As the new Grand Chaplain of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington, I take no pleasure to mourn with you and all of our citizens around the entire country over the senseless loss of life in Orlando Florida during this last weekend in the largest mass shooting in American history; a crime of hate and terrorism. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends and loved ones targeted for their personal choices. When there is fear, superstition, and ignorance, the three great enemies of man, there is the greatest of needs for the wisdom and leadership that our ancient craft can provide to our society through each of us. That isn’t always accomplished by great orations nor of national actions alone, but in our daily small exchanges in the marketplace of ideas, in conversation, in the lunchroom, the drinking fountain, the dinner table, in our workplace, parking lot conversations, and even in our own minds during our quiet times of contemplation Our great fraternity is the sum of our parts and it is in times such as these that our values and our tenets become the most important and need to be checked and reinforced.
As a brother, we are obligated to bring light into our world, to square our actions, to walk uprightly and be on the level with every person, holding no prejudice and illustrating through our lives the great principles of our craft and BEING THE DIFFERENCE whenever and wherever opportunity avails itself to us. I implore each of you to shine your masonic light with all of those within your circle of influence. Let your wise council balanced between the two pillars of mercy and severity, guiding your thoughts and your tongue to offer our unique masonic message of brotherly love, relief and truth into your personal conversations wherever that may be.
May each of us hold true to our obligations and be guided by the golden rule that we should love one another, to avoid divisive conversation and uphold the rights of every human being, regardless of our individual choices and personal beliefs. Let each of us as masons be even more so in these times, the light and hope to a world that too often seems lost and dark and driven through blind hatred to such tragedy. Let us be warriors against the darkness first in our own minds and hearts and then by example to those around us demonstrate the acceptance of every human being to live in peace and harmony.
Civility is the mark of enlightenment and the fruit of a balanced mind. The altar of freemasonry is strong enough to be encircled by men of all faiths and persuasions, making us a unique example to the world and each of us have the opportunity and an obligation to take that unity out into the world.
Above all, be ye all of one mind, live in peace and may the God of love and peace delight to dwell with you and bless you.
Worshipful Brother John Lawson
Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington
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.
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.
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.
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.
One 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.
Following 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.
These 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 America’s 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 Zion” was 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.
Now 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 Sion” and 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. I’m sure we have all had the experience of being asked if these stories are true.
So what’s 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 it’s 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 it’s 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!
Two of the four faces on Mount Rushmore National Memorial – George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt are of our Masonic Brothers. From Charles Rushmore, the man the mountain was named for, to U.S. Senator from South Dakota, Peter Norbeck and Congressman William Williamson, project champions and overseers of congressional funding, to SD Governor Carl Gunderson, who spearheaded South Dakota’s funding of the project, as well as Sculptors Gutzon and Lincoln Borglum, Assistant Sculptors Ivan Houser and Bill Tallman, and long-time Mount Rushmore Head and Rapid City Mayor, John Boland, who oversaw the finances of the project. Besides all of these men’s profound impact on the creation of Mount Rushmore, all of them were Mason’s!
The Grand Lodge AF & AM of South Dakota is inviting Mason’s from all across the country to join in on the Mason’s National Day of Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Mount Rushmore from September 7 – 9, 2016 in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Masons from around the world will gather together to acknowledge the 75th Anniversary of the Shrine of Democracy and our Masonic Heritage. This once in a lifetime Masonic celebration at Mount Rushmore is being produced by Michael Shann, Producer of the Closing Ceremony for the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014 and is sure to be an unforgettable two hour extravaganza.
