Saturday, September 01, 2007

Guest editorial: Rebuilding lodges

Rebuilding Lodges by Bro. Jeff Peace

American Freemasonry began to decline back in 1963. Since that time the number of Masons in America has dropped to less than fifty percent of what it once was.

The number of brothers is not the only thing that has declined over time so have the lodge buildings. Most Masonic lodges in the United States have seen little if any maintenance or renovation since the 1960’s. Freemasons are supposedly builders and architects, and our buildings are our face to the community. What does it say about us as a fraternity when our buildings are in such a state of disrepair?

Maybe the buildings are just a symptom of deeper problems — problems that go right to the core of our fraternity. Maybe our buildings are a reflection of the true state of our brotherhood.

Have we forgotten what Freemasonry is all about — what it really means? Today we have books like Freemasons for Dummies by Chris Hodapp and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry by Brent Morris. Who is buying these books? Freemasons. Are we so ignorant of our fraternity that we need a guide for dummies and idiots to teach us what we are already supposed to know?

When a young man joins one of our lodges he expects that Master Masons are "Masters" of their Craft and can take him from being an apprentice to a master through education and participation. If he sees us thumbing through books for dummies and idiots what kind of impression do you think he will have of Freemasonry? He paid his initiation fee to a lodge and expected to learn something about the Craft from its supposed Masters.

What exactly is a "Traditional Observance Lodge"? Isn’t Freemasonry a tradition that's over 400 years old? Why do we need Traditional Observance Lodges when supposedly every Masonic lodge is a part of that 400 year tradition? There is nothing special about these lodges! They are merely doing what every other lodge has forgotten how to do. We have lost so much of our Masonic heritage that we have a special name for lodges that do what was common place a hundred years ago.

Then there is the poor state of our brotherhood. We are no longer held together as brothers by such things as honor, trust, and mutual respect. We have replaced these things with thousands of rules written in Masonic Code books. The rules are so complex that we have been forced to create jurisprudence committees to maintain and interpret them for us. Ours is no longer an enlightened brotherhood of free-thinkers such as Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire, but a group of automatons blindly conforming to rules regardless of their moral consequences. We are not taught to think as individuals working towards a greater good, but that conformity in some magical way accomplishes this without any effort on our part.

Is it really any wonder why the public and the community have lost their faith in our fraternity? Is it a mystery to anyone why we are declining?

We need to start rebuilding our lodges today. It needs to begin with a true spirit of brotherhood and cooperation. We need to realize that rules do not make us brothers and that honor, trust, and mutual respect are the things that bind us together. We need to learn our Craft and once again become true Masters of the Royal Art so that we can pass on our age-old traditions to future generations. Grand Lodges cannot mandate by edict that we be brothers and it have any real substance or meaning. It must begin in each and every individual lodge across America. If Freemasonry dies it is our fault for not taking responsibility for our own lodge and expecting our Grand Lodge to solve all our problems for us.

— Bro. Jeff Peace

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  1. Sorry Jeff, but you have precisely zero credibility on this topic. You have a nice enough message here - nothing new, mind you. But with all of the trouble you have caused, no one can possibly take a peace and harmony message from you seriously.

    And here I thought you were a big opponent of Masonic buildings in one of your previous incarnations.

    I'm afraid in your case it's not the message, it's the messenger that the overwhelming majority of the Masonic internet community finds tiresome.

  2. It appears that Masons in general have zero credibility in all matters. At least in this article one of you admitted how insignificant you are as an organization.

    This Peace fellow is the only one of you with any brains, and the rest of you spend your time chasing after your tails while trying to keep up with him.

  3. Anonymous #2

    Peace and harmony are up to you and those like you. I have offered the hand of friendship to men like you on many occasions and had my hand cut off just for making the gesture. Men like you have taught me to build with trowel in one hand and the sword in the other.

    You guys taught me everything I know about American Freemasonry.

