Well, how about that! “We have the right to demand that Masons learn something about Freemasonry.” The right to demand it. A bit audacious, you think? Well, I don’t think that is any more audacious than that young standard-bearer who boldly countered his commanding officer, saying “Bring the line up to the standard!”
Does anyone really doubt that, as Freemasons, we do indeed have the right to demand that Freemasonry actually fulfill its purpose?
Do we all remember what that purpose is? “The design of the Masonic institution is to make its votaries wiser, better, and consequently happier.” Jeff has already hit you with the question, “When did you become better?” Now, I want to ask, “When did you become wiser?”
Was it the night you took your first degree? Your third degree? Perhaps it was during your Fellow Craft degree. That one is full of Masonic knowledge, isn’t it? No? Well, then was it the several Masonic lectures that made you wise? Surely, at least your memorization of the work lecture could count as Masonic Education, couldn’t it?
That last thing must be quite a problem for all those members who received their degrees in the one-day class and had their proficiency forgiven! They missed out on all that high-quality Masonic Education that comes with learning how to memorize and recite. Doesn’t that mean that the rest of us need to pay special attention to those members, to make sure they get the degree of Masonic Education that the rest of us received?
Heaven forbid we should do that! Heaven help us if the class members are given the same level of education that the typical Mason receives! And we had better start praying yesterday, because that is exactly the level of education they are, in fact, receiving. If we allow ourselves to believe that these members who received their degrees at the one-day class have a significant deficit in Masonic knowledge as compared to the rest of us, then we are fooling ourselves.
No, it is the level of Masonic Education given to all of our members that is the problem. While we are dealing with the problem of providing such education to our one-day class members, we had better also be about the business of providing the same to all Masons.
Before we talk about what Masonic Education is, let’s take some time to get a few things straight about what it is not:
1. Ritual is NOT Masonic Education! That is not the purpose of the ceremonies. Remember the Letter G lecture? “Tools and implements of architecture are selected by the fraternity to imprint on the memory wise and serious truths.” Ritual is for imprinting – for making an impression – and as such, it is (or at least it can be) very powerful and important in its own right. In fact, this is why I personally would never choose to receive my degrees as one of a thousand candidates in a one-day class. This is not only because of what Jeff said about Lodges losing the ability to perform Masonic degree rituals, but also because I believe that the individual immersive experience is irreplaceable -- and a candidate only gets one chance to experience the Masonic degrees for the first time. However, the classes themselves, troubling as their conception may be to many of us, are not responsible for this problem cheating a new Brother of his education. That comes later. (And by “later” I mean both the education, and the cheating thereof!)
2. The several Masonic lectures are NOT Masonic Education! That is a very common misconception. They are further symbolism – just another part of the Ritual – supplementary material, if you will. Think about it: We tell the newly-made Entered Apprentice that “King Solomon was our first Most Excellent Grand Master,” as if this were an objective, historical fact, rather than a symbolic legend – as if King Solomon actually sat in the Temple at Jerusalem and conferred the Masonic degrees upon his workmen! We inform the newly-raised Master Mason that Pythagoras, like him, was also raised to the sublime degree, and that he was so ecstatic over proving the 47th problem of Euclid that he went out and slaughtered a hundred cattle. Right! Like the Ritual, these lectures have a very high symbolic value, but they are not Masonic Education – especially when we never pursue that symbolic value any further. No, this is the typical state in which we leave a Brother’s so-called education.
3. The catechism, or memory lecture, is NOT Masonic Education! Remember Jeff’s Past Master who could not recite the EA catechism? If that were the extent of his Masonic Education, and he has lost that, then what does he have left? No, like the other lectures, the catechisms are simply another part of the ritual. What does the new Brother learn by it? Well, he might learn how to memorize and to recite. Perhaps we learn something about him – that is, whether he can memorize and recite! And if he can, then we decide that he would make a great Lodge officer! Never mind whether he has any leadership abilities. Besides, many of our Lodges are in such a state that we will install anyone who is willing to take a chair. (If you think I mean only the very small Lodges, then think again! This has often been the situation at my own Lodge, Monroe 22 – a Lodge of 600 members!)
My point, Brethren, is that we seem to have misplaced our focus on the form and the script and the numbers and made the wrong assumption that they equal Freemasonry. While many of us, perhaps justifiably, complain about the Grand Lodge putting too much focus on numbers and dollars, we ourselves have too often descended to the level of ritual pedantry. We think of the Ritual as being the essence of Freemasonry, when really it is only an expression of Freemasonry. We nitpick each other on the form, while completely ignoring the meaning. How often have you had a well-meaning Brother come to you after a degree ritual and correct all the words you got wrong? How often have you sat down to discuss the meaning of those words with that same Brother?
Well, why don’t we just do some of that right here and right now:
• The two great brazen Pillars on the Porch of King Solomon’s Temple are said to have been cast hollow. This was for the purpose of [containing and preserving Masonic records] against the ravages of the elements. But what does that mean to the Speculative Freemason? To me, it means that these Masonic symbols are intended to protect Masonic knowledge from being washed away or burned up. What I learn from this is that the Pillars, in this sense stand for all Masonic symbols. All are constructed in this way and for the same purpose – that is, to preserve and contain the meaning behind the expressions of Masonry, and to prevent that from being carried away or destroyed. When the meaning is removed or forgotten, all that remains is an empty, hollow vessel.
