History: An Exercise in Humility

As I said in my last entry to this blog, my goal in writing these blogs is ‘reclaiming our story’. We have seen that many of the narratives that currently define our Fraternity in the common mind are in fact fictions written by either those who would exploit the Craft for profit (literature and movies) or our enemies (The Protocols). That said a reasonable man could see some small truth in some of these myths about the Craft. So how do we, as Masons, know what is true and what is false, or more importantly, I feel, what is important and what is not?

I’d like to first talk about the something that will at first seem unrelated, but I hope to use this story to illustrate the problem at hand.

image 1It’s hard to imagine someone who has not heard of the Nile River, so important to Biblical stories and to the evolution of Western Civilization. What is even harder to believe is that the source of the Nile was not determined until 1858! As you can see from the map the Nile is created from two rivers, the Blue and White Niles (Nile means river). When we talk about the source or origin of the Nile, what do we mean? Most of the water that feeds the Nile comes from the Blue Nile, BUT the farthest point of origin derives from the White Nile. Which is it? If you want to understand the Nile thoroughly you would have to study all sources equally, and weigh the impact of each river proportionately.

History is much like a river, the main story being comprised of many ‘tributaries’ each contributing something. If you wish a cursory understanding then the major contributors will be your focus, but you may choose to pursue smaller, more distant and exotic sources if you have a particular interest in a singular aspect of History.

History like science has rules, or a method, that governs what is accepted as history and what is not. Like science history relies on data, some of which is scientific data like archeology and carbon dating. Unlike scientific data historical data might have a less rigorous pedigree, like eyewitness accounts and source documents generated by humans. This historical data can be accepted on equal terms with scientific data. Historians are however just as strict in the analysis of data as any scientist, and often have to work much harder to determine what data is valid. The history of history is filled with errors made by people to eager to accept data that supports a popular belief, and because of that mainstream historians are very careful making interpretations.

As Freemasons we are not exempt from the temptations of our Crafts mythology, which runs close to, sometimes parallel with, recorded and accepted history. This is, in my opinion, no excuse for lazy or indulgent research that jumps to exciting and aggrandizing conclusions.

A good example of this can be found at Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh Scotland. I visited Rosslyn Chapel with my wife in 2008 and was amazed at the intricate carvings in and on the Chapel that have stimulated so many theories about the Templars, the discovery of America and the link between the Templars and the Freemasons. I do not have the space to go into all these theories here, but there is one I would like to explore as an example. The Chapel was dedicated in 1450 CE to St Mathew, almost 150 years after the Templars were arrested in France, October 13, 1307 CE. Freemasonry commonly accepts the date of June 24th, 1717 as its nominal start date, a little more that 250 years after the Chapel was erected. On one of the outside walls of the Chapel is a carving that many Masons will recognize (wink). image 2In this carving there seems to be a blind folded man, kneeling with a cable around his neck and behind him a man holding the cable. Both seem to wear the Templar cross. Now, I live by the same oath as you, so I will have to assume you get the importance of this image (see photo). I also have to add that the stone that the Chapel is made from has degraded over the centuries, which makes this image a bit tough to see. Whole books have been written that hang their evidentiary hat on this engraving. At first glance this carving does seem to prove in the minds of many that there is a link between the Templars Knights and Masons.

image 3I would like to start by saying, I believe this link is worth researching, not that I accept it as fact. Here are the facts that support this possibility. The Templars had many Bailies, local offices, and source of the term “the whole bailiwick”. These served as local centers of operations. In Scotland there were several centers, but one in particular was in Balantrodach Scotland (modern Temple Scotland), which is only 7 miles from Rosslyn Chapel.

While everyone focuses on the Templar Knights, as romantic warriors, the Templars possessed many craftsmen and specialist. Everyone knows they had accountants, being bankers, but few consider the farriers, armorers, carpenters and yes, masons that would have been required to keep the order functioning. History tells us that the Templars lasted longer in Scotland than other countries because the whole kingdom was essentially excommunicated after Robert Bruce, later King of Scotland, murdered his primary competitor for the throne in a church. This allowed the members of the order to survive, (i.e., avoid arrest and torture) much longer than on the continent.

If there were stonemasons at Temple Scotland, and if they survived its likely they would have eventually assimilated into the local masons guilds.

image 4From about the time the Templars were arrested until the end of the 14th century Europe was devastated by climate change, leading to famine, and the Black Death. The population plummeted and the rules of guild membership were relaxed, as were all rules of social and economic mobility. The local guilds, guilds that would have been close enough to Rosslyn to be affected, would have been open to receiving new, skilled masons. These ex-Templar masons may well have brought their initiation rituals with them and these rituals assimilated into guild ritual. Over time those rituals may well have propagated throughout the guilds that evolved into Speculative Masonry. It’s important to note, to the propagation theory, that Rosslyn and Temple Scotland are a day’s ride from Edinburgh, the seat of Scottish power and economics for centuries.

This possibility, remote though it might be, would be a minor tributary into the great river that is Freemasonry. It seems more likely than warrior knights, often born to noble classes would become craftsmen, essentially a step down in social rank. It would also make the connection between the Freemasons and the Templars a backwater of history and not the main thrust. I think this idea is worth exploring. I think this line of thought shows that jumping to the conclusion that the Knights Templar as a whole organization became Freemasons, based on the one carving is a less likely scenario than the one I just offered.

Before you write me telling me there are many other reasons, found in Scotland, to believe the Templars are the antecedents to the Freemasons I ask that you include the source documents that prove it. The fact that something “could be true” is not proof that it is true. Even the idea I expressed above is pure speculation based on loose facts and is as likely to be false as true. Before I would ever state it as fact, I would need a lot more research.

