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The medium is the messed edge

November 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Another blogger comes out of the closet this week. In real life, the mono-nymed Radcliffe happens to be one of my best friends, and has been writing The Metaphysical Freemason for the last year or so. For reasons as yet unexplained, he decided to cast off the cloak of anonymity with the anagrammatically titled post “Edman named.” As it turns out, Radcliffe is really WB Dave Edman, Past Master of Friendship Lodge (voted “Best Lodge in Conn” by 33% of Connecticut bloggers). WB Dave joins the surprisingly small number of blogging brothers who publish under their real names, and I welcome him to the club.

Being an inveterate attention seeker and egomaniac, I fail to understand the hesitation which many of my brothers seem to have over such public disclosure – at least, under normal circumstances. I do understand that some brothers feel the need to publish anonymously, though. In the UK and other parts of Europe, Freemasons have come under scrutiny because of accusations of nepotism and favoritism in government and business dealings; and let’s not forget that Freemasons were actively persecuted in WWII. In the US, some Masons in the Bible Belt might be hesitant to announce their memberships because their neighbors, co-workers, or employers might belong to a congregation that looks askance at the Order, which conceivably could impact one’s job security.Some brothers are just new to Masonry and are shy and unsure of what they can write, for rear of ridicule from less their expressive brethren. And, unfortunately, some Masons even fear reprisals from their own, as last year’s events in West Virginia have showcased.

But these are exceptions. To me, the surprising thing is that 2/3 of the 100+ bloggers that I’ve counted choose to do so under a nom-de-plume. Bro.  Radcliffe Dave writes something that echoes sentiments that I’ve seen elsewhere:

“[…] does it matter what a persons name is, does it cause less credibility or more, when one is attempting to move ideas. I would generally suppose that while of potentially little harm it probably causes even less good.”

The essential question that Dave – and others –  poses is this: “What difference does my name make? What does it matter who I am? Why can’t you just evaluate what I’m saying on its own merits?” And on some level this is a perfectly valid issue: The truth – or at least, what one believes is true – really should take priority over who is reporting it. The value of an opinion offered should not change depending upon who is opining.

At one time in our society,  you might have seen advertisements like “Try Doc Johnson’s Vit-A-Tonic. It adds pep to your step!” in magazines and newspapers. Those were simpler times, though. Marketing experts have long since realized the importance of adding some amount of authority to the context of the message in order to create a degree of  verisimilitude in order to increase the attractiveness of the product. My grandmother would buy almost anything endorsed by Robert Young, the actor who played Doctor Marcus Welby, MD on a show of the same name.

But now, in our post-modern, self-aware society, the discriminating among us demand more than the patina of realism; we want actual authority in order to give meaning within the context. And while the desire for meaning within context is a mark of critical thinking, do we sometimes discount the validity of facts or opinions when they are divorced from the context? I would say that we do, especially in the internet world – but that we do so not without reason. The speed in which various internet hoaxes are passed around by the unaware is amazing, and the tenacity of these hoaxes (or rather, the belief in them) rival the faith that some people have in religion.

Don’t believe me? How many times in the last decade (yes, it’s been at least that long) have you seen emails promising money, free meals, or prizes (from a merger of Microsoft, AOL, Outback, and Disney, apparently) based on your propensity to forward it to as many people as possible. And almost every such email contains the phrase “I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s worth a try, isn’t it?” Newer versions, ironically, even contain such “authority” phrases as “My sister in law is an attorney, and she says it’s legal” or “My accountant says that this is binding” or now, the ultimate in authority:  “I saw this on Snopes.com, so it must be true.”

