Preparation

Preparation: the action or process of making something ready for use or service or of getting ready for some occasion, test, or duty

How do you make yourself ready for Lodge? How do you help your Lodge become ready to carry out the will of the Worshipful Master?

Freemasonry is, at its core, a self-improvement organization. We have lessons and philosophies that a Brother can use to “…improve him(my)self in Freemasonry.” It is your responsibility to prepare your heart, mind and spirit for a lodge meeting. You do this by praying, studying and thinking on the lessons learned in the Craft. If you come to Lodge without any preparation, the only thing that will have meaning to you is the fellowship with the Brethren; it will be hard for you to consider the deep lessons that are thinly veiled, even in our Opening and Closing Ritual. How do you prepare your heart, mind and spirit for a lodge meeting?

The business of the Lodge is mostly done outside the formal Lodge meeting. Committees appointed by the Worshipful Master should meet to act on his Plan; to work on the more difficult problems and come to a consensus on what to present to the Lodge for a vote. Brethren are encouraged to provide their input to the committee while they are in discussion so that when they bring something before the Lodge, there will be little dissension or conflict. This hearkens back to the building of King Solomon’s Temple. The trees were hewn and prepared in Lebanon, away from the Temple Mount. The brass and golden ornaments for the temple were cast in molds in the clay ground between Succoth and Zeredatha, and the stones were perfected in the quarries. The building was constructed without the sounds of instruments; all parts fitting perfectly. Freemasonry should take this to heart and do our work by quiet and orderly means, “without the hammer of contention, the axe of division, or any tool of mischief.”

The working tools of Freemasonry are many, but they are divided based on the three degrees. As we learn from WB Kent Henderson, “Each of the nine tools has a moral significance: The Twenty-four Inch Gauge, the Common Gavel and the Chisel of the First Degree are the tools of preparation; the Square, Level and Plumb Rule of the Second Degree are the tools of proof; the Skirret, Pencil and Compasses of the Third Degree are the tools of plan.” In the workings of the Lodge, it is the Worshipful Master who employs the tools of Plan to lay upon the Trestleboard the plan for the lodge during his year.

We as Craftsmen in the Lodge are to employ first the tools of preparation. We are to look at the plans laid upon the Trestleboard and do our due diligence in ensuring that the Master and the Lodge (Brethren) have the best base materials with which to work to build our edifice. This is true for the internal and the external preparation that we should accomplish. We provide our Master with the advice and ideas to help him maintain a perfect plan.

As skilled Craftsmen, we then use the tools of proof to assess our work and that of our Brethren. It is our duty to ensure that their work, and ours, meets the needs of the Plan of the Master. We do this on the Square and Level, and always by the Plumb, showing us that line of Rectitude to which we must adhere. We also must work with humility. While at work building a previous edifice, we may have been selected by the Brethren to serve as the Master; now it is our opportunity to serve and advise the brother selected by the Fraternity to lead us in the building of our current edifice. We must do this with grace and equanimity. The plan is his and it is our duty to work within his plan.

As stated previously, most of this is done outside the regular meeting. By the time of the Communication of the Lodge, we should work as one, with no sound of Discord to be heard in the confines of our Lodge Room.

How well are you using the tools of preparation?

Advertisements
Standard

Always be Prepared – or – Be careful What You Ask For

I like to travel to different Lodges to visit the Brethren and to see Freemasonry in action in different environments. Through various positions held, I have had the opportunity to visit almost all of the Lodges in my current Masonic District, the 10th, and many other lodges around the Jurisdiction. Regardless of the size of the Lodge or the number of Brethren in attendance; I present myself to the WM prior to the meeting and let him know if I want to make any announcements or remarks and offer my assistance to the Lodge. I often have the honor and opportunity to sit in an Officer Chair for meetings. I mean it when I say honor; I think that being asked to take a part in the opening and closing of a Lodge is important and I am honored when a Lodge allows me the privilege of assuming a Station.

