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2009 Apple Harvest Aftermath

October 16, 2009 Leave a comment

The tent has been folded up, the flooring has been packed away until next year, the fryers have been power-washed, and the apple prep gear has been boxed and stowed away. And most of us that worked the 2009 Southington Apple Harvest Festival are exhausted. In my opinion, we spent a hell of a lot of man hours (and some woman hours) just to make $1,200.

From Apple Harvest 2009

I’m not complaining — too much. Overall, the prep work was less tiring, and the clean-up much easier than when we had been cooking up those steak sandwiches. And we discovered that fresh, local cider — hot or cold –sells pretty well. And we also discovered that the warm, friend apples were an excellent mix with some ice cream, something that we’ll keep on the menu for next year. And as I’ve written before, I think that the two weekend stint is like a built-in team-building session, except that it is not run by high-priced consultants.

But still, the lodge building is old, and we need to raise more capital in order to stay ahead of the repairs, and to be able to lay something by in case of emergencies. I wonder what we could add to the mix for next year?



Defenders of the Faith

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment

The other day, Freemason Information had a post about the York Rite degrees. As some of you know, the York Rite has a reputation for being a “Christianized” appendant order; this is because of the interpretation that some people have of the Knights Templar Commandery, which, upon initiation, ask a candidate “If called to fight in a religious cause, will you give preference to the Christian religion?”

To this, I jokingly asked “What happens if the war is the Baptists against the Catholics?” Yes, I was being facetious, but also, as it turns out, perhaps a bit prescient.

Look what turned up in my news reader today from The Raw Story:

North Carolina church to burn ‘Satan’s books,’ including works of Mother Teresa.

By Kathleen Miller
Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 — 11:50 am

A Baptist Church near Asheville, N.C., is hosting a “Halloween book burning” to purge the area of “Satan’s” works, which include all non-King James versions of the Bible, popular books by many religious authors and even country music.

The website for the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, N.C., says there are “scriptural bases” for the book burning. The site quotes Acts 19:18-20: “And many that believed, came and confessed and shewed their deeds. Many of them also which used curious arts, brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.”

Church leaders deem Good News for Modern Man, the Evidence Bible, the New International Version Bible, the Green Bible and the Message Bible, as well as at least seven other versions of the Bible as “Satan’s Bibles,” according to the website. Attendees will also set fire to “Satan’s popular books” such as the work of “heretics” including the Pope, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Rick Warren.

“I believe the King James version is God’s preserved, inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God,” Pastor Marc Grizzard told a local news station of his 14-member parish.

Grizzard’s parish website explains that the Bible is the “final authority concerning all matters of faith and practice,” for Amazing Grace Baptist Church. In the Parish doctrinal statement, Grizzard expounds that “the Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning, and all issues of interpretation and meaning shall be determined by the preacher.”

The event also seeks to destroy “Satan’s music” which includes every genre from country,rap and rock to “soft and easy” and “Southern Gospel” and” contemporary Christian.”

David Lynch, a resident of nearby Asheville, N.C., told Raw Story “it’s a little disconcerting how close this is to my home.”

“They are burning so much stuff I’ve dubbed them the hypocritical Christian Taliban,” Lynch said in a phone interview with Raw Story. “Just the scope of all the information they want to destroy is pretty disturbing.”

Church leaders did not respond to Raw Story’s requests for comment, but the website notes they will be providing “bar-b-que chicken, fried chicken and all the sides” at the book burning.

No word on if they are also burning The Lost Symbol,  The DaVinci Code, and other Dan Brown books. Also no word on if they are burning, say, Freemasons for Dummies.

Just as disturbing is the idea that they are going to burn all genres of music, including “Southern Gospel” and contemporary Christian music. Good thing I’ve already got my Jars of Clay albums on MP3.

While it’s easy for me to joke about this, the point is that this is the kind of mentality that we, as Masons, face when we’re up against the typical religious anti-Mason. The church leaders in this story have no conception of the irony that they portray. Such thinking is almost immune to reasoning; in a similar fashion, we still see some of the same deficiencies in thinking when meet those who would claim that since we, as a fraternity, make an effort to be inclusive and tolerant of all religions, that we, ourselves, are heretical — that is, when we’re not downright Satanic.

I really don’t know what to make of this. Yes, certainly the Amazing Grace Baptist Church is entitled to their opinions. However, I think it’s sad that this kind of intolerance still happens here in the US. On the other hand, I’m glad that such pockets of inanity are regularly exposed via the internet news services, instead of festering in isolated communities.

Brownout

September 14, 2009 Leave a comment

I am so tired of the hype about the new Dan Brown book “The Lost Symbol,” that I have declared a “Brownout” at The Tao of Masonry this month. That’s right, I’m not going to be writing about Dan Brown or his new book for the rest of the month.

