WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?
This Short Talk Bulletin is the work of Elbert Bede, Editor
Emeritus, The Oregon Freemason, Past Master, Cottage Grove Lodge No.
51, and Charter Member, Research Lodge of Oregon and Ashlar Lodge
No. 209, Oregon.
The title of this Short Talk Bulletin asks a question, and it isn't
being asked "just for effect." It is meant to give those in the body
of the Lodge an opportunity to participate with the speaker.
About twenty years ago I gave an address on this subject with the
understanding that I should tell what induced me to present my
petition and what I expected o f Freemasonry, and that, at the
conclusion of my remarks, the Past Masters present would do the
same. Every Brother had a different story, and we had a wonderful
I wish to preface the story of how I came to present my petition
fifty-five years ago to Chisago Lodge No. 232, North Branch,
Minnesota, with another story that is a partial answer to our
question. It is a serious story, with a moral, but it has some
A young man passed a pawnbroker's shop. The money lender was
standing in front of his shop, and the young man noted that he was
wearing a large and beautiful Masonic emblem. After going on a whole
block, apparently lost in thought, the young man turned back,
stepped up to the pawnbroker, and addressed him: "I see you're
wearing a Masonic emblem. I'm a Freemason too. It happens that I'm
desperately in need of $25.00 just now. I shall be able to repay it
within ten days. You don't know me; but I wonder whether the fact
that you are a Freemason and that I am a Freemason is sufficient to
induce you to lend me the money on my personal note."
The pawnbroker mentally appraised the young man, who was clean-cut,
neat and well- dressed. After a moment's thought, he agreed to make
the loan on the strength of the young man's being a Freemason. The
two went into the pawn shop, where the young man signed a note and
received the $25.00, then went his way. Within a few days the young
man repaid the loan as agreed, and that ended the transaction.
About four months later the young man was in a Lodge receiving the
Entered Apprentice degree; he had not really been a Mason when he
borrowed $25.00 from the pawnbroker. After he had been admitted for
the second section of the degree and placed where all candidates are
placed, the young man looked across the Lodge room and noted sitting
there the pawnbroker from whom he had borrowed $25.00 several months
before, on the strength of his being a Freemason. His face turned
crimson and he became nervous and jittery. He recollected the
admonition he had just received from the Master, and he was
bothered. He wondered whether he had been recognized by the
pawnbroker. Apparently not, so he planned, at the first opportunity,
to leave the Lodge room and avoid his benefactor. The lecture and
charge probably were lost on him. As soon as the Lodge was closed,
he moved quickly for the door of the Tyler's room, but the
pawnbroker had recognized the young man, headed him off west of the
altar and, to the young man's astonishment, approached him and
greeted him with a smile and outstretched hand.
"Well, I see you weren't a Freemason after all when you borrowed
that $25.00," the pawnbroker commented.
The blood rushed to the young man's face as he stammered, "No, I
wasn't, but I wish you'd let me explain. I had always heard that
Freemasons were charitable and ready to aid a Brother in distress.
When I passed your shop that day, I didn't need that $25.00. I had
plenty of money in my wallet, but when I saw the Masonic emblem you
were wearing, I decided to find out whether the things I'd heard
about Freemasonry were true. You let me have the money on the
strength of my being a Freemason, so I concluded that what I had
heard about the Masons was true, that they are charitable, that they
do aid Brethren in distress. That made such a deep impression on me
that I presented my petition to this Lodge and here I am. I trust
that, with this explanation, you will forgive me for having lied to
The pawnbroker responded, "Don't let that worry you too much. I
wasn't a Freemason when I let you have the money. I had no business
wearing the Masonic emblem you saw. Another man had just borrowed
some money on it, and it was so pretty that I put it on my lapel for
a few minutes. I took it off the moment you left. I didn't want
anyone else borrowing money on the strength of my being a Freemason.
When you asked for that $25.00, I remembered what I had heard about
the Masons, that they were honest, upright, and cared for their
obligations promptly. It seemed to me, that $25.00 wouldn't be too
much to lose to learn if what I'd heard about Freemasons was really
true, so I lent you the money and you repaid it exactly as you said
you would. That convinced me that what I'd heard about the Masons
was true, so I presented my petition to this Lodge. I was the
candidate just ahead of you."
I doubt whether the experience of either of those men persuaded any
one of you to become a Mason; but it would be interesting to know
what did induce each of you to present his petition and what each of
you was expecting of Freemasonry. One of those in the story expected
to find men who were charitable and ever ready to give aid to a
Brother in distress. The other expected to find men who were honest,
upright, and cared promptly for their obligations. That was what
they had heard about Freemasons.
And in a general way, isn't that true of each member of the
Fraternity? Didn't each one of us present his petition largely
because of what he had heard about Freemasonry? Because contacts
with those he knew as Freemasons had led him to believe that what he
had heard and read was true?
George Washington once made the statement that he was led to
petition Freemasonry because he had noted that the noblest men of
Virginia were members of the Fraternity, and because of the
favorable opinion formed through contacts with those men.
Freemasonry is judged by what others hear and read about it. Our
members come to us because of actions which seem to prove that what
is said about us is true. Brethren, we have a reputation to
My first interest in Freemasonry was developed some years before I
came of age. I had a room in the home of a superintendent of
schools, who was secretary of the Lodge in which I later received my
degrees. In those days so many years ago we didn't have TV, radio,
motion pictures and automobiles to take up slack time; hence,
although the secretary was a man of some years and I a stripling of
eighteen or nineteen, sometimes of an evening he and I would have an
hour or so of pleasant discussion, probably during a game of
dominoes, which was aristocratic entertainment in those days.
