"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Tuesday, December 31, 2019

'Laudable Pursuit' New Audio Book Edition

The brethren who create the Whence Came You? podcast, WCY Media, have just announced that Laudable Pursuit by the Knights of the North is now available as an audio book through Audible.com for $6.95 (or free with 30-day trial of the Audible.com service).

Originally released online in 2004 and in its final form in 2006, Laudable Pursuit has become something of a textbook over the last decade and a half on how to attempt to change the course of Freemasonry. Countless lodges around the globe have adopted concepts from this booklet to reset their own practices and priorities. 

It has been available in print as a free download for fifteen years now, and as a hard-copy dead-tree edition on demand for $7.98 from Lulu.com since 2010. 

This new 90 minute audio version is narrated by Robert H. Johnson, Spencer A. Hamann,Julian Rojas, Scott S. Dueball, and myself. 

As one of the original contributors and the editor of Laudable Pursuit, this is the first time I've gotten involved with anyone outside of the original authors attempting to make it more widely available. I was more than happy to narrate a portion of this new version for WCY, and was honored that they wanted to do this with the blessing of the original Knights of the North. 

Over the years, several Masons have attempted to co-opt the 'Laudable Pursuit' name for different projects of their own, but none of them were ever done with the permission or participation of the original Knights of the North. ('The Laudable Pursuit' website, for instance, never has had anything to do with us or the original paper, in spite of its name.) But over the summer, Robert Johnson and several of the Brethren from the Whence Came You? podcast expressed an interest in creating a new audible book version of LP so that it could be downloaded and listened to, and they have done a fine job of presenting it.

Because Audible.com doesn't permit books to be entirely free on their system, Robert and WCY have graciously offered to direct the proceeds from the sale of this audio book to the Masonic Library & Museum of Indiana, which is what I have always done with the printed paperback version of the book.

So just who the hell were, or are, the 'Knights of the North,' and just what is Laudable Pursuit, anyway? Since it's been fifteen years since its initial creation, let me take you back a couple of decades and set the stage for it.

What Is Laudable Pursuit, and Who Were Those Guys Anyway?

Beginning in early 2004, an extended paper called Laudable Pursuit was disseminated anonymously in Masonic chat rooms, forums, and elsewhere online. Based on Indiana Past Grand Master/Grand Secretary Dwight Smith’s 1960s collected essays, Whither Are We Traveling? and Why This Confusion in the Temple?, the new paper explored modern answers to the vexing questions posed by him that had largely gone unaddressed by the fraternity in the ensuing decades. In spite of Dwight's international influence in the fraternity as a writer, editor, and experienced grand lodge officer, his warnings and recommendations were largely ignored when he wrote them, and North American Freemasonry fell into every one of the pitfalls of which he sought to steer it clear.

Attributed to an unidentified collection of authors calling themselves the “Knights of the North,” Laudable Pursuit almost overnight became simultaneously notorious and praised, depending upon the audience's point of view. We Knights coyly described ourselves at the time as a Masonic “think tank,” and in reality, we really were. 

While we were all proud of the work, we were compelled at the time to keep our authorship secret for very practical reasons. Part of the reason for the anonymity was that a couple of us in Indiana were suspended at the time for mouthing off online - early casualties of 'social media' backlash before anyone had named it.  Part of our anonymity was to protect the rest from a similar fate. Part of it was to distance ourselves from other unrelated online controversies at the time that we weren't involved in (like the ill-fated Grand Orient of the US experiment). But most of it was because LP was cobbled together from scores of online comments and discussions among about ten of us originally (mostly from Indiana) on Jeffrey Naylor's old MasonicLight.net online forum. There was no official, single author, and LP truly was a collaborative effort. 

I took it upon myself to edit these extended conversations into a comprehensible presentation, but only later identified myself as a 'Knight' after the publication of Freemasons For Dummies in 2005 made me less of a miscreant in the eyes of some of our grand lodge officers who were less than pleased by our criticisms and boat-rocking.

Laudable Pursuit made numerous proposals that combined new approaches with older practices, in parallel with much of what was coming to be known as the "best practices," “traditional observance,” or “observant” lodge movement. We were making a passionate plea for a higher quality lodge experience than most North American lodges are commonly providing. 

Our recommendations included: conducting business meetings on the Entered Apprentice degree; multiple Volumes of Sacred Law opened on the lodge altar; formal attire at meetings; higher dues; regular Masonic education in monthly meetings; deliberately smaller lodges; alternative ritual presentations; less concentration on institutionalized charities in favor of smaller, individual lodge or personal charity; rejection of regularly advancing officers’ lines in favor of a merit-based approach; and streamlined regulations to simplify the chartering of new lodges. A central theme of the paper was the insistence on lodges holding a festive board or table lodge at each meeting, something that was even rarer at the time than it is today.

