Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Warrior Poet

Remember a time when men could dance the tango, quote Shakespeare, hold a door for a lady, but hold his own in a fight? Me neither. I am a Gen X’r, the generation of fatherless sons who learned who have mixed ideas about manhood being either that a man who wears pinks Polo shirts and cries at lots of movies or some hypermachismo blockhead who goes through life kicking and punching.

So in comes the lost art of Masonry. Chisel and maul in hand, the speculative Craft seeks to hone men from the rough stone of youth, uncertainty, and intolerance.

Masonry raises warrior poets. A man that can hug a his brother, pray with a widow, and wield a sword. The man who received little in the way of training in discourse, is taught to stand up in lodge, provide a detailed plan, and make a motion for an idea that he believes could benefit the lodge and his brothers. He practices rhetoric in explaining the logical progression of his theory, he practices logic in refining his theory when presented with obstacles that prove correct and help to improve the idea. He moves through the chairs and one day wields the gavel of authority and, in doing so, he learns the necessity of humility and discretion. He learns the hidden allegorical meaning taught in many holy books when an aspect of All Power is presented as a servant of mankind and his brothers.

The obligations, although improper to discuss in detail, are not the obligations of a weak spine. They teach the necessity for a gentle spirit in carrying for widows and orphans, at the same time recognizing the necessity for action, allowing that we should not strike in anger, providing the whispered message of the necessity to know how to strike being one of the tools of a Mason. We are taught that establishment should be strong and that strength in spirit and that courage in faith, hope, and charity are more powerful wielded by a man of his word, than the sword of metal by a despotic man or government.

We learn to appreciate “art” and recognize the downfalls and pleasures of power as we are faced with the dangers of mob rule, organized orthodoxy, and misguided desires in our Master Mason degree. At the same time, the road is perilous and we are confronted with the need for real courage in the face of physical danger. The need for physical consequences for weakness of spirit in the penalties inflicted upon these unjust and uncaring Fellows of the Craft. We learn that an apology is correct, but that it does not negate the requirement for justice.

We are taught the art of the Warrior Poet my friends. Educate yourselves so that we can educate others, arm a society with a sword of truth and public education against the tyranny of despotism whether material or spiritual.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Secrecy and Faith

There are many different groups, evangelical and fundamentalist Christian groups, conspiracy theorist, self proclaimed moralist all screaming that secrecy is evil and nothing good need remain a secret. Now for the Christian groups claiming such, never mind that the most ancient translations of the Bible provide that Jesus taught his disciples “secrets” and his “secret” teachings such as in Matthew 13, “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.’”

This country was formed because of the secret meetings of likeminded men working together for change to bring freedom to the people from under an oppressive king. The Underground Railroad operated in secret to remove men, women, and children from the bondage of slavery. There are a number of instances throughout history, when clearly; the protections of secrecy are evident. Yet, we have our detractors claiming that nothing “good” need be done in secret.
Here is what they are missing. Secrecy breeds trust and courage. There are many reasons we may love our spouses, but believing we can share anything with them is an important aspect to a healthy relationship. The idea that your closest companion will not share your private moments with anyone else is what allows you to trust them. The idea that we can trust them gives of the courage to share with them. This is the basis of the secrecy of Masonry.

In a world where everyone cannot line up fast enough to share their deepest, darkest moments on television for all to see, when peoples most intimate moments end up as the next video download on the Internet, when you share with a friend and before you leave the room, the information has been text messaged or e-mailed to someone not intended to hear it, Masonry teaches the value of a secret.

When the leaders of the Church claim there should be no secrecy, what they are really claiming is that they fear they would not be able to manipulate information if they did not have access to it. The Earth being round was a secret because the Church locked up the men who professed the hard science behind it. That man can attain inner peace without the intervention of a man in a white robe still needs to be a secret in some circles less you are ostracized in your local church community.

Sometimes we forget how valuable closing our mouths and keeping them that way can be. Listening is often an unintended consequence of maintaining secrecy and, low and behold, we even learn something here and there.

