Sunday, May 01, 2016

New Book: "Millennial Apprentices" by Samuel Friedman

On my flight to Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to read a book that had found its way to me by a circuitous route. The author had sent a copy to my lodge back in November (kind of odd, since my contact information is all over the web and I'm really easy to find). I retrieved it from my lodge Secretary, placed it in my apron case the night of our Past Master Degree, and then promptly forgot it was there until April when I was packing for Las Vegas.

So, my deepest public apologies go out to Brother Samuel Friedman, the author of Millennial Apprentice: The Next Revolution in Freemasonry (2015). Brother Friedman is a New York Mason who joined at the age of 21 - just three years ago - and represents three generations of Freemasonry in his family. (His father, Richard Friedman, is currently the Chairman of the Custodians of the Work of the Grand Lodge of New York.)

Brother Samuel has written a book that answers many of the questions that some older Masons are now asking within the fraternity about the generation of men who will succeed them in passing on our traditions. Now normally, I don't care for works that attempt to make broad generalizations about artificial categories of population cohorts. As a "baby boomer" myself, I realized there were huge differences between the men in my so-called generation who were born in 1946 versus those born in 1964. I wasn't part of the group, for instance, who were drafted and did military service in Southeast Asia - I didn't even have to register for Selective Service. I also spent every weekend of my formative teenage years volunteering at a railroad museum, where all of my friends were in their 40s and 50s. So, despite the stereotyped "anti-establishment" mindset that was often ascribed to "boomers," I was extremely conservative in my social, political, and economic views before I could even drive a car. That kind of breaks the generalized mold of what boomers are supposed to be like.

So, I have much the same skepticism when people start discussing "the millennials," who were born between the mid-1980s up to about 2000. In fact, there's nothing quite so disheartening as a room full of Masons in their 70s making organizational plans based on "what young people want." Hell, I'M too old to know myself! So, it's difficult when I speak somewhere and Masons start asking me these kinds of questions. All I can do is make a few guesses and pretend I know.

Brother Samuel Friedman doesn't just guess. He's living through it right now, at the age of 24, with a long and active Masonic family history behind him. More important, he has taken an approach few have done in this fraternity - he's actually researched a stack of independent polls to get a clearer understanding of the philosophical, religious, social, and economic habits of his own age group. Yes, they are of course generalizations, but they are far more useful to us than mere anecdotes and guesses. 

I think his book is important enough to provide more than just a cursory blurb about it, so forgive me if I go on for a while about its contents here (and please don't let this long preview dissuade you from actually investing in the book and reading the whole thing).

First, Samuel is very fond of the "observant lodge" concept. This kind of lodge, promoted by the Masonic Restoration Foundation and thoroughly explored in Andrew Hammer's book, Observing the Craft, is growing in popularity in the U.S. and Canada. There are currently 44 of these lodges at work in 23 states, and their number is growing. While they are not all alike in design or practice, they are usually hallmarked by excellence in ritual, formal attire and white gloves, higher dues, Masonic education at every meeting, and a festive board at a fine local restaurant. They often require longer waiting periods between degrees, and some expect candidates to write a paper about what they have learned before proceeding. They often hold their meetings by candlelight. Some play contemplative music between orders of business. Some place their EA candidates in a Chamber of Reflection before his degree (originally derived from the European Scottish Rite tradition - and in jurisdictions where it is not permitted as part of the ritual, it is simply done before the lodge officially opens). And once a man is raised, he is not immediately pressured into then joining an appendant body, and another, and another. He is instead encouraged to first fully participate in the Blue Lodge and what it has to offer, because he has a lifetime to go join another body if that is his choice. None of these practices are especially shocking or even innovative - and yet, there remain some states that prohibit observant lodges from being chartered (or existing lodges converted) in their jurisdictions. That is short-sighted.

It is Brother Friedman''s contention that these lodges will continue to grow in popularity, especially among millennials. As a group, they tend to have more interest in esoteric subjects like philosophy and symbolism than do many of their older brethren. They expect a high quality lodge experience, and they understand that such a lodge must be paid for. They don't especially look forward to cold spaghetti on paper plates. And they expect the attainment of Masonic degrees to require work beyond simply parroting back memorized questions and answers, or showing up for an "all the way in one day" group event. They expect initiation to be an individual transformative experience, and they don't mind waiting for it. And they fully recognize that lodges that are run this way may not be for everyone's taste.

