Whence Came You? The Challenge of Meeting Our Tenets

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


The Mission Statement

Whence Came You? Three simple words. A question follows. What came you here to do? Another Question. You are a Mason, I presume? Another Question. What makes you a Mason? Another Question. However, is the answer to this last question really all that makes you a Mason? Yes, technically, but aren’t we more than that? Is the answer to the last question what really makes you a Mason? I just can't believe that. I believe that it’s part of what makes you a Mason, but being a Mason is more than just that two word answer.

I envy the Odd Fellows. They know exactly what they are all about. At the end of every Odd Fellow meeting, you recite the Odd Fellow Valediction. It is pretty much their mission statement. It is as follows:

I AM AN ODD FELLOW:

I believe in the Fatherhood of God, and the Brotherhood of Man;

I believe in Friendship, Love and Truth as basic guides to the ultimate destiny of all mankind.

I believe my home, my church or temple, my lodge, and my community deserve my best work, my modest pride, my earnest faith, and my deepest loyalty, as I perform my duty “to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan” and as I work with others to build a better world because in spirit and in truth, I am, and must always be, grateful to my Creator, faithful to my Country, and fraternal to my fellow man;

I AM AN ODD FELLOW!

If you ask any Odd Fellow, what the Odd Fellows do, they can recite this and give you a pretty good idea of what they are about.

What would happen if you ask a Freemason about our Mission Statement? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if you ask ten Freemasons this question, you’re going to get ten different answers. This is part of the problem we have. We don’t have a singular identity. Yes, we have a long history that we like to talk about. We have a list of famous dead people (for the most part) that were Masons. We talk about the halcyon days of Masonry, when all of these magnificent buildings were built, when Pike and Mackey were writing, when we think the lodges were packed to the rafters with Masons. The truth is, that Pike and Mackey were experiencing the same things we're seeing now. To compound matters, there are so many differences from one grand lodge to another in the United States, that ther's hardly anything to unify us as a fraternity.

Do we need a valediction like the Odd Fellows? I don’t think it would hurt to have some idea of what our Mission is. I believe if we have one, it’s in pieces in our ritual. In order to not break my obligation, I’m going to just try to piece something together, paraphrased from our ritual. Here’s what I came up with:

I believe in a supreme being. I believe that I should meet my brothers on the level, act by the plumb and part upon the square. I believe in brotherly love, relief and truth. I believe that I need to subdue my passions and improve myself in Masonry. I am taken and accepted among brothers and fellows. I have been often tried, never denied, and I am ready to be tried again. I hold my obligations as binding. I know the meaning of letter ‘G’. I try to apply the cardinal virtues in my everyday life. I believe that I have a four-fold duty to my country, my neighbor, my family and myself. I will work to aid in the relief of distressed brother Master Masons, their widows and orphans. I work every day in the quarry to make my rough ashlar into a perfect one. I am a Master Mason!

Does the valediction above sum up what it is to be a Freemason? Would this be something that you’d be willing to repeat in your lodge at the end of your meetings? I think it gives a good summary of core beliefs, but I’m not sold on it. There is one thing that really bothers me about it. The phrase: “Improve myself in Masonry.” What does it mean? How does one improve themselves in Masonry?

Getting Pushy

How many of you have been at the end of the third degree to hear one of the various men assembled say something like this to the newly raised Master Mason?: “You get out of Masonry what you put into it!”? Are we not already basically telling the new Master Mason, “Hey Bro., I’m glad you’re a Mason! Don’t sweat coming back though. As long as you pay your dues, it’s cool.”?  Don’t we need to set our expectations, instead of lowering them? The idea that we're perpetuating, is that we only care about the candidate until he’s raised. After that, they're on their own. In many cases, we don’t seem to care about the guy once he walks out that door as a Master Mason. This is utterly and completely wrong.

It also irritates me when someone hands the newly raised Master Mason a petition to an appendant body right after his degree. I mean seriously, give the brother a break. If he wants to join the Shrine/Grotto/York Rite/Scottish Rite, he can do it in due time. Let him enjoy his moment in the sun, don’t shove something in his face, and pressure him to join xyz body. It’s  rude, and unbecoming behavior for a Mason. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Becoming a Better Man

You see my brothers, there is a relationship between the expectations we should set for a newly raised Master Mason, and those we should have for ourselves in order to improve ourselves in Masonry. I believe that they are one and the same. We need to be educated. This should be the first and foremost duty of the Lodge of Freemasons. We like to say that we take good men and make them better, but how do you do that? You have to teach them, and that means that there has to be education. How do get teachers? You have to educate and make them. We need to start a train the trainer process. Those that have knowledge, need to give that knowledge to those that do not. I’m not only talking about Masonic knowledge. Part of becoming a better man, is in-fact,  learning how to be a better man. We need to teach each other how to behave in public, on social media, in private. We need to teach each other what to wear to lodge, and the importance of a good suit. We need to teach each other how to use technology. We need to teach each other how to be leaders. Then of course, we need to share our knowledge of ritual, floor work, esoterica, and our ideas about the history of Freemasonry. We need to mentor each other, and the mentoring shouldn’t be a one way process. It should be reciprocal. Each man should have something that he can contribute that the other man or men in the lodge don’t know. By sharing this information, we learn and become well rounded individuals.

