O’ Brother Where Art Thou? By Bro. Jeremiah Swartzell
I left the Lodge on a chilly Saturday in April 2018, a new Master Mason; blue ritual book in tow, with a brand new ring given to me by my father-in-law and now Brother, who flew in from Georgia to see me raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. It felt great to have my wife and family so proud of me upon returning home; an extra bonus to the occasion.
After the initial excitement wore off I was left to figure it all out. What was different in my life? I still had the same busy work schedule; I had to maintain a marriage to my wife of 11 years, and a home to upkeep. I had walked out of the Lodge a Master Mason; upright as a plumb but still dealing with those pesky vices nagging at me on a daily basis. Masonry makes good men better. Or so I was told. But how, was the question on my mind.
Through the degrees we all learn about the working tools of a Mason and how they apply to moral principles. During the ritual, in my own experience, I can safely say that I retained about 10% of what was being said to me by the instructive voices. It was a whirlwind of sorts but even in the midst the chaos it impressed upon me some important lessons. One was that every man there was my Brother and even ones a world away were also my Brother. Another was that I should be eager to understand what had just happened in that Lodge on a Saturday morning.
I began to read the ritual of the degrees; trying to picture in my mind the event and how it related to the words on the page. Admittedly it did not fully make sense to me. Not until I saw the degrees for myself and took part in bringing other good men into our fraternity. But surely the act of taking three degrees of obligations to a fraternity isn’t what makes the man a better version of himself? That’s not it, is it? No. It is the practice of Masonry that makes men better.
A year in, joining the officer line as a Steward I began to see a trend of low participation as I eagerly volunteered for as many things as I was capable with participation generally limited to the officers. I visited a few lodges during the year and even chatted with Brothers in Florida over the summer at a somber Masonic Funeral for my grandfather, where they gave me the honor of standing in as Chaplain. As you can imagine, a small town on the Panhandle might have a surplus of older gentlemen and few younger men to choose from. Their average member age was 67 years. The consensus was all the same. Not enough men are showing up to Lodge and the ones that are initiated are rarely ever heard from again after they take their third degree. To be fair, family always comes first and work follows this closely, but why is it that our Brothers are not able to find one evening a month to attend Lodgewith their Brothers? Maybe it’s not entirely their fault. Maybe some of the fault lies within the dynamic of the Lodge?
We’ve all heard the saying “What you get from Masonry is a result of what you put into it”, which every new Brother who is still blinded by the light and seeing green spots everywhere, nods in affirmation to the chorus of others voicing their agreement at the dinner table. This is a promise, of sorts, that if you put in the effort to learn the ritual and apply its lessons to your life you will be made a better man for it and the opportunities to explore the mysteries is infinite and unique to each individual traveler. This is how I interpreted it at least.
But it is tinged with another meaning that voices itself as a complaint once you’ve attended a year of business meetings: “I don’t understand why nobody shows up to meetings. Nobody helps with planning and doing the work. Masonry is what you put into it!”
This isn’t a phenomenon belonging to my lodgealone; where my fellow Brothers and I scratch our heads trying to figure out how to get more Brothers to show up. In listening to and reading Masonic commentary from around the country I can confidently say it’s a huge problem everywhere. Maybe it hasALWAYS been a problem; not just in the era of ‘Netflix and Chill’ binge watching a favorite show.
I firmly believe that no Mason attends lodge to hear the minutes read at the end of the two hour business meeting; though the recording of proceedings is indeed a vital part to the Lodge. Neither does he show-up to raise his hand to vote for another $100 payment to the latest charity to send a request. Granted, many of these charities are worthy and do good work. And there is certainly a place for this type of Charity. I’m not even close to saying this shouldn’t be a part of our charity outreach; but is it possible that the Brother who chooses, month after month, to stay away on Lodge night is unfulfilled when it comes to serving his community or his own distressed Brothers? Did he expect something else to be in place in that Lodge when he joined; but instead found out that the Lodge only sends sums of money out instead of Brothers to do the work of building up the community or aid a Brother with the most valuable asset we have?That thing we all hold dear and have so little to spare;that finite thing called Time. He might say to himself, “They don’t need me there” as he finds causes away from Lodge to fulfill his desire to give back. Charity should begin on the level and part upon the square.
A Mason who stays home may also do so because there is not enough fellowship or opportunities to connect. We see our Brothers show up to the hot events each year; which could be the only time we have the pleasure to connect with them. Maybe if we chose to have more purely fellowship events at Lodge and even outside of Lodge we would see a rise in attendance and participation? There are lodges out there that do this and have great success getting their members engaged.
Here’s another thought: maybe a cause of poor attendance is low wages. Please don’t misunderstand me. Not monetary or material wages. The wage I’m speaking of is Education; the discussion and instruction that enriches him and even challenges him to continue his work on that rough ashlar that becomes a part of that heavenly Temple. This very attribute of Masonry is what sets it apart from other dues paying fraternities and dinner clubs around the world. So why has it been left to the appendant bodies to educate a Mason?
Education does not have to be an esoteric discussion of a Manly P Hall book; nor does it have to involve symbols or mysteries. Certainly, I believe this needs its place in the Lodge room; but couldn’t educational material include a discussion about things in the community that need our help or support? Could we gain a perspective from someone of a totally different background or belief that could spark a change in us for the better? Is it possible to talk about current issues without slipping into political or religious division? Maybe this is an area where, during the discussion, the Worshipful Master stands ready with mortar and trowel to make sure the living stones in the midst of growth and improvement are cemented together with Brotherly Love. I believe wholeheartedly that this is necessary to making Masonry relevant in the lives of our Brothers as well as our respective communities. A culture of growth through education is paramount. Some will say that the Blue Lodge exists to make more Masons. This is true, but it is doubly true that the Blue Lodge exists to make those Mason’s into better men.
We need to ask questions in Lodge like: What type of Lodge do we belong to? The Holy Bible states that without vision, the people perish. If we don’t agree on the direction the Lodge is heading then how can a long lost brother find a way to fit in? The things that caused him to stay home on Lodge night must be identified and changed. And a vision for the Lodge must be formed and then implemented.
As you may have guessed by this point that this isnot a blatant out-cry to the missing Brother, as the title may have suggested. It is a call for action toward the Lodges in our own jurisdictions. Even still, it is fittingthat I should close with a word to that long lost Brother.
Brother, you are badly needed at Lodge. Not for giving of your time or your dues. It is YOU that we need andif you read this and nodded in agreement to the causeof your absence or even found them all to miss the mark, I would like to challenge you here and now: Go to Lodge and at the very next stated meeting stand up and make known what kind of Lodge experience you want. Some may resist the change but change is inevitable. It is up to everyone with an interest to work toward making the Lodge into what they desire it to be.
O’ Brother; Where Art Thou’? I hope On the Level is where I can find you. See you there.
Written By: Bro. Jeremiah Swartzell – Memorial Lodge #648 N. Syracuse NY