Of Revolutions and Reforms
Wor. Frederic L. Milliken
I have been thinking about the subject we have been discussing here, and that is how best to be effective in bringing about new life, new growth, new vitality to our Lodges and most of all reforms and a new course for our Grand Lodges. How can we as individuals best influence the course that our Lodges and Grand Lodges pursue?
The remedy has been proposed that we need to work harder, get involved, run for a Grand Lodge office, rise to some prominence and power and then work to change the system from within. If you are not in the system you can’t change it and if you don’t work hard to change it you shouldn’t complain or expect it to change – no work, no effort no gain.
I would like to amplify what has been said to more fully explain why I think this won’t work. Let’s explore some finer points and expand on the concepts and see if there are other ramifications and possibilities.
First of all for most men Masonry is a pleasurable part time past time, a hobby or interest but not a full time occupation. Nor can most men make it a full time concern. They may work long hours at a demanding job; they may have children who need their time and guidance; their wives may work and therefore they have to contribute to the management of the household and the care of their family including things like grocery shopping, cooking some meals, washing some clothes and driving the kids where they need to go. They may have responsibilities at their house of worship. They may have an aging parent who either lives with them and needs constant care and attention or who lives apart in quarters where they need to be checked up on constantly.
I say all this because what gets in the way of Masonry is life. Quite frankly many men may enjoy coming to Lodge and participating in some of the activities and rituals of the Lodge, but that does not mean they have the time or inclination to spend enormous amounts of time and effort to reform a system that has lost its way and needs a complete overhaul.
I can remember when I first entered Masonry they told me it was only going to be one night a week. Then I joined an Appendant Body and that added another night, then I became an officer and that added another night, then I became a Warden and then a Master and it became almost every night. That “just one night a week” became a lot more than that. But what are you asking of a man who just wants to enjoy his Masonry? Are you expecting him to devote 20-40 hours per week for the Craft? Lets be realistic, let's be practical.
If I were to start worshipping at a new church and its management were to come to me and say we have only one Pastor who is overworked and we need more people to help with the liturgy and worship service, and we don’t have enough Sunday school teachers and we could use more, and we don’t have anybody to clean the church and no money to pay anybody to do that job, and our Secretary is quitting because she says her salary is too low and we sure could use some help with mowing our lawns and do you cook at all sir? Now I am going to say, “Hey wait a minute, I have come to your church to worship God, not to toil away for hours without compensation.” And the reply would come back, “If you can’t help the church be a great church by donating time, treasure and talent, then there just won’t be any church here for you to worship in.”
See where we are here? That’s where we are in Masonry right now. We expect too much from men who have job and family obligations. We ask for too much for nothing expecting our membership to give and give and give. And as our numbers dwindle there is a greater burden placed on those who remain. I have seen too many Masters under too much stress. And our Grand Lodges still commit us to huge Institutionalized Charity projects.
Our number one cause of our drop in membership is no longer the cause of death. We are now losing more Brothers because they are quitting, packing up and leaving. We now have a retention problem. And the more burdens we place on those remaining, and the more we expect from those left to pick up the slack, the more members will continue to leave. Quite frankly the large bulk of membership does not want to live Masonry 24/7. And they resent being constantly asked to devote much time and energy to fund raisers and charitable programs for the general public when their main reason for joining was to practice Masonry. So asking men to step up to the plate, run for Grand Lodge Office, work every night and on weekends for the Craft is totally unrealistic. And if you stand there and say – well if you don’t like the way Masonry is being run and you don’t like what you see why don’t you get more active and work to change things is just so much unrealistic, impractical and uncaring hot air. This way of thinking takes away from the responsibility local Lodge and Grand Lodge officers now have to the Brethren to run a good ship and choose the right course. And it will not make Masonry grow because it will lose more members than it brings in.
Why are we in this fix? What has gotten us into such a tailspin? What can we do to get out?
When we took in large numbers of members after WWII we took in men who were not interested in the character building side of Freemasonry which involved research, study and education – learning about the symbolism and ethics of Masonry and the meaning and applications for every day life. They wanted to continue the camaraderie they got to experience in fighting a war. Nothing brings you closer to understanding the concept of brotherhood than your life being dependent on your buddy, on your unit. So what we got was good time Charlie social Masonry. Now normally there will be a shift in emphasis with a leadership change which comes about when the next generation joins the Craft. But the Vietnam War destroyed all that. Dropping out and doing what feels good killed the interest of the next generation in joining Freemasonry. Actually it killed the interest in joining almost anything. So the same generation, the same leaders stayed in power twice as long as they normally would. They worked a double shift.