Participation

We need to be held accountable. How many times have you been at a stated meeting and had an activity in the community or socially in the lodge come up for a vote? Everyone thinks it’s a marvelous idea, and everyone votes unanimously to do it. Then the time for the event comes, and it’s you and one other brother who shows up. My brothers, this is unacceptable. If you don’t want to participate, don’t vote for an activity. If you vote for an event, then in my mind, you’re basically volunteering to be there and participate. It is quite frankly disheartening for me as a Worshipful Master to say that this happens time and time again in my own lodge. Yes, I understand that family and work comes first. Which is why I stated above to not vote for something if you have no intention of showing up. This doesn’t just apply to social gatherings or community events. If we have a degree or other work, we need to show up. There’s a good chance the date for the degree was discussed in the meeting. If you can’t make it, then you can explain why in that meeting. That’s assuming that you’re coming to the meeting in the first place.

Social Media

We need to remember that we represent something bigger than ourselves. How many times have you seen something on Facebook posted by a fellow Mason that is in questionable taste? Remember that if you post an opinion and you have a Square and Compass as your profile picture, people are going to make assumptions about Masonry. We shouldn’t be engaging in religious or political debate on Social Media if we have Masonic symbols all over our Facebook homepage. We also need to watch what we say in public. Don’t cry about the lack of Millennials joining lodge when you were just calling them "snowflakes" a minute ago. I’m tired of having to bite my tongue when certain brothers sound off about sexual orientations, African Americans, Muslims, Jews, insert minority or religion here. I don’t agree with you. I don’t want to say anything because you’re a brother and I’m trying to be respectful of my obligation, but you’re not being smart if you’re doing this. Don’t put brothers in a position where they need to hold you accountable in public (or on social media). You should be able to hold yourself accountable (See the part about subduing my passions above.). Remember, you represent Freemasonry all of the time, there’s no off duty time.

The Quality Meeting

We need to make our meetings into quality events. We should have a nice meal before the meeting. We should think about having a nice cigar or drink after the meeting. We should dress up for every meeting. We should have quality education at every meeting complete with discussion about the education we just received. We should keep the business to a minimum so that we can focus on the above things. The same holds for degree work. We need to set a standard that everyone agrees to follow. We need to work so that everyone who is there knows their role. Because once again, it boils down to expectations. If we set the expectation with our degree work for the candidate, they think that this is what Freemasonry is all about. Telling them that they get out of Freemasonry what they put in has led us to our current predicament. Set the expectation of having them come to meetings and make the meetings so spectacular that they don’t want to miss them. Continuing to read the minutes, communication, etc. was necessary when we didn’t have the ability to mass communicate. Now most of the business can be done via email, a private web page or Facebook group. The business part of meetings shouldn’t be taking 2 hours. If they are, you’re doing it wrong. Trust me, I’m currently worshipful master of a lodge doing it wrong.

The West Gate

We need to guard the West Gate. When we begin to only admit men that will adhere to and buy into the above, then we will be able to advance ourselves and the craft. If the current members of our lodges aren’t buying into what needs to happen, it’s because they weren’t vetted properly. If we continue to vote in every man with a checkbook and money for dues and degree fees, what are we really doing? We need to be closing the doors and guarding them, not letting them remain open for everyone. Not every man deserves to be a Freemason. Call it "elitism". I only want the best for the Fraternity. If we profess to make good men better, then we should only be admitting good men. We need to admit men that agree with the core principles I’ve laid out above.

You see not every Mason takes the meaning of improving themselves in Masonry to heart. If they did, we wouldn’t have to set out the expectations above time and time again. We say our obligation, we kiss the bible, but do we really understand the words? Do we  listen during the lectures? Should we already be doing the things I’ve mentioned above. Not every Mason is. We think we are working on our rough ashlars, but it’s quite clear that we are just making them rougher. We are not subduing our passions.

Solution?


