As one who enjoys delving into various conspiracy theories from time to time and chasing them down the rabbit hole, the topic and idea of Freemasonry and myself becoming a Mason have been on my mind for almost as long as I can remember, but as many other men in my generation I had no real idea how to join, and believed that it was purely predicated on the pedigree of your bloodline, and that one day when the time was right, a man would approach me and take me to a Lodge for initiation if it were in my destiny.
It's not that I'm a paranoid schizophrenic searching for some non-conformist reasoning to explain my lack of "fitting in" to the world, as many popular outlets would have you believe we conspiracy theorists are. I'm quite the normal, conformist guy, what we would call pretty "squared away" in the Army, or even a "square" in the 1950's vernacular.
You see, even though I have followed the formula for the American dream my entire life, being a football and lacrosse stud in high school, going to college, joining a business fraternity, playing on the men's lacrosse team, graduating with a marketing degree, joining the Army and finding my way into Special Forces and on to combat in every theatre our country has been in over the past decade, returning home and joining the business community, I've always viewed the world a bit differently than most who were considered my peers or colleagues.
The great grandson of a famous American author, grandson of a military intelligence Colonel and son of a fighter pilot, I've been raised to be a military man and even a company man, but one thing that the men in my family have always shared and cherished is the most important skill of critical thinking: looking at the "big picture" rather than the slice of life you currently see.
It seems trivial to most, but to anyone reading this who has spent time in the Craft knows just how deep that concept can be. As a man who values critical thinking and root-cause analysis above all, I've never believed what I've been sold in life, whether it be from history lessons, the media, or the timeline of humanity. Not that I think it's all a complete fabrication, but rather that something has always been.........missing.
As a bit of a book nerd and history buff, I continued following the rabbit hole past my teenage years, through college, into my Army career and then on to the private sector. It had begun driving me up the wall that everything I dove into, ran into the same dead-end: the Freemasons have the answers and are pulling the strings.
It seemed that no matter where I turned, no matter what internet website or dark and dusty unnumbered book I read that I came to the same unsatisfactory answer, and was quite unhappy that my thirst for Light, Truth, Knowledge and answers would never be quenched, and that it was due to something (I thought at the time) that was completely out of my control.
But then, just a few years ago, came my big break; my Grandfather had passed away a few years previously, and as my dad and I were talking about him, my dad let it slip that my Grandfather had been a Mason during his time in the Army. It was my chance!
I immediately jumped on Google the mighty and starting looking for contact numbers. I wasn't exactly sure how the hierarchy worked or what the Blue Lodge system was, so I went right for what I had heard the most about: the Scottish Rite Lodge in Washington D.C., the heart of a very unhealthy portion of conspiracy theories.
I searched for every email address and office phone number I could find, and before long found myself on the phone with the secretary of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction. Being the studious and organized individual that I am, I had an entire page of notes and questions, lest I forget to ask something crucial and miss perhaps my only opportunity.
My mouth was dry, my heart was racing, and not knowing where to start, I began with my lineage, what I thought was my key and only chance to prove that I was worthy for entrance into the Craft.
I wasn't more than a few sentences in before I heard the secretary laugh just a little bit; I felt my heart drop, imagining that all of the stories were true, that something about my pedigree just wasn't good enough, and that I would either not be admitted or be relegated to the "outer circle" so famously spoken about in conspiracy groups (by those who have no true Knowledge of the Craft itself), whose only purpose is to finance the worldly intentions of the secret "inner circle" of Freemasons who rule the world.
Why we would proudly claim Presidents, leaders of nations and generals as members of our Fraternity and not this secretive "inner circle" has never quite been answered for me, which should have been an answer in and of it self a long time ago.
The secretary heard me pause and inserted something that was somehow missing from every book, online forum or television special written and concocted by the uninitiated that I had ever come across: it didn't matter where I came from or what my last name was, all I had to do was find a Blue Lodge and go to a stated meeting dinner.
I soaked up every bit of instruction I was given, listened intently to every lecture, attended every single degree ritual that I could at my Lodge, and counted (I'm not kidding about this) every column, artifice, rug pattern, light fixture, steps of the officers and adornment in the Lodge, looking for some clue that would lead me to the secret I had been searching for, the lost keys that Brother Manly P. Hall so famously wrote and spoke about.
But alas, the elusive "key" seemed hidden to me; I noticed some very peculiar patterns in certain things that were quickly dismissed when I asked about them, found that my Lodge wasn't alone in not practicing the esoteric work anymore, and seemed to be led to the idea that the "secrets" I was looking for had to be found on my own; the "key" was not one that would be given to me, but rather one that I would have to find, now that I knew what I was looking for.
Somewhere along the line I took a step back to reflect, which is just as important to critical thinking and project management as anything, and realized that I wasn't seeing the forest for the trees. All along I had been looking at everything with a microscope, not realizing that the bigger, perhaps more important piece was standing all around me.
I had become very close to some of the members of my Lodge, especially those with whom I had been progressing through the degrees with, but only seeing each other once a week, sometimes only once a month, can only go so far if you're in a hurry. I had joined many LinkedIn groups and visited quite a few other online forums to quench my thirst for deep conversation, began listening to the Whence Came You podcast with Brother Robert Johnson, and actually sought him out and had become rather close.
As a guy who's been on athletic teams, in fraternal organizations and in the military, I can take relationships for granted sometimes, as I've always had a lot of very close friends and have had a deep respect and understanding for the need of man, a social animal, to have those bonds. But as with many things in life, it becomes very easy to lose sight of the importance of things that you've always had.
So when it came time for my 3rd Degree, I have to say that I was more than a bit surprised when I walked into the dining area of my Lodge and saw a very familiar face; Brother Robert Johnson, who had secretly traveled from Illinois to California to be there with me on such an important day, and to fellowship with the Brothers of my Lodge. And not only did he grace us with his presence, he brought presents!
Perhaps a month later, my Lodge had its annual picnic, a tradition of Los Angeles Lodge #42 that has lasted for quite some time. My eyes were still a bit fuzzy from having been opened for the first time after my Raising, but for the first time, somewhere between the snow cones and kids games I truly saw what it was about: Fellowship.
If our goal is to make good men better, for the first time I realized that it didn't have to come from ancient texts, online forums, patterns in the stars, aliens, or even, not even, my beloved tinfoil hat. It comes from us.
As I looked around Griffith Park and at my Brothers and their families, enjoying themselves but most importantly being together, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Just as humanity started with Adam, alone but a good man, so has our Craft. It all begins with the one good man, the GAOTU, the Worshipful Master, but that one good man influences another, who in turn influences another.
Before long there is the Trinity of good men, now influencing thrice the amount of good men to be better, who in turn "pay it forward," and on and on it goes. One good man can't change the entire world, but a Brotherhood of good men can.
So as it turns out, for all of my studious research, for all of my searching, thinking that I would never find the secret of life or the Craft that I had been searching for, it looks like it was staring me in the face the entire time, just waiting for me to look up and notice: I came for the conspiracy theories, but I stayed for the Fellowship.
Bro. Robert Patrick Lewis is a Brother out of L.A. Lodge 42. He is a husband and father of two. He is the author of "Love Me When I'm Gone", a memoir about his time in the Special Forces. Bro. Lewis is also the host of the "Far From Centered" podcast (available on iTunes) and writes for iRON MiKE Magazine. He is currently serving our country yet again in the Middle-East.