Mediocrity in Masonry . . . Shame on us!

One of the questions that occasionally eats at me when I am driving home from a Masonic event, degree, or function that has been woefully mediocre is how our members can sit through such Masonic happenings month after month and still believe our fraternity is relevant and meaningful to men’s lives? How honest are we in claiming we make good men better while persistently repeating practices and behaviors which are so distinctively average, or worse? Self improvement involves some form of positive change. It requires some level of progress; entails some elevated sense of being. Explain to me how a lodge facilitates self improvement by offering its members a venue that doesn’t “feel” any different when they are inside the lodge than outside of it.

Perhaps many of us come into Masonry looking for nothing more than fraternal association. But, if that’s the case, it ought to be the best fraternal association we have ever had!

Once we encounter the preparation room, or make our progress through the degrees, it is hard to dismiss the awareness that we are engaged in something wholly different from our other community experiences. We quickly learn that Masonry has a higher calling which requires that we make an ascent into the very center of our being.

An endeavor of such high importance and due solemnity is not a run of the mill undertaking. It becomes clear there is nothing mediocre about Masonry. So why do we make it that way?

Here’s the problem. Accepting mediocrity in our lodge practices is the same as living a mediocre life. By making un-extraordinary acts and behaviors our ordinary practice, we entrap ourselves from knowing how precious life really is. We don’t use opportunities that come our way as a means of expressing how special we really are. Instead, we walk the walk with the rest of the herd and soon find ourselves in such a deep rut of limitations we lose sight of our own value. We become trapped in mediocrity.

Regrettably, this too often seems the condition in which lodges, Scottish Rite Valleys, York Rite Chapters, Councils and Commanderies find themselves. When nothing extraordinary, educational, insightful, compelling, intellectual, contemplative, spiritual, or fraternal occurs in our private, sacred, fraternal spaces, then we become only another ordinary, average, run of the mill, dime-a-dozen organization. It is hard to see how this kind of Masonry takes good men and makes them better.

It is not the kind of Masonry we should want to share with our friends.

I believe that if we truly want to move “from the square to the compasses,” we have to dare to be different. And we can’t dare to be different by following someone else’s expectations. When a lodge does the same thing year after year, it is accepting by default someone else’s expectations. There is nothing creative, inspiring, or different about parroting ritual, paying bills, and going home. That’s doing only what many others have done before us.

To distinguish ourselves among men and organizations, we first have to perceive in our own minds that we have something to do which will ultimately set us above the average. We start by thinking about the choices before us.

Do we choose what is safe rather than what is right? Do we only do things right, or do we do the right things? Do we set out on a new path, or take the same old, comfortable way? Do we bring credit to our teachings, or debit them as ideals of the past? Do we become the examples that young men want to emulate, or do we seem to them as just another group of ho hum guys?

You see, the choice always controls the chooser. To be exemplary men, or an exemplary organization, we have to be exceptional in our awareness of who we are, what we are here to be doing, what we know, and how we practice what we know. We have to have the courage to be different from the rest of the crowd—nobler in our expectations and more refined in our state of mind.

Because that’s just the way Masonry is.

He who wants milk should not sit himself in the middle of a pasture and wait for a cow to back up to him.


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Masonic Introspection

Freemasonry, as with all initiatic traditions, takes its members on a journey of personal and spiritual transformation. In order to accomplish this, our fraternity encourages its members to undertake serious introspection, because without introspection the working tools and teachings of our fraternity are useless.

The only real way to find Truth is to question everything. This is true in our daily lives in the external world, as well as in our inner personal and spiritual development. Introspection is a powerful tool that allows us to truly explore and examine our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and even our religious beliefs in a thorough manner, which can lead to surprising insights and positive changes.

In the external world, we should always seek to question and verify the things that our political leaders, news sources, and especially social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) tells us. I am constantly surprised by the amount of misinformation, contextual exaggerations, and even outright lies and hoaxes that circulate on a weekly basis in digital news sources, and especially in social media sites like Facebook. What is really sad and disheartening is that almost all of this disinformation could be proven false with a simple Google search; however, people are so eager to buy into the misinformation, because it confirms a belief or opinion, that they fail to take a few seconds to verify the authenticity.

