Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rightous Indignation

"It belongs to small-mindedness to be unable to bear either honor or dishonor, either good fortune or bad, but to be filled with conceit when honored and puffed up by trifling good fortune, and to be unable to bear even the smallest dishonor and to deem any chance failure a great misfortune, and to be distressed and annonyed at everything. Moreover the small-minded man is the sort of person to call all slights an insult and dishonor, even those that are due to ignorance or forgetfulness. Small-mindedness is accompanied by pettiness, querulousness, pessimism and self-abasement."--Aristotle, Virtues and Vices
"We may be angry and sin not; but this disposition may become sinful, and this in the highest degree. It is so when it is excessive, when it is rage, and makes us lose control of ourselves. It is so, and may become a vice, when it leads us to wish evil to those who have offended us. It is resentment when it prompts us to meet and repay evil by evil. It is vengeance when it impels us to crush those who have injured us. It is vindictiveness when it is seeking out ingeniously and laboriously means and instruments to give pain to those who have thwarted us. Already sin has entered."  James McCosh

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."  Buddha

and the most important ones for those of us with a blog.

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.  Ambrose Bierce

Always write angry letters to your enemies. Never mail them." James Fallows

So the dust has cleared, the fires are out and a survey of the battlefield is complete. I am human and as a human being I am capable of great things and small. As a Freemason I will continually struggle with subduing my passion, a recurring theme here at the North Eastern Corner, but as a human the fire of my passion can burn bright, it just needs to be kept under control. The best thing about a blog is it can be a great funnel to collect and channel my creative tendencies but that can also be a bad thing.
For two years I have put myself out to lead my lodge and for two years I have been on the short end of things. It hurts. The first time,I did not stick my neck out but resolved myself that the Brothers would make the best decision. The second time I really put myself out there and they decided again. Both times I was not chosen by the people that were there on the night of the election. Duplicity and deceit abounded the second time around and I let the bad intentions of others blind me of the good intentions of the rest. In my humiliated rage I vented here on the corner and my angry words and thoughts, although quite profound and timely, polluted the light that I am capable of and for that I am sorry. I could not see the forest for the trees.
In both elections and in the wee hour times after lodge I have spoken with men who want and believe in the same things as me. Twice now a large group of Brothers voted for something and were beaten by those who were voting against something. It has just been a numbers thing. Collectively there are more Brothers in my lodge that want to grow something than there are ones who want to watch. I let my small minded anger loose sight of this fact and asked for a demit in order to show those guys just how wrong they are and to separate myself from those that wronged me.
This was completely justified in my small minded state because I was defaced and those that voted against me were evil and I wanted nothing to do with them. How could I sit in lodge with men who attacked me so?
The funny thing about time is that we all have loads of it and our perception of that time greatly affects how we act. In my righteous indignation I surmised that my valuable time was not worth giving to those men who voted out of fear or ignorance against something, completely forgetting about the ones that voted for something. I acted upon this egregious assault and wanted to stomp off somewhere to sulk and regroup.
I talked to many of my Bothers and up until last night was completely resolved to martyring myself for the cause of perfect Freemasonry.
Had time been against me my demit would have been accepted and I would have left something and many men who I have come to love and trust, but time was with me. As the blazing fire of my rage dissapated I looked out and saw a band of brothers circled around me waitng for the steady light to return and I realized that abandoning the things that had hurt me so would also leave behind those who had not.
I will not go through with my demit.
I will take some time off from my lodge because I need some.
Another lesson learned Jack.
Time heals all wounds and I really need to subdue my passions....someday.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Struggles of an Esoterically Inclined Freemason part 2

The struggles of an esoterically inclined Freemason continue…

After another humiliating defeat at the hands of those who think that younger Masons only goal is to change things for changes sake, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the definition of a lodge and what the term has come to mean.

The lodge in its classical definition is a group of Freemasons from a particular town or neighborhood assembled and chartered by a Grand jurisdiction to perform the degrees of the craft. One of the most confusing things about the term lodge is that it becomes synonymous with the building or place the lodge meets. When masons were actual builders of structures they would often meet at their place of employment to instruct each other, to gain skill and help and support each other. I have always imagined a tent hastily thrown up on the side of a cathedral with masons doing business by candle light. When the first non-builders began entering into the craft there was no central meeting place as we have now and meetings would be held in any place that could properly be guarded from people who were not part of the group. Back then there was no confusion as to the meaning of the term lodge; it simply was the term to call the group, like a congregation or flock.

As more and more non-building masons entered into the fraternity speculative masonry was born. A lodge was no longer a place that men of a particular skill set met and discussed work, it became a place where philosophical and moral allegories replaced the simple building principals and instructions. The main reason this happened, in my opinion, is because that at the time many of these men lived in oppressive and authoritarian societies and the secret modes of recognition of masonry allowed them to be very selective in the company they kept in order to discuss enlightenment ideals that could have easily led them to incarceration and or death at the hands of their oppressors. New members were carefully investigated because if they let in someone of lesser ideals or morals it could literally endanger their lives. It mattered not where you came from or what your place in society was, all that mattered was that you could meet with men of a like mind on the level to expand your understanding of bigger things and help each other out as Brothers. This selective association aspect of a lodge is very important but I will address that later. As the ‘speculative’ masons replaced the ‘operative’ masons they needed a place to meet and since it was not near the place that employed them anymore it became a place that was convenient to the members of the lodge.

Freemasons began to meet in taverns, public houses and coffee rooms and the modern lodge was born. The place where you met almost became as important as the people you met there and the confusion began. A lodge of masons meeting at the Goose and the Gridiron Ale House would be loosely known by the place where they met. As speculative Freemasonry exploded and the separate lodge’s treasuries grew the Masonic temple was born. The men who met regularly as Freemasons wanted a permanent place to carry on their traditions and with a lot of money from its membership they began to build like their predecessors but this time for themselves.

Temples and Halls sprang up around the globe and since the Freemasons who met there were as a group termed a lodge, a Masonic ‘lodge’ took on a whole new definition and existence. The men who met in the lodge became less important and the ‘lodge’ became the focus of attention. The ‘lodge’ was the recipient of grandiose gifts and decorations of its dedicated members and the men of that lodge belonged to the ‘lodge’ and not the group of men who met there. The name and number of the ‘lodge’ you belonged became a badge of honor that you wore on a sleeve and its history and traditions were carried out with sacramental reverence and esteem. It was something a man could attach himself to, if he so wished, to add legacy to his own existence.

Herein lies the problem, when the lodge of Freemasons took on the existence of the ‘lodge’ it became less stringent upon the members and more focused on membership. The temples and halls needed vast amounts of money to operate and in order to accommodate this need a ‘lodge’ brought in as many men as it could and this only exacerbated the problem. A lodge of Freemasons no longer was a group of men who wished to discuss philosophy and morality in a selective and secret environment to help and support each other as brothers, it became a place where a man went to see the rituals of Freemasonry on a grand stage. Lodges with 100’s of men in membership became common and the institutionalization of Freemasonry occurred.

Unfortunately the spirit of the craft was lost in this institutionalization. The ‘lodge’ did things for the ‘lodge’s’ sake and the traditions of each lodge trumped the fraternal communion between Brothers. It was impossible to know and care for such a large group of men which was one of the principal reasons for a lodge of masons to form and the care of the ‘lodge’ became the focus.

When I joined this fraternity I was drawn into it not because of any ties or bonds to a ‘lodge’ but out of a search for the answers to the bigger questions in life. When I knocked on the door of a ‘lodge’ I was quickly lulled into the belief that the ‘lodge’ was the most important thing and that only by building or rebuilding that ‘lodge’ I could then start the quest that I originally began. There was only a small number of men in my ‘lodge’ that even dared to delve into the deeper aspects of the human condition and the majority were very happy to watch or participate in the dramatic aspects of the ritual and never take it to the next level. I existed in this environment with the belief that if only my brothers could save our ‘lodge’ and take part in the rebuilding could they discover the deeper aspects of our craft. This belief led me to experience many different lodges and ‘lodges’ in order to find something that would unite my ‘lodge’ into a lodge. (I am sorry for the confusion.)