Admittedly, I didn’t write anything all summer long, but still — I’m upholding a principle.

The hype actually started back in 2006 when “The DaVinci Code” movie was released, and the rumors abounded that Brown would soon — perhaps as early as that fall — be publishing a follow-up book called “The Solomon Key.” Frankly, back then I was pretty excited. Freemasonry was getting some very public PR, and not from Freemasons themselves, nor because of some scandal. “National Treasure” was still talked about and it was looking like that dusty, old club that your grandfather used to visit a few times a month was getting a much-needed makeover. Most Freemasons waited for the next Brown book, hoping that it would continue to add to the mystique — and to draw in a few members.

Three years later, Brown is set to release the most long-awaited sequel since Thomas Harris’ “Hannibal Rising.” I’m going to avoid the temptation to compare the intriguing and complex character of Hannibal Lecter with the cardboard cutout of Robert Lang. You know why?

Because this is a No Dan Brown month at The Tao of Masonry, remember?

For weeks, Freemason bloggers and other members of the e-Mason community have been offering suggestions that our fraternity be ready for the huge tide of public interest. What are we going to tell people who ask us about Masonry? What kinds of responses will we have if Brown writes something unflattering? What will we have to offer if Brown writes something that sparks interest? Essentially, we are being told that we should turn on the porch light and bake a batch of cookies for the potential visitors — except for those who are saying that we should batten down the hatches for the potential storm.

Please.

How many movies in the last ten years had some slight reference to Freemasonry? Let’s see: Two National Treasure movies, The DaVinci Code, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Magnolia. So, a film  every couple of years, with the more recent ones are the most referential. In fact, National Treasure has more Masonic references, and arguably a much more favorable perspective than the other movies combined.

Our Grand Lodge website has been tracking the numbers of those interested enough in the Craft to ask to be contacted. If I recall correctly (and I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong), the numbers amounted to approximately one person per day.

I think that we can handle the influx of inquiries.

Look, it’s great that some groups are printing up material that brothers can use in case somebody decides to ask them about Freemasonry. But it occurred to me after last night’s Masonic Central podcast that we are expecting people to ask questions such as “What is Freemasonry” and “Why do you have those symbols?” and “Where can I get a petition?”

As if.

In my own experience as a student of human nature, I think that the questions are going to be more along the lines of “Do you really drink blood out of a human skull?” or “What’s with the goat? Do you really have some kind of demon worship?” or “Don’t you feel silly dressing in those old-fashioned costumes?” or “What’s with the secrecy? Do you guys really stick together to fix parking tickets and stuff?” or “What’s the deal with the Holy Grail, the lost Templar Treasure, and the Denver Airport?” and of course, “Why is it that when Masons turn up in books and movies, there’s always a secret plot, and people end up getting killed?”

I’m just saying that maybe some of us might be over-preparing for the wrong questions.

Driving to work this morning, I was thinking about the Masonic Central show, and about some of the questions that co-host Greg Stewart posed, which he believed would be important for Masons to think about in the face of the possible public relations stories that might come of this. He asked things like “What is Freemasonry? What do you get out of it? How does it make you a better person? What about the fraternity has kept your interest? What good things do you see it providing?”

Fellow guest Tim Bryce had a great explanation of our fraternity, almost elegant in its simplicity:

“Freemasonry is a Brotherhood of men who share common values, and who are interested in improving themselves, their community, and the world at large.”

After hearing this, it made me think that perhaps it’s more important for us, as Freemasons, to answer these questions for ourselves. Only when we know the answers to our own questions will we be able to answer — in the most positive light — the questions of the interested and curious.

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?

Points Well Made

March 6, 2009 6 comments

“You’re wearing your ring the wrong way, you know.”

The Past Master tried to be nonchalant, but the way he slightly emphasized the “you know” implied that he didn’t actually think that I did know, and he was going to make sure that I knew I didn’t know.

You know how some people are.

“That’s odd,” I replied, “I was sure it was on correctly when I left the house.”

I shifted the glass of Jameson’s to my left hand and held my up my right,  wriggling my fingers.

“Yeah, see?” I pointed out. “The big part of the ring is on the outside and the the skinny part is on the inside. It would really be uncomfortable the other way.”

To his credit, he didn’t take the bait, being more interested in pointing out my mistake.

“No, you’re wearing it with the points out. You should be wearing it with the points in.”

“In where?”

“Pointing in, toward you,” he said.

I curled my fingers and moved my hand around a bit. “Aren’t they pointing in now?”

“No, I mean pointing in on your finger.” He was obviously being very patient with me. “The points on the compasses should be pointing up your finger to your hand, back to you.”

“What? Why’s that?”

“Because you’re not a Past Master, that’s why.”

He sipped his beer and gave me a knowing look. I swirled the glass of Irish whiskey, hearing the tiny cubes tinkle in the glass.