Last night, I visited Gibson Lodge #257, a Lodge with a long, distinguished history. I knew that they were conferring a Fellowcraft Degree, this was part of the reason for my visit. When I asked WM Davis If I could help, he asked if I could fill the Senior Warden Chair; I accepted. A few minutes later, he let me know that their Senior Warden for the Degree was not able to attend, so he asked if I could do the Senior Warden’s part for the Degree. This falls under the category “Be careful what you ask for.” I have to admit, I was not mentally prepared to take this role; I had expected to sit on the sidelines and watch the Degree Conferral (and slip out early…). I did accept the position and started running through the parts in my head, hopefully to not embarrass myself. In attendance were Brethren from several Lodges, including MWPGM Gary Leazer and Brethren from both of my lodges in the 10th District, including the Uncle of the Candidate.

Here is where the “Always be prepared” maxim comes into play. I pay attention to the Ritual. I attend Schools of Instruction. I care about good Ritual and doing the best job possible for the Candidate. So, with a little quick memory refresh, I assisted the Lodge in Passing a fine young man to the Degree of Fellowcraft. I do think that the Brethren believe that I do not know my right from my left, especially when it comes to taking steps and tucking apron corners.

One of the greatest privileges of a Master Mason is the ability to travel in foreign countries; visit other Lodges. Take the opportunity to travel as much as your schedule will permit, you will not be sorry.

And always be prepared to accept the work you ask for.

Standard

Brethren, Attend Lodge Prayer

According to the Masonic Manual of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, “The labors and duties of the lodge must begin and end with prayer. The brethren cannot be too often reminded of their dependence on the Grand Architect of the Universe for every blessing they enjoy.” This reminds us that the Lodge Room is a sacred place and should be respected as such. When we enter the Lodge while it is at Labor, we are symbolically entering the Holy of Holies, the Sanctum Sanctorum, of Solomon’s Temple. That space was built to be the residence of God on earth. If you cannot internalize and understand this symbol, I wonder if you can truly understand any of the symbols of Freemasonry.

In the Masonic Manual, there are two versions of opening and closing prayers. Most Lodges use the shorter of the two for each, I find this disheartening. We are so interested in shortening our time in Lodge that we use the shorter version that is not nearly as rich in praise and supplications to our Creator.

The opening prayer which should be used is this:

Most holy and glorious Lord God, the great Architect of the Universe, the giver of all good gifts and graces, in Thy name we have assembled and in Thy name we desire to proceed in all our doings. Grant that the sublime principles of Freemasonry may so subdue every discordant passion within us, so harmonize and enrich our hearts with Thine own love and goodness, that the Lodge at this time may humbly reflect that order and beauty which reign forever before Thy throne! Amen! Response: So mote it be!

In this prayer we acknowledge that God is the Creator and the giver of all that is good; we state that we are meeting in His name. Think a minute about what that means, everything we do or say while in lodge assembled is done or said in His name and should be uplifting to each other, society and should glorify Him. Do we live up to this? Do we even try?

We pray that the “sublime principles of Freemasonry” should soften our hearts and minds and allow us to be in complete harmony with our Brethren. When we say the sublime principles of Freemasonry, when we call the Master Mason Degree the sublime degree, we are saying that Freemasonry is of outstanding spiritual, intellectual, or moral worth. Our Lodge is to be a reflection of Heaven itself. Although this is a corporate prayer, we make it personal and accept it as our own when we respond, “So Mote It Be” we are agreeing and declaring it our personal prayer.

Note that the alternate version does not do nearly as well at putting us in the mood of reverence as the longer prayer:

Supreme Ruler of the Universe, we would reverently invoke Thy blessing at this time. Wilt Thou be pleased to grant that this meeting, thus begun in order, may be conducted in peace and closed in harmony! Amen! Response: So mote it be!

Consider well the atmosphere that you want to create as you open the Lodge as a sacred place of worship.

The closing prayer is equally reverent as the opening prayer; it addresses our interactions while in lodge and our obligations to each other and the world while outside of the lodge.

Supreme Architect of the Universe, accept our humble praises for the many mercies and blessings which Thy bounty has conferred upon us, and especially for this friendly and social intercourse. Pardon, we beseech Thee, whatever Thou hast seen amiss in us since we have been together, and continue unto us Thy presence, protection and blessing. Make us sensible of the renewed obligations we are under: to love Thee supremely and to be friendly to each other. May all our irregular passions be subdued and may we daily increase in Faith, Hope and Charity, but more especially in that charity which is the bond of peace and the perfection of every virtue. Wilt thou be pleased so to influence our hearts and minds that we may so practice. Amen! Response: So mote it be!