This zeal for building led to me making excuses all of the time for some of the men I called brother that I would never associate with outside of Freemasonry. It was an easy exemption to make because I wanted my ‘lodge’ to be the best and in order to be the best we needed as many dues paying members as possible. In six years the amount like minded brothers I gained within my ‘lodge’ was very small and we would talk all of the time of how our common needs and desires not being met by our ‘lodge’. Time is a very precious thing and the only time many of us would finally have these philosophical discussions was after ‘lodge’ and since the more theatrical aspects of Freemasonry take a very long time, sometimes we found ourselves squeezing these conversations into a tiny scrap of time or way too long into the night, neither of which is very efficient or fair to men with families. Our solution to this problem was to try and turn our ‘lodge’ into what we came into Freemasonry for. We convinced ourselves that deep down in every Freemasons heart was this same desire and we believed if they only experienced this esoteric side of the craft the other brothers would join us in our quest.

It took two very humiliating defeats at the hands of the men who did not want to change their ‘lodge’ for me to finally realize that my ‘lodge’ can never become the lodge I wanted to be in. The lodge I was a part of had to meet at a different time than my ‘lodge’ and the dear brothers to whom I wanted to associate with and have the discussions of the deeper things in life were slowly being disillusioned with the fraternity and our ‘lodge’. I mean in no way to put down the men of my ‘lodge’ who do not think my way. They are happy with the Freemasonry that is delivered to them and it was very wrong of me to think that I could change things that they believe are sacred and unchangeable. They love the ‘lodge’ for the ‘lodges’ sake and it was a small group of newcomers with vision and initiative that tried to upset that belief. I have requested a demit from the ‘lodge’ I spent six long years trying to change because of this realization.

My vision of a Masonic lodge is a small group of like minded individuals who wish to explore the deeper meaning of life and to help each other become better men in every way. I believe that the rituals of Freemasonry are a tool to be used to enlighten a new comer or Brother and to test the dedication of the man to the lodge, but they are not the end all be all of the craft. Brotherly love is not something to be handed out flippantly. A man must prove himself worthy of the greater trust that comes with the ever expanding understanding and obligations of the order of Freemasons. Once earned that trust can be used to sit in a selective meeting where men can discuss things that they would not dare to in mixed company and to use the tools of the Freemason to help each other and the world they live in. This will naturally lead to the Brothers in being very selective of who they let into this mystic tie or band of Brothers. When men of a like mind come together in order to do things that improve themselves it will naturally lead them to try and improve the world around them as a unit. Charity should not be something that is forced upon a brother but something that wells up naturally. These are some of the things I believe in and want to dedicate my very valuable free to to.

I am not going to join another ‘lodge’ but I am desperately searching for a lodge. The quest begins anew.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Young Man and an Old Gentleman

There was once a young man in the prime of his life who underwent an event that no man should ever have to experience. The sheer joy of the upcoming birth of his first son was shaken to the ground when he discovered that there were serious complications that would affect his soon to be newborn son. During many long nights of researching the problems that his unborn son had, he also underwent a spiritual and mental change that caused him to reflect for the first time in his life on what his own life had been about to that point. This realization of the preciousness of the gift of life sent him on a quest for answers to the bigger questions. He left his house and began searching with a heart full of trust and wonder.
The road the young man traveled on was winding and confusing but he soon found himself on a small side road where he met and old gentleman sitting on a bench. The old gentleman was dapperly dressed as if he was going to be attending a function but his clothing was worn and dirty. The young man approached him and asked about his attire. The old gentleman started off by telling the young man a tale of mystery and history. He said that he had been where he was for a long time and that he had a glorious past. The young man was full of love and hope because that was all he could muster in his trying time, listened carefully to the tales the old gentleman told him and because of his mysterious demeanor found himself entranced with what he heard. He left the old gentleman and went back home filled with questions.
In between doctor visits with his wife and ordealing consultations with specialists about his unborn son, the young man spent all of the rest of his free time digging deeper into the story the old man had told him. He went back time and time again to that side street and talked more with the old gentleman and eventually made up his mind that he would help the old gentleman regain that told of glory even though the old gentleman never asked. He spent countless time at the old gentleman's side learning the stories and making them his own and tried to clean up the old gentleman's appearance so that he could find others that would help him on his new found quest and not be put off by the worn and dirty attire. His dedication to save the old gentleman was a reflection of the young mans need to gain control of something in a world that seemed to be going out of his control. The complications his unborn son had seemed to increase with every doctor visit and the young man yearned for something to anchor him.
The day of his sons birth came all too soon and the young man was not able to go and be with the old gentleman for a while. He spent days and months in the hospital tending to his sick son. The young man never stopped thinking about the old gentleman and he wondered why the old gentleman, who had said they were friends, never reached out to him in his time of need but he made an excuse up in his mind that the old gentleman was just set in his ways and couldn't leave the place where he always was. His son lost the battle with the problems he was born with and the young man had to do something no man should ever have to, bury his own child. At the funeral the young man saw the old gentleman in the crowd and the old gentleman expressed his sympathy as he had found out about the death in the newspaper. The sight of the old gentleman warmed the young mans heart and reaffirmed his dedication to saving him.
Soon after the death the young man feverishly set about mending the old clothing and polishing the worn shoes so that the old gentleman would shine again. At times the dedication to the old gentleman took much of his time but the young man desperately needed something old and grand to tie himself to because he had lost something beautiful and young. Visitors began stopping by on the side road because of the refreshed appearance of the old gentleman to sit and hear his stories and the young man who took them for his own told them with pleasure. The old gentleman never said anything and was pleased to be looking good again and allowed the young man to do everything he wanted and tell his stories. He was getting attention again and the glory seemed to be returning.
One day the young man was on his way to the side street where the old gentleman was always, began to think that if he could only get the old man on the main road and off the beaten path they could have that grand event that the old gentleman was dressed for and bring the new visitors along. He began to plan and seek out a better place for him on his own and traveled around to do so. The young man found out that the old gentleman had actually been in different places in the past and he talked to him to try to convince him of the benefits of a move. The old gentleman in his ever mysterious ways never struck down the ideas but just sat back and let the young man run with his plans.
There were not many places where the young man could find residence for the old gentleman because of his finances. Every option the young man presented was either not suitable or too expensive for the old mans means. This went on for years. The young man seeking something bigger in his life to hold onto to fill the void left in his heart with the death of his son made it his mission to find a place for the old gentleman he loved, to be seen for his glory by everyone. The young man knew a story of a well where the old man used to refresh himself and went there to find out more. When he got to the well he came across another old man and introduced himself. This old man was not as old as the old gentleman he knew and he was dressed like the old gentleman but in a suit of a different era. His suit was not worn out and old and the young man soon found himself meeting and talking to this new old man often. He was not quite as graceful as the old gentleman but he had the same mysterious way. The young man came to find out that the two men were brothers and had a falling out long ago but were still on talking terms. The well where the other old man was, was pretty and seemed like the perfect place to move the old gentleman to and although he had some trepidation the young man agreed to talk to the old gentleman about reuniting with his long lost brother. In consequent meetings with the old man at the well, the young man was promised that if he was able to bring the old gentleman to the well they could enjoy the refreshment of its sweet water.
He went back to the old gentleman, who was leery at first of his long lost brothers intentions, but since he had been cleaned up and seemed to be back on the path to glory with many visitors he reluctantly agreed to go and meet with him because he wanted to entertain. The young man took the old gentleman to this meeting and was thrilled to have finally made some ground on what he thought was necessary to restore glory to the old gentleman. The old brothers embraced each other and agreed that their falling out was long behind them and that they could reunite and the old gentleman could remain at the well with his brother.
The young man drank the sweet water from the well with the brothers but as he was sipping the refreshment he noticed something about the old man from the well that he hadn't before. Although his clothes were newer and looked great from the front he could see that they were not of the same quality of the old gentleman's and were haphazardly stitched together in the rear. This stopped him from drinking and the young man was terrified that he had done something wrong but the two brothers continued to drink deeply from the well. The old gentleman after some time at the well felt his confidence return and the young man was believing that although the old gentleman's brother had a false facade his heart was in the right place. Reunited with his brother and feeling good again the old man began to distance himself from the young man and soon made the decision that he no longer needed his help. He never told the young man this because he was afraid that if he offended him that the young man would flee altogether but slowly and surely it became evident to the young man that he was the third wheel at the well. The visitors continued to come and be entertained but the old gentleman began to tell his own stories again and pushed the young man away.
The young man was heartbroken with what had happened. He loved the old gentleman and had dedicated many years to learning his stories. After such a long time the young man had filled the void of his loss, with the glory of the old man and when the glory seemed to return he began to feel healed but the ostracism opened the wound. Looking back, the young man realized that he had invested so much in the old gentleman he had actually missed many things with his own family. His mind was constantly thinking of how to improve the old gentleman's situation even more so than the old gentleman and when he was pushed aside he was able to see the situation for what it was worth and he was resolved to the fact that he would let the welfare of the old gentleman return to his own hands.
He was approached by some of the visitors that he had brought to the old gentleman who asked the young man to return to his side and tell his story again because they liked the way he told it. Although the wound in his heart was still fresh he was lifted by the pleas of the visitors and he approached the old man at the well and asked him what he should do for his brother. The old man at the well lavished him with praise and thanked him for reuniting him with his brother and told him to bring the visitors by for the big event that the old gentleman deserved. With the good will he received from the brother the young man approached the old gentleman with new found hope and told him that he wanted to have the big event that they had always talked of. The old gentleman did not say a word. He sat there drinking the water from the well and just stared at the young man. His brother had told the old gentleman that the young man meant to harm him and the big event was a trap to ensnare the old gentleman and that he needed to just trust his brother so that they would be okay. The old gentleman, in his shined shoes and washed outfit, believed the brother and made a plan with him to embarrass the young man in front of the visitors to put him in his place.
The young man had come to visit his old friend and saw the brothers talking at the well and although he didn't hear everything they said he believed something was afoot but since the long about event was about to occur he carried on.
The night came and the visitors were gathered in great numbers but the young man was late because of family obligations. When he arrived the old gentleman was with his brother at the pretty well drinking deeply of its water. The visitors met the young man with a great welcome and applauded his effort at returning to tell the story of the old gentleman at his side but the young man noticed that the old man from the well had brought some of the visitors to drink from its waters. When the time came to begin the event and the gathered waited for the stories to begin the old man pushed the young man away and told them on his own and his brother began to chime in. Some of the visitors were astonished at what had happened but the young man who had spent so much time with the old gentleman did not leave but sat there and listened to the stories he loved. When the event was finished he hugged the old gentleman who glared at him with distrust, thanked him for his stories and walked to the pretty well to rest. From the lip of the well the young man watched the brother pat the old gentleman on the back for what he had done and then he looked down into the well and saw something he had believed was true but was not sure of.
At the bottom of the well in the moonlight he could see a venomous snake. It looked up at him and smiled an evil grin as it spit its venom into the water. The young man realized that in his rush to fill the emptiness of his lost son he had led the old gentleman, who was content to live in his worn out clothes on his side street content to exist as he was, to a poisoned well. He had suspicions before but now he knew. As he walked away saddened by all that had occurred he watched the old man from the well empty his cup behind his back before toasting the old gentleman who drank deeply of the water that will eventually kill him.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of Rules and Regulations