"So what’s the solution?", you may ask. My answer is this. If you are not getting the experience in Masonry that you desire, either join a lodge that gives you this experience, or find like-minded individuals and form a lodge that gives you this experience. You can’t expect to change Freemasonry wholesale. It’s too institutionalized. There are too many members that will resist any change we offer, even if it makes the most sense. So I say, reject their reality, and substitute your own. Create your own little corner of the world with some like-minded brethren. It’s going to take work, but wouldn’t you rather work for something that you have a say in building and creating? I know I would.

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.

BLASPHEMY - We are More than Masonic Education

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR



Masonic education is all the rage with the crowd I run with; and this is, by the way, a good thing. I seem to hear more about Masonic education now than ever before ("ever before" being defined as since I joined the Craft 19 years ago).

We may not always stop to think that "Masonic education" is a broad term that can take many forms. It can be a deep, spiritual, esoteric subject that, frankly, sometimes winds up being over my head. Or it can be something lightweight – maybe an account of something a Brother did or even a funny anecdote. Usually the subject falls somewhere in between. Doesn't matter. Whatever form it takes, Masonic education is the hot topic du jour. Hallelujah. When we are new to the degrees and are asked what it is we want, we respond that we want light, and progressively more of it. In other words, our Masonic journey is a search for enlightenment; and the path for that journey is education. Keep it coming.

However, I hear a lot of dissent about some of the other things we do: "Oh, man, not another bean dinner," or "what's with all the service projects, what are we, the Rotary?" (No offense meant to the Rotary, a fine organization, but different than the Freemasons).

See, I like those things, too. The bean dinners, the meals before the meetings and all the social events give me a chance to get together with my Brothers and informally kick things around. Those conversations usually aren't very heavy but they're enjoyable. The social interaction we have with our Brothers is an important part of what our fraternity is. We don't want our organization to be all joking and no substance but I also wouldn't want to exclude it. All work and no play makes Hiram a dull boy.

Also, there are the service projects. In my area we help with the Child Identification Program (MoCHIP) which, in the past decade has helped return at least eight missing or abducted children to their homes, out of about a quarter million registered. We've assisted with disaster recovery and are currently helping my city build a playground for disabled kids. We are, by the way, way over our heads financially on that one, but we'll figure something out. All of these projects give the Brothers a sense of fulfillment. You know, it's the old, "it is better to give than receive" thing. Community service – let's have more of that, too.

So, recapping, when we get together as Brothers, we're doing a broad range of things: We have social interaction at our events; we help make our communities better places through our service projects; and we seek enlightenment.

Freemasonry needs all of these. In fact, couldn't we call our social interaction Brotherly Love, our community service Relief and our quest for enlightenment a search for Truth? Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. Where have I heard that before?

We are more than Masonic education, and that is outright blasphemy to some. It shouldn't be. I suspect the emphasis behind Masonic education derives from the fact we sometimes make it the stepchild of our other activities. We have plenty of bean dinners and service projects but seem to fall short on Masonic education. Still, in a perfect world, we should clamor for social events and service projects just as loudly as for Masonic education. It's "Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth," not "Truth and whatever."

Maybe if our quest for Masonic Education is successful enough we can get to the point where we have to start emphasizing the other tenets: "More bean dinners!" Now that sounds like the ultimate blasphemy, doesn't it?

~SLH

Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°, is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships are the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35 year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

Being Relentless

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson


I guess I'm a pretty new Mason. Thinking about it in terms of years in, I have only nine or ten. It sounds like a lot of time and yet, when compared to others, well, I'm new. In my short time however, I've done a lot. I've travelled all over the country presenting educational topics on Masonry, I do a podcast, and I write. 

It seems likely that had I never become a Mason, I would have still been writing. I write for various magazines at times. But only here, in Freemasonry is the majority of my time spent. It's what keeps my mind moving. Sometimes I'm caught up on a bit of ritual. Sometimes it's how to fix something I feel is just completely backwards. Other times, it's like a tornado of process improvement stuff, as it relates to the fraternity. 

I have recently been faced with a dilemma. I usually am inspired to write when something bothers me. When something needs to be addressed. When I first joined I had fresh eyes. I saw things that were interesting, I wrote about it. I saw something I thought needed some light shed on it and I wrote about it. I used to harp endlessly about the need for education in lodges. And now, "I got notthin."

I kind of hate it. But the truth is, I would never criticize anyone who's trying. We don't critique someones diet when their trying to lose weight. We don't critique the drop out who's back in school. We don't talk down to the person who's trying to do better. And in that same vein, Masonry has seemed in most respects to finally be on boarding education. Enough people have stepped up to the plate and have realized that Masonic education is the only item that can engage membership once the degrees are over. 

I know some of you will say, social events and brotherhood and on and on. And whilst that's true, Masonic Education alone is the universal aspect, something we are supposed to provide which has a direct tie to engagement in our members. It's the point on which the active membership numbers balance. And you know what? Most Grand Lodges, subordinate lodges both small and large are beginning to provide this meaningful content. 

