Part 3 in a series
First, before we begin, let me make the following abundantly clear...
None of the following is to be interpreted as some offhanded cheap shot or ad hominem attack directed at any Grand Lodge, officers, members, appendant, concordant or anything or anyone else in-between. There are many dedicated Brothers from white aprons to gold bullion’d working diligently to try and turn around what many believe is an inevitable outcome from coming to pass. And this entire series is to help enable those trying to figure out the best methods possible for doing just that. I stand in solidarity with every single one of them and offer my endearing support to that cause. Period, full stop.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program...
In the prior brief, I ended with the following statement in regards to the fraternity and its current circumstances. To wit:
“...there is one - and only one thing - that allows for none of this to come to pass. And, as a matter of fact, can arrest it and reverse it. Yes: Just one.”
So, now with that said, let’s discuss that “one thing.” And it is:
Freemasonry, as founded in the U.S., is inherently entrepreneurial - not managerial. In other words...It does not wait to be told: “how.” It goes out and creates the conditions to apply that “how” based on the rules that allow for it.
Now some of you reading the above may think that sounds a bit convoluted. I can assure you, it is not. Let me demonstrate by asking the following...
Does a Grand Lodge charter a Lodge first by preordaining: Its location, its officers, members, and everything else required?
Does a Grand Lodge provide said charter only after the applicant has met all its rules for governance?
This is a very big distinction containing a very important difference. So much so, I’ll wager the following...
If the first were true: not only would there be no 300-year history, it would’ve been lucky to ever reach 30.
And for those looking to use the Moon and its Special Deputation carried out by Bro. Aldrin as an obscure example of “gotcha!.” That solitary act alone should tell you all one needs to know about the fraternity’s viewpoint, dedication, and stance for being relevant in the future. So, “gotcha back!” but I digress.
Yet, as the fraternity sits today, there seems to be an overwhelming contingency of Masons demanding either the Grand Lodge of their jurisdiction, or a consortium of GL’s, come to their rescue with plans to either halt their diminishing membership roles, or at the least, enact measures and programs to subside them.
Here’s the thing...
(Note: Before anyone calls for my immediate dismissal. All I ask is that you re-read the opening paragraph above as I further elaborate on my point. Then, do as you will.)
Grand Lodges are where ideas go to die - not born. And you should be grateful that’s the case.
Now, before I explain my reasoning, let me make the following abundantly clear: What follows are sweeping generalities for discussion purposes as to frame my argument. I am not, nor do I claim to be, an expert or scholar on the U.S. Grand Lodge system. However, if one wants to better understand the founding of this system in that light, I highly recommend “Exploring Early Grand Lodge Freemasonry” by C. Murphy and S. Eyer - 2017, Plumbstone, as a resource.
The Grand Lodge (GL) system in the U.S. is compiled via a set of complete autonomous entities. In other words: what is good for one jurisdiction may not be seen as such in another and vice versa, allowing for each to “do their own thing.”
However, to rectify the issue of one GL going too far, or another not far enough. Any GL has the autonomy to not recognize another in toto. Meaning - all Masons chartered via any particular GL could find themselves, suddenly, without warning, labeled “clandestine” by no fault or impetus of their own doing. GL’s are sovereign unto themselves.
Give that paragraph some serious contemplation for a few moments, because inherent within proves just how entrepreneurial our system truly is. And far too many don’t fully appreciate that significance.
In other words - the authority and ability to take action and set its course appropriately, as it (GL) sees fit, is enshrined within its foundations from the highest officeholder to its lowly Mason. Of course, with the caveat: within its rules.
This is not by chance. This type of autonomy is rarely if ever, found in the business world. The closest would be the franchise model and in comparison that, too, is worlds apart.
Its closest, true working example, is in the original founding of the U.S. political structure using States rights and Federal forbearance, unique to the world at large.
Funny how that is, yes? Pure coincidence, right? Right?
