Friday, December 26, 2008

The Royal Secret

They didn’t dress very nice, always looked a little like the entire family had been dumped from a bag. They tried, their hair was combed, they were clean, but always a little haggard. Dad worked three jobs to make ends meet, but still found time to put Jimmy in soccer and to make the games. Mom worked two jobs, both under the table type stuff, and the money went a long way to making sure the car ran and the house payment was made.

When the offering plate was passed, they put money in, for those less fortunate than they. For on this Christmas Eve, they would have a nice family dinner.

Yet, in the upper middle class neighborhood brimming, the large church with a membership into the thousands, this family was “different.” Not in a good way as the Christmas Christians packing the parking lot with Toyota Highlanders and mini-vans of various types and sizes packing the pews would leave, in a church packed to the gills, the remainder of this wonderful front row empty. No one wanted to sit next to the poor family.

Prior to services begining the pastor would make a plea for involvement in the church, explaining that the new “small groups” programs would begin in January with the New Year and to please sign up early to guarantee a spot. You could hear all the programs rustle as people began checking off the groups they would participate in. A lady stood in front of the church and spoke of their bread ministry where they would bake loaves of bread and drop off a flavorful banana bread or zucchini bread to the door of every new visitor to the church with a small informational brochure in the event they decided to return.

These are “good and loving” people as the pastor would describe his parishioners later in the evening, yet the pew remained empty except for the “poor” family.

Many of the Prada bearing PTA moms would discuss how the church program handing out groceries for the poor was a huge success as they sipped Starbucks coffee in the church “cafĂ©” following the service. The poor family headed home quickly to their own dinner. Dad never could stomach paying three dollars for a cup of something he could make for twenty cents. The whole practice seemed wasteful in a world where waste had become common place.

The Prada parade would head to restaurants where only half of the over portioned meals will get eaten, the rest disposed of so that their waist size doesn’t get too big when the other girls in the Pilates class will all be looking for who may have gained a pound during the holidays. The poor family will freeze leftovers and nothing will go to waste. Yet, their pew remained empty.

It would seem sometimes that we allow ourselves, in our busy lives, to believe that the ills that have befallen the world are their own fault. They have not worked hard enough, they are lazy, or they drink too much, etc. Our life, because we have been lucky and because we have worked hard, is blessed. And, since we own your blessings more than we should and because we believe ourselves separate from the remainder of the world, we are disconnected from it and do not see the unity of it all.

This disconnect can manifest in many ways. A church full of “good” people who will help the poor so long as they don’t have to sit next to them or share their god with them is only one common example. As harmless as this might seem there is a danger in it.

The Christian that can fail to share a pew is the Christian that can feel removed from their community. This is the Christian that can feel so disconnected that they look upon the affairs of the world, the wars, the sickness, and famine with glee as they hail them as signs of a depraved world and as evidence that the end is about to come. They offer praises of this debauchery as evidence of their saviors return. What if the savior wants us to love and care for our planet, what if we are connected to its oceans and soil in ways that we can never truly appreciate and the stories of this savior are ones that, when understood, call upon you, with intellect and reason, to care for the entire universe, not just a simple planet?

The Muslim that can feel separate from the Christian is the one that can bomb him without thought, can praise the radical, and destroy the peaceful adept.

The Buddhist that can detach himself completely from the world’s affairs is the one that can not share the beauty that exist in his Nirvana.

Let’s jump backwards to one of first lessons in Masonry for minute.

A network, at least to most, would describe some sort of intra or Internet, a wireless network in their house or from their cell provider. But, to the Fellow Craft it is something entirely different. It is described as one of the ornaments adorning the pillars that flanked to doorway to King Solomon’s temple. The lesson the second degree Freemason learns from this, or is supposed to learn from it is UNITY.

