The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.
Bro. E. Demers
The theme of this third annual Banff Workshop has been “Darkness to Light”. “And god said let there be light and there was light”. In short Brethren we have been dealing with the first or Entered Apprentice degree of Free Masonry. We are endeavouring to convey to you some of our conceptions of the DIFFERENCES BETWEEN darkness and light and what we might or should be doing with this God given gift of perception.
You have heard Bro. Crockett’s opening remarks and I hope that his message has remained with you, for in those few words lies the key to all of these papers, but more particularly I think to this the last and final presentation.
We are going to indulge in a little self criticism and encourage you to do some self analyzing. We are going to draw your attention to the past and we are going to ask you to give SERIOUS THOUGHT TO THE FUTURE. You will not all agree with what I’m about to submit, indeed it may very well disturb some of you, but this I maintain is not necessarily a bad thing for in the very fact that you will have to think in order to form opinions on these matters I will have fulfilled my purpose.
When you form up into discussion groups at the completion of this paper Brethren I invite your criticism, I invite you to criticize my material, examine every facet of the points I am trying to make, for only in this way can we better understand our motives and our desires, our strengths and our weaknesses, and Brethren I can assure you we have more than our share of each.
The previous speakers in this series of papers have outlined THE CONFERRING of the Entered Apprentice Degree, and these two Brothers have very capably given you their thoughts on what that portion of our ritual is supposed to teach and impress upon the minds of our newly initiated members.
So for the purposes to be served by this paper let us start with an obligated Entered Apprentice Mason, and let us assume that through our coaching, teaching and explanations, he has some knowledge of the information given by Bro. Senn and Bro. Elston.
Under the title of MORNING we will consider what, if anything we encourage this new Mason to do with this new found vehicle or working tool. Morning is usually the beginning of an active day, and as well as just teaching, we should expect to see some of this activity. Masonry in itself you know is just a vehicle or working tool and nothing more. It cannot perform anything by itself, its only accomplishment can be through its members and their participation in our world, our country, our community or in their own homes.
Masonry is related to, and should influence every phase of a man’s life; Prayer, Labour, Refreshment and Sleep, but should manifest itself by our efforts to raise ourselves above the sear and yellow leaf, above the moral decay, by our efforts to avoid the mortal conflicts, by our active resistance to the suppression of human equalities and liberties that are so essential to the free born; and above all, the whole universe should recognize us for our sincere concern for the welfare, not only of the members of the craft, but for all our comrades in mortality.
Can we honestly display our activities in these directions in a manner that will grasp the imagination of, and create an interest in our candidates? Do we have a recent example of all these marvellous ideals that we can point to and clearly define as our purpose in life?
Brethren, it is all very well to educate a man in a trade or profession, but let us remember that a doctor is not a doctor if he does not heal, and a man of the cloth is not in service until he can enlighten and instill faith, and so it is with Free Masonry Brethren.
We can and have initiated candidates until they are coming out of our ears, but how many of these so called Masons are actively living Masonry? how many thousands are there in Alberta alone in whom we have failed to excite any feeling whatsoever?
A few of these people found that Masonry was not their cup of tea, and my only comment here is, “so be it”, but others, and I would claim by far the most of these non-active types, simply lost interest, and on this count I would say that you and I, all members of the Craft, including our leading lights, have failed Masonry.
If after your discussion groups you concur with this assumption, then I suggest to you that we will continue to fail our newly initiated candidates, and masonry as a whole, until such time as we are prepared to constructively use our working tools and allegories to create leadership, guidance and counselling that will clearly illuminate the way to peace of mind, mental security, and creative action toward the better ways of life for which we all so diligently search.
Leave for a moment the initiated candidate and let us look at our younger generation and the world of tomorrow. I can foresee a highly educated, slightly rebellious, very critical, average, young man; who is accustomed to instant communication, highly developed technology, fantastic transportation to all parts of our globe, and perhaps the entire universe; whose very existence revolved around progress, activity and achievement. How are we going to attract this younger generation? and if and when we do appeal successfully to this, the man of the coming age, are we preparing Masonry to be a valuable working tool in his era. Masonry with its landmarks unchanged throughout the centuries, has been a bulwark for the faithful, a cloister for those seeking companionship, and in its earlier days the vehicle or craft if you will, that enabled the individual to become a group, all with one purpose in life and who through their collective and united efforts were accomplishing and acquiring those equalities and liberties that were in those days denied them.
The thing to note here Brethren, is that they weren’t sitting on their hands or patting themselves on the back, but were actively and most forcefully employed in changing the world, influencing others, securing benefits for the whole of the free world that was dawning on mankind.
Masonry again must face a new era, and must attract the citizens of that domain. time Brethren does not stand still, nor can Free Masonry stand still, for if we as present members of the craft permit this to happen, then we will find, as we may already be experiencing, that our membership and influence will dwindle and fade away, as the sun in the evening.