Lets say for a moment that my theory, the one I just put forth, is true. Is it important? Would it change the kind of Mason you are? Would it change anything? Its only real value would be in adding a small chapter to the story of the Templars and the Freemasons, that’s it. What is important? That Shriner hospital, that reading program, that time when you could have chosen the wrong thing and because you are a Mason you chose the right thing. That’s what is important. Not some distant event that aggrandizes our egos and does little to improve the world.

History supports the idea that Freemasonry evolved as a part of European history, not as its main event. We are as much influenced by the events of European history, as we are an influencing agent. In my opinion our ascension as a Fraternity is linked to many factors such as the catastrophe of the Black Death and the social freedoms acquired during the reformation and renascence. Our mysticism and esoterica appeared at the same time in history as they appeared in European society, much of which is the result of the fall of Constantinople creating a great diaspora of knowledge. In my next blog I will address the arrival of many of the influences of our Craft’s mysticism and science, and show that we did not bring them through time to reveal them to Europeans, but rather that we acquired them just like everyone else. What makes Freemasonry important to history is that we provided a Tyled hall, where men, under oath to keep each others secrets, could freely discuss ideas that might well have brought them to the inquisition, the hangman’s noose or the guillotine. This Brethren is no small thing, and something that should cause us to feel proud of our heritage.

Get help with your lodge website

Due to the fact than many brothers and lodges have expressed that they would be interested in help with their lodge websites, I’ve had my company, which built and maintains the Grand Lodge website, put together special packages to be available to all lodges in Washington to help out.

Below are the details, and if anyone thinks their lodge might be interested, they can fill out the following form, and we will send more information for your lodge to vote on at your next stated meeting.

-Danny Done, co-chair of the Grand Lodge technology committee.

https://freemason-wa.org/lodge-websites/

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Freemasonry and the Next 50 Years

Today officially begins the 2016 Annual Grand Lodge Stated Communication, which is one of the best times for Freemasons to network, learn from and grow with each other. I hope this post will be food for both thought and discussion as we look toward the future, what it may look like, and what role Freemasonry has to play. These opinions are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Grand Lodge of Washington. If you wish to engage in a discussion or debate on these thoughts, I welcome conversation on my twitter account @danieldone or in person if you can catch me. Also you’ll all notice that I link to Jason Silva’s Youtube account a lot. You all should subscribe. He’s great.

Here’s a kick off thought:

I subscribe to the theory that we’re in the middle of the greatest leap forward in our evolution as humans since the agricultural revolution over 10,000 years ago. This leap is fueled by the digital revolution and is fundamentally changing not only how we as a species live day-to-day, but also how we see ourselves and who we are at our core. This transition is as big of a turning point in our history as the events that inspired the story the Garden of Eden. And, in order to venture into this brave new phase of human history, we need Freemasonry more than ever, because it frames a universal code of conduct for those who know that their work and actions transform themselves, their families, their neighbors, their countries, and their world in real time.

Let me explain…

Biologically, we’re primates.

There is less of a difference genetically between us, chimps and bonobos than there is between African Elephants and Indian Elephants. But what makes humans truly different is our ability to work as a group, and understand and empathize with other individuals we’ve never met. We can form strong, yet flexible networks that allow us to work as a collective in order to not only complete great wonders of the world and build empires, but also to discover, conceive of and refine our knowledge and understanding of the world. That ability to work together is at a tipping point of exponential growth due to the real-time connection that the internet has given us. It may be that digital technology is, in fact, the greatest democratizing force in human history, and will change our biology and neurology in a greater way than the discovery of fire.

All humanity is a massive organism.

At a neurological level, we’re entirely the sum of the knowledge and influences of people the in our lives such as our mothers, our fathers, our siblings, our teachers our friends, and the millions of other people who contribute to every article we read, TV show we watch and ad we subliminally see. Our bodies are sustained by an infrastructure built by hundreds of millions of people working together for the betterment of the whole. We need that infrastructure and the people who made it as much as a finger requires the hand, the arm, the heart and the lungs all working together in order to move and function. While some of us may prefer to live in a cabin in the woods, the truth is, no human can survive without others, period. (In fact, I even question whether or not humanity is something that we grow into through connection with other humans.) But if you look at the the way in which people connect with those closest to them, almost like individual brain cells forming their own micro-networks, you can get an idea for how we’re players in several different networks, at work and at home. If you zoom out and look at Earth, all humanity is a massive organism, and we’re getting more and more connected as we turn ourselves into a super organism.

In fact, that superorganism is entirely augmented by our tools and technology, which is forms like an exoskeleton, and is as important to who we are as a hermit crab’s shell.

We chose the Tree of Knowledge.

I grew up as a non-denominational Protestant along with about 58% of the US. But at the University of Washington, I studied Comparative History of Ideas and had the opportunity to study several religions. One topic that had particular significance to me in this context was Jewish history. I discovered that one of the hardest things for a traditional American Evangelical to correctly understand is the systems of metaphor, meaning and poetry that was infused into the many of the early Old Testament books of the Bible. To put my opinion simply, I believe the Bible is true, but we’re too stupid to truly understand it.

So I take stories like the Garden of Eden seriously, but in a somewhat untraditional way. In particular, I look at the choice made by humans to opt for the Tree of Knowledge over the Tree of Life. Once we as humans learned to cook our meat and increase the protein we can absorb, thus expanding our brain size, meat became necessary to our existence. The same is true with farming, language, arithmetic — we become dependent on those ideas and can never fully unlearn if we are to survive.

The moment each of these ideas were introduced to human networks, we were socially, mentally and even biologically changed forever. A great case in point is smart phones. How many of us would ever voluntarily get rid of our smartphone once we’ve experienced the way in which improves our access to people and information?

This essentially changes our paradigm of evolution away from relying on genetic mutation over generations in order to evolve new tools that are part of our bodies. Now our minds have allowed us to evolve our technology as an extension of our bodies.