In my professional life as an attorney, the first thing I do when someone, even someone I trust or work with, tells me that the state of the law is ____, I check their sources and read it for myself. I don’t do this out of a lack of trust, but since my professional life and credibility depends on accuracy, I need to ensure that what I believe to be correct, is actually correct. In the same way, if I receive a spiritual teaching, or interpretation of scripture, I read the scripture for myself to see if the interpretation given to me jives with the original context of the scripture, as well as my own beliefs and understandings. If we fail to examine all of our beliefs, including our prejudices, then we can easily become prisoner to our false beliefs.

The beauty of our fraternity is that it provides a system that allows for us to undertake serious introspection and transformative work among friends and brothers that are also undertaking that work. Also, pursuant to our oaths, we can discuss almost any topic in strict confidence, which in today’s world is a true rarity. This allows us a safe space to be vulnerable, a place where we can drop our persona mask and show our true selves. The Lodge also provides a place to have frank and open dialogue between members, which strengthens the bonds of brotherhood and allows us to better work through and navigate the trials of life. In fact, some of the best and easiest education sessions for Lodge consist of merely picking a discussion topic for the members to reflect on and discuss.

I know that our fraternity has played a huge role in my own personal and spiritual development. Freemasonry has allowed me to have a safe place to contemplate not only the mysteries of our fraternity, but the mysteries of life. It has also allowed me to meet and interact with brothers who force me out of my comfort zone, and who challenge me almost daily.

The labor of a Mason does not end when he becomes a Master Mason, it is a continuous process that only ends when we lay down the working tools of life to enter the celestial lodge above. Therefore, may we each continue our own journeys of introspection and discovery, and may we aid others along their path. While we each hold a lantern of light on our individual path, when we walk with our brethren our collective light illuminates the pathways of all craftsmen, as well as the world.


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Three Upright Steps

As I have traveled upon this Level of Time towards that undiscovered country, I have personally experienced, and witnessed others as they experience, three progressive and critical levels in the Masonic Journey.  These levels can be linked symbolically to each of the three degrees, but can also be viewed independently of Masonry as simply stages in a man’s life.  I feel it is important to highlight these three levels in order to both offer guidance for those seeking to improve themselves in Masonry, as well as potentially admonish those who are missing this progression due to their inability to subdue the Ego.  These progressive stages are Knowledge, Intelligence, and Wisdom.  Now an explanation.

As an Entered Apprentice, we are offered our first glimpse at the Light of Masonry.  All five of our senses are bombarded by an Initiatic Experience that our Profane life has left us ill-equipped to comprehend.  Strange words…ancient Rituals…Character tests…after which (under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ohio) we are offered what appears to be an explanation of everything that has occurred.  As the Entered Apprentice sits and listens to the Lecture and Charge of the Degree, he will either consciously, or unconsciously, decide whether or not he is going to seek to learn more.  This gives us a glimpse at the first phase in development.  Knowledge.

The zealous Entered Apprentice soon finds himself studying the Lecture, Charge, and Degree work that he has experienced.  Eventually, he finds himself able to recite with precision the entire Lecture, the entire Charge, and explain in detail the steps required to confer the Degree that he has now had the honor of experiencing.  He has now achieved the first level:  Knowledge.

As his journey continues, he finds himself, as a Fellow Craft, being encouraged to study the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences.  Now faced with yet another Lecture and Charge filled with unfamiliar words that carry with them an air of importance.  He applies the same zeal to this Lecture and Charge and soon finds himself with the ability to confer, with exceptional skill, this Degree as well.  He has now achieved, or rather maintained, the first level: Knowledge.

