THE DUMBING DOWN OF MAINSTREAM MASONRY
By Frederic L. Milliken
It is unfortunate that I write much of what I have written before. Sometimes you have to repeat something over and over for it to get due notice, like the phone number in radio ads or the utterances of politicians up for election. But as I see it Mainstream Masonry is shooting itself in the foot and to survive it needs to rethink and reverse previous death dealing decisions.
Mainstream Masonry must recognize that the strength of any organization is its member’s knowledge and understanding of the organization’s ideology and dogma. It is precisely what the organization stands for, its beliefs, its systems of implementation and its appeal to the heart and soul of what’s worthy in life to make a lasting investment in, that will inspire, motivate, challenge and yield the greatest enthusiasm, pride and involvement in that organization. An organization with a vision is one that survives and grows. When members buy into the “cause” and know what it says and where it is going they become committed and they spread the gospel. When an organization has a great message but does not deliver on its promise to invest members with that message than the organization will lose members as fast as it brings in new ones.
If an organization is a “cause” such as environmentalism and its members know little or nothing about environmentalism then the cause is lost. In a Christian Church it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how it is taught and expressed that inspires and motivates the congregants much more so than mission projects and good church suppers which really are the result of a good message not the cause of that message.
High Echelon Shriners strategically placed in Grand Lodges have influenced Grand Masters to hold fast track initiations, waive proficiency requirements and to market Masonry by having it invest heavily in grandiose Institutionalized Charity which has so successfully made the Shrine what it is today. This is the “Shrine Model” and it is the desire of the Shrine that Blue Lodge be a “little Shrine”, its feeder, its minor league farm system so as to speak.
The purpose of Blue Lodge is to lay the foundation of knowledge and understanding of Masonry for the rest of a Mason’s Masonic life. It is to prepare him for a lifetime of living a new way of life by making sure he learns and understands the catechism of his fraternity and then offers him continuing education and instruction throughout his Masonic life. The three Is – Initiation, Instruction & Investment - or the three Ts – Teaching, Training & Tutoring – are the purposes of Blue Lodge. The purpose of Blue Lodge IS NOT TO STOCK THE APPENDANT BODIES. Spending limited resources – time, money and talent – on marketing a product at the expense of making it a good product results in unfulfilled dreams and a retention problem. If the hype and the promise do not match the reality then men will drop out. If your heart and soul are not being touched by Masonry then the commitment to it will be low. Superficial, fast track, no proficiency required raisings will yield Masons who have no commitment to the ideology of Masonry and therefore no lasting attachment or loyalty to the Lodge.
Good products sell themselves. The best advertising in the world is by word of mouth. If you tell me that people don’t know who we are, I will tell you that’s because MASONS DON’T KNOW WHO THEY ARE. We have put the cart before the horse. Instead of trying to sell Masonry to the public we should be selling Masonry to Masons. Then maybe a Mason speaking from his heart about personal experiences could better represent Masonry to the uninitiated over a billboard or radio spot. Blue Lodge should be in the business of making Masons not members, inculcating them with the necessary basic knowledge to go on to further research and study and other expressions of the Craft in the Masonic family.
Lodges can help themselves by concentrating on the duties of its ministry. In my Prince Hall Lodge we initiate one group of new Master Masons once per year taking an average of six months to properly instruct the new Brethren. The other six months are devoted to longer Masonic lessons whereby continuing education enlightens even the experienced Mason because Lodge is about not only the new applicants but those who have been there and served for many years. After each degree the candidates are required to present themselves in Lodge for questioning. For an hour or more they are asked questions not just from the first section of their degree but also from the lectures, application to the Bible, to life and morality and to each other. Yes they are required to memorize their obligations and the answers to all questions in the proficiency book but they also are asked to think about how that information applies to all other aspects of life. My Lodge meets twice per month and the candidates return each meeting for questioning until the Lodge votes them ready for the next degree. They go through the process as a group, so if one fails they all fail. That teaches them Brotherly Love and Affection and to go to the aid of a Brother in need. When a Master Mason delivers his third degree proficiency in my Lodge you are looking at a man who knows and understands basic Masonry.
But Grand Lodges need to be on board also. And they need to financially invest in the quality of the Masonry in each and every one of their chartered Lodges. Some Grand Lodge options might be:
1) Grand Lodges should assemble a team of the most erudite, knowledgeable and inspirational Masons in the entire state and create a number of professional videos or DVDs. Create a video to be shown after each degree which goes into a deep explanation of that degree. Create another video for the newly raised Master Mason that explains the research and study tools available to him and the manner in which the Grand Lodge Library operates. Create additional videos on the symbolism of Masonry and the virtues of Masonry for all Masons. The Grand Lodge Education Department should actually do something.
2) Hold District Lodges of Instruction, not officers training sessions as in some jurisdictions, but a monthly education and instruction meeting for both candidates and Master Masons. Require all candidates to attend and also all Lodge Officers. Train Degree Instructors with a Grand Lodge Teacher instruction course. Feature a Masonic speaker for all Master Masons. Have the District Lodges of Instruction presided over by the District Deputy.
3) Produce, direct and hold seminars and Masonic presentations at Grand Lodge or regionally. These would be major symposiums with plenty of feedback and discussion. Have a grand banquet dinner and a time for socialization and fellowship to go along with the education.
4) Grand Lodge should require and help finance Masonic District Libraries located in a Masonic Building of each district that can accommodate the space needed. These facilities should include the latest in Masonic books and periodicals, computers for general use and the ability to take out books for home study. This is where Grand Lodge should be spending its money, not on charity for the general public.
5) Create a state Research Society and publish and distribute its works to every Lodge in the jurisdiction. Open membership to any Master Mason in the state.
6) Create and subsidize a Masonic Speaker’s Bureau. Pay these speakers from Grand Lodge funds so individual Lodges could afford to have good presenters at Lodge meetings.
Mainstream Masonry needs to see itself as a Philosophical Society with great fellowship. It shouldn’t worry what other people think or say about Masonry or whether Masonry is well known. Rather by facilitating great Masonic experiences among knowledgeable Brothers of the Craft who know and understand why they are Masons and what Masonry is all about Grand Lodges can preside over Lodges that thrive and grow without artificial and superficial schemes. The worries over membership and solvency will take care of themselves and the strength and viability of Lodges will be optimized because the enthusiasm and commitment will be at its highest point.
Wake up Grand Lodges before it’s too late.
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