"What do we want?"
"When do we want it?"
I seem to hear variations of this chanting in nearly every Masonic Facebook group, in lodge discussions, Reddit threads, Masonic survey results, and seemingly everywhere else I turn in the fraternity. I've been hearing it since the day I joined Masonry almost twenty years ago, and I keep on hearing it. I fact, I keep being told that men leave the fraternity every day because they didn't find any "education" when they came to lodge a few times. "Nobody is educating me!" comes the plaintive cry.
"Masonic education" is everywhere you look, but YOU HAVE TO LOOK. Freemasonry has been freighted with more than its share of members who just simply refused to read and educate themselves ever since it began, as Albert Mackey lamented in the 1870s. That's a downright shame, because that "Masonic education" members supposedly clamor for is just laying out there, waiting to be picked up and read, if only Brethren would bother to open a book.
Case in point:
Last week, a five pound box positively crammed full of "Masonic education" thudded onto my doorstep in the form of the latest bonus book of the Scottish Rite Research Society.
After 27 years of publication, the SRRS has collected together every single issue of their outstanding quarterly newsletter, The Plumbline 1991-2016, into one complete hardbound, facsimile volume. Every page, every article, every photograph is reproduced, and it fills more than 660 pages of indexed gold.
SRRS members who were dues current in 2016 should be receiving it, if they haven't already.
This huge volume is a godsend. Because The Plumbline was published for all of these years in a six- or eight-page folded newsletter format, the problem all along has been the ephemeral nature of it. They weren't considered disposable to regular readers, yet they were frequently disposed of — Plumblines all too easily got tossed out with the latest stack of frozen steak catalogues and angry bill collection notices. I myself have been painstakingly piling up old issues of The Plumbline since I first joined the SRRS, because there have been indispensable articles in them I didn't want to lose. But there was never an easy way to access all of them, as they were crammed haphazardly into reams of overstuffed 3-inch binders on an upstairs shelf.
To call The Plumbline a "newsletter" does it a horrible disservice, as the substantive articles that have filled it all these years are NOT lighthearted announcements of meetings, elections, and event dates. They are sometimes papers that were sometimes considered too short to warrant inclusion in the pages of the annual Heredom, but that doesn't mean they were thinner on quality or research or thought-provoking content. And they are not just about the Scottish Rite, either.
That said, it should be stressed that most of these papers were specially written for The Plumbline and not simply too short for the SRRS's hard-backed, thicker cousin publication. The editor is always on the lookout for articles and papers, ideally of around 3500-4000 words. Over the years, The Plumbline has been edited by Pete Normand, S. Brent Morris, John Boettjer, Forrest Haggard, Jim Tresner, Michael Halleran, Robert M. Wolfarth, and today by Adam Kendall. Adam can be contacted through the Plumbline's website HERE.
There is WONDERFUL information to be found here, by many of the top Masonic authors and researchers of the last three decades – as well as outstanding brethren you may not have heard of before.
You want to present "Masonic education" at your next lodge meeting? Open this book to any page and start reading at random: I stopped at Paul M. Bessel's Ten Steps To Interesting Masonic Research; Rex Hutchens' The Place of Tradition in Ritual Integrity; Paul Rich's Count Leo Tolstoy and Freemasonry; David Stafford's Freemasonry and the Development of Greek-Letter Fraternities; Jon Crusoe's References the the Craft in the Works of Robert A. Heinlein; Wayne Simon's two-part article on military lodges in the Civil War; Gary Leazer's Mystery Religions and Freemasonry...
The same can be said of the five (soon to be six) hardbound volumes of all of the collected Short Talk Bulletins of the Masonic Service Association (which were also collected, edited and blessedly indexed into their hardback editions by S. Brent Morris). Every lodge should have these books (or even just one or two of them, if too many thick books in the building terrify your members).
The point is that Masonic education doesn't mean YOU have to go out, research a topic, and present a well-reasoned original paper on a groundbreaking subject no one's ever done before. Freemasonry is such that you could read the EXACT same article aloud in lodge every three years, and you'll have a whole new audience listening (with a handful of exceptions).
So do your lodge and yourself a favor: get hold of a copy of this book or the MSA's collections, open to any page, and start reading. I promise, it's like popcorn and you won't stop. Then go share it with your lodge Brethren next month.