Technology, beginning with sticks and stones, infects us as humans and carries with it nearly infinite unknown costs and benefits. These result in progress, as well as war, famine, disease and death. We only hope that with enough collaboration, the sum of humanity can come up with fixes to fend off those “horsemen of the apocalypse” before they destroy us. I think we have a good shot.

An idea is the most resilient parasite.

Evolution is no longer biological for us.

There is a feedback loop between our tools and ourselves, causing what is called a dialectic, which is forcing us to evolve. Operative masons once built cities, cathedrals, keeps and castles that shaped culture, and you had better believe they did it on purpose. They understood that architecture forms the exoskeleton of societies, and influences how those societies function, link, feel, and controls their future.

Freemasons expand that idea that to everything that is man made has a similar impact… We’re all engaged in the transcendence of our humanity.

Our tools are an extension of our body.

I was spellbound by a TED talk given by the MIT Hugh Herr on bionics. Herr lost both his legs to frostbite in the 80s. In the talk, he said, “I didn’t view my body as broken. I reasoned that a human being can never be “broken” but rather that “technology is broken.” The insight of that quote alludes to the foundational philosophy of Millennials. By framing it in that context, he is recognizing that his body is nothing more than technology, and so the inverse is also true. Technology is the extension of the body.

This premise was known by ancient swordsmen, who taught the sword is the extension of the arm, and also by Steve Jobs, who famously called the computer the “bicycle of the mind”. It was certainly known by Larry Page and Sergey Brin and their team at Google. The refinement of algorithms such as theirs is nothing more than techno-sociological ergonomics. In other words, it’s refining itself to better serve our needs and desires as humans.

Given that now we produce more content and knowledge in an hour than in most centuries of our past, and that nearly all of this is either stored or shared through the internet. Meanwhile, the internet has effectively become a literal collective consciousness, and that “sum of all knowledge and understanding” can actually be quantified by the weight of those electrons. The most humbling thing is that it’s smaller than the smallest possible grain of sand.

What is the collective consciousness?

The idea of collective consciousness has been around for centuries and has been studied in the context of shared experiences in both space and time. A concert, a revolution, a tsunami, a war is something that has an impact on such a large group of people that that memory is shared amongst an entire group of people and is often remembered for generations, or even millennia.
Ritual has the same effect on the human brain as events. It’s something that is shared throughout generations and forms the mortar that binds groups together which is why we use it in Freemasonry. Ritual, however can be engineered, just like cities, and purposefully have a direct impact on the societies and and individuals they produce. Being aware of that engineering effect thus, could be considered collective self consciousness.

Today, thanks to technology and education, we have over a billion people connected to the internet, which allows them to connect in real time and collaborate on projects large and small. This means that from a macro level, if the entire human race is an evolving brain, it would be just a few short years away from being able to think and act as one in our own best interest. However, in order to do that, we’re departing from our old tools of communication; we’ve passed pen and paper, the printing press, Radio, and TV (which are all mono-directional). Social media gives a voice to all, but it still requires an interface. We now know that within the next 50 years, communication and connection to the internet will be integrated into our minds to one degree or another.

The integration and rapid evolution of digital technology into a culture, therefore hyper-charges our individual and collective quest to be more human.

The Precipice.

Last week, an article was published in TechCruch on search engine algorithms’ artificial intelligence called “Deep Brain.” There is a great summary in that article about the progression of artificial intelligence. Now again, if our tools are just an extension of our bodies, and the tools we use together like the roads, trains, and the electrical grid are the skeleton of our collective organism, then the internet and all of its information, programs and robots are in fact an extension of humanity itself. Now predictions are that our machines will be as intelligent as the sum of all human brains put together by 2060. Once we reach that point, there is no turning back. All rules are off. We will have left Eden again. Or, just maybe, we might be returning to a new Eden where war, famine, disease and death are finally eradicated by our own will and power. We will see.

Why we are “Free-Masons”, really?

You might have noticed that Elias Ashmole’s first mention of Freemasonry was “Free-Mason” in his diary in 1646. It is so important to realize that the birth of “Free-Masonry” was in the time just before the explosion of knowledge and invention that was the English Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. I believe the realization was due in part to a recognition that Masonry studied the fact that our environments shape society, and had studied this for centuries. Because of that power, it behooves good men to hold themselves and others to standards of building societies for good and the betterment of all and not our own selfish ends. With the scientific revolution, it became clear that we are all builders in our own way, and have that same power to change the world through our creativity and workmanship.

So moving forward into a world where we are about to breach the gates of everything that is possible, one thing will remain the same, human nature. Freemasonry speaks directly to the core of what it means to be human and reorients our minds to what is truly important amid the chaos of change, not in resistance to it. So I don’t have any conclusion other than big changes for humanity are here, and even bigger changes are coming. Let us be a force for the good and the betterment of humanity as we always have, but let’s find out how to do it in a new way.

I’d like to conclude not with another Jason Silva video, but with Charlie Chaplin’s speech in “The Great Dictator”. A few years back, someone brushed it off the shelves and added modern b-roll to illustrate his points. I think it illustrates exactly where we are at. I hope you all enjoyed the read, and I look forward to discussions.

Reclaiming Our Story: How Fiction Can Be Dangerous!

Last summer at the Grand Communication in Kennewick our then newly made Deputy Grand Master Jim Mendoza approached me about being a part of the Grand Lodge Technology Committee during his year as our Grand Master. He explained that he was looking for someone who could provide content for the Grand Lodge’s web presence. During subsequent conversations, I learned the RWB Jim had two primary goals for the content he wanted me to provide. First, reclaiming our story. As many of you know Freemasonry has become the subject of many books, movies and television shows and usually our beloved Craft is presented in ways that are either unsubstantiated or blatantly untrue. RWB Jim expressed his interest in taking our story back, and correcting these many misunderstandings. This is a subject I am VERY passionate about, and look forward to exploring with you. The second thrust RWB Jim wants to develop is a fulfillment of the promises made in our first-degree initiation, that we would receive education in the moral and symbolic elements of the Craft. The second goal will be crucial, I think, to the successful achievement of the first. I will need to show the truth of our fraternity is at least as interesting and valuable as the false history of our Fraternity.

