[Square & Compasses]    

Letter of the month: February 1995

Date: Fri, 3 Feb 1995 06:31:31 -0500
From: A Curious Non-Mason
To: dryfoo@MIT.EDU
Subject: A Masonic Observation

Dear Mr. Dryfoos,

I have visited your Masonic web page three times in the past few days. It looks very interesting but unfortunately all my attempts to connect to Thelonius have been refused, so I have been unable to see much of the real contents. I take it that will be fixed at some point.

Since you you made the mistake of inviting questions about the Masons and I have absolutely no idea where else I might direct to this, I have an observation to make about my experience with the Masons which I am going to pass on to you. I have no doubt one or more questions are implicit in it, so feel free to respond if you are so inclined.

About a year ago my daughters were approached about joining the Rainbow, which they did. Early on I expressed some interest in the Masons and at the first Rainbow function I attended I was approached by one of the brothers who spent some time talking to me about Freemasonry and eventually I found myself being more or less interviewed by a panel of three Masons. I was interested, and said so, and thought there would be further conversations on the subject, for which I prepared myself by reading several books. There was, however, no follow-up; instead, my wife and I attended several more Rainbow functions and found ourselves virtually ignored. Okay, you say, the brothers thought it over and decided he wasn't worthwhile; and I say, all right, fair enough, I'm not sure, as the old joke goes, that I'd want to belong to any organization that would have me as member either. But that does not appear to be what happened at all, for several messages did get relayed to me through my wife by way of a friend of her's who is OES to the effect that the Masons wanted to know where my petition was!!

I found that sequence of events very strange, to put it mildly, and it led me to Masonic Catch 22 hypothesis: no one who takes it seriously would join without getting to know them first, but you can't get to know them without joining. And while this is meant somewhat humorously, I think there is some truth in it for some one not coming from a Masonic family or through the youth organizations. I understand the notion of not actively soliciting members and of never asking anyone to join -- in fact, I very much approve of it. But there has got to be some middle ground between that and interacting with prospects only gravitationally.

Meanwhile back in the Rainbow, I found my daughters over and over again being treated as second class citizens because I am not a Mason. I will spare you the details except to say that they finally quit in December when a girl who had attended only two meetings all term was selected as Worthy Advisor for the next term (after they were repeatedly warned of dire consequences if they missed even one meeting) and my daughters were given their choice of left over offices only after all the daughters of Masons had selected theirs, including three who had just been initiated!

Now please don't misunderstand me. I found the history of the Masons fascinating, the publicly stated goals and philosophy of life quite laudable and the charitable work most commendable. That's why I was interested in the first place, and that is precisely why my personal experience with the Masons has left me shaking my head in bewilderment. There seems to be a tremendous gulf between what I've read about it and what I and my family have actually seen. It mystifies me and if you can enlightened me in any way, I would be happy to hear what you have to say.

If not, thanks for listening.

A Curious Non-Mason


To: A Curious Non-Mason
Subject: Re: A Masonic Observation 
In-reply-to: Your message of "Fri, 03 Feb 1995 06:31:31 EST."
--------
} I have visited your Masonic web page three times in the past few days.
} It looks very interesting but unfortunately all my attempts to connect
} to Thelonius have been refused...

THELONIOUS.MIT.EDU is the ftp server on my desk, and apparently it works just fine for most folks, but occasionally someone has a temporary problem. I've been told that NEARnet was down for a few days, during which access to our web-server, and through it to my machine, could have slowed to the point that your browser was (very sensibly) giving up and timing out. I'd need more details about what happened from you end, what kind of browser you use, from what network, etc, and how often you've tried, to know more. It's still kind of mysterious to me. Let me know if you ever do get through.

} Since you you made the mistake of inviting questions about the
} Masons...

Hasn't proved to be a mistake yet, actually.

Sorry about your experience with that lodge. Without talking to them, here's my best guess of what happened. You weren't shunned at all, believe it or not. Rather, it was probably a combination of pure disorganization and Masonry's dislike of chasing a candidate. One the one hand, remember that lodges aren't commercial businesses with quick and zippy databases, just guys of varying degrees of organizational talents, trying to do their best. If Moe thinks that Larry and Curly were supposed to have given you a "pre-application form" and Larry thinks that Curly has the forms, and Curly thinks that Moe is in charge of that... well you see what can happen. On the other hand, Masonry, when _seriously_ pursued is much more than a fellowship and dinner society, and a serious Mason will find himself faced with the very difficult task of improving himself, of facing honestly everything about himself that he knows in his heart that he must perfect or leave behind in order to grow. When considered this way, you can see why no one would ever presume to "invite" someone else to join, or even follow-up with someone who may have changed his mind and decided he'd rather not.

