Don’t Look Behind the Curtain and The Generational Divide

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Robert Patrick Lewis 32°

*Note* The parts of a speech by the Grand Master of California are paraphrased and are not exact.

Waking up this morning I was pleasantly amused to read an article by Brothers Robert Johnson and Brian Schimian that I’ve been hearing about and eagerly waiting for.

I’ve been lucky enough to share some fellowship with Brother Brian during his “California dreaming” time here with us in La La Land, and over a few conversations I’ve had with him leading up to that article and reading it myself this morning, I felt inspired to pen this article based on some feelings and events in my own Masonic career of late.

Brothers Robert and Brian didn’t go so far as to name the specific event that lead to the creation of that great article, and it seems as if it wasn’t necessary. From conversations and communications I’ve had with other Brethren around the country of my generation, and from events that I’ve personally witnessed it seems as if the onus for their article isn’t needed, because the same story is being repeated in Lodges, Valleys and Bodies around the country.

The problem became apparent to me at a reception dinner my Valley hosted for the Grand Master of California last month (January). It was a pleasant event and dinner, my first function as the general secretary of my Valley (we’ll get to that later). After dinner and some entertainment the Grand Master and several other members of my Valley took the time to speak a few words.

What resonated most in my mind was one very small part of the Grand Masters speech that left me, well, speechless. About halfway into his speech about the various charities he’s associated with and things he’s seen in his career, he took a moment to mention the generational divide occurring in Masonry, citing a statistic that the largest numbers of new Masons by far are coming from my generation (I believe the age range he gave was something like 20-35 year olds).

As my education is primarily in marketing I love statistics and metrics, as they can tell us so much about trends and what we are doing right or wrong, so when he followed it with something like “we don’t know why they’ve come, what they’re looking for, or how to keep them” I was floored.

It’s not so much that technology and popular culture have allowed Masonic discussion to be found anywhere that an iPod, phone or laptop can reach, with such outlets as The Midnight Freemasons Blog, From Whence Came You podcast, The Masonic Roundtable, etc, which are primarily hosted by Masons of the very generation he seems to have no understanding of.

It’s not even so much that those of my generation have started countless discussions in our Lodges about why we came to Masonry and what we were searching for.

Don't let the above be the case.
Moreover, it amazes me that with all of the minutiae Grand Lodges around the country have the time and resources to dedicate to things which seem utterly pointless to men of my generation, it doesn’t seem they’ve taken the time to do the most elementary function an organization can undertake when trying to discern information from a particular demographic: to ask us.

I spent the first month of this year in the general secretary seat for my Valley, and after my time in that seat I can safely say that I’ve seen more than I ever wanted to concerning one of the largest generational disconnects I’ve ever encountered; specifically for me in the Scottish Rite, but after talking with Brothers who’ve held positions in Grand Lodges before, it’s one that seems to be a common theme: politics.

There are several recurring themes I’ve encountered in conversations with other Masons of my generation and during my short stint in the secretary’s seat for my Valley that I’d like to address here, concerning and attempting to explain this generational gap and what it is that my generation came to Masonry in search of.

I know that a large part of the very generations who don’t understand younger Mason’s don’t really understand this media and means of communication, so hopefully someone reading this can use it as a way to begin the conversation within their Lodge, if you are in agreement with the points I’d like to address.

  • We don’t care about the politics. This “look behind the curtain” dealt a nearly deadly blow to my view of the Scottish Rite, in seeing Brethren treating each other extremely un-Masonically, concerning themselves more with alliances and future positions than what was going on in their Lodge/Valley. The men of my generation are absolutely sick of politicians that have done their best to ruin our country, and fully appreciate why Brother Pike spent so much of his writings in Morals and Dogma talking of the repugnancy and pestilence that are self-serving politicians. Politics should have no place in Masonry, and when a Brother of my generation sees someone playing politics in the Lodge, all respect is immediately lost. 

  • We don’t care about titles. That’s great that you have an “Illustrious” or “Honorable” or “Sir” in front of your name. While it does show that you’ve logged some serious hours in a Lodge room or Valley Temple, that’s not what we came here searching for. Many of my generation have spent time across the ocean on battlefields, and much like those who returned from WWII or Vietnam to find solace in the Lodge, we believe that respect is something earned, not given as easily as a large donation or time spent in a certain chair. For those of us who truly came seeking “further Light in Masonry,” no matter what title comes before your name, you are still a man. Just as the skull is used to remind us of our own mortality, it should also remind you that no matter what your title, we are all meant to meet on the Level when in Lodge. 

  • We don’t care about the minutes. Seriously. Both my Blue Lodge and Valley have the same group of people who regularly attend stated and special meetings. We were present when it opened last month and heard what happened. No need to repeat it. That valuable oxygen and energy could be used doing what the men of my generation came to Masonry for: spreading further Light through Masonic education. 

