(If you missed it, checkout Part 1: Why I Became a Mason – Part 1
So, as detailed on part one, I was on a quest to discover what it meant to step above the adolescence that plagues my generation and find out what it meant to be a man in the modern world, while somehow connecting to the values of previous generations. Masonry seemed the perfect fit.
A Truly Open House
The first thing that really sold me on Masonry wasn’t the people, who were all nice and courteous as I sat through the informational meeting at the open house; it was the building that made an impression. The moment our tour group entered the Lodge room proper, I was sold. It took my breath away. You could feel the significance of every object in the room, carefully selected and placed, each with its own particular story and history, as well a clear symbol of some lesson of Masonry, as yet unknown to me. Masonic knowledge was all around, and I wanted it.
After a brief overview of Masonry and tantalizing tour of the building, it was time for lunch over a bowl of C.J. Littrell’s famous chili. I saw the real power of Masonry at work. I sat at a table with three men with an age range of 50 years between them, yet I was treated as an equal, without a hint of patronization or condescension.
As a teacher, I’m accustomed to a bit of age-ism. I’ve practically made a career out of being the new guy, the upstart with all the crazy ideas. (Read: young punk.) And as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been terribly good at socializing with an all-male crowd (at least, not outside of the comic shop.) But here I was, with three me n who dwarfed me in age, experience, and knowledge of Masonry, but I felt their instant respect. There was no gap, no divide, no sense of the self-importance you might expect from a tight-knit group of older men, ushering a younger one into a society full of tradition and secret knowledge. For a closed order, they were all remarkably open. From the moment we sat at the table, the conversation flowed like we’d known each other for years. There was no warming-up period; I was instantly a part of “the group.” For a guy who’s spent years trying be in “the group” and never learning the knack, it was incredibly refreshing.
Therein lies one of the powers of Masonry; for a society built on rules and rituals and guarded secrets, it would be the easiest thing in the world for its members to act as the ultimate in-crowd, swollen with their own specialness and position in its ranks. (Like most of the frat buys I knew in college.) Yet all the masons I met were immediately open and approachable, making no distinction between past master and petitioner, octogenarian and eighteen-year old. This is no accident: it is carefully cultivated, one of the core values of our order. We meet on the level.
I was also surprised to see how young a lot of these guys were. The scenes I had imagined of a bunch of old farts huddled around card tables was dead wrong. While we have our share of distinguished gentlemen, there was a healthy crowd of urban professionals, a few young punks like me, and a surprisingly large group of men from other countries. The masons had the diversity that I valued, an open and accepting attitude, and an intense mutual respect built on true brotherly love. I was hooked, and brought home a petition to discuss with my wife: after all, a lifetime commitment is not something to take lightly. But I wanted to belong with these men; more specifically, I wanted to be like these men, and Masonry promised to help me be exactly that.
That Mason-y Stuff
Another big draw of Masonry was its secrecy. Who doesn’t feel the need to discover what others try to conceal? The secrets of Masonry are open to any good man who can fill out a petition, but they are secrets all the same.
For the uninitiated, Masonry is divided into three levels, or degrees; the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason. When you receive your third degree, you are a full member of the he order, with all the rights and privileges of a brother mason.
Each of these degrees is conferred in its own specific ceremony. It’s a little hard to describe without going into specifics (for obvious reasons) but these three ceremonies are designed to instruct you in the moral values of that degree, through a mix of symbols, speeches, and rituals. (After all, these degrees were crafter to teach men who at the time were mostly illiterate laborers.) The degree ceremony itself is a bit like a play, where each brother has a part to play and lines to speak, and you are ushered through ritual as both participant and sole audience.
To a guy who studied theater and Shakespeare in college, this was all terribly cool and mysterious. Each degree has a feeling of potency and power, of an ancient act that has been passed down unchanged for hundreds of years. To understand what it’s like, imagine that you’re going to your first graduation, but you’ve never seen one before. Now also picture that this graduation takes place in the 1700’s. You might think everyone looks a bit odd in his or her robes and hoods and sashes and funny square hats. The language might seem a bit strange confusing, and you might wonder why everyone moves those tassels from one side to the other. Masonic degrees are formal ceremonies, like weddings or communion, laden with symbols and their own specific language. The difference is that by keeping these ceremonies closely-held secrets, they have remained relatively unchanged for the past few centuries, preserving the power and potency of the lessons they teach.
