Thursday, August 9, 2007

Reflections on Fellowship

It's been about two months since I started looking into fraternal organizations. I zeroed right in on Freemasonry because of my impressions of its deeply personal aspects: The idea that the betterment of society starts with the betterment of yourself.

That notion is still one of the strongest attractions for me, but since my initial excitement and enthusiasm I have had plenty of opportunity to reflect further on why I felt so drawn to the fraternity. The personal/historic/esoteric aspects are certainly still a huge part of it, but having met and talked with a number of brothers at a couple of different lodges, I realize that I'm also quite excited about the fellowship.

I have made precious few friends since high school and college; once you find yourself out in the real world, you no longer have that unique social opportunity to meet people from all different backgrounds, with myriad individual interests but united by a common factor. Whereas college tends to blur the lines between work (classes) and free time, the "real world" gets much more complicated as peoples' time gets monopolized by work, children, and other commitments. With a couple of notable exceptions, I have gotten to know very few of my coworkers from the past 10 years outside of work... even the ones who I really enjoyed working with. When you have an outrageous commute or work outrageous hours, that extra hour or two for a drink after work starts to feel like a big sacrifice of one's time.

As I started looking into fraternal organizations, I think I had realized deep down that it was a way to recapture some of that "melting pot" social atmosphere I so enjoyed in school... and if the sampling of brothers I have met so far is any indication, I think I've chosen very well indeed. I don't mean to sound like I expect that I'll be 'best friends forever' with all of my new lodge brothers. Rather, I think the lodge and its related functions will provide me with a chance to meet a lot of good people I would never have crossed paths with otherwise, and that's almost always the way good friendships are made.

I've also had time to reflect on expectations versus reality. Early on in my research, I got very excited about Freemasonry as "a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated with symbols." That was what really set the Freemasons apart from most of the other fraternal groups I read about. Over the last two months I've read a lot of hand-wringing about how Freemasonry has strayed from those intellectual tenets and is no longer "what it used to be" or "what it's supposed to be".

There are plenty of opinions at the opposite end of the spectrum, claiming that anyone who says anything even remotely critical of the fraternity or their experiences in it (and in public, no less) doesn't know what they're talking about, is a disgrace, and not "a true Mason."

I think the real experience will fall somewhere in between. As the last two months have worn on, I have grown more appreciative of the social aspect of the fraternity and look forward to the good fellowship I've already experienced brief glimpses of. This life-or-death outlook on the state of Freemasonry that's so prevalent online is something a petitioner such as myself must really withhold judgement on until they've been on the other side of the lodge room door for a while. In the meantime, we should enjoy the experience as it comes.

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