  • We value our time. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not sure why or how this occurred, but I’ve noticed (even within my own family, friends and friends families) that the men of my generation just seem to value time at home with the family differently than those who came before us. Maybe it’s because we were raised by fathers who spent long hours toiling away at work or taking part in other social activities, but my close friends and I value our time with family above all else. Please go back and read #3 again. 

  • We work smarter, not harder. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to explain just how efficient, easy and profitable the use of technology can be these days to our Personal Representative (I created a Facebook, Twitter and Google Drive for our Valley to try and get us into the technology age). I get it, we’ve sent out brochures, flyers and put trestle boards out in the Lodge for time immemorial, and that’s what you’re comfortable with. The men of my generation fully embrace technology, and have an understanding that there are a finite amount of trees on our planet, and not everyone can be at every stated meeting (please re-read 3&4). Websites, Email, Facebook and Twitter are just plain smarter, faster, easier and more widespread than their paper predecessors, and give us access from wherever we are, whenever we want to figure out what’s going on in our Lodges/Valleys. Please put some effort into understanding this, as it is at the core of my generation’s culture. 

  • We don’t care about the pomp and circumstance. At the beginning of this article I spoke of a reception for the Grand Master that my Valley hosted. This was another “look behind the curtain” for me, and watching the dizzy fervor that this event whipped our PR into made me take a step back and wonder why in the world we were even doing it. Yes, it’s fun to dress up in tuxedos and wear our regalia every once in awhile. But please go back and read 1,2,3&4 before you schedule one of these events for your Lodge or Valley. From the conversations I’ve had with Brethren of my generation, all would be much better served to bring a Masonic scholar like Arturo de Hoyos or Rex Hutchens to shed some further Light to your younger Brethren. 

  • We want to learn from you. We didn’t come to Masonry for the institution; we came for the education, the Light, and the community. For us a meeting could be in a Lodge room just as well as a chat room or a dimly lit tavern, as were our forefathers. We know that there are numerous lessons and experiences to be taught, but the resounding narrative I hear echoed from the Brethren of my generation is that those experiences just aren’t being passed on from “mouth to ear” between generations. Sure, we have degrees a few times a month. How about taking some time to impart your thoughts on those degrees. Yes, we can read any number of works to explain the esoteric to us in black and white text. But as we’ve been taught through our developing careers, the best lessons in Masonry aren’t written down. We yearn for our elders to show us the Light, teach us the ways and impart us with knowledge, not just have dinner, read the minutes and go home. 

If any of the above has been taken as argumentative, disrespectful or out of place, I truly apologize. It is not meant to be so, but I have to admit I feel flabbergasted to hear an officer of my Grand Lodge state that he doesn’t know what the men of my generation are looking for, when we’ve tried so hard to express that very knowledge.

We feel that society has done us wrong and taught us lessons that were untrue; we can’t believe our media, our politicians, most of our textbooks from school, or most of what we hear or read in the news.

We came to the Order seeking others who, like us, know that there is more to life than what we’ve been told and taught, and were directed that the path to the answers we sought began by walking up the steps into our local Lodge.

We love you, we respect you, and we need you, as Brethren, elders, and educators. When we came seeking knowledge and further Light in Masonry, we came to Masonry seeking you.

Please don’t let another new Master Mason’s first experience after his raising be a reading of the minutes, because if that is all we have to offer, there won’t be too many more raisings to be had.

~RPL

Bro. Robert Patrick Lewis 32° is a member of Los Angeles Lodge #42, and  the Los Angeles Valley of the Scottish Rite, SJ. He is an author of two books; "Love Me When I'm Gone" a memoir about his time serving our country as a member of Special Forces and his newest "The Pact", a fictional tale of what happens when the US is taken over. 


14 comments:

  1. Well stated!
    In speaking to newly raised Brothers it occurred to us that Masonic Education ceased once the Brother was Raised. We have included a monthly Masonic Education segment in our Stated meetings. Any Brother is free to present his topic. We have had members from different Lodges attend when a topic was of interest. We have also established a Face Book page which generates a lot of traffic, received a lot of comments and has resulted in visits from other jurisdictions who found us there. We publish our monthly Notices both there and on our Website. We are attempting to be relevant to the younger members and to not just sit around and re-hash the way things used to be. RDM PM, Sec

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  2. What a fantastic article. You have nailed it.

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  3. Excellent piece! Nice work. It's a common topic of discussion these days, in fact, I wrote one a month or so ago called "Freemasonry's Obsession With Empty Chairs." I think we sometimes forget our Millennial brethren view a lot of things a lot differently and you did a great job giving us a glimpse into that mind set. And no worries--you don't have to call me Illustrious. Master is fine. :-)

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  4. Excellent article. Very well said. I am a personal friend of Todd Creason but I am 65 and a more traditional generation. I have been a mason for approximately 28 years so I am sort of in between. I am up with technology and agree with your points. I also consider it a high compliment when I top-lined a brother from my lodge (same generation ) who said that he didn't know I was illustrious until the reunion and he saw my hat. We must be good men who are masons not masons looking for a good connection. Thanks for helping to bridge this divide.