And for once, this loud mouth has nothing to whine about. No soap box. Nothing to say except, keep up the good work. I feel like for the first time that there are enough resources like Masonic blogs and podcasts, that it's now okay to not stress about it. For the first time, I know when I'm done, the mission is in good hands. Today there are more than SIXTY reputable Masonic blogs out there. Sites run by everyday masons, with no tie to a Grand Lodge or an agenda other than informing the fraternity and the profane with quality information and opinion. On the other side of the coin there are literally THIRTY Masonic podcasts out today! When I started there were four. Scott Blasken of The Digital Freemason, WCY (thats me), and two defunct shows which were no longer on air. 

You guys, we're killing it. Masonic Education, along with a focus on a quality Masonic experience that's more than frozen pizza and mundane business is the key. And we've discovered this. We're unlocking the doors. We're making a difference within. Fulfillment is the key. As Robert Herd once said, "When we fulfill our members, the members will fill the lodge." And before you think that this means twenty or more brothers is the goal here, it really isn't. The goal is a cadre of experienced, enlightened individuals working together to give each other the experience they've always wanted. To rejoice in the education and betterment of each other. If we have some fun along the way, so be it. 

One day, historians may look back on this era of the Craft and think to themselves, "That's when it happened. That's when membership declined to a point, stabilized and we see an uptick in longevity, fraternal success and community works." This is the crest of the bowl, brothers. We dipped so low and we've been rising. We're right there. Earlier in the text I said, "For the first time I know that when I'm done, the mission is in good hands." And even though I know that, I cannot be caught asleep at the wheel. I cannot stop providing this content, and neither can YOU. Education is hard and it's easy to quit. It's an uphill road and if we lay off the gas now, we'll roll backward. Don't let it happen on our watch. 

Keep pushing.

~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 currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.


Fallen Idols

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bill Hosler, PM


I’m sure you have heard the old saying, “Don’t meet your idols because you will be greatly disappointed.” I’m sure the reasoning behind the saying is because you will meet them and realize this person you have grew to idolize is just another human being with flaws and imperfections just like the rest of us.

I learned this adage was true myself when I was given the opportunity to meet a national disc jokey I had listened to since my early teens. I listened to his show on the radio every night, rarely would I miss it I loved it because his show was so funny.

Every night he would interact with characters who would call into his radio show, and they would discuss make believe events that were happening in their lives. It was always funny. It was one of my first experiences with ”Theater of the mind”.

When I had the chance to meet the man in person I realized he was a very quiet man who was just playing a role on the radio. In real life he was nothing like the zany guy on the radio. I still listened to the show afterwards but it was never the same. Or, maybe I wasn’t the same because I didn’t have the same perspective of this man any longer. 

Recently I had a conversation with a Brother. He is the sitting Master of his lodge. We were discussing his year in the East. The poor guy was miserable. Besides the typical issues you encounter as a Master, his lodge was going through some unusual drama among the officers. He had been planning for this year for a while now and nothing was going the way he had planned it. I told him I felt for him because my year in the hot seat was pretty much the same way. I think most of us who have been there have felt something similar.

I could tell the part that bothered him the most was observing all the men who came before him in the East, who appeared comfortable in the job, calm cool and collected. They had it all together. But partly due to the previously mentioned drama many of these men were planning to quit the lodge or to just stop coming.

These Masters had assured him when it was his turn to sit in the Oriental chair they would be there to advise him and provide good and wholesome instruction. Sadly none of them fulfilled their promises to him and left him to “sink or swim” and he felt as though he was sinking. The poor guy felt abounded. “I really idolized these guys, Bill. How could they do this to me?”

I think most of us who have served their lodge as Master thought they had planned a foolproof year, little did I realize all of my “cunning plans” would fall apart like a cardboard suitcase within the first two months of my term. The rest of the year was pretty much a blur.

I have often said “Masonry is a perfect institution. What screws it up is when human beings are introduced into it.” I’m sure each one of those brothers he had idolized pretty much had the same troubles and trials as he did but the difference was, all he could see was the public persona they portrayed which gave the perception that all is well and under control.

It’s never easy to watch the idol you placed upon a pedestal fall to the ground and shatter before your eyes. But I believe if you look to someone for advice and inspiration because of their insight or experience they can be a wealth of information as long as you remember that these people are human beings and have flaws, fears and prejudices just like yourself and everyone else. Then they became role models, not idols.

Remember Brotherly advice is always a good thing. But always remember it’s just that: Advice. It’s not meant to replace your plan. That isn’t leadership, it’s just following someone else’s designs from their trestle board. Take what advice is given to you and use your experience and judgment to create your plan of action. 

