Freemasonic Fables

And Other Essays on Freemasonry from the Middle Chamber

By Terence Satchell

 

In December of 2007, a Masonic web log appeared on the internet entitled The Middle Chamber. It featured the writing of the mysterious Silence Dogood. This was my first foray into writing Masonic literature. The articles spanned my interests of Masonic education and symbolism, leadership development, and current events. The Chamber featured over 160 posts while it was updated from December of 2007 until February of 2009.

This document features what I feel were the best articles to be featured on The Chamber. These are 24 articles which illustrate and offer solutions to many issues affecting the fraternity in the 21st Century. They feature the events of the penny-pinching Treasurer Ol' Leroy McKrank, the ambitious young Brother Brian, as well as a cast of other characters. You will also find essays on how to be a better leader in your lodge or deliver an educational presentation.

I hope you find this compilation of The Middle Chamber's best articles enjoyable and helpful.

The Miracle on 34th Street

As the newly appointed Senior Steward, Brian was very anxious to properly execute his duties. He had been appointed by the Junior Warden as the head of the Good Will Committee for the Holidays. It was a wonderful little assembly, the focus of which was to find those Brothers and widows who were alone and perhaps afflicted with some ailment and provide them with a token of good will from the lodge.

The Junior Deacon had served as the head of the committee the previous year and presented Brian with a list of people which the lodge had visited or given some token of appreciation before. The list was noticeably worn and judging from the several different types of handwriting which performed the corrections on it, Brian assumed that it had been handed down from year to year. Being rather ambitious, Brian sought out the complete membership list and widow's register from the secretary to construct a new roster for the good will committee.

He discovered that the names on the good will roster accounted for every Brother and widow, except for one. A Brother by the name of Warren Phillips, who lived just a few blocks from the lodge, was absent from the good will list. Brian noticed that Warren's birth date indicated that he was nearing the age of eighty and asked the Secretary why he wasn't on the list and why he had never seen Warren in lodge. The Secretary told him that he was a widower, who had lost his wife about twenty-five years earlier. After his wife passed away he moved into a small apartment over on 34th Street, then shortly afterward, stopped coming to lodge. The Secretary explained that Warren had become quite upset with the lodge a number of years ago and had stopped attending. The lodge had heard he suffered a stroke, but never was able to make any contact with him.

Brian decided that he was brave enough to go visit Warren, so he purchased a small gift and set out to visit this unfamiliar Brother the next evening. Brian was a bit nervous, but he didn't think that anyone would be unappreciative about the gesture. He found the apartment building and walked up two flights of steps to the apartment listed as Warren's address on the lodge's roll. He knocked three times.

Brian waited for what seemed like an eternity and then, figuring no one was home, turned to leave when he heard the door open behind him.

"Can I help you?" said the elderly man standing in the doorway, gasping for breath. He was dressed in slacks and a cardigan sweater. His feet were covered by some well-worn moccasins and he had a tube feeding oxygen into his nostrils.

"Are you Warren Phillips?" Brian asked apprehensively.

"Well yes, but who wants to know?"

"Well, I am a member of your Masonic lodge and I am here to visit you and bring good tidings from the lodge," he paused, "it's so nice to meet you!" He extended his hand to shake Warren's hand, but the elderly man just stood there looking at Brian inquisitively. He was silent for a second, then spoke.

"From the lodge...hmmm...well I figured that they didn't care no more. Hell, I haven't attended lodge in almost twenty years and haven't spoken to any members during that time either. I appreciate what you're doing young man, but I just don't understand why they are reaching out to me now. I feel bad that you wasted your time and I appreciate the thought, but you can go on and enjoy the rest of your evening," Warren wheezed as he moved to shut the door.

"WAIT!" exclaimed Brian, "I brought you a little something, have a Happy Holiday season, Brother." Brian forced a smile, nodded his head, and then slowly walked away.

Warren studied the package, a rectangular box covering in blue wrapping paper with the square and compasses drawn on it, and then closed the door. Once inside, he opened it to find a box filled with various cheeses and cured meats and a box of crackers. He noticed that a card was taped to the upper corner of the box. He struggled to put on his reading glasses and read it. It appeared to be the name and phone number of the young man that had just visited him. On the bottom of the card was written:

Please call me if you ever need anything. Your Brother, Brian

January came and Brian had just gotten home from work. He was rushing to change out of his work clothes and put on his suit for lodge. He was running late and needed to be at the building to help serve dinner. Suddenly, the phone rang. Brian answered and heard the voice of an elderly man on the other end of the line.

"Hello, is this Brian?" the man wheezed.

"Yes it is."

"Are you the fellow from the lodge that came by to visit me during the Holidays?"

Brian was surprised to hear Warren had called him. "Why, yes! Is there anything I can do for you, Brother?"

"Well, it has been a long time since I've been at lodge and I suppose it is time for me to get my money's worth out of my dues. Would you mind giving me a ride to lodge? I don't have a car and I ain't fit to walk."

"Can I pick you up in a half hour for dinner?" asked Brian.

"Yup, that'll work." Warren abruptly hung up.

Brian was very pleased. It appeared that his committee had spread some good will after all.

 

Ol' Leroy McKrank

Ol' Leroy McKrank was a man who lived up the street from me when I was younger. Leroy didn't spend a dime he didn't have to; he seemed to give an engine overhaul to his 1958 Chevy pickup every month just to keep it running, he only ate beans to be sure that he could get both his protein and vegetables for a low price,  and he even split the two-ply toilet paper to make sure that not one extra dime was spent for any unnecessary reason. He had worked as a mechanic for many years and made a good living, he had built up a nice bank account, but refused to use it. Ol' McKrank also happened to be the treasurer of the local Masonic lodge.

In the lodge, Leroy was no different. Not a single bill went uncontested, he believed there was no need to spend more that 50 cents per person for Masonic dinners, and made sure that the heat was not set one degree above the level needed to keep the pipes from freezing. Ol' McKrank had been a Mason for over 50 years and he had never seen the need to spend on anything extra and now was no time to start.

His lodge was barely able to open, on good nights 7 or 8 Brothers (all well over 70) gathered to open the lodge in dreary fashion, read minutes, pay bills, complain about the lack of participation, and close. Twice a year, on the Feasts of St. John, they ate a humble meal of beanies and weenies. The Brethren worked very hard on pinching every penny that they could to keep their extremely important organization open.

Every once in a while, a new member would come along and would be initiated, passed, and raised. Usually, they would enter the craft with some enthusiasm, but once they discovered that no frivolity of any sort would be allowed, they sought out other forms of entertainment.

Last month, I was visiting my parents and decided that I would go up to the lodge on the night that I knew they met and visit it. I was surprised to find out that the lodge had surrendered its charter and the building was being foreclosed. It appears that Ol' McKrank's methods of preserving the lodge through only providing absolute necessities was its undoing.

 

Ol' Leroy McKrank and the Banquet Committee

Ol' Leroy McKrank was certainly not happy in the winter of 1995. You see, Leroy had been an integral member of his lodge for nearly 50 years by that time and knew just about everything there is to know about being a Mason. Yet, a group of middle aged men had decided that some things needed to be changed in order to improve lodge attendance. They decided that the cold bologna sandwiches simply weren't attractive enough for their regular lodge meetings, so they proposed that lodge dinners be catered and paid for out of the pockets of the partaking Brethren.

The arguments for and against the motion were fierce. Ol' McKrank didn't understand why no one had asked him for permission to even bring this up. "I've been here fifty years and we didn't need no fancy schmancy dinner. Y'all grew up with a silver spoon in your mouth and think you can just rewrite Freemasonry! Hah! Not on my watch!" The brow beating didn't end there, in fact, it went on for a good half hour. "You expect us to pay for a meal?" asked the Brethren, "Don't you know we have to keep costs down?" It was obvious that they preferred that the Brethren who were not in attendance would pay for their cold bologna sandwiches rather than have a nice sit down meal.

The group of middle aged men later affiliated with a lodge a few miles down the road. A vibrant lodge which had a nice, but modest, meal before meetings and was not afraid to spend a couple of cents. It was no surprise to them that McKrank's lodge closed a few years after they left, they knew that you couldn't run a business without investing in it. As Leroy locked up lodge upon its closing he muttered to himself, "These dang people around here got no respect for tradition, they ain't willin' to do anything to help out their local lodge."
 

