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
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.