issue in our own society today but as Masons we are charged to hold ourselves to the higher standard required of us by God. Society should change to meet our standard; Masonry should not lower itself to society’s standard.

 

  1. Justice: Justice should be sought in all our actions in life. The phrase used by Amos is “And justice shall be revealed like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). This theme is repeated again in the Fellowcraft charge where we are admonished to “…reprehend with justice”.

 

The Book of Amos is trying to teach us some very important lessons: lessons that I believe are a part of our Masonic beliefs. As stated at the beginning of this paper, it is impossible to know exactly what Preston and others intended in using this passage from Amos. Regardless of the loss of the true reasons, we can use this passage to progress in Masonry by looking for parallels between the main ideas in Amos and the main tenets of Masonry and apply them to our own lives.

Sources

Websites

www.biblegateway.com

www.chabad.org

http://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/o/old-testament-of-the-bible/summary-and-analysis/the-prophetic-books-amos

www.jewishvirtuallibrarary.org

www.biblehub.com

www.wikipedia.org

Printed Sources

Nebraska Monitor / Grand Lodge of Nebraska A.F. & A.M.

Nebraska Cipher / Grand Lodge of Nebraska A.F. & A.M.

The Five Books of Moses translated by Robert Alter

What Do Jews Believe? by David S. Ariel

Don’t Know Much About The Bible by Kenneth C. Davis

The Oldest Time Capsule in the U.S. Opened

Recently the oldest time capsule in the U.S. was opened and various items were shown to the press.  The press kept mentioning a cornerstone (more of a plaque really) but not what was on it.  Take a close look at the pictures below…notice anything special?  Masonry makes history once again.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 7.46.27 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 7.46.03 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 7.46.20 AM

What’s the Rush?


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Recently, I had a conversation with a young Brother that was a bit confusing. It struck me that his Lodge was in a perfect position but they didn’t realize it. The crux of the matter was that while they had plenty of candidates for degree work in their Lodge, they couldn’t get to them fast enough, whatever that means.  My personal opinions about One Day degrees aside, I couldn’t figure out what the problem was or why they were in such a rush.

Part of the issue, as seen by this Brother, was that if too much time (a quantity which he could not define) passed between the man wanting to be a Mason and the Lodge raising him, he would loose interest in the Craft.  Really?  If that is the case, you did a poor job of explaining Masonry to this man and/or he shows that he makes emotional decisions without great thought.  Either way, not a good start.

First let’s talk about the process of asking a man to become a Mason and how we explain it.  This is one of the most difficult things to do as much of what you’d like to share are things that cannot be shared prior to raising.  Therefore, you need to work in an area that tells him how much it’s changed your life with concrete examples.  Talk about the basic lessons, the learning, the fellowship, the history of Masonry, the things it offers if you work at it.  But most of all, make sure he understand that Masonry is a LIFE LONG pursuit!  One does not become a better man just because he has a membership card to a Lodge.  You become better by working at the things that Masonry teaches, making mistakes, gaining knowledge and trying again.  Over a lifetime of work, you will, bit by bit, become a better man.  This makes joining Masonry an “extremely weighty” decision that should not be made lightly.

Next, if the proposed candidate is correctly introduced to Masonry but still makes a flash decision and wants to be raised immediately, then in my opinion, he missed the message or is unsuitable as a Mason.  Like all truly good things in life, becoming a Mason takes work and time.  If he is not willing to take that time or respect that the process is best done at a proper pace and not rushed through, there is a much greater chance he will become quickly dissatisfied with Masonry and leave.  So look closely at how he makes decisions in his life, how he respects traditions and protocol and then make a decision about having him as a candidate.  If he has to be a Mason RIGHT NOW and can’t wait a few weeks for the experience that will last him a lifetime, I would submit that is a red flag.

Finally, it is important to be cognizant of the power of deferred or delayed gratification on our lives.  The plain truth is that which we value the most, we worked for or waited for the most.  Think about your first car, first love or first child for example.  If you could just walk out and gain these things on demand the moment it occurred to you that you wanted them, they would have little value.  Don’t believe me?  Can you find the free pen the bank gave you?  Probably not but I’m betting you know exactly where your $200 Mont Blanc pen is that you got as a graduation or retirement gift.  Look at your own history with everything from relationships, to careers, to learning and more.  Look at the great Masons in history and you will see this concept of deferred gratification at work.

(For more information on how this works in our lives, click here.)