Ol' Leroy McKrank Visits Another Lodge

Ol' Leroy McKrank wasn't one for vacations. They were unnecessary expenditures as far as he was concerned. But the persistent nagging of his wife finally convinced Leroy to do the unthinkable and take a vacation. So Leroy loaded up his meticulously maintained 1958 Chevy pickup and drove Margarete thirty miles up the road to the Motel 6 in the city. Margarete wanted to go someplace classy and he wasn't going to fork out the money for the Ritz Carlton. He figured if he was going to take a vacation he might as well do something worthwhile. So he attended a lodge meeting that was taking place in the city that evening.

He entered the lodge in his normal visitor attire: a maroon colored three piece suit that he wore to his high school prom. It was quite a departure from his overalls that he wore to his home lodge meeting. Leroy was immediately appalled by what he saw. He saw expensive paintings, a full and well kept library, and a table full of refreshments. A Brother walked over to greet Leroy.

"Well, you fellas sure are a fancy bunch, just how d'ya afford this kinda place on 25 dollars a year?" Leroy was perplexed.

"Well, our dues are 150 a year, but my name is Brad, I'm serving as master of the lodge."

Brad was a young man, around the age of thirty. He was sporting a pinstriped suit and some of the most ornate Masonic regalia Leroy had ever seen. It appeared as though his apron had come right out of its packaging.

"Well, I suppose a man like you could afford it, eh sonny? You can just give me a good old fashioned white apron, one that has a little yellowing on it. That'll be fine," Leroy seemed displeased with all this excess.

Leroy sat through the lodge meeting which featured a speaker on the teachings of the Kabbalah, a lodge of instruction on the Emulation Ritual, and a report on the upcoming table lodge, which would feature fine wines and cigars. The lodge spent little time on business matters and discussed the points of the educational presentations. There were about twenty men in attendance, all under the age of sixty. All of them were dressed in some sort of dark suit. After lodge, they invited Leroy to accompany them to the restaurant downstairs and join them for a meal. Leroy obliged, out of morbid curiosity. Besides, the master said that he would pay for Leroy's meal. It wouldn't be very frugal to pass that up.

When they sat down to eat, Brad asked Leroy what he thought of their lodge. Leroy didn't hesitate to give his opinion.

"Well, son, I don't know what the heck you all were taught when you became Masons, but that is no way to run a lodge. You got too much stuff for starters! Who needs a library or attractive regalia! And I've never heard of a lodge meeting where people talked about the Kabbalah. Is that some sort of song by them Beatles? And just what the heck is the Emulation Ritual?! Our Grand Lodge gives us all the doggone ritual we need and I sure was upset by all that talk of intoxicating beverages for your table lodges. Boy, I'll tell you, you all need some learnin'! How can anyone afford all that!"

Brad answered patiently and politely. "Well, it is what the members want. We can afford all those nice things because one of our lodge members owns this restaurant and gives us a cheap rate for rent. Our Brethren listed Masonic education as their most important reason for Masonic involvement. It all comes down to what the Brothers want. They are willing to pay the extra dues, and most contribute extra sums of money, because they feel that the lodge is worth it. We are all really good friends and we all feel that the education makes us better men at the end of the evening."

"Well, I'll tell ya what ya need," replied Leroy, "ya need some minutes and real business to discuss. The Grand Lodge sends plenty of letters full of things your lodge needs to do. Then ya need to ignore all that hippie education! Do away with the books and paintings. Then afterwards, y'all can enjoy some weak coffee and hard cookies. I could get you down to 25 dollars a year dues. Now that is Masonry!"

"Well, I'm glad it works for your lodge, but that method almost killed ours." Brad replied, still shocked by what he was hearing.

"I'll tell ya what, when I get home tomorrow I'll call the Grand Master and get him over here to help ya out. Don't worry, ol' Leroy will get you squared away!" Leroy slapped his knee and cackled at his play on words. He found it quite witty.

He finished his dinner and put the extras in a to-go box. He figured that those leftovers would be the fancy vacation meal that Margarete had always wanted.

 

The Book Upon the Altar

Kareem had only been a Mason for a few years. He had joined the fraternity while he served in the military in Korea. He was made a Mason in a military lodge that was properly recognized by a regular Grand Jurisdiction. He had just moved to the Midwest because he had been hired as an information technology specialist for a university in the region. The friendly atmosphere of the Midwest was a nice change from the hostile inner-city streets where he had spent his childhood and he was glad that the change of scenery would benefit his young children.

One of the first things he intended to do in his new city of residence was find a Masonic lodge to attend. So he gathered his dues card, brushed up on his modes of recognition, and grabbed his Koran to visit a lodge after work. You see, Kareem was a Muslim and wished to have his book of faith open on the altar, with the lodge's permission, of course. It had been normal in his military lodge to see multiple Volumes of Sacred Law at the center of the lodge and he assumed that this lodge would be no different.

Kareem arrived at the lodge and walked in the front door. The Brethren noticed him immediately and asked what they could do for him. He explained that he was there to visit and told them about his Masonic history. The Brethren were quick to tell him how they had accepted PHA as regular a long time ago, but Kareem explained to them that he was not a PHA Mason. They didn't seem to understand and continued to talk about how they had come to recognize that group of Masons. They were quite proud of their tolerance. They examined him in the usual form and found him to be worthy of entering lodge. While Kareem adorned his apron, he asked the Senior Deacon of the lodge if they would mind placing the Koran on the altar alongside the Bible. Suddenly, the lodge's friendly atmosphere changed.

The Master of lodge didn't know if the request could be granted by the statutes adopted by the jurisdiction. The secretary informed him that Grand Lodge by-laws did allow any Volume of Sacred Law to be placed on the altar. However, two of the most vocal Past Masters in the lodge spoke up in opposition to the idea.

"I just don't understand the reason for it, is the Bible not good enough for him?" said one.

"Would his people open the Bible for us?" said the other.

The Brethren seemed to be evenly split, half were perfectly fine with placing the Koran upon the altar, but the other half decided that it was certainly not Christian and probably un-Masonic. Kareem felt bad because he hadn't realized the trouble that his request would cause.

Feeling like a trouble maker, Kareem quickly apologized for his request and informed the lodge that he would be satisfied with the Bible alone on the altar. The Master thanked him for his willingness to avoid such a controversial subject, one in which the Master did not want to get involved. Kareem sat down in the north part of the lodge, alone, and enjoyed the meeting. When the time came for education, one of the Past Masters who were against the Koran sitting upon the altar got up to speak. He proceeded to teach the lodge why the Bible sits upon the altar and no other book. Then he turned towards Kareem.

"And obviously you understand that the Bible is the greatest book since you came to the decision to not have your book upon the altar," he said with a smug smile.

"Actually, if I may address that comment, Worshipful Master" Kareem looked towards the Master, who gave him a nod. "The reason I decided to not place my book upon the altar was to preserve the harmony of the lodge. I am proud of my faith and find it meaningful to have my book of faith on the altar. However, while in lodge I am a Mason and not a Muslim, we are all Brothers who are seeking the same thing. We may have different paths, but our goals are the same. If the presence of the Koran deprives me of the Brotherhood I share with my fellow Masons, I would prefer its absence."

The lodge fell silent, the Past Master giving the education lecture seemed to be struggling to find something to say. Suddenly, the other Past Master who had opposed the presence of the Koran spoke up.

"My Brother, earlier this evening I had boasted about this jurisdiction's willingness to accept Prince Hall Masonry and I guess I thought we were pretty great for doing that. But it appears that perhaps prejudices of skin color pale in comparison to prejudices of faith."

He walked across the lodge to Kareem and asked him for the Koran. Kareem handed it to him and he placed it upon the altar, resting the square and compasses upon it. The he returned to where Kareem was seated and sat next to him.

The Master, realizing the significance of the events which had just taken place announced, "I don't think I have ever learned so much during a lodge meeting." He rapped his gavel and proceeded to close the lodge.

Kareem did return to the lodge and became a contributing member and he was allowed to do so with his book upon the altar.

 

What is All This Secrecy About?

I sat down on a bench and pulled out my pipe. I rubbed out a flake of my beloved Virginia tobacco, struck a match, and puffed as I contemplated the subject of the meeting I was about to have with a Brother. He was new to the lodge and had questions, so I had agreed to meet him in the park between our places of business. I noticed him approaching me, smiling and waving as he progressed along the sidewalk.

"Good afternoon," he said, "I really appreciate you taking the time to meet me here. I have so many questions about the degrees, but everyone else seems to change the subject when I bring them up."

"Well, that isn't much of a surprise," I replied, "chances are that they lack the knowledge to give you a proper answer. Their silence is the best way to maintain their intelligent reputation. What kind of questions do you have?"

