Freemasonry and the Chinese Bamboo Tree

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM



Not long ago I saw a video of a motivational talk given by a man named Les Brown. In this talk, Mr. Brown began to explain how a person’s life and their success is like growing a Chinese bamboo tree.

The Chinese bamboo tree isn’t easy to grow. In order for the tree to grow, the ground in which the seed is planted must be watered and fertilized every day without fail for five years, but thetree doesn’t sprout until the fifth year. After that five years, the grower’s patience and hard work are rewarded when the tree grows over ninety feet tall in that fifth year.

Brown explains in the video how many people will allow the tree to die because they get discouraged doing all that work, spending all the time fertilizing the soil and watering the seed without seeing any progress from all their labors. After all that time, they have spent so much doing the necessary work in order for the tree to sprout without seeing any progress. They begin to lose faith in the process or their own abilities, or even worse, they begin to listen to naysayers and the tree dies when they give up the hard work needed to make the tree come alive.

In today’s Microwave society where we want to start out at the top of the heap and success is assured, many of us will become frustrated when the goal we want to reach or the objective we have in mind doesn’t happen right away or fails to fall into place on the first attempt. Many times we get frustrated or dejected and we begin to listen to that little voice in the back of our head, or worse yet,  those who don’t want you to succeed because of their own agendas and prejudices. We give up and move on and the Chinese bamboo tree seed we planted will wither and die because we quit watering and fertilizing the ground in which it was planted.

Brethren, in my opinion, Masonic renewal is much like that Chinese bamboo tree. In the decade and a half since I was raised to the sublime degree, I've began to get interested in the Masonic renewal movement. I have worked with many dedicated Masons who put their lives and treasure into the Craft with the hope of making Freemasonry grow strong again, and to help it take it’s legitimate place in society. But I also watch them grow weary in their labors and slowly give in to the naysayers who place obstructions in their path. They either don’t see the progress being made or the tree of their labors isn’t sprouting quickly enough, or even worse, their skin gets too thin when dealing with those who wish the Fraternity to stay as it has for the last half-century. Sadly they just throw their hands up in the air and leave our speculative quarries and give up on Masonry.

It’s really sad for so many reasons. First of all, in just a few years I have been a Mason there has been tremendous progress, such as the mutual recognition of Prince Hall Grand Lodges (including in many formerly Confederate states), many jurisdictions have begun allowing business meetings on the first degree, more Masonic education is being introduced into lodge settings. In just the last decade and a half, our progress has been beyond what any of us thought could happen, just a decade ago.

Every year the Masonic renewal movement continues to make progress, it may not be as fast as many of us wish it would happen, but progress is being made nonetheless. But if we want it to continue to progress we need to continue to work the soil in which we planted that seed so many years ago.

Brethren, the Craft needs you. Each one of you to continue to advance and work toward making Freemasonry strong again. For each Mason who leaves our Fraternity is one less man to work in his local lodge, mentor younger Brethren and vote in Grand lodge communications. Like it says in the York Rite’s Virtual Past Master’s degree: “From a grip to a span; from a span to a grip; a two-fold cord is strong, but a three-fold cord is not easily broken.” We are all stronger as a group than we are as individuals.

Each one of us has our own strengths and talents given to us by our Creator, whether you are a writer orator, ritualist, builder, cook…each one of us has a place in this Masonic renaissance. No matter who you are, we need you. Each of you is important and hard to replace.

Brothers if you know a man who is thinking about leaving the Fraternity, try to convince them to stay and continue their labors. Explain to them how they make a difference to you, the lodge and to the Craft as a whole. If they have already left, try to convince them to come back and rejoin us in our efforts.

If we want this fraternity to grow strong again we need each of you, your efforts and support.

~BH

WB Bill Hosler was made a Master Mason in 2002 in Three Rivers Lodge #733 in Indiana. He served as Worshipful Master in 2007 and became a member of the internet committee for Indiana's Grand Lodge. Bill is currently a member of Roff Lodge No. 169 in Roff Oklahoma and Lebanon Lodge No. 837 in Frisco,Texas. Bill is also a member of the Valley of Fort Wayne Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Indiana. A typical active Freemason, Bill also served as the High Priest of Fort Wayne's Chapter of the York Rite No. 19 and was commander of of the Fort Wayne Commandery No. 4 of the Knight Templar. During all this he also served as the webmaster and magazine editor for the Mizpah Shrine in Fort Wayne Indiana.

















