Out of the Lodge Room and Into the Conference Room...But Why?!?
Disclaimer: This post is both a lauding of the recent uptick in Masonic-related conferences and regional events, AS WELL AS a condemnation on the current system of some Grand bodies, which seem to stymie innovation and new ways of sharing education, insight, and dare I say, expressive thought.
With the recent and massive upswing in conferences and events, hosted all across the United States, that focus on the myriad of aspects that make up Freemasonry, one must ask the question of "Why is this happening all of a sudden?"
To step back a bit, let's talk about what has been occurring the last few years and how the pendulum is shifting in the Masonic Community:
The first breakthrough event was the Ezekiel Bates Masonic Con, which started a few years ago, and has exploded in growth every year since. Each year brings new people, Brethren and Profane, to Attleboro, MA to spend a weekend in the midst of "Masonic togetherness." Presentations about Baseball and Masonry, History, Masonic Art, Colonial Freemasonry, The American Hobo, and Star Wars have enthralled thousands of people over the last few years. With an eclectic mix of topics, vendors, and people; The EB Masonic-Con has become a staple of annual gatherings, and is not wedded to a particular theme or mission, except that it strives to bring Freemasons together, teach new people about Freemasonry, and provide a communal experience for all.
The gents at Fort Worth Lodge No. 148, from the Republic of Texas, have held the Texas Masonicon for the last couple of years, and have put on a great event filled with speakers and breakout sessions and the like, and draw a great crowd. Visitors from around the country come to Texas to partake in the more educational aspects of the Craft.
In California just last weekend, the first South Pasadena Masonic Lodge's Masonic-Con brought an entirely different flavor to the regional Masonic gathering. Movie screenings, sizzle reels, Masonic celebrities, and the ambiance of Hollywood brought a unique and well attended event to the fray.
Toledo, Ohio houses "Camp Masonry", which united Brethren from across the country together in a camp environment for presentations, fantastic meals, and degree exemplifications in a fun and natural setting. Unique and serene, the Brothers who put on Camp Masonry are to be lauded for what they have accomplished thus far.
In Northern Virginia, or the DC Metro area, the first annual Mid-Atlantic Esotericon brought crowds of Masons and Non-Masons alike for a weekend of intense educational presentations about hermeticism, "exoteric" esotericism, psychadelics, and even quantum mechanics. A very unique experience, and tailored to those interested in the more mystical or philosophical aspects of Freemasonry.
Large Masonic conferences, held in disparate parts of the country, bring together Brethren and friends from of all walks of life. Shocking to some, crazy to others, but it brings to the forefront a truth that many of the "rank and file" Masons seem to have a problem with.
The truth is that Brothers are searching for QUALITY FREEMASONRY, and they aren't getting it at home. QUALITY FREEMASONRY can bring people together, to share ideas, learn from one another, and expand their understanding of the Craft. QUALITY FREEMASONRY can teach us about our history, where we came from, where we are now, and where we are going.
The part that should alarm the majority of the Craft is that people will go out of their way and expend cost, in search of QUALITY FREEMASONRY. Why do they need to do that, you ask?
Because these Brothers are not finding what they are looking for in their home Lodges, Districts, or even Grand jurisdictions. It doesn't exist in many of these places, so these "traveling men" seek it elsewhere. They go online, they watch podcasts, they attend in-gatherings, attend online virtual Lodges, or read books by Masonic authors and discuss them over coffee. They do all of these things, travel great distances to partake, and walk away (in most cases) completely reinvigorated about Masonry. So what's missing from their Lodges? Why can't these people find what they are looking for in their local rural Lodge, or their urban city Masonic temple, or at their annual Grand Lodge sessions?
Because, what they are looking locally probably doesn't exist in these places. And that, my friends, is the ultimate conundrum.
I have attended most, if not all, of these events. I have met people in different stages in their lives, different opinions on Freemasonry, different passions that they love to discuss, and different ways that they express their love for the Masonic experience. Not to go into all the amazing experiences I have had at each of these events, I can, with certainty, tell you that I have learned one valuable lesson: the kind of Freemasonry I enjoy, the kind that I long for, and the kind that kindles a fire in many, exists...
Do I find it in my local Lodges? No, not really. Do I see it in other Lodges I visit? Sometimes, but rarely. Do I see it at large Grand sessions with hundreds or thousands of Brethren in attendance? Nope.
What's the takeaway here, other than complaining about the way things are, and there's nothing we can do about it?
It is that we can find what we are looking for, take it back home, and implement it locally. Through education, passionate salesmanship, and sometimes, a good bit of muscle, it can be done. If your Lodge doesn't want to participate, seek it elsewhere. If your Grand Lodge doesn't want to sponsor or support, do it on your own. Many of the events listed above, and a myriad of others, are quite successful without the support of their official bodies.
Some Grand Lodges (not all) have no interest in innovating. They teach those below them that "innovation" is a bad word, and that it is illegal. Nothing in the Old Charges, or in the traditionally accepted Ancient Landmarks state that you cannot have education, pleasant discussions, and a quenching for man's thirst for enlightenment. Educating and spreading light are not innovations, they are the very purpose of the Craft. It is why Freemasonry flourishes in the hearts of many people; why they yearn for it, and why they will spend time, money, and vacation days to be a part of it.
Tradition is one thing; it is the thing that binds us together and keeps our stories similar. The commonalities in our traditions unite us together in such a way that many people cannot understand. So "tradition" is a good thing. Embrace it, and make it a part of your experience. Innovation is different. Innovation is making things current and fresh. Innovation allows us to embrace technology (like electricity over candlelight, WiFi in our Lodges, and Skype meetings with our Brothers). Innovation allows us to unlock insights that have been buried under decades (or even centuries) of bad traditions and push the Great Endeavor forward.
Moral of the story, if you aren't finding quality freemasonry where you are, it's out there. Go find it, go participate, and learn from it. The more people that become a part of this growing trend in quality, the more the fire will spread. GAOTU willing, it will become the norm and not the rare exception.
~~ FDTL ~~