Friday, November 30, 2007

Revolutionary Tendencies

I will be the first to admit that I have and will always have revolutionary tendencies. Not only am I of Irish decent but first and foremost I am an American and with that comes an inclination to revolt. Revolution is in our collective national DNA as Americans, whether or not our families were here during "The Revolution" (mine were back in Ireland farming, but probably revolting in one form or another).
For my friends across the pond I am referring to the American War for Independence.
From an early age I was raised on fighting for my rights, it was taught to me by my family and in my schools. I was given a steady diet of Boston Tea Party's, Whiskey Rebellion's, Uprisings, Martyrs and Hero's from my boyhood on and I loved every bit of it. It is who I am.
Many of my friends and relatives were quite surprised when at the age of 17 years I decided to enlist in the Navy. I remember one of my Irish cousins back in the old country telling me he hated anyone in uniform, even me, if I were to join the establishment. That part of my family being in the North of Ireland was not to fond of uniformed servicemen. Even my father tried to tell me that if I wanted to join the service to go to college first and become an officer because he knew I would have a problem taking orders from everyone, but at the wise age of 17, I knew better of course, and enlisted anyway.
I never for one minute will ever regret any decision I have ever made in my life because I am a firm believer in going with the flow. I have always made decisions based upon my instincts, regardless of what others may say and it has served me well, even though it has gotten me into trouble now and again. My boot camp company was nearly disbanded after a failed mutiny attempt by me and some buddies that thought our Recruit Chief Petty Officer (recruit leader appointed by the Company Commander[drill instructor]) who was a former Army guy who could not call cadence or orders and ruined an inspection for our company.
We were not disbanded but I learned a very important lesson in teamwork and leadership after countless push-ups and other physical punishment. Our Company Commander explained to us "HMS Bounty" sailors that instead of trying to take out our R.C.P.O. with a petition, like we tried, (yeah, I know a petition sounds pretty lame now but it was almost the end of my navy boot camp career) we should have taken the time to make our shipmate better. He explained that sometimes during our Navy career we might encounter men who we did not agree with, and we would sometimes think that we could do a better job as opposed to how they do things, but we should always remember that they are our shipmate, and our first duty as a shipmate was to be a shipmate.
He told me and my fellow mutineer leaders that instead of conspiring against the R.C.P.O and the C.C.'s we should have helped the R.C.P.O. overcome his faults, because we were all in the same boat and only together could we steer clear of future obstructions.
That was one lesson that I will never forget.
The C.C.'s had to make a decision on the day we arrived at boot camp as to who would lead our company, at the time they did not know any of us like they would learn in the eight weeks to follow, but they had to put one of us in charge so who better than someone with prior military experience. I was appointed to a leadership position a couple of days later due to my bed making abilities (taught to me by my former Army father) but they did not know that on the first day. They made their leadership decision based upon what was on our enlistment papers. They could not have known that the guy they picked could not call cadence, or fumble with marching orders under pressure, they just saw that he had served in the Army and assumed that he could lead the recruits better than some kid from Connecticut or anywhere else, because he knew what it was to serve our country because he already had.
Sometimes when you are put in a pressurized environment you forget that other people are in the same environment with you. Add in some competition and recognition and you can forget that the dumb army guy next to you still swore the same oath and signed the same enlistment papers you did and was in the same boat as you. He was not my enemy, as I thought when he called a right flank march as opposed to the left flank that he was supposed to call for the inspection, he was a confused kid in boot camp far away from his home just like me, and most of all he was my shipmate!

When I read what is happening in Ohio, and some other parts of the country in our fraternity, my first inclination is to join the revolution because those old bastards (my words) don't know what it is they are doing wrong and only by rebelling can we teach them. Then I remember my Chief from boot camp.
Those old bastards are my brothers. Those brothers who forgot what it is to be a true Freemason, are the same brothers who sat and re-sat in officers chairs to keep what their idea of Freemasonry was alive for young upstarts like me to experience.
Yes, we are at a turning point in American Freemason history.
I firmly believe that the ideas presented in papers like "Reform Freemasonry!" are like lighthouses to the ship of Freemasonry. They are shining beacons of light to guide us through troubled waters. Most of the ideas presented are exquisite gems of thought that I will use for the rest of my Masonic career, but my life experience has taught me to be a little more understanding when it comes to men in a position of leadership.