Schedule of Events – Thursday, September 8, 2016
8:00 a.m. Motorcoach pickup begins at Rapid City hotels
9:45 p.m. Arrive at Mount Rushmore National Memorial
10:00 a.m. Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Mount Rushmore and the Masonic Influence in it’s creation program begins
12:00 p.m. Box lunch and free time at Mount Rushmore
1:30 p.m. Depart Mount Rushmore for Rapid City hotels/free time
4:00 p.m. Motorcoach pickup begins at hotels for evening events
4:30 p.m. Cocktails, Chuckwagon Dinner and Cowboy Music Show
7:00 p.m. Williams and Ree Comedy Show
8:30 p.m. Return to hotels
There are two packages being offered by the Grand Lodge of South Dakota (air transportation & lodging booked separately)
National Day of Celebration Package | $130 per person
Roundtrip Coach transportation from Rapid City to Mount Rushmore and to the evening functions.
Box Lunch at Mount Rushmore.
Evening Chuckwagon dinner & Cowboy Music Show at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Williams & Ree Comedy at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.
Meals and Entertainment Package | $95 per person (transportation not included)
Box Lunch at Mount Rushmore
Evening Chuckwagon dinner & Cowboy Music Show at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center
Williams & Ree Comedy at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center
You may book the packages directly at http://visitrapidcity.com/masons or work with our travel agent, VW Paul Schneidmiller, firstname.lastname@example.org, who will also be able to provide assistance airline tickets, car rentals, or extended stays.
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.
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.
WB Owen Shieh delivered the following keynote address at our Lodge Leaders Retreat on March 19th. WB Owen is the current Worshipful Master of Honolulu Lodge.
Grand Lodge Officers, fellow Worshipful Masters, Wardens, Deacons, Brethren, and Ladies… Thank you for your hospitality here in Washington and for inviting me here to speak and enjoy fellowship with you all. On behalf of the brethren of Honolulu Lodge, I say, “Aloha!”
I’d like to speak with you this evening about something we all care deeply about… something that I know strikes a positive chord in all of us deep down, because we wouldn’t be here this weekend were it not for this shared experience. I would like to talk about Freemasonry as a journey – a journey not only through our fraternity as an organization, but one of finding personal growth and meaning in an otherwise complex world.
We can spend countless hours discussing the logistics of running a lodge, debating how best to address membership retention, talking about the history and purpose of our fraternity… but the
only guarantee for the future success of our fraternity rests with one word: inspiration. The one thing that must underlie everything that we do as leaders of our respective lodges is to inspire future generations of Masons to contribute their talents to our fraternity. One way to ignite such inspiration among our brethren is to actively consider Masonry as a journey.
Perhaps Brother Antoine de Saint-Exupery captured this idea best when he said the following: “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
I think our brethren and ladies here in this room who are teachers can relate to this easily… Students who want to learn end up learning much more than students who feel forced to do so.
In many ways, this is why Masons in general have the rule of not recruiting, in the hopes that those who knock on our doors are motivated by a higher purpose. BUT, that can’t just be it! Effective lodge leadership requires that we actively inspire our brethren to care about the journey or voyage ahead, to “long for the endless immensity of the sea” of Masonic knowledge and fellowship. Once we do that, then everything else, including membership retention, education, charity, and all other activities will happen much more naturally.
So, what is a journey? Simply put, a journey is an activity where you go from one place to another. Journeys can be physical, or they can be more abstract and philosophical. Masonry is both. It is a journey to the East within the officer’s line, but more importantly, it is a journey of self-improvement, of fellowship, and toward the attainment of wisdom or as it is sometimes called: enlightenment.
If you think about the greatest journeys of all time… Whether it is Odysseus’ long voyage home after the Trojan War, or Brothers Lewis and Clark’s expedition across the American West, or Brother Buzz Aldrin’s trip to the moon …or Luke Skywalker’s quest to save the Jedi… They all have the same components:
1) First, the main character meets an abrupt change or transformation that forces him outside his comfort zone. He may have an expectation of what is to come, but he is also ready for surprises along the way.
2) Second, he meets many difficult challenges over a period of time that tests his mental and physical limits.
3) Third, he endures, perseveres, and overcomes those challenges and becomes a “hero.” He learns about the people and places along the way as well as his own responses to each of the unique challenges. As a result, he learns about himself.