Yet, the messages which some people would claim have merit even without a context, have certainly been created with some context; context that enhances the impact of the message itself. If I wrote an article about my concerns over publishing something critical of my Grand Lodge (Connecticut, one of the more progressive and forward-thinking states), it would not have the same impact as (for example) an author from West Virginia, knowing that some members of the Craft have been expelled for speaking their mind, and that their Grand Lodge has been actively seeking the authors of an anonymously written blog chronicling the issues involving the Past Grand Master Haas. Indeed, the words of both articles may be the same, but the knowledge of the environment of the authors impacts the sense of meaning that the reader develops.

I’m not suggesting that my brothers in self-imposed anonymity suddenly announce their names; they obviously have their own reasons, and I would never suggest that their reasons are not valid – at least, to them. But I do encourage anyone who can, to write freely about Masonry; to write about their experiences, their beliefs, and their education. In our post-modern times we have opened up our lodges so that non-Masons can see what goes on, in hopes of encouraging some of them to join our ranks. Maybe, by being more open amongst ourselves, we can encourage those of us in the ranks to help mentor and educate each other, as well as those who have chosen to follow similar paths.



The Wind Between the Atoms

July 3, 2008 1 comment

The morning email from my friend 3M was my first clue.

Yet again high praise for my CT blog brethren. Scottish Rite Journal!
Congrats guys for getting etched in the annals of history.

Not being a subscriber to the SRJ – in fact, not even being a member of the SR, I Googled my way through several links to find that one of their book reviewers must not have had any interesting Masonic tomes this month, and decided to do an article on some of the denizens of cyberspace.

Book Review: The Wind Between the Atoms

written by James T. Tresner II, 33°, Grand Cross, Book Review Editor

I must admit that I have not been a fan of the Internet phenomenon known as “blogs” (from web logs). For one thing, irrational as I know this is, I simply think the word itself is ugly. It does not “ring with a joyful tune upon the ear.” In fact, it sounds distinctly disrespectful. In addition, I have never been enough of a small-d-democrat to be interested in what the uninformed had to say on any topic. I grudgingly admit that everyone is entitled to have an opinion, but I am less willing to grant they have a right to publicly inflict it on others. One only needs watch the talking heads of celebrity experts on any cable news channel or listen to “talk radio” to see what I mean.

I have to admit that I was a bit put off at first; I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to in the last couple of years that, upon hearing that I write a blog, have proclaimed similar sentiments about blogging, and it makes me think that they are either short-sighted, or have not bothered to read very many.

Recently, a columnist in a local newspaper wrote almost exactly the same thing as Bro. Tresner, adding that she had no desire to read about the dull aspects of other people’s lives, such as, e.g., what they had for breakfast, or to see pictures of their kids, or to hear about their shopping trips. It’s the height of irony that she, herself, has a regular weekly column in which she writes about exactly those topics. It’s fascinating to think that people who get paid for writing their opinions so often have such a low opinion of those who simply give theirs away.

Fortunately, Bro. Tresner has a good friend who was able to give him a more relevant perspective:

So when I was recently shamed into visiting a Mason’s blog, I was greatly surprised at what was to be found. There was some first-rate writing, and an expression of ideas that stimulate thought. I found that to be true of other blogs as well. There is also a great deal of dross mixed with the gold.

While I’d like to think he was writing specifically about The Tao of Masonry, the fact is that a good number of bloggers really are talented and interesting writers. I read a few years ago that most blogs fail within three to six months, presumably for lack of interest on the part of the writer. That means that those blogs that have crossed that particular bank of the Jordan have done so because the writers have displayed an above-average amount of effort in their craft. They have a dedicated number of readers, they publish with some kind of frequency, and they manage to follow most of the rules of grammar and usage in order to make an article easy to grasp.

I read most blogs through Google Reader, and I catch some of the less-frequently posted blogs through the excellent King Solomon’s Lodge Feed Aggregate – a website that collects RSS feeds from dozens of blogs with Masonic content.

And yes, there is dross mixed in with the jewels; even some of the better blogs have the occasional off day. However, with over 100 blogs (by my last count) with some Masonic content, it’s natural to expect that a few will not meet one’s particular interests.

