09 Jun 10 Propositions for Texas Freemasonry
I am reticent to write this article because I know that it will cause immediate backlash and consternation among some Brethren. However given the current state of Freemasonry in Texas, with a rapidly declining membership that is less and less influential in civic life, I must write. As Mencken said, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
Texas Freemasons may boast that every President and Vice-President of the Republic of Texas was a Brother as were many heroes of the Alamo such as Bowie, Crocket, and Travis, yet as it stands today we may claim a half-dozen member of the Texas Legislature, maybe. Immediately I hear the retort, “You can’t judge the Craft’s health based on the number of legislators it claims as members!” Well, yes, I can. If we cannot claim a healthy membership in our seats of power then we cannot claim to be a relevant and influential organization. This is one of many metrics by which we can judge the health of our Fraternity.
I have been a Mason for almost ten years. I love the Fraternity and because I love it I must work towards rectifying the internal issues that have harmed its chances of succeeding in our post-modern world. I believe Freemasonry should not only improve the lives of its members but also be an agent of change in wider society. We once founded nations, now we have a hard time filling our lodge rooms. But I digress.
Thinking about the state of Freemasonry in Texas, I drafted a list of ten propositions that I believe would help shore up the internal cohesiveness of the Craft and prevent any further drift into the graveyard of fraternal orders (i.e. Knights of Pythias, Elks Lodges, Moose Lodges, Kiwanis Clubs, Rotary Clubs, etc.). While drafting this list I stumbled upon an excellent essay by Andrew Hammer of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No 22 entitled Eight Steps to Excellence.
Hammer’s essay lists eight ways to enhance the experience in our lodges through the adoption of the forms of observant Masonry. Some of Hammer’s propositions are closely approximated or identical to my own, especially numbers one, two, four, five, eight, and ten. In instances where our proposals are the same, I will defer to Hammer and quote extensively from his essay. Full credit will be given and quotation marks will note this attribution. Additionally, Brother Hammer gave me written permission to use his essay in this manner. I thank him for this courtesy.
Before I dive into my prescriptions for Texas Freemasonry I will name the chief culprit responsible for the demise of Freemasonry and other fraternal organizations in the latter-half of the 20th century: the Greatest or G.I. Generation. You may balk at any suggestion that the generation that defeated the Axis powers could be responsible for Masonry’s demise, however, I believe this group unwittingly created the environment where the Fraternity would atrophy.
In the late 1940s, millions of G.I.s fresh out of the theaters of World War II returned home craving the camaraderie of their former military units. They found this connection in the halls of various fraternal orders such as the Freemasons. Unlike other fraternal orders, Freemasonry had a reputation for being secretive, occultic, dark, and arcane. These new Masons downplayed the emblems of death, restricted the more aristocratic elements of our enterprise, and made Freemasonry “family friendly” by promoting women’s and children’s auxiliary organizations. While membership swelled the seeds of the Craft’s demise had been sown. Once the men of the Boomer and X Generations came of age they rejected the fraternal organizations of their fathers. Freemasonry like many other organizations was left to waste away.
What went wrong? In my opinion, it was the revisionists in our ranks that sought to make Freemasonry conform to middle-class sensibilities, the same sensibilities the Boomers and Gen Xers rejected. What can correct our downward trend? Like Brother Hammer, I believe that by embracing traditional forms of initiation, high standard for potential members, and an indifference to the outside world in regards to the use of symbols such as the skull and crossbones. The same elements the G.I. Generation rejected (i.e. memento mori, esotericism, selectivity, secrecy, etc.) are the same features that attract members of the Millennial generation.
What follows are my propositions for Freemasonry in Texas with the aforementioned additions by Brother Hammer. I believe that if they are ruthlessly implemented we will cull the Fraternity of its dead weight and establish ourselves on a firm foundation for growth and longevity.
1. Guard the West Gate
Declining numbers should not necessitate lower standards. I have seen some lodges so desperate for members that they will sign the petition of virtually any man seeking admission to the degrees of Freemasonry. In fact, I have been chastised (or worse, attacked personally) for suggesting that extrinsic characteristics should be considered when admitting a man into the Fraternity.