Finally, that night is upon him.  The night that he has been anticipating since he signed his name to the Petition for Degrees.  He is Raised to the Sublime Degree.  He is finally in possession of the “secrets of Masonry”.  Not wanting to break the streak, he soon becomes proficient in the Master Mason Degree.  He has risen in both honor and esteem within the Lodge.  Lauded as a Masonic Scholar, he is called upon any time a degree is conferred due to his uncanny ability to deliver each with such precision that the others in the Lodge, or even Masonry at-large, can only aspire to.  At last, he has arrived at the first level:  Knowledge.

Sadly, this level is where most men end their journey.  They feel, and are often told, that they have reached the pinnacle.  This is most certainly not the case, and yet, the majority of these men have little chance of ever realizing just how far they still have to go on their journey.  It is difficult to fault these men, for they are reassured with regularity that they are scholars.  That they have done all that can be expected.  Ego allows them to believe this poor counsel.  In most circles they are held in extremely high-esteem, and often attain the highest titles bestowed upon members of our Gentle Craft.  Yet, in reality they are nothing more than Entered Apprentices who have not yet learned to apply the Working Tools that have been provided.

Out of those few who put for the effort to learn the Lectures, Charges, and Degree work, there will be a small group of men who seek to not only “know” the work, but to “understand” the work.  They are in the truest sense, Speculative Masons.  They will seek out ancient texts, symbolic interpretations, and even converse with “more knowledgeable Brothers” in an effort to really understand what it all means.  Many of these men then take it upon themselves to share this Light with the Craft.  They write papers, books, articles, and are often found speaking to not only their own Lodge, but to any other Lodge seeking Masonic Scholars.  These men have taken the knowledge that they were gifted with, and done the work required to understand the meaning behind it.  They have arrived at the second level: Intelligence.

These men can not only identify each and every symbol, allegory, and allusion within the Degrees, but can most likely speak to the symbolic meanings, history, and intention of our Masonic Forefathers who put them there.  As with those at the first level, Knowledge, this is where many end their journey.  Many are well intentioned and carry themselves as simple seekers of Light.  They increase in intelligence, not to outshine those around them, but to illuminate their own personal path with little regard for the esteem to which they are now privy.  Yet among some Brothers at this level, Ego is often found to be in control.  They fabricate around them, with the help of less informed Brethren applauding them at every turn, an impenetrable wall of Masonic knowledge that few dare to challenge.  They speak with not just confidence, but with arrogance.  Humility is a concept about which they can pontificate with amazing skill, all the while doing so in a condescending tone.  They are given not only the grandiose titles bestowed upon those who have mastered “Knowledge”, but now venture further into the Light by being not only revered, but sought after as experts, or men of extreme “intelligence”.

These Brothers are not difficult to pick out of the crowd.   In fact, they will most likely do all that they can to stand out and be noticed.  Ego is what feeds them.  They do not seek answers because they believe, and are constantly reassured, that they have already found the answers.  They pose a significant risk to the long-term stability of not only our Noble Order, but to society as a whole.  They avoid or oppress open debate whenever they are faced with it and, in general, do more harm than good for the Order.  I once read that one should seek out those who ask questions, and be cautious of those who claim to have all of the answers.  I would admonish all who read this to follow that counsel.

At last, there are the very few who arrive at the third level of our Masonic Journey.  Wisdom.  These men have spent years laboring in the quarries of Freemasonry to find that which was Lost.  What they find, I cannot say, because I have yet to find it.  What can be said is that at a very minimum, these men have not only learned the lessons of Freemasonry, but have put them into Practice.  That is the journey, Brethren.  In keeping with the number three, which resides in nearly every corner of the Mysterious Temple, we find that the progression of our Masonic Status is from Operative, to Speculative, to Operative.  A man enters the West Gate as a man who lives his life each and every day without regard for the secrets behind the veil.  He is Operative in that he resides only in the terrestrial world.  As he labors, he finds himself upon that Level of Time that leads to Speculation.  He becomes a Seeker of Light.  Alas, he arrives at the Inner Chamber and finds that he must now take what he has learned, and apply it…not only in the terrestrial, but in the spiritual realm of his existence.  He now applies that which he has discovered Above, to that which he has discovered Below.  He has achieved the third level.  Wisdom.

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