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The Freemasons vs. Freemasonry – A Complicated Web of Men

11 February 2013 1 comment

FORWARD: The following is an opinion presentation I gave to my lodge on February 11, 2013.  This paper was turned in for credit to the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic knowledge.

The Freemasons vs. Freemasonry  – A Complicated Web of Men

square_compassA lot can be said about the Masonic fraternity.  It’s an odd monster.  There are so many different aspects of the fraternity that a man could literally read a new book every day for the rest of his life trying to understand it and still not be an expert on all things Masonic.  Being that there are so many faces of Freemasonry, it can sometimes be difficult to explain any one particular avenue of the Craft without at least touching on the many other facets of the fraternity.  One could break down Masonry into categories of history, tradition, morals, practices, ritual, or knowledge to try and cover all the basic aspects of the Craft and there would still be more to talk about.

Along with such a large and complicated organization comes a plethora of men making the wheels turn.  These men come from all different backgrounds and professions.  These men all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Every man in the fraternity can bring something to the good of the group if he chooses.  Likewise, it’s important for even the most organized of men to understand that any man who tries to run everything himself can cause ripples in the harmony of the order.  It is important for us to all participate where we can and at the same time also invite and include others.

It is first important to understand that no one man can run a hall or operate their lodge by themselves.  It takes many people performing numerous unrelated tasks to keep everything running smooth. Separately, tasks may seem as though they vary in difficulty and importance, but collectively the slightest oversight could lead to major problems.

There is a business side of the fraternity, as well as a social side of the fraternity.  There is a charitable aspect, and there is a ritualistic aspect.   There are very public faces of the fraternity, and there are also very private dealings within the lodge. There are old members and there are young members.  There are active members and there are men who rarely attend.

It is often assumed that at the top stand a handful of all powerful figures.  This is true in some regard as there is in fact a hierarchy of men with titles such as Grand Master,  Worshipful Master, Senior Warden, and Junior Warden.  Although a lot of responsibility rests with these men, it’s necessary to understand that these men are not always responsible for everything that happens with the lodge or hall.

On the contrary, many times these guys have little to no understanding about the majority of the day to day tasks of building upkeep.  Things like hall rentals, keeping the electricity on, making sure mail goes to the correct people, and making sure the bathrooms are stocked with toilet paper are just a few items that are not often on the minds of the supposed “guys at the top.”

This Brings us to the Lodge and the Hall.

A lodge needs to have meetings which require a building or space. Some lodges have their own building, some lodges meet within a shared hall at different times.  A building or hall requires some sort of hall association to perform maintenance.  In cases where more than one lodge meets in the same building, the individual lodges are required to rent the building from the hall association to fund upkeep and general maintenance.  Members from all renting lodges can be elected to the hall association to act as a governing body of the hall.

Although it is true that there can be great profit in a well run building available for public rental, the main purpose of a Masonic hall is to simply act as a place where individual lodges meet to conduct business.

Individual lodges are run by elected officers.  These officers are charged with upholding the constitution of their Grand Lodge, and the bylaws of their individual lodges.  In addition to elected officers, each lodge also has appointed officers.  Many times these men are any member who shows a desire to advance in Freemasonry and possibly become Worshipful Master in the future.

A common phrase heard in lodge is “advancing through the chairs.”  What follows is the general gist of what is meant by this phrase, although it must be understood that this is NOT necessarily the official practice of any lodge and should never be assumed that this is what will happen with any member.

While these is no guarantee that any man will be appointed to any chair by the Worshipful Master, typically if a man shows desire, he  is first appointed as the lowest officer, who sits in a specifically designated chair on the floor of the lodge. In a perfect world, the following year the same man is again appointed to the next highest office, and consequently sits in a new physical chair on the floor.  This usually continues from year to year until the man is ready and certified to be elected Junior Warden.  If the man is fortunate enough to be elected by the brethren, the following year he is usually elected Senior Warden, and after another year he may be elected Worshipful Master.

There are many exceptions to this unofficial chair progression.  Often time’s men have no desire to advance to an elected position, but enjoy sitting in a minor chair, and so, may spend years being appointed to the same chair as men pass around them.  Sometimes men wait for years in anticipation of being coming Worshipful Master, but fail to fulfill the necessary qualifications and certifications to even be considered for the office.  Sometimes a man spends years being appointed to every chair, learns all the work, passes all his certification, but is not elected by the lodge to be Master for one reason of another.  This is rare, but it does happen.  There is no guarantee a man will become Master, no matter how hard he works.

On the other hand, especially in lodges where there is limited interest from the membership to be an officer, a new Mason may find himself thrust very quickly into a higher appointed chair.  In many jurisdictions a man cannot be elected as a Warden until he is certified and proven to be capable of reciting a degree and covering the business of the lodge. The business of the lodge can be just that, any business of the lodge; opening, closing, memorials, welcoming guest, approving treasurer and secretary reports.   If any member holds this certification he can be considered qualified to be an elected officer. This is true even of a new member who has never sat in an appointed chair. It is rare, but on occasion a man can be elected as a Warden within a year of joining the lodge, and in some cases even become Master the following year.  This is an extremely rare occurrence, and it should go without saying that the value of such a Master who attains this office would most likely not be very beneficial to the order.

From the newly raised Mason, to the fifty year member, we all have the privilege of walking through the west gate to be seated as brothers.  These are just a few faces of the fraternity, there are countless more. The point is; it takes different types of men to control the different faces of the fraternity.

What is Freemasonry? 

That is such an open ended question that it cannot be defined completely in one paper.  There is a classic phrase often used by Masonic historians to explain Freemasonry that goes as follows:

“Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.”

This phrase is original credited to a man named Dr. Samuel Hemming.1 Take a moment and reread that phrase.  “A system of morality veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.”  It is a beautiful sentence.  It is very poetic.  It flows like literary water.   Although it is a simple definition, it is a very clear one. You cannot, however, expect to gain an understanding of the Craft based on this one phrase.  It is here that the student should look past the poetic charm of this simple phrase and dig a little further.   It is up to the student to expand on this phrase and look into what exactly it means.