As for "the brothers [thinking] it over and [deciding] he wasn't worthwhile", most of the brothers probably never knew about your interest. There is a fixed process for the members deciding to accept or reject an applicant, and that isn't it. Your application would be presented to the lodge, several members would be formally appointed an investigating committee, and they would meet with you and ask you about your interest in Masonry, and some other necessary things. Then they would report back to the lodge and there would be a formal ballot. Since none of that happened, I am led to my conclusion that this is a combination of reticence and "the Moe/Larry/Curly Effect".

So, if you seriously do want to begin to "improve yourself in Masonry" then you must call a responsible member of that Lodge (or another if your experiences have given you an irreconcileable dislike of the first) and TELL THEM in no uncertain terms that Yes you do want to be a Mason, and that you are approaching them for that purpose. If you ask firmly and directly, you will be treated with the directness you desire. Based on what you tell me, I really believe that this was just a case of misunderstanding.

As for being ignored at Rainbow functions, I don't know what to tell you. People in groups are not very good these days at greeting newcomers. Also, if most of the men there are Masons, they could be coming to those meetings to see their friends from lodge. If everyone just individually stays with the people they already know (and, honestly, haven't you occasionally done the same at parties or reunions and such?) then the newcomer would certainly feel left out.

} I found that sequence of events very strange, to put it mildly, and it
} led me to Masonic Catch 22 hypothesis: no one who takes it seriously
} would join without getting to know them first, but you can't get to know
} them without joining.  And while this is meant somewhat humorously, I
} think there is some truth in it for some one not coming from a Masonic
} family or through the youth organizations....

Most of the members of my lodges do not come from a "Masonic family". I don't know about your area, but there's no such informal restriction anywhere I have ever travelled.

I know that you are upset, for which I cannot really blame you, but I must say that I hope you do not have a consistent habit of reading malice or disrespect into the unknown motives of others. Masonry thrives in an atmosphere of generousity of spirit, of giving the other guy the benefit of the kindest interpretation upon his motives. Please consider my interpretation and see if it can't fit the experiences you have outlined to me.

Regarding your daughter's Rainbow experiences, I can't say much as I am a single guy, with no kids, and little knowledge of Rainbow. But if I were faced with such a situation, I would certainly write a courteous letter to your state's Grand Chapter officer (I'm not sure of the title, but the Masonic Grand Lodge secretary of your state will know), explaining why your daughters have resigned from the organization, and expressing your disappointment. On the other hand, from what I remember of my own early teen years, girls at that age were irrationally and profoundly cliquish then, and I don't guess that's changed much in the interim.

I am sorry that your experiences with the Fraternity thus far have been so unhappy. Please write to let me know if my words have been at all helpful.

And I would love to get another letter from you in a year or two, telling me about how busy you are in your lodge, hard at work coordinating a more smoothly functioning membership committee.

Speaking of looking after new members and such, I am due at a "Lodge of Instruction" tonight, where 2 of our new candidates will be attending to learn more about the Craft. I want them to see at least one familiar face there, and since the meeting is about 40 minutes away from here, I'd better get moving.

Good luck. Please stay in touch.

sincerely,


+---------------------------------------------------------------------------
| Gary L. Dryfoos   617.864-4248, ofc:253-0184, fax:253-8665
| P.O.Box 505, Cambridge, MA 02142  HTTP://web.mit.edu/people/dryfoo/
| Master, Mt. Scopus Lodge AF&AM, Malden, Mass.
| P.M. Ocean Lodge AF&AM, Winthrop, Mass. (1988-90, 1991-93)
|  "...one sacred band, or society of Friends and Brothers, among whom no
|   contention should ever exist, save that noble contention, or rather
|   emulation, of who best can work and best agree."
+===========================================================================

P.S. Your experiences aren't uncommon, unfortunately. I am going to remove your name and all identifying material, and post your (disguised) letter and my answer to the net.


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