It’s funny how the people who are the least read and informed about rules and regulations are usually the ones who trumpet supposed breaches of the law.
Freemasonry is a very old organization with many rules that trace back to days gone by. One of the reasons the first grand lodge was formed back in 1717 was to try and organize and regularize the very local and different lodges of Freemasons. Freemasonry’s actual origins might never be known but we do know that groups of operative masons would group themselves into a lodge or guild to protect their art and be able to travel around and recognize each other as masons. These proto-lodges had ceremonies and rules that varied from town to town and country to country. The signs, grips and words that were used to identify yourself as a mason varied in many ways and even today they vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Even more varied are the rules that Freemasonry uses to govern itself.
When the premier Grand Lodge of England published its General Regulations in 1723 it stated "Every Annual Grand Lodge has an inherent power and Authority to make new Regulations or to alter these, for the real benefits of this Ancient Fraternity; provided always that the old Land-Marks be carefully preserved." Ah-ha you may think, at least there are indisputable landmarks on which all regulations derive, but if you are of that opinion you would be wrong. Even when the first regulations were published the landmarks were never enumerated or defined in any manner which left quite a considerable leeway in how to govern a body of Freemasons.
The first time the “ancient and unchangeable” landmarks of Freemasonry were actually published, in the Jurisprudence of Freemasonry 1856 by Dr.Albert Mackey, he laid down three requisite characteristics:
1.   notional immemorial antiquity
2.   universality
3.   absolute "irrevocability"
He claimed there were 25 in all, and they could not be changed. Over the years in all of the different jurisdictions this number varied and the landmarks themselves were different. In the United States of America where there were many independent Grand Lodges between the ‘Regular’ and Prince Hall Freemasons, the number of landmarks goes from 3 to 54. So if all of our rules and regulations are derived from the “unchangeable” landmarks and the rules and regulations can be altered and changed by each subsequent meeting of a Grand Lodge one can easily see how rules and laws of the fraternity can become jumbled for a less learned Brother Mason.
In the 1950’s the Conference of Grand Masters of North America decided upon three universal landmarks.
1.   Monotheism — An unalterable and continuing belief in God.
2.   The Volume of The Sacred Law — an essential part of the furniture of the Lodge.
3.   Prohibition of the discussion of Religion and Politics.
Of the three above landmarks the last one is the most confusing to some. In fact that landmark does not even exist in the ones that are accepted in my own jurisdiction of Connecticut but it is still regarded as an important rule in Freemasonry. This landmark is involved in one of the most important things to control the harmony of a lodge. By removing the topic of Religion or Politics from the arsenal of rhetoric a Brother may employ at a meeting you take away the two things that can easily divide the most loving of Brothers. As we are a simple brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God we can welcome men of all religions and beliefs into the lodge room to do the work of Freemasonry. The not understood part of this and all rules of Freemasonry is that it only applies to Freemasons when in lodge assembled. Freemasonry never asks a brother to give up his deeply held beliefs but it does ask that they be left at the door when the labor of Freemasonry commences.
This prohibition of the talk of Religion or Politics has been expanded and contracted in different jurisdictions to regulate all sorts of behavior of Masons in and outside of lodge and in some places come to prohibit Freemasons from politicking for office in a lodge. In my own jurisdiction this does not apply. While it is strictly prohibited that a brother be nominated for a position while in lodge there are certain times that necessitates a Brother Mason announce his availability for office when the progressive line is absent or dissolved. This should not occur while in lodge assembled but when the annual election of officers for a lodge is about to convene it is perfectly acceptable for a Brother to say he is willing to serve his lodge if they so elect him or how else would the craft know of their options.
Recently, after being approached by some of the Brothers of my lodge asking that I return to the east, I wrote a letter to all of the Brothers of my lodge addressing the state of our progressive line and informing them of my availability and willingness to serve the lodge if they so desired. Never once in the letter did I ask to be Master. Never once did I try to convince anyone of making a decision in one way or another. I just notified the Brothers of my availability and willingness and republished the messages from the east from my term in office for the newer brothers in the lodge to get an understanding of my vision for the fraternity and my lodge in general.
Almost immediately an undercurrent of backhanded and secret communications occured between certain members of the craft in my lodge leveling accusations of unmasonic behavior and breaking of the rules of our Grand Lodge. Not one of these "Brothers" whispered good counsel in my ear, not one of these communications were ever sent my way or out to the entire craft as I had done and I was very hurt by the way some of the men who have smiled and called me Brother to my face were so easily led to conduct unbecoming of a Brother. This level of back door politicking is what has chased many men away from leading or serving the craft and nearly chased me away but I know I am in the right and cannot allow the misguided intentions of a few to spoil the work of many. The good thing to come from this entire ordeal is that I quickly found out who really is my brother and who only parrots the words of Masonic ritual and is not even my friend.
This year’s annual meeting at my lodge might be a very interesting one to say the least.
What do you think?
What is your Grand Lodges policy of campaigning for an office in lodge?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bad Leadership

