Friday, September 18, 2009

Dan Brown Got It Right

“The doughnuts are on the table in the back Brother, make sure you don’t spill your coffee.” The night would be a busy one, the minutes were not read from just before they had gone dark, so there would be the minutes from that meeting and the installation. The speakers would be mentioned again and a brief tidbit of each speech would be reflected upon again in the event that something had been missed the first time.

This meeting is a little different, Dan Brown’s new book, the Lost Symbol, had arrived in mailboxes and many people had read it, had at least unwrapped it, and many more would read what everyone was saying about it on Google, and pretend to have read it, and some, as is their general approach to things, would have already formed a strong opinion of it (these folks never have anything other than strong opinions) without have read or researched the book at all. The strongest opinions, it would appear, are born of ether and not research, so it is best not to let them go.

The discussion this day, following the minutes, would be how to “handle” Brown’s book and what a Brother might say or do if approached by a potential member….and that’s where Dan got it right and the Craft got it wrong Brothers.

The constant downturn of membership has not stopped those who just know how to fix it from taking the reigns of every “Masonic” situation and turning it into a membership problem. We don’t have a membership problem, we have a perspective problem.

There has been a debate brewing within Masonry for years and to some degree Masonic education has caught on enough that not even the appendant bodies can ignore it. To some degree, Scottish Rite Masonry is leading the charge in this, at a conservative pace, but much better than no pace at all, which is the educational programming some lodges have chosen to follow.

The debate has been between educational Masonry and membership Masonry and is sometimes taken as esoteric Masonry versus exoteric, or that which is sometimes deemed “Fish Fry” Masonry as a term which is specifically meant as lightly derogatory to the form Masonry which is loaded with lapel pins, pancake breakfast, fish fry’s, and a believe that Masonry is a predominately good Christian organization that should really step up its efforts to relieve the poor or give to charity.

The question of the debate regardless of the side of the table you are sitting on, regardless of whether you thought you were only arguing membership or not, is HOW TO DEFINE MASONRY. A failure to realize this has created the reactionary stance of grabbing for members wherever we might find them. Those that lean towards educational based lodge experiences tend to be of the esoteric bent, but not always. There are a number of academically inclined Masons with little regard for some of the esoteric aspects of Masonry as an applied philosophy and enjoy the esoteric as research project as one might delve into anything that is little or less known. The membership camp is of the belief that a healthy lodge is one that is doing a lot of degree work and the biggest problem with Masonry is the shotty degree work and the lazy people these days wanting to stay home in front of their televisions instead of dragging butt to lodge and working to keep things going.

What is really being argued here is this. Group A would like to define Masonry as:

A philosophical and Initiatic society.

Group B would like to define Masonry as:

A fraternal organization that does good deeds.

Because we have failed to define ourselves in the recent decades when young men asked about us, society has done it for us. The answer was that an organization that can even define itself is, in large part, irrelevant. Thus, you had, “Freemasons, huh, I think my grandpa was one of those.”

Enter the Da Vanci Code. Brown defined the Fraternity in a roundabout way with his book. He defined the role of the secret society, which, by default, Masonry got some of the attention. Brown said that secret societies kept secrets and that some of those secrets could rock the collective consciousness of mankind back on its heels. This caused a problem for the Craft, in that, we were not prepared to discuss the Craft to that degree, because so many members of the Fraternity had not studied a single Masonic book, researched a degree, and in no way could discuss academically, philosophically, or intellectually a question about or accusation against the Fraternity. So, the argument became that there were no secrets at all, Google could find them for you, we are not ancient, our origins are not debatable, and whatever we are or wherever we come from, we are not mystical, spiritual, chivalric, or old. We are likely a modern English invention of men who like to dress up in the old days (we have often done away with that so please don’t let it keep you from joining), perform ritual (hey, we are not doing the WHOLE ritual anymore so please don’t let that keep you from joining), and meet in private (private isn’t like secret, there is nothing nefarious, or even interesting that happens in private and if you miss a meeting or all of them we understand, but if you could pay your dues on time or near on time or only one year late, that would be great). So, in effect, we communicated:

1. We are a Fraternity, not a secret society.

2. We don’t have secrets, and even when we did, they weren’t valuable or useful in any manner.

3. We don’t take ourselves or the work seriously.

4. We really need members (read in we are hurting for membership because we do not offer anything of value.)

5. We are not sure why we are doing it either, we have said it isn’t secret, it isn’t really Fraternal because real Fraternities demand participation, and we are not really……relevant…hmmm….hey did we mention that there are brochures and petitions on the table in the back.

