In my hometown of Bakersfield, CA, a huge ominous building with fewer windows than would be expected for its size loomed large and somewhat menacingly along my usual route to high school. I now know that this Masonic Temple had its cornerstone laid in 1924, a building erected for the craft. I remember not knowing or understanding what Freemasonry was back then, but thinking it was something secretive, hence the few windows. Someone told me that the building was specially designed like that so light only came in as they wanted it. I found it fascinating, but never explored it, only watching, surmising from afar.
Masonic Temple 1920 18th Street, Bakersfield, CA 93301
My next exposure came a few years later when I visited my father and his family. I cannot recall when this trip actually took place, as I had visited them on three or four occasions between 2002 and 2007. Prior to those visits, I had not seen him in years and we have not been very close. I could probably count the number of times I had seen him since I was 14 on both hands and feet, and I think I have seen him more than my five siblings.
I know my son, Mason, was already born, because my father told me while we were driving to a restaurant that he was a third degree Mason. I laughed and said, “He’s a first degree Mason,” referring to my son. My father seemed to want to share this with me, so I asked him more about it. He told me a little bit about the history, but nothing too revealing. He certainly did not sell me on the idea, but he did make me think about it. As I said, we were not close and maybe I started reading about it as a way to try to understand him and perhaps connect in some way.
In my infancy of research into Freemasonry, I explored those books that were available to me in bookstores and the library. I have now discovered that these were probably not the books I should have based any understanding of Freemasonry on, but they were those Pop-Masonic Books that try to appeal to interests in mysteries and secrets ala Dan Brown. Within months of my visit with my father, my library included several of Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas’ books (The Hiram Key, The Second Messiah, Uriel’s Machine, and The Book of Hiram) as well as John J. Robinson’s Born in Blood. However, one of my early acquisitions did store a wealth of information, arriving by way of ebay: a rather worn set of Albert Mackey’s History of Freemasonry circa 1906.
This is not my set, but if anyone knows a place that could make my set look like this once more, I’d genuinely appreciate it.
A few years later, I worked at a group home for boys and discovered that one of my co-workers was a Master Mason. I asked him about it and he regaled me with stories of men doing what is right, travels to other lodges and cities where he was treated with the greatest respect, and helping others through charitable works. He also told me that to be one, you must believe in a supreme being. At this time in my life, I was not sure about my spiritual beliefs.
My experiences at very conservative and fundamentalist churches in Bakersfield had given me such a bad representation of religion that I had rejected the idea in whole, declaring myself an atheist at sixteen. Though I had made this bold claim, I constantly thought about my own spirituality. I relabeled myself a seeker. I began reading books from all different religious perspectives, as well as philosophical and esoteric ones. I took classes in religion, eventually earning a B.A. in religious studies, as well as one in psychology. My interests included Judaism, early Christianity, religious fundamentalism and extremism, peacemaking, and conflict resolution.
These interests brought me to Claremont Graduate University in 2009 to pursue a PhD in social psychology. I was recently divorced, visiting my two young sons every other weekend. My days were generally spent in the computer lab until midnight and then back in classes at 8am until 3 or so. The weekends I didn’t have my boys were spent mostly in the computer lab, although I may have slept in a bit longer on those days. I tried to have as much work completed as early as possible, so the time I spent with the boys was actually spent with them.
That is pretty much how things worked until November 2011, when I started dating the love of my life, Heather MacKenzie. I was wrapping up my Thesis for my M.A. earned along the way to the Ph.D. and had finished most of my coursework. So, what new free time I had was spent as often with her as possible. I was (and still am) captivated by her, her drive, wonder, and especially her loving nature. I told myself that I could not be with anyone who did not have love for my children, and lucky for me, her heart was enormous, fitting all of us within it. Nine months later we moved in together, finding a nice little two-bedroom house owned by Scripps College on the Claremont Graduate University campus.
As things began slightly winding down for me, I found myself able to resume previous interests and looking into things I always wanted to do. One day while perusing Facebook, I discovered that two of my friends from Bakersfield were Masons. On July 13, 2012, I contacted one of them through Facebook to find out how to join. He advised me to shop around lodges in the area and find the one I liked the most. So, I went onto the website for the Grand Lodge of California and completed an information request, selecting the “I would like someone to contact me about becoming a Mason” box.
On July 24, 2012, I received a response from the Worshipful Master of the Claremont Lodge #436, who extended an open invitation for me to come to a meeting, saying they usually meet every Thursday night at 7:30pm. I thanked the Worshipful Master and told him that I planned to attend when I returned from a trip to Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh.
On a side note: I had recently read Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol and loved his location descriptions. I told more than one friend that it was like reading a Frommer’s guide with a thriller interspersed between the lines, or vice versa. Either way, I wanted to see those beautifully depicted sites, especially the House of the Temple of Scottish Rite Freemasonry. I made it a mission to see it, and on August 14, 2012 I was welcomed in and took a tour.
Here I am sitting in the Executive Chamber, boardroom of the Supreme Council.
The House of the Temple was the very first Masonic site I had ever knowingly set foot into. After leaving it, I felt wholly inspired. Unfortunately, life got in the way, as it often does and I did not go to the Claremont lodge that year, or even the next.