Leadership is powerful. The power of a leader derives from the people who give up control of one aspect or another of the group and themselves to one. This dominion is given because it is very hard to administrate a large group of individuals en masse so we elect someone to LEAD.
A good leader can inspire individual people to do things that they have never done before.
A good leader can elevate the group of people to something they could never have achieved by themselves.
A good leader can amalgamate a diverse group into one.
A good leader knows his people.
A good leader listens carefully.
A good leader is driven towards a goal.
A good leader builds upon past success.
A good leader makes decisions for the group because that is his job.
A good leader knows what information to address to the group and what should be left to private.

A bad leader does not challenge people but relies on a few.
A bad leader brings the group down.
A bad leader divides the group and derides some.
A bad leader does not know everyone.
A bad leader disregards flippantly.
A bad leader flutters aimlessly.
A bad leader ignores and destroys what was good.
A bad leader constantly asks the group what should be done.
A bad leader bores the group with trivial matters that do not need to be shared.

When a group is lead by someone who knows how to lead, success and happiness follow seemingly effortlessly because the leader does the work he was elected to do behind the scenes for the benefit of the group, this allows the group to concentrate its collective efforts on bigger and better things. When a group is steered in a definite direction they can imagine what it will be like to reach that goal and keep that thought as an inspiration to keep them going when the labor becomes hard and it takes hard labor to build something beautiful.
Bad leadership is not always done on purpose, but often comes from the attitude that the office of leadership in and of itself is all that it takes to lead.
A good leader builds.
A bad leader erodes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Policing Ourselves

(Saddle up, I'm getting on a high horse!)

As a self professed history nerd I can openly admit to reading old minute books from my lodge and with a lodge nearly 250 years old there are a lot of these. I have generally stuck to reading the ones from poignant moments in history both of my lodge and of my country but I always end up reading and skimming through them all just to satisfy my curiosity. These humongous leather bound tomes are themselves works of art as it seems everything from our earlier age was done with much more attention to detail. The handwriting is exquisite, the paper heavy and of high quality, and the binding for something as trivial as a lodge minute book had the quality of an heirloom bible. I have spent many hours with plastic gloves leafing through meeting after meeting in days gone by and there is one thing that happened quite often in those times that never occurs now. This missing piece of everyday Freemasonry in the past calls into question how we now run the order now and how seriously we take the vows we make to each other.

In between degrees, funerals and processions there were many times that brothers were brought up on charges of un-Masonic conduct. The minutes themselves are very discrete about the nature of these offences but their occurrences were often and penalties swift. It seems to me that Freemasons in the earlier generation of the craft were more serious about maintaining the code of conduct that we as Freemasons all swear to live by. They were willing to police themselves in order to maintain the reputation of the fraternity. It seems like a lifetime ago but I touched upon this subject in a post titled “A Desire For Knowledge” in 2008 and even though it was a very brief part of the thought I was trying to convey, I was hammered on the thought by a couple of friends from the Blogosphere who thought I was being too romantic with the past. I in turn was very cranky (I was just a baby blogger back then) and became very defensive about my thought process and never really argued the point I was making that I can now, as a wise and thoughtful Past Master, better expand upon.

During the three part initiation process we swear upon a volume of sacred law that we will live by ever expanding obligations to ourselves and the Fraternity. Most of the things we swear upon are keeping the modes of recognition secret, but within the ceremonies and later in the obligations we have more and more specific codes of conduct asked of us to live by. All of these obligations are taken with the penalty for infraction of these obligations fully explained and then we are reminded of the figurativeness of the original penalties and that the only real penalties are reprimand, suspension, and expulsion. These therefore are the only tools that Freemasonry uses to weed out men that can and will reflect badly upon the craft as a whole. At the same time, we are also told to use whispered council in the ear of a Brother before any of these paths are to be taken and this is the course of action that is the most widely used now, if any at all.

More often, and I am the first to admit to this glaring fault, it is much easier to turn a blind eye to un-Masonic conduct and wish for something better. This non confrontational approach is easier on all parties because you are not put in the position of accusing a Brother that could damage a relationship and no one is put on the spot to defend themselves. This symptom is an indicator of a modern societal sickness. In an age where competition and excellence are frowned upon in order to protect the feelings of those who loose and all types of behavior are condoned and explained away regardless of their depravity, what can we expect? It is the absence of accepted excellence that has forced everyone to lower their standards and seek out the tiniest faults in a persons history or demeanor in order to destroy what ever personal temple of merit and virtue they have constructed, in the name of leveling the playing field. No one is allowed to be better than anyone else and the ones who seem to be better HAVE to have something bad locked away in the closet waiting to be unveiled. Nobody is safe. Even icons of earlier ages continually face the onslaught of personal degradation by historians seeking dirt on anyone who was thought to be excellent. We are not allowed to have heros anymore, or more like we are made to believe even the best of us is in no way better than the lowest of us, they just do things a little differently.

We need heros. They do exist.

The much maligned founding fathers of the United States, as a whole, were amazing men in all ways despite the "bad" behavior they are accused of today. Read their words. They continually struggled to improve themselves and the world they lived in and tried to lay a foundation of a system that would eventually overcome the societal norms that they knew were contrary to the principles they espoused. It took a long time but the changes for the better did come because of the system they came up with. Countless other icons of human achievement had, in the long run, a much better tally card of good and great than that of bad or worse and we need to emulate them and improve upon their example.

We enter the covenant of society to lay out a structure that all can follow in order to benefit each other for the good. Laws are made to spell out exactly how society needs to follow agreed upon rules. Penalties are made because some will break the rules regardless of their merit or necessity and they must be punished by the society for their transgression, to both enforce the rules and exemplify the societies collective will to live by them. When we look the other way when rules are broken, we break the pact we have made with each other and tarnish the reputation of our society. Little infractions by themselves do not destroy the foundation of good laid out by all, but collectively grow to fracture and eventually destroy what has been built.

I am in no way perfect but I am continually trying to make myself better. It is a conscious decision I have made to live up to the high standards that I wish to extol and it is a never ending effort. When I wear a ring of a Freemason I become a walking billboard of the fraternity to those who know what the symbol on my finger represents and also to those who have no idea what it means I want them to associate that symbol with an upstanding man of integrity and moral virtue. Perhaps that is why some don't wear a ring? Maybe its like the adulterous husband who removes his wedding band when cheating, as if removing the symbol of your covenant you swore to relieves you of that pact. Even when I am driving my car that has the symbol on it, when I come close to doing something that would reflect badly upon my order, I think of how someone may have that symbol burned into their consciousness as the *#$hole that cut them off and drive a little nicer. But I do cut people off sometimes and I still do stupid things sometimes when wearing a Square and Compasses, but I try not to and when I do, I am the worst reprimander when it comes to me.
But what of those who do not have that self control or don't even want to try to attain it? It is then that we as a fraternity must step in and try to quietly whisper good counsel and if that fails take the next step and invoke the penalties explained to us after every obligation. If we don't do it, no one will and men like the monster in Norway will remain in good standing with the order until they do something atrocious and force the fraternity to Expel a Brother after the fact, which does more harm than simple enforcement of rules and standards everyday by every Brother.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Doldrums

Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
‘Twas sad as sad could be ;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea !

