It Doesn't Have to Be Like This

Discussion in 'Masonic Education' started by Blake Bowden, Oct 3, 2013.

  1. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    5,682
    1,014
    113
    [​IMG]

    Freemasons belong to an organisation which ought to be dedicated to self-knowledge, the nature of being, love, tolerance, the brotherhood of man, liberty of conscience and, yes, perhaps a brush with the Deity on the way. But we have become bogged down in systems resembling officialdom, obsession with promotion to higher rank, discussions about precedence, confused notions about God, the relative merits of this or that dining venue and the parrotting, without meaning, of what is in itself a very meaningful ritual. Perhaps worst of all we call ourselves a charitable organization, when what we are is, primarily, an organisation with all the attributes I have mentioned plus, in addition, some philanthropic ones.

    On the evening I was initiated, one of the Past Masters shook my hand with the words "Well, boy, from now on you won't need any other hobbies!" I instantly found that offensive, sensing (correctly) that freemasonry is a profession or a vocation, not a hobby. My impression, so early formed, was shortly after substantiated by visits to lodges in Germany where they take these things more seriously than we do in England.

    Where is the spirituality, the attempt at self-improvement, the journeys into symbolism, the journeys, come to that, into the unexplained, both without and within? If we examine where freemasonry in England is at the moment, to put it bluntly, we are engaged in initiating ever more men into the craft and conferring second and third degrees on them, so that they shall in their turn be Appointed To Office In The Lodge, In Due Time Becoming Worshipful Master. To what end? The end, unfortunately, is so that they can then confer initiation on more men, so that those men can then do the same to other men, usque ad infinitum. We seem to do this under the justification of "a daily advancement in masonic knowledge." Is it too much to ask what advancement? What has happened to them? How has freemasonry shaped their lives, if at all? Have they grown, and if so, in what way? What have they learned? These are not rhetorical questions, because to some of these brethren something has happened; freemasonry has shaped their lives, even if only in a small way; they may indeed have grown, without knowing it; they have almost certainly learned something, even if it is only some ritual learned by default. But for many of us, I suspect, the eternal conferring of degrees very soon becomes an end in itself.

    It's easy to forget that freemasonry in the eighteenth century was a radical movement, often standing against abuses of power on the part of the Establishment. Its development and growth were a vital part of the Age of Enlightenment. It was, for many, the route to knowledge denied to them by an oppressive religious or political system. Yet after a recent talk on education in freemasonry, when I asked the speaker whether it would be possible to include talks on historical or philosophical matters as a regular feature of lodge proceedings (such as are commonplace in many continental lodges), the reply was that "this would not suit the majority --- after all, people enjoy their freemasonry on many different levels", a knife-and-fork mason's charter if ever I heard one.

    The good news is, it doesn't have to be like this. As Colin Dyer points out, the proper means of instructing young masons is not by repetition of degree ceremonies, but by the various systems of masonic lectures. In the late 18th. and early 19th centuries lodges of instruction did not teach degree ceremonies, so much more engaged were they in moral and philosophical debate. Masons were often `made' outside the lodge altogether, and then brought to the lodge where their real work started, in moral, intellectual and spiritual pursuits. Degree ceremonies, by contrast, are only the means (however ornate) of making masons and advancing them to other degrees once they have learned something. Degrees of what? To attain to a higher degree, surely you have first to study, to learn, to gain proficiency.

    This is the principle of any academic pursuit, and the time-honoured method employed by any institute worth the name; why should the requirements of freemasonry be any less? The perfunctory questions we require nowadays of our candidates for advancement are merely the rump of an intricate system of morality lectures which, in the 18th. century, had to be imparted verbally (since nothing was written down) and learned by heart before a candidate could advance to a higher degree. Nowadays even the small amount left over from these does not constitute a real test at all, since any amount of prompting by the Deacon at his side is allowable. Compare this with the practice in a German lodge I visited, where at each meeting the Master delegated one of the junior brethren to prepare and then deliver at the next meeting a lecture on a philosophical subject of his choosing, and then be prepared to answer questions on it. Or the French lodge I visited, where a candidate for initiation was not admitted until after months of searching questions about his moral and philosophical attitude.

    When I first wrote this, I had in mind the experiences of one or two of our younger brethren, whose second and third degrees came quite a while after their initiation. They expressed surprise that they were not expected to make a more taxing advancement in masonic knowledge, and seemed bored by the lack of activity; in short, they felt abandoned. I have a keen sense that they were right to feel this way.

    So how about it? What is our daily advancement in masonic knowledge, and how to we go about this business of self-knowledge, inner growth, or is it all just empty words?