One last thing. This is directed to the Brother who is the subject of this piece. I know you will read this. I want you to know I am proud of you for fulfilling your obligation to your lodge.

It would have been easy to just walk away from all the drama and non-Masonic incidents you've had to endure this year. But you stayed in placed and made the best out of a bad situation. I’m here for you if you need me and I want you to know if I were to have a “Masonic idol” it would be you. You have true Masonry in your heart and I think you should hold your head high. I’m proud of you. Thank you for your service to the Fraternity.

~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.

The Journey, Not Destination, of Masonry

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
WB Robert Jackson


For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Ying and Yang. Good and evil. Democrats and Republicans. A.F and A.M. and F. and A.M. In New England, there is another division (not just Yankees and Red Sox), powerboat, or sailboat? One of the best descriptions I’ve heard to distinguish these groups are that with a powerboat, you have a destination. Point the boat and go there fast. With a sailboat, you have a destination, but how you get there includes a multitude of potential paths. With either method, currents, wind direction, landscape, all play an important factor. The need to adjust course is almost guaranteed.

Everything we do in life is a journey, especially Masonry. In many jurisdictions these days, you are pushed to the destination. Get through the degree. Multi-degree or degree festivals enable you to get through multiple degrees in one day. Much like formal education, if the diploma is given to you, you may have the credentials, but not the qualification. The recipient can then decide whether they want the check-box, or the education.

When I first told my father about the one-day classes…well, let’s just say he was not a fan. I can certainly understand his perspective, and I’ve met with many a Mason who would agree. However, I’ve known several men that have gone through the one-day class, and they remain to be great Masons. The difference is, these men went back to the work. They studied, learned, and internalized. They certainly didn’t have to, but they saw the value in understanding what they so wistfully went through. With these men, getting a new degree wasn’t the end, it was the foundation on which to build a greater understanding of themselves. The one-day class wasn’t necessarily a short-cut, it was just a different vehicle.

There is certainly a valid argument that proper preparation is needed for each degree. You need the time between the first and second degrees to internalize what you’ve learned. Only then can you be ready to ascend to the next level. When I took the degrees, there was one month between each degree, and I studied. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but I think I did pretty well in my own exemplification. Regardless of how well I knew that ritual, I knew nothing of Masonry or the degrees I was receiving. My own hoodwink wasn’t removed until many years later. I was given the vehicle, but I had no idea where I was going.

I still don’t know where I’m going, but I do know that I’m going somewhere, and the amount of data to consume and attempt to understand is greater than all of my formal education, combined! Freemasonry has taught me that there is always more to learn. Not just within our ritual. Not just within the seven liberal arts and sciences. And not just within our love of one another. With every passing day, hour, and minute…our brains receive another plethora of data points. What we do with that knowledge is the kicker. When the wind shifts or the tides change, the mariner must adjust his course. As we learn more about the craft and our Brothers, don’t be afraid to adjust the course. We may not end up at our original destination, but where we do end up may be more beautiful and amazing than we could have ever imagined the first time we heard those three very important words….’Who comes here?’

~REJ

Robert Edward Jackson is a Past and presiding Master of Montgomery Lodge located in Milford, MA. His Masonic lineage includes his Father (Robert Maitland), Grandfather (Maitland Garrecht), and Great Grandfather (Edward Henry Jackson), a founding member of Scarsdale Lodge #1094 in Scarsdale, NY. When not studying ritual, he's busy being a father to his three kids, a husband, Boy Scout Leader, and a network engineer to pay for it all. He can be reached at info@montgomerylodge.org .

The Millenial Generation: Seeking The "Authentic"

by Midnight Freemasons Founder
Todd E. Creason, 33°


We hosted a Masonic Education Symposium at my Lodge last weekend for the Illinois Lodge of Research.  One of the speakers we invited was a Past Noble Grand of the Odd Fellows, Ainslie Heilick, and something Ainslie said stuck with me.  Ainslie is what you would refer to as a member of the "millennial generation" and the work Ainslie and a group of predominantly millennial generation Odd Fellows have done building a new Odd Fellows Lodge in Tuscola, Illinois is simply remarkable--most of that group brand-new Odd Fellows members!  That is why we invited Ainslie to speak to begin with. 

You see, Freemasons and Odd Fellows alike aren't exactly sure what to make of the millennial generation.  We don't think they're interested in what we have to offer.  We believe they'd find our ritual too "old fashioned" and view our values as a relic left over from the long-forgotten past.  But that's not true at all.  Ainslie said the millennial generation is searching for authenticity.  They are seeking authentic experiences--something far more real than posting a photo on social media and seeing how many people "like" it

And if you think about it, I'll bet you come to the realization that this is absolutely true. 

