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Darkness Falls

June 24, 2016 2 comments

This being St. John’s Day, I thought it appropriate to mention a few things.

First, this is typically the time that lodges in the Northeast US “go dark” for the summer. Now, there’s some disagreement on whether the expression “to go dark” should be used in this case, since the lodges will reopen for business in a few months. Some old-timers associate the expression to mean that a lodge turns in their charter and closes for good. If the lodge still has a charter and officers, then there’s some “light” available, and the lodge can not be totally dark. That said, I’ve noticed that the expression is so widely used, that even if it may be wrong, it’s not going to make a difference because everybody will be using it anyhow. You know, similar to the expression “I could care less;” it’s obviously wrong, but the usage is so widespread that nobody even thinks about it anymore.

Irregardless*, many of my friends in other parts of the US and UK have asked why we close at all during the summer. I’ve been told (although without any substantiating evidence) that it was the farmers needed the time off to tend their fields. Now, I grew up in rural parts of Connecticut, and while I claim no experience or expertise in this subject, I’m beginning to question if indeed, the farmers actually needed this time. As I drive past fields and pastures, I don’t see very much activity going on in July and August. In fact, the few local farm stores I pass are either closed or selling produce that obviously didn’t come from their fields. Do the crops need tending? Of course they do, but is there anything more labor intensive that happens during the hot months?For that matter, a quick perusal of the area Grange chapters seems to show that they are open during the summer. You’d think that if the professional farmers could manage to till the weeds (or whatever it is that they do) and get to a monthly Grange meeting, then the suburban Freemasons could manage a night off.

Hopefully some more agriculturally educated brothers can enlighten us.

It’s interesting to note that historians are also not in agreement on when the longer summer vacation for schoolchildren started. Again, while we are told that it was to help with the farming, historians of the Colonial period in the US tell us otherwise. tmtlampoonsvacation2

My own theory on this is that most lodges in the Northeast US were formed after the Industrial Revolution, and in the days before air conditioning and wine coolers, most of the members simply didn’t want to bother scheduling meetings when the children were out of school. Family trips, beach days, and other vacation days simply made it too difficult to get all of the members at a meeting; better to just not have them for a couple of months, and pick things up in September.

Something else of note is that this marks the week that The Tao of Masonry web log was first published in 2006. Initially started as a way to track events and keep people informed during my year as Master of Friendship Lodge No. 33, I turned it into a public sideshow for my ego collection of my thoughts on Freemasonry. The early to mid-2000s was probably the Golden Age of blogging, and I’ve listed several hundred blogs by Masons either on the blogroll or on my RSS feeds. While blogging is still a thing (as evidenced by the number of excellent bloggers listed on the Ashlars to Ashes aggregate), it’s also a little sad that most of those blogs from the early years have “gone dark” themselves. I think that  the Dummy Chris Hodapp, and Millennial Nick Johnson may be the only other Golden Age bloggers still regularly writing.

Since it’s my 10th bloggiversary year, I’m including some links to a couple of old posts from that time. And enjoy your summer, whether it’s light or dark.

Not a dry eye in the house.

Masonspotting: You’re doing it wrong.

WWHD?

But what was Plan A?

Cui Bono?

Who’s in charge, anyway?

 

* Irregardless. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

Tidings from the West

February 29, 2016 16 comments

This evening, the news began to spread around the Masonic internet haunts about the message from M. David Perry, Grand Master of Masons in California. I received several from brothers who were proud, excited, and who wanted to make sure the message went out.

From the GM of CA today

Dear Brethren:

You might have read about recent events in some US states including Georgia and Tennessee where Masonic grand lodges have adopted new rules or have enforced existing rules that discipline Masons because of their sexual orientation. Such rules and actions do not coincide with the principles of Freemasonry as practiced by the Grand Lodge of California and do not support what we understand as the great aim of our fraternity.

Freemasonry is a universal system which uses the tools and techniques of the old stonemasons’ guilds to illustrate simple moral and ethical principles. To this it adds a philosophical and spiritual framework for personal improvement. Freemasonry encourages its members to be better by improving their relationships with others, by practicing a life of tolerance, compassion, honesty, and the pursuit of justice. Freemasonry instructs its members to uphold and respect the laws of their government and not to undermine those laws. It attempts to make the world a better place by making its members better citizens of the communities in which they live.

Freemasonry may be found worldwide, in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Freemasonry works through local lodges. In California and elsewhere, some lodges are comprised of men only, some of women only and some of both men and women. Each lodge typically operates under a grand lodge, and there are a number of these grand lodges operating in California. Each grand lodge is independent and operates under its own set of rules as its members may decide.

With more than 50,000 members statewide, those lodges under the Grand Lodge of California are open to men of good character and faith, regardless of their race, color, religious beliefs, political views, economic station, sexual orientation, physical ability, citizenship or national origin. Our lodges currently work in English, Spanish, French, and Armenian.

Through this universal brotherhood, California Masons learn to be better husbands, better fathers, better friends, and better citizens. By appreciating our differences, we learn to focus on what unites us. Thus, the discussion of religion, politics, and business is not permitted in our lodges. In this way we live up to the centuries-old aim of our fraternity – to unite men of every country, sect, and opinion and cause true friendship among those who otherwise would have remained at a distance.

