Vol. XLI No. 12 — December 1963

What Did You Expect?

Elbert Bede

This Short Talk Bulletin is the work of Elbert Bede, Editor Emeritus, The Oregon Freemason, Past Master, Cottage Grove Lodge No. 51, and Charter Member, Research Lodge of Oregon and Ashlar Lodge No. 209, Oregon.

The title of this Short Talk Bulletin asks a question, and it isn’t being asked “just for effect.” It is meant to give those in the body of the Lodge an opportunity to participate with the speaker.

About twenty years ago I gave an address on this subject with the understanding that I should tell what induced me to present my petition and what I expected of Freemasonry, and that, at the conclusion of my remarks, the Past Masters present would do the same. Every Brother had a different story, and we had a wonderful evening.

I wish to preface the story of how I came to present my petition fifty-five years ago to Chicago Lodge No. 232, North Branch, Minnesota, with another story that is a partial answer to our question. It is a serious story, with a moral, but it has some humorous aspects.

A young man passed a pawnbroker’s shop. The money lender was standing in front of his shop, and the young man noted that he was wearing a large and beautiful Masonic emblem. After going on a whole block, apparently lost in thought, the young man turned back, stepped up to the pawnbroker, and addressed him: “I see you’re wearing a Masonic emblem. I’m a Freemason too. It happens that I’m desperately in need of $25.00 just now. I shall be able to repay it within ten days. You don’t know me; but I wonder whether the fact that you are a Freemason and that I am a Freemason is sufficient to induce you to lend me the money on my personal note.”

The pawnbroker mentally appraised the young man, who was clean-cut, neat and well-dressed. After a moment’s thought, he agreed to make the loan on the strength of the young man’s being a Freemason. The two went into the pawn shop, where the young man signed a note and received the $25.00, then went his way. Within a few days the young man repaid the loan as agreed, and that ended the transaction.

About four months later the young man was in a Lodge receiving the Entered Apprentice degree; he had not really been a Mason when he borrowed $25.00 from the pawnbroker. After he had been admitted for the second section of the degree and placed where all candidates are placed, the young man looked across the Lodge room and noted sitting there the pawnbroker from whom he had borrowed $25.00 several months before, on the strength of his being a Freemason. His face turned crimson and he became nervous and jittery. He recollected the admonition he had just received from the Master, and he was bothered. He wondered whether he had been recognized by the pawnbroker. Apparently not, so he planned, at the first opportunity, to leave the Lodge room and avoid his benefactor. The lecture and charge probably were lost on him. As soon as the Lodge was closed, he moved quickly for the door of the Tyler’s room, but the pawnbroker had recognized the young man, headed him off west of the altar and, to the young man’s astonishment, approached him and greeted him with a smile and outstretched hand.

“Well, I see you weren’t a Freemason after all when you borrowed that $25.00,” the pawnbroker commented.

The blood rushed to the young man’s face as he stammered, “No, I wasn’t, but I wish you’d let me explain. I had always heard that Freemasons were charitable and ready to aid a Brother in distress. When I passed your shop that day, I didn’t need that $25.00. I had plenty of money in my wallet, but when I saw the Masonic emblem you were wearing, I decided to find out whether the things I’d heard about Freemasonry were true. You let me have the money on the strength of my being a Freemason, so I concluded that what I had heard about the Masons was true, that they are charitable, that they do aid Brethren in distress. That made such a deep impression on me that I presented my petition to this Lodge and here I am. I trust that, with this explanation, you will forgive me for having lied to you.”

The pawnbroker responded, “Don’t let that worry you too much. I wasn’t a Freemason when I let you have the money. I had no business wearing the Masonic emblem you saw. Another man had just borrowed some money on it, and it was so pretty that I put it on my lapel for a few minutes. I took it off the moment you left. I didn’t want anyone else borrowing money on the strength of my being a Freemason. When you asked for that $25.00, I remembered what I had heard about the Masons, that they were honest, upright, and cared for their obligations promptly. It seemed to me, that $25.00 wouldn’t be too much to lose to learn if what I’d heard about Freemasons was really true, so I lent you the money and you repaid it exactly as you said you would. That convinced me that what I’d heard about the Masons was true, so I presented my petition to this Lodge. I was the candidate just ahead of you.”

I doubt whether the experience of either of those men persuaded any one of you to become a Mason; but it would be interesting to know what did induce each of you to present his petition and what each of you was expecting of Freemasonry. One of those in the story expected to find men who were charitable and ever ready to give aid to a Brother in distress. The other expected to find men who were honest, upright, and cared promptly for their obligations. That was what they had heard about Freemasons.

And in a general way, isn’t that true of each member of the Fraternity? Didn’t each one of us present his petition largely because of what he had heard about Freemasonry? Because contacts with those he knew as Freemasons had led him to believe that what he had heard and read was true?

George Washington once made the statement that he was led to petition Freemasonry because he had noted that the noblest men of Virginia were members of the Fraternity, and because of the favorable opinion formed through contacts with those men.

Freemasonry is judged by what others hear and read about it. Our members come to us because of actions which seem to prove that what is said about us is true. Brethren, we have a reputation to maintain.

My first interest in Freemasonry was developed some years before I came of age. I had a room in the home of a superintendent of schools, who was secretary of the Lodge in which I later received my degrees. In those days so many years ago we didn't have TV, radio, motion pictures and automobiles to take up slack time; hence, although the secretary was a man of some years and I a stripling of eighteen or nineteen, sometimes of an evening he and I would have an hour or so of pleasant discussion, probably during a game of dominoes, which was aristocratic entertainment in those days.