Even when my brothers disappoint me, I have to remember they are my brothers and it is my responsibility as a brother to bring them up to the level that we all aspire to attain.

Just like with my shipmate in bootcamp, who after the failed mutiny was helped by his shipmates to call better cadence and marching orders and we all went on to high honors, we must help our brothers become better Freemasons.

We are all in the same boat.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Discourse On The Chamber of Reflection

They got me, I'll admit it. After having read many stories about this lodge or that instituting a Chamber of Reflection I finally broke down and did a Google search on the subject. I wasn't resisting because I thought the matter trivial, I just thought the name was self explanatory and to be honest it is, to a certain degree.
My first stop was a PDF from the The Institute for Hermetic Studies. It is, from my understanding of it, a third party description on the matter and from the first line it had me hook line and sinker.
" The Chamber of Reflection is one of Freemasonry's most alluring, provoking, and truly esoteric of symbols."
I quickly delved in and found myself as usual, completely smitten with the idea of it. From the aspect of a self proclaimed "esotericly inclined" Freemason, (although I was going to originally put esotericly bent on my description), this was everything I would have liked to happen to me before my initiation. The ritual of self exploration and reflection before taking your first step into the Craft would have been for me extremely satisfying and uplifting. I immediately started to envision convincing my lodge to institute one for new candidates, although that vision was quite fleeting seeing as there are not so many esotericly bent masons in my lodge and after reading a very enlightening Dwight Smith like post on Masonic Musings from Me that thought was completely vanquished.

Never the less it is a subject that holds a prominent position in my mind currently and I would like to open a discussion on the matter.

Does your lodge use a Chamber of Reflection?
If so what jurisdiction are you in?
Although it is a very personal thing, would you share your experience?
How has it affected you as a Freemason?
If you did not have that experience would your opinion of the fraternity change? How?

If your lodge has recently instituted a Chamber of Reflection how did you go about convincing your brethren to do it?
Was it a good change to your lodge?
Has it effected your membership?

I would like to thank in advance any responses from the kind brethren who choose to enlighten me!!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Higher Standards or Lack Thereof