So, what does this all have to do with my “GL’s are where ideas...” statement? Great question, and it is this:
GL’s are where the foundational tenets reside and are enforced. Its sole duty is to make sure the practice, as well as the institutional form of Freemasonry, are being followed in accordance with its constitution and by-laws. It is the sole arbiter for approval or denial to any changes affecting its jurisdiction. Its primary and sole concern is for the fraternity and Brothers under its care. All other considerations are secondary.
Here’s why the above is important...
Just imagine if every “Great idea!” was not only put into practice, but rather, codified into the equivalent of masonic law by any given GL, at any given time.
Can you imagine the chaos that would erupt yearly from just one district to another if one suddenly, without warning, had to follow another’s “great idea!” if, for example: wasn’t on board with it; didn’t have the necessary manpower or facilities to facilitate it; or just wasn’t sure about any of it?
Here, let’s have some fun with math, shall we?
Multiply the above by each district under just one GL, then, multiply that using the differing jurisdictions across the U.S. i.e., GL vs GL vs GL, etc., etc., etc. How many different combinations for possible clandestine arguments can you come up with? And, I didn’t even mention the “Irregular.” Now, what’s the total?
Hint: Pythagoras would be hard-pressed, for the number is simply off-the-charts.
GLs are there to quell most if not all initiatives unless they are proved out over considerable time in real-world application as to garner serious consideration. In other words - change is to happen slowly, if at all, by design.
(Note: For those looking to prove me wrong in that statement, all I ask from you is to read just the introduction portion (pages one thru six) of Henry Wison Coil’s “A Comprehensive View Of Freemasonry” 1973, Macoy Publishing. Then, make your judgment.)
Yes, GLs do come up with initiatives of their own. But, what they are there for, primarily, is to enforce the fundamental adherence and coherence to Freemasonry’s tenants.
This is not a bad thing, as a matter of fact, and principle, it’s ingenious.
Many Freemasons like to stand tall (and should) while bragging how the founding of the U.S. (Did you know G.W. was a Mason?) was primarily a masonic endeavor. They point to its Constitution, Declaration for Independence, its checks and balances via its three separate branches, State’s rights vs Federal, a Representative Republic, et cetera, et cetera.
Then, what seems in the very same breath, many of this same cohort appear to dismiss all of it with some wanting or call for a central or unified GL with overarching authority to “fix” things.
“Are you kidding me?!” is my gut reaction. I mean, is that not anathema to everything you just recited as a reason for pride?
Yet, that is precisely what we are seeing today. Why?
Here’s my rationale: It’s a management-centric philosophy trying to solve an inherent entrepreneurial solution.
Freemasonry, as its constructed via its GL system in the U.S., much like the U.S. in its founding - is entirely based on an entrepreneurial model that not only allows for entrepreneurial solutions but, rather, demands them. (e.g., Think: States Rights vs Federalized)
Most solutions to problems don’t come rolling down from on high. Where the best do originate, is where the action is the closest to those affected. i.e., grassroots level. And our current system, if one truly analyses it, both GL as well as governmental, is constructed to be: grass-root centric. Or, in the fraternity’s case - Lodge and members centric.
Our GL system is still much intact as to the founding of the U.S. It is an amazing achievement that is given very little thought today, let alone, its due accolades.
And with it, has enshrined the most powerful tool available to the fraternity to fix whatever it believes is broken, which is...
The singular Lodge and its Masons.
These two (or singular Lodge, if you wish) have extraordinary liberty to define, then chart, their own destiny as it sees fit.
It is in many ways, a sovereign unto itself, operating within another sovereign. It is unique when compared to any other entity, much like the U.S. is unique in comparison to any other.
The consternation that befalls so many is trying to apply one overlay for “fixing” issues from another which appear similar, but in its actual working processes, are worlds apart.
A relative example would be comparing a session of Parliament in the U.K. with a session of Congress in the U.S. solely from the perspective of watching it on television. They look very similar in many ways, but in reality, the two are worlds apart.
