Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Year to the Day

I started this weblog one year ago today. At that time, I had just started a new job enabling me to work at home. This stirred up a few issues which I realized had been troubling me in a larger sense for several years.

Probably the biggest perceived issue for me was lack of local social contacts... The combination of working far from home, living in a tiny rural town, not being a "joiner", and not having kids to make acquaintances by proxy had conspired to leave me feeling isolated. Working at home, I realized, would totally cut me off from the outside world unless I actively sought out some kind of social interaction.

Another issue was a general sense of malaise, a feeling that my life was somewhat adrift, in terms of both spirituality and long-term goals and aspirations. Last spring my wife and I had just paid down a significant portion of our debt, but the prospect of buying a house still seemed beyond our reach. (Little did I know at the time that we'd close on our first home just six and a half months later!)

Really, I said it best myself in that first post:
At age 32, the realities of adulthood are starting to set in. I'm not talking about the music getting too loud, lamenting my high school or college glory days, or agonizing over the couple of grey hairs that have shown up in my beard. I'm talking about finding oneself removed from the built-in support networks of a place like college or high school, and close enough to middle age that horizons don't seem quite as wide-open as they did in my twenties.

Not that I'm preoccupied with death - just that I've had a growing sense over the last couple of years that it's time to stop screwing around. I don't rightly know what that entails, but I have some ideas, and it is here that I intend to explore some of them.
My first order of business last summer was to find a local community group to join, to get myself out of the house and hopefully make some local friends. Elks, Lions, Kiwanis, Odd Fellows... I scoured the internet for such information and (most important to me) first-hand descriptions as I could find, hoping I would be able to find some kind of experience that would be like "Boy Scouts for grown-ups."

The group that kept popping up peripherally again and again in my searches was the Freemasons. I didn't really know anything about them other than the typical vague notions of ritual, secrecy, and exclusivity. As I started to actiely dig for more information about the Masons it was easy to discard the Masonophobe nonsense for what it was, but I did have my own suspicions about the ritual in terms of the Masons as a basically religious group, which was not really what I was looking for. I can still remember quite strongly the cognitive dissonance I felt about Masonic ritual; "If Freemasonry isn't a religion, then what the heck is the ritual for?"

The more I read, though, the better sense I got about the ritual's place in the overall Masonic experience... and thanks to helpful first-hand accounts from various Masons online a lot of things were de-mystified for me. I was intrigued by weblogs by self-professed "esoteric Masons," and my suspicion started to give way to excitement that such a group of intelligent, well-spoken people existed. It still took a while to get used to the idea of becoming a Freemason myself... I spent a lot of time turning the idea over and over in my head, and it was around that time that I decided to start this weblog.

Freemasonry wasn't going to be my main focus... I had initially imagined this as a place to think out loud about any number of "deep thoughts", using a pseudonym so I could write freely about anything without worrying about friends, family, or spouse stumbling across it.

Needless to say, the Masonic aspect took over as I chronicled my eventual decision to petition, and the long wait that followed. A lot of the time I was forming opinions or expectations based on the experiences of others; Like a lot of people I was drawn to the Masons because of their history and metaphysical/philosophical Light-seeking aspect, but I read so many laments about lax ritual, stubborn old-timers, lodges abandoning their grand old buildings for steel sheds in the suburbs, and "fork and knife Masonry" that it almost seemed like disappointment was a foregone conclusion.

So here I am, a year later... a Master Mason, all of the secrets of Masonry revealed to me, pseudo-lambskin apron tucked away in my dresser drawer, Masonic ring on my finger, edging inexorably towards the officer line.

Am I deeply disappointed, or feeling betrayed that the Freemasonry I've inherited has strayed from its glorious roots?

No, not really.

Having gone through the degrees and attended half a dozen or so Masonic functions I have seen instances of those things that newer Brothers can find so frustrating, but I tend to reject the notion that the Masonic grass was always, always greener in the days of yore. True, there are plenty of passages written 80 or 100 years ago by Masons lamenting the sorry state of the Craft, and you could take that to mean that Freemasonry has been in steady decline since the first speculative lodge was opened however many hundreds of years ago.

On the other hand, you could spin that as proof that there have always been people who are never satisfied with anything.

I'm being a little bit glib, but I think I have a valid point. Don't get me wrong - I do have some reservations and frustrations about the current state of Masonry in the U.S., but I'm not crazy about the "desperate call to action, throw the baby out with the bathwater" attitude often presented as a solution. The changes we seek will happen if we devote as much energy to implementing them in our lodges as we do writing about our frustrations online. It won't happen overnight, but if we truly believe that they're fighting for then we should have the patience to wait it out.

I think that a lot of the Light we seek comes from the overall Masonic experience... not only the ritual but the dinners and collations, the road trips to other lodges, the joking around during rehearsal. Those things couldn't sound less esoteric or spiritual on the surface, but from what I've experienced so far Freemasonry is greater than the sum of its parts, which is what gives it that elusive X factor that makes it so hard to describe succinctly. To put it another way, I think that while poring obsessively over our symbols and rituals for hidden messages and meaning, some Brothers miss the forest for the trees. That's not to dismiss the idea that there may be deeper messages or meanings in the ritual, just that they are only a part of the Masonic whole.

Speaking of experience: I recognize that my experience is my own, and that I may be more fortunate than some having joined the lodge and jurisdiction I did. I am not trying to invalidate or belittle the some of the very real frustrations or problems that I know exist in other lodges and/or jurisdictions. I simply want to add a positive voice to the chorus.


Dustin said...

This is a very well written piece, and I certainly enjoyed reading it. In fact, I have to say that your thoughts are amongst the most realistic and enlightening that I've read on the subject of Masonry in quite some time.

A.C. said...

Thank you for the kind words, Bro. Dustin... I'm humbled to think I might have written anything enlightening for as short a time as I've been a Mason.