September 11th - Revisit

*Editors Note* A day after, keeping with our typical schedule of release days, I chose to run RWB Michael H. Shirley's piece which he wrote for us originally back on September 11th of 2015. I think it's a beautiful piece and I hope you enjoy reading it. ~R.H. Johnson

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB Michael H. Shirley




“[T]o love is better than to hate, and Forgiveness is wiser than Revenge or Punishment.” –Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma, 859.

Like everyone else I know, I remember exactly where I was when I heard about the World Trade Center attack. I was teaching an early class that morning, and was in mid lecture when the planes hit. When class ended, I started to walk down the hall and was waylaid by students who wanted to know if I’d heard. In bits and pieces, we found out that it was a deliberate act, then that one tower had fallen, and then another. Then came the news that the Pentagon had been hit. I was standing there, trying to comprehend it all, when one of my students said, “Dr. Shirley, what does it mean?” “It means we’re at war,” I said, with no real thought beyond that simple statement. As more information came out over the next several days, it became clear that things had changed beyond recovery. I did what so many others did: stayed glued to the television, tried to buy an American flag from stores that couldn’t keep them in stock, thought about what I could do to serve my country. But I kept coming back to the realization that these terrorists had killed innocents, including children, because they believed their cause was more important than people made in the image of God. And I had a choice: to hate them or not. 

I wasn’t a Mason then; I didn’t petition my Lodge until 2006. But my time in Masonry has taught me that hate is never the answer to any question worth asking. If I am committed to Masonry, love has to be my only response to everything, both large and small, because if I hate, I become what I hate. I have to see the fundamental humanity, the image of God, in everyone I encounter. Otherwise, I’m not practicing Masonry to the best of my ability.

My sister, an Episcopal priest and Air Force Chaplain, has said that she has to recognize that everyone is equally deserving of God’s love, which is to say, not at all, so acting high and mighty has no place in the world. My mother says regularly that the hardest word to accept in the Lord’s Prayer is “Our.” We all want to be special, but we can only do that if we reject what makes us human. We all need to meet on the level and acknowledge one another as fully human, undeserving of the gifts we’ve received, and just love one another.

So now I pray that I will be enabled to act as if all people are my Brothers and Sisters. For the simple truth is, they are. I don’t have to like them, and if they mean harm to others, I certainly have to stop them, but I can’t hate them without losing the best part of myself. Love, I would argue, is the answer to every question, both in Masonry and in the profane world. Every day, I am presented with the choice of whether to act with love or not. Every day, I can choose to hate, to be indifferent, or to love. I don’t always choose well, but I find that if I pay attention to Masonry’s teachings, I make the right choice more often than not. 

Fourteen years ago I chose, briefly, to hate. It was nearly impossible not to do so. But hate kills the hater, and I could not continue. Since 2006 I have cast my lot with Freemasonry, and have been grateful for its work in my life every day since. Lord knows, I don’t always choose well, but I’ve found that if I remember that Love drives away darkness, I don’t make that darkness my home. I’ve found that I prefer a well-lit room. And so I pray for light for everyone, especially for those who have shut it out of their lives and have chosen to live in darkness. I pray—today of all days—to let the Light of Love illumine our world.

~MHS

Masonic Artifacts Can Tell A Story - Revisit

by Midnight Freemasons contributor
Gregory J. Knott

One of the things I enjoy most is walking through antique stores looking for Masonic artifacts.  On a recent trip through Decatur, Illinois, we stopped at a very nice shop and I set upon my hunt.  They had a few items, but none of them really caught my interest until I ran across a small framed case with 3 medals in it.  Upon closer review I knew that these were Knight Templar Medals.

SK Orlando Powers
The three medals were from Beaumanoir Commandery No. 9, which was and still is at home in Decatur, Illinois.  The medal on the left is the Order of the Temple member medal, the middle is a Past Eminent Commander’s jewel and the one of the right is a drill attendance medal with a number 32 on the bar in the middle.

As I was checking out, I asked the clerk if she knew of any history of these medals.  I was in luck because she did!   It turns out they belonged to Orlando Powers, who was an early prominent settler of Decatur.  He was born in 1812 and came to Decatur in 1849 and died in July 1902.
Powers Opera House
Bro. Powers built a tremendous Opera House in 1889 at Decatur where many of the most prominent settlers of the day performed.  It burned to the ground in 1895 and was later rebuilt, but burned again in 1914.  His son built a hotel on the same site that is still run as a residential hotel today.