I’ve written before of balance and equality and some of the misunderstandings that occur in trying to grasp the concept of balance in regards to esoteric mystical philosophy and I think similar misunderstandings occur with unity, but for different reasons. Balance need not exist. It is a generative product from the creative force of the macro and microcosm. It assists us in an understanding of freewill because it exists as a product of it. In the end, it is likely the universe will balance itself, but this is difficult to comprehend while we ride the ride upon the diurnal rotation.

Unity, on the other hand, exists in spite of us. More importantly, our collective ignorance of it creates a dangerous and deadly situation for us.

Let’s use some word pictures to better illustrate the point and let’s use nature as our guide. There was a time that we, as a collective people, did not realize the connection between earth and water. We thought, as recently as the 1960’s that you could dump something into the ground or bury it underground and be fine. It took scientific discovery to realize that this could affect drinking water, plants, crops, and the people that ingested the water, the plants, and the fish from the water. We did not recognize the connection, but it existed in spite of us. We can choose not to recognize it, but it remains connected, mercury will continue to leech from the ground, to the water, to the fish, to the person.

This line of thinking is equally as dangerous in the philosophical world as well. The failure to recognize unity has resulted in death, war, and hatred.

Returning to the Christian for a moment, consider the early Christian Church since is the most common religion in the world if taken collectively even though they will not consider themselves collectively…keys to heaven, lack of unity, etc. The priest craft was often referred to as “papa” or father. The papa’s began to argue their particular supremacy and the Pope was born. The “papa” or priest craft created a system where the follower of God comes to the priest as an intermediary between them and God. The priest craft itself further divided and the positions of deacons, bishops, and cardinals grew. Now, man had quite the road to travel between himself and God.

If God is omnipotent and omnipresent it is arguable at best that we as a people, planet, or universe can even be separate from him. But, if we fail to recognize the unity of G-d and man, then it is a short step to surrendering our relationship with G-d to the intermediary. Because we fail to recognize our connection and lack of separation with G-d, orthodoxy and dogma appear to create separation. Because this is our perception, we act on it as truth.

The early Christian church, coming to believe its own dogma, divided and separated into factions and the protestant movement was born. Each protestant denomination, believing that the silliest of things can cause separation from G-d, further divided for fear that a relationship with G-d is a fragile thing. Heaven became a far off place with this line of thinking and grape juice instead of wine, Masonic affiliation, or improper dress could buy you a chariot ride to the dark place.

Further, because heaven, G-d, hell, earth, and such are all separate, we are able to commit our sins in private. We can harm and then hope for salvation. We can war against one another and destroy whole peoples because they are separate from G-d.

But if the Muslim and the Jew saw themselves as the heart and eyes of a singular body, if the Christian saw himself as this same bodies legs, would we be so quick to destroy the other? If we understood that the darkest of rooms does not separate us from G-d would we be so quick to murder, to lie, to cheat? How about this? What if the darkest of actions still does not separate you from G-d, from your neighbor, from the earth, from nature, or heaven?

This brings us to the lesson of the 32nd degree of Masonry. Equilibrium. This should not be understood as a concept that exists in singularity. Nor should it be taken to mean that there should be absolute equality in all things. Equilibrium is the result of unity recognized and balance applied.

The most frightening separation that has occurred within humanity is a belief that our consciousness is granted from outside of us, that we are separate from the faculties of reason, logic, faith, and hope. That these wonderful attributes granted by the Creator are without us and not available from within. Know thyself is a physical formula for equilibrium that is simple and profound all at once.

If one man can find himself within, and express it without, the entire universe is changed. We can choose to deny unity, to live out of balance, and to pretend that the universal equilibrium is a dream. Or, we can take responsibility for our actions and own the decisions we make. We can decide to live now instead of seeking a separate heaven while creating a hell of ignorance in the present existence.

This is the relevance of Scottish Rite Masonry.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Monday, Morality, and License Plates

It had snowed the night before and Monday loomed large as a day that was not going to be pleasant. That thought hit home, or more appropriately his arse, as he fell in the driveway in a pricey blue suit, ruining the suit, bruising his butt and ego, and causing a further delay to the day as he would now have to change before proceeding.

