Happy New Year - Let's Cut To The Chaff Part 1- Research Lodges
First off, let me wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year. May 2020 bring you all health, blessings, and happiness in whatever you do. The New Year is always a time of rebirth, resolutions, and the promise of making changes in our lives to better ourselves and those around us.
Part of making our lives better during the enthusiasm and promise of a New Year involves "divesting our hearts and minds" of things such as vices, or elements often termed as "superfluities." A superfluity is defined as a "superabundant, or a super-excessive amount of something." Getting right to the question at hand is the concept of Research Lodges, and are they in fact a "superfluity" when speaking of Freemasonry in general?
What are Research Lodges, and why do they exist? Wikipedia has a decent definition of what a research Lodge is: "[it is a] particular type of Masonic lodge which is devoted to Masonic research. It is a lodge, and as such has a charter from some Grand Lodge. However, it does not confer degrees, and restricts membership to Master Masons of some jurisdiction in amity with the jurisdiction that the Research Lodge is in. Related to Research Lodges are Masonic research societies, which serve the same purpose but function fundamentally differently. There are research lodges in most countries where Freemasonry exists."
The first, and oldest research lodge in the world, is also one of the most famous, and is named Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076 and was brought into existence in 1886 by Freemasons from the United Grand Lodge of England. For more information on the QC Lodge, you can click HERE. The purpose of standing up this Lodge of Research, as they state, was to "replace the imaginative writings of earlier authors on the history of Freemasonry." Certainly a noble endeavor in that day and age, when writings of all kinds hit the market and flooded bookshops and libraries, with people who had money to publish something more prevalent than people who could check sources and the like. There was no Google or Wikipedia from which to cite sources (snicker), and people could, in fact, publish whatever they liked.
So, it was a good premise to be sure. The purpose of the QC Lodge was to solidify the process of Masonic Research, and give a validity to the process of publishing about our history and ritual. A truly fantastic idea, and QC is still the preeminent home for well-researched papers and publications about the Craft.
Sounds great so far, right? Well, nowadays, the existence and proliferation of the modern "Research Lodge" concept is an absolute detriment to the Craft. Let's look back at the definition of a research lodge, and why their presence, at the end, hurts the Craft as a whole.
The first part states that it has a charter from a Grand Lodge. The United States, and many other countries charter Research Lodges in their Grand Jurisdictions. This is problem number one; they are another body that detracts from the purpose and existence of Craft Masonry. In addition to being a member of a Craft Lodge, one would need to join a Research Lodge to benefit from the work and research that goes on behind their tiled doors.
Some research lodges do share their papers and research with other bodies in their Grand Jurisdiction and elsewhere, but again, it's an extra dues payment and an extra meeting, and it most certainly is the norm. Many research lodges like to keep their goodies to themselves, which really defeats the purpose of "spreading Masonic Light."
The next issue is that a Research Lodge does not confer degrees. This is one of the fundamental purposes of Craft Masonry, to confer degrees and provide an initiatic experience to a Candidate. Taking an initiate through the degrees in Freemasonry is a cherished event, one that imparts a method of gaining Light, and (hopefully) a thirst for more of the same. More knowledge, more understanding, and more solemnity in the process of making Masons should be the staples of Craft Masonry. Research Lodges do not perform this important charge of "making Masons."
A third issue is the use of the modern Research Lodge completely coincides with what SHOULD be happening in the Craft Lodge. Papers and research and Masonic education should be the standard in any Masonic Blue Lodge, and NOT have to be relegated to an other body whose primary focus is the same. The way that modern research lodges operate is not as an EXTENSION of the Craft Masonry experience, but as a REPLACEMENT for it, and this is where my issue lies.
This is where I have the most grief about Research Lodges, and the way they are implemented today. Masonic education and providing a life-changing Initiatic experience are the primary mission and focus of every Craft Lodge. Everything else is secondary or tertiary. Or this is how it should be; but sadly is not.
Yes, I know that there is some administrative business that needs to be conducted, bills to pay, and correspondence to read, but it is an indisputable fact that if all you do in a meeting is read some letters of thanks about a donation or some flowers you delivered, have a 20 minute discussion on the increase in the electric bill because someone left the air conditioning on one night, and going over the finer details of the shrimp and ham hock dinner next month, I'm here to tell you: YOU ARE DOING MASONRY WRONG.
Bring the research, education, and healthy rhetoric BACK into the Craft Lodge. Bring discussions about philosophy, erudite learning, and traditional discourse BACK into the Blue Lodge. Bring back the concept of quality over quantity, and find a niche that your most involved members agree to and run with it. At the very least, rid yourselves of the boring meetings and find something you can learn about to improve yourself as a human being, THEN teach that to others. That is the most "Masonic" thing one can do for himself and for the Craft.
Some institutions of research have a good concept going for them. Bodies such as QC2076, the Texas Lodge of Research, the Missouri Lodge of Research, and the Southern California Research Lodge are good examples of bodies that devote themselves to solid research, then share it with ANYONE who wants it. They urge Brothers to take it back to Craft Lodges, to seminars, symposiums, and even long evenings in the dining hall over coffee.
But most, unfortunately, use Research Lodges as a catch-all to augment some (or any) form of education in their own areas, where none exists in their local Lodge, and THAT is the detriment which causes me both ire and sadness. What prompted this whole blog post was going to a Lodge one night (which shall remain nameless) and asking what the program was that evening. The answer I got was "You want a program or papers? You should join a research lodge for that..."
So in short, Happy New Year, divest yourselves of something that's unnecessary, and make it a point to coalesce all that "extra" that you have and want into something special, in your own backyard, i.e. your local Blue Lodge. Make it that bastion of learning and personal improvement that it was always meant to be, and make it so you don't have to look anywhere else than your own Lodge to find that Light you are searching for.
~~ FDTL ~~