It has been a week now since the news of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee and their expulsion of two seemingly well liked and active brothers who were accepted by the members of their lodge, but who were not accepted by other members of the fraternity in the state.

The discussions have continued on Facebook groups and other Web forums since then, with the overwhelming majority of Freemasons sympathetic toward Brothers Clark and Henderson; and ranging from irate to incredulous at the Grand Lodge of Tennessee.

Unfortunately, the opinions of the several thousands of Freemasons will probably have little impact, since most of the support for the brothers has been from members who aren’t from Tennessee. This may have something to do with the recent directive in Tennessee that forbids members from discussing the matter in public; indeed, rumors have circulated that the GL officers have noted some of the brothers who have spoken out on social media. So far, reports that those members have been disciplined have gone unsubstantiated.

Fortunately, however, it seems that the conversations have not gone unnoticed elsewhere. California is the first to release a public statement to the effect that the Grand Lodge does not condone or support the discriminatory actions of several other states. Hopefully others will follow shortly, before the Grand Lodge of Tennessee convenes at the end of March.

= = = = =

Edit: Chris Hodapp has posted the text from the Grand Lodge of Utah, and the Grand Lodge of DC, both of which came out several days ago.

Social Masonry

May 22, 2015 7 comments

The question came up with one of my friends on Facebook: “Is there too much Masonry on social media?” By that, he was asking if the dozens and dozens of similar Facebook groups, often with overlapping membership, and all seemingly having the same conversations (and disagreements) over and over is somehow bad for the society. Naturally a few wags jumped in to suggest that the problem was that there wasn’t enough Masonry in the Masons on social media. An amusing retort, but it misses what I think is the real issue.

Social media, specifically the big groups like Facebook, offer an opportunity that we constantly remind new Masons about: the ability to “travel” to foreign countries. On Facebook, you won’t attend a lodge, but you can certainly find yourself in a conversation with someone from a different state in the US, or a Canadian province, or (if you don’t mind the time zone lag) brothers from across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. secret-society-social-network

American Freemasons are somewhat insulated by the above-named oceans; most of the US practices some version of the Preston Webb lectures, and the variations between most states are fairly minimal, at least in contrast to the workings and customs in lodges in the UK,Scotland, Ireland, France, and other areas. And because most of us lack some exposure to other workings and customs, we often tend to think that our way is “correct,” which leads to long pointless discussions on why you should (or shouldn’t) wear your ring a certain way, or why our English brothers don’t seem to get into arguments about the feminine Masonic orders, or whether the workings should be learned from a book or verbally, or why a tattoo isn’t a violation of one’s  Masonic obligations.

I’ve often seen a picture of some brother’s new tattoo or some Masonic item, followed by a few comments like “You forgot your oaths,” or “Why are you displaying the secrets?”or “I take my obligations seriously and would never do anything like that!” or even “Are you even really a Mason?” To me, the disturbing thing isn’t that those commenters didn’t know about the different customs elsewhere, but that they immediately jumped to a conclusion and instead of questioning, responded with criticism. Perhaps when we talk about “the universality of Masonry,” some people make the assumption that Masonry is universally practiced the same way as it is in their lodge, instead of assuming the bigger picture, that Masonry is a way to encompass a universally agreeable set of moral values.

Masons on social media would be better served by giving some thought to their comments before typing. Of course you take your obligations seriously, but why would you assume that the person in question does not? Instead of jumping to conclusions when you see a brother espouse a different opinion, ask yourself what may be different about his lodge, his community, or his Grand Lodge that would cause him to think differently. And if you can’t come up with an answer, then ask him directly. Questions like “Hey, I saw that you have a different way of doing ___. Why is that?” will go a lot further toward spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection than assuming that he’s simply doing something wrong.

You may not be able to actually travel to far-off lands, but thanks to the internet and the various media platforms, you can at least get an idea about the different customs and cultures elsewhere. Freemasons should take advantage of those opportunities to learn about each other because we are, after all, one of the oldest social networks in existence.

 

Connecticut Casual

March 22, 2014 6 comments

If you had to make a Venn diagram of the categories “Rap Videos,” “Connecticut,” and “Freemasons,” you’d probably think that the intersection would be 0.

You’d think.

Reel Wold Productions presents: Apathy – “The Grand Leveler”

With special thanks to the officers and brethren of Coastal Lodge No. 57 in Stonington, CT & Bro. Jim Johnson.

Ancient or Modern?

January 22, 2014 3 comments

Freemasonry Today, the publication of the UGLE, has a short article from Bro. John Hamill, Director of Special Projects,  in which he asks the question “Is it time to modernize the rituals?” It’s a great topic, and one that has initiated some bickering discussion in some of the online Masonic communities, with the general consensus that this question should be answered with a resounding “Hell no!”