So, let us begin.

I will start with the first goal, reclaiming our story. To do that I will begin by exploring how we lost ownership of our own history, in the eyes of the public. I will show how a story has developed about Freemasonry over the centuries since the Grand Lodge of England formed on St John’s Day 1717. I will list some key elements in the development of that narrative and then I will show how that false history has done real harm to the world and the Craft. Hopefully I will demonstrate why we must be critical of claims about the Craft’s history and why its in our best interest to engage in the public dialog about who and what we really are as Freemasons.

image 1One of the earliest bits of historical fiction, which feeds the modern conspiracy theories, comes from 1737 when Chevalier Andrew Michael Ramsey (pictured) gave his famous oration in France. In it he implied the Freemasonry descended from the crusader knights. Many have interpreted his statements to mean the Knights Templars, even though he spoke more directly about Knights Hospitaller. Despite the belief of many modern Masons that it is true we are descended from the Templars there is no documented connection between the historical crusading Templars and Freemasons. This author is aware of only one piece of ‘circumstantial’ evidence that hints at a possible connection, (not necessarily descent from) the Templars. That is a carving on Rosslyn Chapel that seems to resemble elements of a Masonic ritual. I will explore this idea later in another blog. I realize the statement that there is no concrete connection from the Templars to Freemasonry will cause some controversy within our Fraternity, but I challenge anyone to supply a historical document that proves a direct descent from the Templars to the Freemasons.

We are all familiar with the golden age of Freemasonry, the years building up to the American Revolution. Many of our founding fathers were Freemasons and we can easily see traits in the original design of our democracy that seem very likely to have started in Masonic Lodges. There is no concrete evidence, however, that the American Revolution was the result of a specific Masonic agenda, but there is clear evidence that some of the men that led that revolution were influenced by Masonic ideals. This has led many to suppose the United States of America is the product of a Masonic conspiracy.

image 2Following close on the heels of the American Revolution the French revolution sought to bring democracy to the French state. Again, many of the men who were involved in the French revolution were Freemasons however; it is unlikely that the fraternity organized the revolt. The best evidence of this is the simple fact that at the time of the revolution in France many of the Freemasons were of the nobility or were landed gentry, two groups who were targeted by the revolution. That fact aside, many accused our fraternity of being at the epicenter of the revolution and thereby responsible at least in part for the terror that followed.

One of the earliest attacks on the Craft came from a man named Abbe Larudan, who in 1747 claimed that Oliver Cromwell formed Freemasonry for the sole purpose of overthrowing the British monarchy. This theory was later built on by Abbe Barruel (1741-1820) who claimed that Freemasonry working with the Bavarian Illuminati had caused the French revolution. The Illuminati was a real organization founded on May 1, 1776. The Illuminati order was formed with the goal of “opposing superstition, obscurantism, and religious influence over public life and abuses of state power. The Illuminati ceased to exist to history in 1787, though Burruel and others have kept the fear of the Illuminati alive to the modern day in various conspiracy theories that link Freemasonry and the Illuminati in an alliance to dominate the world.

image 3These accusations might well have died out if not for a very unfortunate lapse in judgment on the part of some Freemasons in America. A man named William Morgan, who was most likely a Freemason threatened to publish an expose about the secrets of the Craft. It is likely that a group of Freemasons murdered Morgan in an attempt to prevent him from publishing. While some Masons were convicted of kidnapping no one was charged with murder, as no body was ever found that could be confirmed as Morgan (even though a body was identified and buried under his name, there was some doubt if the body was in fact Morgan’s). This story feeds the public suspicion of Freemasons, seeming to prove the earlier conspiratorial theories in the eyes of many. So strong were the anti-masonic feelings that in 1828 Americas first third political party was formed, the Anti-Masonic Party. This party lasted until 1838 when it merged with the Whig party. Freemasonry in America suffered during the years that followed. In New York, the state in which the Morgan Affair occurred, the number of Lodges dropped from 227 Lodges in 1827 to only 41 in 1835.

The next major contributor to the conspiracy narrative came in 1919, from Russia. In an effort to justify the pogroms against the Jews in Europe a fictitious document called The Protocols of the Elders of Zionwas written and distributed throughout Europe and the world. This document claimed that the Jewish Elders and Freemasons were working together to dominate the world. To be clear this document has been completely discredited; but like all rumors, found a ready audience. It is clear that Hitler used The Articles as a foundation document for his final solution. The horror unleashed by Hitler does not need to be rehashed here, but this terrible period of history does show that false histories can be very dangerous things especially when they feed already dark prejudices.

image 4Now we come to the modern era. In 1983 something happened that many people would have missed. A book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail written by Michael Biagent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln claimed that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had been married, had children and that a secret order The Priory of Sionand the Knights Templar had protected that secret and the blood line. The book claims that many of the Royals of Europe carried the blood of Jesus through the Merovingian family.

Partially inspired by Holy Blood, Holy Grail author Dan Brown in 2003 published The Da Vinci Code, a novel and later a movie that fictionalized the theories in Holy Blood, Holy Grail. In the closing scenes the Grail, the Templars and the Masons come together in Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland.

In 2004 a movie starring Nicholas Cage, National Treasure, claimed that Freemasons had descended from the Templars. These works of fiction, drawing on lies and inaccuracies of the past, have unfortunately become the popular narrative on the history of Freemasonry. Im sure we have all had the experience of being asked if these stories are true.

So whats the harm? Well, I think there are two big problems for Freemasonry in these false histories. First, many men are coming to our order BECAUSE they believe the conspiracy theories and when they find they are false they lose interest. As bad as that is its not the worst consequence.

