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Uncivil Unrest

January 23, 2017 6 comments

II. Of the CIVIL MAGISTRATES supreme and subordinate.

A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concern’d in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates; for as Masonry hath been always injured by War, Bloodshed, and Confusion, so ancient Kings and Princes have been much dispos’d to encourage the Craftsmen, because of their Peaceableness and Loyalty, whereby they practically answer’d the Cavils of their Adversaries, and promoted the Honour of the Fraternity, who ever flourish’d in Times of Peace. So that if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State he is not to be countenanc’d in his Rebellion, however he may be pitied as an unhappy Man; and, if convicted of no other Crime though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his Rebellion, and give no Umbrage or Ground of political Jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible.


Freemasons in the US, at least, those not living in caves, can’t help but be aware that the recent US Presidential elections (and the equally important, although lesser discussed senatorial and representative elections) has been the most hotly contested race – and the most surprising upset –  probably since Ronald Reagan.

For reasons which I’m not inclined to discuss here, the election upset was so unexpected that the concern and complaints about it have gone on long after election day, and even after our new President was installed… err, inaugurated. Indeed, Facebook and Twitter seem to be talking about little else lately; even posts about bacon seem to be less frequent.

There is a time-honored tradition of not discussing religion or politics inside a Masonic lodge. Ostensibly to help maintain the harmony of the membership, some Freemasons mistakenly interpret this as neither subject is to be discussed at all, or as that neither subject should be discussed in any Masonic forum (either an online forum or a group at the local pub). Historically, however, it is probably the case that early lodges, not wishing to be seen as a society that might harbor traitors to the Crown or the Church, banned such discussions to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The tradition was strong enough in the early 1700s, however, to motivate Anderson to include it in his Constitutions.

I’m not surprised to see Freemasons on both sides of the election disagreement (4 sides of you include the Libertarian and Green party candidates), and frankly, given the nature of the contest, I’m not surprised to see many of them speaking out so vocally online. I am, however, a little disappointed to see some of them attacking each other, instead of limiting their arguments to attacking the candidates or their positions, characteristics, and perceived shortcomings.

While I’m all for keeping religious and political discussion out of the lodge meetings themselves (although it might liven up a few lodges after listening to the drone of the minutes), I’d argue that to keep Masons from talking about those topics with each other would be unnatural. Can you imagine the discussions that must have taken place around taverns and dinner tables in mid-1700s America? It’s conceivable that the American Revolution might not have taken place if the men – the Freemasons – of that time had interpreted the tradition the same way that so many of us do now.

Yet, despite my assertion that political discussion after the meeting (or online) is part of human nature, I’m still disappointed in how I see many of my fellow Masons going about it. Recent brain scan MRI studies have shown that political and religious thinking show up in the same areas as self-identification, meaning that our political philosophies are an intrinsic part of who we are as a person. Attacking and insulting each other is certainly not going to change anyone’s mind; if anything, human nature will just make that person dig in and more self-protective.

To be sure, some people can keep it light. Others have learned how to discuss seriously, but without rancor. It’s possible, really. But if your own argument is reduced to calling someone — whether a friend or a complete stranger — an insulting name, then maybe it’s time that you re-examine your own beliefs.  Or better yet, turn off your phone or computer and go get some fresh air.

there is a reaction

March 16, 2016 10 comments

GL-TN-Response

The Grand Lodge of Tennessee, the other major player in the situation currently unfolding in US Freemasonry, issued their response to the suspension of fraternal relations by the Grand Lodges of California, and of Washington DC.

It might be cynical thinking on my part that instead of posting these as they come, I should have a page that has the list and we could keep adding to it.

 

Pitchforks into ploughshares

March 4, 2016 6 comments

Freemasons that have been online in the last few weeks have been discussing the news item that the Grand Lodge of Tennessee expelled two active members of the fraternity for the presumed violation of the Masonic Code, which prohibits, in part, homosexual behavior.

I would like to take the opportunity to mention that I’m very disappointed at the open displays of intolerance and outright prejudice.

No, I’m not talking about Tennessee, or Georgia, or the other Grand Lodges which have made similar noises. I’m talking about the comments that I’ve been seeing all over social media from other members of the fraternity who do not support the decision.

