Monday, September 2, 2019

‘For this, and this alone, does a man become a Freemason’

“Labor is an important word in Masonry; indeed, we might say the most important. For this, and this alone, does a man become a Freemason. Every other object is secondary or incidental. Labor is the accustomed design of every Lodge meeting. But do such meetings always furnish evidence of industry? The labor of an Operative Mason will be visible, and he will receive his reward for it, even though the building he has constructed may, in the next hour, be overthrown by a tempest. He knows that he has done his labor. And so must the Freemason labor. His labor must be visible to himself and to his brethren, or, at least, it must conduce to his own internal satisfaction. As we build neither a visible Solomonic Temple nor an Egyptian pyramid, our industry must become visible in works that are imperishable, so that when we vanish from the eyes of mortals it may be said of us that our labor was well done.”

Johann Christian Gaedicke

Gaedicke was a Mason in Germany, initiated in 1804 at age 41. A bookseller by day, he went on to author seminal books on Masonic vocabulary, so his elegant assertion here on the subject of labor is fitting. Nor is it surprising that he was a favorite of Albert G. Mackey, who of course would go on to write his own Lexicon and Encyclopædia of Freemasonry. It is in Mackey’s encyclopedia where I found this quotation of Gaedicke’s. (Mackey also alternately spells it Gädicke.)

Today is the national holiday Labor Day here in the United States. I normally do not seize on holidays for thematic content for The Magpie Mason, but I see it differently today thanks to a discussion on Facebook I saw earlier. A venerable Mason in my former grand jurisdiction has created a group where the brethren may openly discuss the shortcomings of the Craft there, not in complaint or derision, but in the spirit of seeking a better way forward. This post today concerns social media. I have edited it sharply for length to use here:

As we Masons begin labor in our Lodges, please consider the recommendations in this post. Thanks.

Social Media Thoughts
and Commentary

I am convinced that social media could well be a solution to help solve some of the issues that plague our Grand Lodge. If used properly, I believe that we could utilize the reach of social media to address issues such as recruiting new members, retaining absent brothers, educating ourselves and the uninformed, and reinforcing core Masonic values.

As some of you might know, I underwent a very serious surgery this past February and as a result, I had a lot of time on my hands recovering from the operation…. While sitting in my comfy chair, I observed many posts covering after-meeting get-togethers, dinners, and other social functions.

Very rarely did I see anything written about the greatness of our fraternity, what it means to be a Freemason, or simply the honor of being a Master Mason. I wondered why so much time and effort went into posting pictures of smoking cigars, or eating and drinking, and claiming “another night of friendship and brotherhood.” I even saw a post with brothers in high positions of Grand Lodge leadership mocking another brother for something he had said. Yet, I found nothing written about the beauty, the mystery, or the honor of being a New Jersey Master Mason. Imagine if social media posts were inspirational, aspirational, and/or informational….

Why not address subjects as “Why I became a Freemason,” “What Freemasonry has done for me,” or “A year in the life of an active Freemason and his lodge.” With very little effort, I can identify at least a dozen other subjects. Along with a thought-provoking or informative article, why not post it with a picture of your lodge building, lodge room, or something with a Masonic theme?... I think posts that reflect our feelings about this great fraternity will be more helpful in attracting new members and retaining our absent brothers than scotch and cigars.

I can’t argue with that.

Regular readers of The Magpie Mason know I’m not against enjoying cigars, spirits, and fellowship, but I am against making these extra-curricular activities the focus of the lodge. (That is what, for example, the Grotto is for.) There is labor, and there is refreshment—and even during refreshment we are ever reminded to keep our wits. I have seen years worth of the Facebook posts our good brother laments above. I’ve seen dozens of photos of guys’ socks, their motorcycle rides, their restaurant entrees, and other attractions anyone could enjoy without ever considering becoming a Freemason. And this is nothing new. More than a decade and a half ago, I visited a lodge in New Jersey to join in its sesquicentennial celebration. The keynote speaker was the current grand master, who really had nothing Masonic to say, but instead spoke insistently and happily that Freemasonry could be stripped of its teachings, rituals, and symbols without detriment, because we’ll all still be friends anyway. That’s a kindergarten mentality that ripples through that jurisdiction.

We are here for our labors. Masonic Man is at once the builder, the raw building material, and the finished building block. Strip the Craft of its lessons and modes of instruction! Indeed.

In the wake of the Black Death in 14th century England, King Henry VI and Parliament endeavored to check the power of masons with a law that superseded the masons’ own regulations for wages. It became a felony for masons to gather for their “yearly congregations and confederacies” whereby these Statutes for Laborers “be openly violated and broken, in subversion of the law, and to the great damage of all the Commons.” The penalty for masons meeting illegally included imprisonment, fines, and ransom “at the king’s will.” The Statutes of Laborers were repealed under Queen Elizabeth I, as they were shown to have carried “no force or effect.” The labors of masons will not be infringed.

We Speculative Masons have our signs, grips, and words to demonstrate our fitness to receive Masons’ wages. We wield our Working Tools. Our lodges open for labor. Those labors include making Masons, and imparting good and wholesome instruction. You get the idea, but not everyone does.

Embedded somewhere, but I know not where, in the Masonic corpus is the Latin “Ora et labora,” meaning “to labor is to pray,” borrowed from Saint Benedict’s rule for monastic life. But that’s a topic for a future Labor Day.

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