In other words, most are looking for answers in all the wrong places, using all the wrong examples, because they “look” similar.
Hint: Usually, not only are many dissimilar, but trying to interchange certain “parts” without fully comprehending the aspects and intricacies is more akin to using a metric screw in a U.S. standard hole. Side by side to the mechanically challenged - they look identical. But use one mistakenly--need I say more?
Maybe what I should do is say it a bit differently, for effect. Ready?
How many more times is someone going to propose what the fraternity (i.e., their GL in particular) needs to do is to allow for Lodges to “Be more like ___________.” (fill in your social club of choice here)?
In reality, what they're truly asking for, is: Why do we have to adhere to all this masonic stuff? Can’t we just pay homage to it as our legacy? Then, we can eat and get to the bar next door, or the card game quicker! If we do that, well then, we’ll surely get more members and retain those we have!
Do you see the issues here, for they are multi-fold?
Here’s just two. The first: Why not just ask a GL to dissolve itself “for the sake of retaining and gaining membership.”
And, the second: We need to do this so we can follow another currently failing model, so we can fail more like them!
I wish the above was just me trying to be snarky. The issue here is, I’m not.
That’s really more or less what far too many are calling for. And they are bewildered (some downright incensed!) that many at a GL level don’t see their point!
The issue is, I believe, a good may of them do. And thank God for it. However, in the meantime, they (GLs) are themselves trying to come up with ideas that can work, but their entire structure demands: extreme caution; well thought through forbearance for civil liability catch-22s, and a host of others that are lost upon most Lodges and/or members.
However, here is where the genius of our system shows itself, which is...
The fraternity allows extreme latitude for the implementation of different ideas to both run, retain, and attract new members at the Lodge level.
Most GL’s (along with many a MWM past or present) are more than willing to help or provide aid and/or support to any Lodge trying to do good in these areas. With the caveat, of course - that you are doing all in accordance with current rules, along with, you are not doing anything that can be interpreted as sullying the fraternity or opening it up to any civil litigation. (Think: raffles, sweepstakes, alcohol sales, and such.)
Here’s why the above is so important to understand...
This puts all the complaints for “change” right where they belong, which is - back into the complaining hands to do something about it themselves, from where they stand.
Or, said differently: Whatcha gonna do with that complaint you’re holding? Stare at it some more, or do something about it? Because - it’s all up to you!
As much as there are Lodges losing membership, with the double whammy, of non-returning members that have to be pondered year to year as: Will they or won’t they send in their dues this year? There are a plethora of newly created, reconstituted, and more Lodges that are not only surviving - but thriving. Why?
They looked in the mirror, then looked around themselves for others of like minds, and within the current GL structure, created a place and atmosphere that was conducive to not only their wishes, but Freemasonry at its core.
What they did not do, nor are they trying to do - is be more like other social clubs.
As a matter of fact, currently, some of the most inspiring Lodges are working from the premise of doing exactly the opposite of what most of those complaining (as well as failing) Lodges are calling for. e.g., They’re getting back to a Lodge being a Temple, where Brothers meet and discuss Freemasonry-centric ideas, concepts, and practices.
All this is being done via their own volition, not some “grand plan” handed down from on high.
Here are just four examples in four different GL jurisdictions, in no special order...
Arts & Sciences Lodge No. 792, Hilliard, Ohio Lodge Vitruvian No. 767, Indianapolis, Indiana Lexington Lodge No. 1, Lexington, Kentucky Spes Novum No. 1183, Libertyville, Illinois
There are many, many more, and I’m not even mentioning the resurgence of Research Lodges, available speakers and lectures on wide-raging topics, podcasts, vid-blogs, vid-education seminars, masonic confabs, and the list keeps growing. All this when supposedly Covid is said to be “the end” for the fraternity.
Using just the above: It would appear my thesis for “most are looking for answers in all the wrong places” is far more apt than some may give credit for. Because, if you’re watching these Lodges alone - Covid has been nothing more than a workable inconvenience. Possibly, making them even stronger, rather than some foretelling death sentence.