“I don’t remember that being in the ritual monitor,” I said.

“There are lots of things about Masonry that aren’t written down,” he replied. “You just have to learn them the hard way.”

He took another sip of his beer.  “Do you always wear it that way?”

“Well, maybe,” I replied. “I hadn’t really thought much about it until now.”

“I’m surprised that nobody else has mentioned it before,” he said. “I guess I just must be more observant.”

“What possible difference could it make?” I asked “It’s only a ring.”

“It’s the symbolism,” he explained, “a only a Master can give light; you have only received it.”

“I’m pretty sure that the flashlight is the working tool of one of the other degrees.”

“Now you’re just being a Mr. Smarty Pants. The Worshipful Master gives light during the degrees. You, however, haven’t done that; you should wear your ring with the points in, the way you saw them on the altar.”

“Points in?”

“Yes. Look, how were the points arranged when you were brought to light?”

“The same way they always are,” I replied.

“Exactly – with you looking up at them.”

“Uhh… up?”

“Right. So, when the ring is on your finger, the points should be arranged the same way as when you first saw them, to remind you of that experience.”

“Unless I’ve given light, right?”

“Yes, now you’re getting it.”

I politely declined his offer of a little cigar, and pulled out my own pack of cigarettes. I struck my lighter,  a small butane novelty, and offered it to him. We stood for a few moments, enjoying the cool evening on the back stairs.

“I don’t suppose that counts as ‘giving light’, does it?”

He shook his head. “No, and you’re being a Mr. Smarty Pants again.”

“I’m just trying to be clear on this,” I explained. I took another sip of my Irish whiskey and thought for a moment. “I sort of get the symbolism – sort of. But, as a Junior Warden, though, I’ve done degree work. I’ve initiated new brothers. That sounds like I’ve given light – at least, partially.”

He paused for a bit, and then answered. “No, that doesn’t count.”

He didn’t seem compelled to explain why, so I asked him.

“Because, only the Master can give light.”

“But I was in the chair doing the work.”

“Yes, but you weren’t the Master.”

“But I was doing the work of the Master.”

“That may be, but you were not the actual Master.”

“So, are you saying that those new brothers aren’t real Masons?”

“Hmm?”

“Because the candidates certainly didn’t notice the difference.” I went on, “But if I didn’t actually give any light, and if I follow what you’re saying, then they must not actually be Masons. It would really be a bad thing if all of those lodges that have the Wardens do degree work turn out to not actually be initiating Masons. Why, half the members in this district are probably invalid, if that’s the case.”

He thought for a moment. “No, that’s not right. You did it with the permission of the Master, so you were acting through him.”

I conceded, but then asked “So, what if the master called out sick that night? I’d still have been doing the work, right? Would that mean that…”

“No, you’re purposely making this difficult,” he pointed out. “Only the Master gives light, so only he is entitled to wear his ring with the points out,” he insisted. “It’s symbolic.”

“And we’re big on symbols around here, I’ve noticed.”

“Right.” He took another sip of beer. “Besides, when you go around with the points out, pretty much anybody can see them.

“Well, it is a ring…”

“Yes, but it’s almost like you’re advertising that you’re a Mason.”

“Wait, what?”

“You’re supposed to be keeping the secrets of Masonry, right? You don’t go blabbing it all over, right? You do know that we used to call ourselves ‘The Quiet Fraternity’, right?”

“Yes, that was one of the things that I liked when I was reading about the fraternity; the lack of blatant self-promotion.”

“Exactly so,” he answered. “When you have your points out, it makes it easy for anybody to notice them. That’s why I said, it’s almost like you’re advertising that you’re a Mason.”

“Advertising?”

He nodded. “Like you’re showing off, or something.”

“Oh, I get it,” I replied, “We are quiet and internally directed because we’re making ourselves better men; so advertising our affiliation with our rings makes it look like we simply joined for the sake of joining.”

Ne nodded again. “Now you understand,” he declared, “I’m glad we had this little chat.”

He finished the rest of his beer and moved toward the door.

“Umm, one thing,” I said.

“Yes?”

I motioned at the two dozen or so cars in the parking lot, almost all of which were sporting decals with the logos of Blue Lodge, York Rite, or the Shrine. Several of them also had the now familiar “2B1 Ask 1” bumper stickers.

“Why do you suppose it is that my small, discreet ring is ‘advertising’, but all of those decals, badges, and bumper stickers are simply showing pride in membership?”

The old Past Master stubbed out his cigar, and turned toward the door. “Some people,” he snorted, “just don’t get the point, even when you poke them with it.”

Subduing the Passionettes

November 16, 2008 Leave a comment

A 75 year old man who shows up at lodge and says “I’m here to take my MM degree.”

