Thursday, November 22, 2007

Have a Great Thanksgiving

I'm having a great Thanksgiving, and I hope you all are too.

I'm staying at my youngest son's home in Savannah Georgia. It's the first time my wife or I have been to Savannah, and we're both in love with the looks of the city. We of course don't know the real character of the city, but it looks wonderful. The people we've met are consistently friendly and helpful, and the city is kept neat and clean.

Of course, I've been visiting Masonic sites around the city, where I can find them, and of course, they've all been closed for the holidays. I've attached a couple of pictures that are interesting:

This picture is of a plaque commemorating Savannah as the home of Prince Hall Masonry in Georgia. It is on Bay Street, in Emmet Park, near Solomon's Lodge #1, F&AM Masons of Georgia, which shown here:
This is Solomon's #1, F&AM, the longest operating lodge in America.
General Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia, was the First Grand Master of Masons in Georgia. I think the date on this lodge was 1734.

All in all, I love the way this city looks. When I was at Solomon's #1, four bald eagles flew over, what could be better?
The lodge was being renovated, and is occupying the old cotton exchange building on Bay Street, also backing on the river. I couldn't see inside, but the stained glass and new work looked great from outside.
I was unable to contact any brothers in Savannah, which was disappointing, but so it goes. It won't be my last trip.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Annual Communication

On Friday, November 16, through Sunday, November 18, the Grand Lodge of AF&AM of Maryland's 221st Annual Communication was held.

This was my third attendance at Grand Lodge Communications, and I have always been impressed. Not just by the pomp and circumstance, but by the content, both concrete and spiritual that I have experienced there. This year was no exception.

Most Worshipful Grand Master John R. Biggs, Jr. sat in the East. The meeting was started by Right Worshipful Deputy Grand Master Thomas M. Velvin, Jr. I won't go into the whole list of Grand Line Officers present, but there's always a bunch. Six Past Grand Masters were present, along with a striking list of distinguished guests.

Among the guests were:

The Grand Line (except for M.W. Gr. Mstr., Shelton D. Reddon, who had another commitment) of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland, lead by RW Deputy Grand Master Thomas H. Wise, Jr.

The Grand Line F.A.A.M. of the District of Columbia, headed up by MW Grand Master Robert B. Heyat, P.G.M.

The Grand Line of AF & AM of Delaware, headed by MW Grand Master, Earl L. Emerson, Jr.
MW Grand Master Calvin K. Keylar of Virginia
RW Grand Master Ronald A Aungst., Sr., from Pennsylvania
RW Senior Grand Warden Dennis Breheny, From New York
RW Senior Grand Warden William H. Berman, New Jersey
MW Grand Secretary Larry S. Plasket, P.G.M.
MW Grand Secretary Emeritus Raymond P. Bellini
MW Past Grand Master Raymond Vanden Berghe
MW Grand Master William L. Greene, from Connecticut
MW Grand Master Calvin K. Keylar, Vermont
MW Grand Secretary, Cedric L. Smith, P.G.M.
MW Grand Master Gerald S. Leighton, Maine
MW Past Grand Master Gary L. Atkinson, Ontario, Canada
MW Grand Master Arthur D. Tunnell, New Mexico

In addition to these distinguished guests, there were invited guests from all of the collateral bodies in Maryland

I found the opening ceremonies moving and special when we all sang the Star Spangled Banner and Oh Canada (this has been the case in all the Grand Lodge Functions I've attended, since there have been Canadian visitors in each of them. The Canadian Flag shared a place in the East with the flag of our country.

Another striking thing, that given the average age of our membership, may indicate the continuing interest and involvement of younger men in our institution, was that it looked like (and this is completely by sight: totally unscientific) 30-50% of the men present were under 50 years old.

I haven't been a Mason for very long, but all of my contacts with the Grand Lodge of Maryland have impressed me with the quality and spirit of the people I have encountered. They have always been accessible and helpful, no matter what their position, up to and including the Grand Master. The harmony of the institution is shown by the ease of voting. Not that there aren't contests in the items brought up for vote; not that people don't have platforms to promote, but that the time spent in discussion and voting goes well and smoothly. Not without griping about defeats, but with acceptance.