Once in a while Freemasonry was mentioned. The secretary wasn't too well-informed on Freemasonry, as I have since learned; but he was an enthusiastic practicing Speculative Freemason and a good salesman, although a discreet one. He didn't suggest that I present a petition. Anyway I was too young for that, but he planted the seeds that later took root. In addition to the favorable opinion formed through my conversations with that Lodge secretary, I formed some opinions of my own. For one thing, I noted that all the better men of the small community of a few hundred were members of the little Masonic Lodge, including my employer, who was editor of the little community newspaper.

I developed a certain interest in Freemasonry in a manner that I am sure hasn't applied to any of you. I was intrigued and confused by little filler items about Freemasonry and King Solomon that appeared in the city newspapers. King Solomon usually was spoken of as the first Grand Master of Masons. We do not see such references in the daily newspapers today, but my recollection is that in former times there were many of them. One of them read, "King Solomon, first Grand Master of Masons, had a thousand wives." Just what those ladies had to do with his Masonry I never did find out. When I received the degrees, I experienced some slight disappointment because nowhere in any ritual is there a word about the personal life of King Solomon. The thousand wives, of course, do not get so much as honorable mention.

In later years, after I became active in Freemasonry, I wondered how a man with a thousand women cluttering up the house ever found a quiet nook in which to memorize the ritual. I came to the conclusion that King Solomon wasn't much of a ritualist. In fact, no one can convince me that he had ever had anything to do with Freemasonry.

Shortly after I reached maturity, I became owner of the little community newspaper of which I had been an employee. My favorable opinion of Freemasonry was increased by again noting that nearly all of the business and professional people with whom I had to deal — practically all the persons in the little community who amounted to anything — were Freemasons. I noted a fellowship among them into which I could not fully enter. It is my recollection that I felt I wouldn't amount to much in the community unless I became a member of the little Masonic Lodge. So I asked for a petition and soon found the fellowship which I expected to find.

Yet I have never felt that my approach to Freemasonry was all that I would recommend for others; but it may suggest that many men have come to us with little of the understanding of what Freemasonry is that has come to me during almost six decades as an active member.

However, I am sure that most petitioners today come better prepared for the beauties of our rituals than I did. There are greater opportunities to learn about Freemasonry. There are more Freemasons from whom to get information. In a number of Grand jurisdictions, education of petitioners starts with printed material provided before they receive a degree and continues while they are receiving the degrees.

Fortunate are those petitioners who have learned about Freemasonry from close friends and associates. Even more fortunate are those who have learned about Freemasonry from members of their families who are Freemasons — father, grandfathers, brothers, even sons. I did not have such opportunities. I helped confer the degrees on my father and son. The latter, I am sure, had been influenced by what he had heard from me about Freemasonry.

Even with all this, petitioners do not have a great deal of information about Freemasonry. They only know what they have heard or read about it. If they have formed a favorable opinion of it, they have been impressed by what Freemasonry seems to mean in the lives of those they knew as Freemasons, especially when such persons are in their own families. They expect to find an institution which inculcates great moral truths, a worldwide institution in which every member is firmly knit with every other member in developing the best there is in each of them. They are led to expect moral uplift, mental stimulation, and spiritual inspiration. They expect to find something that will make them better men and better citizens. They may not be able to put into words exactly what they expect, but they certainly expect a great deal. We who have preceded them to the altar of Freemasonry have definitely encouraged them in those expectations.

Now, having partially answered the question as to what petitioners expect of Freemasonry, we come to the question, "What does Freemasonry promise them?" Freemasonry exacts many pledges and promises FROM them, but what promise does it make TO them?

None! Absolutely none! Nowhere in the ritualistic ceremonies, so far as I recollect, did Freemasonry make any definite promise to me. Nowhere, except possibly in the historical lectures and in the charges, so far as I have been able to discover, is it even hinted that petitioners will receive any of the things they expect of Freemasonry — the things you and I expected — the things you and I have led others to believe they might expect.

Many have received all they expected, and more, much more. We who like to believe we have become a part of the fabric of Freemasonry have found the pleasant companionship we expected. We have become associated with men with whom it is a pleasure to be associated. We have received moral instruction that has meant much to us. We have been led to higher and nobler attitudes. We have been benefited mentally. We have been benefited spiritually. We have developed new understandings that have given us many hours of pleasure.

But you didn't receive these things, and neither did I, sitting around waiting for Freemasonry to bring them to us. You received these things, and so did I, through the discovery that we had promised everything while Freemasonry promised nothing. You received these things, and so did I, through the discovery that it was only through our own efforts that Freemasonry could measure up to the preconceived idea we had of it when we presented our petitions.

You have received these things, and so have I, through a realization that Freemasonry as an institution can give us only what we put into it. It is not an inexhaustible warehouse of the things we expected of Freemasonry. Unless you and I put in, the putting out soon must cease, and it has been a pleasant discovery that our putting in has taken nothing from us. We have been enriched by our giving. We have been rewarded through the pleasure which our efforts have provided for others. We have been stimulated mentally; we have been uplifted morally; we have been elevated spiritually through our own efforts to make Freemasonry mean for others what we expected it to be for ourselves.

Freemasonry as an institution promises its petitioners nothing; but if each of us, and each of those who follow us to the altar of Freemasonry, does his part to make Freemasonry what he expected it to be for himself, our Fraternity will become for others all that we expected it to be.

Freemasonry as an institution promises nothing, absolutely nothing; but she returns with interest -compound interest, if you please — all that we commit to her care.

What do you expect to get OUT of Freemasonry?

What are you putting IN?

The Masonic Service Association of North America