But it is the Powers Mansion that seems to be his real legacy today.  According to a couple of websites that I visited, the mansion seems to be haunted.  Perhaps the ghost of Orlando Powers is still looking over his house.

I couldn’t find a Masonic record for Bro. Powers.  I can only assume he belonged to a local lodge and perhaps other York Rite bodies.   

But it was purchasing these medals and learning about a man who died over 110 years ago and seeing his impact upon the Prairie of Illinois that gave me the greatest pleasure.

The Powers Mansion--haunted some say . . .
~GK



 WB Gregory J. Knott is a founding member and Senior Contributor of the Midnight Freemasons. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters. You can contact him at gknott63@gmail.com

The Truth About Esoteric Masonry and Traditional Observance

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson


Traveling around to different lodges in the summer of 2018 has been amazing. I’ve presented at lodges all around the country, on a multitude of topics which are obviously things I am passionate about. American history, old ritual practices and even how to effectively market our lodges. But one topic comes up time and time again. Esoterica.

Whether it’s referred to as “Esoteric”, “Esoterica”, “Esoterism”, or maybe you go with Albert Pike and spell it with a “K”--“Esoterika”, the subject matter is hotly debated. Before we dive into this, lets just define the concept quickly. Esoteric literally means, “intended for or only understood by a few.”

Freemasonry is an Esoteric society by definition. If not, than the general public would have the ability to gain our insights and teachings, apply them and go off on their merry way. There are of course Masons who hold that the historical is truly the only part of Masonry worth studying, citing our history and where we came from as the focal points. Others will speak to the application of Masonic values as they relate to the here and now as the place we should set our sites. And still others, although more rare, will talk about the esoteric. Each category births a variety of mixtures. Chuck Dunning, author of “Contemplative Masonry”, recently wrote a nice article on the types of “Esoteric Masons” that exist. It’s definitely worth a read. Check it out HERE. The fact remains that Freemasonry has a set of concepts which it delivers through our plays on morality. On the surface, they convey some stark realities and hopeful futures, but the sub-context, the marrow if you will, can be said to go much deeper.

Yes, sometimes a sign is just a sign, but this in majority is contested by many of Masonry’s most famous authors and scholars. Masonry has this unique ability to attract those interested in various pursuits which we tend to accumulate under our umbrella. Charity, fellowship and yes, philosophy. Masonry makes good men better, or at least this is the aim. Many arguments regarding this statement have been written. A complete list would take up many pages. It will be suffice to say, that Masonry makes good men better through education. That education in the philosophical is what leads a good man to become those other qualities we value, like being charitable.

The Craft today is seen by its own members as a service society, a charity and a place where men learn together. When we ask how they learn, the responses articulate that by working together or through lodge projects, by speaking, by delivering lectures, and even learning discipline through ritual and floor work, will make a good man better. But when we take a step back, these qualities are really nothing we can’t learn anywhere else. Boy Scouts, Toastmasters, Lions, Elk, Moose, Rotary, the military. The list goes on.

When I initially penned one of my first presentations called Esoterics 101, it was designed specifically for a lodge whose members had no clue about what the word [Esoteric] was or what it meant. It’s still hard for me to believe that we have members who are daft to the concept, members who don’t understand the spiritual underpinnings of what we do in ritual.

I am frequently contacted by younger members, usually those who have been Master Masons for a year or less and who’ve been elected or appointed to be a Lodge Education Officer. They’re very interested in the esoteric side of Masonry and want me to come out to present the Esoterics 101 keynote. The reason? So that the other members of their lodge will understand the concept or that my presentation will validate the new members interests on the topic.

At these presentations, typically what I see are members who’ve been in the lodge for years and who feel like all this education is just a fad for the new kids, there are exceptions of course. I’ll present and get no questions except for the few who wanted to have me out. Some even retire for coffee midway through the presentation. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, but I’ll tell you what it does do. It makes the guys who organized the education night feel like no one cares, like their fulfillment doesn't matter. Education is the reason Masonry exists. Full stop.

Reality check: Come down from the clouds, put the Eliphas Levi and Manly P. Hall books back on the shelf for just a moment and admit it, that there is no esoteric side to Masonry.

Masonry is completely esoteric, all sides. It was designed to be esoteric at its inception thanks to those renaissance and enlightenment thinkers. The vision unfortunately, was not protected and it did not last. It is no longer the reality.

If our forefathers from the renaissance, and later the enlightenment era hadn’t injected the money, power and influence into the guild system, we’d have no Freemasonry today. Not like it’s practiced anyway. You’d have a union. That’s it.