(On a personal note, I am a member of an observant lodge myself, and while we are successful with close to a 85% participation rate at our quarterly meetings, I don't see them becoming the dominant style of lodges in the future. Rather, I see them as giving visiting Masons individual ideas to take back to their lodges and adopting the features they like.)

In another chapter, Brother Friedman digs into various studies concerning the social fabric of America as it exists today. Right off the bat, he points out that the baby boomers literally changed everything in society from the 1960s forward, in part simply because of their enormous population numbers (over 75 million). From the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, the rebelliousness as a generational force, to music, economics, technology, and much more, the boomers redefined society in ways that shocked the generation that came before them. But what few people realize is that the millennial generation is currently the same size - also 75 million. They currently make up more than 25% of the U.S. population. By 2020, according to Samuel's notes, millennials will make up 50% of the nation's labor force, and they are already having a huge influence on social change, just as the boomers had before them.

Samuel cites several studies and sources (mostly not Masonic ones) to establish broad trends for the generation, and several of them are quite surprising. For instance, while boomers had little respect for the older generation, 8 out of 10 millennials tend to believe that older generations have "higher morals," and 60% of them say they consult their parents for advice about adulthood. But he finds that while younger men do not despair that their lodges have many older members than young ones, they do resent being excluded by them from leadership positions and decisions. They dislike it when a lodge or grand lodge is run like a "good ol' boy's club."

Millennials are also the most diverse generation in U.S. history, by race, faith, and sexual orientation. Some 40% of them are racial minorities; 43% are religious minorities; and 70% believe in the legality of gay marriage. As a result, they do not expect their lodges to be overwhelmingly white and Christian, and they absolutely find discrimination to be abhorrent. They are the most highly educated generation the country has ever had, with almost 50% of them between ages 25 and 34 holding a college degree. Just 11% are interested in Masonic history. Only 12% are interested in a lodge or grand lodge's charitable programs. And yet, they are not cheap or uncharitable - a massive 87% say they give $100 or more a year to charity. While the vast majority of them do not attend regular religious services, almost half of them say they pray at least once a week, and 75% describe themselves as "spiritual."  Some 46% of millennial Masons say they joined because they were searching for personal of spiritual knowledge.  All of these results and more give a more well-rounded view of the millennial generation than perhaps many of us have had, and I urge you to seek out this book, if only for this very extensive chapter alone.

Two other chapters of the book are also worth mentioning. In one, Friedman (who is Jewish) describes the highly unusual circumstances of Freemasonry as it is practiced in the troubled nation of Lebanon. He delves deeply into the tumultuous history of that country, and explores its remarkably diverse ethnic and religious society, along with the highly secretive nature of belonging to a Masonic lodge in the nation that is the legendary home of major figures in our ritual. The other chapter is Samuel's personal vision of his utopian Masonic lodge. While not everyone will agree with his ultimate wish list, he certainly provides a different way of looking at lodge practices that might be considered. The U.S. has literally thousands of individual Masonic laboratories for us to experiment in, as long as we stay within the boundaries of our rules and rituals. So, read it with an open mind. You might find something worth trying in your own lodge.

His book is not long - just 135 pages - and you can easily finish it in a couple of hours. But especially if you are in a position of lodge or grand lodge leadership, I highly encourage you to read it. You may agree with some of his observations and vision of Masonry's future, or you may strongly disagree, but I urge you not to simply dismiss it out of hand. The millennials have been joining our lodges for the last several years, and many, many more are on the way. We ignore their opinions and desires at our peril. If lodges fail to adapt to their social and philosophical attitudes, these men will either charter new ones, or simply walk away. As leaders, the choice is ours.

14 comments:

  1. More confirmation. as if there is any doubt, that gay bashing and racist lodges as in the southern jurisdictions and in bodies like Scottish Rite and Shrine are hastening our decline and contributing to our failure to attract young men.

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  2. Millennials will not be happy at being linked with grand lodges that fraternize with the just reelected grandmaster and grand lodge of Equatorial Guinea:

    Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has been re-elected with 93.7% of the vote in Sunday's election, according to official results.

    Observers said polling day was peaceful and without incident, but the opposition claimed at least 200 of its members were barred from voting.

    Mr Obiang, 73, has ruled the tiny oil-rich West African nation since 1979 after a military coup.

    Rights groups describe him as one of the continent's most brutal dictators.

    In 2009, he was re-elected with 95.37 per cent of the vote.

    The election commission put Sunday's turnout at 93 per cent.