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion ;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I once read an allegory about coals and fire that went something like; when a coal is separated from the fire it starts to cool and loose its heat but all you need to do is return it to the fire and it blazes back to life.

Every year our lodge goes “dim” for the summer (although sometimes called going dark, we use the term dim because the light of masonry never goes out completely). It is a two month break from the twice a month ritual of congregating with my brethren that in one aspect is a welcome break from the labor of Freemasonry but at the same time it does not take long for the break in routine to turn into outright laziness. There is no planning or practicing or communicating and although I still talk to several of my lodge brothers over the summer, unlike usual, the conversation almost never revolves around the craft.

It is amazing to me sometimes how quickly my “coal” gets cool when separated from the fire of lodge. The more I am away from lodge the less I think esoterically and the harder it becomes for me to think the deeper thoughts I wish to explore. Even daily Facebook updates from Phoenix Masonry or Albert Pike start to loose their allure the longer I am not doing the work of a Freemason.

It is at this tricky time that the question comes into my mind about the worth of my dedication to the fraternity. When separated from the constant labor of the craft with loads of time to spare and nary an email or call about lodge I wonder if I am better off for being a mason. This is a troubling aspect of the doldrums because it can raise doubt where normally it would not exist. Would my family be better off if I were not rushing off to lodge every two weeks? Am I cheating time away from my children when my thoughts are revolving around lodge and not them? Is my membership a thorn in the side of the relationship with my wife? Are there better things that I can do with my time than being a Freemason? These are all thoughts that start banging around in my head when the wind is taken out of the sails during the doldrums.

The key thing I am learning in life and in masonry is to not view these times as stagnation but as times of calm to reflect on my journey. When I was fully employed and working 50 plus hour weeks I saw my wife and children a lot less and although our bank account was better off then, it took the shock of a layoff to make us realize that it also cost more to sustain that lifestyle. Were we better off then or now with me spending more time with the kids and struggling to make ends meet? There is no good answer. My extended period of un/under-employment has taught me that no matter how smart or talented you are we are all subject to the shifting winds of government and economy and it is not personal.

So go also the doldrums of Freemasonry. Although I had loads of time before I was a Brother I certainly filled those times with other stuff and not all of them particularly productive or beneficial to my family. My dedication to the craft has brought me, at times, profound joy and many accomplishments that have made me a better man than had I not joined. The Brothers I have acquired along the way have become an extended family that I have relied on more than I care to admit and whose friendship I have come to cherish. The demands of the order have been much less than rewards I have reaped.

I need to use this time of calm to gather my strength and sharpen my wits for the time when the winds of lodge start blowing again. It is not the time to let bad thoughts enter my head or let doubt cast a cold shadow upon all that has been built. The doldrums will pass and the coals will be gathered together again to burn as hot and bright as ever. They always have.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Return To Freemasonry Lost

Acedemia, Esoterika, Virtruvian, Nine Muses, it sounds like an incantation  Harry Potter might use, but it is just part of a list of lodges that practice Traditional Observance or European Concept that I have fawned over for longer than I care to admit. They are spread across the country and all have long lines of men at their door awaiting membership. Unfortunately I had not been able to visit any except St. Johns Lodge no. 1 in New York, which had previously been the greatest Masonic experience in my journey to date and then came Quinta Essentia. For over 4 years I have dreamed about a new lodge, well not exactly new, but a lodge that was more of the kind of lodge that you see in the old paintings and pictures and read about in books. I envisioned a lodge where gentlemen of all ages and status levels congregated to dig deeper into what it is we do and try to do things better. I hungered for the lodge meeting where from the moment I arrived there was nothing but challenge and conversation that led me to something I had not thought of, or made a connection to before.
After meetings, no matter where I went in the Connecticut Masonic jurisdiction, I sought out like minded individuals in search of more light and somehow we always ended up commiserating together. Why was it that we all could not find the Freemasonry that we were promised? Why was it that tedious business meetings and parroted ritual were more common than meaningful gatherings of men striving for something more? Where were the lodges Mozart, Franklin, and Dermott gained inspiration from? The more I searched the more I found out that in American Freemasonry had become more akin to the American Legion than the Royal Society (and I mean no offence to that honorable institution dedicated to veterans and servicemen). Instead of a scrumptious meal with fine beverages and deep conversation, a cold cut sandwich and potato chips with a beer or soda were the victuals gathered around to hear dirty jokes or old stories, and you wonder why no one was joining or sticking around if they joined!
This enlightenment vacuum was the genesis of the modern Masonic restoration movement. It was led by Brothers who came and wondered what had become of the Order that they thought they were joining. Instead of high tailing it out of Freemasonry like so many before, these men have dedicated a lot of time, effort and dreams to bringing back Freemasonry in America. Laudable Pursuit is their declaration of independence and their goal is nothing shorter than a universal return of the golden age of Masonry. Brothers started to meet regularly and fully explore the imprecations and implementation of this goal. Quinta Essentia Lodge UD is the product of such a group of Masons in Connecticut.
I had the distinct pleasure of being present at the inaugural meeting of the Quinta Essentia last Saturday night and I can say with all due respect to existing lodges that it is a clear shot across the bow to all slumping, muddling and in my opinion “dimmed” lodges. It started with a very short meeting which was executed extraordinarily well considering the pomp and circumstance surrounding a new lodge at its first meeting attended by a lot of purple including the sitting Grand Master and his immediate predecessor. The meeting was followed by a flawlessly executed cocktail hour with numerous toasts used to raise the level of conversation between the assembled Brethren and then a fine dinner/ festive board where the topic of the evening was “Fiat lux” the meaning of Masonic Light. The key note speaker was Charles Tirrell my fellow Masonic Blogger from Masonic Renaissance and dedicated Freemason and I can say without reserve that he outstandingly started an unparalleled conversation about Masonic Light that began in physics and led to many destinations I had no forethought of reaching. The night truly raised the vibration of all who attended (I think), at the least  I certainly left thinking in ways that I had not when I made the drive up to New Haven.
The bad thing about the evening was that it is the exception to the rule in Freemasonry in Connecticut. There were many discussions around the room that night about how the evening’s proceedings were unobtainable in most “blue lodges” and that it was such a pleasure to be a part of this new undertaking and the “flavor” of Masonry it represented. There was a constant drumming of how not everyone in Freemasonry in CT was seeking this type of light and this was the cause célèbre for creating this new lodge. My argument is that if a Freemasons lodge meeting has no result of raising the level of the men who attend and simply runs through the motions of Freemasonry to get to the cold cuts and beer why do they meet? Does just saying that we make good men better as a mantra do just that, or is it a vapid hum with no resonance? If a lodge has to be formed to meet and act as Freemasons in the classical sense of the order, what do the other lodges meet as? These are things that the craft has been pondering since this type of lodge was created.
The thought I would like to leave for grand lodges and lodges that constantly get new men and loose them as quickly as they come is that these “traditional” lodges are extremely successful and are not experiencing the downturn and desolation that “mainstream” lodges suffer and are being formed all around the country. This is something that we all should take notice and govern ourselves accordingly.
Restore The Foundation!