Masonry in its earlier days, yes, even when its home was in the pubs in England, was energetic, driving power, for the good of all men, and it is only in the last seventy-five years that is members have become so lazy under the guise of piety as to become virtually ineffectual. Our ancient brethren faced the problems of their day head on and they were not at all backward about having their influence felt, or their views heard. If they were as timid, or should I say as cautious as we, may I ask you if there would have, for example, been a Boston Tea Party or a Declaration of Independence? do you think that the Masons involved in these and many, many more similar incidents weakened our cause? If you do, all I can say is HOG WASH, we could use a thousand more people with character, strong personality and the power of their convictions.
Are we letting Masonry become a spineless organization with a wishy-washy membership? and if this is true, even in part, then whose fault is it? and more important still would this sort of a group appear attractive to our new initiates?
Do we appear to our new members as an organization dedicated and active in the struggles of day to day living at the practical level, or do we appear as a group of idealists who are not much more than dreamers.
We need the strength of the Supreme Being and a true belief in His divine providence and goodness, but the cure of our ills is by our own activities, based as of old, on blood, sweat and tears. We must not say to ourselves, we know its right and good by let “George” do it, you have heard I’m sure that god is dead, Brethren GOD IS NOT DEAD, “GEORGE” IS DEAD. The Supreme Being has given us the ability, and He has left the choice up to us, and we and our Grand Lodge had better get on the ball and find our way through all this fog or we too will probably end up deader than poor old “George”.
“George” you know doesn’t have our secrets or our mysteries, and he hasn’t had the benefits of our beautiful ritual or its invaluable lessons, so he might be excused for his lack of concern and his apathy, but we in this order have no such excuse and should be applying ourselves far more than is now apparent.
Our world has never before in its existence had to face such monumental problems; the population explosion, insufficient food for the masses, atomic energy, bacterial warfare, travel in outer space, racial inequalities in which Masonry in some areas seems to condone a color separation, power politics, struggles for supremacy and even the disintegration of the family unit.
These then are but a few of the influences that are causing fear, frustration, mental illness and moral decay to be prevalent in today’s society, and we, seemingly oblivious of the situations and conditions surrounding us from all sides, go merrily on our way making good men into better men, but apparently forgetting that we, those better men, must strive and work outside the shelter of Free Masonry, to show the whole world that our individual and body politic endeavors are for the benefit of all mankind.
I would like to quote from the February 1945 Grand Lodge Bulletin, by the Most Worshipful Bro. the Venerable Archdeacon S.H. Middleton, and I quote, “I am not in the least interested whether Jacob, Solomon, or any of the ancient patriarchs were Freemasons, but I am vitally interested in knowing whether modern patriarchs of Masonry are measuring up to the demands of today.” end of quote, Brethren if there is so much as one small doubt in your minds, then may I ask what about tomorrow?
But Brethren let us be realistic, you know and I know that it is claimed that Masonry was never intended to be a popular institution, influencing the world by force; and I am sure that we may very well all agree with this reasoning, BUT SHOULD THAT EXCLUDE WORKING WITHIN OUR OWN CONFINES to prepare our people to face the grave challenges of the new world? do you think as I, that if our people, NEW OR SKILLED, could see activity in this direction, they could take a new lease on life, a new interest in the prestige and future of Masonry. Would we not then have a positive approach to life as it actually is? would we not have as well, the ingredient so essential to show our candidates that we are aware of the problems and pressures created in the rat race of today, and have a constructive means of helping them cope? would we not also be developing a means of attracting the younger generation into Masonry? Would they not then recognize our institution for its true value and not merely regard us as a bunch of squares?
There are literally thousands of the younger generation, those say under the age of twenty-five or thirty, whom I am convinced are fully aware of the needs of humanity today, and are more willing and anxious to work and contribute, than has ever been the case before. Witness if you will the hundreds of new assistance groups being formed for an equal number of good reasons.
Contrary to what you may believe the majority of our young people do not want something for nothing, they are a group on the move, but they are for the most part forsaking the established orders because they fail to see any examples that fit into their new patterns. Unfortunately in all too many cases they consider their elders and the existing churches, associations and fraternal orders to by hypocritical.
The few younger candidates coming into our order today are from this group I have described, and there are untold numbers more that are available for tomorrow, but we must attract them, they are not going to knock on our door without some evidence of our relationship to their ambitions, hopes and desires. The Masonic fraternity should be slowly but surely enlarging its membership instead of showing a decline.
However, we must bear in mind that the numbers of our membership will have some bearing on our influence and on our image only if we have good men and true, and if we are organized to stand together in mutual defence, and the support of equal opportunity for all men throughout the world, and the sooner our initiates are made to see this, the more likely they are to become and remain active Masons throughout their lives.