The Grand Lodge of Maryland is working toward the brotherhood of Freemasons in the Free State, and all of us are benefiting by it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Freemasons For Dummies: Cleveland is Burning Again

Freemasons For Dummies: Cleveland is Burning Again

Making and Keeping Agreements

What is the result of breaking agreements? Who benefits by broken agreements?

Life generally, and Masonic life specifically works within the context of making and keeping agreements. It's not that life will be guaranteed to work if we keep all our agreements, but if we are consious of our agreements and when and why we break them, we can have a window on why things aren't working.

One clue to our attitude toward keeping agreements is our willingness to keep the ones we didn't consiously make, but which are our agreements nonetheless, based on our existence or membership. Such as the law of gravity. This may seem facetious, but I suggest it is a model for all agreements.

We can fight against obeying the law of gravity; we can shout and wail against it. The physical universe will generally enforce it. We can try to break it. We can jump up and down, we can get in an airplance, but we always come down. We didn't vote on it. Our membership in life on earth imposes this agreement on us. Another example is our speed laws.

When was the last time you actually drove under the speed limit? You didn't directly vote on this. It was imposed upon you. It is an agreement you have with the government of your state.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian, father of "situational ethics," explored the question of what agreements it is possible for people to keep. He gave his life for this principle. Mr. Bonhoeffer wrote, in Ethics, (1943), just months before he was executed for being part of the Abwher plot to murder Hitler, that it is impossible for a Christian to murder. When he murders, a person stops being a Christian. Also, it is sometimes necessary for a Person to murder another. It is necessary for that Person to realize that guilt acrues to the act of murder. He is no longer acting in Grace, no matter how good the motive, there is absolute guilt attached to this broken agreement. His Personhood demands what his Christianity prevents.

When faced with this predicament, it is necessary to do what humanity demands, but to understand that it is still wrong from another point of view, and to rely on the loving forgiveness of God. This is of course from a theistic, specifically Christian point of view, but the same applies to less dramatic and more secular actions and results. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer said that "Cheap grace is our mortal enemy." Meaning that breaking our agreements believing that it can be justified easilly makes us sloppy thinkers. It makes us take our responsibility too lightly.

In the Tao Te Ching, p 129, Lao Tzu said:
1. "When a great hatred is reconciled, naturally some hatred will remain. How can this be made good?"
2. "Therefore the sage keeps the obligations of his contracts, and exacts not from others. Those who have virtue attend to their obligations. Those who have no virtue attend to their claims."

If we look only to our own claims, and base our integrity on this, we are without virtue.

Breaking agreements must be done with care. Making agreements must be done with care. We must look to the possibility that we may have to break or violate our agreements, and we must not pretend that this is right or good. We must communicate directly, not with equivocation or secret evasion, our difficulty in keeping our agreements. Our agreements are not made in a vacuum. They are two ways. They bind us to others and others to us. We entered into this relationship in good faith as did the other party. Most agreeements were not imposed upon us. We chose our agreements.

One measure of our commitment is our willingness to remake broken agreements. Or, to accept the consequences of breaking them. Seperation, an end to mutual growth and moving in a different direction are some of the consequences. It may be a good direction, but it is not without the guilt of having broken a freely chosen agreement.

The result of breaking an agreement is an ending. It can mean a new beginging, but represents a failing. Recreation can lead to further growth. Nothing will be the same.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Challenge

I guess I've got the convert's syndrome going on: too much enthusiasm, leading to too much posting, but after reading this month's issue of Lodge Room International magazine, I needed to make this challenge.

In the opening article, "Between the Columns," by Brother Dunn, the author said, "It [our obligation] is the golden tie that binds us, our Obligation to all brothers, wheresoever dispersed around the globe, and their obligation to us in return." (1)

As I mentioned in an earlier article, I just passed my Third Degree Proficiency on November 8. As we all remember, a big part of this is the Master Mason's Obligation. In the dizzying pressure to get the words right, I know I was more interested in content than context. I suspect a lot of us do this.

I do know that we all look at this with a bit of humor. It's hard to do. We all do it. Modesty makes us make light of the process. But what about the actual content and context the whole catechism, and most particularly the obligation. Those of us with more years under our belt have gone over the Obligation and the Catechism many times. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, at least comfort. If we talk about it lightly or humorously often enough, do we take it less seriously over time?

