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MASONIC PAPERS

by R.W.Bro. LEON ZELDIS

HOW I WOULD LIKE TO REMAKE FREEMASONRY

Paper read at the Benjamin French Lodge #15, Washington, D.C.


 

The first thought, when considering such a question, is “Well, where do I start?

 

There are so many things I would like to change!”

 

However, when getting down to business, making a sort of a

shopping list, I discovered it was not so much a matter of making radical

changes, or overturning our old traditions, but rather, of improving what

we have, of profiting from the experience of other brethren, other Lodges,

other Grand Lodges.

 

The symbols and moral teachings of Freemasonry are our

foundation stones, these cannot be removed without having the whole

edifice come tumbling down. The structure of Freemasonry, as well,

doesn’t have to change, that means, the pyramid of lodges, Grand Lodges,

and the side degrees, Supreme Councils, Supreme Grand Royal Arch

Chapters, etc. What needs change, perhaps, and I’m not trying to be

dogmatic, is the way Freemasonry operates.

 

Let me give you an example. In America, most lodges regularly

work in the third degree. Of course, Entered Apprentices and Fellow

Crafts are excluded from those meetings. This is not a “landmark”, in fact,

the universal practice abroad is to work regularly in the first degree,

raising the lodge only to confer a higher degree. Why this is different in

America, doesn’t concern us. Some blame the scare after the Morgan

affair, it makes no difference why it happened. The fact is this is the

current practice. What is the result? A man is initiated, we tell him he is

now a Mason, he undertakes some obligations as a Mason, yet, the next

time the lodge meets, he is left out. Perhaps not once, but several times.

How does he feel, this newly initiated brother? Does he feel part of the

group? Does he feel welcome? Was he prepared for this kind of welcome?

This brother starts his Masonic life on the wrong foot. And correcting this

problem is so easy. Some Grand Lodges have already taken steps,

allowing its lodges to work in any degree they wish. Should all Grand

Lodges take this simple step, that would erase a common cause of

disappointment and the loss of promising brethren.

 

Another example. Many lodges have the rule of approving every

expense, no matter how insignificant, in open lodge. Brethren, I’ll tell you

a secret, there is a new invention called a “budget”. Well, it’s not so new,

really. What do other lodges do? The open lodge approves a budget at the

beginning of the year, and then, through the year, all expenditure within

the framework of the budget has to be approved only by the Master and

the Treasurer. Maybe the Secretary as well. Think how much time will be

saved in lodge business. And how much more interesting the meetings may

become, without discussing why the electricity bill is so high.

 

Brethren, I travel a lot. I have visited lodges in many countries.

Everywhere, I have found that the most successful lodges are those that

hold interesting meetings. Coming to the lodge should be fun.

 

Think for a moment about our competition. There is television,

video, and now Internet, and of course, the old staples, bridge and poker.

There are shopping malls, sports arenas, plays and movies, concerts and

galleries and night classes and ... oh yes, there is also a family, don’t

forget, a wife, and the kids.

 

So take a man who comes home from work, or perhaps he still is

chained to his desk. When that man stops to consider how he will spend

the evening, there must be some darn good reasons to make him choose

the Lodge. And don’t tell me about loyalty, tradition, his father was a

Mason. This is the 21st century, or the end of the 20th - if you want to be

punctilious. Life is fast, time is our most expensive commodity. And a

non-replaceable one. Each one of us tries to make the best use of every

waking hour.

 

So, how do we make our meetings interesting? There are many

ways, but the most important factor, the one key factor is this:

involvement. Be sure to make as many brethren as possible take active

part in the proceedings. If there is a ceremony, assign stand-ins for every

officer. Have rehearsals with participation of as many brethren as you can

get. Have three Directors of Ceremonies, six Deacons, let them practice

the ceremony, then, if one of the regular officers is sick, or engaged, you’ll

have a replacement ready at hand.

 

Have lectures, by all means. Not only on the history of Freemasonry

or again an explanation of the Tracing Board. Brethren, when you have

heard that a few times, it takes a strong will to stay awake. Particularly if

it’s simply a recitation of what’s written in the book.