"Well, I'm kind of ashamed, but I don't really get the whole concept of secrecy...I mean, what is secret and what is not. My wife is constantly bugging me about what we do in lodge, but I guess I don't know what to tell her. I am excited about the lodge and want to share my excitement with someone, but well...you've heard the, uh, penalties, and I don't need to be going around getting myself into trouble." He had a sincere expression of anxiety on his face. "So, just how secret are we?"

I chuckled at his nervous demeanor. The older members had certainly put the fear of God into this lad. It is always an unfortunate side affect of the rigid atmosphere that some of our stalwart members brought into lodge.

"First of all my Brother, the penalties are symbolic. They are simply meant to represent the sincerity with which you hold your obligations. You needn't be worried about them, as long as you walk upright and life and strive to be a good Mason and don't go around announcing our secrets, you will be a welcome member of our fraternity."

"But, what are those secrets? How do I know when I am announcing them to everyone if I don't know what they are?"

I paused for a second and watched as a businessman hustled by, munching on a hot dog. "Well, are the ideas of equality, truth, enlightenment, and honor hidden from the world?"

"Absolutely not!" he replied with enthusiasm.

"Well, just as these are not hidden from the masses and are also taught in a Masonic lodge, so are all of the lessons and concepts which the order teaches common knowledge. There is nothing secret about the lessons we teach. Many people believe in God, morality, and the immortality of the soul, there is nothing esoteric about that. You can tell your wife all about what you learned in lodge and how it has made you a better man."

"That's a relief," he said as he wiped the perspiration from his forehead with a handkerchief,"so what is off limits?"

"What makes Masonry esoteric is the forms by which we teach these lessons. The system of hieroglyphic moral instruction which we use to teach these lessons is secret. Symbolism has long been the best way to express abstract concepts and you witnessed that. There are doubtlessly many lessons taught to you in Masonry that you were already aware of, but their presentation deeply imprinted them upon your mind."

I stopped to relight my pipe, the still, humid summer air had caused the embers to be extinguished. "Go on..." my friend said.

"So, we keep the forms secret so that they may have the maximum impact upon you. Also, they are how we can identify one another, lest someone undeserving of our lessons receive them and misinterpret their meaning. These are known as the modes of recognition, you didn't think that it was just a silly handshake did you? Everything in Masonry has a special meaning. I am still learning many of those and you will continue to learn, as well. We never become true Master Masons, because we are always improving our craft. The secrets are simply the esoteric symbols and forms by which we may know a man to be a Brother. This teaches us to be trustworthy and protects our craft from fraud."

"Oh, I see, so I can tell my wife all about the lessons which have improved my character, but I just can't show her how they were taught to me!"

"You got it!" I replied with a grin. I always enjoy watching the Masonic light burn in a new Brother's eyes.

"My lord, I am famished, I haven't eaten a thing all day. I'd better grab a frank and get back to work!"

"You'd better do that," I said, "I hope I helped out a bit."

"You sure did, say you want to meet here tomorrow?"

"Absolutely," I replied, "but next time, bring your lunch!"

 

If You Don't Stir the Pot, The Soup Will Burn

He walked up to the altar, saluted the Master, and then rushed to a seat on the sidelines. Bryan had to stay at his office longer than he normally does and was late for his lodge meeting. He leaned over to ask Worshipful Brother Langerman what the lodge was discussing.

"Well, they are discussing their scheduling," said Brother Langerman, "some of 'em feel that we need to start dinner at lodge a half hour later because they can't make it here at six."

"I guess if that is what we have to do to get everyone here, it is just what we'll have to do," said Bryan.

Brother Langerman grunted, moved in his chair a bit, and snorted. He seemed to agree, it was hard to tell. Across the lodge room, another young Brother was addressing the lodge in favor of the time change. Langerman sat quietly, his fingers fidgeting in his lap. When the Brother sat down, he stood up immediately and voiced his opinion.

"I think it is all great that you want to be here for dinner, but I think the idea of changing the time is just a bit ridiculous. I mean, if you don't start dinner til six thirty, how are you gonna start lodge at seven. It just don't make sense."

The secretary spoke up, "Well, if that is the case then we will just vote to change the by-laws to allow us to start the meeting at seven thirty. I think it is important to continue having our dinners and we have to have people there to keep doing them."

"Well ain't it a bit ridiculous changing by-laws just so you can all eat a little slower? We used to have a sayin' when I was in the military, chew it now and taste it later."

The younger Brothers in the lodge rolled their eyes at Langerman, the man was over eighty, they knew he really didn't understand. Bryan felt that Langerman was wrong, but he was the kind of Brother who voted whichever way the wind was blowing hardest. Langerman was pretty well respected and seemed pretty upset about the whole thing. Bryan didn't want to anger him and screw up his changes of moving into one of the line offices, so he remained quiet.

The Master put the motion to move the meal time to a vote. Out of the fifteen Brothers there, seven raised their hands in favor of the time change. Bryan wanted to move the time, it would allow him to catch a little dinner before lodge and insure that he wouldn't be late anymore, but Brother Langerman would be disappointed. He sure had a lot of influence. The Master made eye contact with Bryan to see how he would vote, Bryan decided to just shake his head and voted against it.

The rest of the meeting went without a hitch. Bryan felt like he had made the right choice. He didn't rock the boat and he figured that none of the younger Brothers who were supporting the measure had much influence anyway. It was much better to just agree with the old guard, it would make life easier.

A few months later, Bryan was late for lodge again. He saluted the Master and rushed to his seat. He began listening to the issue that the lodge was discussing.

"It appears that we only have three Brothers attending most of the dinners," announced the Master, "I feel that there is no reason to continue spending money on food if nobody can come and I move that we cease serving dinner."

Langerman spoke without standing. "Well if that's what you gotta do, that's just what you gotta do."

The Brethren voted unanimously, there was no discussion. The issue passed without much concern from the lodge, but Bryan didn't feel that it was without cause for concern. He felt as though he had stopped the dinners by his own inaction.

"I should have said something," he thought to himself.

 

Perception and Reality

Ryan had been appointed by his lodge as a representative to the local Masonic building commission, an esteemed position. He had long been desirous of assisting in improving his lodge's facilities and was quite excited about the appointment.

He had just arrived at the lodge building for a commission meeting. He met Virgil, the commission president, out in the parking lot with a handshake and followed him into the building. They went up the stairs to Virgil's office in the dark, the light in the stairwell no longer worked. As they stumbled through the office door, Virgil flicked on the light to reveal a dingy room that was in dire need of a new paint job. The unseasonably warm weather had made the room a bit uncomfortable and Virgil moved to the window and opened it, disturbing several of the dead flies on the sill and the deceased insects dropped to the floor. Virgil then plopped in his office chair, sending a plume of dust into the air.

Ryan felt that he should use the time before the meeting to start gathering support for his agenda. "Well, since I was appointed to the commission, I thought I'd do a little research on the situation of the building," he said, "and I think I've got it down to two choices."

"Oh you have?" said Virgil, suspiciously. "What are the choices?"

"Well, either we need to raise some serious cash to clean up the building and bring it up to code or we should sell it."

"Hmmm...I don't think you'd better be spreading that kind of thinking around," said Virgil, "some people may take offense to it!"

"Oh, I am sorry, I don't mean to offend anyone, I just thought..." Ryan got cut off.

"Well you see Ryan, there are a lot of people who are pretty attached to this building and have worked hard to keep it for many years. Take Bob, for instance, he cleans it every week and has been our maintenance supervisor for years. The problem is that a lot of our newer members don't seem to care about taking care of the building. Several of us older guys are down here a couple of days a week doing something."

Ryan was trying to think of a nice way to present his rebuttal. He was staring at the entrance to the attic, which was wide open because the door had been broken. A piece of insulation was dangling from the entrance and looked like it could drop onto Virgil's desk at any moment. Then he glanced at the other corner of the ceiling where there was a large water stain. Finally, he looked back at Virgil, but was distracted by the pile of picture frames and old banners behind him.

"I guess I just didn't realize the dedication that you all have to the maintenance of this building," said Ryan.

Being a representative to the commission was going to be a harder job than he had thought.

 

In Like Destitute Circumstances

Ryan was sitting alone at a bar stool in the Denver airport. He was quiet, staring into his scotch and water; he appeared to be deep in thought. His eyes were bloodshot, with dark circles around them accentuating a rather gaunt appearance. His hair was ruffled and his shirt wrinkled. He hadn’t shaved in at least a couple of days and it was obvious to any casual observer that something must be wrong. But in the hustle and bustle of the busy terminal, no one seemed to stop and take notice of his disheveled appearance. No one seemed to care that he had just lost his wife to an aneurysm or that he was leaving his two story Englewood home to return to his native New York and attempt to piece his life back together.