This is where your attention should be, but more importantly, how they possibly accomplished such.
When people discuss or relate business premises from the aspect of the entrepreneur the go-to example they always use is: the startup.
What that implies is: disruption. But disruption from what, exactly?
Well, usually, it’s just something against the accepted norms. But in many cases, that’s not relevant.
The relevant, as in important part of the matter, is that someone or a group of someones decided to start where they were. Let the challenges come as they may, or be damned!
Many times this is done from the outside, yet, sometimes, it’s done inside the very system they’re trying to change.
If it’s inside?
Well, there’s going to be more rules to follow, or maybe bend. If it’s outside?
Well, there are maybe not as many rules, but then, there are the laws, as in real bonafide laws punishable by fines, incarceration, or both type laws. Catch my drift?
But, to an entrepreneur: Both can be seen as winning tactical advantages, rather, than losing obstacles.
Here’s an analogy I’ve coined that I use when discussing disruption aspects...
Rules are made to be broken. Laws are made to be exploited.
(Just a note: That little phrase, when understood properly, can be worth $Millions if not $Billions when utilized by the right hands and/or circumstances. Think about it. And there it is for you, free.)
Our system allows for you to need only worry about the internal rules. GLs ensure (as in - won’t allow) you don’t go off in a direction that could impart harm to the fraternity. e.g., break any laws.
But within our rules, you have nearly unchallenged ability to chart your own course to either prosper - or fail.
Note: The most pervasive “rule” that is defended as if it's chiseled in stone is the one that sounds like “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” That may be a general rule, but I’ll wager it's not a rule in the codebook, nor masonic law. And if it’s not? Implying it can’t be changed is called: folklore, which is even less.
Yet, here’s probably the most important aspect to all of this that you will not find anywhere else in the profane: The ability to enact change, real change, is all, basically, free of charge and at your disposal.
There is no other place in business where you can be part of a global franchise, try to get your startup up and off the ground with the resources that are available to you, basically, free of charge till you finally apply for Charter.
And if you fail; what’s your sunk cost? Time?
Please, spare me.
Anyone that’s ever started anything from scratch hoping to build upon it dares not to ever think about the sunk costs in money alone they put down several (if not a myriad!) rat-holes. It’s just par for the course. Time? Again, par for the course.
Basically, all you (e.g., Brothers) have to do is decide that whatever it is your complaining about - ain’t working - and you’re now going to seriously do something about it. Then, start doing it.
That’s it. No money or permission required. So, what’s stopping you?
Here’s something else you should consider...
If you do it with sincerity and earnest application for the work and time involved, I’ll wager dollars-to-donuts you’ll both attract others, as well as retain them.
I’ll also garner, you’ll begin getting the attention of those in the higher chairs to pay attention to what you’re doing. For they themselves are feeling the same circumstances and are looking for bonafide help in this area for ideas and more they, too, can utilize and/or take to other parts of the Craft.
And yet - all one hears are complaints about how come this, or how come that. It’s all laughable when looked through via an entrepreneurial lens. And if any would like to prove me wrong, or think I’m overstating the “it’s all in your hands” argument or any other premise. Again, all I ask of you is the following...
Buy, borrow, or whatever else you need to do as to get, Robert Johnson’s latest book “How To Charter A Lodge.” Then follow or implement the guidelines or suggestions laid out within it that fit your specific objective. And - GO!
For its a concise, thoughtfully laid out, treatise of “How To’s” for starting, reforming, and more. All within our current GL system.
The only thing required to make it all work? Is you.
And here’s the best part: you can begin right where you stand, today, right now, even as you’re reading this.
All you need to do to begin the process is decide. For are you...
Wishing and hoping for change?
Or, choosing to become an instrument for that change?
I know what an entrepreneur would pick. How about you? Hope to see you in the next installment.
-Mark St. Cyr Freemason