So what do we do with a candidate while we are waiting to make him  a Mason?  We include him in anything that the Lodge is doing that is not a tyled meeting! Invite him to dinners, fund raisers, outings.  Invite him to come to the monthly meeting and have whomever is going to be his mentor (you do use mentors in your Lodge, right?) to sit with him in the outer room and talk about Masonry.  You could even give him a copy of Masonry for Dummies or Masonry for Idiots and answer his questions about what he has read.  In other words, there is no reason to just let the candidate be idle while he is waiting for his degree work.  This waiting period can and should be very productive for the candidate and the Lodge!  If you do this, by the time the Lodge is ready to do the work, he will be a much better candidate, listen closer, learn more and be better bonded to the Lodge.

So, what’s the rush?

Tradition and Understanding

Tradition does not form us automatically,
we have to work to understand it.
— Thomas Merton

This quote recently popped up on my planner and it made me stop and think for a moment how this really applies to Masonry, to all Masons both new and seasoned and to myself.

When raising a new Master Mason or trying to explain why we are in Masonry, we often get caught up in quoting the traditions and traditional values that Masonry is trying to teach us.  For many men coming into the Craft, it is these traditions and traditional values that attract them to the Craft.  They may have read about some famous past Mason and how his life was one of admirable deeds and heroic accomplishments.  Often these are attributed either by history writers or the person themselves, to the influence of Masonry.

Quite often in Masonry, I will run across Brothers who are quite proud of their Masonic membership and are happy to tell all who will listen how it has been a positive influence in their lives and how all men should be members and so on.  But exactly how Masonry has changed them is never quite made clear.

When I press for details, I often find that the Brother hasn’t been to Lodge in many years, knows nothing of the ritual or traditions, hasn’t picked up a book on Masonry in years and looking at how they live their life, it would seem they have spent little time trying to internalize the lessons that Masonry teaches.  I can only conclude that Masonry for them is like exercise is for many of us…a grand concept but not one daily practiced!

Indeed, when any move is attempted by the Grand Lodge or other leadership to increase the amount of work/learning a candidate must do to become a Master Mason, it is soundly defeated and roundly disapproved.

In contrast, there are many Brothers for whom Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth seem to be a way of life.  Not only in their interactions in Lodge but also in their daily lives and interaction with others, they seem to alway hew to our three traditional principals.

Why do some only give lip service to Masonry and others live it every day?

When talking to the Brothers I’ve found to be living Masonic values, I find one common thread that runs through all the conversations, and that is the concept of constant work and effort to understand what Masonry has to offer.

For some reason, many believe that just because they went through the degree work, that somehow they were changed. While such an epiphany is possible, it is very unlikely.  As Masonry is not a religion, the GATOU is not going to reach down and suddenly make you a better person that follows all the principles of Masonry.

What I have learned from my Masonic betters is that you must work to understand and apply the lessons of Masonry.  And that this work is never ending, must take place every day and only becomes a part of your natural actions after much effort, making mistakes, correcting your behavior and trying again.  They often tell me stories of a Brother with whom they spent many hours learning ritual and it was in the times between reciting ritual that their mentor would discuss the practical applications of ritual and share life experiences.

In other words, using my exercise analogy, just as I can’t be an Olympic athlete by simply saying or thinking that I am, I must put in the hundreds of hours of training with a proper coach, so the same thing is true about becoming a Mason.  I must put in the time and effort to get the result. Simply having a membership card will not make it so.

To be sure, we all experience Masonry differently and as we are all human, we are flawed in our ability to live up to the standards that Masonry demands.  Nonetheless, we will only honor the traditions that have been handed down when we take the time and effort necessary to understand why they were so important to the Brothers that came before us and why they felt it was important to pass these traditions on to further generations.

Time to restart my Brain…

It’s been some time since I’ve shared any random thought with you and I apologize for that.  Summer and work just got a bit busy.

However, it’s Winter now and I’ll have plenty of time to share all the things I’ve been storing up!

 

 

The Power of a Comma

In their vanity men focus on what they wish to hear and miss the hidden meaning…

— David Hewson

 

Recently I was privileged to attend the MCME in Iowa and I got to hear some of the best and brightest of Masonic Education speakers and what they were thinking

One speaker in particular was talking about Masonic Education and what that term even meant or why we use it.  In fact, we don’t see that term being used until the late 19th century in Masonic literature.  What that implies is that Masonry and education were synonymous to early Lodges.  The purpose of Lodge was education along with the feasting and fellowship.