Just as often the case that men will not ask for directions, men tend to also not admit they don’t understand something. This is especially the case when they feel everyone around them completely understands the subject and that they somehow are the odd man out.  Because of this, a man will chose to sit in the dark rather than seek enlightenment or education.   For those of you who undoubtedly have sat in an auditorium during a question and answer session, but did not ask your question because you thought your question was too simple or not intellectually stimulating enough to complete with the deeper questions being tossed around, the following is for you. For educational purposes, let’s blow this simple phrase up and complicate it a little.

We start with the first part.  Freemasonry is a system of morality.  This seems simple enough on the surface.  You have to first define what a system is.  Simply put, a system is a set of smaller things connected together to form a complex whole.  This can be an assembly line, or many items working together to create a network or streamline an action.  We move from here to morality.  Morality can be defined as distinctions between good and bad, right and wrong.  We know there are some folks who are morally upstanding, and there are some folks who are morally corrupt.  A man’s morals are his actions and how he chooses to make them either positive or negative.

Because Freemasonry is to be a positive journey for a man, when armed with the above definitions we can safely say that the system of morality we are talking about is the combined items of rules, directions, suggestions, recommendations, and instructions that will positively influence our daily lives.  Simply put, it can be orders to function in such a manner that is beneficial.

How does it give us these orders to function?  This brings us to the second portion of this phrase; “veiled in allegory.”  From my own experience, and asking around in a test pool of friends, I have come to the conclusion that this part is more difficult for most people to explain.    Veiled simply means; covered or hidden behind.  Veiled is a way of saying concealed, disguised, or obscured.  Allegory on the other hand is the word that many men, for some reason, won’t admit they may not fully be able to define.  The words “allegory” and “veiled” go and hand in hand as allegory is usually a story or poem or art form that can be interpreted to reveal a deeper meaning.  Many times allegories contain characters or events that represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. To break this down as simple as possible, with caution, this portion can be described as “art with things hidden in it.”

How can we find what is hidden?  The latter portion of our simple poetic phrase tells us that Freemasonry is illustrated by symbols.  A symbol can be anything that represents something else.  It can be a material object that reminds you to do something.  It can be a mark, character, color, or anything used to help us think, function, or process.

When we put all of the above together what we have is an organization that will give us positive direction in life by telling us stories that will make us better people.  It seems very simple, but it is not for everyone, and not everyone is fit for the fraternity.

It is also worth pointing out that a man can improve himself without being a Freemason.  A man can be perfect without the Freemasons in his life.  One does not need symbolism and allegory to become a good person.  This just happens to be our method of personal enlightenment and betterment of character.

Why the Symbols?

Any Masons, be it the general card carrier or the 50 year Past Master, can tell you that one of the most dominant aspects of Freemasonry is the use of symbols and symbolism.  The important thing for Freemasons to understand is that almost everything is symbolic in a Masonic lodge.  This is not just true of physical items like the square and compass, or the other working tools, but all things, down to the manner in which we are to stand, sit, turn, address one another, shake hands and carry our regalia in lodge.

Symbols are used as reminders for us.  The symbols found in our lodge are also found in our daily lives.  Being familiar with them in lodge will help you recognize them while running about in our daily lives.  The effect of understanding the working tools of Freemasonry and ability to recognize symbols if our daily lives will no doubt make a Mason a better man, and as a result, improve the world around him.

To the unenlightened Mason, or non-Mason, much of our symbolism is lost with them because they are not educated.  This can be one of the main reasons that not all men benefit the rewards of the Craft.  Men come to lodge, men go through the motions, leave lodge, but rarely ask or possibly do not care the reason or meaning behind the many aspects of the fraternity they are a part of.  An argument could then be made that perhaps these men should have chosen a different fraternity, as it is clear that they are not getting the most out of the ancient system of which they are a part of.

What then makes you a Freemason? 

Paying your dues?  Many men think so.   Does perfect attendance make you a Freemason?  Many men think this as well.  Does volunteering, fundraising, or memorizing the ritual make you a Freemason?  Again, many men think so.

These are all noble characteristics of a great Mason.  The fraternity absolutely needs men to do all the above and move.  Why then, question whether any of this stuff makes a man a Freemason?

The answer is because we have lost the concept of what it means to be in the Freemasons, and what it means to be a Freemason.  Think about this for a moment.  Does perfect attendance mean anything if you are not living by the working tools?  If you pay your yearly dues, but have no idea what the working tools are, can you truly call yourself a Freemason?

While “the Freemasons” as a whole can be considered a club by some, Freemasonry definitely is not.  Freemasonry is much more.  Freemasonry is a system of living.  Freemasonry is a living system.  It’s true.  Freemasonry, when practiced correctly, is a system of life that teaches self improvement.  A Freemason is supposed to practice Masonic virtues.  A Freemason is taught to make use of the working tools of the Craft as symbols to aid and improve their daily lives.

How can a man be a Mason?

Well, for starters, it cannot be accomplished through any amount of memorization, volunteerism, charity, or good deeds.  All of the above will certainly make you a great person, and a true Freemason should have all of the above qualities, but these items cannot on their own make you a Freemason.  After all, a person outside our fraternity can volunteer, give to charity, do nothing but good deeds, and if he somehow stumbles upon our ritual, could also memorize the entire thing.

Let’s assume for a moment that a man, outside our west gate, was to do all of the above.  Does that make him a Mason?  If you have any other thought in your head other than a very loud and clear NO, then perhaps it is time for some basic Masonic education.

What then, makes the Masons stand out?  Why are they any different than the Moose or the Elks or the Rotary?  Why does one need to join the Masons to do charitable things?   The short answer is, you don’t.  If you wanted to do charitable things, then any of these great organizations will be able to fulfill your desire to do so.

Perhaps if all you want to do is volunteer and do charity, then maybe the Masons are not a great fit for you.  Not because you are not a good person, but because that is not what Freemasonry is solely about.

To put it in other words, the great list of positive things the Masons can lay claim to are not necessarily a result of us being a so called civic club.  On the contrary, one could argue that the “club” many see is a side effect of the members just practicing Masonic virtues.

Here lies the problem.  In today’s world, unfortunately, many Masons cannot tell you why we are different from other fraternal organizations.  Some men will sit on the sidelines for years and complain about “never doing anything.” They will follow with comparisons of other civil organizations who are doing overwhelmingly well in attendance and charity and ask why we do not do these things.    Others will avoid meetings because they are “boring.”  There is always a reason to find fault in any organization, but for some reason in Freemasonry we have an overwhelming number of men who have no clue what Freemasonry is about, but yet insist we should be “out there” doing things.