One might think that being a Past District Lecturer that I’d be completely against this; but I’ve given this some thought, and I think that one could make a case that modernizing the ritual might not be such a bad idea. As Bro. Hamill points out:

The English language is said to be one of the most difficult to learn, in both its written and spoken forms. Part of that difficulty is the wonderfully idiosyncratic illogicality of how we pronounce many of our words, which often has little bearing on the actual letters they contain. Another problem is that a simple word can have different meanings, or shades of meaning, depending on its context, or even where in the country it is spoken.

Our familiarity with words and phrases affects how we use them. Over time, the words develop different meanings or connotations. For example, our current Masonic usage of the word “clandestine” now means something slightly different than it did 150 years ago.  Similarly, some words fall out of favor, some are preferred for written discourse, but are rarely used in spoken conversation. For example; “inculcate.” I suspect that nobody uses this in speech because it’s just a jumble of misplaced consonants.

Bro. Hamill also writes (and many others have pointed out):

English is a living language in which the meaning of words changes over time…

If our language is “living,” does this mean that some of our words and phrases can be taken out to the back field and buried when they are dead?

I bring this up because of practical reasons. As a visitor to many lodges, both in and out of my district, I watched as officers strained to deliver their various lectures and charges. You could see their brows furrowed, perspiration on their foreheads, and the tension just radiating from their body movements as they struggled to recite passages in a dialect that was strange and unfamiliar. Their lack of familiarity with the archaic expressions, I contend, is what gave many — perhaps most — of my brothers such a difficult time. Imagine someone from, say, the US trying to memorize a passage of French or Spanish, with little working knowledge of the language. Yes, you’d recognize some words, and perhaps some would sound vaguely familiar, but how well could you actually deliver the lines — especially knowing that some of the people in the room were listening for each little mistake? I think that the typical 30 to 40 year old Mason probably hasn’t read much 1700s Brit-Lit, at least, not since high school, so the lack of familiarity with the terms and usage turns a few paragraphs of a lecture into something akin to a foreign language.

Yes, I know that part of the appeal of Freemasonry is the rich history, but I sometimes think that those of us who decry the modernization of the ritual — or of any other aspect — is really saying that he made the effort, so now he expects everyone else to do the same. This position can be declared elitist, or possibly libertarian, but to some degree, it’s simply wrong. For example, I don’t hear very many of my brothers asking to bring back the even more ancient usages, such as:

Articulus octavus.

The eghte artycul schewt zow so,
That the mayster may hyt wel do,
Zef that he have any mon of crafte,
And be not also perfyt as he auzte,
He may hym change sone anon,
And take for hym a perfytur mon.
Suche a mon, throze rechelaschepe,
Myzth do the craft schert worschepe.

 

You recognize that, don’t you? Of course you do;  it’s the 8th Article of Freemasonry from the Regius Manuscript. What, are you having a hard time with the 14th century script? Here, let’s modernize the text make it easier to read:

Eighth article.

The eighth article sheweth you so,
That the master may it well do.
If that he have any man of craft,
And he be not so perfect as he ought,
He may him change soon anon,
And take for him a more perfect man.
Such a man through rechalaschepe, (recklessness)
Might do the craft scant worship.

So much easier to understand, don’t you think? Personally, while I find it interesting from a historical aspect, I suspect that if you went back to the late 1700s, we wouldn’t find a lot of Freemasons bemoaning the dearth of 15th century style lectures.

As a counter-point, I also suspect that if you sat down with a bunch of your brothers after lodge, most of you could act out and recite entire sections of favorite movies or TV shows. Most of the brothers around my own age could probably quote passages from Monty Python and the Holy Grail that are at least equal in length and difficulty as any of our lectures, and I know for a fact that quite a few of the younger brothers at my lodge can quote and act out scene after scene from most of the Star Wars movies. What’s the difference between Monty Python and the Middle Chamber? You might argue that it’s the repetition, but I’d say that part of it is the familiarity with the language.  Yes, there’s the repetition, but think about this: Most lodges meet twice a month. A Mason who attends most meetings is going to see and hear the opening ceremony at least 20 times in a year. By the time he’s a senior officer, he could have well seen 80 to 100 opening and closing ceremonies.That is a lot of repetition, certainly much more than one would experience with most movies or TV episodes. And yet, how many times have you  seen a Master of a lodge who could barely stumble through a proper opening and closing?

In answer to his own question,  Bro. Hamill concludes his essay by saying:

Occasionally, we hear calls to modernise those ceremonies, to take out old words and phrases and replace them with modern, instantly comprehensible ones. I hope those calls are never answered. Our ceremonies contain some wonderful set pieces of English language that would be destroyed if we modernised them. Freemasonry is a learning process, and if we have to resort to a dictionary to fully comprehend what we learn, that can only enrich us.

Personally, I enjoy the works as they are. Although not a history buff, I appreciate the connection to the older days of Freemasonry, and I quite like the challenge of tackling some of the unfamiliar phrasing in order to present it as I imagine a brother of 1814 would have done.  But if “modernizing” the ritual means that more members would be able to memorize it — and more importantly, to deliver it well to the newer members — then maybe this is an idea worth examining a little more closely, before we toss it into the “we’ve never done it like that” discard bin.


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.

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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