6. We have no mysticism, mystery, or spirituality. We don’t want these things in lodge because they might offend an evangelical Christian, which by the way, we accept men of all faiths, but really we are mostly Christian and work hard to make sure that no Christian, even the ones with motives ulterior to the Craft, are offended, because like we discussed earlier, we are not sure what our motives are beyond seeking membership. (Note: if your only motive is to grow, you will likely see some growth. But keep this in mind, even weeds and viruses like to grow, and if this is your only motive, someone will make a living trying to destroy or eradicate you.)

7. Ooh, ooh, ooh….we give money to stuff.

My Brothers, this reaction is detrimental. I have seen it occur for another reason, besides knee jerk. It occurs when we do not know our own Craft or seek to deny or apologize for it.

If you are a Mason and you are attending a lodge where education is absent, if you have read little on Masonry, little on philosophy, if you have done the chairs but never conducted an in depth study of the ritual you used, if you believe that Masonic philosophy is the rote memorization of words, if you have recommended a man to the Craft whom you did not know very well simply to sign the first line and get another warm body, if you first learned of the theories in the Da Vinci code from the Da Vinci code but had been a Mason for decades, you must educate yourself and then others. Because my Brothers, when we are not helping the Craft, we are hurting it and it is important as Masons, that we conduct regular and honest self examinations. If our lodge is stagnant, it might because our frustrations with Masonry never move beyond ideas and conversations in the coffee room or parking lot. If you have a frustration, a question, a problem, a desire and do not move on it, do not act on it, then you are adding to the death of all good ideas that die in committees of inaction, even the informal ones.

My Brethren, it is time to declare that the Craft, is, in fact, a philosophical and Initiatic society. I am disheartened that Dan Brown took the time discover Hermeticism, Kabbalah, and the ancient mysteries and we still have members who have never studied the Pythagorean or Hermetic philosophy and cannot speak to the influences of each upon the rituals in our Craft. I am disheartened that Carl Jung used our philosophies to develop his understanding of speculative alchemy, yet most of our own members are not aware of the power of alchemy in a person’s life.

I am completely and utterly disheartened that the Lost Symbol is being addressed as a potential membership grab. Oh, we are not calling it that. We are claiming that we should be ready to answer the questions when they come, and with this I agree. It is the underlying message that there will be all kinds of folks, read in healthy young potential members, asking those questions.

We are not ready for those men and those who answer the question might just get this one drastically wrong. Before we can answer anything to anyone on the outside, we better finally answer the question of what we are first, and we better get it right. Our list of answers should have the following:

1. We do have secrets.

2. We do practice a form of ancient mysticism.

3. We are spiritual in a way that is so deep, so devote, so beautiful that we have trouble putting it in words. For reasons I can’t explain in material and mundane ways I am drawn to lodge, drawn to the ritual, and drawn to our ancient practices. I love it, but I can’t completely explain why and that is part of the secret…how it touches each of us.

4. There are esoteric aspects to Masonry that border on the fantastic. (If you have not studied as much as you would have liked, or maybe even that you should have, this is a great time to be honest and say, “Look, there is a whole lot of stuff out there that I have not studied yet in depth, you could make a lifetime study of our deepest and truest philosophies and some men, like Pike, Hall, and Wilmshurst have. And it’s not just the old guys, we have guys like Kirk MacNulty, Tim Hogan, Mark Koltko-Rivera, and others deeply affected by the Craft who are creating a whole lot of wonderful and philosophical material to devour anew.)

5. And…we better have this one ready to….”No, I can’t recommend you.” And Brothers, stand tall when you do this. You do not owe an apology to the man who shouldn’t be a member and you don’t have to start this one with, “I am sorry, but no.” Why are you sorry for protecting your Craft?

Brothers all, Dan Brown got it right. In so far as the Fraternity is a guardian of a lost secret. Dan Brown got right when we said that we harbor ancient wisdom. Dan Brown got it right when we studied the Kybalion, the Zohar, and the mystical traditions. Dan Brown got right. Will you?