Now that the doing of it (the Proficiency) is done, I'm looking at the words I said and the form I said them in. I'm not going to write down any of the things I said or did, but I am going to challenge all Brother Master Masons to recall, as accurately as possible the words and ritual of our Obligation.

Each of us will attach our own meaning to the words, based on our beliefs and feelings. Be sure to know that the words have meaning. Actual dictionary meaning. The words also have meanings that have been attached by years of use.

Part of this challenge is to, in the right place and with the right person, to discuss the meanings of the words. Also to be sure we all remember all of the words right.

"Obligation is founded on the necessary distinction between good and evil; and it is itself the foundation of liberty." (2)

In the Fellowcraft Degree, we are enjoined to seek knowledge. The knowledge of our Master Mason's Obligation is basic to all further growth.

(1) Dunn, Theron R., Lodgeroom International Magazine, "Between the Columns," V. 2, Issue 11, November, 2007, p2

(2) Pike, Albert, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, L.H. Jenkins, Richmond, VA, 1871, p 723


Feelings are slippery things. Do they mean anything? Are they worth consideration? Do we have anything else?

As a test, poll a room full of people about the temperature in the room. The more people, the better. You'll probably find that their feelings about about the temperature will fall out in three areas: about 1/3 will feel it's too hot; about 1/3 will feel it's too cold; and the final 1/3 will feel it's just right. The actual temperature doesn't matter, but how people feel about it does. To them.

This dichotomy between the truth and what we feel is the truth is present in all areas of experience. Or, rather, interferes with experience. We rarely actually experience reality, but construct ways to make it fit our feelings.

Another amusing test is to get on a crowded elevator and, politely, non threateningly, face the rear of the car rather than the front. Don't make eye contact, or compose you face in any way that may be thought aggressive. I guarantee that most of the people in the elevator will will feel very uncomfortable. Possibly to the extent that will get off the elevator.

So what does this have to do with us as Freemasons?

Well, everything we see and hear, everyone we meet, and every lesson we're taught is filtered by how we feel. We bring a boatload of stuff into each conversation These feelings influence what we see and hear. This affects our relationships and friendships, and even if we want to enter into friendship, and they even affect our floor and ritual work. We may feel unable to learn so much; we may feel that this guy is too old or too young to be teaching us; we may even feel jealous of those in office.

Feelings may be powerful and scary, but they are a paper tiger, like a hoop a football team runs through to open some games. They are convincingly printed, but they are only a couple of microns thick. We can break through them when they are obviously holding us back. Freemasonry is about continual progress. I suggest that we should develop tools to help us recognize feelings that are interfering with our progress, and with our relationships, and deal with them responsibly. This is not to say all feelings are bad, but that we should be aware of them, and where they fit in our lives. It's part of our growth and progress.

Do we have anything else? Yes. There is reality out there. Can we access it? Of course. Sometimes you just have to sit with reality like a brick in your lap. Each experience will bring up feelings, and we have only to sit there and notice our reaction to it. Experience the feeling, and it's power will be reduced.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Process and Product

It seems that most of my current interests stress process over product. That is to say that the act of doing the stuff is as important or more important than the end result. It seems so, but probably isn't.

In fly fishing, hunting for the spot, being so intimately aware of nature, hunting for the fish, and the mechanics of getting a good cast hold great satisfaction. Catching fish make it more fun, but that isn't necessary to the enjoyment. I practice catch and release, so the process is really king. And then there's tying the flies. The itty-bitty details, striving for your definition of perfection (I don't try to impress folks, just fish) and handling the beautiful materials are fun. There is a product to admire at the end, so it's hard to say whether the process or the product is more important here.

Freemasonry is about process. Most of what we do is processing. Ritual, education, even business meetings. Social events, table lodges, refreshment after labor. All of these are processes that hopefully lead to a good product. A good man. Even the production of a good man is part of the process of a good society and a good world.

Applying ourselves to the itty-bitty details of Ritual: making sure that the physical space is right; making sure that the space is secure (tyled); and making sure that we know the steps and the words. Getting lost in process can be meaningful itself. And we need to keep the product in mind as well.

Our Past Grand Master in Maryland, Ronald Belanger, pointed out that the Perfect Ashlar in our lodge isn't as perfect as it can be. If you rub your hand over the surface of the most perfect stone, you still feel roughness. It gets finer over time, but never entirely smooth.