Rather a bit like those “book” thingies that I keep hearing about.

But since blogs have become the major forum for the exchange of Masonic ideas and debate about modern interpretations of traditional values as well as the forum of most Masonic publishing today, it seemed appropriate to spend a little time alerting you to some of the most interesting. If I omit your favorite, please forgive. There are many, many of them out there.

While I disagree that blogs have become the major forum for discussion – I still believe that web forums are the preferred choice for those interested in the give-and-take of debate – you can’t ignore that blogging has grown incredibly in the last decade. Masonic blogs were virtually unheard of just 5 years ago, and have probably doubled in number just in the last year. Much of this is due to the ease of use of the major blogging platforms: Blogger (now owned by Google), WordPress, and TypePad – all of which have had major upgrades in usability, and all of which are free to use for the basic packages. In other words, nobody needs to be a computer geek to blog anymore.

In Connecticut, no less than 5 blogs were started in the past year. I suspect that most of my brothers, having seen my own modest attempts with the cyber-pen, said to themselves “If Tom can do this, anybody can.” The result is that the Nutmeg State now has the highest per capita Masonic Blogging Density (MBD), which I expect to double in the next month after a few dozen more Connecticut readers see this post.

For the 23 of my Connecticut readers, here’s what Bro. Tresner had to say about one of your local media stars:

Many blogs focus on specific sets of issues. Masonic Renaissance, http://masonicrenaissance.blogspot.com/, created by Bro. Charles Tirrell, PM Momauguin Lodge No. 63, Connecticut, DDGM, and 32°, focuses on the general renewal of interest in Freemasonry and the opportunities and problems it creates.

I’m sure that VW Bro. Charles, my District Grand Lecturer counterpart in the 4th District is aghast at learning of his promotion to District Deputy. Over the last year, I’ve realized that many US states do not have District Lecturers, and for some people the Very Worshipful title doesn’t quite register. I suspect that they see purple and immediately start thinking DD or DDGM.

Of course, as a DD he would only be responsible for 5 or 6 lodges, not the entire 18 in that district, so maybe . . .

Bro. Tresner didn’t comment on the other Nutmeg State bloggers, either for lack of space, or because they choose to write (sort of) anonymously. I’m sure it can’t be for lack of interest, because we’ve got some excellent writers in the 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 6th districts.

A word or two of warning. Many of the writers on these blogs are young men. Even Gandhi, as a young man, did not understand the importance of sacred cows. It was only in his more mature years that he realized that the sacred cow played a truly vital role in the social life and economy of his country. A second, very important point to keep in mind is this: Not all cows are sacred.

I’ve subdued my passions enough to avoid the offhand snarky comment, but I do have to say that the above paragraph made me wonder about the typical reader of the SRJ; why would Bro. Tresner feel compelled to warn the readers about some of the topics that appear on the various blogs? Wouldn’t most readers be able to judge for themselves the worth of a writer’s opinion on, say, Prince Hall recognition, or the seemingly unfair expulsion of Past Grand Master Haas, or Traditional Observance lodges, or the desire of some younger Masons to jettison the fish fries and pancake breakfasts in favor of something else?

I’ve been told by a number of my brothers – usually, but not always older members – that the openness of the internet would be the death of Masonry because too many contentious writers can anonymously sling mud at our sacred cows, which could be read by just anybody, including potential members. Presumably, these potential members would be turned off by the nattering nabobs of negativity and stay away in droves from petitioning.

I still maintain that we, as a fraternity, are better off when those who apply have shown themselves to have critical thinking skills. As I wrote recently on this issue of contentious internet writing:

During my travels, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to meet another half a dozen new Masons who came up to me after a degree to mention that they’ve read this blog. Not only does this increase my readership by almost 50%, it indicates that more and more men – mainly the under-40 group – are using the internet to discover more about our fraternity. It also suggests that they are not being frightened off by some of the contentiousness that can be found on blogs and web forums, to the contrary of those who have decried the use of this medium. Being one of those who used the internet heavily in his own research before joining, I still maintain that those people who are so easily swayed in their opinion of the fraternity by the antics of a handful of anti-Masons Masonophobes – or by a few disgruntled Masons – are probably not the best candidates in the first place.