This had two disastrous effects. First it created a tremendous double generation gap. You had young men coming into the Craft looking at a Lodge ruled and governed and populated by men old enough to be their grandfathers. If you think there is a generation gap between father and son you ought to see how great it is between grandfather and grandson. Out of sight. Camaraderie was not the same. And fifty years of unquestioned power and governing inbred into the psyche of these WWII Masons that they had the only way of doing things. Thus “we always did it this way” became a reality because it truly was done that way for such an extended period of time. As previously stated, normally every 25 years there would be a turnover in leadership with a new generation taking over and imprinting their generational vision on Masonry. But that did not happen around 1975 when it should have occurred.
Finally as Masonry bleedingly limped into the 21st century younger Brothers were forced to take the reins of leadership because most of the WWII Masons had passed to the Celestial Lodge above. But since all these new Brothers were trained by the WWII Masons, they too practiced good time Charlie social Masonry except that by this time Grand Lodges in a stage of absolute panic had turned Masonry into a giant Service Club with Institutionalized Charity as the new savior of Masonry. So what ever Masonic education and study there was now was totally destroyed with the majority of time, effort and money going to “Masonic Awareness” and the marketing of Freemasonry.
Which leads us to point number two. The only grandeur left in Freemasonry was in political maneuvering. Masonic politics became the new way to gain preeminence in the Fraternity. No longer were Masonic men of letters, its writers, researchers and speakers held in high esteem. For too many years the study and practice of the mysteries of Freemasonry had been neglected. Now with social Masonry evolving into Service Club Masonry we were entering our third generation of Masons who knew very little about the organization to which they belonged. They didn’t study, research, read books, write or hold any kind of Masonic education programs in their Lodges. Men now held Grand Lodge office that can’t even read Pike or Wilmshurst or Pound never mind speak intelligently about any philosophical underpinnings of the Craft.
So if you didn’t have to know anything about Masonry to rise to preeminence in the Fraternity, how then did you get to be Grand Master? By all the means used to become President of the United States. Our Grand Masters became glib, fast talking, charismatic Masons who ruthlessly wielded the scepter of political power. They constantly sought to increase the power of Grand Lodge by demanding of their chartered Lodges that they do this and do that and submit this report and that report and hold this event and that event. Today the local Masonic Lodge is scourged of all its individuality and its ability to be creative on its own. It is in the hip pocket of the Grand Master and the oligarchy that rules from on high. This centralization of power closely mirrors the increase in power of Washington in our civil government.
It cannot be overemphasized that this means that we are now in a system where it’s not what you know but who you know. And the rise to Masonic power is gained by the means our civil politicians use –building personal relationships, networking and trading favors and other means which can be more devious but will not be listed. It then becomes a process whereby what is good for Freemasonry and what would truly bring it into the 21st century vibrant and growing means nothing to those in the Grand Lodge system. THEY CARE NOTHING ABOUT PROGRAMS THAT FURTHER THE CRAFT. They, like every other politician in life, care about getting, maintaining and wielding power. To accomplish these ends it matters not where you stand but how others feel about things and what kind of coalition can be put together and how a commitment to any issue will affect your standing in the ability to step up onto the next rung of the ladder.
Faced with these realities you can, outside the inner circle, but within the system work very hard to reform Freemasonry and return it to its former grandeur but all that work will yield little result when most of those in the system with power to implement are only concerned in putting a feather in their own cap. In other words you are beating your head against the wall. And when you do all this work and spend all the time necessary and end up with nothing, believe me what ensues is utter frustration and chances are you become another retention statistic because you have left. So this is why I say extending the effort is fruitless.