I understand the desire to see our lodge rooms filled as in yesteryear; we may never see the Craft reach the numbers of the post-WWII period. But is that an inherently bad thing? I do not think so. Freemasonry was never a mass movement. It was always a selective if not elitist organization aimed at reforming society from the top down. Masonry in most of the world is highly patrician; only in the US do we see Freemasonry take on a plebian character.
My advice: Seek quality over quantity. Do not be afraid to refuse to sign petitions. Do not be afraid to blackball candidates. We do not make turn bad men into good men but make good men better.
“[W]e are nothing more or less than who we let into our fraternity. Not every man should be a Mason and not every man who should be a Mason belongs in just any Lodge. The brethren have a right and responsibility to determine the standards for their own Lodge and to ask incisive questions of those men who knock on their door. Lodges should take the time to first get to know the men who knock at their doors, and not simply sign any petition just because a man has an interest. Brothers who sign a petition for a man need to know who they are signing for, and more important, need to be willing to serve as his mentor. This is a fundamental point of responsibility for all brethren. Do not ask a brother in your Lodge to do the job of mentoring for you. If you are not willing to give that petitioner your time, how can you ask your Lodge to give theirs?”
2. Aristocrats of the Soul
Julius Evola, the author of Revolt Against the Modern World once wrote: “The American mind has limited horizons, one conscribed to everything which is immediate and simplistic, with the inevitable consequence that everything is made banal, basic and leveled down until it is deprived of all spiritual life. Life itself in American terms is entirely mechanistic.”
I believe Evola’s sentiment is expressed in many ways, one of which is the casual manner that many Texan Masons approach Freemasonry and its meetings. More specifically, many Masons in Texas choose to wear extremely casual clothing to lodge meetings. Very rarely do lodge officers correct these brothers and remind them of the sacred nature of the Craft. I rarely see actual dress codes spoken of or enforced. Perhaps the leveling nature of American society has rendered all dress codes “judgmental.” They affront the “come as you are” narrative proffered by many in our society.
A basic dress code that would require a coat and tie (at a minimum) would reintroduce the aristocratic and manly virtues that Masons are supposed to inculcate. It would help our members take pride in being Masons. It would signal to the outside world, and more especially potential initiates, that we are engaged in serious business.
“How one appears before the Lodge is a sign of how much you value both the brethren and the Craft. In most lodges in the world, a dark suit and tie is the minimum required to gain admittance. It’s what the brethren expect from each other in an observant Lodge, and it certainly adds to the notion that a Masonic meeting is not just another night out, but a special event, worthy of being considered as special as each of us should believe Masonry to be. Additionally, dignity expressed outwardly through dress, serves as a superstructure, helping to enhance that dignity that can only be created from within.”
3. Leave the Gavel Be
My next proposal relates to the governmental structure of the Grand Lodge of Texas. I believe the current power dynamic has the unintended consequence of weakening the office of the Grand Master, making any long-term strategic plan untenable, and creating a permanent power base in the Grand Secretary, which in my estimation, runs afoul the Ancient Landmarks.
Under the current arrangement of the Grand Lodge of Texas, the seat of power in the Texas Grand Lodge is the Grand Secretary, not the Grand Master. While the Grand Master is the de jure center of power in Grand Lodge the Grand Secretary is the de facto power nexus. This situation is caused by the annual rotation of the Grand Master and the virtual lifetime tenure of the Grand Secretary. I suspect that this arrangement is not only related to the annual rotation of Blue Lodge officers but is also reflected in the unique arrangement of the executive of the State of Texas.
Following the War Between the States, Radical Republicans elected Union General E. J. Davis as Governor of Texas. Under the Reconstruction constitution, the governor wielded incredible power and controlled a virtual secret police force. Davis has been oft described as the most tyrannical governor in US history. In 1874 Davis was forcibly removed from office and the Texas constitution was revised so that the governor would never be able to become a tyrant again.