He then pointed out one of the more powerful and obvious lines in our ritual that should focus us on this subject.  In the opening of the EA degree the WM has a conversation with the SW that is largely ignored but incredibly important.  In this conversation, the WM essentially asks the SW why he is here in this place and what is his purpose.  The answer that the SW gives, tells us everything we need to know about our duties in Lodge and as Masons.  And yet it’s hidden in the EA opening and is seldom thought about.

The real eye opener came when the speaker suggested the addition of a comma to the question that the WM asks.  What if, he proposed, we put a comma after the word “learn”.  Now say the sentence again, does it mean something different?  The addition of a simple comma makes this statement by the SW much more understandable and also more focused.  The meaning is essentially the same, if you believe that Masonry is about learning but that little comma brings some real clarity to the question asked.  Try this in your Lodge and see how different Brothers react to the statement.  It may help them to see things differently!

 

Time and Improvement

There’s only one corner of the Universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self

— Aldous Huxley

 

 

In our ritual we are admonished to make “…daily advancement…” in our Masonry.  I believe that the authors of that short but powerful line intended for us to think about and apply Masonry every day in our lives.  This might seem like a daunting task especially for the new Mason. Where do I start? What do I study?  How do I study?

Several years ago, a very popular book called “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” came on the market. In this book, the author, Stephen Covey, laid out seven steps or habits that if followed seemed to bring about the most effective use of time and effort.

The 7th Habit is the one I want to concentrate on as it seems to me to have direct application to our Masonic life. The 7th habit encourages that daily you take time to renew yourself mentally and physically and work towards continual improvement.

Today’s world is so full of activities that seem to be more important than working on ourselves. In fact, the word WORK seems to carry a negative connotation in itself! Many men are working 60 and 70 hour weeks, trying to raise a family, etc. and yet forgetting to take care of themselves mentally, physically and spiritually.

It’s true that we have a lot less free time than our fathers and grand fathers had. Our children are involved in so many things at school and after school that it seems like all we do is run a taxi service for them from activity to activity. Men in the last generation have taken a more active role in raising the children than before and many wives are working as well, making the classic “guys’ night out” a thing of the past for many. Recent studies have shown that the average family man has only 5 hours a month of free time. That is not much. The result is that many of us are Masons in name only; we pay our dues, maybe attend an occasional Lodge meeting, buy the books the Education Committee recommends and then put them on the shelf. But we never seem to get around to reading those books or reviewing the work….there just isn’t enough time.

So how does one go about “creating” the time to further our studies and practice the 7th habit and live up to our obligation?

While I believe there is no one correct path but many, I would like to offer this rather easy formula. I believe that with a minimum of effort you will reap a great return in advancement towards being a better Mason.

Here is my plan:

This Sunday evening after you have put the kids to bed, picked up the house and all those other little things that are a part of starting a new week, sit down for a few minutes (perhaps 10 or 15). Do this someplace quiet where you can think. Take your Monitor or Cypher or some recent article about Masonry. Choose a topic or idea. For example the line “…to learn to subdue my passions and improve myself in Masonry.”

Now, write this down on a scrap of paper and put it in your wallet or in your planner or on a note in your phone. Put it someplace where you can refer to it often throughout the next week.

On this piece of paper with your topic, write the following 3 questions:

 Why? (e.g. Why is this so? Why is this in the work?)

How? (e.g. How does this affect me? How can I internalize this?)

How do I feel about this personally? (Dig deep; look into your core and decide how you feel. There is no wrong answer!)

Throughout the week, take out this piece of paper and spend a few minutes thinking about what you have chosen. Apply the 3 questions. Do this whenever you have a few free minutes. (Shaving, sitting at a traffic light, in a boring meeting at work or exercising). You will find that throughout the week, these little bits of time add up to quite a bit of good hard thinking.

On the following Sunday night, once again take some time to yourself. Review what you thought about during the week. Now put that piece of paper in a special drawer or envelope, take out a fresh piece of paper and pick a new topic.

Repeat this process each week. At the end of the year, take out all the past topics, review them and congratulate yourself on all the Masonic study you’ve done throughout the year!

Want to double or triple the effectiveness of this plan? Keep a journal of your thoughts at the end of each week. Writing things down has a way of really bringing them into focus. Plus it can provide a history of your development.

So, there it is. A simple, effective way to improve yourself in Masonry with a minimum of time! I have found this method to be of great value and use it often when driving between engagements. I know that if you try this and make it a habit you will profit from it as well!