We have a choice here. We can read the ancient tomes, the current philosophies, and the blooming Masonic writers. We can meditate upon our discoveries and utilize Masonic philosophy as a more than passive part of our existence. But first we must face some hard and brutal truths.

The Fraternity is not for everyone. It never was intended as such and is never going to work as a roof for all houses. When we have lodges that are failing, when young men go to a lodge after reading the “Lost Symbol” or books like it, or after reading the Kybalion, Morals and Dogma, or some old tome on alchemy and find poorly executed ritual by men who have never read a Masonic book in their life and believe that planning the next cooking event is of paramount importance, we have allowed a major and critical disservice to the Craft.

We must allow for idea that some lodges are going to die and it is likely because they should. Masonry is Lockean in its function and capitalist in its design. Don’t misunderstand me. I am speaking metaphorically of capitalism and providing that when the product has failed to meet the consumers expectation it should die so that the new and improved ideas and functions rise from the ashes as a new phoenix takes flight, or at worst, which still isnt’ bad, something that is not functioning properly stops functioning. I am aghast that we can be collectively upset in large numbers at a bailout of governmental proportions, but seem content to bailout failing lodges by joining their ranks in name only to keep a number alive. We don’t meet in lodges, we meet as a lodge.

A smaller, more precise, and properly funded Craft is needed. You want a successful Grand Lodge, cut away the failing and unused lodges, focus your efforts on those that will drive Masonry forward and truly understand it. We clamor for members, but those same misinformed and ill intentioned men end up in chairs stalling change at your Grand Lodge level and voting against even the smallest of necessary budget increases.

If a lodge is not a philosophical, enriching, and enlightening gathering of good men who study, know, and love Masonry, it should not be a lodge. Dan Brown has managed to discover the Hermetic origins of our philosophies, but we have members who have never read a single Masonic piece of literature. Right now, as we try to progress the Craft, the mantra goes that Masonry can be different things to different men. No it can’t. The proof is the fact that in many places it is failing. It will continue to fail until it defines itself and does so properly.

When you define the Craft as a purely fraternal and social order it will go the way of all the other purely social and fraternal orders that at one time tried to model themselves after Masonry. They collectively lacked Masonic philosophy and they died.

When a man comes into your lodge and says, “How has Kabbalah and the Zohar influenced what you practice here?” You should not be hearing the word Zohar for the first time. It should not be expected that we are all Kabbalist, it should not be expected that we are all Hermetic adepts, it should not be expected that we all know astronomy, alchemy, and the seven liberal arts and sciences as experts, but we should all be Masons. We should know why we do the things we do and we should have answer in our hearts and minds as to the true power of Masonry.

Instead of worrying about whether the Lost Symbol will create members, we should hope that we could create Masons. If we are going to make Masons, we can’t have our senior members learning about their Craft from teasers in a Dan Brown novel. We need to be Masons, to make Masons.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Lost Symbol of Masonry Found

mbolHe tripped over it in a small graveyard at the edge of the world; the lost symbol of Masonry. The weather had been superb in a kind of sweltering tropical island way. He had stepped out of the little condo he was staying it and it immediately looked as if he had been running through sprinklers and his clothes took on the appearance of an avocado skin, lightly wrinkled and clinging to the flesh beneath.

The great thing about island life is that you simply pull your shirt off and ride your bike anyway he thought. What was the point of getting bent out of shape about anything? It was the only place on earth that people seemed to drive 20 miles an hour wherever they went regardless of the speed limit when they took the time to drive an actual automobile through the ragtag mixture of strange makemegoes that dominated the streets of Old Town.

On the bicycle then and off to wherever the wind dragged him or the shade made more practical to ride to. It almost called him in a way. The old island cemetery, with its eerie above ground sarcophaguses, seemed to promise adventure and mystery. The collection of tombstones seemed an army of broken promises, sad stories, and lives cut short. The sandy earth below had not held the heavy granite graves and markers in place, the stones leaning this way and that. The burial locations were seemingly picked with a dart, having no rhyme or reason to them.

Surrounded with a giant iron fence, it took a little time, but a pattern did emerge. There were smaller gates once inside, as if the dead would choose not to mingle. A circle and inner circle if you will, a court of rank even among the solemnity of the dead.