Under the revised constitution the governor was stripped of many of his powers; the lieutenant governor would not only be the second highest office in the executive branch but would control the Texas Senate and the state’s budgeting process. Many commentators suggest that the lieutenant governor’s position in both the executive and legislative branches, more especially as the leader of the Legislative Budget Board, makes him the most powerful figure in Texas government. The governor’s office may come with more prestige, but it does not necessarily come with more power. This situation is familiar to many Texas Masons that study the politics of Grand Lodge.
One may contend that Texas’ post-Civil War history has little to do with the current arrangement between the Grand Master and Grand Secretary and that this situation reflects Masonic tradition (i.e. the annual rotation of lodge officers). I would respond that while it is a common arrangement it is not necessarily the only arrangement or the most productive one. For instance, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts elects its Grand Master annually but traditionally allows one man to govern for three years before he is replaced. Likewise, the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England often sits in the Grand East for decades.
If the Grand Lodge of Texas is going to implement strategic plans to stave off financial and membership collapse it must accordingly allow one man to the office of Grand Master for more than one year at a time. He would be able to see a plan to fruition instead of passing it off to the next occupant of the office who may not hold his views, talents, or priorities.
This proposal is the most needed addition to the family of Texas Freemasonry: Academic lodges.
Academic lodges are lodges that are nominally affiliated with a college or university and limit its members to those that are students, alumni, faculty or staff of their respective universities. Such lodges have not only the common affinity found between all Masons but also the added cement of collegiate pride. Not only that, having a Masonic lodge actively involved in university life and in close proximity to the student body creates a conduit for young men to be exposed to Freemasonry and become Masons.
Firstly, I will address a common objection to the creation of academic lodges in Texas. I have heard it said on numerous occasions that academic lodges will stem the flow of college-aged men into nearby Blue Lodges. My response is simple: this concern is based on a poverty mentality and not grounded in fact. Lodges surrounding college campuses may attract college students but their doors are not being broken down by a stampede of students seeking our Degrees. I would also mention that the vast majority of college students leave their respective collegiate communities and move elsewhere; why would traditional Blue Lodges want to create Masons that simply move away? Academic lodges are not as concerned with this fact since their broad geographic character is an integral part of their appeal. In short, there are plenty of young men on our college campuses to fill each and every Blue Lodge, however most Blue Lodges are not tapping into that source.
I tried to form two separate academic lodges in Texas, one for UT-Austin and another for Southern Methodist University. Both ideas were shut down by the then-Grand Secretary for being “elitist” like “The Harvard Lodge.” Chance had it that I attended Harvard and became a member of The Harvard Lodge, which is an exemplar of not only academic lodges but also a model for any lodge wishing to attract successful Millennials into their ranks.
While Texas’ Masonic leadership may not see any benefit or need of academic lodges, many grand lodges do. The United Grand Lodge of England’s Apollo Lodge at Oxford and Isaac Newton Lodge at Cambridge have been extremely successful in attracting young men into Freemasonry and retaining them as they depart their respective campuses. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts founded the first academic lodges in the US such as my own The Harvard Lodge, MIT Lodge, and Boston University Lodge. Other academic lodges have been founded in the US and other nations: Patriot Lodge (George Mason University), Colonial Lodge (The George Washington University), University of Washington Lodge (University of Washington), and University Lodge (University of Toronto).
I believe that the success of academic lodges such as The Harvard Lodge and other should dispense with any arguments offered against their founding in Texas. Any suggestion that a Masonic lodge should not limit its members to those of a particular collegiate affiliation is not in line with the long Masonic history of specialty lodges. If Aggie brothers want to form a lodge and limit their membership to those who graduated from Texas A&M you will not find this Longhorn complaining.
5. Enter the Mysteries
The initiatory experience should be a pivotal event in a man’s life. We cheapen it by performing a substandard ritual. If we cannot perform a ritual well we should find someone who can do so for us. I have seen a conferring officer laugh during a raising of a Master Mason. I have often seen officers joke during the opening and closing of lodges. This sort of behavior is unacceptable. All ritual work must be undertaken in a serious and reverent manner reflecting the ancient and honorable nature of our Order.