We start out thanking Him that for his mercy and for the blessings he has bestowed on us. We then thank him for allowing us to meet together as Masons and friends. We should remember to always acknowledge what He has allowed us to do and what we do through Him. We should thank him for each other; our Brethren are a blessing to us. We ask for forgiveness for anything we may have said or done that does not lift each other up nor glorify Him. Our prayer is that we remain under His care and protection.

We are reminded that we renew our obligations to Him and to each other every time we open and close the Lodge. We pray for help in subduing our irregular passions and increasing in Faith, Hope and Charity. We hope to demonstrate virtue with the aid of the Supreme Architect of the Universe, to put aside the imperfections that are inherent in Man. We are not trying to suppress all of our passions, just our irregular passions. Some passions are to be desired: bravery; study; music; faith, etc. Irregular passions are when we let our passions (anger, lust, envy, greed, etc.) overcome us and we act outside of laws rules or customs of our Craft or society in general. We need Him to influence our hearts and minds to meet this goal. We should take the sacredness of the Lodge room to the world so that they can get a glimpse of the Divine.

The shorter version also calls on Him to help us to practice the tenets of our Craft outside the Lodge. It reminds us that we are to learn great moral duties and that we should revere the Word of God and study and obey His laws.

Supreme Grand Master, Ruler of Heaven and Earth: Now that we are about to separate and return to our respective places of abode, wilt Thou be pleased so to influence our hearts and minds that we may each practice out of the Lodge those great moral duties which are taught in it; and, with reverence, study and obey the laws which Thou hast given us in Thy Holy Word. Amen! Response: So mote it be!

Let us never forget that we should always turn to Him before we enter into any great or important undertaking; like getting out of bed, going to work, dealing with our family, driving our car, shopping for groceries or attending Lodge. In everything we do, let us try to reflect that order and beauty which reign forever before the throne of God.

Standard

Freemasonry is Alive

In the Army we had a writing style that said put the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). In keeping with that philosophy; I do not believe that Freemasonry is dying. To paraphrase Brother Samuel Langhorne Clemons (Mark Twain):

The report of Freemasonry’s death is an exaggeration.

I have read with interest many articles, blog posts and emails describing the imminent demise of Freemasonry. Some say that Freemasonry will be dead in 20 years, other say we are already dead and we just have not realized it yet. Many of these writings have impressive analytics, showing us the raw numbers and the percentages of membership, I admit that it is hard to argue with the logic in the numbers presented. I will say that, while Logic is part of the Trivium(1) and one of the Liberal Arts and Sciences which we are called to study, Logic alone is not what is required to evaluate our Fraternity. Freemasonry is not just of the head, but also of the heart. The benefits of membership in the Masonic Order cannot be listed as finite items; I believe that our Craft reaches into the infinity of our thoughts, our ethics, our behavior, our spirit. The three Masonic Initiations are meant to fundamentally change us, to allow us to better understand ourselves and our place in the cosmos. The uninitiated (and some of our Brethren) can look at the Compasses and say that they are used to draw circles and arcs and can be used to measure distances on maps. The initiated should look at the Compasses and consider how to use them to circumscribe our desires and put boundaries on our passions. But we should not stop there, we can consider other uses for this tool, which is but a symbol for us to interpret. As I stated earlier, we move into the infinite when we consider the symbols and words in Freemasonry.

