Masonic Articles and Essays
Bro... Paul R. Clark
This article discusses the need for quality, not quantity, when it comes to Masonic membership.
DR. CHARLES PARKHURST in saying "To call things by their right names is always a direct contribution to wholesome effects" should receive credit for enunciating a philosophical gem. When a manufacturer seeks an economical distribution of his products, he doesn't call a spade a shovel or "pussyfoot" down some side alley, timidly and fearfully, trying to develop vital facts, lest he uncover unpleasant truths which might materially change his pre-conceived ideas or notions.
Economical merchandising on a national scale is a problem so complex we can't afford to shrink from the broad highway, lead us where it may. Merchants willingly spend thousands of dollars in developing facts to secure a clear picture of conditions as they are, not as they would like to find them. "A fact is a fact, whether you like it or not." Unbiased opinions are difficult to get, because "an opinion changes with what you had for dinner." So, we find merchants seeking facts. When unpleasant truths stalk into the conference room, business men welcome them and call them by their full names, and consider themselves fortunate indeed if they clearly uncover weaknesses in their products or their merchandising plan.
Many successful business men are members of long standing in the Masonic Fraternity. I am persuaded that, if given an opportunity, they might apply some of their hard-earned experience towards the solution of our Masonic problems.
I HAVE a close friend, a Mason, who is a large manufacturer of pianos. He is not lulling himself to sleep with clever slogans or advertisements in nationally circulated publications, nor with prettily worded or high sounding phrases when discussing his problems with his directors or stockholders.
The radio, the automobile, and the moving pictures are great, gaunt realities which overturn old traditions or customs of the piano trade and demand recognition. Turning his back on them, "ostrichizing" them by sticking his head in the sand, or parking his intelligence outside will not get him to "first base." The changing habits of the present generation, and the new problems of this wonderful, but complex, 20th century are introducing conditions which must be called by their right names.
When pointing out some of the shortcomings of the average Blue Lodge, I am reminded of the story of the boy, returning from college, who nervously says to his father, "Dad, after all, the real thing in college is the social atmosphere. The real values lie in the social opportunities and - "Dad impatiently interrupts him at this point with the rather caustic remark, 'What did you flunk in this time?'"
Nothing can be gained by denying the fact that too large a percentage of our brothers flunk in Freemasonry, as far as the Blue Lodge is concerned. A pitifully small percentage of those brothers who are Masonically insolvent take sufficient interest constructively to criticize the Craft, let alone discuss and try to find a solution to many of our Masonic problems. Those who haven't flunked, like Dad, shouldn't be too severe on the "boys" who might be justly accused of not studying or taking interest in the Craft. The boy who flunks in college is not always entirely to blame. The teachers, the parents, the curriculum, the atmosphere in the home, and the conditions under which he studies, all are contributing factors in his failure.
If newly made Masons, whom I am calling "the boys," do not attend lodge and therefore do not take a deep interest in Freemasonry, the inevitable conclusion must be that the Fraternity or the atmosphere in the Masonic classrooms may be partially at fault. Supposing we approach it from this angle, not that the fault lies entirely with the Craft, but possibly the major part of the responsibility may lie with our Masonic leaders who do not recognize that conditions have changed considerably in the last twenty years.
SOMEONE has said that the difference between a Mack truck and a 20-mule team is the difference between coordination and persuasion. Human groups, like mules, to produce the best results, have to be organized and coordinated, as well as persuaded. Individual Blue Lodges may be efficiently coordinated fifty years hence, but I have my grave doubts. It seems to me that it is going to be a long up-hill pull.
In the Masonic Fraternity we find that the Blue Lodge, maintaining a separate and distinct identity and organization, to a great extent is a law unto itself. It is susceptible to coordination, but not subject to it. The Master may accept suggestions from the Grand Lodge or be may not, but the line of demarcation between the Grand Lodge and the individual Blue Lodge is quite rigidly fixed. The Blue Lodge requires considerable persuasion, with the hope that eventually the lodges may be coordinated, but it is evident that the latter is not possible without the desire on the part of the individual Blue Lodges. The lack of a national Masonic policy is a great weakness, but the independence of the individual Blue Lodges is a calamity, if considered from the standpoint of coordinating the Blue Lodges in any one state of these United States.
Most of us will admit that the average Blue Lodge is without a safe, sane, and well planned "selling campaign." Further, it is just as evident that the Master of any individual Blue Lodge, if he has succeeded in vitalizing the lodge, can leave no authorized machinery to carry the policy on into the succeeding years. So the Blue Lodge is like Grandmother's crazy quilt - it is a patchwork of individual ideas, with no blending or continuity of policies from year to year. The Master can and often does "carry on," "follow through," "step on the gas or apply the brakes" at will. This would discourage one of those wooden Indians that stood outside of cigar stores when we were boys - let alone a clear thinking executive or leader who knows that "Rome was not built in a day," and that the selling of ideas and persuading the Masonic Fraternity is a problem not of a few months but years.