• So it is with new members. Making new Masons, by whatever method, is like casting hollow pillars. Our job is to put something in those pillars. This is why, although I am hardly a fan of the one-day classes, I have lost a lot of interest in making a big stink about the inevitable. When we neglect Masonic Education, we are doing the same thing, no matter how well we confer the degrees or how many men receive them at one time – we’re casting hollow pillars, without filling them with anything. Whether we get members through the classes, or by raising them in our own Lodges, it is up to us here in the quarries to “hew and square” those members into Masons.
• The Fellow Craft degree is itself about education, even though it is not equal to education. Beyond the Pillars lies the path of Education and Knowledge. Remember the Middle Chamber lecture: “On the mind, all our Knowledge must depend. What, therefore, can be a more proper subject for the investigation of Masons?” Our journey “to the East” involves following that winding path, remembering that at the top, our mastery will be tested. Based on what you have learned on your Masonic journey, will you be able to pass the test?
Well, then, how do we go about giving our members (ourselves, that is) Masonic Education? How do we go about this task of “bringing the line up to the standard”? There is a huge amount of information available on educational programs, as well as a lot of pre-written material that would be quite appropriate for use in Lodges. I’ll provide a few of my own ideas here, but I encourage each of you to do some research of your own. You might even start with some of the books and materials that Roger has laid out in the next room.
• Masonic Education should begin with the investigation interview, if not earlier. We should all be able to answer certain questions that a man might ask before he is elected, or even before he asks for a petition. Those questions might include: Is Freemasonry a religion? Is it a secret society? What is Freemasonry’s political orientation? Do you have to be of some particular religion to join? All these questions are answered in many of the pre-printed materials, such as “Opening the Doors to Freemasonry,” but we should all be able to answer those questions with or without that pamphlet in hand.
• Worshipful Masters should be attentive to pick at least one particularly knowledgeable Brother to be on any petitioner’s investigating committee – a Brother who can answer questions as well as ask them. (And for goodness’ sake, don’t have that silly form in front of you during the interview! Talk to the guy, get to know him, and fill in the form later.)
• Have some kind of educational program at every single Stated Meeting, even if it means simply having a Brother stand up and read one of the Short Talk Bulletins. As our Brother Carl H. Claudy said, “One thing and only one thing a Masonic Lodge can give its members which they can get nowhere else. That one thing is Masonry... The Master whose instruction program is strictly Masonic has to send to the basement for extra chairs for most of his meetings.”1 Those are available from the Masonic Service Association, and I believe Roger has some of those as well.
• Hold regular Table Lodges at your Lodge. Also known as the Festive Board, these events are intended to be combined with a Stated Meeting, and should always include a full educational program. Such programs should be somewhat longer than the usual five-minute presentation or reading done at a regular Stated Meeting. Consider having a Brother come in as a guest speaker. (And where do you suppose you might find a Brother or two who might be willing to do such a thing???)
• Establish a Mentors’ Program in your Lodge, with the idea being to educate your educators. As Jeff said, if Freemasonry is in fact a course in moral instruction, and if our candidates are indeed to be instructed, then we must have teachers among us who are capable of providing that instruction. I repeat: we cannot rely upon the rituals and lectures to do this job which they are not designed for. Again, you may decide to invite an experienced Brother to your Lodge to put on such a program, at least for the first time.
• Educate yourself! Read a book about Masonry, or a famous Mason. Go to the public library and see what they have on the shelves. Even some fluffy-pop title like The Hiram Key might be worth reading, if it manages to spark some discussion. (Just remember to take that kind of thing with a pillar of salt!)
• Look around for some other useful educational materials. If you have Internet, there are a lot of sources, and some Grand Lodges have even made their candidate educational programs available. The California Grand Lodge website offers study manuals for the three Craft degrees. Their ritual is admittedly going to be somewhat different than ours, so there is likely to be some unfamiliar material covered, but the information is still excellent.
• If you are feeling especially ambitious, try writing some Masonic Education materials of your own, whether it be a short essay to give as a speech in your Lodge meeting, or a complete study guide to provide to your new members. Don’t wait for the Grand Lodge to get around to publishing these materials, those guys have a lot of administrative things to worry about. The work we need to do should be done here in the quarries anyway, so let’s get busy.
• Finally, whatever you do, do NOT call your program “Masonic Education”! As our Most Worshipful Brother PGM Dwight Smith said, “the very term ‘Masonic Education’ is a liability – a frightening word suggestive of impractical theories and dull abstractions.”2 At my Lodge, our education committee is called “Further Light.” Be creative!
Brethren, I would like to leave you with this thought: If Freemasonry cannot save Freemasonry, then perhaps Freemasonry is not meant to be saved. I know that may sound like a shocking thing to say, but my point is that all the numbers in the world, and all the degree ceremonies we can perform, will not save the fraternity if we allow the center to be lost. The organization by that name may go on for some time, but it will not be Freemasonry.
To my own words, I will add these, again from Brother Dwight Smith: “Freemasonry has not been tried in the balance and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. The solution to Freemasonry’s problems... is Freemasonry. Why then do we not try it?”3
This afternoon, you will all go back home, and in a few days you will go back to your Lodges and get back to the business that awaits you there. Some of your Lodges will send candidates to the one-day classes, and some will continue to perform degrees in your own Lodge rooms. Some will insist that all new members completely learn the memory work, and some will forgive or eliminate that method of proficiency. But if you are serious about the business of making good men better, and making smart men wiser, then I strongly encourage you to talk to your Brethren about what you have heard here today, think on it carefully, and Try Freemasonry! It works!
1Claudy, Carl H. The Master’s Book.
2Smith, Dwight L., PGM, Whither Are We Traveling? Freemason Printing Center, 1962.
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