    President Obiang is Africa's longest serving leader and has been pursued in French courts for allegedly plundering state coffers to buy luxury homes and cars in France.

    His son and vice-president, Teodoro 'Teodorin' Nguema Obiang, has been resisting attempts by the US administration to seize his assets, denying charges that they were bought with embezzled state funds.

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    1. Paul,
      I don't find any references to a grand lodge in Equatorial Guinea (regular or irregular), and a recent article in Jeune Afrique cast doubt on Nguema's membership in Masonry at all. Also, the List of Lodges Masonic doesn't show a GL there either. Several (albeit old) articles I found said Masonry had been outlawed in that country. But perhaps you know of references I don't.

      Overwhelmingly, African GLs that have the local dictators involved as GM or just plain members seem to have descended from the Grande Oriente de France, and to a less extent, the Grande Loge de France. Certainly there are a small handful that came from English or French sources that ARE recognized and do have miserable dictators involved with them (Gabon is the prominent one), but the bulk of the truly offensive ones are not recognized. It does get confusing when there are competing GLs at work in these countries (UGLE lists the ones they recognize on their website of foreign GLs), so it is difficult to find out which ones the local autocrats belong to.

      I know that one of the major fights within the GLNF in 2012 when they were dealing with GM Stifani was specifically about that GL's recognition of these African GLs with despots as members. Unfortunately, my French is too terrible to find a list of these objectionable African GLs that are nevertheless considered regular and are recognized. Again, the lists I have found are dominated by GO origin groups.

      I've been sitting on a new post largely pulled from recent Jeune Afrique articles primarily because believable research is extremely hard to come by, apart from someone just saying "the following brutal rulers are Masons" (and there's nothing in English). I hope to wrap up my search this week. But if you have a decent up to date source for such info, I'd love to see it.

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    2. will send references. its hard given in the chaos in recognition, France for example, to keep track: India with regional grand jurisdictions is another challenge.

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    3. Another challenge is recognition of a grand lodge that recognizes a grand lode like Gabon, but Gabon as you know has been unusually active in hosting other grand lodges. Guinea and Equatorial Guinea are of course two different things. You were the first to really spotlight all of this with your articles of a few years ago. The situation points to the inactivity of grand representatives and the difficulty in getting recognition lists.

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    4. In all the conversations I have had about Masonry, including questions about it being a cult and accusations about not being Christian; Equatorial Guinea has never came up. I did look it up and the Grand Lodge of Michigan does not recognize their Grand Lodge.

      I'm sure that there are one or two who may end up on this site, it is a great reference, and on reading an interesting article on his generation and Masonry will come away turned off after discovering that they secretly support African war lords.

      We have a Past Master we put on our lookout committee specifically because that meant he couldn't go out on investigations. He would sit with candidates and lament the state of Masonry today and list all the ways he was wronged by the craft. That does not contribute to the growth of the craft.

      I do not support African War Lords, my lodge does not support African War Lords, my Grand Lodge does not support African War Lords and in my opinion the craft does not support African War Lords.

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    5. Im absolutely sure you dont support African War Lords, racists, gay bashers, or a Christians only admission policy. A dilemma is if a grand lodge does not but recognizes those who do. Does Michigan recognize Gabon?

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    6. Brother Rich, Apparently you belong to a grand lodge that recognizes racist lodges, lodges that exclude Jews, and lodges that exclude gays. If there is a website with the lodges your grand lodge recognizes we can check the African grand lodges -- Gabon for example -- head by African War Lords.

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    7. And her eis a genuine Grand Master, President for Life, Grand High Priest, Despot:

      http://masonictimes.blogspot.ca/2011/11/annual-communication-in-grand-lodge-of.html

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    8. In all fairness, Ali Bongo can't be called a "war lord." Yes, he followed his father's 42 year rule into the presidency, and he inherited the bulk of his father's enormous (largely ill-gotten) fortune. But he has actually stood for election once and is doing so again this year (it's a 7 year term), and there are at least 2 other candidates running. If either is successful, it will finally put an end to almost a half century of single family rule. Interestingly, he said last August that he would give the bulk of his inheritance to some un-named foundation to benefit the country's citizens. So I think the jury may still be out on Ali, unless he loses the election and tries to arrest or otherwise crush opposition parties, fails to vacate the presidency, or goes back to his dad's methods of skimming the nation's wealth to line his own pockets. And yes, I realize that elections in many countries can be merely for show.