WE MUST build the foundations now and not be discouraged if the temple is not completed within our lifetime. The habits of the crowd, mob psychology, when applied to our Masonic Institution, are rather mundane phrases - and to the Masonic idealist a little unpleasant, if not irritating. Many of our Masonic Daddies are not unlike some parelits, who refrain from discussing social problems with their children. We have a little false modesty, and we feel that there is something wrong with anyone who criticizes an institution as old as the Masonic Fraternity; but we men of lawful age who are well qualified should not shrink from "calling things by their right names." If we haven't the backbone to face an unpleasant truth, we are second cousins to a moral jellyfish - nor, then, can we expect to enlist the services of men of recognized leadership and executive ability to guide our lodges.
Historical review, symbolism, and ritualistic repetition have their place in every Masonic lodge; but, when these clog the wheels, even though they are absolutely essential in the initiations of the first three degrees, it is time to consider the psychological effect that these have on he "brothers on the right and left." Our Masonic diet is unbalanced, and we devote too much time to symbolism and repeating rituals.
Some of our lodges would be better off if the Trestle Board could be misplaced for at least six months of the year. Many Masons, with whom I have discussed this, do not hesitate to face the truth and freely acknowledge the fact that a full Trestle Board is more often a menace than a blessing. "Grinding out rubber-stamp-Masons" is not unlike letting down the gates at Ellis Island. We found that an unassimilated immigrant was a real menace. A brother who has been raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason, unless he absorbs Freemasonry, is far from being a tangible asset to the Fraternity. Yet, how many times we hear men in the ante-room and speakers in the Fast talk about the potential possibilities of these bankrupt Masons?
And, we go blithely on raising Masons and then watching them sink back into Masonic oblivion. This is the nearest thing to perpetual motion that any man ever conceived.
A COMMUNITY with five Masonic lodges of 150 members each is richer and better off Masonically than with one lodge of 750 members. If these five lodges select men because of their social likes or dislikes and then limit the memberships; I wonder if your imagination can grasp the possibilities! The personal touch, the opportunity for developing real Masonic brotherhood in a small lodge of 150 members, composed of brothers who have similar hopes and aspirations and who would mix more intimately, opens up new and unexplored possibilities; nor does this idea in any way violate the universality of Freemasonry. The Grand Lodge certainly does not object to forming new lodges; but, when the Master hugs to his breast the tradition that to be successful the lodge must be big, and that a full Trestle Board and a long waiting list are an indication of goodness and virtue, it seems to me that the Masonic Fraternity is chasing rainbows - and the pitiful part about this is that so few of us seem to realize it.
Can we not see the futility of striving for volume, for big crowds, for a large, unwieldy Masonic mass, few of which are able to appreciate what it is all about? If we padlocked the doors and put the Trestle Board on the shelf for a while and then attempted to draw those who profess to be Master Masons (and who are so technically) back into the lodge, we would get results that would surprise us.
THIS summer a derby was held in Kentucky, at which 80,000 people were present. At this event there were more airplanes than there were automobiles twenty years ago. The American people spend more than $1,000,000 a day on radio equipment and accessories, yet three years ago the radio was an experimental toy indulged in by few people. Can the Masonic Fraternity expect to continue with the same methods that were used successfully by our fathers, in view of the disturbing influences that are being recognized by our schools, colleges and churches from one end of the land to the other?
The average Mason may have a very high code of ethics, but his Masonic obligation to attend the meetings has been diluted by these distracting and disintegrating influences - and we are in competition with some very potent undercurrents which the Blue Lodge must acknowledge.
If we stop "grinding out Masons on a tonnage basis," which takes so much of our time, we can devote some attention to the real worth-while things and bring out the richness and depth of Freemasonry, which have never been really uncovered to the Masonic masses. A lodge with a limited membership would at least have time to develop Masters of Masonry instead of "grinding out half-baked Masons," who become Masonically insolvent due to this moth-eaten tradition that seems to grip the average Masters to strive for bigness and volume continually.
If we limited our Blue Lodge membership and devoted some of the time now consumed in working the three degrees to selling Masonic ideas to the brothers on the right and left, those who profess Freemasonry might practice it more diligently. We need better Masons, not more Masons. We have every reason to be proud of our achievements, but we ought to be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge our faults and to try to correct them. Volume production, with no consistent policy to keep our brothers in Masonic intercourse, is a fault which we do not fully recognize; and our failure to accomplish results is blamed on general conditions.
IF THE Blue Lodge's chief function is to graduate Masons to the so-called "higher degrees," then I would say, "Let's speed up the machinery, because it is very efficient and is producing results." If, on the other hand, the attendance in the Blue Lodge is the barometer of its success, then it is quite evident that we have much to be concerned about. Limiting the Blue Lodge membership may not be the only remedy, but isn't it reasonable to state that this would allow a lodge graciously to do what every Blue Lodge does to some extent? By following a policy of this kind, it seems reasonable to suppose that we would have greater opportunities for increasing the interest of those who have already joined the Craft and are wondering what it is all about.
Originally published in THE MASTER MASON - MAY 1926
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