Almost eerie shadows bounced and danced their solemn dance to the candlelight casting its shadows and souls upon the walls of the lodge, the temple. The men moved in silence in a circumambulation around their altar. Dress in tailcoats, their hands gloved, the aprons of the finest lambskin. The Brothers took their seats and the lodge was called to order, the ritual perfect and well practiced. The booming voice of the Worshipful Master and wraps of the gavel calling something forward from deep within everyone that the work at hand was important.
Classical music wafted through the air and hung heavy on the deeper notes, the vibration touching the very souls of the men who sat through it. The business of the night was a discussion of philosophy and it went well.At the conclusion of lodge, the men retired to the dining room for a tradition Agape celebration with toast, fine food, and fine wine. The taste of the foods blossomed well with the wine selected for that dinner and it was with bitter sweetness that the Brethren pulled their chairs from the table for the final toast of the evening. Cigars and Scotch followed as the men discussed their views on religion, politics, and the fraternity well into the night.
The next morning the men headed off to work. Tradesmen of all types, policemen, military, Brothers from all walks of life headed out from their suburban homes to their cubicles, cop cars, and offices to earn a living.
I have the great fortune to belong the lodge described above and so does my Brother, friend, and neighbor.We often sit together on my porch solving the world’s problems both with a glass of bourbon and I with a cigar. It was during one of these sessions my friend, who is a Fellow Craft, spoke his prophetic words of wisdom about lodge, specifically his lodge experience and one of the reasons Masonry is important to him and should be treated as such. “You know,” he began with a tone in his voice echoing his contemplation, “my whole life is average, I live in an average home, I have an average job, and I shop at superstores for my average food, my average clothes, and my average television. I love that Masonry is not average. I love that once a month I get treat something special and that I feel special because of it. I’m glad we don’t experience Wal-Mart Masonry. I don’t want quicker, easier, or cheaper. I don’t need my Masonry in bulk with low quality materials. I don’t want Wal-Mart Masonry that one day of my month.”
He is new to Masonry and his lodge is “special” because we make it so. He does not come from the Masonic experiences most of had when we formed our lodge. He was initiated into our lodge and has “grown up” there. Nonetheless, he hit on something quite profound. How much of Masonry has suffered as we moved to Wal-Mart Masonry.
As tracing boards that were profoundly beautiful and steeped in artistic imagery moved to PowerPoint presentations, as quality wrought ritual moved to stuttered lines from a man moved into the progressive line to quickly, as Festive Boards moved to paper plates and plastic forks, as dressing for lodge meant no holes in your jeans—what disservice have we done to ourselves and to our Craft as we turned to the convenience and cost of Wal-Mart Masonry.
When there is little value placed in the trappings of the lodge, when there is little value placed on the experience itself, when there is more emphasis placed on completing things quickly and with little cost, how can we believe that men will find value in the thing itself, in the finished product?
We are often men of average means, of average lives. I am content to buy my food at the at largest store for the cheapest price. I am content to buy my clothes from the sales rack, but should I be content with generic low-cost Masonry?
If we are to believe our own brochures and websites we make good men better. How do we do this by treating everything like it should be quicker, cheaper, and in bulk? Do I really want my Masonry from the superstore with little thought given to its intrinsic and philosophical values? Do I want my morality in a low cost buy six and the seventh one is free? If we practice our own philosophies then kneeling at the altar of Masonry should be more than a slight distraction before we head downstairs for a ham sandwich with generic mayonnaise and fruit punch because soda is cost prohibitive. If we practice our own philosophies then changing a man’s life and actually improving him should be thought of as an experience worthy wearing socks that match and having on something more profound than a pair of blue jeans.
We are supposed to invoke the blessing of Deity before our undertakings and yet we approach our Creator with hurried expressions and a distain as we bicker about bills and provide little or no education. The Craft turned into a superstore of membership at one time. We worshipped at the altar of large numbers so that we could keep our dues artificially low and provide some bang for the buck. Then, as the membership dwindled, the dollars stayed low, and the experience was hacked to bare minimum so that we didn’t “waste” our member’s time. Waste their time—with Masonry…..
The Fraternity can no longer afford Wal-Mart Masonry. To save Masonry we must change our thinking from quantity to quality. It is not about how many men are Masons, but how many men should be Masons. Masonry can no longer afford the quick sale, the PDF petition available for all who might want one. The Fraternity must learn to value itself, so that others might see value within it. The tough thing about making Masonry valuable is that it takes effort. Meetings can’t be thrown to together, meals can’t be nuked, and Brothers can’t be raised in an afternoon with no memory work. We love to hail Freemasonry as the home of our Founding Fathers….well, then work to make it the Masonry they would have revered and let’s leave our value meal days behind us.
Brother Cliff Porter