“Proficiency is an essential function of any observant Lodge because we must know both what we are doing, and why, if we seek to uphold the highest standards of our respective Grand Lodges. It does no good to claim the mantle of excellence if your Lodge is not well versed in the ritual and the Masonic law of your jurisdiction. Masonry is a thing of order, not anarchy. If you wish to keep that order, as well as harmony between your Lodge and the Grand Lodge, you must learn and follow the rules that each brother has obligated himself to observe. An observant Lodge is not a renegade Lodge. It seeks to be an exemplary one.”
6. Memento Mori
Masons have always embraced the emblems of death, however, these images have been largely purged from Texas Freemasonry for a variety of reasons. For example, when visiting the Grand Lodge of Texas’ building in Waco you may notice the seal on the wall that bears the skull and crossbones. This emblem is never used by the Grand Lodge in any publication or proceeding. I have to ask myself why? I would venture to say it has to do with the broader movement to strip Masonry of anything “dark” or “sinister.”
There may be another explanation, but given the opposition to Chambers of Reflection or any trapping that may offend bourgeoisie sensibilities, I conclude this must be the case. I did not become a Mason so I could explain it away to others. I have never cared what my coworkers may or may not think about my affiliation. I do not care what the pearl-clutching ladies at the nearest church think about the Craft. Our symbols are our own and we should embrace the darkness because therein lies the Light.
“We should bring back those things that once were found in our lodges, and which helped create a very unique, contemplative atmosphere for both the candidate and the Lodge. Among these is the use of music, the manipulation of light and darkness, the Chamber of Reflection, and the closing charge which forms what is known as the Chain of Union. Consider that the candidate preparation room is not and was never meant to be a mere dressing room. Consider that the notion of a ‘sacred band of brothers’ might allude to a physical manifestation of that sacredness. Consider that music has always been a part of our ceremonies and that the Book of Constitutions ends with a collection of songs. All these things are part of who we are; they are not innovations from later jurisdictions or borrowings from European Masonry. Even the use of incense is ritually alluded to in early exposures of the Craft. The idea is to stimulate and manage the sensory experience of the brethren, in the endeavor to create the sense of uniqueness one expects from a Masonic experience. Here again, there is nothing strange about employing the senses in a Masonic meeting. Our rituals teach the importance of each of those senses extensively; to not employ them in our meetings is the greater neglect and error. To refuse the restoration of awe to our rituals is to refuse to acknowledge our own heritage and history, and to deny the proper place and application of the pillar of Beauty to the Lodge.”
Masonry has thrived in times of persecution. It did not need to advertise to attract members. Proximity was enough to draw the attention of worthy seekers. Its secrecy was the attractor, not its incessant declarations to be a somewhat quirky club that has secret handshakes.
I have often heard it said that Freemasonry is not a “secret society” but a “society with secrets.” If you wish to construct a definition of “secret society” that requires some nefarious motive such as world domination then sure, Freemasonry does not fit the bill. However, if one accepts a more straightforward definition and does not engage in semantical gymnastics, it is easy to conclude that we are, in fact, a secret society.
Personally, I do not mind this description. Our secrecy is our greatest asset, particularly when dealing with Millennials. Millennials exist in a world where every action is public. Every private act is proclaimed on social media; they crave secrecy, exclusivity, a hidden world. Then give it to them!
We have a ready-made secretive Fraternity bolstered by popular culture (e.g. National Treasure, etc.). Instead of running from what is the Fraternity, embrace it. Being more “open” is not the answer.
8. Männerbund Metaphysics
Masons are a group of men engaged in alchemy. Social functions are extremely important to what we do, however, if we do not yearn for esoteric knowledge, the sort of knowledge that is only grasped through inference and applied study, we might as well join Lion’s Club or Rotary. My concern is that many Masons do not actively engage in esoteric study. While there is a great disparity between the abilities of one brother to another, we can all take it upon ourselves to be better educated, more well-read, and knowledgeable.
I find the Masonic educational portion of our meetings to be highly important and beneficial. To make it even more beneficial we should try to have a different brother give a presentation each week. Not only would it relieve the burden of one brother to produce and give an educational talk it would force brothers to study and present what they have learned to the lodge.