      Grand Orient of France-derived GLs dominate former french colonies in Africa. Gabon stands out as just about one of the few African GLs the majority of the regular world recognizes (Togo is another.) In addition to the presidency he inherited from his father Omar, Ali succeeded his father as Grand Master of BOTH the Grand Lodge of Gabon (GLB) and the Grand Equatorial Rite, the two dominant Masonic orders in Gabon. The GLB is affiliated with the GLNF, and the GER is allied with the more left-wing Grand Orient of France. Almost the entire Gabonese ruling political class belongs to one or the other. But being the head of two grand bodies in conflict with each other as far as recognition goes is Masonically suspect.

      Ali was installed in these positions by Francois Stifani, then Grand Master of the National Grand Lodge of France (GLNF), the French GL recognized by most English-speaking Freemasonry, AND Alain Bauer, Past Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France.

      Sifani was criticized for many activities and expelled after being ousted in 2012, and one of the complaints against him was cozying up to African despots who were Masons. Gabon was one of these that sparked complaints from French Masons.

      Freemasons were commonly in French colonial administrations. After WWII, French Freemasonry spread throughout Africa, and became a substantial force within the ranks of those seeking the independence of African nations. Grand lodges actively recruited Africans living in France, especially students.

      As French African colonies gained independence in the 20th century, symbolism and philosophy of the fraternity often took a back seat to the importance of membership in an inner circle of influential brethren who held offices of authority, and the cable-tow sometimes became an abusive object of power. Much of the problem has to do with the delicate back room political deals and dances between the French government, French corporations, France's former African colonies, and the cozy relationship Freemasonry enjoys within African governments.

      There's Paul Biya who is a member of the GL of Cameroon, who is another one of these infamous "presidents for life."

      Blaise Compaoré, formerly president of Burkina Faso and member of that country's GL, held office for 27 years and only fled his country after an uprising.

      Idriss Déby has been "president" of Chad since 1990. Transparency International ranked Chad 147 out of 168 nations on its corruption index. He is a member of the GL of Chad.

      Out of all of these, only the GL of Gabon is recognized by very many US GLs. But UGLE and GLNF recognize all of them.

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    9. Kudos for giving the subject attention through the years. Why the grand lodges or one of the organizations like the Conference of Grand Masters dont do an adequate job of reporting on the African situation is sad. Moreover, grand representatives fail at even minimal reporting. The consequence is that recognition of African grand lodges that are tied to dictatorial regimes goes on without discussion. Of the four examples of Masonic hypocrisy and large scale bigotry -- racism, gay bashing, anti-semitism, repressive African grand lodges - the African situation is the least followed.

      Gabon has tried to improve its public relations in hopes of getting investment, but the Freedom House assessment of how well the grand master cum president is doing doesnt sound wonderful: "Prison conditions are harsh and facilities are severely overcrowded. The main prison in Libreville, built to
      hold 300 inmates, has approximately five times that many. Pretrial detention is often lengthy, sometimes
      well beyond the six months for misdemeanors and one-year limit for felonies permitted by law.

      Torture is
      not specifically outlawed. Legal prohibitions against arbitrary arrest and detention are not always observed.

      Ritual killings remain a serious problem that tends to spike in election years because certain body parts are
      believed to enhance strength. In 2013, a Gabonese senator, Gabriel Eyeghe Ekomie, was arrested after
      being accused of ordering the murder of a young girl. It was the first time a senior official was detained in
      such a case. The charges were dropped nine months later, and Ekomie was released from prison.

      The country’s large population of African immigrants is subject to harassment and extortion, especially
      during roundups by security forces. Most of Gabon’s several thousand members of the indigenous Baka
      ethnic group live in extreme poverty in remote forest communities, and are often exploited as cheap labor."

      A mess, but there are so many masonic messes that it is no wonder grand masters prefer to be thinking about organizing family picnics. Part of the reason for our ever steepening decline is this dismal lack of leadership that can't cope.

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  3. one lead is the offshoot of Moorishness, resulting in its establishment in E Guinea, but goodness it is a complicated genealogy:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moorish_Orthodox_Church_of_America
    c

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  4. its old but the English edition of Le Monde gets into the entanglement with Rosicrucianism:

    https://mondediplo.com/1997/09/masons

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  5. I found that article when I first wrote the following blog post in 2010.

    http://freemasonsfordummies.blogspot.com/2010/03/on-may-9th-first-french-masonic-lodge.html

    Fortunately for researchers, African dictators don't change very often. Not so very fortunate for the subjugated populations they rule over.

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