Brethren I am not suggesting that Masonry should change or reveal our inner workings just to please or appeal to our new candidates, or to the enquiring public, as a matter of fact, I think we concern ourselves far too much with this aspect. It is not in the least important that on his entrance into our fraternal order, the candidate may be totally surprised, even a little disappointed, to find that the order is not what he thought it was. But what is of utmost importance I would say even critical, is that when these people do get some insight into Masonry, they are completely and thoroughly impressed with our purpose in life and our active devotion to a worthy cause, and further, that they can relate this to their own needs and endeavors.
Brethren, I believe we have still another area that should be carefully considered and reassessed, for I feel that our new candidates are unconsciously aware of this weakness even during their period of coaching. Of recent years we have been building-in, what I will call “Sacred Cows” and this trend is getting more prevalent. I am not referring to our ritual or our ancient landmarks, but to our lodge activities and other such related subjects.
How many times have you heard or been restricted by “you can’t do this or that” because we have been doing it some other accepted way for so many years?
Let us for the moment consider just one such current example of what I mean. You are all aware I’m sure of the attempt being made to change the date of our Grand Lodge Communication to a weekend, now I don’t want to suggest that we should, or that we should not change, but some of the arguments put forth against this proposal border on my Sacred Cow suggestion.
I can’t help but feel that some of the resistance, as well as, some of the promotion in favour, is being based on a very personal bias and has had very little consideration as to the good of the Order. Do you think, are you fooling yourself into thinking, that such attitudes are not detected by persons looking to Masonry for strength and purpose in their life?
I have related one notable example of our inflexibility and I can assure you there are many more, throughout the order and at all levels. Some of these stem from tradition, and some from ignorance, but unfortunately I also suspect that some come from personal piques and perhaps in other isolated cases from the need for the feeling of personal power.
Brethren I am not suggesting this, I am telling you, that this is the type of short sighted thinking that could materially weaken our efforts from within and undo all of the very things we are or should be trying to accomplish when we put our initiates through the first or any other degree.
We are builders and as such we must have and must maintain a firm foundation, but with this assured we must continue onward and upward with the structure or our efforts will come to naught and benefit no one.
Brethren we expose our candidates to our ritual, we explain our golden rules and we elaborate the ten commandments, we even have a tendency to insert a heavy dose of theology, but are we having the success we want and need? I say we are not, nor will we until we can emphasize more than the black and white print in THE WORK.
We should be informing ourselves of some of the causes, results or cures, of say for instance, the difficulties the coloured people are having, or the Hippie trend and where it might lead? Surely if you are at all like myself you feel the need to hear and to know about the world today, and to be guided towards what we as individuals might do to, overcome, offset or otherwise deal with these problems.
Our newly initiated candidates need to see Masonry in action, not as a service club, but as a force working through the individual. I’ll go further and say that you and I need to see Masonry in action, and I would freely predict that when we do, we will have no trouble attracting tomorrow’s Masons, and we will have much less trouble keeping our new initiates active, but more important still, we will be contributing as we rightly should to the good and welfare of our fellow souls over the face of our ever shrinking globe. We must remember however that if this were to be our goal we would have to ask and expect our elected leaders to be capable of the task, and provide the central leadership and guidance that would be so necessary for successful unification.
There are as well many things that we can do in our separate lodges, and perhaps one of those things would be to take copies of these three papers as presented at the Work Shop back to our lodges for further discussion. this, of course, is not exactly what I had in mind in the text of this paper, but until such time as we are equipped with something better, I believe that anything that might stimulate the Brothers thinking, will be of some help.
Brethren, let me summarize this paper by relating to you a story found in ancient Chinese allegory;
A very elderly chinese gentleman had died and as he was a fine upstanding believer, an Angel had been sent to guide him to Heaven. Now while this Patriarch was enroute to his home on high, he requested the Angel to allow him to see the place called HELL, because, he felt that he would then be able to appreciate HEAVEN all the more.
His wish was granted, and on gazing into Hell the elderly gent saw a great banquet table absolutely covered with the finest of foods, beautifully prepared and truly a delicious feast.
The tables were, of course, surrounded by a multitude of people, but each and every one was drawn, thin and emaciated, and he noted that they had been provided with Chop Sticks as long as their as their arms and were consequently unable to feed themselves. Thus satisfied, the old man requested that he be permitted to resume his journey.
On his arrival in Heaven, the venerable gent entered and looked about, and much to his surprise, saw exactly the same banquet tables heaped high with exactly the same fine foods, he also saw each person with the same arm length Chop Sticks, but in contrast, these people were fed, happy and content, FOR YOU SEE BRETHREN HERE THEY HAD LEARNED TO FEED EACH OTHER.
Well, we have rambled around quite a bit, and we have very lightly covered a lot of ground, but actually, we have barely scratched the surface. there are literally hundreds of things that one could examine, question or reassess, but that would take a great deal more time than is available, and further I’m not at all sure if this sort of approach will be favourably received.
To some, I suppose this has been pretty strong medicine, to others more than they can swallow, but to still others it may be the sort of thing that you wanted to hear; in either case I trust you will make your wishes and your preferences known.