It may sound as if I’m complaining about the review; I’m really not, and I’m actually pleased to have been included in his list. I’m also glad to see that Bro. Tresner managed to develop a better perspective on blogging during the course of his research. I am, however, just a little disappointed to see that some people – and Bro. Tresner is by no means alone – still regard “Masonic blogging” as an inferior medium. I’m all the more mystified because Bro. Tresner, himself, has his own section –  “Tresner’s Talks” – on The Sanctum Sanctorum, one of the latest blog/web forums to have been set up in the last year. More interestingly, I’ve seen several discussions in the Sanctum Sanctorum forum decrying certain forms of “internet Masonry.” Irony Meter

A web forum for Masons in which some of the participants have issues with Masons on the internet? Really?

I suspect that the big problem is that Masonry – or, more correctly, Masons –  on the internet is still a new concept for the Fraternity, and most of the brothers, many of whom remember a life before television, have not adopted the working tools of the internet. That’s to be expected, of course; new technology that brings about cultural change is often viewed with concern until a large population manages to figure out what to do with it.

My own observation, which is purely anecdotal and not to be taken as any type of statistical study, is that most of the Masons joining in the last few years are under 40 – indeed, we’ve seen a lot of them under 30 at Friendship Lodge – and most of them have used the internet as a tool in deciding to join. Maybe it’s time that some of us learned a little bit more about how that tool works.

That said, the article finishes on a good note:

As you can imagine, the blog list is endless, and as you follow different links into the deepest, darkest regions of Internet Masonry in search of light, remember: have fun, take nothing at face value, and research things for yourself so that you might form your own opinion—although reading the opinions of others makes for fun and education.

Bro. Tresner goes on to list several blogs which he thought worth a look.

The Relevant Mason, by Cliff Porter, who I know mainly through his participation on various web forums.

Ars Masonica, by New York’s well-tattooed Rich Powell.

Freemasons for Dummies, by the irrepressible Chris Hodapp, author of several of those book thingies that people used to read before the internet came along.

Masonic Musings From ME!, by the well-known Ed King of www.masonicinfo.com fame. Is there a Mason with an internet connection who has not been to that site?

Dispatches from Maine, by the engaging Christian Ratliff, who is the District Education Representative, which appears to be similar to the District Grand Lecturer here in Connecticut.

Freemasonry Resources, by Bro. Tim Bonney, a Knight of the North who really should post more often.

Kingdom of Conscience, by Osiris, who appears to have taken his blog down a year ago.

The Inquisitive Master , by Nimrod, who appears to have made 13 posts early in 2008, and has not updated since.

Bro. Tresner also had something to say about my favorite blog:

For Masonry taken seriously, but no too seriously, visit The Tao of Masonry, http://www.masonictao.wordpress.com. It is run by Brother Tom Accuosti, who lists among his credentials “Past Master, Friendship #33.3, AM&FM, Area 51, Atlantis.” Again, thought-provoking articles with a fine sense of balance.

“Not too serious” and “a fine sense of balance?”

That’s Taoism in a nutshell!

Rilly Big Shoe

March 2, 2008 Leave a comment

I never got around to mentioning that back in January, I did a podcast with Cory Sigler of The Working Tools magazine and Masonic social networking site. It was one of those ideas that just sort of took root and spiraled out of control grew into something unforseen.

