Masonic Relevance In The 21st Century
I am observing many Masonic friends these days going through some deep soul searching as they try to reconcile Freemasonry with their own personal goals and the legacy for society that they would eventually like to leave behind. Many of these soul searchers are Masonic writers or “communicators” of some kind, well versed in the meaning of Masonry. Yet some feel powerless against the rising tide of Masonic irrelevancy as they see it. Others have found some other organization, cause or path that more reflects what they want to do with their life. Still others who revel in the Craft still feel that their active involvement therein robs them of the time that could be spent in other worthwhile pursuits.
We all have our religious, political and moral belief systems to act out in varying degrees of involvement as well as career paths with study in our field of endeavor. All that to which we subscribe so deeply also has to be matched with our commitment to interpersonal relationships, especially our families. All in all sometimes this requires a very difficult balancing act.
Along comes the Information Age which knocks Freemasonry for a loop. In its early stages Masonic leaders either ignored it or refused to accept it. When the inevitable came to pass most of official Freemasonry-dom were “Johnnies come lately.” Many the Freemason who has bemoaned the reduction not only of Craft membership but of Lodge attendance. Many fail to realize, however, how much Freemasonry one can imbibe sitting home in front of the computer. Why leave the house, fight the traffic and dress up in a monkey suit when one can sit by the computer in shorts and T shirt with a slice of pizza in one hand and a beer in the other and get as much out of Freemasonry as those not only attending Lodge but those who are even members. I fail to see the difference between a One Day Class and watching the same thing at home on a good HD-TV. And while Grand Lodges sat on their Internet hands, individual Masons on their own were setting up Masonic websites, discussion forums and producing Masonic videos.
Right about here readers will extrapolate that Internet Freemasonry lacks one crucial ingredient, namely that of personal relationship and bonding and also experiencing Freemasonry “in the flesh.” To that end that Craft keeps blossoming out Side bodies and degree upon degree upon degree to make sure all its members get to really “experience” the Craft. But then how many ways does it take to say the same thing over and over? In its desire to cement the Brotherhood into a membership of dedicated true believers, Freemasonry makes sure that members experience the Craft again, again and again……………..and in the process is sowing the seeds of its own demise.
One only has to look at today’s culture and the different methods of bonding that the next generation has embraced to know that the tired old ways of application aren’t going to work anymore. It’s Facebook, Twitter and texting that dominates today’s communication and consequently its formation of relationships. More and more married couples are telling us that they first met on the Internet. That’s not to say that the message of Freemasonry is in jeopardy; no, the message is timeless but the application generationally deficient. How many Grand Masters do you think have a Facebook page and who tweet and text on a regular basis? It’s not such a far out question when you realize that we have a President hip to such methods and who used them to help him campaign.
Yet Freemasonry is being torn apart by competing methods of application. Again to make sure you got it, there is no problem with the message, it’s the messengers.
One faction is Freemasonry as the buddy bonding society. Candidates are whisked through the degrees at lightning speed. Lodge meetings consist of degrees or business but never esoteric lessons. The Craft is one big social arena where fish frys, banquets, bowling leagues and motorcycle clubs abound.
Another faction is Freemasonry as a charitable society heavily geared to the dispensation of massive Institutionalized Charity, so much so that there is minimal time for social activities and even less time for esoteric study.
The third faction is Freemasonry as a research and study society devoted to the pursuit of knowledge in the context of ethical application. This faction sees Freemasonry as a philosophy and spawns such applications as Research Lodges and esoteric study clubs.
The first three factions follow the tenets of Freemasonry – Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. The fourth does not.
The fourth faction is Freemasonry as a quasi military style society full of rank, privileges, ribbons and medals and the attainment thereof.
Each faction is at war with the other offering the one and only true way for Freemasonry’s salvation. In some areas Freemasonry tries to incorporate all factions in a hybrid super model that not only requires a good amount of money but also an inordinate amount of time commitment. Depending on where you are in the country and what model your Grand Lodge has chosen to pursue decides what type of Freemasonry you are experiencing.
Where does all this leave our Masonic soul searchers?
To properly answer that question we must sign on to the notion that Freemasonry is not society’s savior nor was it ever intended to be. Freemasonry is not a place of doing it is a place of being. In the modus operandi of your life you live out your path or your destiny on two levels. (1) First there is the religion or philosophy that guides one to what courses of action to take. (2) There are the courses of action taken based on the values one has chosen.
All the factions trying to redefine Freemasonry only muddies the waters. Long after Masons in human bodies have departed this world and Lodges have ceased to exist, the thought, the philosophy of Freemasonry will live on. It will never disappear.
It is Freemasonry that creates our value system as Masons. The Craft is designed to do no more than that. Expecting Freemasonry to take the next step of action in implementation of its values is asking too much. That’s an individual decision to be made for an individual path. Like snowflakes no two paths are identical. Therefore, those that feel that Freemasonry is not doing enough are asking from it unintended consequences.
If you want to be a Little League coach, man a soup kitchen, build a playground, visit the elderly in Nursing Homes, be a Boy Scout leader than go do it. Recognize that it is Freemasonry that got you to the point of going to do such. But don’t castigate Freemasonry because it isn’t doing those very things. Freemasonry isn’t doing it’s being. Freemasonry is what gave you the values to go do these things, nothing more, nothing less.
Trying to get Freemasonry to be the be all and end all of life is placing a burden upon it that is far too great. Right now Freemasonry is in meltdown because of unrealized expectations. If feelings of worth and usefulness are things most important to you, then don’t become a professional Masonic social climber, pulling rank and showing off all your medals. Keep Freemasonry in your life simple and focused on its calling. Then it won’t disappoint you but will serve your purpose well.