The more we critically analyze the state of the Craft today, the more we truly see it for what it is. We’ve made a significant departure from the secondary intent which begat the current organization. The lion’s share of lodges promise something that we don’t ever fully deliver. We gather, we take an oath, we eat together, we agree to take care of our widows and orphans. In this, we are by definition, more Traditional Observant of original Masonry than any lodge that bares the moniker today.

To be truly observant, to look, to practice and abide by standards of Traditional Masonry, would require us to practice as they did in antiquity. --as in the guild system. Traditional is defined as, “long established”. That original system is in fact much more long established than anything we propose to be in todays standards. And when we look at how we operate right now, it’s a modern equivalent.

In truth, the TO, or Traditional Observant Lodges that speckle the landscape of Masonry are affinity lodges. These are lodges that practice the idealized version of Masonry many are or were looking for. Lodges that ask it’s members to have standards of practice, dress, mandatory attendance, higher dues in order to be solvent in today’s economy and above all, provide a meaningful Masonic experience. For by in large part, these are lodges that have been designed to be fulfilling for a specific kind of member, many of whom are what we would label esoteric.

Again, looking at Masonry today and from afar, we see a single color. A swatch of beige. It’s a social organization with charities and fellowship, unified by a belief (in most cases) in deity and who’ve all experienced (for all intents and purposes) the same thing. In practice, the overwhelming majority of lodges operate without true education--without esoteric understanding. When we read articles that state, as I have above, that Masonry is esoteric, we might do some real thinking. Looking at the landscape of Masonry today, we reflect on the reality of the situation and that I would consider a hard-to-swallow fact. Saying that Masonry is esoteric is false quip, because it doesn’t reflect reality.

As it exists Masonry is not Esoteric. It is a wonderful club which brings together members who, because of common interests, sometimes form additional groups or even lodges which focus on a topic of interest. Thus we have appendant bodies or Craft affinity lodges: Traditional Observant, Past Master, Military, pick a flavor.

The varied styles of Masonry which exist are actually a danger to it’s very survival. Not only does it prove to make the Masonic fraternity bland, it puts the Craft in a rather precarious place, one of comfort, safety and complacency. I once wrote about the old greasy spoon restaurants that we tend to find in our towns. Places that have everything on the menu, but nothing great. It’s the place you go when you’re looking for something good, cheap and to be honest, what you’d expect--a safety blanket of sorts. No surprises. No variety. No growth.

What Masonry needs is the challenge, to get rid of the old axiom, “Masonry is many things to many people”. Masonry is one thing, it is education. We need to embrace this at all costs. By picking one thing to focus on, our skill in it becomes greater and by proxy, so does the caliber of it’s men.

Many of us are in the quarries today, building, cutting measuring--trying to make the craft better, to raise it to the lofty heights we were told it sat. Is it so bad that we want it to be what we expected it to be? To be a place where there is equal emphasis on the education, fellowship and charity? The sad truth is of course, that while we all work for the change, we likely won’t see the true impact of what we’ve done. Our children’s children might, but we won’t.

One of my best friends and Brothers, is a luthier. That’s a violin maker, restorer, repairman. He makes wonderful pieces of art, pieces that sing like nothing you could imagine. I asked him once, “What you do is so amazing. It takes both skill, craftsmanship and yet, is somehow still artistic. How do you get on top and be the best? How do you become the luthier that people talk about?”
Spencer, took a breath and said, “Well, that’s the thing. You don’t. Every piece I work on has a mark. Long after I’m dead, maybe people will see my works and rave about them the way people rave about the 300 year old violins today. I can only leave a mark in the industry. Small influences. People might not know or care about the work today, but in 100 years or more, they’ll know my name.”

And so it will be for us, brothers. As we work in the Craft today, we make the small marks. Every time we make something a little more meaningful. Everytime we operate within our rules but add value to some part of the degree experience, we raise the bar. Everytime we set a standard, we raise the expectation. Everytime we do something that’s impressive in the presence of a new Entered Apprentice, it will impress upon them that what they just witnessed is the standard. The above and beyond efforts of today become the standards of tomorrow. Just think about the Masonry in 200 years. If we decide to go in a singular direction, we’ll make that difference. If the status quo is maintained, you’ll find yourself on a horse galloping down the beach, and George, you might not like what you find.




~RHJ

RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Waukegan Lodge No. 78 where he is a Past Master. He is also a Past District Deputy for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry and is also an avid home brewer. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.