    Author: Julian Rees
     
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2013
  2. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

    3,935
    2,388
    133
    One of the first things I was told by elderly Masons was - You get out of Masonry what you put into Masonry. This is a lesson we are all told but that many don't heed. You want self-improvement? It's there for the finding whether you look for it or not but to get the most out of self-improvement you need to do it yourself, notice that you are doing it yourself, and notice others doing it. At very least you need to notice that you are getting out of Masonry want you hope for. At the most you need to step up to the plate and put it in when you don't notice it happening.

    On the one hand it is true that we need to do degrees to keep Masonry in existence in future generations. We heed need the mechanics of degree teams, posting candidates for their proficiencies, offering friends a petition, moving through the line learning both leadership and ritual.

    On the other hand we need more than that ...

    As long as many of us do the other stuff it's okay to have some who do focus on conferring degrees. It's equally okay for any one brother to focus on both or either. If your lodge isn't focused on the meaning-of-life topics the answer is simple. You're the one who's reading the post. Bring it to yourself then take it to lodge with you.

    Yet the talk happened and such events *are* standard in numerous lodges. Some members sleep through them. Other members are interested. How many talks have you given at your lodge meetings? I often give them. I do visit around but not as far as England. I also ask brothers to give talks on topics that interest them. Even more fun to me than giving a talk and hearing myself speak is some other brother giving a talk and hearing him speak.

    My challenge is simple - Start preparing and giving talks yourself. Start asking other members to do them so you don't present every month. Be the change and pay it forward. Ignore the knife and form brothers during the talks. They may be the ones sleeping through the talks but plenty of them are on the degree team or the investigation committee or they work the annual orphans fundraiser picnic or whatever. To each his own service.

    Something many us us learn in church - Let peace begin with me. My Masonic variation - Let change begin with me. Come to think of it both of those versions work very well in most walks of life.

    Do not miss the value of breaking down self imposed barriers. Many men believe they can not memorize. Then they do it. Later they face some other challenge. What's your advice in lodge? "Remember when you were going through your degrees and you believed you would not be able to do that? Well now you know better. Go for it."

    I would love to accept a research paper in place of a memorized proficiency. Write it up as legislation in one of my jurisdictions and I'll be there at GL to vote for it.

    Thanks W Bro Blake for a shoebox for me to rant from!
     
  3. crono782

    crono782 Premium Member

    1,598
    380
    103
    I've come to find that this is my challenge as well. I have had to take the initiative to prepare and give talks. Even then, time is always conveniently "short" and what gets cut is often the education talk rather than, say, reading the GL communication a little more quickly.
     
  4. Zack

    Zack Registered User

    310
    132
    43
    I understand where you are coming from Brother. Sad to say, but around my jurisdiction at least, there is a lot more lip service regarding Masonic Education than actual desire for the same. Occasionally, some will listen but 99% of them will not participate.
    I gave up some time ago. I no longer worry about the education of others. I only try to educate myself. As the old adage says, "you can lead a horse.......".
     
  5. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

    1,146
    621
    113
    You hear 'masonic education' thrown around on occasion in my district but often it's only referring to the ritual or catechisms. This usually comes from older brothers or those interested more in membership numbers though.

    The ritual and catechism is essential, no doubt, but I think there are many who realize there is so much more to it than that.
     
  6. jwhoff

    jwhoff Premium Member

    2,591
    142
    83
    Ever get the feeling you've lost an evening driving down to the lodge to listen to 45 minutes of MINUTES when you could have improved yourself in knowledge and self-perspective at home?

    Of course we're preaching to the choir.

    But what about all those who give up and stay home? We'll never know why? Or ... do we?

    Unless they possess the burn that fills our hearts to seek knowledge on their own, they are lucky to have had a mentor teach them the meaning behind some of the esoteric work they are memorizing.

    Fret not brethren. Again we're preaching to the choir.

    I still believe it may be too easy to apply oneself ever so slightly to earn the right to call oneself a Master Mason.

    How many, do you suppose, of those we no longer see would have prepared themselves to grow into the sublime knowledge of a Master Mason had they been mentored properly?

    Could it be that the standards should be higher and, possibly, the numbers lower?

    Ask yourself why we don't have the chance to teach masonry. Are bills, charities, MINUTES, egos and "comfort food" that time consuming?

    How much does masonry mean to the majority of the folks who attend lodge? How much does this influence the new initiate? And, finally, how does this serve the craft and it's relevance to the future of mankind?

    I enjoy getting out to see the brethren at my home lodges and around the area as much as the next man. I feel the accomplishment of helping some charitable organization as much as the next brother. Sadly though, I no longer expect to learn masonry when in fellowship with other brethren When it happens I am pleasantly surprised.

