Interview with Southern California Research Lodge

Q&A Interview by Douglas Russell from the Southern California Research Lodge

Q: What led you to join Freemasonry?

A: My dad was a Mason, as was one of my grandfathers, and most of the men in our church when I
was growing up. This commonality among men I loved and respected was intriguing to me, and
especially because it was obviously highly valued by them while also kept fairly discrete. Despite
being unwilling to talk much about it, my dad left Albert Pike’s Morals & Dogma and Lightfoot’s
Manual of the Lodge out on the bookshelf where I could look at them all I wanted. I’d been reading
those books for a couple of decades when I took a course on esoteric philosophy in college, where I
developed a more focused interest in initiatory traditions. So my term project for that course centered
on a more in-depth study of Morals & Dogma, and after that was completed I asked my dad for a
petition. I hoped I would find the kind of philosophical initiatory experience that Pike, Lightfoot, and
many other respected Masons have claimed it to be.

Q: Where and when were you made a Mason?

A: My mother lodge is Haltom City-Riverside Lodge #1331, in Haltom City, Texas, near Fort Worth. I
was initiated, passed, and raised in 1988.

Q: What has been your involvement in various Masonic bodies?

A: I’ve been a member of the Scottish Rite since 1989, and a member of various research bodies
over the years. In the early 1990s I worked in several degrees in the Fort Worth Valley. When I met
Bob Davis and Jim Tresner, they encouraged me to come visit the Guthrie Valley in Oklahoma, and
eventually invited me to help with their education program. In time, that step led to me having dual
memberships in Texas and Oklahoma in both the Scottish Rite and the Blue Lodge.

Q: What is your current focus in Masonry?

A: In general, my focus is education within the Scottish Rite. I’m the Director of Education for the
Guthrie Valley, and a Class Director for the Fort Worth Valley. In both positions I try to find effective and innovative ways to engage our brothers in getting more meaning out of what we hear and see in
our rituals, and what we read in texts like A Bridge to Light, Morals & Dogma, and other writings by
Masonic scholars. More specifically, I have a personal mission to advocate and support the practice
of contemplative methods in Masonry. I’ve done that through writing, speaking, teaching, and
mentoring on the practice of things like meditation and mindfulness. Perhaps most notably, I am the
founding Superintendent for the Academy of Reflection, a chartered organization within the Scottish
Rite that offers instruction and support for brothers who want this as part of their Masonic experience.
Also, we should soon see publication of a revised and expanded edition of my book, Contemplative
Masonry: Basic Applications in Mindfulness, Meditation, and Imagery for the Craft.

Q: How did the 2002 manuscript on Contemplative Masonry come about, and why was the

authorship anonymous?

A: I wrote the manuscript because nothing like it was available. I’d found that contemplative practice
in Masonry was something that got mentioned from time to time, and was even referenced in different
Masonic rituals, but nobody was offering any real instruction in how to actually use different
contemplative methods in conjunction with ordinary Masonic experiences. If a Mason was interested
in these things, he had to go to other orders or schools outside of Masonry, which only contributed to
the misperception that the deeper levels of Masonic light could only be apprehended through
immersion in some other tradition or system. As someone who had formally studied esoteric traditions
and contemplative practice, it was very clear to me that going elsewhere didn’t have to be necessary
at all. It was apparent that the main piece missing in this puzzle was a carefully structured set of
guidelines on contemplative methods that could be a kind of psychological, philosophical, and
spiritual tool kit for Masons wanting to plumb the internal depths, the truly esoteric depths, of our
tradition. The primary intention for providing this kind of instruction is to lead others to develop their
own deeper insights into themselves and Masonry, rather than provide a bunch a new ideas, or
rehashed old ideas, about what I or anyone else thinks people should think about Masonry.
This manuscript was published anonymously for a number of reasons. Among them, I wanted
whatever interest was generated by the manuscript to remain focused on contemplative practice, and
not on the author. In recent years, popular attitudes about contemplative practice and the atmosphere
in Masonry have changed. Contemplative practice is quickly becoming more acceptable and
understood in society, and I see more men coming to us with the hope, if not the expectation, of
finding instruction and mentoring in contemplative practice. So I’ve made the decision to go public. It’s
becoming increasingly important to show that such interests do have a place in our fraternity, and that
we can be open about pursuing those interests. By doing so, we not only enjoy the freedom of being
more authentic, we also encourage others of like mind to feel welcomed and supported. Furthermore,
this is not only good for those of us who have these interests, it’s also good for the fraternity because
it adds to the philosophical depth and richness that can be experienced in all the most familiar
aspects of our tradition.