This may be difficult for some to listen to, but as stated above, those who truly live by Masonic virtues and make use of the working tools in their daily lives will, by default, not only see the great benefits of Freemasonry, but will also gain an understanding of what Freemasonry is.  They will understand why just “being in the Freemasons” is not enough to actually BE a Freemason.

Freemasonry is about Self Improvement

We are supposed to gain an understanding of the seven liberal arts.  Listen to that again.  We are to gain knowledge of the seven liberal arts.  Grammar, rhetoric, logic, geometry, arithmetic, music, and astronomy are not just words found in a ritual.   They are not just a string of text meant to be regurgitated to a candidate.   They are to be understood.  If the general member took 2 days to crack a book like “The Exemplar” or “The Builders” by Joseph Fort Newton they would realize that Freemasonry is not just a civic club.

Too many members today seek no education.  They are asking what Freemasonry offers, but yet they are not taking the Craft up on what it is freely giving them.  They ask; “What can we do?” even though it is clearly told to them in the three symbolic degrees.

Where do we go from here? 

We can start by going to the lodge.  Those who seek answers will find them there.  Even if your lodge is complacent and has no form of mentoring or Masonic education chair, you will find resources in your lodge.  You will find books.  You will find minutes.  You will find a likeminded person if you seek them out.  Nothing will come to you until you seek it out.   When you are ready to advance, there will be opportunity.  It is important to state very clearly that nothing will be handed to you.  It will take time and dedication to understand the Craft and benefit its rewards.  No amount of donating to charity or paying your way will lead to true Masonic understanding or benefits.  Remember, wealth cannot purchase your admission.  This is another phrase that actually means something during your initiation.   Until you understand the working tools and symbolism behind the ritual, you will not understand the Craft.

It is important to understand that Freemasonry is a system of moral living and self-improvement.  It is important to understand that Freemasonry is found in the symbolic degrees, or in your blue lodge.  The symbolic lodge is the most important body in Freemasonry.   This foundation is where you are taught about the working tools.  The symbolic degrees are where you learn what it means to be a Freemason.

What about the other orders of Freemasonry? 

You never have to look far to find a man with a blank petition to the York Rite, Scottish Rite, Shrine, or any number of organizations that claim a Masonic connection. So what about them? They exist. They do great things.  There is probably a body very close to you, and they probably want you to become a member.  You see them out in the public.  They are civic and social.  The list goes on and on about what these other fraternities do.   Most of these organizations claim to be founded upon Masonic principles too.  That almost seems like all the more reason to run right out and join, right?  After all, we have all heard about how old Uncle Jim was a 32nd degree Mason.  He must have been pretty high up and powerful, right?

Why is any of this relevant? 

The answer is because we as Freemasons need to understand that these other bodies are completely separate fraternities.  While they are Masonic in nature, and often have degrees and further education, they alone cannot make you a Freemason.  They are not meant to be the foundation of Masonic education.  These orders were designed to piggyback off Freemasonry by taking men who knew Masonic virtues and understood things like working tools and cable tows, the three great lights, the three lesser lights, and all things Masonic and offer them a place to see these things practiced.

These bodies can take a Mason and give him “something to do.”  These bodies can give hours of entertainment and life lesson degree work that illustrates Masonic principles.  Perhaps this is why they are still very popular.  Many of these bodies are very public and very well known as positive organizations in society.  They do a lot of great things.  They can expand your Masonic understanding through pageantry and other degrees. They cannot, however, make you any more of a Freemason than you can become in the first three degrees of the Symbolic Lodge.

Is that a bad thing?

That would depend on who you ask.  Of course these organizations are not bad or sinister in any way.  They help millions of people every day.  They are noble in their mission and popular with their participating members.  So, what’s the downside then?   When dealing with the subject of Freemasonry, the downside to these appendent bodies is that they can too often act as a distraction to the original purpose of Freemasonry.

This is in no way an attempt to degrade of put down these great organizations, but rather point out the fact that these organizations are separate from the symbolic lodge.  You can probably go to any Lions Club, Rotary Club, Elks, Moose, Odd Fellows, or other Fraternity and find many men who also hold membership in a Masonic lodge.  These other organizations do not make you a more powerful Mason, and no one would ever claim that they would.  It may benefit the new Mason to view appendant Masonic bodies as the same.  While requirements for membership in the Shrine include being a Freemason, the Shrine cannot make you any more of a Freemason.  You can rise to the highest office of Imperial Potentate of the Shrine International and you still would not be any more of a Mason than someone who has never held an office in blue lodge, but happens to understand the working tools.

This is where interest is born.  This is where tomorrow’s leaders take their first steps into the Craft.  Maybe it’s time we come back to the basics.

  1. History of Freemasonry, Volume 4, Macky, Cleg, Hughan, page 1264

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Categories: Masonic, Shrine

To Be or NOT to Be!

28 December 2012 9 comments

square_compassWe are all familiar with the Shriners.  We have seen them our entire lives in the parades.  We hear daily about the great deeds and unprecedented health care they have funded and provided for millions of children around the world.   They are fun loving, friendly, charitable, carefree, and one could even say…noble.

After all, when you join the Shriners your title is “Noble.”  I am a member of a Shrine in central Pennsylvania.  We do lots of things.  We have a blast.  I would be hard pressed to say one negative word about the Shrine or any of my fellow nobles who I volunteer with.  I would dare ANYONE to find a negative in the mission of the Shrine, which is HELPING CHILDREN.

With that said, this post will NOT be a glorification of the Shrine, or a demonization of the Shrine. This paper is to lay out the facts, and allow you to become educated on what is currently going on, and how it has come to the point we as Freemasons and Shriners are currently at.

What do we know about the Shrine?

For most of us, we joined the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, commonly known as Shriners, and often abbreviated as A.A.O.N.M.S.  We were also known as the Shriners of North America.  Although I am a member in good standing, and I support the mission of the Shrine, there are many aspects of the Shrine that have strayed from the origins of its creators.