So nothing can be done? No I am not saying that. What I am saying is that if you desire to make change you need to channel your efforts in another manner. The only thing that power respects is other power. And the only thing that politicians fear is losing power and being booted out of office. You don’t make the change you seek by convincing other members in the system the righteousness of your argument. They don’t care how right you are. You don’t spend all your time and effort into implementing a certain agenda because that is butting your head against the wall. You don’t get anywhere by being a good little boy, kissing ass, keeping your mouth shut and trying to climb the ladder without upsetting the applecart. You don’t make change by working inside a system where you have to toe the line and work hard to further programs that are the exact opposite of what you want to do, - in order to get ahead. You can’t further the programs of a Grand Lodge which you know are destroying Freemasonry in order to stay in the system and eventually get enough power to change it. By the time you get the power, you have worked so hard to destroy it, that you have actually destroyed it. You can’t work against what you believe in to get ahead. If the present system is corrupt and you are absolutely convinced that the direction it is going in is self-defeating then helping those in power to do more of the same is stupid.
In order to change things you are going to have to play hardball, because once again the only thing those who worship power alone respect is the power of others and what they could or might do to them. Now you may stay in the system but that does not mean you are going to work to further it. And that does not mean you are going to enter the corporate Masonic ladder. What you are going to do at every opportunity you get is to point out the folly of the present course of action. You are not going to enter into personal attacks but rather intellectual debates challenging the power structure to change course. If you are a writer you will write articles explaining how destructive present policies are and what would work much better. If you are a speaker you will do the same. If your Grand Lodge runs opinion forums you will show up and ask the tough questions that need to be asked. You will write letters and E-Mails explaining your reforms to any and all. You might form a group of like-minded reform Brothers and meet on a regular basis – a reform club. You will probably launch a Masonic website and from that form a power base where you constantly point out the destructive path Grand Lodge is on. Yes you are going to be in their face and they are not going to like it. But if you stick to ideas and not personalities you are still on the high road. But you can’t change them you can only defeat them.
Will this course of action jeopardize your membership? Could be. Depends on what you would rather do, remain on a sinking ship or stay afloat in a lifeboat. If you are the only one doing this then obviously you are in some trouble. But what if 300 Brothers all felt the same way and were all participating with you and were doing some of the same things? Power respects power. Power does not respect ideas. Ideas cannot defeat power only ideas with power behind them.
My path personally led me to leave mainstream Masonry and join Prince Hall. I won’t go into the reasons why I made that decision nor recommend it to others. Some have said that now that I am on the outside looking in I can no longer influence change. Poppycock! I didn’t leave Freemasonry. I’m still in the legitimate, non clandestine practice of Masonry. I can speak at other Lodges, I can write articles, I can blog and in every way still call attention to failed practices. As time goes by I will be able to visit the Communication of any mainstream Lodge and in casual conversation whether over coffee or a pint I can have my say and influence the thinking of others who in turn will carry the torch of reform into their Grand Sessions. Who knows what the future holds in store for the intermingling of Prince Hall & mainstream Masonry. That future might mean the allowance of dual membership.
And finally what is the way out of this Masonic political power trip? How do we get politics out of Masonry and get leaders who are concerned with the quality of the Craft not their own well being? The reason we got into this mess in the first place is that we stopped researching, studying and teaching the mysteries of Freemasonry and venerating our writers, researchers and speakers. If we return now to correcting that and making the philosophy of Freemasonry and the practice of its virtues the focal point of our existence then it will become what you know not who you know which is important. Our Lodges and Grand Lodges will no longer be populated by a bunch of know nothing Masons. The way that politics gains a stranglehold of Freemasonry is to have no other standard of preeminence available. Only then does power become the standard.
Also a system that encourages the study of itself and exalts the education of it members places knowledge on a pedestal not raw political power without knowledge. So when and if we choose to replace the system we have now with a one that reveres Masonic knowledge and that requires its leaders to be well versed in the meaning of Masonry, the symbolism of Masonry, the virtues of Masonry and the importance of passing on that knowledge then we no longer will be riding on the roller coaster ride of political gamesmanship. Right now we are like a church with a Pastor who has no knowledge of scripture. Right now we are no more advanced than any other organization out there. To be the noble, grand organization that stands heads and tails above any other we have to again learn and teach that Freemasonry is a philosophy of life, a way of life, and an answer to what is the meaning of life.
In order to get to that point we need to force the issue. Those in our Grand Lodges so concerned with numbers and dollars and staying in power will not change and reform of their own free will and accord. Helping them and working with them only hastens the destruction of Freemasonry. They will not step down quietly but will go kicking and screaming, but go they must.
The only thing left to say is that this doesn’t apply to everyone, but if the shoe fits…………………………….
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