"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

My Twentieth Anniversary as a Freemason


I remember the day. Vividly. Every Freemason does.

Twenty years ago today — it was a Saturday, and two days short of the 'Ides of March' — my longtime friend Nathan Brindle and I were passed to the degree of Fellow Craft, and raised as Master Masons at an 'All Degree Day' at Calvin W. Prather Lodge 717 on Haverstick Road in Indianapolis. Presiding over our degrees was WB Donald C. Seeley from our Mother lodge, Broad Ripple Lodge 643, where we had both petitioned together the previous autumn. 


Former temple of Calvin Prather Lodge
I had just turned forty that prior November when Nathan and I joined. I later found out that's almost exactly the average age at which most Masons decide to join. I frequently joked that forty must be some huge bellwether life boundary. For the first time in my life, I had just bought my first Chrysler (deemed Old Folks Cars in the 80s and 90s); it had two sets of golf clubs in the trunk that was big enough to hide bodies in; and then I joined the Masons.



I despise the term, but if one day classes make "McMasons," then Nathan and I were special grill orders.

We looked enough alike that Masons just referred
to us interchangeably as Brindapp.
It was a very long day for all involved, as Don insisted that his two Broad Ripple candidates (the two of us) would have our MM work done individually, not in a large group of candidates. That was his price, in return for conferring all of the degrees that day. Such was his reputation as an outstanding ritualist. He would sit in the East and go through the entire Master Mason degree separately for us both, then all over again for a third time for the other candidates in a bunch. The Prather organizers reluctantly agreed, because they didn't have anyone at the time as proficient as Don to replace him. So Nathan and I are sort of one-day hybrids. 

My family friend of many years, Richard Finch, who hadn't been inside of a Masonic lodge for a very long time, made it a point to be there for me that day. It was amazing how many of my parents' friends turned out to be Freemasons, something I wasn't aware of until after I joined. So, too, were countless men I had admired as a child and a teenager. I would discover so many of them to be brethren decades after first encountering them. Most Masons will tell you the very same thing.



Prather's old lodge building (actually their second one) is gone today. So is James Lindsey, who acted as the Senior Deacon for the day. So is Dave Bosworth, who cooked breakfast and gave all of us candidates crash courses in Masonic education between the breaks. 
PGM Bob Hancock

So is the gregarious Grand Master Robert E. Hancock (photo), who was promoting this one-day class program at the time, along with a lot of other 'crazy ideas,' to the chagrin of many disgruntled Indiana Masons. Little things like permitting business meetings on the EA degree. Reasonable outreach to honorable men instead of hoping they would ask someday. Encouraging mutual cooperation with Prince Hall brethren. And once the lodge was closed, reopening the Bible at all times to the passage, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." He was right on so many things, and the rank and file despised him for it at the time. And then, ironically, so many of his policies came to fruition after he was gone.

So is David King, Prather's oldest living Past Master at the time. David gave the Middle Chamber lecture so movingly, so perfectly, and with such demonstrable understanding of the words of that complex ritual. I was astonished throughout the degree to hear it for the first time that day. I was even more shocked to discover afterwards that David was already blind at the time. 

So is then-Secretary Jerry Cowley, the ever cheerful, always optimistic, always outgoing promoter, defender and champion of Broad Ripple Lodge, who greeted every petitioner like a long-lost relative and was a constant fountain of suggestions to retain members. Nothing phased him, and he was always the first to volunteer. Jerry made sure that the rest of us understood that we are all connected to each other, and to never stop inviting and welcoming every Mason we met. When our lodge was teetering on closing, he always found a way to involve other lodges' members in our activities. And as we rebuilt, those visitors wound up enjoying our lodge more than their own. And that wouldn't have happened without Jerry.

So is then-Treasurer Irv Sacks, the wise old Jewish uncle I never had, and whose counsel I valued to the very end.

So is then-Senior Steward 'Big John' Gillis, whose friendly, folksy voice the whole city knew from his many years on radio stations WIBC and WNAP. How shocked I was when it was him who appeared with his big mustache and lamb chop sideburns to "propound three important questions" to me.

Past Master Don Seeley is gone, too. I really never thought that would happen, because he was King Solomon for all eternity in my mind's eyes and ears. 

And old friend Richard Finch just passed away this January. He was maybe hardest of all, because Dick and his family have been part of my family for almost 50 years now.


I fully realize that this sounds like a long parade of the dead, and maybe even that Freemasonry is nothing more than a slow march to the graveyard. Or the tar pit. Or both.