A man in a grey suit sat down next to him, he wore black cowboy boots and a wide brimmed hat. He ordered a beer, looked at Ryan and waited for his drink. When it arrived he turned to Ryan and spoke.

“You look like you could use a friend son,” he said in his slow Midwestern tone.

Ryan wasn’t looking for some patronizing business man to make him feel better. “Well, it has been a pretty bad week for me. I don’t suppose you’d be able to understand what I’m going through even if I told you.” His voice was fatigued, but he was noticeably agitated.

“Well, my flight's delayed and I got time, if you’ll do the talking,” said the Midwestern cowboy.

“Look, my wife died, she was only 32. How can something like that happen?” Ryan tried to remain strong, but his lip began to quiver and a tear ran from his eye. The cowboy sat quietly. Then Ryan went on.

He talked about the phone call earlier that week, how he didn’t believe his wife’s boss when he told him about the situation. He talked about his arrival at the hospital, when he found out that she had expired and that there was nothing that the doctors could have done to save her. He discussed their future plans, their jobs. How she wanted to open up her own restaurant and how he was going to become a partner in a law firm and then they would retire to a house in the mountains.

Then he revealed how they had met at the coffee shop, where she worked as a barista. When she brought out his drink, she stumbled and spilled coffee all over his law school application. She wanted to buy his coffee for him, but he insisted that she let him take her to dinner. They began to date and got married with just their friends and family in attendance. When he finished law school they ran away from New York to start their life away from dreary scenery of the Hudson River.

He drank the last of his scotch and exhaled slowly. Ryan looked relieved to have someone to talk to.

“But now I guess I’ll just have to slowly get my life back together and be thankful for the memories that I have,” he said, “but I don’t understand why you would listen to all of that and still be sitting here. Why are you being so kind to me?”

Ryan glanced over at the Midwestern cowboy for the first time and immediately saw a familiar image on his lapel. It was a golden square and compasses. Ryan glanced back at his own right hand and saw that he was wearing his Masonic ring. The Midwesterner was silent and paid for both of their drinks.

“Let’s just say, I once found myself in like destitute circumstances.” He got up and put his hand on Ryan’s shoulder, “Come on, I’m famished, let’s get something to eat.”

 

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Margaret hated these winter storms. The wind could become so violent that some of the snow would blow through the tiny cracks in the seems of the windows and doors. She was busy rolling up towels and stuffing them below the front entry to keep the draft out.

It had been three years since her husband, Frank, had passed away. He was a good man, the chief executive at the local bank and a stalwart member of every community organization. He died of a heart attack, just one week after he had retired. Margaret was heartbroken, but saw no reason to quit living at the age of 72. She found ways to keep herself busy. She would often walk to the grocery store twice a day, splitting up her grocery list to insure multiple trips, just to pass the time. She volunteered at the senior center, but it didn't stop the lonely feeling that she had in the evening.

Her children only visited her once a year. They were very focused on their careers and family. Her daughter Julie was a lawyer in Chicago and spent most of her free time shuttling her children to their violin lessons. They just had to get a scholarship to a prestigious school. Bernie, Margaret's son, was busy finishing his Ph. D. at Berkeley and rarely called. She was lucky to talk to them every couple of months.

Frank belonged to a lodge that used to send members over to visit her. They would shovel the snow from her driveway and stop by to say hello. But those visits had stopped, Margaret was sure that they had better things to be doing.

There was a knock at the door. Margaret went to open it, the mailman was standing there.

"Sorry to bother you ma'am, but your mailbox is frozen shut. I thought I'd just hand the mail to you," he said.

Margaret thanked him and took the envelopes he held in his hand. She glanced through them, noticing that there was an envelope with the local Masonic lodge as the return address. Somewhat excited and unsure of what it was, she opened the envelope and read the letter inside. It read:

"Mrs. Hanson,

You are cordially invited to the annual Thanksgiving banquet for Silverton Lodge #98. We are excited to invite all members of the Masonic family. It will be held on Friday, Nov. 23 at 7:00 P.M.

There will be a special presentation to remember our fallen Brothers and their surviving family members and well as a performance by our lodge's very own Barbershop Quartet.

Sincerely,

Alex P. Rosenbaum, Secretary"

A little tear came to Margaret's eye and she was filled with joy.

"Oh, what will I wear!" she exclaimed.

 

Lodge by Candlelight

The seven of them had made the trek through the snow and ice to the lodge building. This blizzard was one of the worst that the group had seen, but all of the members in attendance happened to live within walking distance of the lodge and felt that they should attempt to attend.

The lodge had been experiencing a rather tempestuous period. There had been a Masonic trial to expel a long time member which had created a schism between many of the Brethren. There was a prolonged argument over who should be elected to the Junior Warden chair, some of the Brethren had felt that the lodge's choice was too inexperienced to serve in that capacity. The Master of the lodge had recently discovered that he had cancer and lacked the ability to place his focus on the lodge. To add to the lodge's troubles, the bank had threatened to foreclose on the lodge building, because the Brethren had been unable to make their two last payments. It certainly was not the best of times.

The meeting started as usual, the lodge was opened, minutes and correspondence read, and then the old business was discussed. Just like all of the recent lodge meetings, the lodge erupted in argument. But this night wasn't like the previous nights, for in the middle of the argument, the electricity suddenly failed. The lodge went dark.

Except for the three burning tapers in the center of the lodge.

Silence fell among the Brethren. The sound of the chilling gale outside echoed through the hall. Then someone spoke.

"Brothers, I think we all have learned something. Darkness may surround the us, but as long as the light of Masonry shines in our hearts, it will never be dark within our lodge."

The Master felt that nothing more needed to be added. He offered a prayer for the lodge and closed it. The Brethren shook hands and greeted each other warmly, then exited the lodge.

 

Do You Know Your Brother?

It was one of those bitter cold winter evenings. The Brethren were now entering through the door of the lodge, each of them taking the time to give a shiver or ask if we were ever going to turn on the heat. I had just put on my apron and was sitting down in my chair. I was asked to fill in as a Steward for the evening and I agreed to do so, but the truth is that I just wanted to sit on the sideline, finish the business, and go home. As I was waiting for the Master to rap his gavel, a man that I was not familiar with entered the lodge room wearing an apron. The Brethren immediately welcomed him and it became clear to me that he was a well known member of the lodge.

Throughout the meeting, the other Brethren sitting next to him were in constant, hushed conversation. The Master took the time to introduce him as a great Mason who had been forced to miss lodge due to a change in jobs. Throughout the meeting, Brethren would make facetious remarks that would get a chuckle out of him. He seemed to be a pleasant gentleman, but I was in no mood for chatter.

Before the closing of the lodge, I excused myself to help set out refreshments. The Brethren came down the stairs once the meeting had been adjourned and proceeded to enjoy a hot cup of coffee with rich chocolate cake that the Senior Steward's wife had so graciously made. I noticed that most of the Brethren stopped for some conversation with the Brother, who's name I had already forgotten, each of them starting out the exchange with with some sort of friendly remark, followed by a look of concern at whatever he was telling them. He never seemed too upset, however, and I thought nothing of it.

A couple of months later, our Secretary announced that he had a death to report. It seems that the Brother had passed away. He had been afflicted with terminal cancer and had come on that cold evening to let everyone know. I attended his memorial service and was in awe of the large number of Brothers who came to pay there respects. It seems as though he was an outstanding person.

One of the Past Masters walked up to me and asked "Did you know our fallen Brother?"


"No," I replied.


"That's too bad," he said, "He was one of the best Masons I have ever known, it is really unfortunate that you didn't get a chance to meet him. He always seem to brighten my day."

"It certainly was unfortunate," I mumbled to myself, "it certainly was."

 

Waiting for the Master

"It just isn't like him to be late!" exclaimed Brother Ron as he looked at the clock and saw that it was fifteen minutes past seven o'clock, the time that their lodge meeting was suppose to start.

Other members were starting to get anxious as well, offering up comments like "What will we do if he doesn't show?" and "Are we going to have to postpone the degree?" There was certainly a lot of confusion in the temple and everyone seemed to be waiting for someone to tell them what to do if the Master didn't darken the door of the lodge that evening.

The Lodge Secretary, a two-time Past Master, felt that it was time to bring some order to all of the chaos. "Alright fellas, here is the deal, the Master did not contact me today about missing tonight's meeting and I couldn't reach him at home a few minutes ago. Perhaps he is stuck in traffic or something. However, there is no reason we cannot start the degree. Brother Amos is our Senior Warden and I know he is prepared to open the lodge and confer an Entered Apprentice degree. I know we weren't all prepared for this and it may be a little rough-going at points, but we can do this degree."

