A Letter to Petitioners and Candidates

What follows was written for a close friend who just got a petition. As I was writing, I realized it might be valuable to a larger audience, so I’m putting it out as an open letter and welcome others to share it as they wish.
My Very Dear Friend,

It’s wonderful that you’ve received a petition to be made a Mason! I’m thinking about the conversations we’ve had leading up to this moment, and I have a pretty good idea of what it means to you. It’s a very special moment for me too and, as close as we already are, I know Masonry can make the tie between us even stronger and more beautiful. It’s also exciting to anticipate your discovery of our tradition and how it might contribute to beneficial changes in you and your life. Of course, I already know you to be a truly good man, an ethical, compassionate, and thoughtful man. I respect you and love you very much, and you are already a brother to me in the most meaningful of ways. You’re just the kind of man Masonry was designed for, and the kind of man the Fraternity always needs.

Having gone this way before you, I’d like to offer some thoughts that might prove helpful as you begin your Masonic journey. I’ll start with this, which is something I hope you hear often from others: Nobody speaks for our tradition as a whole. Even the ritual and regulations of your Grand Lodge and bylaws of your local lodge, all of which you will be obligated to honor, do not adequately represent the diversity of landmarks, customs, symbolism, and teachings across the several centuries and many different jurisdictions of our tradition. So, when I or anyone else offers a statement about Masonry, no matter who it is, no matter how certain and convincing he sounds, it remains your responsibility to think for yourself and form your own understandings of things.

We started there because you’re likely going to have many moments in which some brother shares an understanding that he feels and believes is a, if not the, fundamental and essential truth about Masonry and being a Mason. At such times, you’ll often hear one of us use words like “a real Mason,” or “a true Mason,” or “a good Mason.” In my own experience, I can’t begin to count the number of times I or some other brother has begun speaking with a phrase like, “What it’s really all about is….” So, maybe it will help to share some different things that can follow those words.

What it’s really all about is…
-Making good men better
-Reducing vices and increasing virtues
-Polishing and adorning the mind
-Brotherly love and fellowship
-Charitable works and community service
-Glorifying the Great Architect of the Universe
-Growing as a leader
-Developing mature healthy masculinity
-Exploring the mysteries of existence
-Seeking light, attaining enlightenment
-Realizing your connection with the Divine
-Leading a contemplative life

About that last bullet point, I will assert that the more contemplation a Mason applies to the rituals, customs, and literature of our tradition, and to his own inner and outer life, the more I believe he will see Masonry is really about all of those things! Surely each of those things, and others not mentioned, could be the single most important part of Masonry for a particular brother, and I’m glad for that! Such diversity has been a vital part of ensuring our continuation across the generations. It’s therefore important to encourage and support that diversity, which takes us back to embracing the right and responsibility for each of us to discover what Masonry means, what differences it makes in our own lives. You might also find that your understanding of it changes with time, and I actually think you can’t avoid it if you’re taking a contemplative approach.

The second major thing I want to communicate is that you may have moments in which you are disappointed in some of your brothers. Because Masons are human, our Fraternity cannot avoid having its share of human failings. Bigotry and prejudice of all kinds can be found within our numbers. So can selfishness, egoism, arrogance, jealousy, envy, and greed. We are also not immune to excesses with all kinds of appetites, desires, and passions. And while there are some of us who seem like they need to be in control of everything, there are also others who are quite content to enjoy the benefits of membership without ever lifting a finger to help provide them to others.
The more you learn about Masonry, the more you will see all these problems are clearly counter to what we espouse. For that reason, hypocrisy can seem especially offensive when it arises among us, either individually or institutionally. Sometimes brothers can be so disgusted by it that they leave the Fraternity, and some even conclude that Masonry itself is nothing but a huge farce. Other times, brothers decide to turn our sacred spaces into battlegrounds where they fight to rid our ranks of the perceived enemy. It also isn’t unusual to see brothers simply avoid, ignore, and deny the uglier truths about their brothers, lodges, and Grand Lodges, despite our ritual admonishing us to offer Truth, Relief, and Brotherly Love, at least in the form of good counsel. Yet, whatever others may or may not do, when you experience disappointment and disillusionment it will be your own challenge to figure out how you respond.

Thirdly, while it’s important to squarely face the uglier truths about our Fraternity, it is even more important to search out and embrace everything positive we can find in every brother and organizational form of Masonry. Chronic negativity, whether at an individual or institutional level, becomes a malignant thing, spreading like a psychic cancer that robs us of our potential to be healthier and happier. So, I’m happy to say that I’ve been privileged to see brothers making heroic efforts of self-awareness and personal transformation. The brothers I most respect and admire are those who clearly have their shortcomings, but they know them and work on them, and don’t let their presence block them from expressing their better qualities. You know all those bullets in the list of what Masonry is really about? Everywhere I’ve gone in Masonry, I’ve seen brothers and lodges working hard on at least one of them, and usually more. That fact inspires me, encourages me, and has been part of what has transformed me and empowered me to be more helpful to others. I want those experiences for you too.
Finally, if it’s possible, I will be present for your degrees. No matter what, I can’t wait to greet you as a Masonic brother, and to reflect upon them with you. I know we’ll be doing so for the rest of our lives.
In brotherly love,
Chuck