Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rocky Mountain Masonic Conference 2010



We wrapped up the Rocky Mountain Masonic Conference in Albuquerque this morning, and it was an outstanding program. Yesterday began with representatives from the Conference's attending jurisdictions discussing, not what's wrong with Freemasonry, but what is going right for them in their jurisdictions. Great ideas were shared, and it was truly a productive series of remarks. The remarkable message I kept hearing over and over is that education and leadership programs are working, popular, and having positive effects. That is great news for all of us. More important, cookie-cutter solutions don't work everywhere, so the answer is to provide a wide range of programs, that are at their best when they are grass-roots solutions created by the lodges. It was one more illustration that we all need to share our successes and our failures, to help other lodges find the path that is best for them. Active members build and restore lodges by making them a place they can't wait to come back to. Grand Lodges can't do that for them.

I was humbled to be included on the same program with three men I have long admired: Art de Hoyos, Neil Neddermeyer, and Rex Hutchens. In retrospect, I think it was as close to a perfectly balanced lineup as I have ever seen in a Masonic conference.

Instead of prepared remarks, Arturo de Hoyos fielded questions from the audience, on everything from Mormonism and Masonry to Albert Pike. Art has an amazing memory, speaks and reads several languages, and has studied the writings of Pike and others, along with the written rituals and arcana of the fraternity since its beginnings, perhaps in more depth than anyone alive. The question session allowed him to explore avenues a more structured talk would have missed.

Since 1999, Neil Neddermeyer has amassed quite a collection of anecdotes and practical applications to the fraternity—you might best know him for his weekly newsletter CINOSAM (Masonic spelled backwards). Neil gave a rousing presentation about how we present Masonry to our members, with entertainingly practical applications to real-life situations. He stressed the importance of our legends for teaching Masons, because the Truth is in the parable. In an allegory about the fraternity, he told the story of Heinz ketchup and how they wrestled for decades with the problem of getting their sauce out of the troublesome bottle. Company advisors wanted to water down the product, compromising the quality. The real answer was to think differently about the bottle itself, not the ketchup. And he passed along a cautionary tale of teenaged passion and danger that was only circumvented by the whisper of good counsel in his ear by a more cautious friend (his backseat paramour and the object of his momentary and unrestrained affections). Neil puts on a presentation you won't soon forget.

Rex Hutchens is a legend in the field of Masonic scholarship. His gruff public persona belies an understanding of philosophy, symbolism, religion and language that is second to none. Rex's presentation was a rollicking slaughtering of sacred Masonic cattle. In his well-constructed opinions, in spite of what we claim, Freemasonry is a religion. He argues for a devoted study of the Bible. We claim the Bible is the rule and guide of faith, yet Masons rarely read it, or even read the passages from which our rituals and lectures are derived. He explored suggestions for different ways to present teaching in the lodge, demanding that we all seek to truly understand the words we say, and the origins of their meanings. He even explains that black is white, and vice versa.

Rex presents himself as the guy who will piss off everyone in the room with his opinions, but that was not the case here. Perhaps there was a time when the things he said would rankle Masons, but the room I was in today reacted with interest. What has happened is that the fraternity has matured intellectually, and is continuing to do so. Both Art and Rex talked about Pike's book Esoterika, his lectures of the Blue Lodge degrees. Pike lamented the superficial explanations in his day about the degrees of the lodge, and wondered why Masons simply accepted them and didn't ask serious questions about the ritual. There's a new crop of men joining this fraternity who are finally asking those questions, seeking the answers, and not leaving when no one can give them the easy explanations. The fraternity is valuing education again, and that was clear in the presentations this week. And as I said during my talk, walking out of a Masonic conference feeling jazzed about the concepts discussed is no longer a rare occurrence. I am seeing it everywhere I go. That's a good thing for us all.

To wrap up the conference, all four of us were called back up for an open mic panel Q&A session, with truly thought provoking questions.

Many, many thanks to Grand Master Gary Deck, Grand Secretary Danny Calloway, Nate Calloway, Tom Goodgame, and everyone in New Mexico who worked so hard to make this a successful, informative and fun event. John Liley and the brethren at next year's conference in Salt Lake City have their work cut out for them. I am looking forward to being there.

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