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Brought My Kids To Lodge Last Night

My children are my world. Like the sun, when they rise my day begins and they bring warmth and light to my existence. They know their daddy and they know how much being a mason means to me. They know that a couple times a month I get dressed in a suit or a tuxedo and they always want to come to lodge with me. It’s funny how kids are, because they have now associated daddy getting dressed nicely with lodge. Even when I just put on a suit for an interview or a wedding my little three year old daughter has, since she could talk, always asked me “you go to lodge daddy”? The new building old St. Johns calls home is on a beautiful piece of property with a huge lawn and very family friendly, so for the last meeting before we went “dim” for the summer the WM decided to have a family cook out. When I announced the event to my family, my little three year old’s eyes lit up with delight and she couldn’t stop talking about how “we goin’ to lodge”. Even my seven year old was thrilled to spend an evening at the new lodge building with daddy. When I picked up the three year old from pre-school she got really angry with me because we had to run a few errands and not go straight to lodge, but eventually we got mommy, loaded up the mini van and headed to lodge together.

Six years ago when I started this journey I was the closest thing to a child in the lodge building. The times when kids ran around the building had long since passed. The old guard’s kids had kids and even some of those had kids and none of them followed in the footsteps of their fathers so the temple had become a sanctuary for old men. My oldest daughter, when I brought her around, would light up the room like a star and the old guys always loved to see her tagging along with me. As my family grew and new guys came into the brotherhood all of a sudden there were masons in lodge with young families at home but we never had a place to congregate. This was one of the biggest reasons I had pushed so hard for the lodge to make a move in acquiring a building of our own or finding a suitable place to call home. I had grown up with my father in the Knights of Columbus and I fondly remember dinners and picnics and parties with all sorts of kids of all ages and I wanted the same for my kids. The last thing a lodge should be thought of is the place where daddy goes a few times a month and does mysterious things and sometimes smells like cigars afterward.

A lodge can be a hub of social activity, many lodges are. I have heard of lodges where the wives hang out downstairs while the men are meeting and having book clubs or just relaxing with a glass of wine and talking to each other. Movie nights, Easter egg hunts, Christmas parties are just some of the things that my old lodge had not done in years, even decades. As we approached the lodge building and saw the grills warming up and cars lined up in the parking lot and picnic chairs in a row my heart swelled with the thought of things to come in our new home. During the night the kids played in the lodge room and there is nothing sweeter in my mind than seeing a group of little ones, from two to seven, sitting in the oriental chair in the east and then racing across the room and fighting over who will sit in the west. When the sun set my kids had had a ball of a time, did not want to leave and they couldn’t wait for another night at lodge with daddy!

Friday, June 10, 2011


To the tune of “The Cat Came Back” from the Muppet Show.

Annnnnd the minutes came back, they couldn’t stay away, they put all at the meeting, asleep the same way.

It was a hot night and I was in a tuxedo for a Fellowcraft degree. Traffic was horrible so the 5 minute ride to lodge turned into 30. In utter desperation I indulged in a pre lodge cigar in my truck while sitting on the connector not moving. I arrived at lodge to find the three entered apprentices feverishly trying to learn their proficiency before the degree with an old Past Master. Then I realized why they were feverish, it was HOT in the building! This was the norm at our old unconditioned building... but we had moved. Our new abode was fully equipped to keep the Brothers cool when needed, but what was going on? After a few conversations with those that were present at the time, I came to find out that the fancy touch screen thermostats that controlled the HVAC unit were locked out to all users and….ON HEAT MODE! There were calls in to the guys that ran the building and no matter how hard we all tried to touch multiple spots on the screen, take the batteries out, etc. we could not unlock the screen. As the Brethren began to show up one by one the desperation mounted. There were a few “I thought this was one of the reasons we moved here…heh heh” muttered, yet we trudged on regardless.

Finally one of the Brothers from the building corporation showed up, but he too could not unlock the darn control screen, so he called the HVAC company that took care of the system and they were on their way. We waited and waited and finally the WM made the call to go ahead and start the meeting as we had a long night ahead of us as the 2nd degree is one of the longest with the massive mother of all lectures smack dab in the middle of it, so some took off their jackets and we proceeded to open. Right at the point when the Junior Deacon proceeds to the preparation room to find the Brothers awaiting the degree he was met at the door of the lodge by the an HVAC technician ready to solve the heat problem. It was good timing too because our Tyler was tyling from within as is his custom and the HVAC tech was about to come in on his own! The lodge was put at ease and the guy hit a few buttons and the cold air was upon us at last. The degree was a little shaky but the Middle Chamber was again brilliantly and profoundly delivered by our young Junior Deacon who has been a shining light in the lodge.

It was very late when the degree finally ended and the WM proceeded to conduct the business of the lodge in a timely fashion. There was nothing in the West, nothing in the South, and a few things on the secretary’s desk to discuss which were hastily dealt with then the Secretary announced that he had the minutes from the last meeting and the WM asked that he read them! Oh No! Not again. Over two years ago in a previous administration the minutes were available for those interested but… on their own time and like that, nap time was removed from lodge and we lived happily ever after… well not ever. Like an old hot dog returning from today’s lunch, the minutes came back and you could see the tortured look on the faces of the newer Brethren, many of which had never had to endure the boredom and monotony of a droning minute reading before. It was like NyQuil, guaranteed to put you to sleep and to many it did. Like that pesky old cat on the Muppet Show; we had driven the minutes out of town and left them in the woods but…..

Everyone together!

Buuuuuuut, the minutes came back, they couldn’t stay away, they put all at the meeting, asleep the same way!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Missing Working Tool

Freemasonry a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols.
This is a canned explanation of what it is to be a Freemason. We teach simple life lessons using the tools of stonemasons. We, that are in the order, know them well (or are supposed to); the 24 inch gauge, the common gavel, the plumb, the level, the square, the compasses, and the trowel...We are told often that Freemasonry evolved from operative stonemasons guilds that built the cathedrals of Europe. Now, let me ask you a question to those of you who know about stone masonry, what tool is missing that is probably more important than all of the above when hewing rock?
Do you have it yet?
Masons in every age fashioned this tool from metal, be it copper in Egypt, iron in Europe, or steel today.
It allows a mason to focus his energy on a small area and accomplish things that normally cant be done to hard stone.
I knew you had it... THE CHISEL.
Perhaps, I being just a simple blue lodge Mason have not been taught this lesson yet because it is taught in some "higher" degree and if it is excuse my ignorance but why is this tool not used in our degrees? No reputable operative mason leaves home without it because it is so important a tool for shaping hard stone in a particular manner.
So here goes my attempt at writing Masonic ritual with the all important "Chisel Lecture".
My Brother,
Operative Masons used many tools, as you now know, to shape and build structures. There is one tool in particular you have not learned about. A tool so important in the final step of Masonry, that without it no fine edifice can be created. This tool is the chisel.
The chisel is a tool used by operative masons to direct the force of their blows onto a small area in a singular direction to finish a stone before use.
But we as Free and Accepted Masons are taught to make use of it for the more noble and glorious purpose of focusing our thoughts.
In our day to day lives we come across many ideas and distractions that can easily spread the power of our being in many directions. This diffusing of the great gift of life we are given can lead to despair and hopelessness. Only by focusing our thoughts and actions in a singular direction can we achieve the greatness we are meant to by our creator and beautify that spiritual house not made with hands eternal in the heavens.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Lament for a Masonic Temple

Over 100 years ago the Brothers of St Johns lodge scraped and scrounged and raised enough capital to purchase a recently built brownstone chapel building from an Episcopal church to establish a permanent temple for the Freemasons in the city to call home. It was a magnificent edifice with a soaring ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows. They spent money converting the building for their purposes, decorating the vaulted ceiling with gold stars to represent the canopy of heaven and swapping out some of the stained glass windows with Masonic themed ones. There was a back lit cast copper square and compass sign on the street, to let people know when a meeting was going on, crafted by a local artisan and Brother, which was not the only priceless piece of art donated to the lodge by a member.

Inside the lodge room, on the west wall 30 feet in the air hangs a cast bronze circle between two parallel lines flanked by statuettes of St John the Baptist and St John the Divine, the patron Saints of Freemasonry and the reason the lodge is St. Johns plural. These men are represented again in paintings set into the wall above the entrance doors on each side of the room, paintings created by another talented Brother who also did many works around the city for the Works Projects Administration during the Great Depression.

