It was Friday night and I was on my way home from work reflecting on a busy week and looking forward to the weekend. My cell phone rang and when I answered it was him.
“I hope you didn’t call me to ruin my weekend cause it’s been a rough week and I need some rest.”
“Enough of the small talk my Brother; do you know what tomorrow is?”
I knew this had to be a trick question but what could I do? I said, “Ok I’ll bite. What is tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo”, he said. “Are you going to be there for the Masonic celebration?”
“Ah, well I have always wanted to go but I am usually working,” I replied. “I really hadn’t thought about it.”
“Well you need to think about it”, he yelled in my ear “and meet me down there in the morning.”
I didn’t even know he was in town but I agreed to meet him at the designated meeting place for all the Brothers behind the Alamo. I got up on Saturday morning and looked out the window and it was a little cloudy but looked like the start of a nice day. I got ready and when I stepped outside I realized it was cold and the wind was blowing. Since I was wearing a coat and tie I was not real happy about the wind and temperature but I headed downtown anyway. About halfway there it started raining and since the temperature hadn’t gone up any and the wind was still blowing I said the heck with it and found a place to turn around and I was going back home. John was just going to have to tell me about what happened. I swear that guy must have a GPS on my truck ‘cause as soon as I started back toward home my phone rang and I looked at the caller ID and it was him.
“Where the heck are you?” He said.
“Headed home,” I said. “I am chickening out.”
“If you don’t show up down here there will be heck to pay,” he snarled.
“Look John, it’s raining and the wind is blowing bad and its cold out there.”
“You need to turn around and get down here,” he growled. “The sun is out and the wind has stopped and it’s not raining. Just come on.”
So I turned around again and made my way downtown and found a place to park. When the machine spit out my receipt for parking it promptly disappeared down the street before I could grab it. Yup, you guessed it… wind, and lots of it. By the time I worked my way through the crowd of Brother Masons to where John was standing I was damp from the drizzle and I was cold… and not happy.
“I thought you said it was dry and sunny and calm down here,” I said through clenched teeth.
“Well it was when I talked to you,” he said innocently.
I looked at all the brothers on either side of him and they all shook their heads. I glared back at John but before I could speak he pointed at the bag-pipers in their kilts who were forming up in the middle of the street for the walk over and said, “You ought to be glad you aren’t one of them. Just pray that a gust of wind doesn’t blow them there skirts up. That would ruin a perfect morning.”
I looked… and he was right. The procession was forming up and we fell in with everyone and walked over to the front of the Alamo behind the Grand Master and the other Grand Lodge officers, with bagpipes blaring. It was quite a sight all those Brothers in their Masonic regalia, joined by members of the Shrine Temple and even the DeMolay were there. John and I positioned ourselves so that we could see everything that was going on. After paying our respects to the Supreme Architect of the Universe and the flags of Country and State, one of the Brothers gave a stirring talk about the American Flag. We listened while the Grand Orator introduced officials from the city and from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and made some opening remarks about the Alamo and its importance in Texas as well as American history.
As the Grand Orator was praising the heroes who lost their lives at the Alamo 175 years ago, I heard John’s voice next to me. He was talking kind of low and I leaned in to hear what he was saying and I heard him saying the names… slowly… “James Bonham, Jim Bowie, Juan Seguin, David Crockett, Almaron Dickenson, William Travis…” all Brothers who died at the Alamo and I glanced at his face and I saw tears rolling down both cheeks. I guess it could have been because the wind was blowing as hard as it was but I suspect he was, as we all were, thanking those Brothers and other defenders, without whose sacrifice there might not even be a Great State of Texas. Wow, it was sure hard to keep a dry eye thinking about the sacrifices that were made here.
As I stood there looking up at that beautiful old building my mind slowly tuned out all the sounds and in total silence as my eyes scanned the other Alamo buildings and the area around them I could feel the heavy weight of the emotions that this hallowed place invoked. I could almost see the faces of those one hundred and eighty seven heroes looking down on all of us with smiles of approval and appreciation on their faces. As the lump formed in my throat I felt so very proud to be an American and a Texan!
I snapped out of my trance in time to hear the Grand Master’s address, and then the final prayer and thanks was given to all those brave men who gave their lives for all of us. We walked in silence back to where our vehicles were parked just enjoying the feeling of being there. It’s almost impossible to stand at the Alamo and not be moved by what it represents. As I reached for my door handle, John informed me that if I didn’t feed him soon he was going to pass out from malnutrition. “Come on John”, I said. “Who’s being the baby now? We don’t have time for lunch right now because we have to get to the Grand Masters Conference.”
“I didn’t come down here to go to the conference,” he said. “I came for the Alamo anniversary.”
“Well you drug me down here for this so now you have to go with me to the conference and if you don’t go I will give your name to the Grand Master as a Brother who blew off his conference… and you can bet I will do it too.”