When I say “most of us joined the A.A.O.N.M.S.”  it is because the A.A.O.N.M.S. does not exist anymore.  A few years ago (2010),  with Shrine temples being built all around the globe in places like South America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, the Shriners of North America or the A.A.O.N.M.S.  changed their name to be officially known as “Shriners International.”  Makes sense right?  Sure it does.

What most people in the community know, and what ALL Shriners know, is that membership in the Shrine has always been restricted to men who were also Master Masons, and up until a few years ago, also had to have reached a certain level of membership in either the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, or the York Rite of Freemasonry.  These are two separate fraternities that give advanced, or other “degrees” of Masonry which help make a man understand the basic principles of the Craft and build upon the first three degrees.

Just a side note; the first three degrees are also known as the “blue lodge” or the “symbolic lodge.”  They are what make you a Mason.  The third degree in Masonry is the highest degree in Masonry.  All other “higher degrees” simply reinforce and build upon what you are taught in your first three degrees.   It is helpful, and would benefit us all, if we all looked at them as “other” degrees and not necessarily “higher” degrees.

What this requirement did was made sure the Mason who becomes a Noble understood the Craft, the working tools, and the life lessons taught in Masonry for Freemasons.  This allowed a man to gain an understanding of the Craft while working to “reach” the Shrine.  This is what made the Shrine a Masonic body.  A man was not just pulled off the street; he worked, learned, and paid his dues.  He had at least the very basic understanding of Masonry and blue lodge.  He practiced Freemasonry as a way of life, and not just carried a card in his wallet.  However, the requirement of Scottish or York Rite membership were dropped a few years ago, so now any man who is a Freemason can be made a Shriner.  No further Masonic membership or education is required.  One could blame these changes on dwindling membership or possibly rising cost of building maintenance.  Whatever you may think the reasons were, this happened, and now, as a result, there is very little Masonic influence, activity or promotion in the Shrine for Masonry.

Still, this does not make any Shriner a bad guy, and it does not make the Shrine a bad organization.  What it does, however, is removes most Masonic elements and knowledge from its requirements.

Here is where I have often heard the argument of; “So what, that means blue lodge gets (whatever amount of dues money) each year without having to do anything.”  I also hear; “Without people becoming Shriners the Masons would die off.”  Many people try to make the argument that people want to join the Shrine because “they do stuff.”  While blue lodges simply pay the bills and stare at each other.

There is an argument to be made there.  Absolutely, blue lodges are dry by today’s standards of entertainment.  Blue lodges need to work harder.  Blue lodges need education and better qualified men to lead the fraternity.  I will shout this point from the rooftops all day long.  If a man wants to do something for the good of the world, and volunteer, and help children, the Shrine is a great opportunity and organization for him to do so.  Blue lodges do not offer too many public or fun activities.  Some do, of course, but in general the purpose of blue lodge is to educate, refine character, and grow a good man…..not to entertain him.   Many blue lodges have dropped the ball here.  Blue lodges are supposed to take a man who wants to better himself in general, polish his rough edges, and teach him about the tools that will make him a better father, husband, and friend, and give him brotherly love, friendship, and help doing so.

The responsibility does not lie solely with the blue lodge though.  There is also an expectation of the part of the member to actually want to be educated.  He has to want to become a better man.  He has to want to learn the working tools and apply them to his life.  I could offer  you chicken noodle soup all day long, but if you don’t want it, are not asking for it, and do not like chicken noodle soup, then my efforts will be lost no matter how much I try to peddle it to you.

There is also the case that many “straight to Shrine” men have a grudge almost against the symbolic lodge for having to pay dues to an organization they have no interest in.  I know personally I work too hard for my money, and I wouldn’t want to be paying dues needlessly to an organization I have no interest in being a part of.

This brings us to where we are today.  In today’s Masonic lodge we have a majority of members who have become so through ignorance, one day classes, or for the wrong reason in general.  For anyone who wants to argue this point I ask them to ask the secretary of ANY lodge in America for membership statistics.  See how many members they have, then attend a meeting and see how many show up.  This is a fact.

Likewise, in today’s Shrine, we have many men who have never been to a blue lodge meeting outside of their three degrees (or one day auditorium side show).  We have men, good men, who are running a fraternity that claims Masonic association, but have very little association with it.

I have to stress; this does not make the Shrine a bad organization, it just makes it not a Masonic organization.   The Moose, Elks, Rotary, Lions, and other clubs are also not a Masonic organization.  They are not bad men,  they are not bad organizations, they are just not Masonic.  Looking at it that way, I know as an educated Freemason I could also become a Moose, Elk, Rotarian, or Lion and still be a Freemason.  I would take the tenets of Freemasonry with me into any one of those groups the same as I take them to work with me, church with me, use in my home, and attempt to instill in my children.  For me, Freemasonry is a lifestyle, not just an organization.  Freemasonry for me is a system of morality, not a meeting once a month.

What do I think?

After seeing the strains come and go between the Shrine and Grand Lodges in different states and seeing men lose memberships in both organizations, I have to say, enough is enough.  If you can’t play nice then don’t play at all.  Shrine, you take your ball, and find a new team.  Grand Lodges, you take your glove and find a new team.  Play each other, encourage each other, and sometimes trade players, but don’t make it miserable for everyone in the league.

I liken it to a divorce.  No person usually plans on divorce.  No one wants to think of divorce.  Couples try to work it out.  They try to reason with each other.  They try to heal wounds inflicted by each other.  Sometimes couples can get past a rough road.  Sometimes people just live miserable forever.  Sometimes though, divorce is the best option.  (There are loopholes in my analogy, I admit.)

One of the principle requirements for membership in Shrine is that you have to be a Mason in good standing; however, we are seeing Shrines backed and supported by the Imperial Potentate making exceptions to this rule.    There are many reasons this is a sticky wicked.

The Shrine is a separate fraternity.  On one hand they should have the ability and right to make their own decisions and their own rules, so in that aspect ….have at it. They should keep in mind, however, that in doing so they have now removed the Masonic membership requirement.  If they are saying that a man no longer be a Mason in good standing for membership, then they should come out and state this.  They have not done this.

What they have done, though, is issued statements, held meetings, and tried to explain their reasoning. At the end of the day, however, they have allowed non-Masons be members.  They have relaxed membership requirements and made it easier to join, but at the end of the day, however, they have also allowed non-Masons be members.