Then there is the brass, this metal is everywhere. Every door handle is made of it with a raised square and compasses in the middle. There are wall sconces in the South, West, and East with one , two, and three lights respectively, also in brass. In the center of the lodge room stand three massive brass candle holders embellished with scrolled leafs, cherubic faces and the symbol of the order. And on the door in the West there is a knocker in brass in the shape of the square and compasses.

At some point during its life there were theater seats added in two columns along the North and South sides of the room that were funded by the Brothers and their families who received an engraved plate on the armrest as thanks. Name plates also grace the collapse-able tables in the basement where the dining functions were held.

During it's heyday the membership swelled to over 600 members and the building shared it's refuge with Royal Arch Chapters, Templar Commanderies, and also a Eastern Star. The temple was the hub of the community life and the leaders of the community all belonged. Doctors, lawyers, ship captains, captains of industry, artists, religious leaders, business owners, and politicians lined up at the door to be counted among the order. It was an honor to belong and these men returned that honor by enhancing the temple where they met.

But golden ages never last, do they? The shining temple of Freemasonry that once vibrated with life fell on harder and harder times. When the cost of heating was almost nothing it was relatively easy to warm such a massive place but as the warm bodies that contributed to the heating of the building dwindled and the cost of oil rose, it became harder and harder to get the money to fire up the heat. Towards the end the Brothers were forced to meet in the basement during winter because they could not afford to heat up the lodge room. The slate roof leaked, the stained glass windows began to crumble, and the massive boiler needed replacing. The lodge had no money and little participating membership so when a church that rented the hall on Sundays offered to buy the building, the lodge jumped at the chance.

For twenty years the Church that purchased the building allowed the lodge to continue to meet there and never changed anything about the old Masonic Temple, save adding some chairs for its members and a drum set in the North East corner. Then we began to grow again.

Freemasonry underwent a revival and some dedicated Brothers nursed the old lodge back to health but alas even as the church that owned the building became interested in selling it, the lodge did not have enough money to return it to the order, let alone afford to operate it again. So began the the turning of a page in our history.

On Thursday night we will hold the last Stated Communication and Entered Apprentice Degree in the magnificent temple we have called home for over a hundred years. The building will always hold a special place in my heart as it definitely contributed to my knocking on the West Gate and joining the craft many years ago, but unfortunately soon it will  be a memory of a glorious past. 

God only knows what the future will hold.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Freemasonry, Vehicle or Destination?

Washington, Mozart, Bolivar, Ford, Franklin, Churchill, etc. we have all seen the list. It is a very important draw to the order. It got me. When a perspective man begins his research into Freemasonry it is a very shiny lure to drop the names of the most famous and influential men of the last 300 years or so and point out that they were all "brothers". Lodges and Grand Lodges use the list often to convince men that if they decide to join the craft that all of a sudden their names can be added to the list and who doesn't want to be on that list. The big problem for modern Freemasonry is that we seldom do what is required to make a man into someone who belongs on the list, we just act as though the decision to knock on the West Gate and the eventual passage through the degrees is all that is needed to be thought of as a brother of some great men. But what have most Freemasons done?
One of my biggest pet peeves, that occurs more often than not in the lodges I have been to, is the big huzzah and congratulations offered to a brother who has gone through a degree. Congratulations... REALLY? For what? Paying a fee, getting asked a couple questions about your background and then waddling through and listening to some  hopefully decently delivered ritual? Congratulate me for graduating school, or getting married or having a child but don't congratulate me for joining a fraternity. When I was master I made it a point to say WELCOME, not hurray. The time after a degree is a time for feeling out the man who has made it through the initial investigation and is now bound to us as a brother, not celebrating a decision. An EA is the closest thing to the profane as a Mason gets and still has much to prove. Very often the journey ends there for many men who satiated their curiosity and see what most do not.
Freemasonry is meant to be a transformation. The ancient initiatory process of vetting a man and teaching him things he already knew in a different light and forcing him to delve deeper into himself and his trust of others in order to reveal what it is he was put here for, is what the order is meant to do. Freemasonry is a vehicle for the transformation of a regular man into something better. Far too often it is treated as some mystical destination that just by being there will elevate you and that is surely not the case.
Which brings me back to the list. All of the great men who are on that list are great men because of what they did for the benefit of mankind, not Freemasonry. It is my belief that these astounding leaders and creators were drawn to the order and used it as a foundation to develop their true purpose and then shared it with the world, none of them made Freemasonry the "end all, be all" of their existence.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Re-creative Energies, Renovations, and a Reintroduction

It is amazing to me that I have been doing this relatively consistently for over 4 years. When I started this little site, Masonic blogging was relatively new and extremely exciting. It seemed like overnight I became connected to this larger family of Brother Masons around the world who were exploring the craft and re-examining what it was to be a Mason in the 21st century. There were controversial topics that ran hot and attempts at outreach that did not, but through it all my blog has given me an outlet for my writing, a place to exercise my creative talent, and a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas (and also rants) where I have received much more than I have ever put into this thing. And for all of this and the support I have received from my friends and fans I am humbly and thoroughly thankful. 
For those of you that have been coming here for a while you may have noticed that I have done a few things that have improved the functionality of this site and if you look at my "About Me" you might have noticed that I have put my name in my description. The comfort blanket of anonymity has lost its purpose and most everyone I know in masonry knows about my blog anyway so, if you did not know or pick it up in cryptic older posts, I would like to re-introduce myself, hi I'm Matthew M. Morris aka M.M.M. I have not changed my "name" and will continue to post as M.M.M. but at least you know, if you actually read this blog, who I am.
I have for the first time allowed an advertiser (other than my constant shilling for Amazon) to be on this site. I have collected swords and knives my whole life and when I was approached by Swords from Spain about a widget and a chance to earn a few bits (possibly) I finally and reluctantly put an advertisement on my side bar. Besides they make some cool stuff! Its a sell out but a classy one.
And lastly I have changed my logo from the original Celtic square and compasses with the compass rose pointing to the North East (not sure if anyone ever got that anyway?) to my newest masterpiece, a Celtic Past Master's symbol, since as a past master I can finally display that symbol as my own. I have always received so much praise for my original creation that I have spent some serious creative energy into this new symbol. I always loved the past masters symbol but never found one with a masculine sunburst that I felt it needed, they are always kind of androgynous. I found a picture of an old carving of the Celtic Sun God that had a beard that set me off on a new PM symbol that I would love and the result is above, I hope you like it, I do and I have been told it even has a slight resemblance to myself.
It is with pleasure that I continue doing this when so many have disappeared and thanks again for sticking with me from the highs to the lows.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Brother Gave Me An Intricate Old Key...

It was a very cold night, a cold that not even the strongest whiskey could ward off. I traveled my usual way down a few roads the short distance to the magnificent edifice that was home to our order. The main spire of the old brownstone building reached up, a bell-less steeple, to the reflected light of the lunar orb that illuminated the icy night with an eerie glow. As I approached the rear entrance as was my custom long before everyone else, I was surprised to find the heavy oak doors with the ornate brass handles slightly ajar and a sliver of warm brightness from within. With keen interest I creaked open the door and walked toward the source of the warmth and light at the top of the stairs. 
The ante room was filled with paintings and artifacts the likes of which just by their existence added to the mystery and majesty of the gentile craft of which I proudly called my own and along the back wall by a large fireplace sat an aged Brother staring at the fire like a work of art. He did not stir as I approached, he just sat there in quiet communion with the fire before him and there in his hands was an old key. As I sat down next to him breaking the trance he turned his familiar grey eyes to me and without words handed me the key. I recognized it on sight and wondered why this was the first time that a Brother gave me an intricate old key...............