Wicked Rascal Grooming Company proprietor (and Freemason) "Joe the Barber" on the right, and professional barber Alex on the left (Alex is such a good barber he even makes me look good).  Old school trained barbers that offer a far superior product, environment and experience than your typical assembly line shopping mall cutters. 
When this new barbershop opened in a small town near me, I figured it would appeal to guys my age and older.  This is a "real" barbershop, with a barber dressed in traditional dress.  The barbers have gone to barber school, not cosmetology college.  You get a haircut, maybe a shave with a straight edge razor if your feeling brave.  The whole hot towel, powder and tonic treatment--along with the conversation barbershops have been famous for since barbershops began.  It takes a lot longer to get a good haircut from a barber, and it costs a little more, but if you go once you won't be able to deny you get a far superior cut from a barber.   The quality of a barber haircut and the experience of going to a shop set up with relaxation and conversation in mind is something I've missed.  But it's something millennials never knew--and I'd say the vast majority of customers at my barbershop are millennials.  And Joe has opened two new barbershops since he opened the first one--the demand is there.  And they are busy--you better make an appointment a week ahead, because they're booked a week out usually.  Millennials don't mind paying a little more for something that takes longer so long as the experience is authentic and the quality is unmatched.  On that, we certainly agree.

Another example.  We have an annual event in a small town near me.  It started small and has ballooned into this huge event that brings in nearly 10,000 people in this very small, out-of-the-way town in central Illinois.  It's a festival that celebrates old fashioned sodas--many handcrafted, small batch, small bottlers.  Most of them made with natural ingredients, and with real cane sugar.  You've never tasted anything better on a hot day than an authentic cola made with real kola nut extract and cane sugar, or a handcrafted root beer made with real flavors like sassafras and sweetened with honey.  Hundreds of different kinds of sodas to taste--colas, root beers, ginger ales, orange, grape . . . you name it, and you'll find it in Homer, Illinois during the annual soda festival.  Again, for me, soda used to taste better than it does now, so it's a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me.  The millennials are there because again, they've never had that experience, and they realize soda can be so much better than the mass produced and bottled artificial flavors, corn syrup and carbonation you'll find on the shelf today. 

You want to talk about the popularity of craft beers and home brewing with millennials?  Same reasons.  They are seeking the real and the authentic--a quality some of us older guys remember, but that had left the stage long before they arrived on it.  Those of us who are 50+ remember a day when jeans lasted longer than six months.  When your t-shirts didn't start getting holes in them after the fourth wash.  Or when a new pair of glasses didn't break a month after you got them.  I'd like to see those days back, and I think the millennials just might be able to get that done. 

But don't get me wrong.  I was going somewhere with this.  You see, it's not just products millennials are seeking out to fulfill this desire for what is real and authentic.  They are looking for authenticity in their life experience as well.  They are looking for real connections in the world far beyond social media.  They are looking for a better way to live, and places where they can belong--places where they can learn to become better men, and they can learn about values that will enrich their lives.  Values that are genuine and applicable to their daily lives.  Moral teachings that are authentic and time honored.  Opportunities that offer them the ability to grown as individuals as they get involved in their communities and learn valuable skills in leadership. 

This is a small group from my Lodge, and one thing I've noticed is the range of ages of our active members--from early 20s through late 70s in this picture.  Freemasonry is without question appealing to younger men IF a mentoring environment exists in the Lodge.
Is there a better description of Freemasonry?  This is without question an opportunity for Freemasonry--but it's also a challenge.  We have to be ready to meet these expectations when these millennials petition.  In too many Lodges today, this kind of teaching/mentoring environment just doesn't exist.  I know very few Masons that don't have an example of "that young guy" that joined their Lodge, went through all three degrees, seemed very enthusiastic, came to a few meetings, and then never came back.  It should be easy to understand why . . . he didn't find what he expected to.  New member retention is a really good gauge of how your lodge is doing. 

We've really got to look at ourselves first.  What are we offering these young men?  What kinds of programs do we have that would appeal to them.  What is their expectation and are we prepared to meet it?  Are we ready to begin training and mentoring another generation of men?  What do we need to do to get back to our mission of making good men better?

There's a lot of work ahead perhaps.  But there are about 40 million undeniable reasons right here in the United States of America why this might be well worth doing.  We are exactly what they are looking for.  

Tried.  True.  Time tested. AUTHENTIC!