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  5. Thanks for the kind words Brothers. It feels at times as if we're talking to a brick wall when we voice our opinions or feelings, so it's quite refreshing to see this article being so well received from various generations (even Illustrious/WM Creason!!!).

    Our VM in my valley told a funny joke not too long ago....

    Q: "How many Masons does it take to change a light bulb?"
    A: "CHANGE?!?!?!?!?!?"

    I guess it's funnier in person, but I think the point comes across. Glad to know this is connecting...hopefully those up the chain a little higher will understand my point as well.

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  6. Excellent stuff. I'm going to share this with my lodge for sure. We have had a lot of these conversations. I will say, though, that while I do value my time, I'm absolutely willing to stay up at lodge for the right reasons, whether it be education or some other type of enriching program.

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  7. Thank you for your help, better I go to sleep have a rest I can NOT explain AGAIN!!!@!
    ×Explorer ×××

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  8. Brother, I've shared this perfect and direct article with our area's facebook group. THANK YOU!

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  9. I particularly loved the part about Titles! To me personally, I dont care what you are a member of, who has recognized you, how many honors or titles have been bestowed on you, or what degree you think you have reached....this "boy scout badge" masonry is laughable to me...all I want to know is what you are doing to make your Blue Lodge a better place, everyone says that lodges exist to make master masons, but I think they exist to BUILD and maintain a Master Mason ( the highest honor that can be bestowed). That does not mean I don't appreciate that someone is a 12 time past master, it just means that i'm not particularly impressed by it. I think lodges exist for so much more than just the Stated (business) meetings and moving through chairs....and im not referring to a bunch of articles or so called masonic education that so many lodges are starting to take 5 minutes to read once a month. I think that the people of our generation of Master Mason's are looking for enlightenment through debate, discussion, and the expansion of ideas. I think we want to take these ideas and turn them into principles that will change us, and by extension change the world.

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  10. Truth be told, I’m Illustrious and a Past something or other many times over and have been applying myself to Masonic principals(and vice versa) and ritual for more than 30 years(since I was 21), so if now being in an older demo, having earned titles and seeing value in some traditions doesn’t totally negate my opinions here, let me say that I agree with more of your observations than disagree.
    But I see things in less generational terms – many shortcomings are in leadership and many flaws are hierarchical in nature; 20 -35 year olds hold no monopoly on the pursuit for Masonic knowledge and meaning or even disdain for politics and a low boredom threshold. I believe the desire for much of what this Fraternity affirms itself to be and its potential benefit for the individual and society is universal.
    Realistically, an organization as historically rich and as administratively diverse as ours cannot simply jettison everything in the name of new sensibilities. We can no easier hold a meeting or GL Communication online or in a bar than we can expect lengthy minutes to be a source of great interest to anyone. There are both practical and theoretical considerations of which to be deferent - on both sides of the issue. A thorough market research project would indeed help – everyone from Grand Lodges to internet pundits, I fear rely too heavily on anecdotal evidence.
    I would urge the avoidance of inspiriting a new, age-based rift within the Fraternity with generational rhetoric - it can only serve to widen the supposed “generational divide.” To identify shortcomings and expect change from others is but half the equation. Change is necessary. Change is challenging. Change often happens too slowly. But we must properly identify the target of change. It is up to every member, old and young to take action upon that which he can directly impact in order to influence the change he desires and not just complain and wait for others atop the food chain to die off or comply with his wishes – that will be a far longer wait.

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  11. Excellent point Brother PADutchMason; this was not meant to try and force or widen the generational drift, but to try and start an conversation between the generations to explain why a lot of Master Masons from my generation are being raised and not sticking around once they realize their Lodge doesn't do much more than stated meetings and degrees.

    I'm honored that someone with your experience would join in this conversation, and hope that many more of your stature will, so that we can move this conversation from mere talk to action, and make the changes that count to keep the Fraternity moving forward to spread further Light.

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  12. Brother Lewis.