Late in 2015 Wisconsin law enforcement prevented a Jihadist attack on a Masonic Center. Within radical jihadist groups The Articles of Zion are still thought to be true. Many radical Christian writers, likewise, use the theories put forth in the Protocols as a basis as an attack on Freemasonry. Combined with movies like the Da Vinci Code and National Treasure that seem to support this idea, an atmosphere of hate and fear can evolve among those ready to believe the worst rumors. To make matters even worse there is no shortage of Masons who advocate for many of the unsubstantiated theories that feed this madness, a fact, which lends validity to our attackers.

History shows that speculative Freemasonry has existed in some form since the 1640s in England. Since its formation Freemasonry has influenced the men who influenced the world. Our beloved order has never manipulated world events, but rather we have taken good men, men destined to shape history, and helped them develop the moral and ethical character that enabled them to bring Light to a very dark world. As their inheritors we owe it to them and the future of mankind to stand for the truth of who and what we are. Fantastic histories about our past, while fun to indulge in, can threaten our future and unfortunately influence our evolution. Freemasonry is a system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. Do not confuse allegory for history, and symbols for truth. They are tools to communicate morals and ethics. Our true history continues to unfold because of the hard work of serious historians, and the truth is at least as interesting as any fiction created in the minds of those who would discredit us or those who would profit from exploiting misunderstanding.

My Brethren you once asked for Light in Masonry. I challenge you now to become that Light you sought, stand for truth and help our Grand Master reclaim our story!

Next time we will explore some of our real history that you may not know!

Freemasonry: ours to use or lose!

174 lodges remain out of the 318 that have existed in our state.

Another way to look at it is nearly half of the lodges that have existed in Washington state have ceased to exist.

That’s a hard concept to understand for those who run around screaming, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!  Freemasonry is dying!”.  No, no, no.  Freemasonry is not dying; Lodges die.  Just like fruit falling off of a tree and its OK.

I saw this happening in my Lodge (Verity 59) a few years ago except I realized that there was an opportunity at stake.  Another way to look at it is my lodge was in a crisis and “crisis” is a Latinized form of the Greek word “krisis” which meant, the “turning point in a disease”. We were certainly at that turning point: either let the Lodge die or double down on our labor.  We chose the latter and its been one of the best things I’ve ever done personally.

There I was with a handful of other brothers grasping onto that fruit as best we could to not let it slip away.  Perhaps to add to the analogy above, if a Lodge is the fruit then the branch holding it is its membership.  When a branch dries out (loses membership) the fruit withers and falls to the ground. But if you don’t have any nutrients getting to that branch, then it will be growing one sad piece of fruit.  The key was not to hold onto the fruit, but to feed it and supply it with what it needed to grow.

As I found during this crisis, there is a lot of work that goes into supplying nutrients to a lodge.  Not just the  the organization but even the building itself.  There is no way one person can effectively and harmoniously do it all.  It has to be done as a team, and each person on that team brings his special talents to the Lodge.  Those talents can and should become the nutrients which sustain the Lodge.  When you bring together a group of brothers in the work its like bees bringing together all the local sources of pollen to make the honey in a hive.  A hive working through the efforts of one worker bee cannot be sustained, it takes the collective efforts of the whole hive!

Fortunately before we had this crisis there was this little inspiring book that came out.  It was called ‘Observing the craft‘ (2010) and it changed my thinking forever by asking this simple question: “Would George Washington want to sit in my lodge?”  It was a wake up call to what we were doing.  My answer was a clear and definite NO.  It turns out that this “ho hum lodge experience” was common across the nation and since this little book was released, it has lead to the development of a new wave of consciousness in our gentle craft.

We needed to stop thinking that there was something wrong with Freemasonry and instead realized we were just one piece of fruit on the tree and we needed to focus on that one fruit.  We needed to work to improve the overall experience within our lodge so that when people were attracted to its fruit, they would find something like nothing else in life.

There is a reason Freemasonry has been around since time immemorial.  Freemasonry fosters and promotes the growth of men.  We become the fruit of our Lodges and the fraternity overall if we truly practice its teachings.

It’s time that we use our Lodges for what they are meant for: environments where we are inspired to grow!  Grow as men and as Lodges.  We waste so much time talking about what we should do instead of just doing it.

A lodge doesn’t need 500 members to function.  It needs 10.  10 brothers who are willing to put in time and work.  With these 10 active members, a Lodge can maintain itself.  With 10 members, a Lodge can practice true philosophical and fraternal Freemasonry.

The next time someone starts to talk negatively about the craft in your lodge give him this scenario.  If we Washington masons are down to 174 from a total of 318 lodges, we are still more successful than the average profit driven restaurant.  Consider how many 1,000s of restaurants have opened and closed in Washington.  According to a study by Ohio State University, 60% of restaurants do not make it past their first year, and 80% go under in five years.  We Freemasons must be doing something right because we have lodges still active today that have existed prior to Washington the territory let alone a state!!  (See Olympia Lodge No. 1 history).  Olympia Lodge is not only the oldest Masonic Lodge in the state, it is its oldest organization period.  We need to take pride and ownership of these facts.  We need to realize it has taken countless brothers years upon years silently laboring in the quarries to put together this beautiful structure we now get to call our own.

Instead of looking at our Fraternity in a pessimistic way, we need to look at the positives.  If we want to make it a better, richer experience, we need to look at what we are contributing to our own Lodge.  Then when that new candidate comes along and discovers Freemasonry, he will find that its fruit is like nothing else in the world.

 

Freemasonry is a verb!

They say Freemasonry is dying, that its glory days are long past.  They say that people are just too busy for our gentle craft and worse yet, that the younger generations of today have no interest in becoming masons.  What if statements like these were really just excuses for the real problems that we face?  What if the truth is that men today do come to our portals seeking the magic and mystery they hear about our fraternity and instead what they find is a poorly attended, mismanaged organization that is neither welcoming nor fulfilling?