~TEC

Todd E. Creason is an award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series.  He is the author of the the From Labor To Refreshment blog.  He is a Past Master of both Homer Lodge No. 199 and Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL).  He is a a Past Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees.  he is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research (FMLR) and a charter member of the a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282.  You can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.org


The Newport Tower: Two Theories

by Midnight Freemasons Guest Contributor
Bro. Travis Simpkins

Situated in Touro Park in Newport, Rhode Island, the structure referred to as the "Old Stone Mill" or more simply "The Newport Tower" has been a source of mystery, contention and debate for more than a few centuries. The Tower is seemingly older than the town, which was incorporated in 1639, and it was in ruins even in early Colonial times. Various theories have attempted to explain the origin and purpose of the Tower. The most common explanation is that what we see there is the remains of a 17th Century Colonial windmill. It has also been suggested that the Tower is several hundred years older and was constructed by the Vikings during one of their transatlantic voyages. Many additional conjectures, some more plausible than others, have been offered as well. All things considered, the true origin of the Tower remains unknown. 

I first encountered the Newport Tower in 2016. I was working on a series of portraits inspired by 19th Century “Gilded Age” historical figures and had traveled to Newport for a week to do research at the famously extravagant Newport Mansions. I had booked a room at the Hotel Viking on Bellevue Avenue, just around the corner from Touro Park. While out walking on my second morning there, I saw the Tower and was fascinated by how starkly it stood out from it's surroundings. It is a medieval-style stone structure in the midst of 18th and 19th Century wooden buildings. There was very little information about the Tower in the park itself, so I undertook some cursory research on my own. Looking further, I became overwhelmed with the many conflicting theories regarding who constructed the Tower and why. Some of the ideas were very far-fetched, and I immediately saw how the subject might be considered poison to mainstream academic historians. However, I noted two carefully conceived theories, both equally interesting and no less controversial, which have become topics of interest for Masonic studies and lectures in recent years. 

Several authors, including Tim Wallace-Murphy, David S. Brody and Scott Wolter have theorized that the Tower was constructed in 1398 by Scottish nobleman Prince Henry Sinclair, 1st Earl of Orkney (1345-1400?). The scenario suggests that Sinclair, along with remnants of the Knights Templar, used an old Viking map to island hop across the North Atlantic. They made landfall in present day Nova Scotia and journeyed down the east coast. In the area of what is now the town of Westford in Massachusetts, one of the party died and was memorialized by a carved effigy on a nearby rock ledge. This carving, of which only the sword is visible now, is commonly referred to as the “Westford Knight.” Sinclair then ventured further south and constructed the Tower to serve as a multi-purpose monument, observatory and navigational beacon overlooking Narragansett Bay. Henry Sinclair's grandson, William Sinclair, further memorialized the Pre-Columbian voyage in the cryptic carvings of Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland half a century later. Much of the foundation of this theory relates to the style of stonework construction used in building the Newport Tower, which is strikingly reminiscent of structures still standing in Henry Sinclair's homeland of the Orkney Islands. It also has simlarities to the many “round” buildings known to be constructed by the Templars. Freemasons in Rhode Island are naturally intrigued by this possible Templar connection and at least one Commandery incorporated the Newport Tower into the design of their pocket jewel. I'm sure the Brethren at the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island have valuable information on the subject as well. 

Taking a different view, the work of researcher Jim Egan argues that the Tower was constructed in 1583, based on the design and specifications of Dr. John Dee (1527-1609). John Dee was an all-around Renaissance Man. In addition to being a mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, alchemist and Hermetic philosopher, he was also a key advisor to Queen Elizabeth I. Egan's theory maintains that the Tower's rough stonework was originally covered in plaster (some of which is still visible) and various decorative ornaments. It served as a testament to the Enlightenment and was intended to be a welcoming monument for the first great Elizabethan colony in America. Wars, interior conflicts and other circumstances in England took priority, however, and the Tower was abandoned and forgotten when full colonization became delayed. Egan states that the Tower is in fact a horologium, a building that keeps track of time, and he has demonstrated various precise solar and lunar alignments which happen through the Tower's windows every year like clockwork. He further states that the mathematical proportions of the Tower are based on John Dee's well-known “Monas Hieroglyphica” symbol. In addition to the astronomical and numerical elements, his theory is further evidenced in old maps, which refer to present day Narragansett Bay as the “John Dee River.” Freemasons and other Esoteric minded individuals are now flocking to the Tower each year on the summer and winter solstices to see the impressive illuminations. 

Two different theories, four authors mentioned. As I understand, David S. Brody, Scott Wolter, Tim Wallace-Murphy and Jim Egan are all available for presentations at Masonic Lodges if you're interested in learning more (Wolter and Wallace-Murphy are Masons, Brody and Egan are not). I've just summarized their findings here, obviously, and I'm sure I've left out some of what they consider to be the decisive points in their arguments. I've purposely avoided offering my opinion (for that's all it is) of the origin of the Newport Tower, instead just briefly pointing out the basics of these two ideas, trusting that readers will look for further information and reach their own conclusions... perhaps even discover new evidence to support an entirely different theory regarding this fascinating and enduring mystery. - TS Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri. Bro. Simpkins is a member of Morning Star Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 32° Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite- Valleys of Worcester and Boston. He is also a member of Eureka Royal Arch Chapter, Hiram Council of Royal & Select Master Masons and Worcester County Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar. 