Cory had wondered if I would like to be a guest, and then we’d spend a half hour or so dishing discussing topics that were appearing on other blogs. As the agreed-upon date crept nearer, I was concerned that I hadn’t heard from him. After a series of calls and emails, it turned out that instead of discussing other blogs, that we were going to interview the guys that wrote “Morals and Dogma for the 21st Century,” a revised version of Albert Pike’s classic that had been written in more modern English in order to make it more accessible to newer Masons. In the end, we were joined by Chris Hodapp, which was a good thing because he was the only one of us who had actually *ahem* read that book. We had a 7-way conversation that lasted 90 minutes.

You can still listen to it online, or download the mp3 on the Talkshoe site:
http://www.talkshoe.com/tc/11669

For those of you who are gluttons for punishment, we have managed to put together yet another episode for your listening pleasure. This time we are going to be speaking with author Dr. Robert Lomas – yes, that Lomas, of the Hiram Key series, Uriel’s Machine, The Second Messiah, etc.

We will also be joined by Bro. Heath Armbruster, who is involved with an amazing study on the Kirkwall Scroll, one of the oldest known Masonic artifacts; it is a scroll which appears to have been made in the 1400’s and is possibly a tracing board for several degree ceremonies.

The Talkshoe format is similar to a live radio broadcast. Listeners can hear this in “real time” as we record. Additionally, you can also register (it’s free, natch) and log in to the recording area, where you can IM questions and comments for us, and if we’re in a tight spot, we will probably even respond to them. The show format even allows us to talk calls from listeners.

The date for this next podcast is Sunday, March 9th at 3:00 pm Eastern time. Hope to see you have you join us!

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Legislating (Masonic) Morality

November 7, 2007 Leave a comment

At the time of this writing, there are a dozen US states in which the AF&AM Grand Lodges do not recognize, or extend amity to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges located within those same states. All of those states are in the part of the US that is generally called “the South,” as they correspond to the states that seceded from the Union during our Civil War back in the 1800s. It seems that every week I read a diatribe from a (usually anonymous) commenter on a blog or web group that the Grand Lodges in those Southern states are “racist” for not recognizing their Prince Hall counterparts, and that they should move with the times, and come into the 21st Century.

And truly, while there is no room for racism in our Craft, it certainly seems that there must be a lot of room for intolerance, impatience, and arrogance; because I see those characteristics displayed quite frequently by the brethren who demand that these Grand Lodges fall in line with the other 38 states. More recently, I’ve even seen a new blogger who has drafted legislation – purely as a thought experiment or conversation point (I hope) – calling for the other states to drop recognition of at least one of these recalcitrant Grand Lodges. I must say that while I applaud the spirit of my brothers who would like to see recognition across all the Grand Lodges in the US, I am astounded and appalled at the behavior that I’ve seen them display toward that end.

Personally, I have no knowledge as to why the last dozen Grand Lodges have not yet extended recognition, nor do I know if indeed, talks are already in the works. I do know that recognition is a highly politically charged issue, not only for the AF&AM Grand Lodges, but also for the MWPH Grand Lodges as well; and it occurs to me that the demands and threats from the sidelines can’t possibly make things happen more smoothly. I’m going to leave aside the ethical considerations of threatening our sister Grand Lodges with the withdrawal of recognition, and focus on a point that I have not seen discussed elsewhere.

If the Grand Lodge of any of those states suddenly recognized the MWPH Grand Lodge of that state, what, I ask you, would actually happen? Would Prince Hall Masons – assuming, of course, that they reciprocate the recognition – suddenly stampede to sit in AF&AM lodges? That seems unlikely to me, and why would they? For the benefit of watching an AF&AM lodge pay some bills and plan the next fish fry? Perhaps for all of you to pat each other on the back after a speech about how great it is to sit in lodge together… and then to perhaps do it all over again in six months or a year? What’s the point of that? Most Masons don’t want to sit in their own lodges if all they’re going to do is argue about the phone bill and have some coffee and donuts afterward.

