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So, What's In A Meeting?

Robert G. Davis, 33°

The process of renewing our Fraternity happens in Lodge -- one meeting at a time.

There’s an old story that tells of a father who, in guiding his son, told him to drive a nail into a post every time he did an evil thing, and to withdraw one nail each time he did a good act. As the story went, the son did so, but as he was growing up, he always had one regret. He could not pull out the nail holes. They were a record of his life. For all the amending he did, they were always there to remind him of his flaws.

Habits are like nail holes. Long continued, they become hard to break. The nail holes stay, and they remind us of bad decisions.

Lodge meetings are very much the same way. In too many instances, our Stated Meetings have become habits that are hard to break. We treat them as if they were somehow part of the ritual. Everything’s the same. And if you ask almost any sitting Worshipful Master why this is so, he will probably give you a blank stare. In all likelihood, the answer is that his Lodge has been doing the same things at its business meetings for so long, they can’t remember when it was done any other way -- or if it was done another way.

Our cobwebs have become cables. We open, read the minutes, pay the bills, close, drink some coffee, and go home. Our meeting happens only because two weeks have elapsed since the last one.

Sadly, in too many Lodges, the business of Masonry has become that of making no real decisions at all. And that’s a bad decision for our Fraternity.

It wasn’t always that way.

If you could visit the European Lodge of the mid-1700s, you would have been inspired by the men who were crowded into the Lodge room. They were there for a noble reason -- they were seeking to find a model for how men could be governed (and govern themselves) in a manner that would permit freedom of individual thought. These meetings were devoted to creating a new social order that allowed men of all classes to meet together for no other reason than that they shared the same ideals. In its time, that was a revolutionary idea.

If you could have visited an English Lodge in the latter part of the 18th century, men were crowded there to soak in the lectures. These were a regular feature of every Lodge meeting. They covered every aspect of human knowledge from science, philosophy, religion, and anthropology to literature. If it had to do with the advancement of the mind, it was studied in Lodge. Men eagerly attended those meetings, expecting to be informed and challenged in both mind and spirit.

In addition, feasting, fun, jocularity, and conviviality were an integral part of every Lodge night. Men expected to be entertained as well as informed. The lectures, when mixed with bread, cheese, fruit, drink and laughter, were events that inspired the male psyche.

If you could have visited an American Lodge of the same period, men were packed in to be informed about the political and economic activities of the day. It wasn’t a partisan thing. Masons simply saw themselves as a legitimate part of a universal association involved with moving society forward. Many Lodges were distinguished by their political and social prominence. Freemasons were men who were active in their communities and their governments. They believed that education in social morality was essential to a free people. The Lodge guided men in the business of reorganizing their own institution, while giving its members global protection in a mobile and often hostile world.

These were indeed special times to be a Mason. But every generation creates special times to be men.

Unfortunately, too many of our Lodges today have lost almost all of these important traditions. It’s a sad thing. There is a disease wasting our Fraternity and threatening to reduce Masonry to little more than the preservation of a few marvelous words and precepts whose meanings are little understood and too often discounted as mere preachments clothed in an outdated language that means little and effects less.

This disease can best be identified by two words: no expectations.

If we want Masonry to be recognized as a viable part of our community, we have to expect that from it. If we want our Lodge experience to be a stimulating adventure, we have to expect that this will occur at every meeting. If a Lodge desires to give more to meeting local charitable needs than any other organization in town, that begins with the expectation to do so.

If we want to be a force in our community, if we want people to see us as an organization for today’s times, if we want to make good things happen in our world, if we want to influence the lives of our members -- we have to expect that these things really can happen.

This is the corporate business of Masonry. It’s the only reason we exist. And our Masonic forefathers would have expected us to be carrying the torch of progress in our own time. We can only expect to accomplish such things when we decide in Lodge that we indeed have worthy expectations.

The man who sits in the Master’s chair must expect to shine before he can reflect light. Our responsibility to him is to help him meet our expectations as members. It’s a cooperative venture, a process of growing together, working together, and living our own dreams. The process of renewing our Fraternity happens in Lodge -- one meeting at a time. It’s what’s in each meeting that counts!