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Clandestine Conspiracy Talks

May 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Coming on the heels of a great Masonic Central podcast with Chris Hodapp about conspiracy theories and secret societies, here’s an interesting article from Fox News about a clandestine meeting among a group of people who are known for their money and financial empires.

World’s Richest Moguls Met in New York for Secret Charity Meeting

What do Oprah, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Soros and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have in common? It’s a secret, but I am sure you can guess.

Money.

These and a handful of other mega-moguls coordinated their busy schedules to gather for a top-secret meeting in the Big Apple to talk greenbacks — not protecting them, but spending them, according to IrishCentral.com.

It was all for a good cause, but details of the mysterious May 5 meeting are vague. What is known is that each billionaire got to speak for approximately 15 minutes on the global economic crisis and how best to support philanthropic causes, IrishCentral reports.

Others in attendance also included David Rockefeller Jr., chairman of Rockefeller Financial Services; Ted Turner, founder of CNN; and John Morgridge, former CEO of Cisco, and his wife.


Do you suppose that anyone will accuse Oprah or Bill Gates about being Freemasons or Illuminati?

Friendship Lodge goes to the dogs

April 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Friendship Lodge has a presentation about the Fidelco guide dog program by Annetta and Bro. Charles Wilson, featuring Schubert, the guide dog trainee.

Charles is the one in the apron.

Annetta and Charles are members of the Bloomfield program in which they take in young dogs in order to help them become house trained and able to function around people. After a trainign period, the dogs are then taken to the Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation and given to trainers, who complete the training, and figure out where the dogs can be placed. Approximately 50% of dogs don’t have the intelligence or temperment to be guide dogs, and are placed elswhere – usually as police dogs.

Schubert is less than a year old, and was still full of high spirits.The Wilsons have trained 10 dogs over the last several years, five of which were accepted into the Fidelco program as guide dogs.

There will be a Fidelco open house on Saturday, April 18, and on Saturday, May 16, there will be a walkathon to support the Fidelco program.

More information on the Pup-to-Partner program can be found at:
www.fidelco.org.

Connecticut and Rhode Island to merge Grand Lodges

April 1, 2009 1 comment

News item: Connecticut and Rhode Island to merge Grand Lodges

Special to The Hartford Times
Farmington:

Citing a budget shortfall due to a lack of membership and the bad economy, and the resultant inability to fund various programs, the Freemasons of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut, and those of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, jointly announced at the Grand Lodge of Connecticut’s Annual Communication their intention to merge into a single entity: The Grand Lodge of Southern New England, A.F. & A.M.

The news was first announced earlier this week at the March 30th Connecticut Grand Lodge Annual Communication in Farmington, and will be officially announced in Rhode Island very shortly.

“It seemed a perfect opportunity,” said William Rogers, spokesperson for the former Grand Lodge of Rhode Island, “Attrition from old age, death, and retirement have reduced our numbers to a quarter of what they were back in the 1950s. Likewise, mergers and lodge closings have reduced our lodges to about two dozen. It’s becoming an administrative nightmare.”

“He’s not kidding,” said Thomas Ludlow, the Grand Master’s representative from Connecticut, “We have fewer lodges and fewer brothers, but we somehow have a growing number of officers and district officers. In business parlance, you might say that our workforce is shrinking, while middle management has become bloated. So, we’ve decided to merge our Grand Lodges and make some long-overdue staffing cuts.”

Ludlow went on to describe the cutbacks: “The first positions to be eliminated will be the District Grand Lecturers and Assistant Grand Lecturers,” he explained, “We’ve outsourced ritual instruction to college students who are making Youtube videos, which we will then embed on the Grand Lodge website. Anyone who wants instruction can just watch the videos.”

Rogers agreed. “You’ll be able to download those videos to an iPod or Zune, your iPhone, or a netbook,” he explained, “and then you can watch as much instruction as you can handle during your free moments. In traffic, in the bathroom, on plane trips – it’s perfect. There won’t be any excuse for people not to be more improved in their ritual workings.”

Other Grand Lodge dignitaries will also be downsized, said Rogers. “Do you know we’ve managed to acquire more District Deputies and Associate Grand Marshals than we have lodges? These guys are tripping over each other, and we can’t find anything more for them to do. It’s time to start consolidating our resources.”