The brothers are confused by this, as nobody seems to know him. He insists that he was initiated and passed fifty years earlier, so the secretary checks into the old records. Sure enough, there’s his name.

The WM is curious. “You took two degrees over 50 years ago,” he asked, “so why are you coming back for the MM now?”

The old man replied “It took me this long to learn to subdue my passions.”
So, a while back I was having a  contentious heated spirited discussion with a member of a local religious group, in which she remarked with some exasperation “Oh, you Masons all stick together, anyway.”

“There’s a reason for that,” I quipped, thinking about our tenets of admitting men who are upright, moral, and of good repute. “Our membership requirements are more stringent than yours.”

Five seconds after I said this, I wondered “Is this the face of Masonry that I want displayed?” Yes, it was a great line – but did I really want it to be the impression of Freemasonry that she was going to take away from our discussion?

Unfortunately, I was six seconds too late. 

“OK, so ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking, yeah?”
— Zaphod Beeblebrox

We tend to think of “the passions” as big, almost uncontrollable emotional outbursts; Arousal, excitement, fear, and other intense reactions are all part of the human package that we try to control, so as to keep our excitement from overruling our common sense and doing something that is harmful to ourselves or to others. When we are charged to subdue our passions, we aren’t told to ignore them entirely – that would turn us into emotionless robots. Rather, we are cautioned to be aware of our actions and how those actions will affect those around us.

Most people, of course, do not have expansive, passionate outbursts on a regular basis; consequently, those around us are generally not harmed by such things.  We often forget – or don’t realize – that the little moments are much more likely to affect somebody, simply because they are more opportunities for them.

I was thinking about this because of something that happened the other day. I was at a seminar given by the Grand Lodge, and near the end, I was in the open area selling books and pins and other neat little trinkets that Masons like to pick up at these occasions. We aren’t set up to be a small sales shop, and we had boxes of books and pamphlets all over. Neither did we have a cash register, although most of the items were charged in even dollar amounts. I said “most” because there were a few items that required coins, something that we didn’t have. Most of the guys who bought a $3.50 or $7.50 item simply told us to keep the change, but one brother, who bought something earlier,  did not. He told the person working the area that he would come back later when there was a chance that we’d have coinage.

He came back at the very end, just a few minutes before we closed up. I was working, and when he explained the situation, I looked around for something that would be worth the fifty cents to him. Exasperated (because I was the only one selling and was trying to take care of several people), I simply gave him back an entire dollar and told him not to worry.

Later, as we were getting ready to pack up, I was complaining to the other guys about the setup,  wondering aloud why we had such odd pricing on items, and mentioned the incident to them – noting that I just gave the guy back a buck. I mean, who worries about fifty cents, right?

A few minutes later, a gentleman walks over to the table and says “I’d like to donate something to the cause.”

“Cool,” I replied, “Thanks so much. We always appreciate any donations.”

He handed me a dollar and walked away.

I put it in the cash box and continued to pack up the books and papers, chatting away, when it dawned on me.

“I think that the guy who just donated a dollar was the guy I was talking about earlier,” I told my counterparts.

Whoops.

Now, here’s the thing. I’d already given back the dollar and put it out of my mind – mostly – in order to go on to other customers. So, why did I bother to complain about it later? The brother was certainly within his rights to expect change, be it fifty cents or a penny. I have no idea what his personal situation is like – that fifty cents might have allowed him a coffee for the ride home.

But I allowed myself to get annoyed; or more accurately, I allowed myself to display that annoyance to anyone passing by. As a result, I made that brother feel guilty enough to give back the dollar that I had earlier given to him.

Why should he have felt guilty just because I was annoyed?

Certainly I hadn’t meant for him to hear me. In  fact, I was more annoyed over the inconvenient pricing than anything else; but as a result of a lack of temperance and moderation on my part, he probably walked away from that seminar with a sour attitude. He certainly didn’t deserve that.

“Tact is knowing how to say
the nastiest things in the nicest way.”

— Dorothy Parker

What do we call those little lapses of judgement, those small slips of tact and discretion, anyway?

I used to have a reputation for dry wit that bordered on. . .  actually, went well over the line into the sarcastic. But over the last few years, since I’ve been a Mason, I’ve learned to smooth and polish that particular section of my ashlar, and during that time, I’ve also learned how to be a little more tactful, and a little more considerate of others. 

Well, most of the time.

Little incidents, like the one from last week, serve to remind me how important it is to think before I speak – if only out of simple consideration for those around me. No, it’s not the same as learning how to subdue those big, emotional reactions – in fact, it’s a lot more difficult, because in my future actions with mankind, I have a many more opportunities to say something cutting, hurtful, or just plain thoughtless. But because I have more opportunities for such interactions, I also have that many more opportunities to circumscribe and keep myself within due bounds, and, perhaps, to set an example for those people, who may set an example for others. 

Just one little section at a time.

 


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