Dogma, Change, and Freemasonry

Dogma, Change, and Freemasonry

When the Norse arrived in Greenland, in the mid 10th Century, they found a land that was experiencing a global warming trend with green fields, retreating ice floes, and oceans teaming with fish and mammals. They built settlements, farms, and began hunting walrus for the ivory trade and beach-dwelling seals for food. They imported most of their day to day goods: iron, grains, wool, and livestock.

By the end of the 13th Century, the Norse had begun struggling with soil erosion and trade shortfalls.  At this time, the Inuit had arrived, migrating from Canada through Nova Scotia to Greenland, as their drifting whale population and food supply moved through the melting ice. The Inuit enjoyed a thriving culture in Greenland yet had little positive contact with the Norse. The Norse viewed the Inuit as “skaelings” or “wretches.” The Inuit did perform some raids on the Norse and vice versa; however, for the most part they kept apart from each other.

Within a few decades, in the 14th Century, a minor ice age began again, the globe cooled once more due to a volcanic eruption in the Philippines. Grass began to be harder to grow and the continued erosion of the land was impossible to abate. It was more difficult to raise livestock or farm the land and using soil for sod buildings became tougher to gather. The Black Plague had ravaged mainland Europe and while it didn’t hit Greenland, it decimated the population with whom the Greenland Norse traded, particularly Norway. Ivory prices also plummeted due to the more elephant ivory being imported from sub-Saharan Africa. With sources of income drying up, the Norse had no real way to continue to import the goods they felt they needed to survive, primarily iron and livestock.

By the end of the 14th Century, the Greenland Norse had disappeared. The Inuit continued to thrive on the island and thrive there to this day.

What happened?

Dogma happened.

We typically hear dogma in relation to religion and religious teaching, but it is anything which limits our scope of possibilities. Dogma is some principle or set of principles which some authority has set as being unquestionably true. That is the key word: unquestioning. People who are enslaved by dogma rarely realize that they should question what they are doing. Dogma may, or as typical, may not depend on facts. Dogma is that which enslaves us to a belief, not a fact. It also crystallizes our world view and leaves us shut off from possibility.

The Norse could have adapted wholly to their new surroundings. They were not traditional hunters but the climate forced them to learn adapt or die. Yet, they could not bring themselves to become whalers and learn how to navigate the waters in kayaks, which were for the heathen Inuit. They found it impossible to move toward a very different society, one which could have helped them survive and thrive in the changing world conditions. Rather than learn from the Inuit, they chose to remain separate, slaves to their “old ways.”

hvalsey_church_greenland_-_creative_comonsAs we know, “growth and comfort cannot coexist (Ginni Rometty, CEO IBM).” Adaptation is dynamic and evolutionary. It involves shedding skin, ideas, thoughts, language, and sometime rules, mores, and laws. Adaptation and change require a flexible personal philosophy, agile thinking, and the ability to not take change personally. Had the Norse embraced the ways they felt as wretched, they might have created a new culture which encompassed the ideals of both the Inuit and Norse, thereby creating something greater than each was individually. The Roman Empire adapted and changed to the pulse of Christianity, thereby creating one of the most potent theological forces in history; by adaptation, the essence of both survived.

Our current times are rife with chaos and while the banners of Freemasonry proclaim, “Ordo ab Chao,” the final piece of this saying is “Chao ab Ordo.” Change and strife and chaos are necessary to be able to form new order and new ways of thought. A forest fire destroys the substantial, old trees but also brings life to new growth.  Freemasonry as an institution requires both order and chaos to survive. There are those, especially in malecraft Freemasonry, who state that Freemasonry is a dying institution, membership is down, it’s difficult to get interest, or the education of Freemasonry is antiquated. Freemasonry as an entity isn’t and won’t be dying. What is dying is the Freemasonry as they knew of it. And this is good.

I was recently asked, “why do we need all this change? Why do we need a new ritual? Why should we think about how we change our world?” Someone commented recently on another article regarding Freemasonry in Africa, “why would we be in a place where there is so much corruption and hatred?” I say, who better to lead the way in change than those of us who should, could, or would be most able to do it? Isn’t it Freemasons, warriors of Truth, Freedom, and Knowledge, who should set the example?

This isn’t the first time Freemasonry, regardless of the Order or Obedience, has faced change.

During the Morgan Affair, membership in Freemasonry in America dwindled and nearly went extinct in the fires of the Anti-Masonic Political Party. In 1994, Le Droit Humain’s American Federation changed dramatically, with a new name, new structure, and new purpose. Even now, there are conspiracy theories about Freemasons taking over the world or specific governments.

“Over the centuries, masons have gathered in conclaves, meetings, lodges, and congresses–all to debate the changes they faced and the direction they should move. In an earlier period, a rough conglomeration of stand-alone lodges in England organized themselves in a tavern to become the United Grand Lodge of England and the progenitor of American Freemasonry,” states a 2018 malecraft Freemason’s article.

