[Square & Compasses]

The Process of Freemasonry:

"We should square corners, not cut them"

by "Bro. Paul Trusten" <trusten@grandecom.net> -- this article has been reprinted in the Summer 2004 issue of Freemasonry Today

"There are two cardinal sins, from which all the others spring: impatience and laziness." ---Franz Kafka

My father was raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason in 1950, two years before I was born. He also became a member of the Scottish Rite and the Shrine, and cherished his memberships. "When you turn 21, I hope you'll become a Mason", said he to me one day when I was about nine, and these words, coming from this very laconic gentleman, made a lasting impression on me. They were steeped in time and forged in a sense of loyalty. They were part of a Masonic process.

``For those men contemplating becoming Masons, I strongly recommend that they join us in the traditional manner...   it is an experience not to be missed.''

As a result of this exchange, and watching my father proceed through life as a man who cherished kindness, honesty, and fair dealing with all, I gathered that Freemasonry was an outward celebration of just the kind of man he was, and that the fellowship of the old Craft was a valued device within which such good men could congregate and communicate. In fine, Freemasonry was more than a club. It was a society within a society, a special relationship among men to be patiently maintained.

This "favorable opinion conceived of the institution" made it all the more exciting for me when, at last, on March 26, 1980, I was initiated into Freemasonry as an Entered Apprentice in Monument Lodge No. 96, AF&AM, of Houlton, Maine, USA. As the elderly tiler helped me dress for my entrance, he remarked, "You know, Masons are all equal. I'm just an old farmer...and I would not have met all these wonderful people if I hadn't become a Mason." I don't know if he planned to say those words to me, but the effect on me was like the planting of a seed. Again, the process of Freemasonry was proceeding like the patient cultivation of a crop. The truism of his seemingly off-hand words would echo across a quarter century of "wonderful people" I would meet, and also befriend. Even more dramatic was the pronouncment of the entrance ritual just before my entrance into the lodge. With my mental preparation, it seemed that the words had been written for me personally. Once again, I felt I was part of a process.

My knowledge increased gradually with each degree that year of 1980: with my EA memorization, with the panoply of information as a Fellowcraft on May 14, the long summer (as it turned out) of perfecting my FC memory lesson, and the high drama of my Master Mason degree on November 5. Not expecting my hard-working, rarely traveling, 60-year-old Dad to get on an airplane and fly up to northern Maine for the occasion, I nevertheless asked him if he would come to Houlton. 350 miles away, for this event. He didn't flinch. He agreed immediately and cheerfully. My jaw dropped. Here I realized that there was a patient process afoot, that Freemasons are closer than one would think, that they take care of their own, across time and space. It was his hand that raised me that evening, and next day he just took me to the nearest jewelry store in Houlton and bought me a Master Mason ring, my most cherished ring today.

In years to come, I would be a regular brother in attendance at lodge, and see "many a brother and fellow" follow in my steps through the degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry. This was happening in the usual way, despite the crisis of membership we faced even in the early 1980s.

``The activity of degree conferral... is emblematical of successful labor, with the rewards of that labor being conferred in a magnificent association of men.''

Suddenly, in the 1990s, a number of Grand Lodges of Masons decided that the process of cultivating Masons was hindering the future growth of the Fraternity, and came to conclusions which seem to me to never have been made before by Masonic leaders: that most prospective candidates for the degrees of Masonry are "too busy" to attend several degree conferrals and memorize the lessons which are emblematical of their honorable labor. They enacted provisions for so-called "One Day Masons" or "One Day Classes", in which the precious experience which I have outlined above would be gutted by expedience, to an assembly of men which would observe all three degrees and leave the occasion as Master Masons. True, this plan has the potential to swell the membership roster and the coffers of the Grand Jurisdictions which adopt it. But, my experience cries out, to what result? What kind of Mason, and by extension, what kind of Masonry, will we have?

The rituals of the Grand Jurisdictions seem to militate against this "reform". They speak of "waiting a time with patience", of "fitting our minds as living stones for that spiritual building", that Freemasonry should be on guard against the cowan or poorly educated Mason, that Masons should be "duly qualified". But, most important, Freemasonry continually emphasizes the message of craftsmanship, both in our usual vocations, and in our relationships among people. Freemasonry is a call to diligence, patience, and pride in one's work. How it can be represented to anyone in a single day is beyond the ken of this Mason who has been delighted to see it represented across a lifetime.

The slow steeping of anticipation and learning leading up to my Master Mason degree is an experience that no thinking and feeling man would deny himself. As the ritual itself explains, it is emblematical of the passages of life itself, with the primary metaphor being work. This is why we call the activity of degree conferral "degree WORK", or "the WORK of the evening". It is emblematical of successful labor, with the rewards of that labor being conferred in a magnificent association of men. These strengths of purpose, I fear, are now under assault from among our ranks.

Although I am a liege subject of a Grand Jurisdiction which supports this plan, and am obligated as a Mason to cheerfully support its execution, I cannot avoid a certain amount of dread in this matter, for our Fraternity seems to be headed for a Pyrrhic victory---a victory of numbers, but a setback in strength. For those men contemplating becoming Masons, I strongly recommend that they join us in the traditional manner. Again, it is an experience not to be missed, in an organization of matchless worth, which offers a lifetime of satisfying return unobtainable in one day of exposure.

In our requirements for membership, as on the floor of the lodge, we should continue to square our corners, not cut them.

Bro. Paul Trusten
Midland Centennial Lodge No. 1448, AF&AM, Midland, TX

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