The 1990s - The 'Wild West Frontier' of Electronic Freemasonry

At that time, U.S. Freemasonry was going through some major changes that stemmed from the earliest days of Internet conversations. In the early and mid-1990s, companies like Prodigy, America Online, and CompuServe, among others, created proprietary software to make navigating and conversing online simpler. Prior to their creation, online communications still required a certain degree of knowledge, patience, and luck to cobble together the bits of hardware, software, and computer code needed to make everything work. Meanwhile, the older, primitive bulletin board services (BBS) migrated to newer locations and formats as technology became simpler to use, and a sort of Wild West explosion of email mailing lists and online communities, such as Usenet groups, sprouted up everywhere. Numerous such avenues of information sharing were created, largely by individual Masons and without much—if any—supervision or sponsorship.

The CompuServe Masonry Forum became especially active, and was embraced by many members in the Philalethes Society at the time, championed by their past-president and Executive Secretary Allen E. Roberts. Within that pioneering group and the Philalethes’ Cornerstone Computer Chapter were numerous notable former and future Masonic scholars, authors and leaders, including more than a few from Indiana. Freemasons from all over the world began to interact at that time, unfettered by longstanding issues of regularity and recognition.

While informal exchanges about international Masonic practices, rituals, symbolism, and other topics had certainly occurred in the past, it became far simpler and faster to do with the advent of the web. Such ease of research is taken for granted now, but prior to the mid-1990s, the overwhelming majority of Masons in the world knew little or nothing about the similarities and differences between lodges, jurisdictions, and obediences outside of their own. Just finding out the meeting date or location of a lodge in the next town or county prior to the 1990s required a bit of detective work, or at least a few phone calls.

It is highly arguable that the issue of joint recognition between so-called 'mainstream' grand lodges and their Prince Hall grand lodge counterparts would never have been undertaken and so widely adopted without the communication and transfer of information facilitated by the earliest days of the Internet. Masons in unrecognized jurisdictions were forbidden to sit in lodges with each other, and most official Masonic research organizations did not permit membership of Masons unrecognized by their sponsoring bodies. Grand lodges often insisted on establishing their own 'research lodges' specifically to keep a watchful eye on contact between jurisdictions. Early Internet bulletin boards, chat rooms, and mailing lists had no such restrictions. Masons began discovering information about others their own jurisdictions branded as “clandestine,” and freely shared their histories, practices, policies, and more important, their myths about each other. Strong friendships developed among many of these Masons, regardless of institutionalized regularity and recognition. Most significant, and extremely disturbing to some, such free exchanges of information among regular and irregular members, Prince Hall, female, and Co-Masons were all happening outside of the purview of grand lodge authorities. 

That scared the bejeebers out of lots of grand masters and grand secretaries everywhere.

To give you some idea of the difference between then and now, in the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America’s Commission on Information for Recognition report for 2004 (the first year it appeared on the Internet), a message was included that summed up the fears being stirred among grand lodges by the effects of the Internet:

“Over the past decade, there have been increasing attempts by members of irregular Masonic bodies to contact Regular Freemasons and have informal communications with us. Many of these irregular organizations originated in Europe, and have spread rapidly to the East coast of the U.S. and Canada. This is due in large part to the increased availability of information about Freemasonry, and the use of internet bulletin boards and list servers. At the same time, some regular Masons in this country consider it fashionable or “cosmopolitan” to fraternize with these irregular Masons on the internet, and to invite them to informal Masonic socials where ladies and non-Masons are invited, and where traditional Masonic customs are often abused. On occasion, they have been invited to attend meetings of appendant or affiliated bodies and research organizations, and have even been admitted to membership in some of them.

“These practices can be very embarrassing and damaging to Regular Masonry, particularly when unsuspecting eligible candidates join one of these bodies without being aware they are an irregular organization. When they find they are not welcome in their hometown Lodge, varying degrees of animosity against our fraternity will likely result from those who might have otherwise become Regular Masons and members of our Lodges. Our fraternity is being stolen by these irregular Masons. The day may not be too distant when these organizations will want to level cornerstones and gain the same stature and recognition as our own Grand Lodges. We should not, under any circumstances, grant them acknowledgement of legitimacy. To take the position that they are merely a different type of Freemasonry is not only misguided, it is factually wrong. When encountering these individuals, either in person, or on the internet, we should remember our obligation that is a violation to have communication with them.”

Whether Laudable Pursuit was actually visionary or merely a collection of ideas that were already incubating in various pockets throughout the country, I like to think that we were just sharp enough to package our message a little differently. We had already incorporated much of what we were recommending when we established Lodge Vitruvian 767 just three years before, demonstrating that American Freemasonry wouldn't burst into flames if Masons were given flexibility to tinker with the non-ritual customs and meeting structures to create their own traditions that suit their own members.