I’m going to be blunt here: the underlying issue isn’t the recognition itself; there are dozens of unrecognized jurisdictions around the US, mainly groups that have splintered off from a mainstream Grand Lodge. The underlying issue is that the people on the sidelines see the recognition issue as a factor of racism and discrimination. Prince Hall Grand Lodges tend to have mainly (but not exclusively) black members, while AF&AM tend to have mainly (but not exclusively) white members.

Without some insight into the politics and workings of these Grand Lodges, it’s impossible to determine if this is true, even in part. But even so, what do those clamoring from the sidelines expect that immediate recognition of the MWPH Grand Lodges would accomplish? Do they think that a stroke of a pen will end racism in their states? Isn’t that akin to legislating morality?

The real issue is that we sometimes expect our Grand Lodges to “fix” some problem that in actuality should be dealt with at the Blue lodge level – or sometimes even at the individual level.

For the brothers who have been demanding recognition, how many of you have had joint fellowship nights with your Prince Hall brethren? Obviously you can’t sit in lodge together, but that shouldn’t stop you from having dinner together. How many of you have planned a joint event, like a picnic, or a friendly barbecue and horseshoe match? And why stop at dinner? Masonry being about working, how many of you have held joint community service events in your area? Perhaps a joint Child ID event, or a blood drive hosted by two lodges? Here’s an idea: a Masonic weekend in which handy members of the local PH and AF&AM lodges lend their talents and energy to a Habitat for Humanity project?

Any of those have got to be better for jurisdictional relations than sitting in a stuffy lodge room.

The bonds of trust and friendship are not forged by the signatures of Grand Masters on some pile of papers; they are formed by getting together, face to face, side by side, and working at something useful. They are formed by meeting on the level, and by doing things that you both have an interest in doing.

Too often, when faced with a problem in the Fraternity we look at our Grand Lodge as if it were an adversarial organization. We demand that “they” should do something – when we aren’t demanding that “they” should stop doing something. We forget that we, ourselves, are the Grand Lodge, and that the Grand Lodge officers take their cues from what the members of the Craft say and do. If your Grand Lodge officers don’t hear or see any interest at the Blue lodge level, they certainly aren’t going to have any motivation to move the issue along at the Grand Lodge level.

This doesn’t mean that I think those clamoring from the sidelines should stop raising the issue; change moves with the glacial speed in Masonry, and sometimes we need people to help us keep track of our progress (or lack thereof). But instead of expending so much energy in anonymous rantings, perhaps we would all be better served if they put those energies toward promoting true brotherhood in a more constructive manner.

You can’t beat this cover

November 6, 2007 Leave a comment

Most US states have a Masonic publication, like a magazine or a newsletter. A few years ago, we went from a 4 color mag (The Square & Compasses) published quarterly to a monthly newspaper (The Connecticut Freemason). It’s more timely and gives more opportunity for the various lodges to get smaller articles in. It costs as much as the old magazine, but I think it’s worth the expense, if only for the sheer amount of information that we can pass along to the brothers – especially to those who don’t have the opportunity to get out to lodge anymore.

Like the publications from other states, though, it’s generally filled with the usual array of “shake and smile” or “grip and grin” photos that are the hallmark of in-house communication organs all over the known universe. You can’t help it; most articles and photos are supplied by the lodge members themselves, and invariably the only time someone thinks of taking a picture is when the Master of a lodge happens to shake hands with the latest award recipient.

Fortunately, the latest guy to be stuck with in charge of the newspaper is a creative sort, and between he and the other poor guy who got stuck with camera duty photo and layout expert, they’ve managed to snatch creativity from the very jaws of the mundane.

Since I only have a handful of readers in Connecticut, I thought that the rest of the Masonic world might enjoy seeing the latest cover. A number of us have had a good chuckle over it, but even so, it’s interesting to see how good graphic design doesn’t necessarily become outdated.

This link to the November CT Freemason will open a large PDF file of the entire newspaper, with the front cover prominently displayed.

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