Brother Ron, the exasperated Senior Deacon, was still not satisfied. "But who will do the lecture? The only person in this lodge who does the Entered Apprentice lecture is our missing Master! Amos, you haven't learned that yet! You can't do the part!"

The members of the lodge quietly offered their agreement and the Senior Warden admitted that he could not do the lecture. The Lodge Secretary admitted that they may not be able to do the degree. After further discussion, he recommended that the Tyler go inform the candidates in waiting that there would be no degree. But just as he got up to inform the candidates the Lodge's Junior Steward, Steven, spoke up.

"I can do the lecture," he said very softly, almost as if he was telling a secret.

"Are you sure? Have you practiced? Can we even let you?" Brother Ron quickly and rudely asked him.

The Lodge Secretary quickly calmed Ron down and calmly asked "You have learned this lecture on your own?" Steven quietly nodded. "Do you want to perform it this evening?" Again, Steven quietly answered in the affirmative. "Well, let's go for it then!" said the Secretary.

The Brethren seemed to quietly grumble about this decision, but went about conferring the degree anyway. When it came time for the degree, Steven stepped up and began to deliver the lecture. The look of suspicion most of the Brothers gave him at first dissolved as he delivered one of the most inspiring lectures that they had ever seen. After he had finished, the Brethren applauded.

Brother Ron approached Steven and apologized for his rash behavior before Lodge, "I should have never doubted you, I learned more from that lecture than from any other I have listened to. You did a great job!"

The Junior Deacon announced that there was an alarm at the outer door, it was the Master, who had apparently been rear-ended in traffic and had left his cellular phone at home. The Brethren were quick to tell him how well Steven had performed the lecture and how he had saved the degree night.

The Master replied, "Well that is what I have been talking about, we need several people to learn each lecture so that we don't have to depend on one person to put on a degree. It appears that Steven here is the only Brother who paid attention to my comments on the subject last month."

The Brethren all agreed and several volunteered to learn lectures. It appeared as though the Master was tending to his flock even in his absence.

 

Dawn

It was quiet as I lay there in the dark, wrapped in the mysterious shroud which separated me from the rest of the world. I overheard voices somewhere expressing deep sorrow and regret for that which had been lost. It seemed like a deathly calm had fallen over the universe and I was somehow in the center of this massive mourning. The uncertainty of what would come next caused my heart to palpitate rapidly, yet my faith in The Almighty brought me comfort in this unnerving experience.

Then, there was silence. A soft voice raised a prayer for strength somewhere in the darkness. Suddenly, my veil was lifted and I was taken by the right hand into the deep embrace of Brotherhood. As I looked over the shoulder of the king, I saw the soft glow of the morning twilight.

"Travel towards the East," a voice beckoned me.

My search for light had begun.

 

The Morality of Tangents


The rhythmic plodding of the horses' hooves echoed through the hollow streets of Edinburgh. It was a cool fall night, the full moon shining bright, the slightest breeze winding its way through his thick beard. Ian MacGregor was deep in thought as he drove his carriage home in the wee hours of the morning. The faint, yet pungent aroma of whisky on his breath was teasing his olfactory senses. The topic of the evening’s lodge meeting was based on the moral applications of geometry. Ian never understood arithmetic well and he understood geometry no better. Nevertheless, Ian was a Mason of the finest character. No man’s wallet had contributed as much to the relief of his fellow Brethren, nor had any man ever attended more lodge gatherings to help out with the customary work than he. Ian was a simple man, he knew his trade well, but the liberal arts had never been his expertise.

It was on a night like this, not long ago, that Ian had come across a man in bad shape. It seemed as though the stranger had lost his employment, as well as his family. Before too long, he had resorted to petty crimes such as picking pockets and petty theft, to feed his hunger. It was never any man’s desire to be in such dire straights. As Ian passed him by, the stranger caught a glimpse of the noble square and compasses shining in the moonlight on Ian’s lapel and he asked him for help. You see, the stranger was the son of a Mason. He had never joined lodge, but he thought that perhaps Ian could help him. Ian took pity on the man and gave him quarters and employment at his printing press. Ian helped him to get back on his feet and over time, the stranger, his name was Brian, felt that he owed a debt to Masonry and became a member. Like Ian, rarely did a man contribute more to relief or the regular work of the lodge than Brian.

Ian was nearly home before he understood the lesson on geometry for the evening. While he was passing around the circle of life, all the while paying close attention to the boundary line of his duty, he remembered the teachings of the Good Samaritan in the Holy Scriptures and the necessity to be a disciple for Freemasonry like St. John the Evangelist. Like John the Baptist, he had symbolically baptized Brian by giving him the ultimate renewal, a second chance to have a fulfilling life.

“And while a Mason keeps himself thus circumscribed, it is impossible he should materially err,” he thought to himself.

Ode to a Mentor

Eli was one of the finest Masons I have ever met. He was a two-time past master, never missed a lodge function, always treated every Brother with respect, and mentored every single candidate who received the degrees of Masonry for an entire decade. I was lucky enough to be one of his pupils during this time. After each degree, Eli would come up to me, hand me his phone number, and say, “Call me when you are ready to study this a bit, I have all sorts of time on my hands.” The next day, I would place the phone call and would be graciously invited to his humble abode that evening to work on my proficiency.

When I would arrive, I’d always forget that I was not to ring the doorbell (his wife was asleep). However, Eli wouldn’t dare scold me for it, instead he would politely remind me, “Just give three distinct knocks,” then he’d slap his knee and give a good hearty cackle. Once inside, we would sit down and go through the catechism. Eli would never hesitate to correct me, “No honey! You do it this way!” His enthusiasm was infectious and his love for Masonry was great. We would also discuss a plethora of other topics ranging from the history of the lodge to current events of the day. I would always learn a lot and many times Eli and I would chat until well after eleven o’clock.

When the time would come for me to prove up in lodge, Eli would always tell everyone how studious and impressive I was. He did that with all the candidates, but you’d feel like you were the only person he had ever said that to before. As we went through the questions, Eli would smile and nod every time I answered correctly. After we were through, he would lead the lodge in a thunderous applause. Eli always made you feel special.

I was invited to a lodge banquet while I was still a Fellowcraft. When I arrived, everyone was already seated and I felt like a fish out of water. Then I heard, “Well if it isn’t my number one student! Come and sit down, honey!” Eli would then proceed to introduce me to everyone and made sure that I was involved in every conversation. When we would part for the evening, Eli would always remind me, “We love ya’ Brother,” and would give me a pat on the back.

Now, I am the one mentoring our new Brethren. Everything I do is almost an exact reflection of how Eli treated me. I consider myself one of his disciples and our job is to make every Brother feel welcome and well informed. Last week, I was examining a new Fellowcraft in lodge. I automatically told everyone how impressed I was with his studies.

Eli grabbed me after lodge and said, “If I remember right, I said the same thing about you when you were going through.”

I put my arm around his shoulder and replied, “You don’t suppose I took a few lessons from an old pro do you?” I winked and Eli smiled.

As we were climbing into our cars Eli yelled out, “Love ya’ Brother!” That is when I realized that I had finally found the secret of Freemasonry.

Setting the Standard

I had stepped into the anteroom to dispose of my empty coffee cup. We had just finished with an officers’ meeting that I had to attend as the Senior Deacon. I noticed that Ferris Thompson, a Past Master and the current chaplain was setting down his brief case and haphazardly packing his pipe. “I suppose I’ll join you outside for a cigarette,” I said. We stepped into the chilly winter night, the sky was clear and the wind was blowing stiffly from the northwest.

While I pulled one of my Winstons out and lit it, Ferris asked me how the officers’ meeting went. “Well, it was okay,” I responded, “but I can’t understand why most of our officers refuse to fulfill the duties of their chair.”

“I share your frustrations,” Ferris said, absent mindedly puffing his pipe, “It doesn’t seem as though some of the men who desire to be important necessarily appreciate the responsibility. They love the title, the attention, but lack the true desire to lead. I’ve seen it throughout my thirty years in the fraternity. Past Masters who never return to lodge after they have that feather in their cap, men who are officers in every organization and are never around to do the work, and especially those who can’t even perform the simple task of being proficient in opening and closing the lodge.”

Ferris paused to tamp the dying embers in his Stanwell; I considered the fact that this had been a problem for quite some time. “What can we do to stop it? I mean, just because it has become the norm doesn’t mean it is right.”

