Thinking Outside of the Masonic Box

Back in February, Bro. Robert G. Davis and I took a road trip to Austin, Texas in order to attend a Lodge of Secret Masters (4th Degree Scottish Rite). This was a unique experience, because the brethren of the Austin Valley Scottish Rite have taken the ritual that is normally performed on a stage, and transformed it into an actual lodge setting. Therefore, instead of watching the degree from afar, you are actually taking part in a working lodge of Secret Masters. The lodge is only held once a year in order to initiate a brother into the 4th degree of the Scottish Rite. This was truly a rare and powerful event, especially since to my knowledge this is the only valley performing this kind of work.  

The passion that the brethren put into this was evident from the moment that we walked in, because the brethren managed to recreate the lodge of sorrow space from the ritual down to the most minute detail, including many custom pieces such as custom 9 pointed star candelabras with gold leaf, handmade stain glass pieces, carved leather banners, torchieres, and even a knight in a full suit of armor. 

During the reception following the event, one of the brothers told me that the project seemed too daunting during the original planning stages, because they knew that it would take thousands of hours and dollars to create the custom prop pieces. The brethren would also have to get special permission to form the lodge and perform the ritual, However, during our conversations, each brother expressed that the event was a labor of love, and that it had really brought the brethren of the valley closer together. It had also instilled a spark of energy in the valley, because it was something truly unique that the brethren could be proud of. This work resulted in a truly powerful experience, and there wasn't an empty seat in the house.

On the way home, Bob and I were discussing the event and the other successful Masonic events that we've experienced, and one of the key features that we kept coming back to for any successful Masonic event is passion. Without passion ritual is dull and forgettable; however, when the brethren performing a ritual are truly working to transmit Masonic Light, then it is a truly moving experience. The same goes for any event from a fish fry to a festive board. If the Brethren are simply trying to throw something together at the last minute, or go through the motions because they have to, then the event is flat and boring, and everyone secretly can't wait until they can slip out the back door. However, if the brethren are excited about the event and put real time and effort into the event, then everyone has a good time and the bonds of brotherly love are strengthened.

I think the often heard masonic idiom, "we've always done it this way", is actually a lethal phrase for the craft. If we continue doing things because that's the way its been done, we box ourselves in from new experiences, growth, and passion. One of the keys to being passionate about an event or project comes from thinking outside of the box, which allows us to expand our horizons, and even push the envelope of what can actually be done. Sometimes it can be something as simple as adding reflective elements to a lodge experience such as allowing a contemplative moment of reflection after opening, candles, education programs, music, or hosting a degree in a unique manner, like my lodge did last year when we held a Master Mason degree at low twelve, which ended up bringing in visitors representing 19 different lodges, 5 states, and 6 grand jurisdictions. Other times pushing the envelope can be something more ambitious like hosting a festive board with an out of state speaker, or a major event like a gala, ball, or an event like the Austin Valley's Lodge of Secret Masters.

Sometimes thinking outside of the box is going to be difficult, because while we are inside of the proverbial box we often have difficulty perceiving what could be, because we have only surrounded ourselves with what is or has been. However, when we allow ourselves to break outside of the self-limiting box of how we've always done things, then we can breathe new life into our lodges,
appendant bodies, and our fraternity as a whole. As the brethren in the Austin Valley have shown, it may not be an easy road, but the results are well worth it, and now those Brethren have something that they can be truly proud of, and it all began with what seemed like a crazy out of the box idea. 

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Brotherhood in the 21st Century

By Guest Contributor: Bro. Byron J. Collier

Photo Credit: Tiffany Roberts Photography- Lodge Veritas No. 556 Officer Installation

Photo Credit: Tiffany Roberts Photography- Lodge Veritas
No. 556 Officer Installation

As Freemasons we pride ourselves on the antiquity and history of the Craft, but will our ceremonies and ritual in and of themselves be enough to satisfy future generations? The future will demand a better understanding of what it really means to be a Mason through better knowing ourselves and practicing those principles we have all vowed to uphold in our oaths or obligations. I further believe that the silent example of men with integrity who display the moral and social virtues of good men, and who do the right thing for righteousness sake, will prevail and fill the societal gaps created in this new age.

