Has Freemasonry Quit Walking the Walk?

Lexington Lodge No. 1, Masonic History & Study Group, Rubicon Masonic Dinner Club

When we say “walk the walk” we are referring to whether a person does what one claims one will do or if one delivers on their promises. This idiom doesn’t just apply to people. It also aptly applies to an item, specific product or merchandise, commodity, service of offering. Does Freemasonry fall into one or more of these categories? Of course it does.

‘Walk the walk’ is usually said in combination with ‘talk the talk’, for example, “if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk”, or “walk it like you talk it.” This is a 20th century American alternative to various old sayings that epitomize the notion that ‘talk is cheap’, for example ‘actions speak louder than words’ and ‘practice what you preach’. The context for the use of any of these expressions is in response to what is seen as empty boasting. People who are accused of such are said to ‘talk a good game’ or “all hat and no cattle.Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have coined the proverbial saying “Well done is better than well said”.

Regardless of who coined what or how it’s phrased in different ways, “walking the walk” boils down to doing what you’ve said. It’s giving your words real meaning by acting on them.

Words do mean something, but they don’t always mean the person who says them, regardless of their high-spirited, pontificating manner or dramatic delivery, genuinely embraces what they are saying, much less follows through, thus embracing and underscoring their declared conviction by the most important part: action. As Freemasons, we all speak similar words and phrases. We are expected to make a conscious effort to integrate our Masonic philosophies into our behavior, our appearance, and our words to others. Do we?

Self-improvement is hard work. Not everyone, no matter how high-spirited they may be following initiations, passings and raisings get it right all the time or even with much consistently. We are expected, however, to apply ourselves and that requires conscious labor underlined by a belief that in following and adopting our prescribed tenets and values we will indeed improve ourselves — and the more we practice, the more improvement we might glean. The concept is genius, proven through centuries of application as it rests warmly in the cradle of common sense. 

Nevertheless, what if the man who pursues the laud-able idea of what Freemasonry offers doesn’t understand it or doesn’t see Freemasonry practiced as prescribed by those who came before him — those who supposedly understand everything about Freemasonry? Has Freemasonry failed him? Has Freemasonry not walked the walked it promised?

We know, if by nothing more than common sense, that when the tires of an automobile whose mechanics are tried and tested always performed as it was designed and intended, creates energy, followed by traction resulting in the entire automobile moving in one direction or another. It happens the same way every time when all the features of the automobile work as they are supposed to as when the tires grip the surface on which they rest. 

If you’ve been trying to improve your life; learn to subdue your passions, as it were, through Freemasonry and it has not worked for you, you’re not alone. In fact, there are many, perhaps the majority of men who try Freemasonry fail to get the promised results.

In the best case, some men get excited for a short period, but then everything goes back to normal. Nothing’s changed, and they either give up on improving themselves through Masonry or move on to something else. Of course, some don’t bother to learn much more than they are told in ritual, and some don’t seem to be able to connect the dots. 

Then come excuses like, “I don’t have time” or “it’s not the right time”, but if some of these men were honest with themselves, they’d have to admit the real reason is what led them to path of wanting to improve themselves in the first place: either a lack of motivation and self-discipline or lack of clarity and focus (or a combination of those). Think about it. 

If improving oneself through Freemasonry has not worked for a man, it was likely for primary three reasons. One, he was not ready for it. Two, Freemasonry, or what passes and is accepted as Freemasonry by many, did not walk the walk. Three, he was looking for instant results and gave up way too soon. 

While all three reasons are real, walking the walk is what needs dissection and examined in balance. We can’t do much if a man is not ready. Even the best lodges cannot keep that man involved. If a man wants results immediately, then he likely quite immature and probably unsuited for Masonry to start with, bringing with him a deficit of a trait required in self-improvement: perseverance.

BAD ORCHESTRAS

The famous New York Times music critic Harold Schonberg said in a 1978 interview: “There are no bad orchestras, only bad conductors.”