Lastly, trust and courage are the ingredients of faith. There would be no birth of faith without the establishment of secrecy.

The power of the secret is the power of faith.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Lesson of Friendship

I learn daily in Masonry and not from written by-laws or studying Constitutions, but from the simple interactions with my friends and Brothers. We can sometimes, it seems to me and I am not the sharpest tool in the shed, that we miss the simplier lessons in Masonry. The Craft teaches that instruction should occur from mouth to ear. What can this archaic method have to offer? Human interaction folks and in this world of text messages and nuclear blogging there is a lot to be said for the simple and complete lesson of mouth to ear.

How much more does one learn from the man who puts his arm around a friend and communicates his message in a personal way from the heart. Too often mean heartedness is couched as honesty. “If he did not want an honest answer, he should not have asked” is many times an explaination for rude and inciting speech. It is possible to be honest without being hurtful. It is honest to call a man’s decision a poor one without calling the man an idiot.
One on one verbal communication is a flow of energy between two humans that can not and should not be replaced. Fellowship is not negotiable in the arsenal of tools in developing our behaviors and responses. It gives us insight into others and, therefore, through the collective consciousness, insight into ourselves.

I sat with a man tonight, my Brother, we talked of life, ladies, mysticism, good Scotch, and friendship. We shared our experiences at work and at home as we worked upon our ashlars and upon his proficiency and we were richer for it. It was not drab memory work, it was human interaction. It was a sharing of friendship and experiences that create a bond that would be ineffable for those that truly can’t appreciate what Brotherhood means to the Mason.
Masonry teaches the lost art of sitting down across from your friends, from your family, from your Brothers and listening and sharing in their day, in their week, in their happiness, and their pain. Masonry teaches caring, because when you are connected it simply occurs.

When we rush a man through the degrees of the Craft we lose this experience and Masonry is one of the last places we find this. Let us not forget the relevance of the human experience as we type away in front of the luminous screens of our computers or vegetate in front of the tube.
Masonry is relevant, because our Brother’s and their lives are relevant. Let us not forget our greatest asset, the Brother.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Necessity of Change and Constancy of Truth

I was engaging in some of that wonderful parking lot oratory that I had alluded to before when it happened. My self proclaim philosophies came back to bit me square in my fifth point of contact, or as Forest Gump would have said with that strange twang, my buttocks. It happened innocently enough. We were discussing the preparation of some lodge items when one of the Brothers posed a question about it. The topic itself is not necessarily relevant to the story, so in the essence of time, it is my response that had the ability of a boomerang thrown by an expert marksman that caused my “learning experience.”

I responded to the question with, “I think we have started a tradition and that is how we should continue.” The man with the expert aim and loaded with insight said, “Wow, that is the first step to ‘That is the way we’ve always done it.’”

This might not seem like a big deal to the casual observer, but it is. The actual lodge experience has been stagnant in American lodges all over under the battle cry of, “That is the way we have always done it.” This sentimentality and fear of change has slowly metered out apathy and cynicism. Worse, it has slowly pushed out education and personal fulfillment. The worse part is that I consider myself a philosophical warrior of sorts fighting this stagnation. That’s why the ol’ reference made by the Brother mentioned above stung so deep….that and to make matters completely worse…he had the audacity to be correct. Man that nerve of that guy!

It is amazing how easy it is to argue for that in which we have become comfortable. It is amazingly easy to convince yourself that, which feels the most comfortable, seems the most familiar is the best and in many cases the only way to do things. I wonder how much cowardice of spirit has been guised as tradition so that progression and change need not occur.

Freemasonry is a progressive science we are told. Yet many of the rituals and such remain unchanged. So what is to be learned from such an apparent irony? Thank you for asking and I would love to elaborate. Masonry is a system of self improvement. An improvement is a change. Not change for its own sake, but if you decide to improve something, to include yourself, you must suffer the consequence of change. Masonry, like all institutions, is a reflection of its membership. The Fraternity must, therefore be, a progressive science as a reflection of the continual improvement of its members.

