Good Evening Brethren. I welcome you to the Crow Canyon 551 Virtual ‘Feast of Saint John the Baptist’ festive board.
While researching for a topic to present to you tonight in this “New Normal” virtual “Zoom” meeting, I took a step back to look at how the heck we got here.
I read in a recent article from our Grand Master John Trauner, in which in the first paragraph he states “As you know, the state of California and a number of counties issued stay-at-home orders in mid-March and directed that all non-essential gatherings be postponed or canceled until further guidance is provided. All Masonic gatherings are deemed non-essential in the context of these orders. On March 18, I directed that there be no Masonic gatherings of any kind in this state. This includes all Masonic organizations and youth orders.”
Pretty heavy stuff. But I can understand that prudence is better than hind sight.
I then looked at who we are and where we came from as a lodge. How did Crow Canyon 551 come to be, and what will be our “New Normal”. I then looked at our Website. A great collection of our own unique heritage, our specific culture, our memories. Thanks to the hard work of our webmaster, Worshipful Ron Katz, and a fantastic and thorough lodge genealogy by Worshipful William Ferrell, we have available to us, our cornerstone, recorded in the cloud.
Through these efforts we are reminded of our linage and the realization that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Our practices, whether societal or Masonic, teach us the proper way to behave. But, Freemasonry is also about improving ourselves as individuals, so there had to be more to these Masonic practices than merely learning our Masonic ritual. …Although when performed properly, Masonic ritual is a beautiful thing. We use it during the Degrees to bring increasing amounts of Light to our candidates, and we use it to transmute the Lodge from one tiled state to another. Every word, every pronunciation, every enunciation matters; every step is measured and precise; every movement prescribed. This we do with the guidance and encouragement of our fearless Officers coach, Worshipful Kurt Allen.
Our Masonic decorum are the ceremonies or demonstrations which, though performed in public, have specific rules or guidelines as to how we are to behave. These would include Masonic funeral services, the open Installation of Officers ceremony, the honoring of distinguished Brethren via the Hiram Award, and others. Although Masonic decorum has specific guidelines of behavior these guidelines are not fixed as is our ritual. They can be altered to suit the situation or circumstance. As this gathering tonight has proven.
It’s to our local communities to whom we serve. How we present ourselves, or Masonic manners, our support. As PGM and Chairman of the California Masonic Foundation John Heisner recently said, “our obligation as Masons is to care.” It is in our manner that we exemplify Faith, Hope, and Charity. Because we are charged to show the world by our actions, that in becoming a Mason, we have become better men.
Ritual, decorum, manners; we have built our heritage on these principles. But we are seeing today’s society making sweeping changes in the blink of an eye. So I pose the question, will our Masonic Practices remain relevant in this “New Normal” of social distancing.
What is relevance?
First off, what do we mean by relevance? Most any standard dictionary will tell you that anything that has a bearing on or connection with the subject at issue is relevant to that issue. But if we dig a little deeper we find that something is relevant if it possesses social applicability. …So, do the practices of Freemasonry have social applicability? Are they applicable in today’s society? Brethren, I stand before you today because of Masonic practices. Or, to be more precise I am able to stand before you today because of our practices. I will now offer my story as one example of the social applicability of our Masonic practices.
I had learned growing up that trusting another person blindly was a very foolish and dangerous thing to do. I had never thought I would find myself in a situation that I would allow this to be done on my own free will and accord. So you can understand my trepidation when I was introduced to a blindfold and cable-tow one day. The fight or flight was screaming in my head, but I fought that demon right there, right then, at the door, for what seemed like an eternity. The stewards were lucky that night. …I soon took support in knowing that I was being safely led by a “true and trusty friend”. Little did I know that my nemesis “the blindfold” was going to continue testing me for the entirety of my Masonic career.
After my 1st Degree I was told about these things called Proficiencies, and then they said “here's how we're going to help you memorize them”. And I said, “Ok, I got this”.
After I had memorized each proficiency I was encouraged to demonstrate what I had worked so hard to learn by standing up in Open Lodge and reciting it. And, I was told “we're going to be there to help you do it”. And I said, “OK, I got this”.
I then asked to be the Junior Deacon. I watched and I listened and I learned, and before long I was standing at every meeting and reciting the duties of the Junior Deacon. It felt good and I was proud to be able to do that.
I was told that a part of moving to the Senior Deacon's chair (which was by far the best seat of the house) was to deliver the Stairway Lecture. So I studied, studied, did the floor work, because with all your encouragement I was able to say, “OK, I got this”.
Now, because of Freemasonry (and you my brothers), I consider myself to be a more competent, trusting and reliable man than I used to be, and I credit a great deal of that to our Masonic Practices. What Freemasonry in general and our customs in particular has done for me, and for countless others, is to make it possible for us to step out of our comfort zone in an environment of support and encouragement. And by doing so it enables us to become more the man we want to be.
So, are our practices relevant in today’s society? Do they have social applicability? I don’t think there has ever been a time when they were more relevant than they are today.
Funny thing about relevance, though. It's part of the big picture, the grand scheme, and oftentimes we don’t recognize something as being relevant to us until we have gained the perspective of looking back on it across time. For instance, way back when I first became a Mason, had the Brethren come to me and say, “If you blindly trust us, it will help you to overcome your lack of trust of people”. I would have said, “No thanks, I’d rather not drink that kool-aid”.