I will never forget while standing in the Northeast Corner for the first time being told by the Worshipful Master that I then stood a just and upright Mason and to forever walk and act as such.
I was not being told for the first time that I should be, fair in ones dealings and actions(Just) and adhering to moral principles:honorable(Upright) but it was the second time in my life that I obligated myself to being someone better than most (the other time was when I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and bear true faith and allegiance to the same.) When I make an oath or obligation to something it is something I try to live up to all the time, not just when I am in uniform or at lodge.
Sometimes I find myself in situations where I feel like some old WWII vet or Ward Cleaver when in the presence of men my age, even though I am only in my early thirties. I was taught at an early age to respect women and people that are older than me, unless they do not act in a respectful manner. It sometimes seems that I am alone in this rearing. Bitch, slut, and other swears, are words that usually don't fit in my daily vocabulary and I was in the Navy. When I have used curse words, it was most definitely deserved and not often. Although I can admit that when in the "pack mentality" that surrounds a group of men I have fell in line with the out swear the other guy vernacular that follows. Even during those times it did not feel right to my soul to behave that way. When I joined Freemasonry I expected something different than the usual boys club humor and alpha male mentality, but I guess I expected too much. Now I don't want you to think that that is the overall way that the brotherhood acts.
On the most part I have been in the presence of gentlemanly brothers and overall Freemasonry asks a man to be something better than the "usual Man" but our American Society as a whole has made the image of a "Gentleman" into something of a wuss, and it reflects in the way most men act when in the presence of other men.
A gentleman treats a woman as a lady, as you would have your mother or daughter treated. Modern man treats them all like pieces of meat to be ogled after and devoured like game. I will be the first to admit that a beautiful woman is something great to look at, but being the older brother of three sisters and the father of two girls, I always have to reign in the animal instinct to spread my DNA everywhere and remember that they are someones sister or daughter and treat them as such.
The same goes to all of mankind. I treat everyone I meet with the same amount of respect that I have for my father and mother and that is a tremendous amount of respect. I give this respect with the expectation of it being returned and even if it is not, I try to keep an even keeled manner even with someone who does not deserve it. That's just the way I am.
Recently on a visit to another lodge, after the degree while enjoying a fine cigar I found myself amidst some brethren discussing their love life and using the vernacular that often accompanies modern men while describing said topic. I kept quiet and stayed in the peripheral of the conversation but left a little for the worse with regards to the Fraternity. I expect every man that takes the obligation of a Freemason to forever walk and act as such but I guess it is too much to ask for in today's society.
The same can be said for the current state of the Masonic blogosphere. Name calling, character assassination, and a general mean spiritedness seems to be prevailing. As a brother who approached the gate of Freemasonry from the electronic world and did much research on the fraternity on the Internet before I made the decision to join I would admonish my brothers, and that is everyone who has made an obligation before God and his fellow man regardless of what Grand Lodge they belong, to remember that they are JUST and UPRIGHT masons and to forever walk and act as such.
Now let me go burn this soapbox I have been standing on and return to better things.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Freemasonry is not a charity. During a recent interview with a candidate I had to state this fact. A while back, a different interested party came to meet with the brothers before one of our meetings and asked what it is we do. He was not entirely satisfied with the cookie cutter answer of "we make good men better" and wanted concrete information on the charitable activities that our lodge does. He stated that his time was valuable and before he made the decision to join an organization he wanted to make sure that they did enough charity to warrant his membership. Now, this very direct line of questioning is not something the brothers that were there are used to getting from a prospective candidate (I was a little late getting to lodge and just was able to get in a hello in at the end of this). Usually men approaching Freemasonry for the first time are a little more timid with their questioning about the craft, but this young man was not. Needless to say that we have not seen that man since that night, because I think he did not believe we did enough charity for what he was looking to do and I am perfectly fine with that. As desperate as we are for energetic young membership we need not portray ourselves as something we are not. I say again we are not a charity.

Back to the interview.

Our prospective member, unlike the young man, had done his fair share of charitable work with a couple of different fine organizations and came knocking on the door of Freemasonry to do charity of the "non-commercial" (his words) type. He was looking to improve himself further! Can you can imagine the smile on my face when I heard that. While my brethren expounded on the charities that our institution is involved in, I tried to refocus our attention to what it really is we do. Yeah we give money to different charities and do charitable works but it is in the making of better men that makes us what we are. We were put in a penniless state to remind us that charity is an important component to the greater good of a man, but it is not the end all be all of one. Freemasonry through its various lessons does much more in making our society better than a simple charity can.

One at a time, by making masons out of men we strive to the better good of all. If done right and to the right man our three degree system reawakens the light that every man was given by our creator. By reigniting that spark a man will do charitable work, not for the sake of the craft but because it is the right thing to do. I feel we sometimes oversell the charitable doings of our organization to legitimize our existence to those who do not know us. That is not what we are put at labor to do as Freemasons.
I tell every prospective brother that the majority of our secrets are already known to him before he enters the craft, he just needs our benevolent order to shed a better light on them.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Crumbling Facades and Past Glory