    1. Always look over your shoulder or you'll get a knife in the back from a "brother".

    2. Masons will lie and defame one another for positions of "Masonic honor" and worthless baubles.

    3. Integrity isn't a word in the Masonic Dictionary.

    4. Morality is a code word for cover-up and deception.

    5. Honesty is against the un-written Masonic Code.

  4. Jeff,
    Like the song says, "How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?"

  5. Bro. Jeff, I thought this was good, until I reached this part:
    "Are we so ignorant of our fraternity that we need a guide for dummies and idiots to teach us what we are already supposed to know?"

    I think that's rather unfair.

    First, I'm pretty certain that neither Bro. Hodapp, nor Bro. Morris think that most of the Craft are idiots or dummies.

    More to the point, however, is that Masons are buying these books because they contain a lot of useful knowledge, slices of history, and interesting bits of trivia that they might not otherwise come across for years, if at all. In other words, it seems to me that they are buying these books because they are interested in the craft and want to learn more about it more quickly, and not because their more senior brothers aren't teaching them.

    Younger men who grew up in a world of "Dummies" books find an ironic amusement in the name, and are not put off by some imagined implication. From where I'm sitting, I can see on my own bookshelves "Dummies" books on such subjects as investing, personal finance, golf, and Microsoft Access, Excel, & VBA. I have several other "Idiot's" books around the house, including Bro. Morris' book (I purchased Bro. Hodapp's book when it came out, but donated it to the lodge and haven't seen it since). I admit to being a relative newbie, but I'm sure I'm not a Masonidiot.

    Well, pretty sure.

    Bro. Jeff, I disagree with your contention that Masonry is in a poor state of brotherhood; I wrote a little about this a few months ago; it's my contention that there really never has been some "Golden Age" of the Craft, and that there has always been some element of discord among brothers. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine that any large organization could ever be free of the vices and superfluities caused by ego and politics.

    I do agree that Grand Lodges can not mandate that we be (or even act) as brothers. But from what I see of Masonry, at least in the small state of Connecticut, most lodges are fairly removed from the Grand Lodge anyway, and tend to go about their business, doing their own thing. Some lodges happen to have a good mix of members, others, for reasons unknown, suffer from poor culture.

    I can't speak from experience about Masonry anywhere else, but I can assure you that we Nutmeggers (jeez, I hate that nickname) don't expect the GL to solve any problems for us.

    Tom Accuosti
    The Tao of Masonry

  6. Bro Tom,
    I have never read any book that falls within the "Dummies" and "Complete Idiots Guide" genre. Wheteher dealing with masonry or chess or conspiracies or proper ways to give self enema's.

    Maybe it has to do with wanting to read masonic stuff by Pike or Hall, Or By PHD's like Dr. Margret Jacobs and Dr. Steven Bullock.

    Why in name of TGAOU would any self respecting human being want to be categorized as an idiot or dummy and that these books are perfect for me?
    I know there is not much pride left in education and the attempt to RAISE our intellectual status by reading up, instead of down in level is foriegn today.

    But, I guess with all the one day classes, grand pappies pulling strings to get out of state grand sons, who do not live within the states, in their lodges, will need to be brought up to a pre school knowledge of a CRAFT that they just joined.....

    I wonder how many operative masons would look at another Masons who got into his organization without having to do any work to gain admission?

    That my friends is the definition of a cowan, one posing as master ,to recieve master wages, without doing the work.

    all one day guys under definfiton are cowans.

  7. ps..
    i love masons sinking to jeff level and character assassinating.

    Maybe all the attacks on jeff we find tiresome hypocryte

    masons are supposed to be above that...
    practice what you preach anaymous

  8. Bro. Accuosti,

    I disagree with you but am always open to well-reasoned and informative counter arguments like yours.

    It's not so much a matter of who's right and who's wrong but that this discussion can be had without the need for personal attacks like those from the anonymous posters. These guys come out here to attack the messenger instead of trying to understand the message.