Or if they had said, “here is a coded portion of that degree for you to memorize. We used to be required to memorize all this stuff, but you can choose the shorter option. It's up to you”. I probably would have said, “Thanks, but I'll pass”. But instead, they said, ”This is the way it was done by generations past. We strongly encourage you to do it this way, and this is how we can help you to do it”. At that point I would say “OK, I got this”.
That's one beauty of Masonry. It gives us the tools we need, sometimes without our even knowing we need them, to become more than we are. Our practices are working tools just like the many other tools we have in Masonry for teaching, learning, and understanding ourselves and our fellowman.
We know by our history that every Lodge in North America that has been in continuous service for more than two hundred years, began in a tavern or pub. Similarly, all four of the original Lodges that combined to form the Grand Lodge of England in 1717 held their meetings in the anterooms of taverns and pubs. While this is obviously not a Masonic Practice, logic would seem to dictate that if we want future Lodges to last for hundreds of years ...well, I think you can see where this is going.
So what are some of our masonic practices?
If a Brother attending Lodge is infirm, whether due to age, illness, or injury, he should be assisted so far as he requires and so far as he will allow. If an infirm Brother is unable to attend Lodge meetings the Master or Sunshine Committee should, on occasion, remind the Brethren of his situation and see that he receives an occasional visit or call from a representative of the Lodge.
Balloting on a petition is a sacred and secret event. When we place a white ball in that ballot box we are saying this is a man that I would be willing to guide and vouch for, support him and his family, and risk my life if safely able. Likewise, when we cast a black cube we are saying this man is unworthy of the same promises I have made to all other Master Masons. It doesn’t get much more serious than that. Our behavior when Balloting on a petition should reflect the seriousness of the statement we make with that ballot.
The internal and not the external qualifications of a man are what Freemasonry regards. This little jewel of Masonic Practice is so important that it is included in the 1st Degree Lecture and the 2nd Degree Charge. The illustrious Brother Albert Mackey considered it to be one of the Landmarks of Freemasonry. I heard it said recently that one of the causes of our declining membership in recent times is that we are not elite enough anymore, that we should be more restrictive in our acceptance of new members. Freemasonry is and always has been an elite organization. Not because only the elite of society need apply, but because Freemasonry's tenets and teachings appeal to that part of a man that aspires to greatness. Yes, we must cautiously and constantly guard against Cowan’s and eavesdroppers, but we do not need to be more restrictive. We need to be more instructive. Freemasonry is not made up of elite men. Freemasonry makes men elite.
When, during the business meeting of the Lodge, a Brother has something to say it is Masonic Practice that he stand and receive permission from the Master before speaking to or through the Master. It is uniformly Masonic that he is standing when he speaks. This is intended, I believe, to teach us several lessons. First, if a man believes what he has to say is important enough to stand alone and speak his mind he deserves to be heard, and everyone in the room deserves the opportunity to hear him. However, this is not the time to bring up new business the Worshipful Master is not yet been informed of, or a time to voice trivial matters.
So, Masonic Practice: relevant or not relevant? It’s easy to see the relevance of them to the Lodge, to the organization, to the fraternity as a whole. They encourage harmony; they promote civility; they cause uniformity. But, are they relevant to you, the individual man and Mason? More importantly, how do we go about making them relevant to our fellow Brethren and to future Masons?
Which brings up the next question; Why do men join Freemasonry:
I agree that most men come to Freemasonry for one or more of the following reasons:
· They have a friend or family member in the fraternity and they want to share in it.
· They want to help out in their community, along with finding like-minded men.
· They have heard and read of the secrets of the Freemasons and they want in on it.
· Or, they have realized that something is missing from their life and they think Freemasonry will help them find it, whatever it is.
Most men who are actively searching for that missing something don't really know what it is. It's just a vague sense that there must be something more.
Whatever the reasons a man comes to Masonry, our purpose is the same. We take good men and make them better.
Consider that simple sentence. We take good men and make them better. It’s not: We take good men and enable them to become better. It's not: We take good men and encourage them to become better, ...ask them to become better. ...hope they will become better.
It's: We take good men and make them better.
Our Masonic Practices make us better
And how do we make them better? By using the tools that our ancient Brethren handed down to us. Our customs have very real and very practical purposes. They are tools for teaching and tools for learning, but as with any tool they must be put to use in order to be productive. The carpenter's hammer is nothing more than a hunk of steel until the carpenter picks it up and puts it to its intended use, to build his home, support his family, and build his community. Likewise, if we place that same hammer with no instruction in the hand of someone who has never seen a hammer he is likely to think it a great tool until he invariably hurts himself. The relevance of the tool becomes meaningful when its purpose becomes clear.
We pick up those tools and teach our younger Brethren how to use them. And then, only when they are ready, we place those tools in their hands so that they may continue to build that house, not made by hands, eternal in the heavens.
Our Masonic Practices have been tried and proven to be true by the generations of Masons who have gone before us. Our ancient Brethren recognized their value and laid out our Masonic Practices, not just to teach proper behavior, but because they are essential to the growth and development of a man. They are just as relevant today as they were in the beginning.
Our duty in this “New Normal” ever changing society is to preserve those teachings. Although it has been difficult in the cancellation of our gatherings and to remain at a physical distance, or lodge is as strong and unified as ever. Masons know how to “wait a time with patience” and we know the rewards of doing so. We WILL meet in again to break bread, and meet in our lodge room. So until then, I look forward to the time I can truly say again, “I greet you my brother”.