What is Masonry
What is Masonry and Why am I a Mason?
by a Brother of Ojai Valley Lodge #551 American Federation – Le Droit Humain
Both of these questions are lifetime research questions in their own rights, but when combined, they work together to help each of us understand why we are Masons and how we can try to explain our choices to non-Masons when appropriate.
The first complexity to this subject is that Masonry provides several different “images” to the public eye depending on who is looking at Masonry. Masonry is a fraternal organization; Masonry is an organization that works toward personal and social improvement; Masonry is an organization that works to aid many charities; and Masonry is an organization that takes its “lessons” from practical science and geometry as well as “allegorical stories and dramas”.
The second complexity is the question of which portions of these many (and hardly exhaustive lists) do each of us work on a regular basis and which of these are the “important” pieces that define Masonry?
The answers to these questions then lead us toward an answer to the second part of the combined question, why am I a Mason? First and foremost, Masonry is a fraternal organization, a Brotherhood of members that try to live the concepts of Liberty, Equality, & Fraternity. Each Masonic Obedience may view the “regularity of membership” somewhat differently; but once a member, we all see that person as our Brother or Sister and we present to him (or her) the path to obtaining all of the benefits of Liberty, Equality, & Fraternity. We strive to aid and support our Brothers and Sisters within the bonds of this Fraternity. We do not impoverish ourselves, but we do remember our early lessons and render aid to our Sisters and Brothers where we can.
Masonry works from this fraternal beginning to work on personal and social improvement within the individual and our society at large. In our Obedience, our emphasis is currently on personal improvement so that we, as people working on making ourselves better, can share that improvement with our family, friends, and associates. We do not aim for “converting” others or “recruiting” more members. We aim for leading “by example” and presenting a public image that encourages others to want to ask “how come you are the way you are?” When we hear this question (or any version of it), we have the opportunity to explain how Masonry has helped us get to where and who we are. This will often lead the inquirer to seek further into Masonry and possibly to seek to join Masonry as well. In our Obedience at this time, we encourage individuals to push for the social improvement and changes via their own work as they progress on their personal path of self improvement.
Within our Obedience, we regularly donate to large and small, global and local charities as well as supporting our own special work being that of SPES “Soutien Pour l’Enfance en Souffrance” (Support for Suffering Children or Hope in Latin). With the exception of established contributions to SPES to support specific children, our contributions and are distributed by the individual lodges annually.
All of this tells a bit about what we strive for and what we hope to accomplish, but I have not yet addressed the most interesting subject – how we teach others to want to improve themselves and give of themselves, to improve the society as a whole. In Freemasonry, this is done through practical science and geometry as well as “allegorical stories and dramas.” As anyone who has made a search will know, the internet holds a lot of information as well as a lot of misinformation and a large part of the general lessons, stories and dramas that we work with can be found in one form or another on the internet. What then is the value of seeking these lessons within the structure of Masonry? Depth, interpretation, and experiences. These are the true secrets of the Masonic lessons and training. If you look at a simple item like the geometry of a 90° angle from a scientific perspective, this one angle can reveal a lot about our world and how we understand it. But when we Masons look at this type of knowledge, we are looking at what it means to us as humans in a human society. The many lessons that can come from this simple geometric item are vast while the real lessons and secrets become more of “what is the lesson that I need from this now” rather than trying to seek “all of the lessons that the 90° angle can provide.” The structure of each of our Lodges is such that we can work toward this more personal lesson with each study of Masonic symbols.
You will no doubt notice that I have not stated what any of the lessons are that we can derive from any symbol (or any other science item, story or drama). Many will have similar lessons come up from the 90° angle, but very few will have the same lesson, even though we share what we learn and understand. This is why Masonry is able to work with and for people across so wide an expanse of times, locations, and cultures.
This then is a small overview of what Masonry is and what it does. The depth of the individual’s research into any item depends on the desires, capacities and focus of the individual. Masonry provides a framework to start this ongoing conversation as well as a safe environment to discuss and pursue these answers within the Fraternity.
This then brings me to the final item here, “why am I a Mason?”.
I have had many people ask, “What do you get from being a Mason?” This may highlight an interest of that enquirer but is very different from “Why am I a Mason?” Each Mason will find different values that they have gained through Masonry; however, Masonry does not give you anything except an opportunity to grow and learn. I have found that Masonry helps me think in such a way that allows me to find answers for many of my “big questions.” It also affords me a supportive and fraternal place to work and share and that enhances my ability to use and build upon the answers that I find.
I will close with a very famous Presidential quote that truly embodies this idea, even though there is no record that this president was ever a Mason: “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” Inaugural Address by John F. Kennedy – January 20th 1961.
Each Mason will have differing personal answers for this big question of “Why are you a Mason.” This is a portion of that answer and a glimpse into the nature of Masonry. Freemasonry gives us a foundation, a superstructure to build upon, and lessons and allegories to prompt us to think. It, therefore, becomes our effort, our work, our ideas that allow us to become builders or “Masons.”
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