Furthermore, and this suggestion deserves its own plank, I advocate a change to Grand Lodge policy whereby meeting minutes may be emailed to the brethren prior to each meeting and entered without needing to be read aloud. If no one objects to their form in the email they may be entered into the record. This proposal would save untold amounts of time at each meeting and give more opportunity for Masonic education.
“The very origin of Freemasonry itself is in education. Whether it be the practical education in stone-cutting found in the operative craft of masonry, or the search for inner knowledge and science presented to us by the speculative Craft, the foundation of the art is inexorably based in teaching and learning. Without it, there is simply no Freemasonry taking place in a Lodge. Therefore, every meeting of the Lodge should offer some amount of Masonic education, be it through the degrees, or through presentations on the various lessons of the Craft. Even a ten-minute talk focused on the symbolic meaning of a single working tool is far better than a meeting where nothing but donations, dinners, and dues are on the agenda. An observant Lodge values the educational function of Freemasonry in its full bloom; the observant Mason holds the fraternity accountable to its promise to him to bestow light, and he means to receive it from the Craft in every sense: spiritual, literal, and intellectual. Numerous monitors and manuals from our Grand Lodges, spanning over at least the last two centuries, make plain the injunction to all Masons to seek knowledge. That same injunction extends by the natural progression to each Lodge, and as a result, a Lodge without Masonic education cannot be an observant Lodge and is arguably not any kind of Lodge at all. The search for more light is at the heart of Masonry. The observance is impossible without it.”
9. Remove the Dying Appendages
A wise man once said that when an organization is in decline it must reduce itself back to its most fundamental purpose. Freemasonry is in decline and a large part of the decline may be attributed to misspent resources.
Like the Fraternity as a whole, appendant bodies multiplied in the fertile soil of the post-WWII period. Groups for girls, boys, and women abounded. Social orders popped up or grew in popularity. Along with these organizations rose any number of charitable enterprises requiring their own staffs, facilities, and budgets. With our rapidly declining membership, these organizations and the infrastructure supporting them have become a burden to the Fraternity. Not only that, they misrepresent what Freemasonry is really. It is not a social club. It is not a family activity. It is an organization for men and men alone.
My suggestion is to do the unthinkable and cut off the dead weight. Job’s Daughters, Rainbow Girls, DeMolay, Eastern Star, anything but the Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, York Rite, and possibly the Shriners, must go. I would say “sorry” but I am not apologetic.
Each time I hear someone in a lodge meeting talk about attending a Job’s Daughters event or helping with the Eastern Star’s monthly fundraiser I think to myself “where does all this spare time and money come from”?
Angry responses will abound. Many will hurl ad hominem attacks at me or construct straw men to flagellate. I know full well that the sacred cows of Rainbow Girls, DeMolay, etc. cannot be approached by any but the bravest soul. Let alone the Masonic Retirement Center or the costly Grand Lodge building.
My point is to highlight a critical issue: We are in decline. We cannot continue to maintain an infrastructure built for a million Masons with a hundred thousand members. And why should we?
10. Put your money where your heart is.
“The dues of a Lodge should be set at a level which allows the Lodge to not only support and
sustain itself, but enjoy a quality of experience which tells the brethren that their assemblies are opportunities to rise above the ordinary. Good meals, served at proper festive boards, are essential. The festive board conveys the sense of conviviality that helps build true brotherhood, and it is historically established in the Craft as not merely a simple dinner, but quite honestly the second half of a Lodge meeting. An observant Lodge cannot forego it. A Lodge must decide that Masonry is a thing of value, and properly determine that value in such a way that it allows the Lodge to work and assemble in a manner that clearly establishes that value. Our dining and social events should reflect the worth we place on ourselves. Excess is not the objective; quality is. The problem is that so many of us have forgotten what quality is to the extent that we consider any expenditure on ourselves to be pretentious. But if Masons are to be men of inner distinction, then we are fully justified in treating ourselves to the best we can afford in life. We cannot expect less from the Craft or ourselves.”