This last week, I received a stack of state-level Masonic magazines and The Northern Light (the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite for the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction). It was amusing that I received a stack of them on the same day. After taking them out of the mailbox, I hopped in the car to run to the pharmacy—I had to pick up a prescription, and I decided to use the drive-thru.
While waiting, I decided to check them out. It was a lengthy wait in line. As I went through the magazines, I noticed they were all very well put together—a substantial amount of great organizational news, Grand Master messages, and spotlights on charity work. There were also a couple of other things that caught my attention—well, maybe not directly.
The Masonic Education contained within these magazines was almost wholly historical information, celebrating charitable works of the past and telling stories about famed individuals like pioneers, doctors, philanthropists, actors, and more. I imagine any third party observing my page flipping saw me with what probably looked like the famed 1000-Yard-Stare—as if an unknown post-traumatic stress reaction somehow struck me.
My mind began to reel. Today’s Freemason isn’t necessarily concerned with what we might 1call the foundational philosophy of Freemasonry. Those basic lessons we’re taught and exploring practical applications, reflection, and sharing are essentially ignored. What is not ignored is a seemingly glorious and romanticized past. Why would we want to write about how the Level has affected us when we can talk about John Wayne? Perhaps it’s easier to connect with something iconic—like a movie star of yesteryear.
What’s clear is that overwhelmingly Freemasonry has taken the approach of riding historic coattails to engage its members. Maybe this works—It doesn’t work for me. I’m reminded of something an artist friend once told me—“I make art that I want to see.” Maybe it’s the same for the seasoned editors of these publications. Perhaps they project what they want to see and read within those glossy thin pages. Attaching ourselves to these types of stories at times feels antiquated—and at the same time, feels like constant pressure against new generations of Freemasons that traditionalists might even call “woke.” It seems antithetical to what we say we are—“…a progressive moral society.”
There’s no pleasing everyone, and often, the minority loses—a cognizant democracy. If the vast majority of the Craft isn’t into any work on the self, then I suppose it’s in our best interest to continue to pander to those who enjoy the romanticized successes of yesteryear—regardless of how it would be viewed today. We are called to be happy for our Brothers, and I am genuinely delighted that what’s being printed in these magazines has value for them. It’s also leaving out much of what the men of today are asking for.
It’s more than a club. It’s more than a tribe to belong to. A good friend of mine recently said to me, and I agree with him—“It’s like, if you’re a Freemason and you hold the door open for a little old lady, all the sudden, you’re a Super-Mason—a patriot” Some might think this is fine. I think perhaps this is just being a decent human being. All that matters is back patting and self-congratulatory ego-stroking.
What will the Freemasons of 2060 write about if we continue this way? Are there Masonic heroes like Audy Murphy living today? Ben Franklin? Who the heck will we write about? Maybe the key will be holding out until we find ourselves in editor roles, producing the content we most desire.
Until then, I need to remind myself, and perhaps we all need a little tap on the shoulder that Masonic content that drives engagement at any level, things that might cause someone to be more than a dues payer, is probably good content. We should be happy when our Brothers are fulfilled–good things will come our way.
RWB Johnson is a Co-Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He is the current V:. Sovereign Grand Inspector for AMD in IL. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses 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, and works full-time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry," “The Master’s Word: A Short Treatise on the Word, the Light, and the Self – Annotated Edition” and author of "How to Charter a Lodge: A No-Nonsense, Unsanctioned Guide. More books are on the way.