“Well that is the rub isn’t it?” he was looking up at the stars. “We stay silent in hopes of preserving harmony, yet if we were as skilled in the art of leadership development as we are in the art of silence we could set a new standard. You are an up and coming officer in the line, don’t let those who succeed you fall short of your expectations. Teach them their office and how to perform their duties. Then, when you become Master, you will have a line full of competent and helpful officers.”

“What if some of the officers refuse to learn what I teach them?”

“Simple, you ask that the Worshipful Master halt their advancement. Harmony is one thing, letting the blind lead the blind is another.” He placed his pipe in his pocket and opened the door.

“I guess I have a bigger responsibility as Senior Deacon that I thought I did.” I said.

“That depends,” he replied, “are you going to set a new standard?”

 

Music: The 6th Liberal Art

It is well known among Masons that geometry is the basis of the art of Masonry and the most essential of the liberal arts among Masons. Geometry is a very exact science and it has been used to develop calculus and explain the most intricate designs of molecular chemistry. However, it would behoove Masons to understand its relation to music, the art of combining tones in melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic order.

The simplest forms of music are based on the simpler science, arithmetic. Notes, played one at a time, require counting. One must add to move through the scales and use fractions to determine the timing of each pitch. But if a more advance view of music is made, the musician must enter into the realm of geometry.

The major chord is developed by adding the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of a scale, forming a beautiful triangle of tones. One will notice that of the notes in the scale added to the 1st, the 3rd, 4th, and 5th form the strongest, most resolved sounds. Similarly, the 3,4,5 triangle is revered as being the strongest of all shapes. However, when these four notes are played to together, they produce a major 7th chord, which has some conflict within it, but if the 4th is doubled to create the octave we once again have a beautiful chord and can now form a simple truss, or tent shape, which is once again a structure with great resolve.

We can view the beauties of the circle in the beautiful round, where a simple melody is played continuously, or eternally, to form intricate patterns of notes representing the beauties of the eternity of God's creations. Or the arch, with the beautiful ascending flurries of the scales reaching the keystone and then descending as smoothly down the opposing side.

It is also true that music can be played in the minor, with a sort of melancholy sound. This is achieved by stepping on those tones that seem so pleasant by themselves, but when mixed in with the rest of the symphony form disharmony and depression. A phenomena that is the defining trait of the music known as the Blues. So should we ever be reminded to walk only on those stones of the path with which the Divine Creator will find true pleasure from our journey.

Music must be defined by those very times and seasons, years and cycles which the astronomer sets with geometry. For it is by these times that music forms its subdivisions into 1/4 notes, 1/8 notes, and even the 1/128 note, or can form the odd time interval of the triplet. Without geometry music would know no time.

Our ancient friend and Brother, Pythagoras, studied and enjoyed music. Hence, the invention of the Pythagorean scale. It is no coincidence that a man so proficient in geometry should also be so gifted in music. The latter being an art based on an operative science.

Therefore, as geometry is the language of God, so shall music be his art and pleasure. May we as Masons ever endeavor to read His Divine literature and perform, for His pleasure, His beautiful art.

 

The Five Orders in Architecture

It is little wonder why part of the Fellowcraft degree discusses the classical orders in architecture. By tradition, speculative Masonry descended from operative Masonry and having some understanding of our ancestors' craft is certainly important. It also serves as a gateway to place an interest in each new Fellowcraft in the subjects of architecture and geometry as well as in the other arts and sciences.

However, as with everything in Masonry, there certainly is a deeper symbolic meaning. While there are more concrete explanations for their symbolic meanings, I am going to give my personal views of the orders in architecture.

There are five orders in architecture: the Tuscan, the Doric, the Ionic, the Corinthian, and the Composite. However, we are taught that the ancient and original orders in architecture are only three: the Doric, the Ionic, and the Corinthian. These were invented by the Greeks. This is very important, because the ancient Greeks are the inspiration for Western culture. Notice the Masonic ideals that ancient Greece personified. They were one of the first democratic societies; they championed education, and were one of the most progressive societies of their day. Greece was an inspiration for the Roman Empire and we learn that if we wanted to understand the roots of Masonic ideals, we would not look to Rome, but rather to Greece.

The original orders in architecture refer to the three degrees. The Doric represents the Entered Apprentice, it is simple and effective. While it is aesthetically pleasing in its own right, it also gives the appearance that it is yet to be completed and requires further development. The ionic represents the Fellowcraft, it is much more technically proficient and more complex that the Doric. We can see its beauties beginning to take shape and blossom into greater things. The Corinthian reveals its further intricacies which show the complexity of the spiritual aspect of the 3rd degree.

Now, what is the point of the other two? The Tuscan is the Doric in its earliest state. This refers to the profane world. Before being initiated into Masonry we are happily ignorant of the beauties which it will reveal to us. We are simple minded and only concerned in what we find practical to our individual lives. Likewise, the Tuscan is simple and practical, unconcerned with the complexities of Greek architecture. The Composite is more ornamental that the Corinthian because it is the Master Mason who is now blossoming by seeking light beyond the degrees. He is learning about the complexities of the spiritual world as well as the earthly arts and sciences. He is a complex creature fully aware of the limits of his knowledge and seeks light and truth with zeal. The Composite represents the man who is drawing from the lessons in each degree to form a more beautiful, perfect, and complete whole.

This is my own perspective of the orders in architecture. As we become more practiced in Masonry, our pillars become more and more intricate and we develop deeper and more pleasing designs. It is through this practice of virtue that we become more proficient in our own personal architecture.

 

The Late Brother Abi's Disenchantment with American Freemasonry

Here he lays, cold and mute, wrapped in the icy cloak of death. Our late Brother Abi, setting his working tools down for the last time. His long life in Masonry comes to such a lonely end after such auspicious beginnings. Brother Abi was there in the beginning, at the small meetings held in the back of a local tavern. The best and most noble men from the town would meet to feast on Cornish game hens, stuffed mushrooms, and tankards of ale. They would discuss the issues of the day and enjoy fellowship with their closest friends. These men were few in number, but had incredible prestige. Only men of the finest character were allowed to become members of the Royal Craft. Kings, generals, and philosophers had long been promoters of the craft, leveling themselves with common men who shared the same values. It was the most beautiful of societies, completely Utopian, in a world where men often were more interested in persecuting those with different opinions.

Brother Abi worked hard to learn his work, it was not always perfect, but he advanced through the chairs with a true effort. At that time, not everyone was deemed qualified to be Master of the Lodge. He memorized and retained the floor work, the opening and closing ceremonies, and a good share of the Masonic lectures. He even devoted himself to learning the Masonic funeral ritual and took the time to impart the same knowledge on his younger Brothers. The beauties of the lessons in the Masonic ritual were important to him and he took the time to make sure that he was able to communicate them properly. When he was not in Lodge he took the time to individually relieve his distressed Brethren. He would visit the ill, run errands for widows, and insure that no Mason in need of some brotherly love was left wanting. This was how Masonry was: a beautiful set of rituals designed to instill morality on the minds of good men and to promote brotherhood and individual charity.

Masonry changed throughout Brother Abi’s life, however, and developed into something different. The Brethren began to champion large numbers of members, regardless of the quality, and seemed to adopt the idea that no one was undeserving of Masonry. They allowed anyone through the west gate, often allowing men without a true love of Masonry’s tenets into the lodge. The Masons used these greater membership numbers to fund grand buildings and even grander charitable programs. This led to meetings consisting solely of business and Brothers bickering about the finances of the building. Philosophy, brotherhood, and even ritual were no longer important. It was perfectly acceptable to read the ritual and not understand it. Where Masons once were able to engage in the beautifully archaic language of proficiency, new Masons would respond with “Oh I didn’t know I needed to remember the grip.”

This empty shell of the formerly grand society had to be filled. The unenlightened called for chili feeds, organized charities, and fund raisers. Perhaps if Masonry looked enough like the local Kiwanis or church group it would flourish. Men no longer helped out their fellow Brothers, Masons were too busy exploiting another charity in an attempt to gain new members and too busy putting on another dinner to beg for a few more cents from the public to keep their building open. It was no longer the job of the Masons to improve society, but rather the job of society to keep the Masons alive. Masonry had become an abstract portrait of what it once was.

Brother Abi lost interest. When he became bedridden, no Brothers came to comfort him. The majority of the membership didn’t know who he was. This man, who had spent so much time teaching his younger Brothers and working to be the best Mason he could be, a Mason who had carried the flame of the order for so long and had attempted to provide his Brothers with all the rights and benefits of the society has now shuffled off this mortal coil. There will be no Masonic funeral rights, because no one knows them. There will be no Brethren at his side, because they are too busy preparing for a spaghetti dinner to fund their lodge building.

Here lays the body of the late Brother Abi, SO MOTE IT BE!