Ritual allows for the communication of truth by those who may not completely understand the meaning, so that the truth remains constant and the pupil is allowed his own pace an interpretations.

Masonry instructs the necessity of change and the constancy of truth. Beautiful really.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Who Can Be A Mason

It is ironic that we (The Craft) spend a great deal of time discussing membership. A bit too much really. When you are facing the community to shuck and jive for membership, your back is to the door and little is done for the enriching of the members in some lodges. Herein lays the danger of the membership drive.

Here is the little piece of irony for you irony addicts. We spend a whole lot of time in parking lot discussion after lodges has concluded discussing just who should be allowed to be a Mason. We go back and forth discussing different reasons a man or woman should or should not be made a Mason. Yet, some miscreant shows up with a petition and $20 at the door of some dying lodge and boom…he is a Mason. Heck, three days later in some places, he might just be a Shriner. I digress and this particular topic is not the focus of this piece of literary genius…or mad ramblings, word smith how you would like.

I had an interesting conversation the other day that got me to thinkin’ which is different than caused me to muse. It started with the question, “Can a Wiccan be a Mason?” Well, I stood shivering from the light chill that always precedes the rush of bright red blood to my face when I am not completely sure how to answer a question. I went with the most scholarly of answers and one that bought me a little time. I said, “Well, that depends.” The sneaky son of gun immediately followed with, “On what?” and I was back at square one.

I thought about the Wiccan service I had seen and could not think of anything out right that would stop a member of this community from being a Mason. I thought of fact that the founder of the Wiccan faith as we know it was a Mason. I thought of my conversation with a neo-pagan who believed in a single God that manifests through different aspects of nature. I said, “It would depend on if the man fit the qualifications and I proceeded to pontificate upon the aforementioned in the eloquent pros of someone who was not quite sure himself.

Then someone said, “What about the ritual sex that Wiccans participate in, having sex out in the open in nature and all that.” I have to admit, I have heard of some groups that practice ritual sex, but had not heard that the Wiccans do this. So I mused a bit and tapped my foot a little hoping to buy a scant of time that my mental juices could pick up to more than the trickle that I normally experience. I asked, “How about a group of people that participate in a cannibalistic ceremony where they symbolically tear at the flesh of their G-d and wash it down with a big thirsty gulp of the god man’s blood so that they can become one with their Deity?” Of course it was immediately agreed that this group should not be made a Mason. Then one of my fellow word smiths recognized that I had described, although much differently than normal, the Christian act of communion.

I did not describe it as such to offend, but to cause reflection. We all see things a bit differently from our personal perspectives. It would be different if someone said, “Can a man who has ever had sex in nature be a Mason?” Well, for a lot of 16 year old boys parking at the local park on prom night would be immediately excluded. How about a religion where a man and women make love to consummate the most beautiful act and power act of nature which is creation?

The point being is that it is all in how you say it sometimes. I am not promoting some sort of Wiccan agenda as I am not a Wiccan and down really know that much about it. I do believe that labels are a foolish mechanism for exclusion even when people choose to label themselves. Because a man says that he is a Christian does not mean that he is a good man. He might still drink too much, lie all the time, and beat his wife and kids when he gets home from work. Conversely, the neo-Pagan man completely devoted to G-d, family, and country who earnestly follows the precepts of his religion, lives a moral and upright life, and seeks admission into the Fraternity is the better choice in my estimation even though the public portrayal of his faith is a bit “scary” and conjures up people cloaked in black stirring a caldron of steaming brew.

I think that we meet with the man, get to know the man, LISTEN to the man when he talks of his faith. Then make a decision on whether to admit such a man based on a totality of the circumstances and labels be damned.

Can a Christian be a Mason? Most would answer sure. Should we be so quick? It is not about religion little “r” really. It is more about the man’s inner belief systems and whether he can practice tolerance of those belief systems of the man he will call a Brother.

It is easy to say, “To each his own.” It is Masonic to say, “This man, with whom I do not share a particular religion with is my Brother. I respect his path to G-d. I will fight for his right to have such a path.”