 

Ask brethren to speak about their work, their profession, their

hobbies. Have panel discussions. That way you’ll involve several brethren

at once. Subjects? Anything. The AIDS epidemic, the problem of drugs in

schools, mercy killings, police brutality, don’t be afraid of discussing

controversial subjects. Just make sure the debate sticks to the rules of

order. Everybody addresses the Master, no interruptions are allowed,

every speaker as one five-minute period, and perhaps a three-minute reply

if warranted. Don’t let comments turn into another lecture.

 

Have frequent dinners with the ladies. Initiations are good

opportunities to have the wife of the new brother meet the other ladies.

Make the new member - and his wife -  feel honored, the star of the

evening. In my lodge we give the new brother, at the end of the Initiation

ceremony, two pairs of white gloves, one for himself, and one for his wife

or his mother, in fact, we tell him, to the woman he most respects. We also

give him three red roses, for the wife. To show that the Lodge is not going

to split the family, but rather to enlarge it. The new Mason becomes part

of this big, huge family of millions of Masons throughout the world.

 

If at the beginning Brethren are reluctant to speak up, to take part in

the debates, ask the brother who will deliver his paper at the next meeting

to prepare it in advance, make copies, hand them out to two or three of the

“inactive” brethren to read the paper and prepare a written comment on it.

Praise, no matter how well intended, is not a comment. A comment should

increase our knowledge of the subject.  By the way, papers read in Lodge

should always be written. No improvisations, no ramblings based on a few

headings.

 

Once or twice a year, have some outing, a barbecue, or a week-end

in a resort out of town. A visit to some geographical or historical site.

Depends, of course, on where you live. In Israel we have plenty of

archeological sites. But you have good places to visit everywhere. You

know quite well all the interesting places you can visit on a Sunday.

Instead of going alone, go with a group of your brothers.

 

I have spoken about the lodge, because that’s the foundation. The

Grand Lodge exists by virtue of the individual lodges, not the other way

around. The Grand Lodge should act like the conductor of an orchestra.

He doesn’t play all the instruments. He directs, he does not impose on a

soloist his opinion of how he should play. Grand Lodge should give the

greatest latitude to the lodges, to develop in their own way. A lodge wants

to meet every week? Let it. Wants to work only once every two months?

That’s also OK. As long as the lodge really works, as long as the brethren

are active. As long as the lodge grows and develops.

 

Tradition. That’s a real stumbling block in many lodges, and also in

Grand Lodges. “We have always done it this way. Change? It won’t

work.”

 

Brethren, tradition should act as the helm, not the anchor. Take an

example. Tradition is that you cannot ask a man to become a Mason. No

sir, that’s a no-no. The ritual says so: “on your own free-will and accord”,

or something like that. Why? Why shouldn’t you ask a friend, whom you

know would be a good element in the lodge, to come and join it? Of

course, if you are the boss, and you “invite” your subordinates to join the

lodge, that’s another matter. That’s twisting arms. But telling about the

lodge, describing its good points, the fun you have, the things you learn,

the help you give, why not?

 

Better still, invite him to an open activity, such as a lecture around

the table, or a social gathering of the Lodge.

 

I have spoken a lot about the fun we should have in Lodge. But

Masonry is in fact a very serious subject. Ours is not a club, not a Rotary

or Lions with aprons, not a charitable foundation.

 

 We have a very serious mission: to improve ourselves, and thereby

improve society. Wow, big words!

 

What do I mean by “improving yourself”?  Let me explain. All of us

have some preconceived ideas on many subjects. These are the product of

education, the family, life experience. Some of these ideas are justified,

others are not. Some of our judgments are right, some are wrong. The

exchange of views in open lodge, in a friendly, non-censorious

environment, leads to reconsider some opinions. We learn to tolerate

views that run against ours. We learn to appreciate the variety of human

experience, of human characters. All this is part of what we call

“smoothing the rough stone”. This, my brethren, is Masonic work.

 

This brings me to another important point. I would like to see small

lodges, where brethren know each other, each other’s families,

professions, illnesses and happy events. A Mason who doesn’t come to

Lodge regularly is in fact an isolated Mason, and that’s unacceptable. He

cannot perform his Masonic work by himself, he needs the give-and-take

with his brothers. In many rituals, the first words of the Master when

opening the lodges are: “Brethren assist me in opening the Lodge”.  Why

does he need the assistance of the brethren? Doesn’t he know how to open

the lodge by himself? The point is, all the brethren in the Lodge, all

together, will be contributing to the Masonic work. And a lodge with over

a hundred members is too big to allow its members to do Masonic work

properly.