The cemetery had been divided. There was a Catholic section, a Jewish section, and a general, sorry you died section it would appear, and three small “Masonic” sections, in that, the areas were not fenced, but signs, plagues, and various forms of decoration made declarations that the Brethren laid to rest in the designated areas had been members of a particular lodge.

He toured them all. The Catholic section had an extraordinary number of saints, crucifixes, and crosses of various shapes and sizes. Lots of rote verse about the toil of life and the rest brought upon by death. The Jewish section had a lot of Davidic seals and stars and multiple Hebraic writings.

The Masonic sections had some of what you might expect. Squares and compasses, a few skulls and crossbones, some double headed eagles, some Templar crosses, and the normal Masonic fare. But as he wondered the different tombs, reading the words of memento left in tribute……

He tripped hard and landed at the foot of a grave. One of the slightly elevated island style graves with a small cement rim around the edge of the grave and gravel filling in the top. A small plague at the head of the grave read, “In Christ Jesus We are Saved,” with a small cross and rose next to it. Then, as he righted himself, the grave adjacent to it had a Star of David in the center and in Hebrew the words, “He was a father, a brother, and a friend.” The grave next to it had an engraving of the Virgin Mary wrapped in a blanket and glowing. The words read, “Into the fold we shall enter once again.”

In a world where people pierce, tattoo, dress, fight, and work so hard to be different. In a world where your race, your lineage, your family name are all reasons for separation. In a world where standing out is more important than standing up, Masons are buried together.

Why is that so important? Because those Brothers attended lodge together in life.

In a world where we build fences to divide the dead, the Lost Symbol of Masonry is found.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Last Saturday He Died

It was like the air was a solid. Like one of the dreams where you are trying to punch or grab something and your hand can’t move fast enough. Palpable would not be an accurate enough term as it would not provide an explanation for the material and mystical, almost electrical, feeling to the entire milieu.

Men rehearsed their parts in quite corners, the whispered voices coming together to sound like an ancient language in chant to their God. The smell of frankincense and Cyprus oil wafted through the lodge as the small pot of incense carried their prayers for a positive experience to God.

Their uniforms were impeccable, each member caring for the presentation they were each about to play a role in, regardless of if it was a keynote speech for the night, or offering energy from a sideline.

It was time, the candidate had arrived. Hoodwinked in dark black velvet slowly walked to the black room of plaster walls and stone floors, he looked as if he were being lead to his death. The Expert draped in a dark black robe himself, jaunting the candidate from his somber step in darkness. The heartbeat of everyone in the room playing a steady beat to the rising excitement.

He would be warned. If curiosity had brought him there, he should leave, if he found differences among men and could not consider them, he should leave. But, if he truly wanted light and enlightenment with a pure heart he should proceed.

The room was dimly light. A single candle guided his focus when the hood had been removed. His eyes adjusted quickly to the dimly lit room. The skull of a man who he knew not stared back at him. He mustered the courage to touch it and as almost immediately he almost regretted the decision, his hand pulling back, it was real.

He wondered for a minute how this poor soul had ended up an ornament in this darkened chamber of morose d├ęcor. The thought flashed it could have been someone who had not heed the warning he was given before he entered. No he thought nobody would ever do something like that, then again, the skull was real.

He turned his attention to the questions in front him, none of them easy, and all at once, the sands of the hourglass seem to fall all too quickly and he wondered if he could answer all the questions. They were not easy and all of them required reflection.

Then he died……

His body was taken by a friend to the preparation room. He was prepared and he traveled in darkness, wondering if he had made the right decisions in life.

His soul, no material attachments to it, no metal to weigh it down, floated in circular succession around the symbol and altar of Deity. He was tried over and over. Did he have freewill? Could he exercise it here? Could he meet the requirements to truly be brought into the light? Then he was forced to recognize just how dismal situation was. He asked for something material, when the material had already been shed, and he realized he was lost, yet he stood firm ready for judgment and honest in his own self assessment, “I have nothing.”

Then it was done, like a dream, returned to the material world with all its trials, trappings, and tribulations. Not alone though, he learned that he friends, were there all of the while, that he was not just among friends, but family. A family of brothers that would support him in his darkest hour, guide him when he feared for himself, and let go when he felt he should walk alone. They were all upon an individual journey, but seemed at the same time to journey together.

