Wednesday, September 18, 2013

High Church - Low Church and the Masonic Meeting

As is probably obvious from my posts on joining Commandery, I would describe myself as Christian. My Christian path as a child wound through many different church cultures and traditions but all of them were decidedly Protestant, and particularly focused on worship unbounded by strict formalism. However, as I have been exposed to different worship services and styles, I have found myself gravitating to what might be described as "high church" or "broad church." (In this case, I'm not describing doctrinal high church, rather formalism in the church service.) Sometimes, this is pejoratively styled, "smells and bells." And apparently, I'm not alone.

This is an example of High Church.

According to a post entitled, "Young Evangelicals Are Getting High" on the Christian Pundit website, a number of evangelical Millennials are dumping the traditions of their youth for Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, or High Church Lutheran services. They are attending Evensongs, participating in Ash Wednesdays, and other ancient traditions of the Church.

The author, in fact, is puzzled by this change.
In a way, it’s hard to understand. Why would you trade your jeans, fair-trade coffee, a Bible and some Getty songs for formal “church clothes”, fasting, a Bible and a priest? It makes no sense to want to kneel on a stone floor instead of sit in a comfy chair. And if you’re hearing about Jesus anyway, why does it really matter?
My teenager years were spent in a Methodist church. I'm used to rock bands, fun youth pastors, Christian rock stars, and blue jean wearing parishioners. Yet, when I attend a service like this now, it feels incomplete. Sometimes I wonder if the main reason people attend church is to hurry up and get to the coffee.

I attended a worship service awhile back and the pastor was going a little long. Well I guess he was going long but I didn't notice. I was enthralled because he was explore doctrinal ideas and issues that I had never heard in a sermon. He was exploring Christianity. He wasn't the Bible thumpers of television, he wasn't the storytellers trying to compare God to a caddy, etc. No, he was shaking the contents of the Bible out and looking at how it mattered.Yet, I was distracted by the coughing, watch-looking congregation. Weren't they listening?

I was frustrated. Here was a very young pastor who was exploring his faith and letting us in on the ride. In fact, he was giving a very good lecture on doctrine. The congregation was furious. They just wanted in, they wanted out, they wanted to go and chat about this or that, and then they wanted to go home.

This isn't to say that I haven't gotten something out of non-traditional, evangelical, or "low church" services as well. There have been moments of ecstatic faith. Moments of finding God within the service itself. However, I'm finding fewer and fewer of those moments within less tradition-rich environments.

So how does all this relate to Masonry? Right now we see various types of Masonry. There's standard lodges, there's Traditional Observance, European Concept, Restoration, and Affinity just to name a few.

I view Masonry through the lens of tradition. I think, in the Fraternity's transformation from the pre-World War II era to the post-World War II era, something was lost. The Fraternity ebbs and flows often. You know, maybe that's not the right phrase. The Fraternity is a double edged sword; on one side, it's a search for philosophy, for meaning, in other words, an introspective journey, and on the other side, it's a search for fraternal love, belonging, in other words, a community building organization. Frankly, we've been cutting with the fraternal side so much, it's becoming dull and blunt.

We live in the era of the 50's. The 50's era brought a lot of men into the Fraternity. They were good men for the most part but the lodge became very fraternal. That period did not bring a lot of different thoughts, of traditionalism. It was about easy opens and easy closings to focus on the lodge business, electric lesser lights, printed ritual, and a relaxed dress code. It was good for those men. I would argue, however, that some of us in the younger generation are not looking for that.

My optimal Masonry is focused almost solely on education, ritual, and tradition. In my mind, I see real candles for the lesser lights, formal dress (not tuxedos because they have been done to death), classical music or even better, organ music, incense, and deliberate take on the ritual. It's not that I want to make Masonry into a church. Masonry is not a religion. Instead, I want more focus. I don't want business meetings that drag on, I don't want brothers to look forward to the outer lodge because the lodge experience itself sucks.

Nothing I'm saying can't also be achieved in a less formal setting. A lodge that breaks itself of the useless business is on the right track. A lodge seeking to make education the highlight of the meeting is doing it right. Pancake breakfasts and reading the minutes and financial reports is not the right way. I don't want more Masonic business, I want more Masonry. Or maybe even better, I want the business of the lodge to be speculative Masonry. These can be accomplished in both high Masonry and low Masonry. I enjoy lodges in both traditions. It's the deliberation that the brothers make to the Work that makes a great meeting.

I understand that my view is not everyone's view. I might be just a tool. But I know what I like, and I think a number of younger Masons are in agreement. Tradition, focus, and education are essential. We have to make our meetings meaningful or men will turn away from the front porch, to find it elsewhere.

We are a society dedicated to self-improvement. This self improvement comes from external sources, our brothers, our ritual, or our explorations of our traditions and history. Even something as small as a candle helps me to focus my thoughts to the work at hand. For me, Masonry is work, not a chore. This isn't to say that I don't want Fraternalism. Masonry isn't just a "fix me" organization. We should have a good time. We just need to focus on both sides of the blade so as to not dull one side or the other.

What do you think? Are you a Mason in one of the aforementioned lodge types? Why or why not? Am I way off base? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, September 12, 2013