“Ok, Ok I’ll go with you,” he whined. “But I am hungry.”
“Don’t worry,” I snapped back at him. “There’s a brunch at the conference so load it up and let’s go.”
Well the brunch wasn’t near enough to come close to filling him up. He was eye balling the plates of the other Brothers at our table so I bought him another plate to hold him over until supper. The conference was great and as I sat there with the one hundred or so Brothers who were in attendance all I could think of is what a waste that the Grand Masters words were only going to be heard by less than 10% of all the Masons in the area. Every officer and every Brother of every Lodge should have been there. The important Grand Lodge programs that nine out of ten Masons have no idea what they are or how they work were discussed in detail. And when the Grand Master spoke, he delivered a message of getting back to teaching the lessons and meanings of the rituals and symbols, and not just the surface meanings but the deeper and more profound interpretations. He said that we needed to understand what Masonry really is.
He said that Masonry is intended to be a philosophy and with proper study will provide the means to answer the three questions that every man has or will ask at some point in his life which are: where did I come from, what is my purpose here, and where am I going? He said that a student of Masonry should be always studious and inquiring as to those deeper, more hidden meanings of the lessons of our Rituals. And I agreed with him completely when he said that when a man is raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason he will have acquired a wealth of inspiration that, if he should become a true student of Masonry, will last him a lifetime.
He also sadly told us that our West Gate has been wide open and unguarded for too long and the result has been an alarming number of men being accepted into the Fraternity that would never have been considered if a proper investigation had been performed. He talked of our history and of getting back to our basics, keeping the ritual pure, and of the things we need to do to insure our future. His words were inspirational and really made me think about my Masonic journey and the future of my Lodge and of the Craft. I glanced around the room and saw the same feelings in the eyes of the other Brothers and many including John were nodding in agreement with our Grand Master.
John leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “Durn it Brother Chris, I sure do wish all the Brothers at the last Grand Lodge could have heard this before it closed. Heck, there ain’t many Brothers here and if they are like many of the Brothers at my Lodge some will pass the words along and some won’t. But all the Brothers need to hear this.”
“You are right John,” I said. “But how are you going to get the word to everyone when they won’t show up to hear it?”
“I don’t know,” he growled. “But I will sure give it some deep thought while I’m eating. You are going to feed me aren’t you?”
“You have got to be kidding me John,” I said with a shocked look on my face. “We just ate less than an hour ago.”
With a look that conveyed to me that he wasn’t kidding at all he said, “My stomach has been growling for the last fifteen minutes and I need to eat something.”
Actually, I had heard something emanating from his general vicinity that sounded like something a heck of lot more lethal than a stomach growl and I was relieved to know that I could resume normal breathing again.
On the way back downtown to his truck I was trying to think of a place to stop and eat that would satisfy his taste when he noticed an “all you can eat” Chinese buffet. He got all excited and said “O’ boy I am in the mood for some good old Chinese food and a lot of it.”
I had never been to an all you can eat buffet with John yet and it struck me as a great deal for John but not for the restaurant. I thought about how in Vegas they always identify the people who win a lot at cards because they count the cards so they aren’t allowed in the casinos and I got a little chuckle thinking about if the same thing happened to John in his town with all the “all you can eat” buffets.
He sure was excited and when we got to our table he was gone in a flash to the buffet. By the time I got back to the table he was working on one of two heaping plates in front of him. A little Chinese lady walked by and smiled and nodded at both of us and her gaze seemed to linger on John’s double plate but she smiled and continued on to the other tables. Our drinks came and we just sat there enjoying the food, which was excellent. I think John had at least one of everything. I hadn’t finished half of my plate when he was up and heading back for the buffet again and returned shortly with two more heaping plates full. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the little Chinese lady who I figured must be one of the owners staring at John pretty intently and I don’t know why but it made me a little uneasy like she was way too interested in John and his meal.
Soon he was finished with those two plates and happily on his way back to the buffet for a third time. I was just finishing my plate as John was headed back to our table when it happened. I could see that little Chinese lady making a bee line for our table and she got there just as John did and stabbed a long boney finger right into John’s chest and angrily and excitedly began to talk really fast.
Now, she was 4ft 10 and he is 6ft 7 so she had her hand way above her head and looking straight up into his wide eyed shocked face and in a high shrill voice let him have it, “You… fat boy. You eat too much. You go home now. You eat up all profits!”
She reached up and took the plates from his hands, turned him around, and proceeded to herd him toward the door pushing him in the back every couple of steps. I would have helped him if I had not been choking on my tea laughing so hard. All the other diners were staring with disbelief as this tiny lady ran this huge guy out the door giving him a tongue lashing every step of the way. Just before they got to the door one of the other employees intercepted them and he started talking to the lady, both waving their hands at each other and gesturing toward a very quiet and scared looking John Deacon.