4) Finally, he reaches his destination, but the final scene is often a surprise that is unexpected. Yet the journey was fulfilling. It was rewarding in some way.
Without going into the details of our ritual, think about all of our degrees as a whole. Taken together, don’t they all have these four aspects of a journey? Every candidate, before he turns in a petition to join your lodge, has an idea or expectation for what Masonry is or should be. We all know that Masons first become Masons in our hearts, so how well we as lodge leaders can identify and fulfill the expectations of our incoming brethren will determine the future success of our lodges. So pull your candidates aside and ask, “What inspired you to become a Mason?” Everyone has a story. Effective mentoring of a brother cannot begin until the mentor understands the story of his mentee. If our new members are to cross the vast sea of Masonic wisdom, then mentorship is that boat that enables the candidate to find his way.
So, how did I start my journey?
Well, unlike many other Masons, I had no family history in our fraternity. I first heard about Freemasonry from my best friend in college, Brother Daniel Herr of Truckee Lodge No. 200 in California. Back in college, we would often suffer through our calculus problem sets together. And during those late nights, we would often find ourselves lost in philosophical conversation. Years later, when Dan became a Mason, he started hinting at how I would enjoy being a part of this fraternity as well. I didn’t pay too much attention to it at first, since I didn’t know anything about Freemasonry except through the limited discussion we had about it in my high school history class. But there was one event in my life that inspired me to dig a little deeper…
Back when I lived in Oklahoma before moving to Hawaii, Dan came to visit me for a few days to go storm chasing (that’s what meteorologists do for fun in Oklahoma). A lull in the storms implied fair weather and relative boredom in the southern plains. So during one of those “rest” days, Dan suggested that we go on a bike ride through my low-key town of Norman. Norman was a college town – home of the Sooners – but compared to the mountains of northern California where Dan was from, it was devoid of any major form of outdoor recreation much beyond hunting and fishing. I was a bit surprised by Dan’s request to go cycling. “Where do you want to go?” I asked.
“So what? Does it matter?” Dan responded, looking at me with a slight hint of consternation.
“Well, then where do you want to go?” I asked again, not finding it worthwhile to go anywhere in Norman without a purpose.
“I don’t know,” he said casually, not seeming to care about my concern.
“So, do you want to pack a lunch or something? Maybe do a picnic at a nearby park? Or maybe we can check out the area by the small airport on the north side of town?” I suggested, trying to come up with some purpose for the bike ride.
Dan simply turned and walked out with a bicycle in the garage. “You coming or not?” he asked.
Well, considering he was the guest, it would have been totally unbecoming of me as the host not to have at least tried my best to entertain, so I dropped my doubts and decided to tag along. “Alright, fine,” I accepted reluctantly.
And so, we started our bike ride to… nowhere in particular. We followed a road north through town, sped through several puddles left by the rain shower earlier in the day, and took turns in the lead. We made it to the northern outskirts of town near a municipal airport and tested our skills in tackling mud puddles on our mountain bikes. We explored unfamiliar roads and parts of town to which I had never been. I was fascinated by the various convenience stores, small businesses, churches, and unfamiliar schools that were tucked away in the humble corners of town. Dan and I shared the details of our lives since we graduated from college, stories from childhood, and our hopes for the future.
After over two hours of riding around town, we returned to my house and cleaned up. Between the new sights, the good conversation, and the cool breeze on my face, I had completely forgotten about why we went on the bike ride in the first place! And yet, I enjoyed every moment of it. I soaked in all the nuances of sight and sound. I learned things about the City of Norman that I did not know before. Although we were already good friends, through our conversation during the bike ride, I learned even more about who Dan was as a person and how that fit with his life goals. But most importantly, I learned about myself. I learned about my habits. I learned about my usual mindset. I learned about my reactions to new places and new ideas. I learned to challenge myself, not physically, but mentally – all within the space of two hours during a random bike ride around town.
