Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Book Review of “A Traditional Observance Lodge ‘One Mason’s Journey to Fulfillment’”

   Brother Cliff Porter recently released his third book, on Traditional Observance lodges, something which is near and dear to his heart. The sometimes controversial Bro Porter has been a longtime advocate and champion of the Traditional Lodge system and practice. It was natural for him to write a book on the subject to discuss practices, challenges and defend to a certain extent criticisms of Traditional Observance lodges.

     For those that don’t know the Traditional Observance Lodge movement was started in 1993 in Australia, which led to the creation of Lodge Epicurean No. 906. These brothers wanted to know why membership was declining in Australian lodges when membership in some European lodges seemed to be holding steady if not growing. Their research showed that these European lodges with a growth of membership had several characteristics. They were difficult to join and took the longest to proceed through the degrees, up to 5 years for a man to be raised a Master Mason. Candidates had to participate in rigorous education program and had to exhibit a solid understanding to the degrees to be advance to the next degree, not just memorization. These lodges also had top quality meals and degree work, to ensure the experience. Lastly the lodge dues were significantly higher, costing approximately 500-700 pounds a year to be a member ($1000-$1400). Lodges generally were not allowed to grow beyond 50 brothers, and when that did happen would split and form a new lodge to continue the work. In 2001 the Masonic Restoration Foundation (MRF) was established and started formalizing the idea of Traditional Observance lodges in America (more on that later).

     The book starts out with Bro Porters account of Masonic influence in his childhood, and later in his adult life joining Freemasonry. The disappointment he felt over a poorly delivered degree and lack of reverence for the event. He then explains the philosophy of a Traditional Lodge system, practical application of the system and defends its practices to detractors and naysayers within the craft. Bro Porter also gives an outline of how they formed his Traditional Observance Lodge, Enlightenment #198 in Colorado Springs, and the lessons learned from that event The book outlines some of the causes and common complaints about American Freemasonry. These are nothing new to a brother who has had conversations regarding the state of the craft. Including subjects like, boring meetings, horrible food, poorly done ritual, progressive lines, etc. The challenges in establishing a higher level of quality in Freemasonry, and of course challenging some of our mislead beliefs. Bro Porter spent significant amount of time referencing the proper literature to make his argument and to frame respectively the foundations of the Traditional Observance lodge. He goes into great detail the initiation process for a candidate with Enlightenment #198 and the results of their diligence and dedication to the craft.

     Overall the book is well done, but there are a couple of areas that are problematic or annoying. First, at times the book reads like an infomercial for the MRF, while the MRF is a clearing house of sorts for T.O. there are plenty of other areas to look to, and don’t have the stink of a Masonic organization. Correspondence with the author revealed that the MRF no longer allows for open card carrying membership, and that only members of the board of directors are considered actual members of the MRF. Interestingly enough only a couple of board members are mentioned by name on the website, which is unusual. I caution involvement of this organization because of its nebulous state, be sure to check with your Grand Lodge before getting involved. Bro Porter does acknowledge that the MRF had serious missteps when it started, including proclaiming it as a certifier of what is and what isn't a Traditional Observance lodge. This set up the MRF as a shadow or secondary Grand Lodge within a Grand Lodge. Having two supervisors is never fun, ask anyone who has spent any time in the military, this concept was unpopular in more than one jurisdiction. Also, in the end Traditional Observance need to allow lodges to be flexible in their striving for a better Masonic experience, and not replace boring reading of the minutes, with boring Masonic papers. The Masonic Restoration Foundation has changed that, and is now more of a clearing house for T.O. lodges, not a certifier of them.

    Bro Porter did not address in his book the low numbers that T.O. lodges need to be to ensure a quality Masonic experience. Getting a new charter can be a difficult and arduous process, you have to have 50 brethren, all lodges in the area have to agree, etc. When I asked Bro Porter about this he did say that when a split off happens, the group usually takes over a dying lodges charter, something that is far easier than starting over from scratch, but has its own baggage. The book also can be over defensive of the T.O. practice and in particular the uses of the Chamber of Reflection and the Union Chain, neither of which were ever part of the Webb ritual. My stance is that when the apendent bodies can properly implement the Chamber of Reflection, discussions can take place about it being used in the Blue Lodge initiation experience, as Bro Porter points out it has been done since some of the earliest recordings of our fraternity.

    So who should read this book? Not a man interested in becoming a Mason, and not a brother who is a new Master Mason. Honestly this book is for the Mason that sits and asks, “Why are men not coming to lodge, and what can we do about it?” The book will most likely upset you at some point, and realize that we have to challenge each other if we wish to improve ourselves, not tightly hold misconceptions of what men and brothers want from our great fraternity.

   In the end Bro Cliff Porter wants us to do exactly what we were charged to do and make our lodges “a place where Masons assemble and work” (Anderson’s Constitution, 1723, page 50). In other words to make and employ Masons which means for the speculative portion of our craft to initiate, pass, raise, educate, continue to educate and spur on the work for Masons, and for that I am grateful for him.

1 comment:

Ed said...

Well-written review!!