Taken logically, Freemasonry is in trouble based on these well-researched analytics. Our numbers are in steady decline from the days of high membership numbers in the 1950s. I have long stated that this should not be our benchmark, it was an artificial increase based on men returning from World War II and longing for the bonds of brotherhood that they felt with those men that fought alongside them to defeat tyranny. They were interested in the fellowship, the comradery, the feeling of “belonging” that they had felt in their military units. (2)  If we need to compare ourselves to previous generations, we should compare ourselves to the late 1800s to the early 1900s; a period of serious Masonic Scholarship. Why? Because most men I know that have entered the Fraternity in the last few years are looking for the kind of Freemasonry that it seems was practiced in those days of old. We want the scholarship and research; we want the communications that they had in the many Masonic publications like The Builder Magazine. Many of the articles I mentioned earlier state that the true decline is not due to deaths, but men leaving the Fraternity through Demits and Non-Payment of Dues. They quit. Even in my own lodge, the losses we posted this year were due to a Demit and a withdrawal of Dual Membership. Why are men that showed enough interest and curiosity about the Craft to find a Mason, request a petition, endure investigation, travel once, twice, thrice about the Lodge and learn and pass the three catechisms leaving in droves? Because Freemasonry was not what they expected. Now, some of them may have had grandiose expectations, but most were just disappointed that we hold boring meetings that do nothing to help them become better men or answer any of the mysteries of the universe. Change is needed.

But what should we change? Should we follow the advice of those who say Freemasonry is too easy, too cheap and too informal? Do we establish Dues that are more than are required to pay our bills, just to show the importance of the Craft? Do we wear tuxedos and gloves and square our corners during Ritual? Do we elect the same Brother as Worshipful Master for ten years in a row because we are convinced that he is the only one that can lead our lodge? Or do we say that dressing for Lodge is elitist and asking men to dress properly (Jacket and tie) for Lodge will drive men away? In my opinion, the statement that “it is the internal not the external,” is not describing our clothing but our positions outside the Fraternity. It means that a tradesman is the same as a Banker in the eyes of Freemasonry. It does not mean that I should accept polo shirts and jeans in a Masonic Lodge meeting. But I digress. Does it mean that we accept mediocrity in our Ritual and have fund raisers to pay our bills to keep dues down?

Actually it means different things to different Lodges. A Lodge is a group of Masons operating under a Charter granted by a Grand Lodge. It is not the building. Therefore, a Lodge of Masons should reflect the wants and needs of the men associated with it, within the precepts of Freemasonry’s Ancient Landmarks. If you are not comfortable with your Lodge you need to determine if it is them or you. Meaning, is there a greater number that think that you should focus more on Education than other aspects of the Craft? If you are a lone wolf, perhaps you should find a Lodge that is more in line with your needs; do not just cut and run. If you find you are in the majority, make effective changes to move in the direction that the majority wants to go. I do not mean that you leave behind those that have different needs, but the focus of the Lodge should be that of the majority, not a vocal minority. I am not in the camp of thinking that Lodges need to close or consolidate. If I am not a member, I try not to form opinions, and if I do, I keep them to myself. I do not judge the work of a Lodge; it is not my place. If someone asks my opinion, or my help, I give it in private.

I try to look out for my Lodges, meaning the Brethren within. In my three Lodges Masonry is alive and well. I am very involved in two of them, distance keeps me away from my Mother Lodge, but I keep in touch and I know what they are doing. I try to support, teach, mentor, learn from my Brethren.  As long as I am alive, Freemasonry will be alive. While one of my Lodges is small and we do not have a lot of active members, we are doing Masonry. When I learn from my Brethren, Masonry is alive. When I teach them, Masonry is alive. When I see my Brethren growing in Freemasonry and in life, Masonry is alive. I see Freemasonry growing all the time, in the lives of the members of my Lodge. They are growing in their knowledge of the Craft, and as this knowledge increases, so does their thirst for more!

Freemasonry is not dying. We have challenges, but Freemasonry is alive.

 

  1. William Arnold, The Trivium & Quadrivium or 7 Liberal Arts and Sciences, http://suffolkmasons.com/the-trivium-quadrivium/
  2. Brian Coffey, “We” Can Get Things Done, 11/24/2018, https://parkinglotmason.wordpress.com/2018/11/24/we-can-get-things-done/
Standard

“We” Can Get Things Done

Older Masons and Past Masters often tell younger Masons who seek Education and Philosophical enlightenment in Freemasonry that “that is not Freemasonry.” They say that Freemasonry is about Charity and Fellowship. As a steady reader of Masonic literature and the Librarian of a decent Lodge Library, I have searched for books that describe Freemasonry as a Charity or a Social Club. Oddly, I cannot find books covering these topics. As far as I can find, no one published a book on the importance of reading Minutes, supporting non-Masonic charities, giving blood or identifying children. At this point, I am expected to say that these are all either necessary or good endeavors, and I will not disagree; but they are not Freemasonry.