The next day, we had lunch before I had to take Dan to the airport to catch his return flight. During a pause in conversation, Dan looked at me and said, “Because you didn’t know where you were supposed to go, you never would have gone on that bike ride, huh?” That comment completely caught me by surprise. I thought about it… then let out a sigh, grinned, and gave a slight nod.
On our way to the Oklahoma City airport, I finally began to realize some of what I had learned through the bike ride, although the significance of those lessons would not hit me until years later. “People are so strongly attached to their goals in life that they completely miss out on the journey,” Dan said to me in the car. “Goals are good to have and all, but when we sacrifice so much just so that we can get something, when we don’t even know if that thing is really what we need or want in life, then what are we doing? We’re living for a dream but not really living.” As I drove into the airport departures area, Dan summarized his message with these words:
“If, instead of concerning yourself with the score of the game, you concentrate your whole-hearted efforts on doing the best that you possibly can in your role that moment, regardless of your task – living in that moment, that minute, that second – when it comes to the end of the game, you will have achieved more and scored more than you previously thought possible.”
~ Daniel Herr
This quote hit me hard. I did not know what to say but “thank you,” as I dropped Dan off at the curb. He pointed at my head and responded, “It’s all you!” as if to say, “It’s all in your head.” He turned and left. Usually, when we hear “it’s all in your head,” we assume it’s “false” or “opinion,” but in reality, as we discussed in our earlier class about Masonic symbolism, impressions are indeed reality. What’s in someone’s head manifests as reality for that person, whether we like it or not! I may not have known it at the time, but through the bike ride, Dan had taught me the meaning of symbolism! And he was right… He didn’t actually teach me anything; he simply set up the conditions properly so that I could learn a valuable lesson for myself. It really was in my head! And is what mattered. I took that bike ride as a symbol for my life without knowing it, and all Dan did was indirectly point that out to me.
With that epiphany, I decided to petition Norman Lodge No. 38 for membership, and the rest is history. What Dan did, without being aware of it at the time, was inspire me to not only join Freemasonry, but to realize that everything around us – even something as simple and as mundane as a bike ride through town – can be used as a symbol to teach us the most important lessons in life. So imagine the possibilities if we can truly master the art and the science of applying Masonic symbolism to our daily lives! By applying this methodology to symbols of our three degrees, we can similarly inspire a new brother to apply the lessons of his Masonic journey to his daily life. When he masters that, then I promise you, you will have a Mason for life and retention will never be an issue with that brother!
So the goal of a mentor is to inspire his mentee to understand his Masonic journey. I remember one night when I was a Fellow Craft, while sitting in a car with my mentor in Oklahoma in the lodge parking lot, I asked him excitedly, “What do I get to do when I’m a Master Mason?!” He thought about it, then responded, “Well, you get to vote… you get to listen to the bills… you get to listen to meeting minutes getting read…” So basically, nothing too horribly exciting. But then it hit me – Masonry is all about the journey of becoming a Master Mason! There are plenty of organizations out there that you can join for community service, for social networking, and other benefits, but Masonry is the only organization of its kind centered upon the long process of initiation! The act of becoming a Master Mason is the purpose of Masonry! So given the importance of facilitating our candidates’ journeys through the Craft, through much trial and error, I have found that the best way to mentor and inspire our new brothers is to do the following:
1) Match candidates with compatible mentors. A good way to start is to either give the candidate a choice in who should serve as his mentor, or to give preference to the Master Mason who officially signs and recommends the candidate on his petition. This ensures that the candidate is not only learning about Masonry, but is also making a friend.
2) Meet once a week outside of lodge for at least an hour. This enables the mentor to build a relationship and a deeper friendship with the candidate outside of a lodge setting. This becomes a space where the candidate is comfortable asking questions and working through his own challenges in life with the guidance of his mentor. If done properly, a candidate should be inspired and enthusiastic to return to lodge with renewed vigor each week and with a clear understand of why he decided to become a Mason!
