Friday, June 11, 2010

Junior Warden-elect

The last regular communication of the year was held at my mother lodge last week, and I was elected to the office of Junior Warden.

I admit, I will be glad to be more or less done with the Senior Deacon's chair (although I expect that I will get tapped to deliver the Middle Chamber lecture or take the second section of the Third Degree now and again.) I thoroughly enjoyed learning and performing my parts of the ritual, but it will be nice to be out of the spotlight for a while.

I also admit I'm not tremendously thrilled with my impending duties related to the coordination (if not direct preparation) of meals and collations... but I've been in the lodge long enough to know who I can work with to hopefully pull off some good meals.

Just as the office of Senior Deacon serves as a filter for officers who either can't or aren't interested in learning some pretty heavy ritual, I think perhaps the Junior Warden's traditional meal-organizing duties have evolved as a filter for officers who either can't or aren't interested in the kind of organization and leadership required to coordinate such an event; if a Brother can't pull together a bean supper, how well is he going to run the Lodge? I will endeavor to keep that in mind next year.

It's not for nothing that the metaphor of Labor is woven into our rituals and lectures. Freemasonry is work... I think officers generally realize this more than many members, but even among officers it can be easy to lose sight of what hopefully attracted us to knock on the doors of our Lodges in the first place. There's more to it than just memorizing ritual, or planning meals, or running efficient meetings - these skills are all parts of it, but not ends in and of themselves. One of the things that some of the Brothers I most admire seem to have in common is a tremendous respect for, and desire to perpetuate, the most noble ideals of the Craft itself... and that means thinking beyond the sometimes trivial distractions of your own Lodge -- not ignoring them, but not giving them more attention than they deserve, either. I hope to find the balance by the time I reach the East.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Silence and Circumspection

I usually have ideas for Masonic blog posts floating around in my head, but as I get more deeply involved in my lodges I find myself less inclined to blather on about them, which is why I don't post much here these days. Early on I wrote that I chose to write this blog pseudo-anonymously because I want to be vague about the people and organizations I am interacting with, out of respect for their privacy. This is still very true. In addition to this, my attitude about how we talk about and promote the fraternity has evolved slightly.

In terms of a person who might be looking at different organizations they might like to join, the Freemasons' mystique is basically the only thing separating us from the Elks or the Lions. It drives me crazy when local papers run two-paragraph articles about the Masons opening their doors, because one of those paragraphs is always devoted to a well-intentioned brother saying "We don't have any secrets, actually."

We absolutely do have secrets - both tangible (the passes, grips, and words a Mason is given with each degree) and intangible (the personal insights that can be gained by studying the symbols and lectures of our fraternity, and the deep bonds of history & fellowship that can only be experienced by joining and being active.) To claim otherwise is to miss the entire point of our institution.

The Benjamin Franklin quote about how the grand secret of the Freemasons "is that they have no secret at all," is also often trotted out in these articles. Again, by using that quote to marginalize the aspect of Masonic secrecy, we're missing the point.

The importance of secrecy within the fraternity is perhaps best explained by posing the question, "If I can't even trust you to uphold your obligations to keep these few words and handshakes secret, how can I trust you to do anything else?"

The importance of secrecy without the fraternity is the leap of faith required by a candidate who wants to join. When I asked to be made a Mason, I had some doubts but had conceived a favorable enough opinion of the fraternity to put them aside. When my grandfather was a younger man, straight information about the fraternity was much harder to come by. He had a very favorable opinion of Freemasonry, but all of the Masons he knew were so closed-mouthed about the whole business that he never joined, intimidated by what the initiation might involve.

I think that leap of faith is important. On the one hand a candidate will have heard all kinds of awful things about Freemasonry: Satanism, world domination plots, drinking wine from human skulls, et cetera. On the other, he will think of his dad, or his grandfather, a best friend or respected colleague, upstanding, admired men who he knows would never have been involved if any of that weird stuff was true. It's up to the candidate to decide that there must be something there, and knock on the door of Freemasonry himself.

Rumors and falsehoods about Freemasonry have been swirling around for centuries. Idiots blogging about Jay-Z and Lady Gaga Illuminati subliminal media mind control is just the latest spin on a long tradition of suspicion and paranoia. For every author who writes a positive, straightforward overview of the fraternity there will always be a David Icke spewing lies and nonsense. No amount of telling newspapers that "We're not a secret society, we're a society with secrets" will change that, so perhaps we should stop worrying about it and working within our lodges to make sure that the Brothers who do take the leap of faith feel like it was worth it and stick around. Blogging about my frustrations might be a good way to vent, but doesn't accomplish much other than preaching to the choir of other frustrated Masons while contributing the the demystification of the fraternity.