The call has gone out, near and far, that the kingdom is in trouble. You would think the Saracens were at the threshold ready to beat down the door. The Generals are all in a tither, the engineers are laboring over their plans, the Bishops are whipping the people up into a frenzy. "More members, More members!!!"; the chant has begun. And if all goes well, we will soon have an army of strapping young men ready to go...to where?...for what?
If we are bringing in new members to "save Masonry" or to keep our lodges from "going under" then we are not only doing a disservice to the new members, but in the long-run we are hurting ourselves by diverting our resources to the wrong front. It takes time and energy to give degrees to these new members. And most of the time, it's the same brethren who show up to give the degrees as showed up in the 1940s & '50s. Where are the others? Home asleep? Yes, and why shouldn't they, they might as well sleep in their own bed rather than on a hard lodge pew.
From the '40s to the mid '50s Masonry just about tripled in membership in many states; now its about where it was back in the '40s again. Have any of our Masonic teachings changed during this rise and fall? Has the need for our teachings changed? Have all those men who became Masons died? Where are they? If every Mason moved out of his mother state, then other Masons would be moving in...then gain and loss should be about equal...unless they are simply not coming back to lodge at all. Thus, a successful Masonic membership revival may give us another 20 year surge, but unless we fortify our real substance, the Saracens will defeat us by the thousands, rather than by the hundreds.
What is our substance? It is our teaching and philosophy. Our Ritual. We have depth. We have myth. We are unique from every other fraternity. We are the oldest and we have carried with us the best from the past and we preserve it for the future. And it doesn't take thousands to do this; only a few of the best.
Allow me to recant a myth from the Crusades, known to our Masonic Knights Templar affiliates. In 1118 an order was created by Hugh de Payens known as 'The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon'. This order took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; devoting themselves to the military protection of Christian pilgrims from bandits and of course the dreaded Saracens. They vowed never to retreat from battle lest they were out-numbered three to one. For nine years their heroic fame and adventures grew to mythical proportions inspiring all of Europe. There were only eight of them.
In my home state of Illinois there are over 115,000 Masons. That's 15,000 more members than the original army amassed for the First Crusade. I don't think the issue and concern should be over more members, but better membership by those already within. Maybe the value of a vow has changed since 1118. Those original eight Templars had depth, they had an internal heroic myth that gave them strength and immortality. Maybe it's because there is no threat of a 'Mad Caliph' riding horse-back through our backyards that we aren't motivated to 'amass' into our lodge temples. It's easier to sleep and watch television. Talking about the 'old days' while complaining about the new.
Well in the 'old days' one would have their head struck off by now. While we talk about using new media to 'reach' new members, we forget our old substance, our identity. How can so many be so involved in bringing in new members into a system they hardly adhere to? What do you think would have happened in the days of Hugh de Payens, the first Grand Master, if more than two thirds of the army refused to report? And this is what happened here in Illinois in 1992. Only 200 of 676 lodges bothered to send in their trestleboard as directed by the Grand Master, most in open rebellion.
There are many opinions about the state of Masonry and which remedy would do best. But making a mockery of the lessons of the third degree isn't what's called for. One might as well throw a brick at our Grand Masters' head for all the respect our state has given him. We must remember that this office exists because ultimately we want someone to lead. But if we disagree with him, it is dishonorable to walk off the battle-field.
As 'Master' Masons, we are leaders. We have been given the tools to lead and are taught valuable lessons about leadership. Many of us have become Masters of our lodge, an opportunity to achieve experiences in leadership. But do we lead? If so, to where?
The very nature of our order has its roots in the heart. The journey begins in the heart and ends in the heart. By this is meant the internal. The Knights of old stood above the common soldier because their inner myth, their belief. We must stand erect in our many stations, and this is no easy thing. For some, it may even be heroic. How can one lead in an internal journey...? By example.
We must discover the myth within Masonry, learn from it, and live by it. We must believe in it, and pass it on, as our flame and light. This process excludes the measure of numbers and media events, for the inner myth is very different from the outer draping put on by those who sell the craft. Masonry is not a commodity to be sold by advertising/media and public relations specialists. For which aspect will they use for a gimmick?
Would they promote that most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons? Not true, only a few were. That x number of presidents have been Masons; partially true, most were only honorary not having taken a single degree. That the fellows from the Boston Tea Party were Masons and that Masonry has played a large part in the formation of this country; not so, for Masonry has never recommended any particular political activity and the Tea Party enthusiasts acted as individuals, not as a lodge (they knew better). The only truth in these things is that Masonry promotes leadership.
Let's not even bring up the hundred different external myths about the beginnings of Masonry which have been used to sell Masonry to the masses in the past, each story gets better per telling. I have even heard that Masons have been hoarding and disseminating the vast wealth of the Templars for centuries and that's why so many are so rich. How about the one that says that Masons give a million and a half dollars a day to charity!? When was this, in 1955? I think that's when they started saying that. Once the ball starts rolling, its hard to stop.
Let's return to the heart of the matter, Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth; and to the Virtues. These things are found within and are shared within. How many Master Masons can even remember the Brothers that were there the night they were raised, do you know where they are now? When you lost contact, did it concern you? Have you tried to look them up? Did they pass on, did you even know? They were the men that for a time took you in as one of their own. Accepted you as a brother and shared their table with you. This is a matter of the heart, it was never meant to be a social event. Sociability and charity should be fruits of good Masonry, not the ends. If you never knew this experience, then you never found nor lived the great Masonic myth and you will not receive your wages.
I am not against there being more Masons, but the health of Masonry should not be measured by its numbers. For while less Masons do not imply a higher quality, likewise, neither do more Masons imply well-being. Measure not by number, but by 'understanding'. Do we as Masons comprehend what has been given to us from the past? There are quite a few symbols and allegories that have been handed down to us from antiquity. Have we made them a part of our lives? Enough to go out and teach others? Are we prepared to change the paths of other men in the world into our craft? Who and why? Where will they be led? Just some and not others? Which ones? Who will we reject or can just about anyone enter anymore? Who shall we deprive of what we have or is the value of what we have not that important? Wouldn't the Moose or Elks serve a better vehicle for simple association? Are the tenets of Masonry really the first thing on our minds? It must also be realized that not everyone agrees with what is in the depths of our teachings.
All rhetoric aside, I think that public relations methods as proposed by so many these days are good. Radio interviews, video tapes, books, pamphlets for wives, in fact, all forms of communications are good for Masons to reaffirm and deepen masonic self-discovery, and are good for the non-masonic general public. But it is so easy to get lost in this external panorama of activities; caught between the depth of self-discovery and the song and dance of self-explanation to others.
We must constantly ask why we are bringing in a new member into our lodges. While our teachings are ethical and moral, they are not evangelical. For generations we have resisted hook and crook techniques of bringing in new Brethren. "They must first ask...of their own freewill and accord" has always been the hallmark of Masons. A matter of pride. While we revere the bible, we are not 'bible-thumpers' standing on street corners. And the more we stand in the public eye, be aware that the anti-masonic attacks will also increase.
Well I think I hear the hoof-beats of the Saracens coming over the hill, I had better Fortify with great Prudence. We have quite a few of those new 'strapping youths' to train before they arrive. I hope I have enough time to get to know them before the "demise of Masonry". Perhaps one day there will only be one lodge left in all the world, and if they have truly assimilated all the teachings of Masonry, I'll bet they will never go out of existence — let alone be intimidated by a few hundred thousand Saracens.