 

The Power of Proficiency

Here is a topic that I have often discussed with fellow Masons. As many of you know, the art of proficiency work has become somewhat rare in modern Freemasonry. The memorization of questions involving the meanings of Masonic symbolism, ritual, and modes of recognition are no longer deemed important by many Masons. I have heard many arguments for and against the requirement of new Masons to turn in proficiencies for the three degrees. However, it remains my belief that these tests of knowledge on the preceding degree are absolutely essential for many reasons.

First and foremost, it is difficult to investigate visiting Masons who have no one to vouch for them and discovering that they know none of the signs, words, or grips. They expect to be admitted by their dues card alone. Granted, some were simply never informed of the necessity of knowing this information which is a failure of the lodge in which they were raised. Had the Brother been required to return his proficiency and memorize this information, it would not be an issue. However, many have decided to water down the fraternity in order to fill our membership roles with dues paying members. Yet, many of these members do not even know the very secrets they were obligated to keep. A very effective way to maintain secrecy is to insure that the secrets are never understood by our new Brothers! Trading in quantity for the very backbone of the fraternity is no way to make Masonry grow.

Secondly, the proficiency raises the bar for the expectations we have of new members. I have watched a fair amount of Entered Apprentices avoid making time to learn the proficiency as well as several of them simply not attempt to memorize it in hopes that the lodge would just forget.  When we remove the requirements to earn the next degree, we are simply removing the feeling of achievement when the next degree is obtained. Suddenly, the Master Mason degree is no longer a day of rejoicing about a new Brother's dedication and maturity in the order, but is rather a long and dull day of seemingly meaningless ritual just to join a civic organization. Accomplishing the memorization of proficiency shows that Masonry is important to the new Brother and places a sense of high importance and deep solemnity in the ritual which separates Masonry from all other societies.

Finally, anyone who is a Mason in his heart first, which all who enter our West Gate should be, will not only be more than willing to learn the proficiency, he will relish the education and friendship that his mentor provides him. It will be an incredibly important part of his life and will instill the value of the fraternity deep within him. Once the proficiency is learned, and the plethora of subjects which  are developed in consequence of learning the proficiency are conversed upon, the new Brother will have an insatiable desire to do his duty for the order and to learn everything he can. Without providing him this service, we are only disappointing his expectation of the importance of Masonry. After all, if we accepted everyone who petitioned and required nothing of them just to increase membership, why would a good man with Masonry in his heart feel that it really is special?


Brethren, the information provided in the proficiency and the Masonic mentoring that comes with it is one of the most important aspects of our order. It distinguishes us from the rest of the community and marks our consequence among Masons. It stirs our passion for knowledge and forms deep friendships with others within the lodge. That, my Brothers, is the power of proficiency.

 

The Complete Lodge

A lodge has a number of roles to fill. It is a place of learning, a place of fellowship, and a place for charity. So how can we insure that our lodges are adequately fulfilling all of these roles? As Masons, we are taught to hold the number 7 in high estimation, as it is the number of completion and perfection. So, in the spirit of that esteemed number, I am offering seven characteristics of complete lodges.

1) EDUCATION

What was the last time that your lodge actually had an educational presentation? The lack of education is commonly the result of some members believing that they know everything about Masonry and too many Brothers feeling intimidated by delivering educational presentations. Master Masons should, at a minimum, understand the secrets of Masonry and how to communicate them, have the ability to summarize the subjects presented in the several Masonic lectures, and have a firm understanding of the symbolism of the Fraternity. These are subjects that an alarming number of Masons have no knowledge of and are not difficult to present to lodge members. Depending on the lodge, presentations on academic subjects, philosophy, and history may be very well received also. All Brothers wish to improve themselves in Masonry and that involves educating members on the principles of the order.

2) RITUAL WORK

A lodge cannot be complete without presenting ritual in an impressive and proper form. Lodge must be opened proficiently and the degrees must be presented in a manner that absolutely floors the candidate. Without the performance of good ritual, a lodge will never bring younger Brothers to seek out the beauties of Masonry. Time should be taken to rehearse ritual and insure that all Brothers taking an office are proficient in their part and to require them to memorize at least one of the lectures. If these steps are taken, opening and closing the lodge, as well as performing the degrees, will encourage members to perform their best at all times. It will also communicate the important symbols of our order much more effectively.

3) FELLOWSHIP

A lodge must offer numerous opportunities for Brothers to form close bonds and enjoy the company of their fellow Masons. Banquets, ice cream socials, movie nights, and even meeting at the local tavern for stiff drink can encourage good relationships among Masons and make it fun to be with their Brothers. If Masons enjoy being in the company of their lodge members, they will be more likely to participate and contribute to the lodge.

4) CHARITY

Yes, the greatest of these is charity, for it extends beyond the grave throughout the boundless realms of eternity. But we are not discussing the shallow idea of organized charities to gain new members, we are talking about Masons helping Masons. What was the last time that your lodge supported a Brother in need? Not only with money, but with time and moral support? How many of us visit those Brothers who cannot make it to lodge? Or contribute to the relief of the widows and orphans? I believe that we do not do this nearly enough, it should be our number one concern as Masons to relieve our Brothers who are going through hardships. A complete lodge aids their Brothers in need by financial help and good will visits to improve a Brother's morale.

5) FINANCIAL SECURITY

A lodge that cannot function financially offers nothing for its members. Lodges cannot continue to rely on bean suppers or pancake breakfasts just to keep their lodges alive. Lodges should be able to provide refreshments, educational material, and aid to poor, distressed, worthy Brother Master Masons without having to ask for an extra donation or do a fund raiser. Dues should be set at an amount that will allow all these things to be taken care of throughout the year. Lodges should have the foresight to use part of those dues to develop an emergency fund (for building repair, unexpected expenses) as well as a relief fund (for the relief of distressed Brothers). A little financial planning would create funds that would be able to cover any hardship.

6) LEADERSHIP

A lodge without leaders will wonder around aimlessly in the dark, groping for the light switch. As Master Masons, we are designated as overseers of the work. Every Master Mason should be a leader. Officers should fully assume the duties of their office and go above and beyond the call of duty. How many of us are guilty of holding an office where we merely knew our part during the opening of the lodge, but never attended to any one of our other duties? Lodges should encourage leadership development by pulling in outside expertise on the issue. Lodges need to mentor new Brothers so that they can take leadership roles and the experienced members (such as Past Masters) need to fulfill their role as the mentors of the lodge members. Masons must be willing to step up and lead activities in their lodge rather than sitting on their hands saying "Well, I certainly think someone should do it." Master Masons must develop the attitude of "Here I am, send me, send me!"

7) PURPOSE

That's right, a lodge needs a purpose. Most of us can agree that our purpose involves making good men better, but have we really made that our mission? Or do we conduct business to pay the bills without ever moving forward? A lodge should constantly strive to improve men morally, professionally, spiritually, and charitably. If a lodge makes this their mission and follows the necessities listed above, it will achieve great things.

 

Masonic Leadership Procedures

Alright, I am just going to say it, WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH STRONG LEADERS IN MASONRY! That is a fact and those who are honest about the state of the fraternity would agree. However, we need an answer to this problem and that is why I am going to follow along with a popular trend by using the U.S. military's method in leadership. The only difference is that these Troop Leading Procedures (as they are termed in the military) are going to be adapted for lodge use. So it is with this background information that I give you the Masonic Leadership Procedures.

1. Conception of the Plan
The first step in performing anything as a Masonic leader is coming up with something to do. This can be anything from holding a feast for Thanksgiving to putting on a degree to the presentation of 50-year pins. Brainstorming must occur to come up with some activity for the lodge or any group of Masons to execute.

2. Issue a Warning Order
You must warn people immediately about what you intend to do. If you plan to put on a degree in one month, you must immediately let your lodge members know as much information as possible. In particular, you must inform them of the mission, the time at which it will be executed, who will be in charge of what, and when you will have the completed plan. An example of this is:
Brethren, we will be holding an Entered Apprentice degree on the third Wednesday of next month. Brother Senior Warden you will be in charge of putting together the degree team. We will have all the necessary information ready to be communicated to you at our stated meeting on the first Wednesday of next month.

3. Make a Tentative Plan
Put together a list of names to help out at the activity. Who will cook the food? Who will do the lectures? Where will you hold the dinner? That way you have a good starting point to work from. You can contact individuals and either put their position in cement or find someone else to do their part. The tentative plan is meant for you to start thinking about how you will accomplish the mission and allows you to make changes to it as needed.

4. Start Necessary Action
Do you need to make reservations at a restaurant? Do you need to call lecturers in your area? This step requires you to start performing those necessary tasks to be able to execute the mission at hand.