Look, brothers, I get it. Perhaps you have worked through your own prejudices about different things, or perhaps you grew up without understanding how people can have those ideas. And you understand that Freemasonry is one of the few social institutions that allows men from various classes and cultures to meet together without the concern for titles, labels, or other forms of prejudice, and you are angry that some Grand Lodges (or at least, their officers) do not seem to interpret the purpose of the society in the way that you do. torches-pitchforks

But many of you are simply lashing out, and your righteous indignation is not helping your cause. Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen some of you use terms like “hayseeds,” “morons,” “bigoted,” “idiots,” and sadly, much worse. I’ve seen accusations that the members of those states have forgotten — or never knew — their Masonic duties. I’ve seen many of you suggest that those Grand Lodges are not worthy of recognition, that all enlightened Grand Lodges should immediately rescind any agreements of amity with them. And I’ve seen some of you suggest things much more crude.

Is this how Freemasons should act toward anyone, especially each other?

Most of us have a charge in our obligations to “whisper good counsel” to an errant brother, to help to set him aright “in the most tender manner.” The idea behind this is that taking somebody aside to talk to them is generally more helpful than screaming epithets from a distance. It’s not just Freemasonry, it’s a factor of human nature. You can not teach people tolerance and respect by failing to display it in your own behavior.

The Grand Lodges of other jurisdictions have already been discussing the situation, and some, as you know, have released statements regarding their position. Instead of continuing to insult (because that’s what you are doing) your brothers in other states, it would be more useful to turn your energies toward letting your own Grand Lodge know what you think. And please, let’s treat our fellow Masons in Tennessee, Georgia, and elsewhere with respect and consideration. You may not agree with their opinion, but ranting at them on the internet is not the best way to demonstrate what tolerance should be about.

After all, when was the last time you changed your mind on some issue because somebody called you an idiot?

 

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.

A backwards glance

January 13, 2016 1 comment

I started 2015 with every intention of getting at least one post a month up, and I actually did pretty well, only faltering in the last two months of the year. But I averaged more than one a month, so I’ll call that a win.

Last year was an interesting one for me. I completed my York Rite degrees, and even though I haven’t written much about them (okay, almost nothing, really), I can’t stress enough how they were worth waiting for, and that any Craft Masons who have an interest in the history or ritual of Freemasonry should definitely look to their local Chapter for the next leg of their journey.

Writing about that reminds me that I really haven’t been active in any of those bodies lately, owing in part to some work commitments, and to some more recent and unanticipated family commitments. I suspect that one of the reasons we see so many retired guys in the Craft, and more in the York Rite is because it’s difficult for younger guys to make the time to get involved in all the different aspects.

Freemasonry in Connecticut is beginning to settle down from the last few fractured years, after a major turnover in our Grand Line. The bigger lesson in all this has not gone unnoticed by Grand Lodges in other jurisdictions: progressive Grand Lines may be the easy way to go, but they are only as progressive as the will of the Craft allows.

We had some interesting things in Freemasonry, too, at least, in the online world. Facebook alone had several hundred conversations on which way you should wear your ring, and the topic shows no sign of slowing. Also popular on social media were discussions about Masonic bling, with the designs of our working tools becoming more stylized and less traditional looking — a trend that some people aren’t completely happy with.

And speaking of online Masonry, I’m glad to see that our Grand Lodge has thought to get a virtual lodge started; it won’t be the first, but hopefully this will be a trend that will become more common, and will be one more way for brothers to connect, who would otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.

WBC hates gay Masons

The Westoboro Baptist Church found itself in a quandary when they realized that it was the Freemasons who were outlawing homosexual behavior.

Many of the  brothers in the online community — most of them tending to the younger side of our membership demographic — were disappointed by the actions of the Grand Lodges of both Tennessee and Georgia. Tennessee, which had on their books a prohibition against homosexuality, saw proceedings against a member — a Past Master with a good record — after he posted photographs of him and his (male) spouse after a wedding ceremony. Georgia, not to be outdone, saw the outgoing Grand Master send out an edict which made both homosexual activity and “fornication” offenses subject to Masonic discipline. The real outrage (again, online) happened after the Grand Lodge of Georgia had their annual communication and passed that edict into Masonic law.

The last year also saw some nice activity on some blogs and podcasts. Whence Came You, The Masonic Roundtable, and The After Lodge Podcast were particular standouts for group podcasting, and show no signs of slowing down. On the written side, I’m glad to see that The Millennial Freemason and The Midnight Freemason still turning out thoughtful pieces, and have been joined by a new Mason on the block, Fresh from the quarry.