    While I appreciate what you are trying to say and I think you are on the right track, I think some of your statements may give the wrong impression. I am a couple of years removed from having the honor of being the Worshipful Master of the youngest lodge in Dallas Texas. Our lodge has actually sought out more formal events. Generally speaking every time we Raise a Master Mason the majority of the brethren are in tuxedos we have at least one other formal event a year and we process into lodge befo tee every meeting. Now what I think you were referring to was the introductions with the full masonic resume of all of the dignitaries. In my lodge the greatest emphasis we have is on education. We encourage every brother as the complete the profeciency in each degree to give a presentation on their greatest take away from the degree, the catacism, or the association with the brethren. We generally do not let a man petition the lodge till he has been visiting with us in a social setting for a year and we have all had an opportunity to get to know him. Generally speaking we make our successful Lodge of median age of 33 men work harder to be one of us than any of the other lodges in the metroplex. And even with the rigors we push these young men through we have so many petitions coming in we are going to have to decrease the number we can take in a year. Young men today are wanting content and a sense of belonging to something bigger than them. The part that most lodges miss is the content. We want to discuss the philosophy of the Brethren who have come before and the things highlighted by great speakers like Arturo DE Hoyas who was our speaker at our festive board last year. And I had the distinct honor of getting to spend the whole day with him. Or Andrew Hammer who will be the speaker at our festive board this year. In regards to the comment about politics I agree we e do not want to see the hypocrisy that exist in all levels of government today make its way into what we are investing large amounts of our lives in. But I think all of us know that if we look at the examples taught us in our masonic education we are bound by duty to endeavour to improve our governments on all levels and bring democracy back to our democracy. I would love the opportunity to discuss this further. I think that all the enthusiastic young Masons have to work together to sustain or improve the craft for our Son's.

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  13. Dear Brother Roger,I thank you for your brilliant article!
    I am Rolf from Germany, nearly 55 years of age and a mason for 28 years. Please excuse any grammatical errors, because English is not my mother’s tongue.
    Over here, for several reasons, freemasonry is –and ever was- a tiny organization. In the whole of Germany, you`ll hardly find 15.000 of us. But, we are lively, slowly growing and most lodges are in a good condition. I am aware, that your situation is completely different. However, I would like to add my two cent.
    A good friend of mine, an American brother, who held high offices in his Grand Lodge and has reached the 33rd and last degree of the A.A.S.R. once, said to me: “The difference between your kind of masonry and ours is: You are a kind of family, we are a fraternity.” And I think, there is some wisdom in the words.

    In German Masonry, more or less, the reading of minutes during a ritual is unknown. What do we do instead? In Germany, most lodges meet every week, but only once in a month, we do a ritual in our temple. The other evenings, we usually have brotherly talks, usually a discussion. A brief speech about a masonic issue or perhaps about something of common concern is followed by a discussion, where everybody is asked to add his view. Of course, there is no resolution or else at the end. When we close the evening, we form the chain of unity.

    If we do a degree work, as I said, no minutes ever were read. German lodges have an orator, and in a degree work, his task is to give an enlightening speech about the degree we are perfoming. The whole ceremony is solemn, so the reading of mintues would have no space, imho.

    Another big difference is, from the very first day in the craft, we acknowledge our new brother as such. The ritual has it: Q: Are you a freemason? A: My brothers FC and MM acknowledge me as such. The only difference between a EA and a MM is, that he cannot be nominated for an office. But his vote has the same value, as the vote of any other brother in the lodge.

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  14. But, to to your points:
    "We don’t care about politics"
    I agree that politics – I take it, you’ll use politics as a synonym for powerplay- should have no place in lodge. I am amused about and I pity those who believe in earning titles and ranks inside our order. All of this is just brass, without any meaning in the real world. “His ribband, star, an' a' that: The man o' independent mind, He looks an' laughs at a' that!” said Brother Robert Burns, and he was right.

    I don`t follow your condemnation of politics and politicians as such. We all know examples of power hungry, selfish men and women, who are in politics for their personal gain. But there are lot’s of others as well. Many of them brothers! Some of them even founded the USA. Although I am convinced, that a life as a politician seriously harms your soul, somebody has to do the job! As masons we are called to better the world we live in. The path of a politician can be such a way. And if the one is a brother, he should be treated as such, until he proves otherwise.

    "We don’t care about titles". I agree!
    "We value our time."
    Yes, we have a different view of work, of life and of the craft as our elder brethren. Although I am 54, I have a 3 year old son, so I have the feeling, I know what you are talking about. It is the task for you and me to bring that changed views to our elder brethren, who might fear every change, because they fear to loose something, what gave them security.
    "We work smarter, not harder."
    See above. Take care to bring the needful changes to your elder brethren in a way, they feel comfortable about.
    "We don’t care about the pomp and circumstance."
    Well, I certainly agree that P&C can be and should be reduced. But saying this, I am also convinced that a good degree work needs some of it. Over here, during a degree, it is a dark suite or a tuxedo, is white gloves, etc. There is a reason for that. By building the temple not made of stones, we leave our profane world for a while and step into something else. Being dressed for that occasion in the way we do helps to underline the seriousness of our undertakings.
    I want to encourage you, do go stay on your choosen path. Be inconvenient in a polite way. And may you have success! Your Brother Rolf

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