What men expect to happen when they first enter a Masonic temple is of course dependent on variables we have no control over.  What men actually experience is a different story and not only is it something we control but it is our responsibility to control it!  From the very first moment someone knocks on our door whether it be through an email, a phone call or a brief conversation in passing, it should be treated as a serious inquiry.  Even if the person is never heard from again, it is our responsibility to create a serious dialogue about the craft.  Why?  Because if it is not serious to us, then how can we hope to bring in serious candidates from the outside world amidst its concerns?

Look around at the modern world.  We have access to more types of entertainment and excitement today than could have been imagined even a few decades ago.  Our progress with technology has brought us many useful things, but nothing can compare to the power of the internet.  On an information and communications level, it has completely connected us across the globe to an extent never experienced before in human history.  To take it a step further, many people today are equipped with smart phones that are arguably the most powerful tool man has ever carried around with him.  With a few taps of the screen, you can literally see, learn and do anything, not to mention instantly communicate with countless people!  If someone were so inclined, they could even (tongue in cheek) obtain the secrets of Freemasonry!  <Insert sinister music>

<Transition to uplifting peaceful music> The good news for Freemasonry is that with all these advents of technology, mankind still grasps for something to hold on to in the darkness of his own existence.  Indeed, with all our modern technology, we are still searching for meaning in our lives just as we did millennia ago.  How we discover “meaning” today depends on a multitude of conditions but the energy we put into finding it constitutes our very lives.  To put it simply, who we are is still very much defined by what we do.

Some men find themselves in sports or in raising a family or in their career.  Others find themselves in their marriage, a hobby or wealth.  For those men who can’t find all that they are searching for in the material world, many are driven inward in search for something more meaningful called truth.  In Freemasonry we call this truth, “Light”.  When a mason begins his search for Light, his progress is dependent on two factors.  One is his direct access to men already in possession of it and two is his willingness to work for it (as the others did).

This willingness to work and the desire to improve one’s work are what really distinguish a master from an apprentice and an initiate from the profane.  When we as masons actively take up this work, we make Freemasonry a verb and continue the Great Work that truly brings glory to God and this ancient fraternity.

While a smart phone is the most powerful tool that technology has brought us, one of the things that it cannot do for us is this work.  The internet can bring candidates to the door of a Masonic Lodge, but it cannot and will not ever be able to initiate a man into true Masonic light.  Only active Freemasons can do that and as long as there are those willing to engage in this work, Freemasonry will maintain its sacred position in the world.

Masonry Partners with Rebuilding Together!

Each year, low-income older adults or disabled people, and families with small children struggle to make repairs to their homes due to financial hardship or physical limitations. As a result, their living conditions may be exposed to the elements or become unsafe. Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit 501(c)3, solicits funds and materials, and matches them with volunteers who perform the home repairs.

In 2015, WAMC built a ramp to help an elderly woman stay safely in her own home.

In 2015, WAMC built a ramp to help an elderly woman stay safely in her own home.

Last fall, Washington Masonic Charities worked with the Rebuilding Together South Sound affiliate on their Rampathon event. It was a success! WAMC decided to expand to three locations this year in support of the big annual Rebuilding Together Day. WAMC is rallying Brothers in three areas of the state to volunteer in service of community members in need.

A Brother shakes hands with the recipient of last year's Rebuilding project.

A Brother shakes hands with the recipient of last year’s Rebuilding project.

WAMC is sponsoring the houses, which pays for the materials and supports an organization whose focus is helping low-income seniors live safely and with dignity in their own home.

This is a great opportunity for Brothers to work hand in hand in service of another. Participation also brings wonderful community visibility. Participating Brothers will be fed in the morning and at noon. They will also receive a T-shirt and will meet the homeowner. This is a wonderful opportunity for Brothers to join us in partnership with Rebuilding Together affiliates in the following counties:

Saturday, April 23rd Spokane County

Saturday, April 30th Pierce County

Saturday, April 30th Thurston County

To register to volunteer, call Byron Cregeur, 253-442-2505, Ext. 404.

Washington Masonic Charities’ Masonic Outreach Services, such as this month’s Rebuilding project, are funded through the Grand Lodge, private trusts and foundations, and generous individual donors.

An Update From our Masonic Brothers in Brussels

.Dear Brothers of Washington, This morning I reached out to the Grand Lodge of Brussels, asking if any of our brother Masons or their families were harmed in yesterday’s terrorist attacks, and if the brothers from Washington could assist in any needs.

Both Facebook pages for Chevalier Ramsay Lodge Number 4 (the closest Lodge to the subway bombing), and the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium are managed by V.W.Bro. Michel Huyghebaert, who was kind enough to write the following update for us.

-Danny Done, PM Queen Anne Lodge 242.

“Dear Bro. Danny,

Here is some information about Lodge Chevalier Ramsay N.4.

Lodge Chevalier Ramsay N.4, was originally a military Lodge, consecrated by U.S. servicemen, under the Grande Loge Nationale Française in 1964 – when NATO was still located in Paris. In 1967, President De Gaulle invited all foreign forces to leave French territory, NATO moved to Brussels, and so did the Lodge in 1970.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 2.26.29 PMToday, our Lodge consists mostly of ex-pats working for various European institutions, NATO, lobbies, and businessmen. Our members are now from about 25 different nationalities. On our Altar rests the Holy Bible, the Torah and the Koran. On occasion, we’ve used other Sacred Books to obligate our members.

The Lodge is located on Rue Royale in Brussels, which is a very long avenue that crosses the center of Brussels, from East to West. On it, you can find Our King’s Royal palace, numerous governmental institutions, several churches, a synagogue, the Justice Department, the Museum of Fine Arts and the home of the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium, where our Lodge meets.