 

Charity. This has become a shibboleth, our single presentation card

to the outside world. Look how much money we give to charity! See all

these children’s hospitals! The funds allocated to fight this disease or that.

I’m not saying this is bad, but it is not the purpose of Freemasonry. Not

only there are many other voluntary organizations doing this kind of work,

but the government - Big Brother - gives big money for these tasks. Our 3

million bucks a day we give to charity, are nothing compared to the cost of

public health, or public education nation-wide.

 

So, should be stop doing our charitable work? By all means no, but

don’t make it our most important, or our only reason to exist. You want to

help society, to make ours a better place to live? Why not giving more to

education? Poverty is the cause of many social ills, and it is principally the

result of a lack of education, or faulty education, which is even worse.

I fear I’ll be running out of time, so let me touch on two subjects

that concern Freemasonry as a whole, two issues that will become more

crucial as the time passes. These issues are: first, the relations between

Masonic bodies - recognition, jurisdiction, regularity. Second, the place of

women in Freemasonry. 

 

Do I see some eyebrows touching the hairline?

 

The whole issue of regularity was from the beginning fraught with

illogic. At present, confusion reigns. Grand Lodge A recognizes Grand

Lodge B, which is not recognized by Grand Lodge C. What happens to the

relations between Grand Lodges A and C? Elections take place in a Grand

Lodge. There are two candidates. The loser doesn’t accept the verdict of

the ballot box, he claims hanky-panky. He and some of his supporters go

out and form a new Grand Lodge, claiming to be the true and genuine

successors of the Old Grand Lodge. They grab the keys to the Grand

Lodge building, and have police evict the other group.

 

All this is not theory, it has happened, more than once. Who is

right? How can we determine the truth of the accusations and counter

accusations? There is no higher tribunal to turn to in the Masonic world. 

So we now have a number of countries with two - or more - Grand

Lodges, every one of them claiming to be regular in all respects.

Recognition between Grand Lodges, the right to visit lodges in other

jurisdictions, the right to affiliate, has become a mess. The so-called

principle of exclusive jurisdiction is in shambles. Some Grand Lodges

openly practice religious discrimination.

 

Some efforts are being made to have at least regular meetings of

Grand Masters. Your have this in the United States, there are also similar

meetings in Latin-America, and World Meetings of Grand Masters have

been proposed, and have even started in a modest way, still not

encompassing the entire world of Freemasonry. Hopefully, this trend will

continue and develop further.

 

The issue of the place of women in Freemasonry I left to the end, so

I can run for cover if the need arises.

To start with, we have to recognize that there is feminine

Freemasonry. In other countries, there are Grand Lodges exclusively for

women. There is also co-Masonry, also known as Le Droit Humain, where

men and women sit together. For some Masons, these bodies are

anathema. Other Masons are of the opinion that each man or woman

should be free to choose the kind of Freemasonry he likes, and as long as

the basic purpose of Freemasonry - personal improvement leading to a

better society, is adhered to, we should find some accommodation with

them in order to work together towards our common goals.

 

One proposal submitted on the Internet is that Co-Masonic lodges

could be used as a neutral ground, where both brethren from all-men

lodges and sisters from all-women lodges could visit. Male members of a

co-Masonic lodge could visit mainstream lodges, while female members

could visit Feminine lodges. Thus, there could be contact between the

three streams of Freemasonry without making any mason - male or female

- uncomfortable by sitting with a person of the opposite sex.

 

This is one suggestion. Probably it will nave happen, but let us take

heed of the overwhelming movement towards equality between the sexes.

 

The time may come when we are forced to change our present regulations.

Would it not be wise to take preventive measures now?

 

Brethren, I would not want to leave you with the impression that all

in present Freemasonry is negative. Ours is an exciting, unique

organization, with long traditions, profound philosophical teachings, a

haven for right-thinking men in our present world, so torn by the ills of

poverty, war, terrorism, hunger and crime.

 

We must strive forth with enthusiasm, our spirit strengthened by the

knowledge that we still have much to teach society, and that we have the

tools to assist us in bringing to fruit our human potential.