Our waitress had come over to me and began apologizing but I told her this was the most fun I had had in a long time. Finally I told her that I would pay for two more plates if it would get my Brother a reprieve and she smiled and went to the door to deliver the word, which as soon as the older lady heard it immediately stopped talking and began smiling and grabbed John’s hand and escorted him back to the table and sat him down. She then retreated amid a lot of bowing and smiling and bowing and smiling.
I looked across the table at a visibly shaken John who shook his head and said, “What the heck just happened?”
I laughed and said, “Well, I think you just got yourself whupped up on by an 85 pound Chinese lady. You better get to eating before she changes her mind.”
Tentatively he began to eat and soon satisfied that all heck was not going to break loose again, the rest of the diners finally stopped looking our way and everything went back to normal. Not surprisingly he got done pretty quickly and was ready to leave. I handed him the bill which he gladly took and headed to the cashier. After he paid he turned around to leave and the Chinese lady was standing right behind him. It startled him and I thought he was going to have a heart attack but she smiled at him and shook his hand and bowed at him about ten times and he bowed back as he was backing out the door. I told him how ridiculous he looked and he reminded me that it probably was not a good idea to turn your back on her. I agreed and we piled in my truck and headed out. It was a short drive without any conversation. I pulled up to John’s truck but instead of getting out he just sat there staring straight ahead out the window. I was going to ask what the matter was but decided instead to be patient. I figured he would let it out when he was ready. It didn’t take long.
He took a deep breath and said in a soft voice, “Brother Chris, he is right you know. Everything he said… He is right.”
I figured he was talking about our Grand Master but instead of asking and being wrong I kept my big mouth shut and let him talk.
I had to lean over a little bit cause he was still talking kinda low, “We really don’t do a very good job of investigating men who want to join the Fraternity. I have seen it all. I have seen Brothers sign a petition for a man who just walked into the Lodge off the street. I have seen Brothers mark on a petition that they have known the man for months and even years when they only just met. I have seen Brothers investigate a potential candidate in the Fellowship Hall of the Lodge before a meeting just so he could turn in the report on time. I have seen Brothers meet potential candidates in restaurants to do the investigation instead of at the Brother’s home. I have seen candidates be investigated and been voted to receive the Mysteries without their wife even knowing about it. I have seen too many times all three investigators meeting with a prospective candidate at the same time for the investigation. I have even seen Brothers fill out the investigation form before meeting with the applicant. I have seen all these things and more… all in the name of quantity and not quality. It’s enough to make you sick just thinking about it.”
I shrugged slightly and he continued a little louder, “And do you know what it has gotten us? I’ll tell you exactly what it has gotten us. It has gotten us men of questionable character. Men who, if we had really done a proper investigation, would never have been admitted among us. We have men whose only reason for joining is because they thought it would help them in business. We have men whose only desire to be initiated is to ‘SEE WHAT THE HECK IT IS ALL ABOUT’ with no intention or desire to truly become a Mason. Oh, and there have been and continue to be many whose only desire is to clean up or enhance their tarnished reputations by becoming a Mason in name only. There are even those who join just to join because that’s what they do, they join everything. You know there IS a reason why the question about belonging to other organizations is on the petition. Most of the aforementioned individuals drop out as soon as they realize that Masonry does not and will not feed their fraud and deception. But how much wasted time and damage to our Fraternity is done by these misguided souls? How many lies noted on the petition could have been revealed if only a proper investigation had been done? How many hours wasted by degree teams and mentors and instructors on these liars and cheats? How many good and true Masons have been disillusioned by the admission of those unqualified and unworthy to ever be taken by the hand as a Brother? I think that it is impossible to calculate. Sometimes it seems that we are afraid of turning someone down. Why is that? I often wonder, knowing what I know about what true Masonry is, why there are not lines of good men wanting to become Masons. Could it be that there is a perception that Masonry and Masons aren’t as pure as they are supposed to be? How much Masonic good will be destroyed by these imposters and pretenders. I shudder to consider. Brother Chris, what makes Masonry pure is what will make Masonry grow always and forever. We have been so blinded by declining membership we have begun to sow the seeds of our total demise. I don’t know how I could state it any plainer than that.”
“Brother John, you said a mouth full right there and I know it’s all true,” I said as I noted the sadness in his eyes. “We Masons are responsible for this and we Masons have to stop it… and now.”
We shook hands then and made a silent vow to make sure to do what needed to be done to correct this problem. I could see that it was bothering him pretty bad so I walked around the truck as he got out and gave my sad eyed Brother a hug and said, “Don’t worry my Brother, we will get it going.”
“I know we will,” he replied with a little smile. “We have to.”
And with that he climbed up into Ol’ Blackie, waved and roared off in a cloud of black smoke. When I stopped coughing I made a mental note to get him in to change those fuel filters next month.
To all my Brothers out there: Is it worth it to you to only admit those who are duly and truly prepared, worthy and well qualified? It should be. Have a great month.