Change comes generally in an era of upheaval, of chaos, on the waves of a stormy ocean. This kind of change requires a different way of thinking than current paradigms. It requires the death of dogma.

Humanity in the 21st Century is at this same cusp of dynamic evolution. In a technologically-vibrant era of #metoo, LGBTQ rights, globalization, world resource constraints, and materialism, humanity hungers for something more than holding fast to outdated and antiquated modes of thinking. Freemasonry must stand at the precipice of that change and be willing to jump. We cannot hold onto rigid words, thoughts, and actions without tolerance and service to the ever-changing needs of humanity. Freemasons are the Chaos and the Order. Freemasons understand that without one there is not the other. They need to understand what chaos and destruction are before they can form new paradigms and thought patterns, thus changing society.

Freemasons represent the totality of possibilities, not simply what we deem “the best” by our own personal standards. Freemasons embody adaptability as well as honor and tradition; they follow a framework of ideals that are the unchanging Truth of Nature as well as variation that is Nature. Changing for change’s sake is ridiculous; change to adapt to the needs of humanity is true evolution. Thoughtful and conscious change moves us all toward the goal of perfecting humanity.

Ordo Ab ChaoWhat happens when you adapt? The Honorable Order of American Co-Masonry recently changed its name to The Honorable Order of Universal Co-Masonry, adding United Federation of Lodges. Inboxes and voicemails have overflowed with contacts from around the world, interested in Freemasonry – India, China, Hong Kong, Serbia, Sweden, Greece, Romania and the Congo to name but a few. Groups in England and Lebanon have sought out the Order. There is explosive activity in Costa Rica and interest is peaking all over Latin America. Study centers of the Masonic Philosophical Society, especially online, are full of seekers of knowledge and Truth. Change in technology and format made this happen. Changing the name opened up the possibilities to those who are seeking global comraderies and led them to the Order’s porch. Yet, many were not ready to face this change and raise themselves the possibilities Universal Freemasonry would find. The interaction of these new voices forces Freemasonry’s membership to adapt – to learn new languages, to travel to many places, to challenge their own beliefs about racism, globalism, gender issues, education, family, and morality. Meeting this challenge and change requires tolerance and introspection as well as brotherly love toward all of humanity. Freemasons learn that they are no different from others and that all are sprung from “the same stock.” The Freemason begins to see what the core of his ritual is and learns to exercise his own philosophy applied to that framework. That is growth. That is the shedding of dogma.

So too, ritual adaptations and reinstatements, not innovations, reinvigorate the ideals that Freemasonry preserves and puts them in tune with a modern mind. If Freemason’s primary care is to keep the mysteries, they need to be able to do that with a mindset of being present and current, not reenacting the dogma of what we’ve done in the past.

People leave Freemasonry for one main reason: disappointment. Freemasonry either doesn’t seem relevant, inviting, or current. Perhaps their expectations were not met. Perhaps their expectations were not properly set. While Freemasonry should not adapt to individual preferences and needs, it can and should adapt to the changes in humanity whilst never forgetting its true purpose: keeping the mysteries for the generations to come. What does our world need? What does humanity need? Can we, in keeping with our ideals, assist in that Work?

Freemasonry, and Freemasons, need to focus on the perfecting of all we do – ritual work, service, brotherly relief and agape, as well as maintaining the material aspects of Freemasonry – clothing, regalia, our temples. This doesn’t mean, however, that these outward trappings – clothing, ritual, regalia – will always be the same. It is in how Freemasons go about employing the Craft that should stand the test of time, while adapting to the change without. This adaptation keeps us all flexible and malleable, able to weather the strong tides of hatred, fanaticism, bigotry, and falsehood. It enables us to withstand the fear of chaos and the boredom of order.

darwinartistinresidence“Organisms that possess heritable traits that enable them to better adapt to their environment compared with other members of their species will be more likely to survive, reproduce, and pass more of their genes on to the next generation,” said Darwin.  It should the the focus of Freemasons to be able to pass on that “genetic material” of Freemasonry to the next generation and the one after that by learning to adapt, to think differently and celebrate the change that undoubtedly will come to us all, willingly or not.

The Masonic Family

The Masonic Family

Having been a Freemason for over twenty years, I have seen many people come and go in the Fraternity. There are people who were well-established when I first entered into the Order and are still by my side today. There are many members who have joined over the years and added to the sweetness and depth of this large family unit. Some people have come in for as little as one meeting, and others have stayed on and off over the years. The path of Freemasonry is an open road that may see many people branch off.

As a member of fifteen different Lodges of varying degrees, each one of them is, to me, a sacred family where I am safe, secure, and can be myself. I can breathe easily and feel the fraternity that comes with a real love and dedication to a common goal: the perfecting of humanity of which each of us is a part.