“Same thing with all these Grand Line officers,” agreed Ludlow. “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a couple of Grands or Past Grands. There’s way too many of them nowadays, and we figure that nine or ten guys should be able to cover the two state area more than adequately.” When questioned about how well the two states could be covered by so few Grand Officers, he responded. “Hell, lodges in those big square states out west sometimes don’t see a Grand Officer for years; our lodges have gotten spoiled around here. We simply can’t afford to have District Deputies showing up at every other meeting anymore.”

Both spokespersons noted that rumors about spinning off one of the districts into New York were merely persistent, but unfounded rumors. “Those rumors pop up every few years, usually right after we raise our Grand Lodge dues,” explained Ludlow.

Noting the progressive nature of the plan, interviewers asked about whether other states would follow suit.

“Massachusetts has taken notice, and we’ve already begun talks to include them on the merger, but they’re funny up there. News in Boston doesn’t reach the Berkshires for years, if ever,” explained Ludlow. “Besides, we don’t want to wait too long on this – our two states have been ready to merge for a couple of years now. But when Massachussetts is ready to merge, we’ll already have the infrastructures in place for them. The way we see it, it’s not a question of ‘if‘, but of ‘when‘.”

Do any other states have an interest?

“New Hampshire and Vermont are going to be discussing the topic at their next Annual Meetings,” said Rogers. “We sent some dogsled messengers up to Maine back in December, and we’re hoping to hear back from them by spring, when they get the power lines back up.”

Both Grand Lodges will close for July and August, during which time they will be packing and moving. No word yet on the location of the new Grand Lodge building, but speculation is that it will be one of the old University of Connecticut agricultural buildings. “I can’t confirm this,” said Ludlow,” but it’s definitely one of the possibilities. Obviously we’d like someplace centrally located. Since most of the people living west of the river think that UConn is in Rhode Island anyway, it seems like a good spot; it’s equally inconvenient for everybody.”



Four Fellowcrafts and an EA

March 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Sounds like the start of a standup joke, doesn’t it?

Four Fellowcrafts and an Entered Apprentice walk into a bar…

…and so the bartender replied “You know, the jokes were a hell of a lot funnier back in my year.”

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gone to a couple of degree rehearsals, have seen three Fellowcraft degrees in my district, filled in for my counterpart (who came down with something the night he was supposed to recite the Letter G lecture) down south in the 4th District , and finished up by going to a nicely done Entered Apprentice degree in one of my other lodges, the one that’s not quite up in Massachusetts.

Whew!

Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy degree work. I enjoy watching it, and even more, I enjoy doing it.

But why do we shmush them all into the same time period?

Oh, yeah, I remember; because most lodges in Connecticut start their year in January, so they schedule an EA for February, and then follow up a month later with an FC. Then they give themselves a bit of a breather, and sometime in May, the Master Mason degree season will be upon us. Guaranteed there will be one scheduled on my wife’s birthday, too, so not only will my gas bill and dry cleaning bill be up, I’ll need to put aside something for the florist bill.

Anyway, one of the neat things about seeing so many degrees so close together is that I can really compare little details that I might otherwise have forgotten. Most notable among these is the floorwork of the ceremonies; the positions, the walking paths, the stances, and all those other little things that aren’t found in our ritual book.

Yes, it’s true: As I’ve mentioned before, Connecticut does have an “official” ritual manual, which is occasionally even  used by some of our own lodges. Unfortunately, the ritual is, in places, somewhat unclear (some would say “ambiguous”) in the matter of floorwork. Without boring anybody with the details, we take it for granted that at certain times different people will walk from place to place in the lodge in order to do certain things. How they manage to get there, though, is sometimes open to  interpretation. And that is what makes for the interesting differences from lodge to lodge.

It would be easy to suggest that we simply write a floorwork manual, as they use in some other states. That would, of course, necessitate that we rewrite our actual ritual monitor, which would correct the mistakes in our current monitor, which had already been rewritten to correct that mistakes that the previous rewrite was supposed to have done.

Did you get all of that?

I’ve heard this suggested for several years now, and at one time I agreed with the idea. Now, however, I’m of a different mind. There is an old expression that what passes for a lodge tradition is really  a mistake that somebody made, and then the people behind him continued. I admit to finding that amusing, but when you give it some thought, it’s a very cynical way of looking at the variety of fascinating idiosyncrasies displayed by the various lodges around the state. Yes, no doubt that some lodges have a tradition that actually did originate as a result of a mistake or a careless interpretation of a section. But of those lodges that insist that they do things “because that’s the way we’ve always done them,” I’m sure that you can go back in time – in some cases, less than a decade – to discover when it actually did happen. More likely, when somebody in a lodge claims that “we’ve always done it that way,” what he means is that “that’s the way I always remember it being done,” which is really something quite different.