The books I find, both old and new, discuss Masonic Philosophy; History; Leadership; as well as Symbolism and Ritual. These books range in topic from Masonic History, Etiquette, Leadership, Morality and Philosophy. Many of these books are in our library and can be purchased through the normal booksellers; many are actually free downloads on the internet. With this unprecedented access to materials, it is astounding that we still have a general ignorance of the history and purpose of our Craft. Some of this I attribute to the general stasis of our organization; the inability to consider that beyond which we were taught by our Mentors in the Fraternity. Our lectures are ripe with symbolism, philosophy and morality; and in them, we are charged to look deeper and learn more. We do not actively promote this learning and make it a lifelong process within our Masonic Halls and Lodge
Rooms.

My theory on how we arrived at our current situation runs counter to conventional wisdom which looks at the post-World War II membership spike as the greatest period of Freemasonry in America based on the numbers alone. I feel that this rapid increase in membership did great harm to the true tenets of our Fraternity. These great men that fought and won WWII came back to civilian life and longed for the bonds of brotherhood that they felt with those men that fought alongside them to defeat tyranny. Many of them turned to the various Fraternal organizations to try to make these connections: Moose; Elks; Knights of Columbus; and of course the Freemasons. They were interested in the fellowship, the comradery, the feeling of “belonging” that they had felt in their military units. Many of them were not interested in the esoteric meanings behind our symbols and philosophy. It is not so much that they rejected them, many of them just gave them no thought past the Ritual and felt that their needs were met in the Organization and the fellowship it offered. When they became the elder leadership, they mentored new members in the Freemasonry that they knew and loved; fellowship, charity and strict organization.

Then came the 1960s and the young men of that generation rejected the ideas and morality of their fathers. Rebellion and the feel-good culture caused many to drop-out or never join the “establishment” organizations of previous generations. The generational gap lasted for decades. I am in my 50’s and there are very few in my age group in Freemasonry; or they came to the Craft late in life. This caused there to be a gap in new leadership with new ideas, the old guard had to keep the fires burning. Don’t get me wrong, I am not negative about these brethren, I thank them for keeping the spark of Freemasonry alive until I and a new generation could emerge from the darkness in search of Light. I need these brethren to teach me what it means to be a friend and a brother; I can learn a lot about fellowship from them, as well as the strict rules of the Ritual and procedures of conducting a Lodge meeting.

The newer generation of Freemasons is looking for more than fellowship. We are looking for the Light of Freemasonry; the philosophies; moral instruction and life-changing knowledge hidden in our Symbols that will help us to become better men. We are not here for Minutes, rote repetition and arguing about dues. Most younger Masons are not put-off by higher dues as some older members might be, we realize that we should pay our bills without having a fund-raiser. Most of us came to the Craft out of curiosity, but it is an informed curiosity. As I mentioned earlier there is a treasure-trove of Masonic books and Articles in the public domain and for purchase, and Freemasonry has been featured positively in some recent fiction books and movies. Younger Petitioners have read about Freemasonry prior to ever asking for a Petition; they have expectations about Freemasonry as an educational and growth organization that will help them become better men. When they come to us and complete their initiatory degree, they are often disappointed in the lack of Masonic discussion, education, learning and Mentoring. If they do not just leave, they are often told that their ideas are not Freemasonry and not necessary. The elder leaders of their Lodges are the very ones that kept the spark of Freemasonry alive, but now they try to keep it a spark, rather than let the younger generation build it into a blaze to light the way for the Brethren.

As a kind of intermediary between the elder and younger masons, due to my length in the craft and my still relatively young age, I often see something I think should be done and I just do it. I inform, but do not ask for permission, I request support, but do not wait for it to show up. I can do this because I have put in my time in the Quarries; I have done the work and I continue to do whatever my Lodge and Brethren require of me. I do not worry about what “They” will say. To my younger brethren, I know you have heard: “They” won’t let you do that; “They” say that is not Freemasonry.

No one ever admits to being “They.”