The Grand Lodges on the other hand, Arkansas in particular, have to chill out a bit too.  The Grand Lodge of Arkansas has declared the Shrine a clandestine Masonic body, (as the particular Shriner who maintained his membership even after being expelled from his Blue Lodge was from Arkansas)  and by its decree, any Arkansas member associating with, holding membership in, or otherwise being at a Shrine functions will be expelled from the fraternity.

The members are forced now to make a hard choice.  Both houses have suffered membership loss.  Both houses have very loud and very strong arguments against each other.  Both houses are also putting the general member of both organizations in an extremely bad place.  Derision and contempt is now being suffered within the lodges.

It is worth noting that the Grand Master of Arkansas expelled the particular member at the root of this most recent conflict without trial.  I take great issue with this.  While I tend to side with the thought and practice that if Blue Lodge membership is the required for Shrine membership, then loss of Blue Lodge membership SHOULD take you out of all Masonic bodies, there is also a certain protocol to follow.  I do not believe, based on the reports, releases, and letters from both sides of the current argument that there was a proper Masonic trial conducted or proper representation acknowledged by the Grand Master of Arkansas.  To me, this makes this a private animosity.  As any Mason can tell you, private animosities are not to be suffered in Freemasonry.

I acknowledge that being Grand Master comes with certain perks and benefits that may be implemented at will, however, it is an elected position, and in my opinion, there is a certain amount of respect and minimum courtesy due to an accused member.  It should not be run as an “off with his head” dictatorship.

We have shown, the Shrine has had a slow and gradual evolution of change from an organization of knowledgeable Freemasons to an organization of great men, but who have no knowledge whatsoever about the Masonic Fraternity.  We have witnessed the Imperial Potentate make exceptions to the Masonic membership requirement.  We have seen infighting and un-masonic conduct on both parties. Enough is enough!

This should be no surprise to anyone.  It will eventually happen, so why pull the Band-Aid off slowly.  Rip it off and be done with it.  We have come a long way from A.A.O.N.M.S…..which could be rearranged to let people know that a Shriner was also A.M.A.S.O.N…..They are not A.A.O.N.M.S. any more, they are not Masonic.

So what if the Shrine were to cut ties?

First, let me be clear, I have never before this year wanted to see this happen.  I remained hopeful that Shrine and Freemasonry could walk arm in arm for generations to come.  However, after years of watching men be made Masons, and hear of men “waiting till’ there is another one day class” , becoming Worshipful Master, educating myself in the scholar program, and actually being brought to the light of Freemasonry, I honestly believe a complete and total separation is the best thing for harmony and good order of both houses.

If the Shrine and Freemasonry would become separate, it would not be the end of the world.  I do not think for one moment either organization would dwindle and cease to exist.  On the contrary, I think both organizations would become more prosperous.

For most people who join lodge just to go to Shrine, it works out for them.  They have no interest in Freemasonry, and they currently get no Masonic teaching in Shrine, so they win.

For Blue Lodges, we would see men joining who WANT to join.  No longer would we have to say things like, “Shrine factory”, “ McMason” , “ Straight to Shrine Guy” or any other negative stigma placed on a man who is just joining to go to Shrine.  They would no longer be the problem of Blue Lodge.  It would be painful to see the split, but it would take all conflict out of who can do what.   One organization would no longer have to make an argument against the other.

For the Shrine, they would get what they want… sovereignty.  They would never again have to worry about who is expelled.  They would never again have to worry about some outside, uncontrollable force giving them the shaft for any reason.  They would be free to govern themselves without fear or discontent or divergence of the Grand Jurisdiction which it resides.

The members of BOTH organizations win.  Any Mason would be able to join the Shrine.  I don’t see a split as having the organizations declare each other clandestine and forbid membership in each other’s organizations.  It happens to be this way currently in Arkansas because of the membership requirement that is currently in existence.  Once membership requirements would be dropped, and the Shrine is no longer a Masonic body, they Grand Lodges would not be able to govern its members or forbid them from membership.

This would be the exact same as a Mason who is also a Lion or a Moose.  A Grand Lodge cannot tell a man he cannot be a Moose or an Elk or a Lion.  A Grand Lodge has zero control over a member’s personal choices outside of Freemasonry as long as the other organizations are not claiming to be a Masonic organization.  A Freemason is still a Freemason if he is an Elk.  A Freemason would still be a Freemason if he was a Shriner.

Another great thing that would come out of this is that we, as Masons, would finally lose the false sense of achievement by joining the Shrine.  For years many men carried this misguided notion that the Shrine was somehow the top of the Masonic chain.  Men carried this belief that when they finally “reached” the Shrine they were in some way superior Masons.    At one time this was actually true.  I disagree with the notion, but it was true in practice.  A man became a Master Mason, went up one side or the other (York or Scottish) and then one day was able to dawn his Fez.   If we still had this requirement of advancement then I would be making a different argument at this time, but as it currently stands, there are next to NO ACTUAL requirements to join Shrine.  One needs not be anything but a one day class Mason to walk in, slap a fez on, and start helping children.  This is great for the Shrine, but robs the new Shriner into an extra set of yearly dues.

This also affects the Blue lodge as it adds one more person to the records who will NEVER do anything good for the craft.   This damages the Craft because now we have thousands of Freemasons out in the world claiming to be Freemasons, acting as though they know what they are talking about, making new drone card carriers, and watering down the beauty of Freemasonry.  These men carry no knowledge of the symbolic lodge.  They carry no desire for advancement in the symbolic lodge, and many of them, out of ignorance, do not conduct themselves as Masons should do.

Any other solutions?

Well, maybe.  Although I am currently of the mindset that the two organizations should be separate and unreliable upon each other, I do think there is an option available that could place a temporary patch on things and maintain a Masonic connection.

Many organizations have turned to associate membership and limited memberships.  I am not a veteran of a foreign war, but I do enjoy going out to the club.  The VFW is by far an excellent example of associate members having the privileges of attending and helping and being a part of most VFW functions, at the same time not being a full member.

If the Shrine wants to hold onto any sort of Masonic affiliation and not drop it from their side completely, I can foresee a situation where the Shrine opens up to associate or limited memberships that allow men to be made nobles, wear a fez, participate, and be a part of the Shrine, while at the same time limiting them to non-Divan or other elected positions.