Naturally, I have these and other fine resources listed at Ashlars to Ashes. Go visit some of them.

Before I wrap this up, I should note another new blog that appeared at the end of the year: The Past Bastard, an Onion-ish site for humorous pieces and satire. Well, I certainly hope they are satire, although after reviewing some of the activities of real Masons from the last few years, I’m beginning to think that the line is becoming very thin, indeed.

The Grey Area

July 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Since everybody else is all gaga about some kind of proposed TV series about Freemasons that’s been going around lately, I figured I’d try my own hand at marketing a Freemason-themed movie based on the idea of a script from a book I haven’t written, for which I got the idea by lurking at fanfic groups.

Here’s the pitch:

A new Mason looks to the Worshipful Master of his lodge for some guidance, and ends up being asked to become a Steward – which compels him to spend his time cleaning and cooking, after which he is slowly coerced into memorizing lectures. Before he’s even aware of what’s happening, he is seduced into taking committee positions, running picnics, and planning lodge events, while the Master and other lodge members become more and more demanding of his time and energy.

The story continues following him over the next several years as he makes his way through the officer’s line and eventually becomes the Master of the lodge – during which time he mentors a new Mason by asking him to take on some simple duties…

I’m going to pitch this book idea, so I don’t want any of you people stealing this, okay? I’m going to call it:

Fifty Shades of Freemasonry.

How most Masons spend their first couple of years at their lodge.

I’m hoping to get enough donations so after I finally write the book, and then script, and then get the movie deal, we can shoot on location at such exotic places as Podunk, Connecticut.

 

You’ve Got Mail. Now answer it!

June 30, 2015 6 comments

I think that rarely a month goes by in which the /r/freemasonry group on Reddit does not see a question like this:

“I am very much interested in joining a local lodge but haven’t had much luck getting a response back from the lodges I contacted. I contacted one via email and then followed up with a phone call about a month ago but haven’t heard back. I also contacted another lodge about a week ago and still eagerly waiting for a response. Is this typical? Is there anything more I can be doing?”

Reddit tends to be a younger demographic, so the responses are often wry or exasperated comments about the old-timers in charge of a lodge who don’t understand email, or how lodges haven’t kept up with the changes. Usually they tell the person asking the question to have some patience, and to keep trying, because this kind of thing is typical for most lodges.

“I emailed a lodge about a week ago through their contact us form and published email and haven’t heard anything back. Wondering if it would be prudent to start exhausting some other methods of finding contact or whether I should instead just sit tight and be patient.”

I used to think that way, myself, but I’ve changed my mind. I now believe that we should not encourage petitioners to keep trying to join a lodge in which the members do not seem to have a clue as to how communication works. Email — indeed, anything internet related — might have been the “wave of the future” a generation ago, but now it’s the acceptable methods of communication, and any lodge that can’t figure out how to use it should probably just die a natural death.

“I’ve been interested in the Freemasons for sometime and would like to petition my local lodge, however I do not know how to contact them. The lodge locator site shows my closest lodges but offers no means of contact. I don’t want to just show up at a meeting date and ask, as that seems rude.”

Thirty years ago, electronic mail was something for scientists, universities, and geeks. Twenty years ago, email was common, but still somewhat novel. Ten years ago, email had become one of the standard methods of business communication. Today, many businesses are giving up their fax line as most documents are now more easily scanned and emailed. If you have a cell phone (approx. 75% of US residents), then you have an email address.

“I’m interested in joining, but I have contacted 3 Lodges in [city] as well as the Grand Lodge of [state] with no response. I don’t want to be a nuisance, so I’m curious if there is something I’m missing!”

There is absolutely no reason for a Masonic lodge to not have an email address. More importantly, there is no reason why several members should not be checking that email address. Free email addresses are readily available from a variety of providers, including Google, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, and your phone service provider.

“I’ve been interested in the Freemasons for sometime and would like to petition my local lodge, however I do not know how to contact them. The lodge locator site shows my closest lodges but offers no means of contact. I don’t want to just show up at a meeting date and ask, as that seems rude.”

Apparently a lot of Masons have taken a step or two toward modern times. Many lodges actually do have an email contact. Unfortunately, all too often it belongs to Old Jake — remember Jake? He was the Secretary back in 2004. He’s in Florida now. Nobody knows where those emails go.