Well... thats not exactly how it happened but at my last lodge meeting a Brother lent me his copy of The Hiram Key. It is strange that of all the Masonic or quasi Masonic books that I have devoured in the past five years I had never gotten this book. Maybe it is because of the controversy that surrounds the book or perhaps because it does expose some aspects of Masonic ritual I had never approached it, but here it was free for my consumption and consume it I did.
Even though I am in the middle of three other books,  the other night I picked it up and spent two days devouring its contents. Its funny how when my Brother gave it to me and tried to explain some of its contents I was so quick to question and dismiss some of the ideas expressed within and yet as I read the same ideas I found myself getting sucked right in also.
It began with two mason Brothers, Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas trying to find out more about the foggy origins of Freemasonry and blossoms into an intriguing web of theory and speculation linking the earliest civilization of man in Sumeria to Egypt, Jesus, the knights Templar, Braveheart, America, all the way to the average Joe tying on an apron at his monthly lodge meeting. It takes just about everything in the world of history that I hold dear and puts them all together under one cover. I read with open eyes and no judgement and truly enjoyed the book. Being a seeker of the hidden secrets myself, I was easily drawn into their theory and found many parallels with other works I had read and many ideas struck a chord with me. It wasn't until after I had finished that I did my internet search and read counter points and the negative reviews but even then I found that I still think they trampled upon some valid connections.
The biggest problem some people have with the book is that they the authors constantly and quickly turn their conclusions into fact and move on to the next part without indisputable proof, but that is what I enjoy about it because you walk along with them in their excitement. I can just imagine how I would feel having the celebratory drink after a realizing that I made a connection that no-one else had or even dreamed of, even if some are a bit far fetched. The thing is that they create a good narrative and prove their theories as good as a couple of non-historians can.
If you are a Master Mason and wish to explore some alternative histories and interesting theories and make your own conclusions it is a very fun book. If you are just starting to research Freemasonry and are planning to knock on a lodge door soon, wait because they do, without giving up any secrets of the craft, expose in detail many of the rituals and things that make the Masonic experience so special and enjoyable.
I kind of want to start a book discussion group in my lodge and crack this book with a few of my own Brothers and see where we can go with some of the ideas.
Can you say Junto anyone? (Ben Franklins autobiography is one of the books I put down to read this one)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Angels

(This is a re-post on what would have been my son Jack's 5th birthday. We miss you.)

An angel is a supernatural being found in many religions. In Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism, angels, as attendants or guardians to man, typically act as messengers from God. My daughter was born 5 weeks premature. There was no official reason for my daughter coming early, but on the night she was born the nurse told us that full moons often are to blame, and opened the window shade to the biggest full moon my wife and I had ever seen. I cried that night and asked God why he would do such a thing to such a small and helpless being and to please help her survive.

My daughter's lungs were just a little underdeveloped so she required assistance from a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) breather and some steroids to help the lungs finish developing. She spent over two weeks in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit which at the time seemed like an eternity. My wife and I were there everyday and for most of every night while my daughter learned how to eat and regulate her body temperature. We learned more in that time about prematurity and how a N.I.C.U.operates than we had ever known or ever would want to know but when it is your child in one of those incubator boxes you learn quickly. When we finally brought her home it was one of the greatest moments in my life.
Once you have a pre-term baby you are watched more closely than before and two years later my wife was being monitored closely indeed with our second child. We saw every moment of development on a black and white monitor thanks to the wonder of the sonogram. It was at one of these visits that our lives changed forever.
My wife and I always thought sonographers have a great job. They get to be a part of some of the greatest moments of a couples lives. They always have such a great bedside manner and we thoroughly enjoyed the visits for sonograms. It was during the fetal anatomy exam that we learned that there was another side to their jobs.
I will never forget the sonographers face as his pleasant demeanor changed to something more serious as he checked and rechecked what he was looking at. He said he was just having some trouble getting a good picture and left the room without telling us anything and when he returned he said we would need to go to the hospital for further examination and handed my wife the telephone to talk to a doctor. He asked her why we had not done the AFP test (an early genetic screen)to which we said that we chose not to do any tests because we would not do anything (i.e. terminate) if we found out something was wrong. Her face turned white and tears came rolling down her cheeks and she looked up to me and said "there's something wrong with the babies heart", barely able to talk.
We went to the hospital, where they performed a more detailed sonogram that proved our baby had a heart defect called Atrioventricular Septal Defect which basically meant that instead of four heart chambers our child had just one big one. This prompted a amniocentesis test that showed that our child had Down Syndrome also. This result came just before Thanksgiving that year and along with the genetic results of the amniocentesis we were given the sex of the child, a boy. It almost broke me to find out that my long hoped for son would have such a hard life. Growing up with three younger sisters and no brothers I spent most of my young life proclaiming that I would only have sons because I had my fill of being surrounded by girls. After the birth of my daughter I realized how a baby girl can snatch the heart of a father but I still longed for my boy. Here he was finally, but he was dealt a hard hand to play with for life, but I didn't care he was my son.
The mixed emotions of our news was hard at first but we resolutely moved forward and started preparing for the difficult journey ahead of us. We joined the National Down Syndrome Society and the Connecticut Down Syndrome Congress and read everything we could find on the Internet about heart defects and Down Syndrome. We wanted to know everything about we were about to go through because it was all we could do. We knew he was going to have to go through some major surgeries before he was even able to be brought home but we never lost hope for our son.
It was during this time, while on the computer one night researching my sons problems, that Freemasonry came into my focus. I had the TV on the History Channel as usual in the back ground and during a show on the Founding Fathers of the United States I heard the narrator say that so many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons. For some reason this statement got my attention. I had read things that mentioned them and had heard about them but did not know what it is they were about. Being at my computer already I Googled "Freemasons" and the rest is history that I have written about in more detail here before.
Soon afterward my wife went into labor 10 weeks too early, and although they tried everything to stop it, my son was born. The reason he came so early was that his stomach was not connected to his intestines a defect called Duodenal Atresia, so he did not, as babies do, swallow amniotic fluid to control the fluid level in the womb so my wife had too much, which (we believe) caused her labor. Soon after his birth the doctors discovered he also had Esophageal Atresia which meant his esophagus did not connect to his stomach. All of these problems are associated with children with Down Syndrome but usually one at a time. My son got 'em all at once.
He went into major surgery five days into his life to connect his stomach to his intestines and correct a couple of other things that he had wrong. He survived that surgery and started the long haul to get him stronger and bigger for the other surgeries that he needed to survive. My wife and I traveled 40 miles each way from our house to the hospital every day to be with our son. We wanted him to know that we were there for him.
Our previous experience with a N.I.C.U. because of our daughter proved invaluable during our ordeal with our son and we often said that if it weren't for her we would have never made it. Her short stay was a walk in the park compared to what we went through with my son, but it was our introductory class to what we were to go through.
My son went through three more major surgeries, including an open heart and some serious scares before finally succumbing to the difficulty of constantly fighting for life. He was just too tired after struggling for six months to live. He died in our arms surrounded by people who love him. We will never forget those men and women at the hospital who gave him every shot for life. He was and will always be my angel, my son.
Angels are messengers from God.
My daughter was an angel sent to my wife and I to learn about neonatal intensive care and she constantly reminds us why it is we have children. She was our guiding light during those six months and continues that duty to this day. The day after my son died she came to us and said "Jack's not sick anymore, he's in heaven" never had we heard more angelic words.
My son taught me how precious life is. It is not as easy as it seems and must be fought for at all cost, he never gave up. He guided me to things that I forgot I had in me and returned belief to my life. I am not the same man that I was before him. I think I am now closer to what I was put here in the first place for because I let things fall the way they come and trust that it is for a higher purpose. I got his message.
Thanks Jack.
P.S. We have since been blessed by another angel who's full term delivery and smiley face have helped heal the loss of our precious son.
P.P.S. We now have been blessed with yet a fourth little gift, another son the happiest boy we know.