    Yes, we never know why ... or do we?
     
  7. Zack

    Zack Registered User

    310
    132
    43
    Definitely!
     
  8. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

    3,935
    2,388
    133
    Instruction is *not* the same think as education. If brothers have not yet learned this then it's the first lesson to be presented in your education presentations.
     
    Awelton likes this.
  9. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

    3,935
    2,388
    133
    One of my lodges prints the minutes. WM - "Have all the brethren interested read the printed minutes? Are there any errors or corrections? If there be no objection I will order the minutes accepted as printed." Whack. One more lengthy agenda item reduced to under a minute.

    One of my lodges prints several copies of the minutes and places them on the secretary's desk. SW - "Have all the brethren had a chance to read the minutes on the secretary's desk? Are there any errors or corrections? Worshipful Master, I move that the minutes be accepted as displayed on the secretaries desk and that any brother who wishes can read them after this meeting has been closed". JW - "I second the motion." WM - "Brethren, it has been regularly moved and seconded that the minutes as displayed on the secretary's desk be accepted as displayed. All brothers in favor signify by displaying the usual sign of a Mason. All opposed. The ayes have it. Brother secretary it is so ordered."

    Neither is written ritual. Both are simply tradition local to an individual lodge taken up to reduce the time spent reading the minutes. Having seen both in action I like them both and prefer the shorter one. I only read the minutes on the secretary's desk a portion of the time but I always picked up a printed copy.

    Kum bye Yah, My Lord, Kum bye yah ...

    That burn is common among the younger brethren. Very much flames to be fanned!

    I take a Darwinic approach. I figure we should try everything, different lodge, different approach. Then the stuff that works better either lodges start adopting those practices or the lodges wither and die. This requires the grand line to favor chartering new lodges, of course. You know, doing the right thing and stuff.
     
  10. jwhoff

    jwhoff Premium Member

    2,591
    142
    83

    Don't necessarily disagree with any of these commits brother.

    :39:
     
  11. Blake Bowden

    Blake Bowden Administrator Staff Member

    5,682
    1,014
    113
    < - Tries to hit the missing "Thanks" button.
     
  12. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

    1,146
    621
    113
    I've never thought of it like this. Thanks brother, I'll be giving this idea some consideration.
     
  13. crono782

    crono782 Premium Member

    1,598
    380
    103
    Exactly.
    Ritual is the means by which we bring a candidate into his next degree and introduce him to the esoteric work of the degree.
    Instruction is the means by which we teach the brother his work AND (not OR) the meaning behind it all for the degree.
    Education is beyond the ritual and esoteric instruction attached to the ritual work. It is a further examination of the esoteric work and even topics beyond.

    In fact, I kicked off my lodge education topics with a presentation on masonic education itself. I will send it to anyone who wants a gander. Just PM me.
     
    Bill Lins likes this.
  14. RedTemplar

    RedTemplar Johnny Joe Combs Premium Member

    1,072
    36
    68
    One thing I deeply regret over the past 35 years as a Mason is that I have assisted in initiating, passing, and raising many good men into Freemasonry who remain clueless of what they have received.
     
    Bill Lins and CLewey44 like this.
  15. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

    1,146
    621
    113
    I've done the same thing but it's often our own fault for allowing it to happen. I've learned from experience that building a strong mentor/student relationship and taking the time to teach them the lessons of each degree goes a long way to really build retention and reinforce lessons however.
     
    Bill Lins likes this.
  16. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    7,335
    3,328
    183
    I was told this not only in the Blue Lodge but in the York Rite and Scottish Rite and agree completely.
     
  17. CLewey44

    CLewey44 Registered User

    1,639
    1,546
    113
    True, if you don't understand what you're saying (or reading) it means nothing...
     
    Bill Lins likes this.
  18. Warrior1256

    Warrior1256 Site Benefactor

    7,335
    3,328
    183
    Agreed. It is essential that
    Agreed! You need to understand the meaning behind what you learn, not just memorize and parrot back.
     
    Bill Lins likes this.
  19. JamestheJust

    JamestheJust Registered User

    1,687
    519
    113
    Does that mean that unsuitable candidates are being accepted?
     
  20. pointwithinacircle2

    pointwithinacircle2 Rapscallion Premium Member

    803
    841
    113
    If two people are playing catch and one fails to catch the ball does that make him an unsuitable catcher? Maybe, maybe not. Playing catch is about transferring something from one person to another. It is illogical to assign blame for the lack of transfer unless one had observed the process.
     
    Warrior1256 likes this.

Share My Freemasonry