In order for our fraternity to not only survive, but thrive, we must make the welcoming of new members and retention of existing brethren an important part of what we do in Lodge. The experiences of an Entered Apprentice’s and Fellowcraft’s first few months, and a new Master Mason’s first years will determine how they view Freemasonry for the rest of their lives. This is why commitment to mentoring and the sustaining of fellowship is relevant, now more than ever. I believe our Lodges should strive for better masons rather than more Masons.

There’s an old story about a man who was considering offering himself as a candidate to Freemasonry. He selected one of the two Lodges in his local area. After he was made a Freemason a friend asked why he had selected his particular Lodge. His reply was that after interviews with officers from the two Lodges, his selection was easy because one Lodge was very interested in him as a candidate while the other was interested in him as a brother. Which do you think he chose?

Although we make our meetings more interesting by social events and Masonic education, the driving force that brings Masons together is our fellowship when we meet; whether at Lodge meetings or by chance encounters on the street. It does not take very long for a new Mason to realize that he can expect to form new friendships for the rest of his life. However, one of the major dangers comes when the “newness” of the Masonic experience begins to wear off. When a man's attendance becomes irregular or he stops coming to Lodge it suggests that: 1) his priorities have changed, 2) he is becoming overwhelmed with Lodge duties, or 3) something has changed in his life. In order to find out what has changed for the brother, we must be willing and able to engage in open and frank dialogue.

To get to the point of honest and open conversation with our Masonic Brethren we must be closer. We must make a concerted effort to elicit the views and feelings of all members, not just a few. Therefore, if the formality of a lodge meeting impedes input from some members we must recognize that and solicit their opinions at less formal meetings or by one-on-one discussions. It is important that every Brother feel that he is not left out, that the Lodge welcomes his views, and that "has had his say."

One of the more common pitfalls that we must be careful to avoid, is just associating with our perceived like-minded Masons, for we can create what appears to be "cliques." I say perceived because sometimes we don't spend enough time to fully understand all of our brethren. They may be like-minded more than we realize!

Finally and most importantly, we must practice openness and tolerance. Openness to feel free to discuss delicate issues, human issues that are important to making and keeping good relationships. Because we are all different, each of us comes from different backgrounds and each of us think and act differently; therefore, we must get to know one another sufficiently so that we can converse on a level that will promote friendship and at the same time avoid discord. We must also assume an attitude that is completely tolerant of the views and ideas of our fellow Brethren. We may feel that their idea or point of view is wrong, but we must recognize that they have their own reasons for their expressions, and it is not our lot to judge them for that. As people we all say and do things that later we wish we could take back. Well, we can openly try to take them back by being honest with ourselves and try to right those wrongs and to quickly and easily forgive those transgressions by others. I daresay we all know brethren of the Craft who for one reason or another are in some level of emotional dispute with other Masons. Are these disputes really important in the grand scheme of things? I truly believe that good honest discussion would make most disputes non-existent. We each must learn to seek out and accept admonitions and whispers of good counsel from others, and at the very least have some accordance by "agreeing to disagree."

I ask you to consider and to practice that openness, tolerance and to express a genuine interest in your fellow Freemason, the man you call Brother.

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BYRON J. COLLIER has over 20 years experience working in the financial services industry. As Founder of Artemis Capital Group, LLC,   Byron has served as its President and Managing Member since 2003. He was a Vice President of Investment Banking with Chicago Investment Group, LLC and held management positions within Global Custody at Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc., (JP Morgan), and Consumer Lending at United Jersey Bank (Bank of America). Byron received his baccalaureate degree from Howard University, Washington DC, and continued with graduate studies in International Business and Commercial Finance at New York University, New York, NY.

Byron served on the Business Advisory Board of Datameg Corporation (OTCBB: DTMG) and is actively involved with local community services including his church as Superintendent of Sunday School for the Ebenezer Baptist Church in New Brunswick, NJ. His interest in world history and cultures has led him to extensively study religions, philosophies, and esoteric traditions, which ultimately led him to the Masonic Fraternity.

Byron was raised to Light this past June and is a member of Jerusalem Lodge No. 26, in Plainfield, New Jersey. As a true lover of knowledge, Byron seeks to discover the meaning and Light that is present within the diaspora that is mankind and, applying this Light to his own spiritual path, help others in their journeys.