Masonic membership could be required as part of any elected office of the Shrine including both the Divine and the sub-organizations and Units of the Shrine.    This would maintain a Quasi-Masonic connection to the fraternity, and allow men to participate without being Masons.  Elected officers however would need to maintain Masonic membership.

Why do I think this would work?   It would work because it sort of already is working this way.  This is true for not just buddies and friends of Shriners, but also of the wives and girlfriends of Shriners.  I know at our yearly Circus there are many wives, friends, helpers, and otherwise non-Masons who come out to support and assist in running the many booths of the Shrine Circus.  Likewise, in Parades there are ladies who drive the trucks, hand out candy and do other things of that nature.  There are certain “Shriner Only” parades or duties, but for the most part outsiders have been a HUGE part of the Shrine for years.  There have been some outsiders in my Shrine that participate more than many of the Shriners themselves.

Most men who come to Shrine events really have no interest in moving up the Divan or becoming Potentate.  Most men just want to have a good time and help the children.  This solution would allow a Masonic connection and understanding to run the show, but would also allow the general member to just be a Shriner.    If a member is expelled from the Masonic fraternity, he could still be a participating Shriner, just not an elected officer.

Of course, this is just one more wall in the middle of the long road to eventual separation.   I am certain that it will happen in my lifetime, and this would just prolong it for a few more years.  I am sure the exact situation would pop its head up a few more years down the road when a Potentate, like in the current Arkansas fiasco, is expelled or dropped from the books of his blue lodge.   Also, if sometime down the road a particular group or unit becomes popular, but has no participating Master Masons left to be elected to office, then would the group just cease?  Who knows?  Like I said, this would be just another wall to slow down the eventual separation.

That is my opinion.  I’d love to hear yours.
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I’m a Mason….So am I….Me Too……..SO WHAT!

23 September 2012 5 comments

The title sounds a little negative.  Not a very brotherly thing to say, right?  Well, think about how many times this has come up.  Odds are, if you are a Mason you have either said “I’m a Mason”, or have heard someone else say it.     It’s a phrase of pride and rightly so. It’s a wonderful thing to be proud of.

In Freemasonry, it is pretty simple; be a good person, pay your dues.  Don’t give us a reason to suspend you.  For the most part, it’s not very hard to retain membership.  ….With that said, it’s also not hard to maintain membership in a golf club, hunting club, the Moose, Elks, and any other “sign and you’re in” organization.

At one time, being a Freemason meant something more.  It actually was a way of life, and non-Masons were aware that there was something special, if not just different, about this organization.  It was a big deal to be a Mason.  You could love them or you could hate them, but you knew that when you met a Mason, they did, or knew, a few things that the general public did not.

One thing that crawls under my skin and annoys me more than a lot of things is the glory hound Mason.  Now, if you are educated and wish to spread the light and you have a forum and audience to do so, then by all means, have at it, but if you haven’t been to a meeting in 2 years, or have no clue what “so mote it be” means, then please, save the organization the embarrassment and keep your trap shut.

I think many times we find men who are joining the organization for all the wrong reasons.  To back up my claim, I can give at least 10 instances where a candidate I was interviewing had no clue who his second line signer was, and in some cases had no clue who his first line signer was.  This is embarrassing and causes so many problems.

In today’s Masonic fraternity, joining is probably easier now than ever before.  One day classes and dwindling numbers of active men have led to the flood gates being opened to many men who may have not joined for the right reasons.  In my own district I can see an influx of “Straight to Shrine” guys that give little or no thought to the foundation of Masonry.

Just two days ago I sat at an interview for a man joining our lodge who was given a petition by a Shriner friend, seconded by another Shriner friend, and passed on to the lodge for membership.  Upon closer inspection I discovered both signers were one day class Masons from previous years who had never even been into a blue lodge.

Was this candidate a good man?  You bet!  He was a nice guy? Yep!  He had a nice family.  He held a full time job.  What more could we ask for right?  Well, for starters, how about a desire to be connected with Freemasonry?   The only thing this guy knew about Freemasonry was that in order to be a Shriner and go to Virginia Beach in the Fall he had to also hold membership in a Masonic Lodge.

One can say, but the Shrine is a connection to Freemasonry.  Well, yes, it is, and landing on Mars has a connection to the Wright brothers too.  Without the basic building blocks of flight, we probably wouldn’t have robots crawling around extra terrestrial planets.

He had no idea what the Freemasons were.  He had no interest in Freemasonry in general.  Like most men he regurgitated something about George Washington, and then made a few references to the movie national treasure.  My reaction to this man, who was a good man, was more anger at his signers, and, in some regards, Grand Lodge, for allowing situations like this to even become possible.

After about a 45 minute education session, with questions and answers, I did feel this man to be an upstanding man.  He was very capable of doing well for the fraternity.  My point is, it should not have taken the investigation committee to tell this man what Freemasonry is.

So here we are, a fraternity of men, who, in some instances, have no clue what our fraternity means or symbolizes.  These same men are making more drone Masons who have no clue what our fraternity means or symbolizes.  Then these new men go forth and are suppose to “spread the cement.”  Am I the only person in the state that sees a major problem with this?

When I am out in public, or at my job for that matter, I meet tons of Masons.  I work in tourism and travel, so I meet Masons all the time.  I am astounded at the men who see my ring and start the conversation, “I see you’re a Mason, so am I.”  Many times, these are good conversations, but unfortunately, many times they are just what I’ve explained above.  Men, who have no clue what it really means to be a Mason, asking me basic questions like, “Did you know Georg e Washington was a Mason.”  And then asking me if I thought there is a map on the back of the declaration.   Face palm, shake head.

Usually you can tell right away what the conversation will be like.  If I am asked, “I see that you are a traveling man.”  Many times that means the fellow is at least educated enough to know what that means.   Likewise, if I say, “I see that you are a traveling man.”  And he responds with a blank face or gives me the last 3 places he was that morning then I pretty much can bet we have a card carrier.  Still, he’s a Mason, a brother, and for that matter, a friend.  It’s just a little irritating when all I am seeing is a pool on non-Mason, Masons.

I hope we can turn this around.