One of yesterday’s terrorist attacks took place at our national airport, called Zaventem. It is, in fact, the main airport in Brussels – and the biggest one in Belgium. The airport is located about 20 minutes away from the Lodge, and most of our members take it at least once a year, several times a month for some of us. The terrorists blew themselves up where everyone comes into the building. I understand one or more Brethren took a plane just before the attacks.

The second terrorist attack took place in a subway station that is right in the heart of the main European institutions. It is also at a crucial intersection between the only two metro lines. That single explosion caused as many casualties as the two bombs in the airport, as the terrorist blew himself up inside a subway car. That subway stop is only 5 minutes away by car to the Lodge building.Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 2.23.58 PM

Last week, a terrorist hideout was discovered by the police, which is only 13 min away from the Lodge by walk. Friday, they arrested one of the terrorists responsible for the Paris attacks, here too, only 10 minutes away. Bomb constructing materials, and several weapons have been found there.

Initially, there had been no report of Brethren or their families being victim of these cowardly acts. In that regard, we are very thankful, and our prayers are with the victims and their families. I’ve also not heard of any reports from the Grand Lodge, the Regular Grand Lodge of Belgium. However, a widow of a victim became known to our Lodge in the days after the attacks, and is in need of financial relief. We have set up a GoFundMe campaign to support her: https://www.gofundme.com/tfwzcxw4.

Terrorism on this scale is a new thing for us, and we’ve never had to deal with this.

Yours fraternally,

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 2.29.17 PMV.W.Bro. Michel Huyghebaert. Past Master, Lodge Chevalier Ramsay N.4

More information about our Lodge, and its history, can be found at:

http://www.chevalierramsay.be/lodge-history/

We are also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChevalierRamsay4/

We will follow up as soon as we hear from Bro. Huyghebaert, as to any relief efforts we can contribute on an individual basis.

Dean Heinemann – Q&A

Roger: Good morning, Most Worshipful Brother Dean Heinemann, thanks for joining me. The first question is, why did you become a Mason?

Dean Heinemann: The first reason was family. Grandad and Dad were past Masters of the Lodge in Cheney, and at that time that was the social place in Cheney to go, so I grew up there going to various events. I guess it was predestined that I was going to be a Mason.

Roger: Why do you remain active in the Fraternity?

Dean: It’s still family tradition, but now it’s become so much more than that. Some of it is hard to describe because it’s more of a feeling that you get. It kind of ebbs and flows over the years. I just finished 35 years in the Fraternity, and sometimes I keep going because of the relationships, the people. Not only here in Cheney, but throughout the world. Other times, it’s because of education. Sometimes it’s because I feel that I still have something to offer the next generation of Masons. It kind of ebbs and flows, but it’s about giving back.

I’m under the firm belief that I’ve been given this great gift by those who came before me, the interpretation of what Masonry was to them, and that I have a responsibility to try to bring that out in others.

Roger: In your own words, what would you describe is the purpose of Freemasonry?

Dean: Oh boy. That’s a tough one. Again, it can change, and no two lodges are the same. Which is what I found out spending 5 years traveling around our jurisdiction and the United States. There’s a canned phrase, “To take good men and make them better,” and I guess in a very simplistic way that’s the purpose, but there’s more to it than that. There’s personal growth if you take the opportunity. There’s also the history of Freemasonry, and how it intertwines with the history of our country, the history of our state, even the history of Cheney. To try to come up with a short answer of what the purpose is, that’s tough.

Roger: Being a Mason of 35 years in tenure, if there was a thing you felt Freemasonry could help you improve in your life today, what would that be and how would it matter? In other words, what could Freemasonry still do to accomplish its purpose as it relates to Dean Heinemann?

Dean: I think just the history, and talking with Masons, and discovering. We tend to read the same text, but when you interject your own background into interpreting that text it makes for some very spirited discussions. I think that’s what still mystifies but also intrigues me; how we can read the same text, whether it’s a part of our ritual or a book written by another Mason, and we can come up with different interpretations. They’re similar, but they are distinctly different in some aspects. For me that’s still the thrill, informal discussions, planned discussions on our Lodge Education Night. Yeah, that’s the thrill.

Roger: Do you think the mission of Freemasonry is different today than it was before, and how do you see that mission evolving?

Dean: Evolving. I think the most recent emphasis on civility and the lessons taught by Freemasonry, and how we can, with more than just our actions, teach those lessons to our communities has been the biggest change. I’m still waiting for it to take hold, but maybe it’s up to individual Masons to make it take hold in our communities. I see that as the biggest difference. We still need to continue to do what we have been doing, to instruct, to mentor, to educate the next generation of Masons.

We also have to make time to have fun with other Masons, with families, and our extended families, because that’s an important part of who we are. Through that you can impart lessons of Freemasonry to where people won’t even know that they’re being taught. That’s your own personal actions. That hasn’t changed, but I see this emphasis on civility and how that relates to certain aspects of our ritual as being something that’s really important moving forward.

Roger: Final question is going to sound a bit convoluted, but you have a very good grasp of the abstract, and so I am confident that you’ll understand where I’m going with this. How could you help a perspective brother whose sole familiarity with our fraternity is either, “I think my grandfather or my uncle was one,” to recognize the relevance and importance of Freemasonry today, and why our Brotherhood is just as relevant to him today as it was to his ancestors years ago?

Dean: Yeah, that is rather convoluted. I’ll try to answer it this way. The Grand Lodge of Washington has adopted the Six Step to Initiation Program, which it takes a perspective candidate through a process where they get to know Masons and get a glimpse into Masonry, and we as Masons get to know them. I would emphasize that Freemasonry is not for every man. In my committee work on the trial committee, I see it every month, that we have taken men into our Fraternity that should not have been made Masons because we didn’t take time to get to know them, to know their background, to know their clocks, their core beliefs. If we would have taken that time we would have understood that they would never be compatible with what I believe Masonry is, what Masonry teaches.