But as to the idea of traditions or customs always arising from  a mistake in the workings, not only is it cynical, it’s also wrong. Lodges perform the workings differently from  each other simply because our own interpretations of the workings are always going to vary over time and distance, especially when those workings leave room for interpretation.But that doesn’t mean – and some of you may be surprised that I’m writing this – that I’m in favor of codifying our floorwork, or even making our ritual so ironclad that it leaves no room for interpretation. To the contrary, I think that the evolution of ritual is a natural and even necessary process.

I’m aware that some jurisdictions are very strict about passing down their workings “from mouth to ear” and that officers are watched very closely for even the smallest transgressions. While I applaud their determination, I often wonder what’s the point? What are they preserving? Our own ritual in Connecticut is one of the many variations of the Preston-Webb workings that were developed and spread thought out the US after the Civil War in the mid-1800s. Those workings are a compilation of ritual that was performed  in England, where there are several other workings which don’t even resemble what is typically done in the US. Even Canada, our neighbor to the north, has a variation of the Preston workings, plus their version of the Emulation workings (which is seen in other parts of the UK) and at least one other set that isn’t quite either one.

I have a copy of the workings from a jurisdiction in Australia, which is a variation on the Emulation workings. I’m calling it a variation because it’s almost, but not quite like the version of Emulation used in parts of Canada, and again, not quite like what is used in parts of England. But it’s defintiely recognizable as Emulation, just as despite the variations from state to state, anyone from the US will recognize workings in any other state.

My point is that ritual – our workings – have evolved  over time and space. At what point did some committee of ritualists decide to pick and choose which version would be the “official” workings? And after that, when and why was it changed? Because there has to be a reason that while we are all Freemasons, we use so many small and fascinating variations on workings that, in actuality, aren’t even all that old?

Now, there’s no question that I like some of those variations better than others. In fact, after watching one of the degrees last week, I was discussing the small differences between that lodge and my own, and I had to ask myself if I was biased in my preference simply because Friendship does something differently. That question, in fact, is something that I ask myself just about every time I help out a lodge at a rehearsal; I want a lodge to do their own variation in the best way possible, but sometimes I have to stop myself from suggesting that they do something differently, simply because it’s what I learned, and not because it’s inherently better.

In the last few years I’ve been to about twenty  different lodges around the state, and no two of them do things alike. I know that this makes some of the purists absolutely crazy, but lately I’ve begun to appreciate the little differences. And I’ll really try to keep that in mind when I do the next round of degrees in another month.



20 Years of mutual recognition: Part 4

March 23, 2009 Leave a comment

The following article by RW Carl Ek is reprinted from the April 2009 issue of The Connecticut Freemasons publication, which is running a series of articles celebrating the 20th anniversary of our mutual recognition.

Reflections on Recognition, 20 Years Later
Timely and Good – a Paper Republished
by Carl G. Ek

(Editor’s note: in the span of several months in mid-1989, the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Connecticut and the Grand Lodge, F. & A.M., Prince Hall Affiliates, of Connecticut, Inc. crafted an agreement that changed how Masonry operated, not just in Connecticut, but worldwide. In our first three installments, MWPGM Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution proposing mutual recognition and we learned that other Grand Lodges had also done so in the past. Would Connecticut Masons support this proposal? A series of stories will appear in Connecticut Freemasons this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of mutual recognition.)

In the closing moments of the March 29, 1989 Grand Lodge session Past Grand Master Gail Linnell Smith presented the resolution calling for the mutual recognition of Prince Hall Masonry immediately after installing his son, Gail Nelson Smith, as the new Grand Master. The craft would come to learn that this proposal had been made in at least three states previously, and that two had already passed – and then rescinded – recognition.

In the 1870’s, the question came before the Grand Lodge of Ohio, where it was ‘narrowly defeated.’ In 1897, the Grand Lodge of Washington was presented with the request of two transplanted Prince Hall Masons for the opportunity for fraternal interaction. The appointed committee, led by Deputy Grand Master William H. Upton, chose to examine “the large(r) question of… legitimacy” of lodges that were the ‘offspring’ of African Lodge No. 459 and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge that coalesced in 1808.