Limping to the car, getting in carefully this time, he plugged the key into the ignition, both in a hurry and still dreading Monday; when he was met with a dead engine. Jack Frost had robbed the batteries energy and it would now need a jump. Oh good, he thought, more time in the cold and on the icy driveway.

The car finally started, he began the slippery crawl to work. At the first opportunity a teenager, going way too fast for the conditions, was nice enough to run a stop sign, cut him off, and almost collide with him. They made eye contact, and the temptation to give the single finger salute was great. He started almost, and then remembered, and withdrew the phalange of force, the finger of revenge.

It didn’t take long before some square chinned, small brained giant of a man in an even more giant and jacked up four wheel drive that did not realize that four wheel drive did not always mean four wheel stop and slid several yards before missing our disgruntled Monday commute soldier by only inches. The middle pillar began to twitch again and the fleshy digit of animus almost shot up another time to deliver its delicate message that is consistent in every nation and the same in every city. But, dang it, he remembered and withdrew.

It was at the next lighted intersection his determination would truly be tested. A ninety year old plus women, in a Buick moving four miles an hour, managed to run the red light without even attempting a stop. The little matriarch of mayhem behind the wheel managed to turn her head, provide a toothy grin as she drive right through the intersection, release her death grip on the steering wheel with her right hand, and send up her own one finger salute.

It was almost too much. The anger exploded in him and he reached to roll down the window so that his one finger wave would be higher and so that he could scream the appropriate salutation as loud as he possibly could. Oh, the agony of it as he remembered and stopped himself.
He finally arrived at work, parked, and made it into the office. A hot cup of coffee later and he found that he felt better. He was not as angry as he should have been. It seemed that not acting on his frustration and allowing his acrimony to rule the drive, had allowed agreeability to sneak in and find refuge. He would have to remember that lesson, even when he wasn’t driving that dastardly car that kept reminding him that morning.

That car had Masonic plates on it and it had proved a strong reminder of his commitment to morality. It was amazing how just that little symbol on his license plate had pulled at his conscience and he was uncomfortable displaying behaviors that were inconsistent with Masonic teachings. He, after all, behind the wheel, displaying that plate, was going to advertise for Masonry, what would that advertisement be?

In the end, Masonry had proved powerful and relevant in his life, with a simple license plate.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Equality, Harmony, and other False God's

I had been channel surfing the other day when I came upon a gem of a show. It was called Taboo. It was aired on the National Geographic Channel or NGEO as it shows up on the T.V. Guide channel. The show covers different acts or actions that are considered quite normal in some places or communities, but generally considered unthinkable in another. This particular episode talked of the public killing of animals. The section of the show that caught my attention was a small goat having its throat cut across as its blood was spilled in sacrifice to the god Kali.

Long lines of devotees lined up behind a blood soaked shrine with all sorts of different treasures for sacrifice to Kali. Chickens, ducks, and goats seemed the most common sacrifice for the day and I caught myself wondering if Kali ever wished for a more diverse diet.

The show progressed to the annual killing of a load of pilot whales off the coast of a small island nation near Iceland and Norway likely settled by the Vikings. The whole town would drive a herd or pod of whales to the shore using their boats in unison and then slaughter the whales. The town, in turn, all gets a free share of whale meat in a place where natural resources are hard to come by.

The point of the story has nothing to do with the killing of animals publically for a god or otherwise. As I watched entranced in the story a college professor was interviewed just following the whales. Multiple interviews of people on both sides of the “issue” of the killing of animals were interviewed. This particular professor caught my attention for a twofold reason. One, because the majority of the “anti-killing” side of the argument were claiming or spoke around the issue that this act or these collect acts disturb the universal BALANCE of things. Second, this particular professor said that one of our biggest problems as a human race is that we are SPECIST. This is defined as a person who practices “speciesism,” which is defined as assigning different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership.

I decided to address this because it is idiotic and ignorant. It is a ridiculous premise and it scares me that a man educating our populous can so easily espouse this.