Once in a while Freemasonry was mentioned. The secretary wasn't too
well-informed on Freemasonry, as I have since learned; but he was an
enthusiastic practicing Speculative Freemason and a good salesman,
although a discreet one. He didn't suggest that I present a
petition. Anyway I was too young for that, but he planted the seeds
that later took root. In addition to the favorable opinion formed
through my conversations with that Lodge secretary, I formed some
opinions of my own. For one thing, I noted that all the better men
of the small community of a few hundred were members of the little
Masonic Lodge, including my employer, who was editor of the little
I developed a certain interest in Freemasonry in a manner that I am
sure hasn't applied to any of you. I was intrigued and confused by
little filler items about Freemasonry and King Solomon that appeared
in the city newspapers. King Solomon usually was spoken of as the
first Grand Master of Masons. We do not see such references in the
daily newspapers today, but my recollection is that in former times
there were many of them. One of them read, "King Solomon, first
Grand Master of Masons, had a thousand wives." Just what those
ladies had to do with his Masonry I never did find out. When I
received the degrees, I experienced some slight disappointment
because nowhere in any ritual is there a word about the personal
life of King Solomon. The thousand wives, of course, do not get so
much as honorable mention.
In later years, after I became active in Freemasonry, I wondered how
a man with a thousand women cluttering up the house ever found a
quiet nook in which to memorize the ritual. I came to the conclusion
that King Solomon wasn't much of a ritualist. In fact, no one can
convince me that he had ever had anything to do with Freemasonry.
Shortly after I reached maturity, I became owner of the little
community newspaper of which I had been an employee. My favorable
opinion of Freemasonry was increased by again noting that nearly all
of the business and professional people with whom I had to deal -
practically all the persons in the little community who amounted to
anything - were Freemasons. I noted a fellowship among them into
which I could not fully enter. It is my recollection that I felt I
wouldn't amount to much in the community unless I became a member of
the little Masonic Lodge. So I asked for a petition and soon found
the fellowship which I expected to find.
Yet I have never felt that my approach to Freemasonry was all that I
would recommend for others; but it may suggest that many men have
come to us with little of the understanding of what Freemasonry is
that has come to me during almost six decades as an active member.
However, I am sure that most petitioners today come better prepared
for the beauties of our rituals than I did. There are greater
opportunities to learn about Freemasonry. There are more Freemasons
from whom to get information. In a number of Grand jurisdictions,
education of petitioners starts with printed material provided
before they receive a degree and continues while they are receiving
Fortunate are those petitioners who have learned about Freemasonry
from close friends and associates. Even more fortunate are those who
have learned about Freemasonry from members of their families who
are Freemasons- father, grandfathers, brothers, even sons. I did not
have such opportunities. I helped confer the degrees on my father
and son. The latter, I am sure, had been influenced by what he had
heard from me about Freemasonry.
Even with all this, petitioners do not have a great deal of
information about Freemasonry. They only know what they have heard
or read about it. If they have formed a favorable opinion of it,
they have been impressed by what Freemasonry seems to mean in the
lives of those they knew as Freemasons, especially when such persons
are in their own families. They expect to find an institution which
inculcates great moral truths, a worldwide institution in which
every member is firmly knit with every other member in developing
the best there is in each of them. They are led to expect moral
uplift, mental stimulation, and spiritual inspiration. They expect
to find something that will make them better men and better
citizens. They may not be able to put into words exactly what they
expect, but they certainly expect a great deal. We who have preceded
them to the altar of Freemasonry have definitely encouraged them in
Now, having partially answered the question as to what petitioners
expect of Freemasonry, we come to the question, "What does
Freemasonry promise them?" Freemasonry exacts many pledges and
promises FROM them, but what promise does it make TO them?
None! Absolutely none! Nowhere in the ritualistic ceremonies, so far
as I recollect, did Freemasonry make any definite promise to me.
Nowhere, except possibly in the historical lectures and in the
charges, so far as I have been able to discover, is it even hinted
that petitioners will receive any of the things they expect of
Freemasonry - the things you and I expected -the things you and I
have led others to believe they might expect.
Many have received all they expected, and more, much more. We who
like to believe we have become a part of the fabric of Freemasonry
have found the pleasant companionship we expected. We have become
associated with men with whom it is a pleasure to be associated. We
have received moral instruction that has meant much to us. We have
been led to higher and nobler attitudes. We have been benefited
mentally. We have been benefited spiritually. We have developed new
understandings that have given us many hours of pleasure.
But you didn't receive these things, and neither did I, sitting
around waiting for Freemasonry to bring them to us. You received
these things, and so did I, through the discovery that we had
promised everything while Freemasonry promised nothing. You received
these things, and so did I, through the discovery that it was only
through our own efforts that Freemasonry could measure up to the
preconceived idea we had of it when we presented our petitions.
You have received these things, and so have I, through a realization
that Freemasonry as an institution can give us only what we put into
it. It is not an inexhaustible warehouse of the things we expected
of Freemasonry. Unless you and I put in, the putting out soon must
cease, and it has been a pleasant discovery that our putting in has
taken nothing from us. We have been enriched by our giving. We have
been rewarded through the pleasure which our efforts have provided
for others. We have been stimulated mentally; we have been uplifted
morally; we have been elevated spiritually through our own efforts
to make Freemasonry mean for others what we expected it to be for
Freemasonry as an institution promises its petitioners nothing; but
if each of us, and each of those who follow us to the altar of
Freemasonry, does his part to make Freemasonry what he expected it
to be for himself, our Fraternity will become for others all that we
expected it to be.
Freemasonry as an institution promises nothing, absolutely nothing;
but she returns with interest -compound interest, if you please -
all that we commit to her care.
What do you expect to get OUT of Freemasonry?
What are you putting IN?
back to top