Q: What is discussed in the forthcoming revision of your book, Contemplative Masonry?

A: The introduction and first two chapters lay a theoretical foundation for the contemplative work of
the last three chapters. Chapter One addresses the psychology of Masonry. It’s based on a paper I
wrote many years ago for the Guthrie Valley, which considers how the various elements of Masonry
address the main areas required of a comprehensive theory of psychology, which are the structure
and dynamics of the psyche, the nature of psychological health and disease, the processes of
maturation and development, and relationships. Chapter Two draws out and clarifies many ways that
Blue Lodge ritual, particularly of the Preston/Webb variety, alludes to and directly encourages
contemplative practice, and how that is at the core of what many of us consider genuinely “esoteric”
From the Southern California Research Lodge, Fraternal Review, December 2016, Volume 57, Number 11
in the Craft. The next three chapters then provide detailed guidelines on employing contemplative
methods that are especially fitting for the main themes of the three Craft degrees.

Q: What can you tell us about the founding and development of the Academy of Reflection?

A: Soon after I became involved in the Guthrie Valley, I was welcomed to start facilitating meditation
sessions during our reunions. From the very beginning, it was my intention to make those meditations
directly relevant to the symbols and teachings in our degrees. It wasn’t long before we had a
consistent group of brothers showing up and even asking for more sessions, more instruction, more
mentoring, and more fellowship with each other. That’s when the idea for an affinity organization
came to mind. Just as the Knights of Saint Andrew is an affinity organization for Scottish Rite Masons
interested in service, this new organization would answer the needs of those interested in
contemplative practice. The Valley leadership could see how we were already engaging some
brothers more than they would otherwise be, as well as the potential for engaging even more, so they
encouraged me to develop the idea and present a proposal for this new organization. I went back to
the brothers who were participating in the meditation sessions, and together we worked out the
details and drafted the proposal. It was accepted and passed to the SGIG for the Orient of Oklahoma,
who signed a charter for our formation on September 28, 2012. On January 27, 2013 we had the
inaugural meeting and induction of our founding members. Since then, two other Valleys, Orange
County and Pasadena, have reached out to us and started the process of chartering Academies, and
I expect that at least one of them will receive a charter from us in 2017. There are also several other
Valleys that have expressed interest and consulted with us on how to begin laying a foundation for
their own Academies.

Q: How important do you think meditation is to a deeper understanding of Freemasonry?

A: I think everyone would agree that thinking more about Masonry is necessary to a deeper
understanding of it. So we should recognize that anyone who focuses or opens his mind to think
about something in Masonry is, in that moment, practicing meditation in its most common and
rudimentary form. The question is whether or not one really desires an ever deepening understanding
of Masonry, which includes how to apply its teachings in both the depths of our psyches and our
everyday lives. If one wants more, then one simply has to do more to get it, and that’s where we find
the value of different forms of meditation and other contemplative methods. Contemplative practice,
like both Operative and Speculative Masonry, is a craft with different tools, skills, and levels of
development. It just so happens that the craft of contemplative practice naturally enhances the craft of
Speculative Masonry.

This interview is originally from the Southern California Research Lodge, Fraternal Review, December 2016, Volume 57, Number 11 and can be found here.