In sort of a Masonic variation of the old Star Trek's Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development, the Masonic Restoration Foundation was likewise calling for most of what we proposed. You can find earlier similar influences in John Mauck Hilliard's Independent Royal Arch Lodge 2, in New York, Pete Normand's "Traditional Best Practices lodge," St. Alban's Lodge 1455, in College Station, Texas (established back in 1992, a decade before the "Traditional Observance" moniker was ever coined), and Kent Henderson's Lodge Epicurean and the "European Concept" outlined in his 2001 paper, A Prescription For Masonic Renewal. And we declared from the start that we were inspired to take on the project by Dwight Smith's essays from the 1960s.

Or as we used to say in advertising: "Where do good ideas come from? SOMEBODY ELSE!" 

It was in this unique period of time that Laudable Pursuit first appeared. And quite literally the very the next morning after it showed up online, an email went out among our Indiana grand lodge officers and committee members insisting that "this has Naylor's and Hodapp's hands all over it," and demanding that all of "these so-called Knights of the North" immediately be found, exposed, and expelled from the fraternity once and for all. Several of the original Knights of the North eventually identified ourselves publicly (Jeff Naylor, Nathan Brindle, Eric Schmitz, Jim Dillman, Carl W. Davis, Tim Bonney, Tom Fellows, myself and others)But when we were still unknown, a few wags began to refer to us as a "cabal," leading us joke on a regular basis, "There is no cabal."

Strange to think back on that today. Within ten years, much of what we had clamored for had become adopted policies in numerous U.S. lodges and jurisdictions, including Indiana.  A year after the paper came out online, a grand master in a different jurisdiction pulled me aside and said every one of his GM's recommendations for his year came directly out of Laudable PursuitOn the other hand, the Grand Lodge of Missouri became so defensive over such 'radical' ideas that the mere mention of 'traditional observance' or 'European concept' lodges and any similar discussions were banned by edict in 2010 in that state - a rule that astonishingly remains to this day.

As my friend Roger Van Gorden and Past Grand Master of Indiana often says, "So it goes."

By 2005 our discussion circle had enlarged considerably in size from our original core group. By then we were scattered across the U.S. and Canada, but were still largely dominated by our crowd of Indiana Freemasons (referred to by some as the 'Indiana mafia'.) The Knights of the North contributed 26 original essays to the Masonic Dictionary website at MasonicDictionary.com, on a broad array of topics concerning challenges facing the fraternity, from pleas for rescuing the fraternity’s significant, endangered temple buildings, to Masonic jurisprudence. The overarching goal of that site was to provide a resource for true Masonic education, and eventually became home to more than 600 articles from public domain sources like The Builder magazine, Albert Mackey’s Encyclopedia, and others. That site was developed and maintained by Canadian Masonic author Stephen Dafoe, and remains online as of this writing.

July 2005 - Stephen Dafoe and a large number of the non-Indiana
KOTN visited Lodge Vitruvian in Indianapolis. It was a rare in-person gathering.

In 2006, we finalized Laudable Pursuit in its present form on the Knights of the North website, www.knightsofthenorth.comBy then our lineup also included Stephen Dafoe, Michael Bayrak, Dan Ellnor, John Hayes, Jay Hochberg, Fred Milliken, C. Shawn Oak, Dale Sabin, Steve Schilling, Jelle Spijker, David Weinberg - plus a small handful of brethren who to this day prefer to remain nameless.

The Masonic Society and Beyond

Many of us went on to become the founders of the Masonic Society two years later, in 2008. The birth, promotion, and rapid growth of the Masonic Society itself would not have been possible without the connectivity and technology of the Internet. But it was Laudable Pursuit that was the catalyst for much of what we would go on to accomplish, both collectively and individually. 

Meanwhile, Laudable Pursuit continues to attract attention and new audiences (and converts) year after year. Some of the KOTN alumni who enthusiastically took part in expanding the Knights beyond our original 'Indiana mafia' early on continued researching the reasons behind the decline of regular Freemasonry in North America. In 2012, they resurrected the organization in private online discussions and carefully invited more worthy Masons locally, nationally, and internationally to establish a truly world-wide group, with ages ranging from the 20s to 70s. In 2019 they went public with their own sequel to the original paper, called Laudable Pursuit 2. It can be found online HERE.

So, many thanks to Robert Johnson and the Whence Came You? brethren for their role in creating and promoting this new audio version. I'll take it upon myself to speak for all of the original Knights of the North when I say that it is extremely gratifying and humbling for all of us to witness the continued interest in our humble efforts from what now seems so long ago. 

Here are links to all of the various options for accessing the original Laudable Pursuit:

Any proceeds from the sale of Laudable Pursuit are donated to the Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Chris for this, has it been 16 years? The movement is alive and well. It is making a difference in the culture and dare I say survival of something we all love. It’s odd that we might now be elder statesman of something that still feels young to me. Thank you again Chris for always being our front man and chronicler. There is no cabal!!!


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