Quite the contrary. It teaches us to live and celebrate each day as if it were our last one, to learn from and to cherish each other, young and old. To put aside whatever petty nonsense divides us as individuals, and instead unite to become something larger than ourselves.

The lodge room that day was packed with Masons of all ages. And lots of them went on to remain active and to become leaders in the fraternity in the coming years. But it was a function of the demographics of a fraternity of mature men who overwhelmingly did as I did, and didn't join until their 40s and later. Yes, there were plenty of young men that day too, but the wise, older Past Masters who were running the show had more than twenty years of Masonic experience on me then. And it's two decades later now.

My friend Jeff Naylor once lamented, “When you're young, all you ever want to be is older. No one ever explains that the price you pay for that is in the numbers of people you lose who were important in your life.”

And yet, with all of those friends and brothers who were there that day now gone, you would think this is some maudlin, weepy lament over the past. 
It's not. Every single one of those men now gone taught me important lessons about Masonry, and people, and life itself. Each of us is the sum total of our experiences and those who shaped our character. Lessons I never would have learned in a hundred years on my own without men like these and countless others. 

The central metaphor of Freemasonry is its very premise. Each one of us is a Temple to God, and we choose to make our Temple worthy or not. But that Temple isn't built by us alone. It's built, stone by stone, with the help of all those around us, everyone we encounter. Especially Brother Masons. Fellow craftsmen engaged in building, not tearing down.

Joining the fraternity of Freemasonry has been the greatest life-changing experience of my 60 years on Earth, and I say that without exaggeration. In two decades of membership, I have traveled all over the world and met and gotten to know quite literally thousands of Masons from every walk of life. Every sort of profession. Every economic level. Every race, color, nationality, education, personality, temperament, religion, and every other sort of classification people can dream up to categorize and file away strangers we normally don't know or would never otherwise associate with on a bet. Those tribal distinctions that we arbitrarily use to ignore the people around us are all meaningless when it comes to basic human coexistence. That's what being "on the level" is all about, which has been one of the primary purposes of Freemasonry from its very beginning. 

Funny how that Undiscovered Country always seems just out of reach. Yes, as Hamlet said, it "puzzles the will." But such an amazing journey it has all been so far, with the greatest crowd of traveling companions it's ever been my privilege to know.





15 comments:

  1. At the time I became a member, my lodge required learning the candidate's parts orally, so I was assigned to one of the oldest members, about 90 then in age and who has been Master in 1912, but younger than many of us in spirit. Later I was able to treat him, if that is the right word, to the cryptic and royal arch degrees -- one of the oldest candidates they ever had.

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  2. Good post. "Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you; I haven't touched you yet."

    By Carlos Castenada.

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  3. Thank you for your exertions that have improved the Order, and for enriching so many others' Masonic journeys.

    Jay

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  4. I have been in Lodge for 36 years, and have been the Treasurer of Evansville Lodge 64 for 27 years, I remember the night I went in like it was yesterday, I love you story you wrote on your FC degree I passes it to all my friends in Lodge, you said it well. Jay West PM

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  5. Thank you very much for this superb and moving post.

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  6. Amazing tribute to your mentors and to Freemasonry, Worshipful Brother! Congratulations on reaching that landmark. Humble as always, you mention the impact Masonry and Masons have had on you and forget to mention the impact you continue to have on it and them. I won’t expound, lest I make you blush, but everyone who subscribes to this blog know it anyway.

    On a personal note, I’d like to acknowledge the legacy of WB Cowley who was so inviting to Broad Ripple that he attracted many brothers there from other Lodges. WBro. Cowley’s influence is alive and well. Initiated, passed, and raised at Englewood Lodge, I just joined Broad Ripple as well, for the reasons you mention; his impact on BRL #643 is alive and well.

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  7. Thank you Brother for this wonderful tribute. It so reminded me of Brothers who are no longer with us.
    Don Borchert

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  8. Robert Heinlein (a man who probably should have been a Mason, and who certainly had friendly feelings toward the Fraternity) wrote a novel called "Time for the Stars", in which a set of telepathic twins were recruited as interstellar communicators, one to go on the ship to the colony planet, and the other to stay home as the "ground station", as it were. The twist was that the starship did not have a faster-than-light drive, so the best it could do was run at relativistic speeds in normal space, meaning the trip would take many years. And as anyone who is familiar with the theory of that sort of travel, time would pass much more slowly in the ship than it did on Earth. So the twin who stayed home became an old man while his brother in the ship was still a young man when he returned (ironically, on an FTL ship; the FTL drive had been developed during the many years they were in space). This caused a number of plot complications and no end of enmity on the part of the stay-at-home brother.