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Categories: Masonic, Shrine, Uncategorized

In Jesus Name

ImageHow often have we heard that phrase?
I use it, or phrases like it, daily at my own supper table.  My children will learn to live by it, and they will hopefully teach their children to do the same if I am lucky.  For me, that phrase is sacred and personal.  For me, I believe my savior died on the cross and by His Grace I have been washed of my sins.  I pray to the Creator in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I have served 3 years on my Church council as Vice President from 2008-2011. My Lutheran Parish had, at the time, 3 churches and, as vice president of my Church’s Council I was also a member of the Joint Council board which governed the entire parish.  My main focus as a board member was to help keep the place running smoothly, help plan congregational and family events, take care of the Parsonage (which given the current preacher was a lost cause), and maintain a healthy relationship among the members of the three churches.

With that said, and to give a further disclaimer, I am not a super, bible pushing, in your face Christian who will stands on a soap box and screams about all your sins and tells you what you need to do to reach Heaven.  As a matter of fact, I hate that guy.  I can’t stand being in the same room as that guy.  I cannot stand being in the same building as that guy.

On my own, I am an inwardly religious person, and I keep my thoughts to myself, generally, unless asked.  On occasion I reach out to my old preacher or Aunt for religious guidance and comfort. I happen to be Lutheran, but I think I am pretty much like the majority of Church going Christians.  (Although at present I don’t attend regularly on account of my current preacher’s political and social ideology being shoved in my throat every Sunday, but that is a story for a different time.)

How does this relate to Masonry?
Well, it doesn’t.  OK, it does only in the sense that I am free to believe all of the above and more, and it does not interfere with anything inside the lodge.  When I am inside the lodge, my beliefs of the above are every bit as strong as when outside of the lodge.  When the prayer is given to The Great Architect of the Universe, in my head, I am praying to my creator God in the name of the Jesus Christ.  The same goes before a dinner prayer, a funeral prayer, and any Masonic event where we have a prayer.

However, if I had a friend named Muhammad (forgive the stereotype) odds are, he would sit beside me as a brother, listen to the same prayer, and utter the same phrase, “So Mote it Be” but be preying on a completely different level than me.  His God may not be the same Christian God that I pray to, but it is of no concern to me.  The message we both receive is that we are both asking our creators for blessings and safety, at the same time thanking them for what we have.  That, I think we can agree upon in lodge, is universal.  Inside the lodge, we are all the same regardless of who we are praying to or what we may call our specific Supreme Being.

Why is this important?
There are many arguments made by both Masons, non-Masons, and anti-Masons on the grounds of religion. I plan on offering up my opinions as to what I view as correct, incorrect, acceptable, or ridiculous, as I interpret Masonic law.

In my lodge, as with all lodges, we are given prayers approved by our Grand Lodge to say before the open of any meeting, at the close of any meeting, before the making of new Masons, for our Country and flag, and at the death of a brother.  There are other prayers, but from my own experience these are the most common.  These prayers are usually started by saying something like, “Oh Glorious Lord God, Thou Great Architect of Heaven and Earth who art the giver of all good gifts and graces.”  Now, I don’t know about you, but for me, that phrase pretty much covers my God.  I can’t say that I have worshipped with any many Muslims, but I bet that phrase also covers Allah as well.

The title of “Great Architect of the Universe” is simple a title that covers “creator” while also holding reference to building and masonry.  It is not different than one saying “The All Mighty” or “The Father.”  These commonly accepted phrases are used daily by many people of different faiths who congregate and offer praise.  “Great Architect” just happens to be strictly Masonic.

Anti-Masons and the profane will always accuse us of being a universal religion, or neglecting the teachings of our religion and substituting a strange religion.  This cannot be further from the truth.  If anything, what Masonry has taught me was how to be a better Christian.  Through Masonry I practice charity and virtue that I normally would not have been involved with.  I’ve learned and used organizational skills that have been an absolute addition to my role as a council member.   Meeting structure and networking skills gained in lodge constantly spill over into my personal life, a major portion of that being my religion.  Masonry is not a religion in any sense of the word, but in my opinion, and from my own experience, it is the ultimate side kick to religion.

What is acceptable?
This is where an educated Mason has to toe a fine line, both as a giver of prayers, and a teacher of Masonic conduct.  I live in a majority Christian area.  I know very few men of Jewish faith, and I have personal contact with almost no Muslims.  As a result, often times when standing for invocation at a Masonic meal or diner the person offering up the prayer will end with “In Jesus Name we pray” or some other similarly Christian phrase.

This has never been a problem where I come from.  This has never caused any hate or discontent where I come from, and even if there was a person of Jewish or other faith nearby, I think it would generally be glossed over and disregarded as a social norm of the area.  While that is all well and good, unfortunately it does not make it correct Masonic conduct to end a prayer that way.

In lodge, we are to be brother and all the same, or “On the Level” if you will.  While said most likely in ignorance and with no malicious intention, whatsoever, putting a Christian label in a Masonic prayer is not only assuming your entire population shares your religion, but also excludes those who do not share the same beliefs as you do.  As a Mason, and as a civilian, we just have to put ourselves in the other’s shoes I think we’d all be a little better off.   So although you probably won’t see many waves being made over it, and it does not offend me,  it does go against Masonic conduct.  Just some food for thought.

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An Overwhelming Opportunity

4 September 2012 1 comment

ImageFreemasonry in its current form is both an enlightening and an overwhelming opportunity for a man seeking to make himself better.  Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  Well, enlightening is definitely a good thing.  Overwhelming is a double edged sword.

In America today, and possibly all over the globe, you will hear different Grand Lodges say that Freemasonry is hurting for membership.  As a result of this we are seeing an increased watering down or qualified men being corralled like cattle into the ranks of the Craft.  For the most part it is not these individuals’ faults.  They had an interest in Masonry, most likely they knew a guy who was a Mason, got a petition and away they went.   That is the way it is suppose to work.

A few things here are troublesome.  Because of the pull to get more members there are increased one day classes, where a man can become a Mason in one long day instead of the standard process which generally takes about three months.

The one day classes are a blessing and a curse.  In my district I can say that we have gotten a lot of successful one day candidates come through our lodge.  In the past 4 years, every single Worshipful Master has been a one day classer.  There is no lack of commitment from the people who wanted to becoming Freemasons.  This is not the norm.  My argument is that these same folks would have become Freemasons regardless of the existence of the one day class.

