Seems like a simple question, but for many of us it's really not. I remember a friend of mine, Michael Shirley, telling me one time that I should always have a thirty-second elevator conversation memorized. I sure wish I'd done that, because I got caught off-guard again today. It always seems like that question comes when you least expect it, and from the last person you'd expect to ask you. I guess the reason I struggle with that question, is because it's a lot of things, and it's a little different for everyone. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to get that thirty-second elevator conversation mastered, because there is no right or wrong answer. It's different for everyone.
For some Masons, it's a family tradition. It's something the men in their family have been involved in generation after generation. I watched a remarkable scene at the Valley of Indianapolis a few years ago, as four generations from the same family stood on a staircase and had their picture taken together--that's the son that was becoming a 32nd Degree that weekend, the father, the grand-father, and the great-grandfather.
For others, it's the promise the fraternity makes to "make good men better." There is without question a very strong self-improvement aspect to the fraternity. It's one of the few places where character is not only important, but it's taught. It's part of our tradition, and being a man of character is a requirement for membership. Some seek that out when they join, and for others of us, we find that becoming a better man is the natural result of spending time with men of impeccible character. As I've learned, character can rub off upon repeated exposure.
For some men, Freemasonry provides an opportunity to give--and the ability to do that in our fraternity is endless. Our local lodges, our blue lodges, help build the communities they're in. They support all kinds of worthy causes from Little League and scouts (boys and girls), to community improvement projects. Many help with individual needs of members in the community. I talked to a Tyler in a lodge a couple years ago, and he said he had the keys to a dozen post office boxes in his town, and every day, he picked up the mail for the senior citizens in town that had trouble getting out, most of whom weren't Masons, and delivered their mail to them. Then there is the Scottish Rite with their Learning Centers for Dyslexic Children, and the Shriners Hospitals, and the Knights Templar's Eye Foundation, and the list goes on and on.
And there's also the social aspect. There's the opportunity to make new friends where you'd never expect to find them. We all share this same thing in common--we're all Master Masons. It's a place where age, experience, race, religion, educational background, and social status doesn't matter. I visited the Valley of Bloomington, Illinois several years ago, and a big group of Masons was sitting at a round table enjoying coffee and donuts. Nobody thought twice about sitting down at a table of men they didn't know because they all were Masons--we're all friends. There were about ten of us. We were visiting and laughing for a long time, and I got curious about who all these guys were that had so been enjoying each others company. At that big table, we had a judge, a farmer, a bartender, a mechanic, an accountant, an electrician, an attorney, a politician, and a high school biology teacher. And you know what? Even after we found out--it didn't matter.
And these are just a few of the benefits being a Mason can provide. I watched tonight as a newly initiated Mason stood on the northeast corner for the first time. Afterwards the Master Mason that most recently stood on that same corner offered up some advice for the newly initiated. "You get out of it, what you put into it." I got the same advice a few years ago, probably from the same Master Mason he got it from. But in my experience, I've learned, that advice is wrong. You can never put into it what you get out of it. It's impossible. Where else on earth can you spend a couple hours on a Tuesday night, and get a week's worth of inspiration?
I'm going to work on the thirty-second elevator conversation that answers the question "What is Freemasonry." When I get it, I'm going to post it here, but I wouldn't hold your breath because Freemasonry is simply what you make it.
is an author and novelist whose work includes the award-winning non-fiction historical series Famous American Freemasons and the novels One Last Shot (2011), A Shot After Midnight (2012) and Shot to Hell (2014).