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.

8 comments:

Mr. Ives said...

I appreciate your words, but see a gender gap on this issue. As a Gen Xer, I would agree with the traditional initiatic focus and a seriousness that pervades all lodge business. However, some of our older members can only see the "pancake breakfast" side of lodge.

What I do hope to see in time is more diversity in lodge types, allowing us all to find the lodge we need regardless of geography, and more about the reason we joined. I would personally jump at the chance to belong to a lodge that takes traditional values and returns them to the lodge experience, and trusts that the officers will handle all of the business.

I am not sure, however, if everyone is on that page yet.

Tom Accuosti said...

It was about easy opens and easy closings to focus on the lodge business, electric lesser lights, printed ritual, and a relaxed dress code.

And Hawaiian shirts. And the fish fries and pancake breakfasts.

You know that I agree with you on this in principle, but let me toss this out:

How about a post detailing what a "high" Masonic meeting might look like? I ask this because while a number of us have mentioned that we would love to see something like this, I don't think that we all have a clear idea of what it would look like in person.

Nick Johnson said...

You know what? I will do that. I will write a follow up post.

koreafreemason said...

I'm members of both types. My mother lodge was heavily into ritual and education but was extremely lacking on the fellowship part.

The 2nd lodge I joined was the exact opposite and focused more on outside activities and harmony. I had more fun in the latter lodge and made lots of close friends but I feel I got a lot more out of my mother lodge in terms of education.

However, I will say that in the 2nd lodge I finally got the opportunity to put that education to practice through the fellowship of the brethren there.

The 3rd lodge I joined was more moderate. More effort into ritual and education and great fellowship afterwards where we'd actually discuss what we learned and how we can improve not only ourselves as individuals but as a lodge as a whole.

Jason Standish said...

I can appreciate your sentiment; I grew up in the Anglican tradition and attend both very high and fairly low churches during my life- and admittedly it took a while to adjust to the "low" setting. But I also realized what that low setting could mean to attendees that felt the "smells and bells" created veil or block to their communication with The Almighty.
As it pertains to the Lodge, I tend to look at needing to have a fairly strong compromise. I would apply the Anglican philosophy of the three legged stool here. A stool with three legs is the sturdiest and doesn't wobble; however if you make one or two legs longer than the other(s) than it becomes much harder to balance and keep your seat. I see the three legs of the Lodge being tradition & ritual, fellowship, and business & community. I really appreciate and look forward to very well done degree ritual as well as thorough catechism and instruction. but sometimes you just need to pay the bills and make sure the building is taken care of, and that we are doing our part to better the community around us. The fellowship time is also an important time to really be able to get to know and follow up with your Brothers.
Ours is a broad and disparate group of men coming to the Lodge to fill and fulfill different needs. For some the ritual and philosophy is what really calls them; for others the fellowship is what they really desire, and maybe need- with this age of telecommuting the Lodge might be the only place a Brother gets to interact with the "outside world" and if the business doesn't get taken care of the Lodge closes and neither need, nor that of your community is taken care of.
So I would be cautious of leaning to heavily any one direction- I think balance and equilibrium are the keys to growing healthy successful, and meaningful Lodges.
Thanks for the thoughtful and thought provoking posts!

Viking Knitter said...

This may seem random.. but it's a small world. I saw a link on your page for Corinthian Lodge. Both my father and brother were raised there, and my mother, father, and I were initiated into OES @ Myrtle Chapter in Farmington, MN.

Nick Johnson said...

Very cool. Send me a line.

Corey M. Williams said...

Don't the Esoterika Lodges help with incorporating concept of the craft? http://www.esoterikalodge.net/