Just because a young man comes to our doors and says that, “My grandfather was a Mason, and I’m interested,” that’s not enough of an investigation to them allowed in to petition our lodges. We need to do a much better job. Even if it means that the population of Masons goes down slightly, that we lose certain lodges through consolidation or turning in their charters, if we concentrate on quality, not quantity, the Fraternity will thrive in the future. Hopefully that answered the question.

Roger: Exactly what I was looking for. Most Worshipful, thank you very much for your time, I appreciate it.

Dean: Yeah, it’s my pleasure, Roger.

Jim Mendoza – Q&A

Roger: Good evening Right Worshipful Brother Jim Mendoza. Well, I’m sure that this is one of many questions you’ve pondered many times over the course of your masonic career, Right Worshipful… Why did you become a Mason?

Jim: Well for me it was a matter of looking at my life and saying to myself, “There’s something missing more than anything”. I came to the DeMolay experience and enjoyed that immensely, enjoyed a lot of the teachings that were there. I met Masons, and got to know Masons through the DeMolay experience and quite frankly grew to dislike Masons through the DeMolay experience. Many years went by and I noticed that certain pieces of my life are missing. One of those was that degree to friendship and paternalism that existed in the DeMolay experience and, as fate would have it, the right lodge opened up for me. The right opportunity opened up for me, I petitioned lodge, and here we are today. That’s kind of how that worked.

Roger: Why do you remain activity in the fraternity?

 

Jim: I guess we can take it from two different levels. From the lodge experience, I remained active in the fraternity because of the people I was surrounded by. I was surrounded by people that I grew up with, and as a result, people who I knew at more than a superficial level. As new brothers came in to the fraternity again, I was able to know them on more than a superficial level and so at its core that’s the big reason. If you look at it from where I stand now, it’s because I’ve been given the opportunity to do some good work, to make a difference in the fraternity. You combine those two things, that’s why I remain.

Roger: What would you describe is the purpose of our fine craft?

Jim: It’s interesting we hear the phrase that, “Freemasonry makes the good men better” and I kind of find that phrase to be somewhat trite. I tend to look at it this way, that Freemasonry provides a platform for good men to improve themselves in whatever form or fashion they choose to improve themselves, whether it be by taking advantage of the incredible opportunities we have, taking advantage of the internal improvement that we have through the ritualism of our work, or being able to improve themselves intellectually by some of the discussions that can be had by going through the higher degrees – for me primarily Scottish Rite, but also the lessons that are available in York Rite as well.

Roger: Towards that end of establishing a platform, what could Freemasonry do differently to better accomplish that purpose?

Jim: I think the biggest thing that we can do with the craft – more than anything – is to stop being so dogmatic about the way we do things. We have to understand that when we talk about providing a platform for good men, we don’t further define the term good men. We don’t define a specific religion, we don’t define specific politics, we don’t define the specific way that they live their lives privately. I think what ends up happening is, when you start being dogmatic in the way you do things, all of a sudden that turns off a lot of people. It really narrows the focus of who comes through our doors, much to our detriment.

Roger: Right Worshipful, do you think the mission of freemasonry is different today than the mission of when it began? Do you see that mission evolving into the future?

Jim: I think it needs to evolve into the future, quite frankly. It’s interesting, we started off as… I don’t know when the magic time happened, but we started off as basically a craftsman’s lodge, operative Masons keeping their secrets. A lot of it was because of the fact they were able to do things that only aristocrats could do and that was basically read and do mathematics. That skill attracted intellectuals and it attracted futuristic – and I know the term is not considered, it’s almost considered derisive by some people – progressive thinkers. We don’t seem to be attracting that as much as we used to.

Roger: Final question, and it’s no longer a cliché (it really is the stereotypical situation today), where perspective Mason will say, “Well you know, I think my grandfather was one or my uncle was one.” How does Right Worshipful Jim Mendoza convince his prospect that his relationship to Freemasonry is just as relevant today as it was to his ancestors 100 or 200 years ago?

Jim: I try not to focus so much on the people that have come before. While I’ll talk about the people who have come before, I like to talk about the people who are here now and really focusing on people who are active members of the craft. There was a brother who joined my lodge who also came through the DeMolay experience. I came to learn that I was the selling point for him coming in. It was, “Do you remember Jim Mendoza?” “Yes I remember Jim Mendoza.” “He is a member of this lodge. Do you remember the good things that he did when he was coming up?”

I think we can do similar things. We like to talk in glowing terms about the people from our somewhat distant past when we have as many people who are doing great things in more recent history that we can focus on. I think that’s where he saw the connection. That said, there are perspective members who want what their grandfather had. They want that sense of connecting with people from various walks of life and tapping into the knowledge that each of these individuals has. Everyone is looking for a path towards self-improvement, and I think people know that part of that path to self-improvement is talking to people who have gone before, but also talking to people who are closer to their contemporaries as well and connecting with them.

I look at people like Al Jorgenson, who was a colonel in the Air Force and yet he’s not afraid to pop on an apron and bus a table. That resonates with the younger person, when the younger person can see something like that. There are so many other stories like that. Zane McKuen liked to talk about when he and Valerie brought their daughter into the world and he wanted to join the Masons because of the fact that neither one of them had their father still in their life, and wouldn’t it be great if their daughter could have an older individual to talk to provide perspective? I think there are great opportunities for that.

Like I said, yeah, it’s nice to talk about the people in our past with great romanticism but I think we also need to talk more about the people who are more in our recent past and also our contemporaries. I think that’s where you show your connection and your relevance.

Roger: Wonderful. Thank you so much Jim.

 

Jim: Thank you Roger. I appreciate your efforts.