“I exchanged e-mails with someone about a year back, we met and discussed everything. He seemed really enthusiastic. Then he disappeared after the lodge went dark for the summer months. He did not come back after the summer as far as I can tell.”

Those of us still young enough to be in the working world understand that sending an email to the lodge in care of “oldjake1932@prodigy.net” doesn’t look very professional, nor does it inspire confidence. And I do understand that while having your own domain name for your lodge sounds cool and modern, it’s really not necessary; in fact, just that type of thing will be guaranteed to become a burden at some point when the people who are supposed to  handle the re-registration aren’t around. So, let’s keep it simple.

“I contacted the [state] lodge through their online form last week but haven’t heard anything. I’m just wondering if there are local masons I could meet through here or if I should do something else to contact the lodge. I don’t see any events on their website to attend.”

Here’s my suggestion (are you listening, Grand Lodge officers?): Have one of the more technically inclined guys in a lodge (or his grandson, or any passing high school student) register a Gmail account with a name that is similar to the lodge. For example, my lodge would be “friendship33@gmail.com.” Then, go into the settings and have any mail that comes into that address immediately forwarded to the Secretary, and two or three other members of the lodge. Give all of them access to that account so any one of them could respond to a potential applicant.

“I reached out to the GL here and got invited to an “Brother Bring a Friend ” event at the respondent lodge. I got dressed up, showed up early and waited for about an hour before being told they had canceled it (but not update the webpage or let me know since my RSVP.) It was disappointing and the lodge’s secretary I was in e-mail contact with seemed generally remorseful so no trouble there. My initial e-mail was December ’12, the event I showed up to was January ’12. I e-mailed again in January to no response and then again in late April to no response.”

I’m not going to walk you through all of the steps because a) it’s easy enough to figure out, and b) the people who really need to be doing this aren’t reading my blog, anyway. They are probably too busy passing around the latest Facebook “Remember when mail came with a stamp once a day? Like and Share!” memes.

“I moved to a new town a couple months ago and have had the hardest time getting in touch with these people. They don’t answer phones, respond to voicemails or emails (i’ve tried like 4 email addresses).”

Naturally, the same courtesy should apply to returning voice mails. If someone has taken the time to find the contact information for the lodge, the lodge needs to make sure that someone — and preferably more than one person — will return that message in a timely manner.

“A few weeks ago I sent an email to my local lodge requesting information on becoming an mason. I hadn’t heard anything back a week later and decided to re-forward my original email (I mentioned that I was concerned that my email went to a spam/junk folder.) this happens to me from time to time. At this point, another week has passed. I certainly don’t expect immediate replies but I’m curious about whether my emails have been received or not. Perhaps I’m going about contacting the lodge in an incorrect manner… Any feedback?”

I have seen this topic come up countless times over the years, and while it was funny back in 2005, I find that I’m actually becoming embarrassed to hear these stories, over and over. What kind of organization does not understand how proper, courteous, business communication happens in the real world?

“Hey, I’m a 21 year old who’s interested in becoming a prince hall mason. I’ve contacted the grand lodge, sent an email, and even left my number and no one has gotten back to me in [state].”

I’ll tell you what kind: one that will eventually no longer have people seeking to join.

“I was told that from petition to a phone call or other contact is an exercise in patience. I talked to a guy in a neighboring town say it took him 6 weeks to get a call.”

When I’ve spoken up about this in other venues, I’ve had members — mainly, but not always, older guys — try to explain to me that Freemasonry is a slow process. “People always expect something right away,” they have told me. “Freemasonry isn’t about the instant gratification,” is the message — as if that’s supposed to excuse a lodge that has left a potential member wondering if he has done something wrong.

“I’ve tried various means of contacting people in [city], as well as the Grand Lodge in [state]. This includes e-mail, contact forms, and by phone. I don’t want to come across as pushy, so what should I do next?”

Freemasonry is not about instant gratification? I’m going to have to call BS on this line of reasoning. We still have US states who push dozens, if not hundreds of candidates through in the One Day Class/Blue Lightening/Mister to Master, or whatever they call it in that area. Even the idea of just a few weeks between degrees sounds like a quick sprint to some of our European brothers who may take six to twelve months between degrees.

Again: email and voicemail are not the wave of the future. They are long-established methods of communication, and any lodge that can’t figure out how to use them does not deserve to have the rest of us telling potential candidates to “wait with patience.”

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