    I did read your earlier essay and can't say that I totally disagreed with your conclusions. I do, however, think that there have been several "golden ages" of Freemasonry, and that this phenomenon is cyclical. All we have to do is survive long enough for the next cycle to begin.

  9. Bro. Accuosti,

    I want to give you and example that will make clear why I see the dummies books as a sign of the times.

    The Grand Lodge of Georgia publishes a book entitled "Leaves from Georgia Masonry". This is a collection of Masonic essays published in the early 20th century. It is mostly written by PGM's. After reading through it one can not avoid the realization that this material was written by intelligent Masons that had a deep understanding of the Craft. When you compare it to the few published works of present Grand Masters it illustrates how much intellectual capital we have lost in the fraternity over time.

    I believe it benefits us to understand this for what it is and all that it implies. We need to face these issues and address them. Simply pretending they are not real resolves nothing.

  10. "all one day guys under definfiton are cowans."

    Glad you brought that up, Mister Anonymous.

    I can't really address you as a Brother, since I don't know who or what you really are, which, by definition Masonically, makes you a cowan and an eavesdropper as well. Step up, identify yourself and stand by your opinions publicly, and then I'll be happy to address your Dummies and Idiots comments.

  11. Brother Jeff,
    I think you would be surprised to know that I do not disagree with your premise that it is sad that Freemasons are the biggest audience for mine and WBro. Morris' books. But there are far too many reasons for this state of the Craft to be fobbed off with a facile wave of the hand that Master Masons aren't doing their jobs anymore. I would argue that a substantial proportion of them never did throughout Masonic history. It is what Tom alluded to in his post. There may have been several so-called Golden Ages of Freemasonry, when there were Masonic scholars and speakers of great repute making the rounds and publishing books that have been handed down through the centuries as classics. But we tend to see more than there really were at any one given time. And I stand by my often-quoted statement that many of these venerated sages of the Craft created volumes and volumes based on conjecture, wild supposition, starry claims of predecessors, fraudulent evidence, or no evidence at all - in short, they did indeed write a lot of crap. They wrote much that was good and true, much that was insightful, and much that was thought-provoking. But they also peddled - wittingly or not - cunning untruths that we still perpetuate today. No one can read Pike, Macoy, Morris, Hall, Waite, Leadbetter, Woodman and others of their age and totally believe in their scholarship - WITH THE EVIDENCE WE HAVE TODAY. All knowledge of history changes daily.

    I hold out some hope that the Internet will bring about the sort of love for Masonic scholarship we had in the 1930s, in the age of The Builder. So far, it hasn't. But it has allowed worldwide communication and a widening of the masonic horizon when it comes to differences and similarities between lodges and jurisdictions. I continue to believe more widespread discussions will improve lodges. That's the best thing Traditional Observance and European Concept lodges have done – not revolutionized Freemasonry, but created working examples for others to study, visit, and steal great ideas from, to take home and raise the levels of their own lodges.

    As to Dummies and Idiots, if these two books had simple gray covers on them, stenciled with "Introduction To Freemasonry By The Grand Lodge Of Your-Jurisdiction-Here" I daresay you'd applaud that Grand Lodge for its dedication to educating new Masons. Some GLs have done just that and have excellent programs. Most do not. Brent and I wrote for large corporations that have successful track records of marketing introductory books to people who want basic information. They are not supposed to be the ONLY book someone picks up, only among the FIRST. Almost as important is the psychological aspect of these books coming from outside of the grand lodge system. If Grand Lodge sold the exact same books, but stamped with a plain cover and a square and compasses, would they have been as widely read and accepted? Or would they have been regarded as one more dreary Grand Lodge publication that the general membership ignored?

    If Margaret Jacob or Stephen Bullock or William Moore or Marc Carnes or Joseph Campbell had filled the void and written them, there would have been no need for me to write a Dummies book. More to the point, if Grand Lodges had created such books or educational programs on a widespread level, there would have been no need. If Dads and Grandads had taught their sons about Masonry, and done a better job adapting their lodges over the last 60 years to successive generations instead of being stuck in 1947, there would have been no need. But none of those things happened.