    In some ways I feel like Chris is the brother who took the trip, had all the adventures and saw all the sights, while I stayed at home and lived his experiences vicariously, through his stories and through this blog. Yet this doesn't make me bitter (unlike the stay-at-home twin in Heinlein's story); I'm kind of a stay-at-home type to begin with. Thus Chris and I have over the years diverged in our Masonic paths and done different things instead of sharing every single Masonic experience together (as Roger VanGorden was once afraid might happen). Crucially, we got out of the lodge and did things -- Chris became a Masonic writer and great exponent of the good the Fraternity could do in the world; I joined the Scottish Rite (actually something else we did at the same time) and ended up joining one of its lines and eventually presiding over what at the time may still have been the largest Scottish Rite valley in the world. We both ended up with the 33°, but at different times and for different reasons. Chris created and was the first editor of the Journal of The Masonic Society, and recruited me to be the organization's secretary (a position I still hold).

    This is not to say that our Masonic journeys have been nothing but smooth sailing. Chris has had his ups and downs (not to mention his cancer some years back) and I have found myself having to make critical decisions in leadership positions that I wished were someone else's responsibility. But it would be impossible for anyone to throw themselves so fully into any endeavor and not run up against the occasional problem. We are none of us perfect men; we can only strive for perfection, we cannot truly achieve it.

    If I have learned anything in 20 years of Freemasonry, it is certainly that we are together much greater than any one of us alone. Our Fraternity encourages us not only to live individually by its tenets, but to practice them as a group, and in groups of groups, such that the light of Freemasonry can shine for all humankind, should they but be receptive to it. The friends I have made among my brothers -- men who, but for the Fraternity, would have remained at a perpetual distance -- are individuals whose friendship and counsel I will always cherish and value.

    I have thought for many years that the Fraternity saved my life by making me open up to the world at large (I am somewhat of an introvert by nature, and for longer than I've been a Freemason, I've been a telecommuter working out of my home with little personal contact other than via email every day), and that my marriage a year and a half later is probably directly related to that opening up. For these things I am truly grateful.

    To sum up, and to misquote that great (and fictional) baseball giant Chico Escuela, "Freemasonry has been very very good to me." And I thank the brethren for that.

    -- Nathan Brindle

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  9. Congratulations, WB Chris and sincere thanks both for the moving post and for all your labors in the quarry. I was raised 45 years ago this June, but count my "Masonic mentors" back 55 years to DeMolay "Dads" and the example of men, in our community, who lived lives of service and credit to the Craft. We should all be mindful of the fact that we will all be looked to as one of those "well-informed Brethren," whom we are admonished to seek out as EA's, sometime in our journey.

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  10. Big up for that far you have gone as mason

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  11. Congratulations, WB Chris, and here's hoping you have many more years ahead of you. Please come visit LaFayette-DuPont #19 in DC anytime you like. I know the current Master well, and he would welcome you with open arms.

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  12. Brother Chris, wonderful memories indeed. Your descriptions of some of those men who were early influencers in my Masonic career are spot-on. Such a terrific recap! -- Tim Murphy, PM - CW Prather Lodge # 717

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    1. Thanks, Tim. Forgive me if I left you out of this, but if so, it wasn't intentional. It slipped my mind whether or not you were there that day. Nathan and I spent lots of time at Prather at the breakfasts and just visiting during our first two years, and I couldn't recall absolutely everyone from that particular Saturday. And because of the odd arrangement of the day's schedule, the Visitor's page from my Bible was pretty sparse, compared to the packed lodge room. There's a great reminder to us all to always be sure to sign these after a degree conferral.

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  13. Bro Chris:

    You are a wonderful man and I thank you for sharing this. If you are ever in the Philly area please look me up I would love to sit down with you and learn from you.

    Respectfully,
    Salman Sheikh
    SalmanSheikh911@gmail.com

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  14. I became master Mason 13years ago in the honorable lodge of Ralph bunch #304 Scottish rite Free and excepted Mason I was so proud of myself that I stuck with and didn't give up and so mode bee to all my grand master's from bro Chris Howell to grand master's brother underwood, chamblis, Boyd,little foster Marty ,ken,Lorenzo, haggins,Johnson
    .brother Chris Howell Lodge 304.

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