The impact of these three degrees is lasting, and mine were some of the most memorable experiences of my life. There is a great honor in seeing your brothers perform their craft, playing the parts and speaking the words that they have painstakingly studied and practice, solely for your benefit. It is rewarding, enlightening, and humbling.
Hard Won, Hard Earned
In modern society, information is everywhere. The internet makes knowledge easy and cheap, in more ways than one. In Masonry, the idea there was a knowledge that must be earned with hard work and dedication was an appealing one. It creates a mindset that refutes that consumerist instant-gratification society we live in. Masonry and its ideas are not cheap, or easy, and certainly not for sale. You must work to obtain them; and in that journey lies one of the cornerstones of Masonry itself, the idea of industry. That noble works are noble because of the work involved.
Masonic light cannot be bought. It cannot be bartered. It cannot be read about on Wikipedia. Masonry requires the ultimate spoiler warning. I’m sure the unscrupulous fellow could find someone willing to break his oath and share all the secrets of Masonry, but even with a complete knowledge of the symbols and rituals, that person would still remain in metaphorical darkness. For to truly understand the work of the Masons, you must work as a Mason. After all, masons at their core were men of labor.
To fulfill the promise of Masonry and become a better man, a man must be willing to work. And there you have the first lesson in Masonry, delivered here by Theodore Roosevelt:
“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”
Or, put more simply, “Nothing in this world worth having comes easy.”
Unique in the Herd
I’ve said before that I’m not a “joiner,” and this much is true. I’ve never contented myself to do things simply because that’s the way everyone else does them, an approach which tends to isolate me and ruffle some feathers. Joining the world’s largest and oldest fraternity seemed to be at odds with that sentiment, at first. But the more I looked, the more I saw that masons were unique. Becoming a mason sets you apart, and identifies you to the world as a man who is special and different: A man who operates under a higher code; a man who is dedicated to the precepts of his faith, and those of his brotherhood. It carries the burden of being worthy of that distinction, to ever walk and act in accordance with those principles. Being a mason marks you as a higher sort of man; so you darn well better be one.
There are few feelings in the world quite like going to lodge on Tuesday nights. We joke that we should have a “baggage check” sign halfway down the stairs to the dining room, because every brother you ask will speak of the feeling of relief that comes as you enter the lodge, the almost palpable sense of the worries of the week falling from your shoulders. Entering a room where everyone man respects you and treats you as an equal, even before they meet you, creates a sense of a second home. It is a place where you truly belong, where you are all bound together by brotherly love and affection.
Masonry is not a network; it is a community. Networks are anonymous. In a community, you are known and noticed; your actions carry weight and consequence, and your contributions are valued. If you leave a network, your absence will not be noted. If you stop attending lodge, there will be brothers contacting you, asking where you’ve been, if everything is alright, if there’s anything they can do to help. People update their status in a network, casting out a thought or a word to see if anyone picks it up in the torrent of information. A community is personal; when a brother asks “How are you doing?” it isn’t empty small talk, but genuine concern and affection. So if you’re missing that old-fashioned feeling of community, and wondering why everyone seems so isolated these days, maybe it’s time to stop networking and go to lodge.
Non-masons- Masonry is a unique and special organization. You will not be lost in a herd, and it is not another line item to add to your resume. It is an honor and a distinction, and you will be expected to act with honor and distinction, and degree work will teach you how. Degree work is one of the most unique and extraordinary experiences you will have in your life. It will require effort and dedication, which is an essential part of the process of making good men better. A better man is willing to dedicate himself to his work. And along the way, you will be aided and supported by men who have all been through the same experience, who are open and accepting, all willing to lend a helping hand. You will find yourself amongst a diverse and unparalleled group of equals, all acting on a foundation of brotherly love and mutual respect.
Masons-Always remember the honor that you carry as a mason. Remember to act as such. The square and compass denote a man who is a step above, who is literally enlightened. It is not a badge to wear with pride, or with sense of self-importance. It is a call to action, a reminder to strive to be worthy of the ideals that it represents. Remember to treat your brothers with respect, overlooking their flaws and always giving the benefit of the doubt. We may work with stone, but we are all men of clay. We fracture and break. We must do our best to fill the cracks that appear between us with the mortar of brotherly love. We must remember to maintain our equality, and our openness, with new brothers as well as old, and never allow personal slights or grudges to divide us. As a mason, we work with our hands, and must always be willing to extend it across the gap, even to those who seem unwilling to accept it.