There is probably no greater challenge facing our beloved Fraternity than change. When you get right down to it, change is scary and a lot of hard work. It's kind of like that old comfy jacket that you love to wear. Deep down you know that it's old and worn, out of style, and just plain ready to be replaced.
But you are not quite ready for the big change just yet. You start out by claiming the coat is in good order with "plenty of service left in it." Eventually you begin to recognize that maybe, just maybe, the coat is showing a few signs of wear. But you resist. You think up all kinds of reasons (really excuses) why the old coat isn't quite ready for replacement yet. Somewhere along the line, common sense kicks in, and you decide to consider the purchase of a new coat.
You study the current styles, consider what you liked about the old coat, and even recognize some of its shortcomings. You look through catalogs, do some window shopping, consult with your fashion advisor (wife). Finally, you come to the end of the cycle, and you do it. You buy a new coat!
This cycle of change, as true for reshaping Freemasonry as for buying a new coat, has four stages: Denial, Resistance, Exploration, and Commitment. First we deny that our "coat," Freemasonry, is old and worn. Then we resist change by making up excuses to keep the old. Eventually, we explore our options and consider serious change. Finally, we commit to change and purchase a new coat or, in this analogy, revamp our Craft.
For an individual, sometimes this is a five-minute process. For an organization, sometimes it is more like five years. Every situation is different, and every person is different. But, regardless of how long it takes, we all go through the same four-step process when we are faced with making changes. The more comfortable we are with that old coat, our old ways, the more time we spend in denial and resistance. The more comfortable we are with the status quo, the more time we will spend in exploration, wondering what we should do and how we should do it.
"If we truly want our Fraternity to have a dynamic
and positive influence on our lives and our communities,
we must not only invite change, we must welcome change. Without change, we and Freemasonry will become
outdated, stale, and unresponsive. The challenge is learning to move through
the transition as easily and creatively as possible."
The challenge of change is indeed a mighty challenge. Accepting changes means moving from the known to the unknown. Sometimes we have a clear vision of the future and merely have to figure out how to get from point A to point B. More often than not, we don't have a clear, concise vision of the future. We know the direction we must travel and have a basic idea of where we must go. When we leave, the route we travel and how long it takes are entirely up to us.
Like most Freemasons, I have struggled with a personal vision of what and how Masonry should change. Recently, while traveling through the countryside, I came upon a building that grabbed my attention. I only saw it for a few seconds, but the more I thought about it, the more it became a symbol of progressive change. Soon, it formed a vision in my mind of what Freemasonry could and should become. What I saw was a new log home under construction. The walls and the roof framing were all completed, and the workmen were just beginning to cover the outside of the roof with, of all things, chipboard!
These folks had gone out of their way to design and build an old-fashion log cabin home. They had paid a premium price for authentic log walls and heavy timber beams to capture the essence of a building style that was abandoned as obsolete more that a hundred years ago. Here they were covering the roof with a modern-day material consisting of little scrap pieces of wood held together with large quantities of space-age glue. Can this be right? Why on earth would they do this?
The answer is simple. They were blending what they considered the best of the historical past with present-day technology. The look and feel of the building was log cabin; yet they were not so entrench- ed in the past that they were going to ignore the reality of the present.
I didn't go inside the building, but I am certain that, in addition to using chipboard on the roof, they included modern innovations such as indoor plumbing, electrical appliances, telephones, central heating and air conditioning, and a whole lot more. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they had included high-tech gadgets like a satellite dish, fiber optics or level-five cabling to every room in the house to accommodate phone and data ports.
My vision of Freemasonry in the 21st Century is very much like that log cabin. We need to preserve the essence of the institution by using the same basic building blocks used in the past. We are a fraternal organization. We seek a better world by improving the character of our members. We promote brotherhood. We believe in a Supreme Being and have faith in an eternal afterlife. We practice charity and depend heavily on ritual and symbol to convey our lessons. These are the basic elements that amount to the logs of our log cabin. They are essential to our identity and must be preserved.
Surrounding these basic elements are a great many accessories the Fraternity collected along the way. Unfortunately, many of these accessories are warm and comfortable, very much like that old coat most of us are very reluctant to replace. If we truly want our Fraternity to thrive, however, we must be prepared to accept the discomfort of change. If we truly want our Fraternity to have a dynamic and positive influence on our lives and our communities, we must not only invite change, we must welcome change. Without change, we and Freemasonry will become outdated, stale, and unresponsive. The challenge is learning to move through the transition as easily and creatively as possible.
This is an exciting time for Freemasonry. It's exciting because we stand at the crossroads of our future prepared to accept the inevitability of change. As an organization, we have moved past denial and past resistance. We have spent plenty of time exploring our options and are now ready to plan for our future. It's not an easy task, but it is a task that we MUST begin now. We must focus on a vision of our Fraternity as we think it should be. And then, with every ounce of energy we can muster, we will take control of our destiny and overcome the challenge of change.