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The Distinctive Notion of Form in Traditional Masonry

It has been 15 years now, but in the early days of the “traditional observance” lodge movement, I recall a few Grand Lodges had a rough time accepting what they surmised was a new way of “practicing” Freemasonry in their jurisdictions. As with many new ideas in our old institution, we can generally depend on the most stalwart brothers of our craft to be the first to surface with shouts of horror and disbelief that some landmark of Masonic law has surely been breached. Any practice that feels or looks different than the practice men are used to in their own lodge culture is at least a threat, if not an outright innovation, to the ways of Masonry. One Grand Master was known to have said there was “an unbridgeable gulf that exists between these lodges and the Grand Lodge. “ 

It was a remarkable statement.  Since the intent and goal of the traditional lodge movement was simply to bring to our own American culture those traditional practices of Freemasonry that had long proven to be a successful model for the Masonic experience in every other country in which Freemasonry is practiced, it was stunning to its founders that any Grand Lodge would object. If anything, the organizers of the movement felt with all their hearts that they were bringing the true form and structure of Masonry back to the American Masonic landscape.


But that was the issue. There was a difference in understanding how form is defined in Masonry. We all agree that some form is important else we would move to wholly promoting one day classes, or changing the ritual to eliminate its core teaching, or signing up men over the internet. But, beyond the obvious, it becomes easy to confuse form with activity.


Form is what makes Masonry. It is the form that sets the parameters of our institution. It is the form that establishes it landmarks and customs. It is the form that enables us to be a global brotherhood of men. It is the form that allows us to penetrate the deepest aspects of our being, discover who we, why we are here, and what our duties are in life. It is the form of Masonry that creates its experience.


But if we misunderstand the form, or deny its significance, we cut ourselves loose from our heritage. We are then set adrift in a world that denies the possibilities which are inherent in man to discover. We become just another club for the profane.  The whole purpose of initiation, the whole intent of Masonry is to provide a path whereby men can realize the potentialities which exist within themselves—potentialities that cannot be reached other than at the center of one’s own consciousness.  And it is the form in Freemasonry that leads us to this center of our being.


What, then, makes us Masons? What is a Masonic Lodge?  Grand Lodges have typically laid out four characteristics that define a lodge—fraternalism, charitable endeavors, community service, and philosophical discussion. Yet, none of these characteristics define Masonry. And each can lead us astray.


We can’t simply be a fraternal or social organization. If we are, we have nothing to offer that can’t be better provided by many other organizations. Charity does not define Freemasonry, as charity is taught in essentially every moral code to be incumbent upon all human beings. Community service cannot define Freemasonry, as it was not historically a part of Masonry. Community service is something that grows out of the Masonic experience, but is not inherent to it.


Nor can we be a philosophical organization, as far as philosophy is meant to be a branch of knowledge limited to the rational mind. Modern philosophy denies the existence of the most important element of the human heart; intuitive understanding. Human beings simply do not have the capacity to decide what is right without grace; without the active action of the Divine.


You see, these four characteristics could be attached to any number of groups in society. If there is nothing inherently different about Freemasonry, then what distinguishes us from the rest of the community? If these things do not define Freemasonry, then what does?


Our ritual instruction makes this quite clear. It is the internal and not the external qualities of a man that make him a Mason. The element that defines Freemasonry among all groups is that Freemasonry is an initiatic society, a mystery school that reveals the nature of God, and instructs men how to discover and recognize his divine nature and potential. It is the art of initiation that allows the individual to access the higher nature within himself. His greatest potentialities cannot be achieved except through ritual and an understanding of the initiatic process. Masonry is a form of knowledge, a transformative art which is passed down through its form of instruction. It is the form alone that allows us to transcend the confines of our profane nature so that we can come to know the nature of truth. The form enables the inner work.  


The men in Traditional Observance Lodges believe what our European forefathers believed; that there are those who seek Freemasonry today because they are looking for the same thing that men of every past generation and every past culture have earnestly sought—they are looking for something that can bring meaning to their lives.


Many other organizations can provide the four characteristics that so often define our lodge experience today. If we wish to practice these things, that is fine; but to be special we should be about the business of doing them better than any other group.


What other groups cannot provide, and what only traditional Masonry currently provides, are the traditional forms of an initiatic organization. That is truly the only experience which distinguishes us from the rest of the community. Fortunately, it is a lodge experience that is growing in popularity and acceptance. But for the new craftsmen, it is simply the old Masonry; rediscovered.

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