3) Review proficiency work, then leave with a question. During a typical mentoring session, I start by working through a few lines of memorization in the proficiency, then discussing with the candidate some ideas for applying those ideas and symbolisms to his daily life. At the end of our meeting, I leave the candidate with a philosophical question to ponder, which he is required to consider throughout the week and to which he should jot down his answers in a pocket notebook. The next time we meet, we work through that question and continue on. This form of mentorship through questioning is effective because rather than teaching the candidate knowledge, the mentor inspires the candidate to come up with his own answers. Only then does he effectively internalize the Masonic symbols and lessons.
These three principles of mentorship are what we follow at Honolulu Lodge, and the result of our active and youthful membership speaks for itself! Proper mentorship and inspiration takes a lot of effort, but that effort will be paid off through better retention and growth in your lodge. In the words of an anonymous poet:
You came with me on a long arduous journey,
Through many forests and jungles;
The paths confusing and twisted,
Sometimes, I made you miss a turning;
There was no promised pot of gold.
But then my brethren, it is not the gold;
It was the search itself;
The journey and your comradeship,
The jungles we saw
The forests we conquered
The rivers we forded,
And the links we made.
It would not have happened
If it was not for the pot of gold.
The light that we seek is not a destination, but an ongoing process. The journey itself is the pot of gold. At the end of this journey, we find peace of mind – the contentment and fulfillment that comes with becoming not just a Master Mason, but also a Master of ourselves and our understanding of the world in which we live. The philosophies inculcated by Masonry then come naturally to us with little effort, and the joy that results from this peace of mind is something that nobody can take away, because it is grounded on personal experience and practice.
“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” ~ Matsuo Basho
So as we continue this wonderful Masonic retreat, I charge every brother here in this room to think about how you can best inspire your fellow brothers, especially your lodge candidates. The planning, logistics, finances, and everything else is important, but all of those things become FAR easier when you have a strong membership base that is grounded on personal inspiration. As a lodge leader, you will know that you have succeeded when you no longer have to push your brothers to do something and instead, you feel that you are all walking the same journey together.
I would like to end with my absolute favorite Masonic poem of all time, one that I’ve printed out and keep handy whenever I myself need inspiration to move forward in Masonic leadership no matter how rough and rugged the road ahead may be. These were the words of Brother Joseph Fort Newton in his book, “The Builders,” published in 1914:
When is a Man a Mason?
“When he can look out over the rivers, the hills, and the far horizon with a profound sense of his own littleness in the vast scheme of things, and yet have faith, hope, and courage – which is the root of every virtue. When he knows that down in his heart every man is as noble, as vile, as divine, as diabolic, and as lonely as himself, and seeks to know, to forgive, and to love his fellow man. When he knows how to sympathize with men in their sorrows, yea, even in their sins – knowing that each man fights a hard fight against many odds. When he has learned how to make friends and to keep them, and above all how to keep friends with himself. When he loves flowers, can hunt birds without a gun, and feels the thrill of an old forgotten joy when he hears the laugh of a little child. When he can be happy and high-minded amid the meaner drudgeries of life. When star-crowned trees, and the glint of sunlight on flowing waters, subdue him like the thought of one much loved and long dead. When no voice of distress reaches his ears in vain, and no hand seeks his aid without response. When he finds good in every faith that helps any man to lay hold of divine things and sees majestic meanings in life, whatever the name of that faith may be. When he can look into a wayside puddle and see something beyond mud, and into the face of the most forlorn fellow mortal and see something beyond sin. When he knows how to pray, how to love, how to hope. When he has kept faith with himself, with his fellow man, and with his God; in his hand a sword for evil, in his heart a bit of a song – glad to live, but not afraid to die! Such a man has found the only real secret of Masonry, and the one which it is trying to give to all the world.”
Thank you for the opportunity to share and fellowship with you all. May your Masonic journeys continue to be the most rewarding, and I wish you fair winds and following seas! If you ever find yourself in Hawaii, please do come visit Honolulu Lodge on Tuesday nights!
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.
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.
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.