    We live in a society that has become so self-absorbed and insulated that self-directed study is often the only kind that appeals to a computer generation too impatient to learn mouth to ear. That's why Dummies and idiots books fly off of the shelves. because the publishers have tapped in to a world that requires an ever expanding base of basic knowledge on an ever expanding range of topics, just to survive. The Idiots and Dummies books are there to tell people just what they NEED to know, not everything they SHOULD know. And to be truly honest, if Freemasons are prompted to read more after reading an Idiots or Dummies book, how is that bad?

    Frankly, I'm a lot more concerned over the fact that the number one books on Freemasonry sold on Amazon bounces back and forth between Jim Marrs' appalling "Rule By Secrecy" and that fraud Sylvia Brown's "Secret Societies." "Freemasons For Dummies" was primarily supposed to teach a public that knows nothing about the fraternity enough to make a decision to either look for more information, or drop the subject.

    Those who choose to be offended by the Dummies and Idiots titles are free to do so. Neither Brent nor I wrote trivial books. They are introductory books. Kindly have the courtesy to read them before you go firing broadsides at us.

  12. Jim Marrs and tex marrs
    books are selling that much in regards to freemasonry?

    That is sad brother

    Tom Coste

  13. the pure intellect, compassion, sincerity and love that is mirrored in the thoughts of such upstanding citizens of the world (yes, thats right, theyre not just masons) are muddied and disgraced by the ignorance and unrealised hate of the anonymous righteous.

    may we all hold hands in love, brotherhood (indeed, sisterhood), and peace in the great beyond.

    i sincerely hope that.


  14. Just from a sociological viewpoint, it should bother us, a lot. If you look at reviews of Jim Marrs' book, what you see are readers who actually say, "Gee whiz, most of this book is really, really, really, really well documented, and I believe almost all of it. Although the stuff about aliens and reptiles is sorta stupid."

    This is uniformly the number one book about Freemasonry on Amazon, and has been for years. And don't get me started on perennial Oprah guest Sylvia Brown's channeling and "discovery" of a heretofore unknown super-duper secret society.

    Because there has been a vacuum until the last few years of popular, accessible, truthful information about the fraternity, society's fading collective memory of Freemasonry left a void that these charlatans have filled. Which is why I continue to say that we have a bigger job ahead of us. If we do not educate the community along with our own members, we face the same future as the Odd Fellows and the Pythians.

  15. Chris,

    There's no need to justify your having written your book. My issue isn't with the book but with what brought about the need to write it in the first place.

    It is clear from the many resources available that at one time Masonry was more literate than what it is today. What have now is a dumbed-down version of what once was.

    Anyone claiming that today's Freemasonry has the same intellectual capacity as that of 1775 needs to put down their bong for awhile and let their brain recover.

  16. You know, as a young MM, it is simultaneously exciting and encouraging to me to find brothers who not only know how to use a computer, but blog - and then discouraging to see the bickering that goes on between just the few active ones I've found.

    The first thing I have to say is that there should be some tempering of this discussion with the fact that it's damn near impossible to be an active and involved person of the community. Every single organization, charity, etc wants ALL of your time now... there is no "Kind of involved" anymore. Masonry, I have found, though, does not do this. This leaves everyone pulling at you from all angles with Masonry just whispering in your ear "When you're ready, we'll work on the next level..." Even older masons feel these pulls from church and other organizations.

    Secondly, this "Golden Age" concept that I keep hearing about - it seems really simple to me about how to bring it about: we're doing it right now. Breaking down traditional barriers of geography and disseminating the same information that we would have received from elder masons in our lodge but through the medium of the internet (or books for that matter) allows us all to study and become better masons working within the limited scope this busy, busy world has force us in to.

    Recommended reading: Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam


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