Schonberg’s review, a biting reproach of a performance he attended the night before, was intended to point out that orchestra was prepared to deliver their performance, but the conductor was inept and unable to bring out the brilliance and talent of the leading musician in the world who made up the orchestra.

The analogy is applicable to Freemasonry as an institution which is prepared to deliver all it promises if the conductors (all members) are proficient in their knowledge of the Craft, capable to lead, coordinate and channel all its offerings.

There is nothing about Freemasonry that is supposed to be ordinary, common, or mundane. If you think it is, then you are not only incorrect, but woefully deficit in your knowledge of the Craft’s history, evolution, intended practices and, quite possibly the constitution in your jurisdiction. And, when we routinely practice a style of Freemasonry in a manner that makes it extraordinarily ordinary, common or mundane, then Freemasonry cannot walk the walk it promises. If it cannot walk the walk, what is Freemasonry offering men?

The answer is about all Freemasonry in those cases can offer, although many never have the courage to say or do much about it, is a boring business meetings, a dinner menu that is a poor excuse for fellowship dinners, uninspiring ritual work in rooms that are tattered, worn and in some cases, just plan dirty. Typically accompanying those things is little, if any structured Masonic education, and an endless line of members known as retreads who move around the leadership chairs and continue to disseminate the same offerings year and after. As this occurs, protocol and what was once tradition wane and is ultimately lost. Etiquette grows increasingly casual and further contributes to the view that it is okay to talk in lodge, make jokes during ritual, and from the officers to the most recently raised Master Mason, dressing in attire as if one was attending a county fair on a blistering summer day. This is but a few examples of what is extraordinarily ordinary found in many lodges today, yet we continue to call it Freemasonry. Why?

The primary reason is that lodges that practice in this manner have been allowed to do so for many decades. Generations have passed through these lodges and today many believe the manner in which they carry on and further pass on these practices is all there is to Freemasonry. 

Some, often considered hardliners, believe there is only one way to practice Freemasonry, and that is with all the traditions and appropriate practices in place — all the time. Some believe some practices can be marginalized to some degree and still offer all there is to Freemasonry. Others, reject any consideration of what 

Freemasonry might offer men other than what they have received in their lodge. It is preposterous, however, for a lodge and its members to think that if they have not had a petitioner in years, and lodge attendance is so low they cannot on a degree that they are not in trouble for very clear reasons. It should be just as clear to any lodge that when membership and attendance fall off, some-thing is going on. Are members slipping past the West Gate — members who did not have it in their heart to pursue Masonry in the first place? Is the lodge unfriendly? Is there anything holding or motivating the interest of their members? Are members consistently enlisted to become involved in committees or engaged in other ways? Have they found what is offered at lodge less appealing than the dozens of other options men have in which to spend their time? 

In these cases, it is not Freemasonry that has failed to walk the walk. The failure can always be traced back to the lodge, all its leadership and members who fail to consistently offer what Masonry, as the system it is intended to be, can provide. The walk is simply not walked, and the talk is certainly not talked. The walk and talk must match our actions. 

There’s lots of movements in Freemasonry today. There’s the movement toward traditional observance and European concept lodges; the movement towards re-establishing structured degree classes and redefining dress codes, and a return to more formal fellowship meals, and there’s good reasons to do so. Each of these generates positive results and from them come hybrids often called “constructive Masonry.” 

In contrast, we see no lodges thriving, much less growing, whose primary offerings are consistent in their delivery of slovenly or casual ritual, sloppy protocol and etiquette, poor attendance, no Masonic education, rundown facilities, and crockpot meals.

Esteemed Masonic scholar Robert Davis says our fraternity should be ashamed for allowing much of Freemasonry to become woefully mediocre in our practices — especially when considering we are a philosophical society that promotes self-improvement.

The only realistic cure for creeping mediocrity is to walk the walk and talk the talk, and this can be done one lodge at a time when time is devoted by men committed to do so. And, to do so, we must assure exposure to the basics of Freemasonry, not just what some interpret as the basics of Freemasonry.