The result Bro. Upton’s committee’s work was simple: a ‘white’ Grand Lodge had legitimized Prince Hall Freemasons for the first time. Their report discussed the possible reaction from other Grand Lodges, but did not expect there to be significant problems. In that they were sadly surprised, and by the next Grand Lodge communication, it was necessary to rescind recognition of Prince Hall Masonry.

Now Past Grand Master Upton made his feelings clear: there was to be no monument, marker, or other identification on his grave that he was even a Mason until the Washington Grand Lodge again recognized their Prince Hall brothers.

A span of fifty years passed before another Grand Lodge would essay recognition. Much had changed in the world. Most Worshipful Past Grand Master of Missouri Harry S Truman had succeeded Bro. Franklin D. Roosevelt as President, and one of his executive orders provided for the desegregation of the United States military at all levels. Enlightened people questioned issues of race, and the civil rights movement was stirring.

In Massachusetts, the home of African Lodge No. 459, the Grand Lodge agreed with the conclusions reached a half-century earlier by a Grand Lodge a continent away. Grand Master Melvin M. Johnson was a strong proponent for recognition, which was passed in March 1947. Again, sadly, this was short-lived as Grand Lodges around the nation brought fraternal pressure to bear. Two years later, recognition was rescinded.

These activities at Connecticut’s northern border caught the attention of Bro. Raymond H. Dragat, a member of Level Lodge No. 137 and Philosophic Lodge of Research (PLR). Bro. Ray had been raised in Cosmopolitan Lodge No. 125 in New Haven while attending Yale Law School. Returning to his native Hartford, he changed his affiliation to a lodge that was initially built on the premise of alternating Christian and Jewish Worshipful Masters year by year.

The secretary of Level Lodge and PLR for more than 50 years aggregated, Ray ascended to the Oriental Chair in Philosophic Lodge in 1959. In that year he presented his paper, Prince Hall Masonry in the United States of America. This well-researched paper earned Ray the lifelong respect and numerous honors from Prince Hall Masonry.

Then Grand Lecturer and eventual Prince Hall Grand Master John E. Rogers ¬– and friend of Gail L. Smith at the Masonic Home – wrote to Bro. Dragat, “I cannot find the proper words to type my appreciation of your interest and inspiration. But I will give you this promise in return; I will ever in my lectures and future instructions to my younger brothers stress love and tolerance so that the spirit of Dragat, Upton and Melvin Johnson will always be reflected by those Prince Hall men with whom I come in contact.”

Bro. Dragat’s paper caused a stir at the time of its publication, especially when it noted that “the procedure of forming African Grand Lodge in 1791 was more properly accomplished than was the formation of white Grand Lodges in Massachusetts and other states.” He concluded, as had many before him, that there was no Masonic reason not to recognize Prince Hall Masonry.

Within a few years, though, it was generally forgotten. Ray updated the work in 1978 to reflect several court cases where ‘white’ Grand Lodges had supported Prince Hall Masons’ efforts to suppress clandestine black groups claiming the name of ‘Masons.’ One court expressed amazement that there was no record ever of any adversarial court action between Prince Hall Grand Lodges and their AF & AM counterparts!

Ray’s paper may have remained ‘forgotten’ had not Philosophic Lodge of Research begun a program to bring more Masonic light to the craft. Under the leadership of WM Frank H. Icaza in 1984, the lodge began selling 10 different papers from its archives. Bro. Dragat’s Prince Hall paper, the most expensive simply due to reproduction costs, was by far the best seller of the group.

Papers were available at Committee on Masonic Information officer seminars through the late 1980’s, and many brothers who owned the paper were voting delegates at the 1989 Grand Lodge session. Craft leadership was thus aware that Prince Hall Masonry was Masonically legitimate. They had every reason to support recognition.

A strong case can be made that when Gail Linnell Smith “… request(ed) fraternal recognition from the Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Connecticut, Prince Hall Affiliation;” and those hundreds of brothers rose as one to enthusiastically, urgently “Second!” this motion, they were expressing their understanding of a paper written 30 years earlier by a brother who would receive his 80-year pin at the age of 102. Fortunately, Brother Ray Dragat lived to see the premise of his paper accepted and recognition accomplished, the greatest honor he could have ever received.

“To be continued…”

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