“What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.”I came across a lament from a Brother Mason over the weekend, and I'd like to share it with you:
— John Ruskin
"A half century ago, and I am told that even today in some areas, Grand Lodges were ultraconservative, ruled by what properly be called cliques—due to the practice of the Grand Masters appointing their prodigies at the bottom of the official line, who with the passage of time, eventually became Grand Masters of Grand Lodge and, in turn, appointed future Grand Masters and, thereby, denying the Craft in general the right of selection of their governing officials. This undemocratic policy may have resulted in securing some outstanding men as Grand Masters, but it also guaranteed obtaining many incompetents in that office, whose only qualification was being that fortunate appointee of a friend to whom a permanent obligation was obvious. Since it was custom to appoint PGMs as chairmen of the more important committees, and to elect them as Grand Treasurer and Grand Secretary, the entire operating fabric of Grand Lodge was a “closed shop” and woe betide him who would seek to disrupt the plan. Change was opposed by the vested interest and innovation was not only frowned upon but it was usually bitterly contested, and prevented. A new idea had to have more than merit to have a chance of being adopted. Support had to be secured from the PGMs, which was difficult and seldom obtainable. “Change not the ancient landmarks” was more than a cliche, but was the rallying cry of opposition by the majority of the entrenched leadership..."
It sounds so familiar, doesn't it?
It was written 44 years ago, back in 1974, but it was really referring to the period of the late 1920s when Freemasonry was going through an enormous explosion of popularity and membership gains — what we think of today as its 'Golden Age.' But it could be written today just as well.
So who wrote these words? Most American Masons have never heard of him these days, and yet he was one of the most important members of the fraternity during the 20th century, and perhaps of its entire 300 year modern, speculative history.
And then they went to work.
- Allied Masonic Degrees (originally the Supreme Quarry of the World, Masons of Tyre)
- Knight Masons of Ireland
- Knights of the York Cross of Honour
- Red Cross of Constantine
- Societas Rosicruciana in Civitatibus Foederatis
- Priestly Order of the Temple
- Knights Beneficient of the Holy City
- The Operatives
- Order of the Bath
- Society of Blue Friars
And they accomplished almost all of this between 1931 and the mid-1940s. Note that out of all of those organizations, only one — the Priestly Order of the Temple — is not alive today. All the rest are still very active. In fact, the Allied Masonic Degrees has been the fastest growing Masonic body in the U.S. for the last fifteen years, and the SRICF is expanding rapidly as well.
The Innovators included Masons who were enormously active and influential during their time: J. Hugo Tatsch, Harold Van Buren Voorhis, Dr. William Moseley Brown, Ray V. Denslow. Many of them were also involved with writing articles for The Builder magazine, which went defunct in 1930. So, Shute was far from alone, but he was the glue that bound them together. He was the one who always wanted to know more, discover more, accomplish more.
And that's why I'm telling you about him now. We are almost 80 years beyond the days when Shute and the Innovators accomplished their incredible feats of research, organization, and building — and we are living off the fruits of their labor, no more and no less than those of us who take for granted the majestic temples our brethren built for us in the 1920s. They were dreamers, builders, visionaries, storytellers... and leaders. They expected the very best of the fraternity, and then they went out and made it happen.
In my new book Heritage Endures about Indiana's Masonic bicentennial this year, I talk about our great achievers and visionaries from our own past. In particular, I write a lot about Dwight L. Smith and all that he accomplished and left behind for us between 1940 and 1993. His works Whither Are We Traveling? and Why This Confusion In The Temple? continue to challenge and inspire Masons today, more than 50 years after he wrote them. And they were mere footnotes to his enormous Masonic accomplishments.
All of those men are gone now. It's a new age, a new century, with new horizons to conquer now. And that means one thing.
You and me and all of the rest of us are today's Dwight Smiths and Ray Shutes. It's up to us now to take up the torch, to lead, to build, and to see a vision of what can be, instead of just strip mining our own past and living off of what we inherited.
Just as important, it's up to all of us to record what we have lived through, to document and preserve those events and past achievements before they die with us, so that others can learn from what came before. I woke up earlier this month to discover I'd been a Freemason for nineteen years, and I've seen so much come and go in what seems to me to be just a tiny sliver of my own lifetime. We have lived history ourselves, even when we didn't realize it at the time. You and your lodge and your experiences are important, because history is what happens when you aren't paying attention.
The only consequence is what we do.
(Read J. Ray Shute's own encapsulated memoir of those formative years on the website of the Grand College of Rites HERE.)