Last Thursday before my lodges stated communication, while doing my usual perusing of the stuff that lines many of the walls within our old building, I came across a time stained picture that saddened me.
The picture was of our stately brownstone, former Episcopal church turned Masonic temple and was from our lodges 225th anniversary in 1990. It contained a brief history of the lodge and the building that has held us since the early 1900's. What struck me about the whole thing was that I think my lodge has changed more (for the worse) in the last 17 years than the 225 preceding ones.
If you ever read my first two posts about my beginning in the craft you would know that it was the lodge building that fanned the spark of interest in the fraternity into a gleaming fire and if you haven't read them, what are you waiting for.
Anyway, the lodge I belong to is one of the oldest in Connecticut, so old it actually is older than the Grand Lodge of Connecticut. Our original charter is from the Grand Lodge of New York and dates back to 1765. I fondly remember on one of my first nights at the lodge being reminded that our lodge is even older than our country! It kind of puts things in perspective when you are joining an organization with such history. That is the main reason I chose to join the lodge I did, and not the other lodge in my city.
We have had a couple of events where some of the history of the lodge was recounted for those in attendance, not enough for a history buff like myself, but quite enough for most brothers to fall asleep to faster than the reading of minutes!
My lodge has produced, or shall I say, been the mother lodge of many men of great esteem.
Now keep in mind when I speak about my lodge I am talking about the group of men who have met since 1765 under the same name and not the building where we meet. That is something that I think can be a bit confusing for speakers of the English language whose definition of a lodge is a dwelling or small crudely made house in the country. That was my definition of a lodge before I was a mason, but it now refers to the group of men I meet on the first and third Thursday of every month except July and August, but back to the history of my lodge and its building.
The first place they met was at the house of the first Worshipful Master and then at various houses throughout my city and in a couple of buildings until our current structure became available and was converted for Masonic purposes. It was a beautiful episcopal church and after much expense of my Masonic forefathers was turned into an incredible temple of brotherhood.
I came to learn from that old picture on the wall, that the ornate stained glass windows of our lodge building were used in a movie produced by the Grand Lodge called "The Quiet Fraternity". It also stated that at the time of our 225th anniversary, it housed six different Masonic bodies. In my snooping around the building I have seen many reminders of the many different appendant bodies that once lived there and that is the sad part, once. Our building houses many historical artifacts and priceless pieces of Masonic art, but at one point between that 225th anniversary in 1990 and the time I joined they got to the breaking point and were forced to sell the building that had seen so many fine men receive the mysteries of our order.
When I first found out about it, I just could not understand how such a grand historical institution could get to that point. I could not understand how a Masonic temple that had once played host to a former President at its 150th anniversary, could get to the point where there was no other course of action than to relieve the brethren of its financial burden. I could not understand how a Grand Lodge would not step in to save a building that was such a credit to the fraternity. When I first joined my lodge I spent many an hour fantasizing of what it must have been like to glance around our grand hall and see it full of the more than one hundred brethren the hall could and must have held. I also spent many an hour imagining it being filled again after a well laid out plan (of mine)to buy it back and grow the membership to a number that would do it justice.
As I looked at that old picture on the wall after being an officer for almost a year in a line that still includes the Past Masters that played musical chairs with each other when no one new came in to fill in the officers chairs, and seeing how hard it is to grow back an institution like ours, I have come to the sad realization that past glory is exactly what it is, past.
Long gone are the days when a single lodge could fill a hall with even 50 brothers. On most nights we are lucky to get enough to open the lodge properly. There is nothing quite as sad as seeing such a large hall dotted with only a few good men trying to hold on to a glorious past.
This past Saturday I went to the Wardens seminar held by our Grand Lodge for officers who are to be moving up toward the East.
One pleasant side note is that I was thrilled to get to meet in person Tom Accuosti from The Tao of Masonry, and "The Movable Jewel", my fellow bloggers in our little state.
At the seminar we learned how to plan for our time in the East because it will be here sooner rather than later. I still have grand plans in my head to make my lodge a better, more interesting, more esoteric place where younger men like me will want to spend a couple of nights a month in the company of like minded, enlightened men. I have not entirely given up on the idea of returning our building to the craft that built it, it will always be in my dreams.
We are very Lucky that the church that bought our building allows us to remain and still meet as we have for almost 250 years and I have come to realize that as once we met in our Worshipful Masters own house, as long as we are doing what we are supposed to be doing as Freemasons and making good men better, it matters not where we meet but that we meet upon the level and part upon the square.