5. Reconnoiter (Check out your facilities, for you civilians)
In this step, you make sure the building or area you are holding the event in will accommodate you. Does the lodge you are putting on the degree at have all the materials needed? Is it big enough for the dinner you are planning? Will you need to purchase or fix anything to make the event go off? It is a lot better to find out that there are no clean garments for candidates the week before the degree than the night on which you are holding it.

6. Complete the Plan/Issue the Plan
Alright, you have gotten all the Brothers you need to commit to the activity, the facility will work, and all the kinks are worked out. Now, you take all of the information and let everyone know what is happening. Tell them who is doing each of the parts for the degree, who is cooking the dinner, etc. Be detailed, give the members hard times for everything that is happening and who is doing what.

7. Rehearse
That's right, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Do rehearsals for the degree you are going to put on. Heck, you may even want to have people show up and walk them through the kitchen and dining room to make sure they know where everything is when you put on that dinner. Getting your eyes on the objective is always important, the more chances that the Brothers have to see how the plan is going to be executed, the smoother it will be executed.

8. Supervise
Alright, it is time to execute. As the leader, you can't have your head down in the pancake batter, make sure you are in a position to make sure everything is happening properly. Don't be the leader who is still brushing up on his part while the candidate is improperly clothed, be ready to perform quality control. The Brothers need to be able to go to you for answers when problems arise and you need to be able to take the time to correct the issue.

Steps 1 and 2 are the only two that must happen in order. The others are interchangeable and you must constantly supervise. If you follow these procedures, whether you are sitting in the East or just some guy who volunteered to serve dinner, you will be successful at accomplishing your action. You might just become the valued leader that our Fraternity needs!

 

Education Intimidation

One of the problems plaguing our fraternity is the absolute absence of Masonic education in our lodges. Unfortunately, developing an educational presentation for your lodge can be an intimidating task.

Many men receive the degrees of Freemasonry and perform the proficiency examinations pertinent to those degrees and that constitutes their initial education in the fraternity. While this will make them proficient in the rituals of the degrees and the modes of recognition, they still know very little about Masonic symbolism and history as they haven't been exposed to a whole lot of it yet. This is commonly the only education that our Brothers receive during their time as a Mason.

Many lodges have discussed the fact that there is no Masonic education conducted within their walls. So perhaps they appoint a Brother that has been educated in the aforementioned manner to provide an educational session at the next meeting. This is where some problems are presented.

First, the Brother has no idea of what is expected for the presentation. How long should it be? What kind of information should be covered? Perhaps the Brother has no public speaking experience and is nervous about presenting in front of crowd. There is a good chance that this brother could be as mortified about delivering an educational presentation as he is excited about it.

Secondly, he has to find a source of information on the subject of his presentation. Not only must he determine the subject of which he will speak, but he will have to figure out how to research it. He has three primary options for his research: materials provided by his Grand Lodge, hard copies of Masonic literature, and the world wide web. Grand Lodge materials can be hit and miss. A few Grand Lodges have excellent materials and short talks for which their members can use to develop presentations. However, many Grand Lodges do not possess these excellent materials. Either there are no educational materials available through the Grand Lodge or they are ridiculously shallow in their information.

The next resources available are hard copies of Masonic literature. Most lodges do not have an extended library and most Brothers are not wealthy enough to possess their own catalog of Masonic books. If his lodge does have a library, it is most likely not well organized and he will have to spend hours looking for information on his chosen subject. Perhaps he will dive into some of the more common Masonic tomes in circulation. Imagine he opens a copy of Morals and Dogma only to read the first sentence, "Force, unregulated or ill-regulated, is not only wasted in the void, like that of gunpowder burned in the open air, and steam unconfined by science; but, striking in the dark, and its blows meeting only the air, they recoil and bruise itself." If this is his first foray into deeper studies on Masonic symbolism, he probably already has a headache! Whether the book is by Albert Pike, Albert Mackey, Manly Hall, or JSM Ward, he will probably be quite confused by its contents and decide to look elsewhere for his presentation's information.

Finally, he resorts to the Masonic information available on the web. Perhaps he will enter a forum only to be thrown in the middle of a discussion about the ancient initiatic orders or he will find a incredibly detailed account of Masonic history in the 17th Century or maybe he will read about the recognition of Antient Scottish Freemasons in Southern Burma on a blog. All of this can seem to be above and beyond the subject matter that he expected to present to his lodge.

So now we have a Brother who is deeply confused by everything he reads about Masonry, still has no further information for his presentation, and might as well throw his hands in the air in frustration.

For the average Mason, my self included, there seems to be a massive jump from the business oriented meetings where the only education during the gathering is a thirty second oration on George Washington which was found in the Reader's Digest to the complicated works of Masonic research. Just look at two of the titles found in the 2007 Volume of Heredom: The Transmission of Esoteric Knowledge & the Origins of Modern Freemasonry: Was Mackey Right? by Mark E. Koltko-Rivera and Freemasonry in India: The Intersection of Hindu and Masonic Teachings by Naresh Sharma, 33° & Guy L. Beck, 32°.

Anyone who has any social sense knows that discussions on the subjects presented in these papers are likely to make the average Mason's head spin if he is not used to reading such material. Therefore, it would certainly be courteous and proper to find a topic more suitable for an educational presentation at lodge.

Masonic education can be a very intimidating thing, so how can you develop a good educational presentation for your lodge?

First, it is crucial to understand how to properly present an educational lecture. If you remember nothing else about this article remember this: never take more than fifteen minutes. Why? Your audience begins to drift off after fifteen minutes. You can have multiple presentations, but no single subject should require more than fifteen minutes to explain. Just make sure you don't make it too short either, your presentation should be at least ten minutes.

When presenting it is crucial to use a visual aid to assist your Brethren in understanding the subject. This can be in the form of handouts, a chalkboard or white board, or a Powerpoint presentation. This gives the audience something to look at and assists them in understanding the subject by highlighting the main points of the presentations. Also make sure that you do not read your presentation. It is best to make notes on the subjects that you want to cover and then speak extemporaneously on each point. This will allow you to maintain eye contact with the crowd (don't forget to smile!). After you finish presenting, be sure to ask if there are any questions. Questions open the subject up to discussion and the real learning can begin. If you are not sure that someone will ask a question, specifically ask one of the Brethren to ask one before you begin your presentation. If one person asks, several will.

Now, moving on to the subjects that make good educational presentations. LI have talked about subjects being either too shallow or beyond the interests of most Masons. It may seem difficult to figure out what subject you will research and present to the lodge. A good rule of thumb is to select a subject that interests you and view it as your chance to learn more about it. If you are interested by a subject and enjoy learning about it, it will probably appeal to your assembly. However, you do need to be the judge of whether a subject is appropriate or not. Don't present on subjects that are likely to cause conflict or make tempers flare. Also, don't talk on subjects which are not likely to interest a large group. While you may find studying the link between Confucianism and Kabbalism and their effect on the opening and closing rituals of the lodge, subjects like this are likely to alienate your audience. Remember, no matter how enlightening the subject is to you, if your lodge members are counting the specks in the ceiling plaster during your presentation no one benefits from it.

So where can you find good information for Masonic education? Last time we mentioned that some Grand Lodges have excellent sources, if this is the case in your Grand Lodge, do not hesitate to contact them to find resources for your presentation. Another method is consulting hard bound sources. If you choose to do this, you will have to spend some more time finding information relative to your subject. Perhaps you don't know what you want to present, but don't have access to a computer. In this case, I always suggest finding part of a book or a short paper that interests you and read it. Then, present on it just like you did back in school. That's right, give a book report. There is nothing wrong with that.

Finally, if you are using the internet, you are very lucky. There is a wide range of options for you to examine in order to find information. If you are using the internet, determine what you wish to speak about. It may be Masonic history, Famous Freemasons, symbolism and ritual, jurisprudence, or a variety of other subjects. The key to using the internet is knowing what you are looking for. So, pick a subject that interests you and you want to research. Then, make specific searches on your topic. Just remember, when using the internet you are not required to formulate your own Masonic research paper. You can use it much like you would a book, find a paper or article that you like and do a book report.

Remember, the key to an effective presentation is feeling passionate about what subject you are presenting and feel confident about the information that you have gathered. Never present on a subject that you are uncomfortable with. Making an education presentation is nothing out of the ordinary. It is simply taking time for individual study and then reporting on the knowledge that you gained so that others can be enlightened.

If you want to resolve your education intimidation, it isn't hard to do. Simply keep your presentation short, fun, and informative.

 

 

         

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