It is important not to lose sight of the fact that all we do is process. There must remain a difference between what is and what should be, or we stop growing.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.

"Stranger passing by, tell the Lakadaimonians that
We stand here yet, obedient to their word."

Simonides memorial to the Spartan dead at Thermopylae.

"From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remember'd; We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition: And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day"

Henry V before the battle of Agincourt (by Shakespeare)

These two memorials to heroes of the past apply equally well to heroes of the present. Those who fight today are just as heroic, and just as human, as those praised and memorialized in literature and theater. Whether we agree or disagree with their mission, their bravery in doing their job for us is to be praised.

On this Veterans' Day, our Brotherly Love extends to the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces.

Third Degree Proficiency

I now know why a stiff interrogation is called, "Getting the third degree." On November 8, I stood for my Third Degree Proficiency. I passed.

It's interesting that when events of this type come up, brothers you didn't know you have show up. How does this word go out? How can we harness this power to get more brothers to regular communications?

I think that's the key word: communication. I know that in our lodge there ain't enough of it. I suspect that it's the case in a lot of lodges. I was looking a websites tonight for the Scottish Rite and York Rite in various jurisdictions. Many of them hadn't been updated this year. There are some great websites that grab your interest and inform really well, but there are many more that aren't doing their job.

There are a lot of us who are retired. This can mean time on our hands. There's a commercial on Public TV in my area that says there is a natural resource out there that can save the planet. That resource is women. Freemasons have a great resource as well. Men with time on their hands, and experience in dealing with people during a long life. Harnessing that resource can drive new life into our lodges and into our life. Into our life because, as we have all experienced, life with friends is much more powerful than life alone.

There's no reason to believe because it's not being done that it can't be done. Find the right resource and use it. We're there. Use us.


This was sent me by my wife:

"There in the garden, a young monk speaks: "Master, I've been thinking about getting a dogma, and I seek your advice. Any thoughts on the matter?"

The Old Monk collects his thoughts, and calmly replies: "Well my son,everyone has a pet belief, so why should you be any different? Yes, we human beings have had dogmas since the dawn of recorded history. This is understandable. You cannot imagine how comforting it is to curl up with a warm fuzzy dogma on a dark night of the soul. Or to take him to the park on a fine sunny Sunday in January and watch him sniff and chase other dogmas,and bark at strangers.

Some folks keep dogmas for protection. It's reassuring to have a guard dogma to scare away frightening thoughts - and it's great to have a loyal companion to fetch you an explanation when you get home from a hard day at work.

And dogmas come in all varieties. Some humans like big dumb dogmas, and others prefer squeaky little irritating ones. And with compassion, someone has to stand for the under dogma. Dogma is truly wo/man's best friend.

Now, some may ask, why not let sleeping dogmas lie? But who really wants to be lied to? And what about menacing dogmas that bite? Or dogmas that run wild and get in everyone's garbage? I know, I know you're probably thinking,"It isn't my dogma making all the mess, it's my neighbor's dogma."

And indeed you can look out any night and see a pack of aggressive dogmas running down the street chasing a doubt. And what should you do when you are walking down the road and a threatening dogma appears in your path? Stay calm and let the unfamiliar dogma know who's boss. Say, "Bad dogma, rollover!"

It is a fact of life that dogmas have sharp teeth, and when backed into a corner, they can bite. As a dogma owner it is your responsibility to see that your dogma does not bite. And - if it does, well, sometimes a vicious dogma has to be put down.

Another fact of life is that dogmas inevitably get old and sick.
you've spent years lovingly taking care of a tired old dogma - and still the time comes to put that old dogma to sleep.

It is sad when you must give up a loyal dogma like that - so I say enjoy your dogma while it is alive and playful. You know how uncanny it is that dogma owners come to resemble their dogmas. So, my son, you may have a dogma. But just make sure your dogma doesn't mess on your neighbor's lawn.

And know that on non-judgment day, all our dogmas will run free, and surely they will bother no one.

P.S. Always be careful not to run over your dogma with your karma."

What This Blog is About

This blog is the thoughts of a Freemason. It's not affiliated with any Masonic body, and doesn't speak for Freemasonry in any sense of the word. My purpose is to raise questions, not dictate answers. If you read this blog, please comment; please subscribe, so we can look for answers to these questions together.