The idea is that, in this particular instance, we, as a race of humans, believe the whales as less than equal to us and this allows us to justify doing harm to the whales such as killing and eating them.

The professor said that until we can overcome this deficit and treat all animals as equals, we will suffer these wrongs to the planet.

This is where Masonry enters into the picture. It will take me a minute to get there, but let’s talk about the relevance of our philosophies in the presence of pure stupidity.

Many of the ancient mystical traditions, modern psychology, and some religions teach balance as a philosophy by which person can and should lead their lives. In the more ancient and more Gnostic traditions, this balance creates a unity with G-d, in Jungian terms it allows a glimpse at the collective conscious; all of which are laudable pursuits. The mental, spiritual, and physical benefits of a balanced life are even being recognized the staunch materialist who have difficulty refuting the medical evidence just by itself.

Regardless of the benefits, the antiquity of the teachings, and the number of groups teaching this path, it must be completely misunderstood for an idea such as speciesism to take hold.

Balanced does not mean equal. Let me type that again because it bears repeating, balanced does not mean equal.

I wish there was a way for me to express the long pause in writing, that I would have taken in a room full of college coeds and academic fundamentalist now screaming in pain and calling me everything but a person.

Let’s address the ignorance of the statement from a couple of levels because it so clearly illustrates the misunderstanding concerning a balanced life. First, we classify things as species because this is a way of recognizing DIFFERENCES. Yes, there are differences in things, people, places, and life. DIFFERENCES are not bad and recognizing that there are differences is not bad. We scientifically classed “species” so that we could quickly identify differences and similarities. Being balanced does NOT mean being the SAME.

Second, to be equal we must hold all other species to our standards or allow ourselves to degrade to theirs. So, the eagle of the air and the alligator of the swamp should be tried for their crimes of murder should they kill to eat if we believe the killing of anything is equal to the killing of a human and vice versa. Since it is clearly unrealistic to hold the beast of a field, air, or swamp to a human standard and condition, we, as recognized equals, should hold ourselves no higher than they and revert to their system as equals. We can not declare the beast an equal, allow for a violation of the law on an unequal basis because this is a distinct recognition of inequality.

Yet, it could be argued that we learn much from the natural BALANCE from observing nature. The predator is necessary for population control, the leaf necessary for soil and food for other species. All things are clearly connected, but not all things are equal.

This can be seen in simple action. The man seeking to live a balanced life does not seek an equal amount of evil to goodness, for every good deed he does not immediately seek to commit a wrong against his brother.

Today’s world stage seeks balance through equalization. There are a number of reasons for this, but some of those reasons include cowardice and laziness. To claim nothing is every truly right or wrong, to claim that morality is always relative, to claim that any definition of good, right, and god is a correct definition so as not to disparage any belief system, and to claim that equality is the same as balance are all children of the desire for harmony at the cost of Truth. It is easier not to offend than to take a stand. So, we like to convince ourselves that the truth can never be defined and that all things are equal, when in fact, they are not. The carbohydrate is not the equal to the protein in building muscle, yet both are necessary in a balanced diet. Harmony is not the equal to courage in the journey to the truth.

Courage is not absent from a Masonic journey to balance for reason. You do not stand the test of an instrument of torture for petty reasons, you do not journey from darkness to light without cause, and you do not put your trust in God without it being a necessity. The Truth is offensive to some. It always has been. It is why it has gone underground and is treated as a special treasure, an arc of our covenant.

The terrible thing about the aforementioned theories is they seem decent, likable, loving even. They are quieter than fundamentalism so they seem more socially acceptable. They do not hate so they seem passive. This isn’t so, they destroy. Courage, trust, faith, secrecy, and real balance are destroyed in their wake. Reason, logic, and philosophy are laid at the feet of false security and the god of false harmony.

Masonry remains a guidepost along this path. Real balance will always require discernment, courage, and the ability to declare something false, wrong, and maybe even destructive.