I charge you to become the WE. “We” are going to conduct Masonic Education. “We” are going to show respect to our Lodge, our Worshipful Master and our Brethren. “We” will Mentor our new Brethren. “We” will guard our West Gate.

We should not do this in an adversarial way, we need and love our elder brethren; work with them to do things a little differently. Demonstrate your ideas before you try to implement them. Volunteer to be a Coach or a Mentor, show the new brothers that you care and teach them what you wish had been taught to you. If you do the work, you will gain the respect and will be able to positively affect the Lodge experience. Masonry is work: do the work.

“We” can get things done.

Standard

Book Review – The Secret Science of Masonic Initiation

The Secret Science of Masonic Initiation, by Robert Lomas, San Francisco, CA, Weiser Books, 2010. ISBN-13: 9781578634903.

Robert Lomas’ book, The Secret Science of Masonic Initiation, explores the more esoteric aspects of Masonic Initiation and delves into the use of Freemasonry to teach the ancient Mysteries. He believes that, if truly understood, the Masonic Initiation is a transformative experience. Not just in the sense of “making a good man better” but in a physical and physiological sense. Lomas argues that Masonic Initiation, being tied to the ancient Mysteries, actually transforms us spiritually and intellectually into a different stream of consciousness from normal men. He states that the greatest men of all ages that have worked for the advancement of mankind have been initiates of the ancient Mysteries. These ancient Mysteries can be seen in the rites and legends of the Ancient Egyptians, the Phoenicians and all of the major religions of the world which have had their secret initiatic orders, apart from their public religion.

While I found this book interesting, I kept wondering why my Initiations into Freemasonry had not had the major transformative effect on me that Lomas describes. I guess I am just “not there” yet. I do not fully agree with his description of the esoteric side of the degrees, but I do agree that Freemasonry can be transformative. Perhaps as I conduct further research and study I can get closer to Lomas’ views on our initiations and their true purpose. I will say that I have read other, similar, books since I read this one; books such as Hall’s The Lost Keys of Freemasonry and             Steinmetz’s book, Freemasonry – Its Hidden Meaning, which discuss the same theories as Lomas, but with a slightly different take on the process of initiation. I would suggest reading Lomas’ book, but I think it would have been better to start with Steinmetz, Hall, Wilmshurt and then move to Lomas; perhaps then I would have been more ready and attuned to his message.

Standard

Book review – Freemasonry: Its Hidden Meaning

Freemasonry: Its Hidden Meaning, by George H. Steinmetz. Richmond, VA, Macoy Publishing and Supply Co., Inc., 1948, 1976. ISBN-13: 978-0880530491.

In Freemasonry: Its Hidden Meaning author George H. Steinmetz introduces the reader to the more esoteric and philosophical meanings of the three degrees and Freemasonry in general. This book was written to be a Primer for the Master Mason who desires a fuller understanding of the Craft without delving too deeply into the deeper meanings of the Ritual. Mr. Steinmetz wanted to discuss the hidden meanings of the Freemasonry in a way that would encourage brethren to move on to study more than we get in the various lectures and catechisms of the three degrees. He feels that if you dive straight into Pike, Mackey or Waite you may become confused and discouraged. This book is a step towards more light.

Mr. Steinmetz’s writing is straightforward and easy to understand, he explains complicated subjects using the very words of our Masonic Monitors and other published sources. He breaks down the word definitions for many aspects of the degrees to explain their base meaning and how they can often be misinterpreted, or have a deeper meaning than we initially understand. He is careful to not reveal any of our “secret” ritual or work, but is able to still give incredible insight to the ritual. While this book is fairly basic, as Masonic Dissertations go, it is obvious that Steinmetz is a student of the Art and understands the full implications of the Ancient Mysteries which he claims Freemasonry to be a direct descendant.

I made two pages of notes to investigate further based on my reading of this book. I feel that Mr. Steinmetz did his job of providing me with many answers to my questions, but he also in triggered even more questions in my quest for more light and understanding of Freemasonry. I recommend this book to any Master Mason that wants to begin his journey into understanding the true philosophy of the Craft. Whatever your age as a Mason, this book can be enlightening and open your mind to further revelations in the writings of Hall, Waite, Pike and Mackay.

Standard