I never like to admit it, but I too am a one day class Mason.  It is a decision I have regretted since about the first month after I was raised (which in the one day class really isn’t that special of an experience).  I knew I wanted to be a part of the Masonic family ever since I was young and saw the Shriners take care of a local girl who contracted Spinal Meningitis.  She lost most of her limbs and should have died several times, but the Shriners transported her, gave her care, and now she lives as an inspiration to many people.

When I found out about the one day class I was told I could become a Mason in one day, also a Shriner, and also join the Scottish Rite all in one day.  Being an outsider, and knowing nothing about the fraternity,  I jumped at the chance to take part in this “Man to Mason” journey.  In one day, not only did I join the Masons, but I now had a little red hat, and could put a 32 after my name.  To me that was a sweet deal, even though I had no clue what it all meant.

I assume that I am not unlike a lot of men.  They hear about this one day event and come up with a million reasons why it works for them.  At present my oldest brother is planning on joining in our next one day class despite my heavy suggestion that he resists and comes through traditional.  Yes, the one day class is beneficial for the fraternity because it gets many dues paying members very quickly. Yes, the one day class is beneficial to the candidate because he is immediately made a Mason in one day.  Outside of these benefits, the untold countless negatives sit in the shadows.

I titled this “An Overwhelming Experience” because that is exactly what has happened to me.  While I have every intention of being involved and active in my Masonic career as much as possible, I took on way too much way too fast.  I went from wanting to be a Mason to suddenly being in three separate fraternities.  I had no idea they were all separate when I was joining.  I just assumed, “oh, the masons, they are also Shriners, and you can be a 32nd degree mason too.”

While that is a correct statement, many men who have no experienced blue lodge do not realize they are committing themselves to not just blue lodge dues, (60 dollars for me) but also to Shrine dues (75 bucks) and Scottish Rite dues (100 bucks.)  I pay 235.00 a year to be a member of three organizations that offer me unlimited opportunity to be involved, and I do not participate in two of them.  Yes, I am proud of my membership, and I help out where and when I can, but because I am so heavily active in Blue Lodge with a wife and 3 kids, there is no time for anything else.

To add further, what I have seen from my own experience is an overwhelming lack of Masonic education making these other bodies less Masonic and more routine.  As I have chosen the path in Blue Lodge I have learned the essential principles of Masonry.  I have a deep understanding of the “working tools” and I can tell you exactly how to apply them to your life.   As a Mason, we should all have a basic understand of this.  Most members have no clue what the working tools are.   How is an uneducated member supposed to tell a potential leader of tomorrow anything useful about the Craft?

I fully understand the idea behind bringing as many men to the table as we can, but I also feel it could be the downfall of what once made our fraternity great if we are not careful.  My advice for any new member would be to please use caution and be educated when faced with one day classes.  You are choosing to join the Masons to better yourself and help the community through our actions.  If you are joining for ANY other reason than that then you have been grossly misinformed about the Masons and probably should seek membership in another fraternity.   If you join through a one day special dispensation then please educate yourself and read as much as you can.  Where once you were led from darkness to light it seems anymore you are just pulled from darkness and thrown into a superhighway with no signs of how you got there or where to go.  As with any journey or vacation, Freemasonry should be no different.  Do your homework, research the route, and consult a map (or a Past Master.)

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An Introduction

4 September 2012 1 comment

ImageFriends and Brothers,
Being new to the blog world, I cannot say for sure if my ramblings and writings will take off or be of any help in the Masonic world at large.  I can start off by tell you that I have a deep passion for the Craft of Freemasonry and strive to improve myself as a person and a Mason more and more every day.  Odds are, if you are reading this, you too are like me.  I am writing this as an attempt to hopefully help new members become acquainted with the Craft, and also to offer up my experiences and opinions on Freemasonry.

With that said, the views and opinions expressed here are my own, and you may feel free to decent or disagree with anything I write here.  If I am blatantly incorrect on anything I post here please feel free to correct me.  We are all rough stones striving to become that perfect building block.  I am no different.  Help me knock off my rough edges.

For now, I’d rather keep my identity and exact lodge location private, but who knows, if this takes off I may someday let you in.  What I can tell you is that I am a Master Mason in the Jurisdiction of Pennsylvania.  I was raised in 2004 while I was in college and have worked my way through the chairs being elected Worshipful Master for 2012.  I am also a Shriner and member of the Scottish Rite (Northern Jurisdiction) in my local valley.

My disclaimer: Although I am extremely active in Blue Lodge, I rarely attend Scottish rite meetings, and for the last couple of years since I have been moving through the blue lodge chairs I have drastically cut back on my Shrine meetings.   I will cover all of this in later writings, but in short, the most important thing to me is my family, not the Masonic fraternity, so if being a good husband and father means budgeting my time, then my first obligation will always go to my family, and my religion. Masonry and Blue Lodge secondary and other bodies when time allows.

I am also currently enrolled in the Academy of Masonic Knowledge though the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.  This program is an unbelievable eye opener for any Pennsylvania Mason seeking further light.  I intend to write extensively on this, so stay tuned on that subject. This is a free program through the Grand Lodge where the member can earn credits towards being a recognized Master Masonic Scholar.  At present I am a level two (of three) scholar.

What I hope to accomplish with this blog is education.  Education for you and education for me.  What I have come to find out about Masonry is that we are in serious need for education of our members.  Most Masons can give you a general background of the craft.  Some know a little history, some knows a little about the tools, some can recite the ritual word for word without missing a beat, but the overwhelming majority of the Masonic I personally know have little clue about anything dealing with Freemasonry other than they pay their dues each year and receive a dues card in the mail.

Sure, they are proud to be part of the fraternity, and sure they want to put on the allusion that we are this great and noble society, but in my opinion this can sometimes be more damaging than even the most ardent anti-mason.  After all, an anti-mason has no reason to be educated on the Craft.  They’ll say what they want to say no matter what evidence is presented to them.  A small bit of education can go a long way to improve the craft and educate a non-Mason in the face of ignorance.

For now I will stop, but please stay tuned and check back for more thoughts later.   Remember, if you faithfully observe our principles, the world will observe how Freemasons love one another.

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