When we join, we join for different reasons. We join to find like-minded people, to find some sense of peace with the Architect of the Universe, to have that “A-ha!” moment, to have a group of people to converse with, to break bread and share hard work, or perhaps to share in aging and passing with authentic humans. The road of Freemasonry isn’t easy and many people fall off the track – some earlier, some later – but the journey towards the higher degrees becomes less crowded and in many ways, more intimate and sweeter for having shared the labors of self-improvement.

The act of accepting the different paths of different people is extremely difficult. These are people with whom you have shared life’s journey and striking moments. From marriage to the birth of children, the death of parents and friends, to their own old age and passing, it is in these moments of strife and hardship, joy and bearing that Freemasons are there with each other, supporting, sharing, and providing true fortitude.

These are not easy moments and they are intensified by the quickening that focused self-improvement provides. They are sticky and painful at times. I have had nights of tearful crying, angst over love and loss, and laughter until I got in trouble. Discipline does that. It breeds purer moments of real life.

It also creates the moments when we stop and think: what is a family?

The birth family has always been, to me, that group of people who take care of you from that early age and teach you how to move in the world. They teach you how to survive. They do the best they can, with the tools and experiences of their own lives, to provide that guidance to help the child thrive in a very unsure and chaotic world. We carry those lessons, for better or ill, with us into our own realms, creating new families from these seedlings of experience.

Like the leaf that drops into the still pond, the ripples of one family flow and collide with those of others, creating an intricate pattern of artful energies of creation. We create families, when we’re older, to find a sense of stability and continuance. We may have children, adopt children, foster children, foster animals, care for the aged, or create intimate ties with friends, neighbors, and community. We may pastor to a church where the family is quite large, or we may shepherd the town council, where our influence might be low. We all form a family of woven relationships in the creation of… something.

Masonic families, like all families, can be quite intense. My childhood father was not a Freemason but his father and mother were extremely active in not only Freemasonry but Eastern Star, The Shriners, the White Shrine, and other auxiliary bodies. For nearly forty years, they were caretakers of the temple building behind their house; their days were filled with card games, socials, dinners, and Lodge meetings, fancy affairs and day-to-day work of Freemasonry. They cleaned the Lodge room and scrubbed the bathrooms, repaired the kitchen equipment and planted flower beds. They only stopped when cancer and Parkinson’s slowed their activities.

When they passed, I took up the mantle of Freemasonry. While they lived, I had no idea a woman could be a Freemason and neither did they. Freemasonry was a hobby my grandparents did but never, ever discussed it with the larger family.

My father harbored a deep resentment toward Freemasonry; he felt that it took my grandfather from his side. It hardened my grandfather’s ideals in a way that he imposed on my father. Resentment and dislike were the crops my father harvested from that sowing. Even so, my father grew up a good man, hard working and shaped by the ideals my grandfather provided. He struggled though, with the idea of what it means to be a father and to provide that example for his children. It’s a shame because I think my father would have really found solace and inspiration and fraternity of brotherhood something to sustain him latter in life. Maybe even earlier in life.

It’s funny that my desire for like-minded people in my life, people striving to educate and improve themselves, was driven by the lack of that in my own blood family. I wanted more than blood connections; I wanted that connection that propels us to be better than we think we can be. I do not think it took me from my family; in truth, close friends and family members have joined because of the work they’ve seen me do, the joy I’ve found in being with intelligent, hard-working individuals. They have joined because of my self-improvement.

The cycle, I think, repeats. The Masonic family taught me how to live, how to be in the world, how to succeed, challenged me to think, to be better than I am, and to constantly work on being a better person. They took what blood started and propelled that into new realms.

There are some people who do not think it’s right that families should join Freemasonry together. This does not make sense to me. If you want good people in your life, people who you respect, want to spend time with, learn from and also teach, why would you not want to be on a similar journey?

Not everyone is cut out to be a Freemason, however, Not every family member has the capacity or wherewithal to step onto such an intense path. We need to assess each person independently and give credit where credit is due. The people who have joined Freemasonry with me, in my life, are all fantastic people and yes, some are family members. I get the double blessing of being able to speak about all sorts of subjects and delve into deep thought with people that I truly love and who have a head start on knowing me. It’s like perfect icing on a perfect cake. We’re trying to perfect humanity; that doesn’t mean everyone except the people you grew up with. Far from it.

Not everyone who comes to Freemasonry is looking for a family. We call each other Brother for a reason though. It’s not arbitrary. Whatever you goals in joining the Craft are, you will end up with a family – one that you’ve chosen with forethought and daring. Make it your own.

“Neither man nor woman is perfect or complete without the other. Thus, no marriage or family, no ward or stake is likely to reach its full potential until husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, men and women work together in unity of purpose, respecting and relying upon each other’s strengths.” – Sheri L. Dew