~TS


Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri. His memberships also include being a member of Morning Star Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 32°  Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite- Valleys of Worcester and Boston. He is also a member of  Eureka Royal Arch Chapter, Hiram Council of Royal & Select Master Masons and Worcester County Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar.

Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners


Last night I was honored to be a part of the Royal Arch Degree at Admiration Chapter No. 282 in Homer, Illinois. It was my first time playing a semi-important part as the Master of the 2nd veil. But as with all degrees I participate in, the night is never about me, it is about the candidates. Last night I met a brother, who was a companion by the time the night was over, who was so inspirational that I don’t think I’ll ever forget him. His name was Dale. Dale had a disability. He needed a walker to help him move from one point to another.

If you’ve been through the Royal Arch Degree, you know that there is a lot of walking, and obstacles to overcome in the degree. It’s difficult enough to go through with sight and being able-bodied. But for part of the degree, you are hoodwinked and attached to the other candidates. The 3 Masters of the Veil act as conductors. Since we only had 2 candidates, fellow Midnight Freemason Todd E. Creason acted as the third. Todd also acted as a guide for Dale who put his hands on Todd’s shoulders rather firmly, while I and Companion James Peplow, as Master of the 1st veil, were on each side of Dale firmly grabbing his arms. Slowly, we were guided by Companion Sean McBride who was acting as Principal Sojourner. Dale started walking without his walker, aided by his brothers.

Dale was a rock star. He didn’t complain although I could tell he was in some discomfort. He was relieved at every break in the action, when we stayed still, but he was back moving as soon as it was time. I can’t imagine the toll this took on him, but he desired to go through the degree like a non-disabled candidate would. He went over or through every obstacle presented to him. I was in awe of his willpower, stamina and grit.

How perfect is it that the triangle, which takes a prominent place in this Degree was formed by Todd, James and I around Dale. But I want to make no mistake, the real example, of how to act as a Mason, was Dale. By his actions, and uniquely dry sense of humor, he made us feel like he was helping us. In the second section especially, when Todd was acting as his sole guide, he still continued on stoically. My brothers, it was a sight to behold.

What I was reminded of, while Todd, James and Myself helped Dale and Dale in turn inspired us, was the 3 specific virtues upon which our Fraternity was built. Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. Brotherly Love is that virtue which admonishes us that we should treat all of mankind with the love and adoration that we have for our own family, and especially treat Brother Master Masons in this fashion. Relief is the virtue that reminds us of our oath in our obligations, to relieve the suffering of any Master Mason who is in dire need of it; but to also act charitably towards others in order to improve the common good. By Truth, we understand this to be the attribute of the Divine, and we are taught to be good and true. It reminds us that we must be in every action men who have honor and act accordingly.

However, we are not the only organization to stress the lesson of Brotherly Love. The Second Degree of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows is the Degree of Brotherly Love. The degree tells the story of an Israelite, who is travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. He is robbed and left for dead. He attempts to have several of his countrymen help him, but all pass him by. Only a Samaritan, who is his enemy, helps the weary traveler. The lessons are the same, that as an Odd Fellow, you are to provide Brotherly Love and Relief to all mankind.

So my brothers, I leave you with this Poem, which I think is fitting.

We are Two Brothers


Give me your hand 
You are rich I am poor 
Your wealth is your power, and by it you tread 
A wide open path where for me is a door 
That is locked and before it are worry and dread. 
We are sundered, are we, 
As two men can be 
But we are two brothers in Freemasonry 
So give me your hand.

Give me your hand 
You are great I'm unknown 
You travel with a permanent fame 
I go on a way unlauded, alone, 
With hardly a man to hear of my name: 
We are sundered, are we, 
As two men can be 
But we are two brothers in Freemasonry 
So give me your hand.

Give me your hand 
You are old I am young 
The years in your heart their wisdom have sown 
But knowledge speaks not by my faltering tongue, 
And small in the wisdom I claim as my own: 
We are sundered, are we, 
As two men can be 
But we are two brothers in Freemasonry 
So give me your hand. 

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is the Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), and Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL). He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of the new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). He is also a member of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. When he’s not busy enjoying Masonic fellowship, Darin spends his time as a DM for his children’s D&D campaign, reading, golfing, watching movies and listening to music. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.