What’s that he wondered? Was that a stairwell in the dim light?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Ring

The Ring

The morning started the same way they always had. He woke up, ran to the bathroom where his dad was, took up station on the commode as the only available seat, and watched his father getting ready for work.

Every morning he awaited this time with dad with anticipation. This was a special time of day for the both of them. He would ask questions of all kinds, musing about all the different topics his young mind could muster and Dad would answer them with a smile.

Dad drew the raiser up his neckline and plowing a small row through the snow like shaving cream sticking in the shape of a beard upon his neck and face. “If girls are equal like sissy said, why do you hold the door for Mommy and let her go first everywhere?” Dad smiled in his usual manner, taking care not to knick himself from the slight chuckle. “Son, the world needs balance, it needs beauty, and it needs the touch and creative force of women.” I hold the door for your mommy because I am humbled and honored that such a wonderful creature decided to share her life with me. We hold the door for all women because regardless of the standards people set for themselves, we choose to honor the essence and wisdom of women, not a particular woman. We call it chivalry, and we do it for us as much as for them.”

He understood some of what his dad had said, more importantly his dad showed him how important he was every morning by answering his questions.

The shaving completed, the after shave in place, the shirt tucked in tightly, shoes shined, dad completed the ritual the way he always had. He put on his giant gold ring with the lodge symbol on it. It always ended with dad reverently putting on the ring. Dad kissed his forehead and headed for the living room where he would kiss mom as she readied herself for the drive to work after dropping him at school.

“Dad, why do you always get so dressed up for work?” “It’s for the ladies he said with a wink and then a laugh.” “Your teasing dad!” he said. “I am little buddy. It’s the inside of the man that is important. The way he loves, the way he chooses to worship, the way he thinks and feels. But, the outside of the man is a nice way for your old dad to try and reflect how I feel on the inside. Daddy wants people to know he values them, he values himself, and he values his community…so he dresses for it.”

Dad had just finished putting the collar stays in and synching up his tie. Dad double checked to make sure all was in place, slide on his lodge ring, kissed him on the forehead and off for another day.

As he grew and the teen years moved in, he visited less with dad, but still peeked in for council during the morning hours when something important loomed. “Dad, John Garry said he is looking to fight me, I’m not afraid, and quite frankly I wouldn’t mind shutting him up.” “Is he an idiot?” “I think so.” Dad squared his shoulders and made eye contact, but kept a softness to his features that showed caring and concern, “And he thinks this fight would be a good idea?” “I guess so?” the boy said. “Why would you follow an idiot? Look son, I can’t stop you if you choose to fight. You will win I am sure. But in a few ways you will lose. You will have followed a bad idea by a person you have little respect for. If you are going to follow, then choose your leaders wisely when allowed. In this case, you can choose not to fight. If this other boy leaves you no alternatives, provide him his penance and don’t use any more force than necessary to defend yourself.”

The ring was put on in its normal fashion and this time a hug as dad headed for the door.

It would go like this for many years. It was funny, but those talks would prove a powerful potion through the college years and during times of stress and frustration. He could even here his dad’s voice delivering its wisdoms and witticisms when they were needed. He fell, like many do, made some bad choices here and there, but again, his dad’s voice, “Son, they’re called regrets, everyone over about the age of 12 has them. The difference between the victorious soul and the defeated one, is that the victor got up, dusted himself off, learned his lesson, and moved forward. The forward part is important son. People are always looking for a direction, but backwards is a direction too. Keep your head up, your mind open, and life will never be an obstacle by itself.”

It was hard for him when it first happened. Harder for his dad he thought. He had first noticed it when they had brought the grandkids over for a Sunday visit. Dad refused to live anywhere but the house he grew up in, even after all of the kids were gone and mom had long since passed away from cancer. But that Sunday he noticed it. Dad’s shirt was not tucked in.

He flashed to watching his dad’s dressing ritual every morning the meticulous care he took of himself, even after he had retired. Dad always shaved, always combed his hair, and always got dressed in a fashion that led you to believe he was expecting company at any minute. He always had a smile ready and fresh pot of coffee was only a moment away.

“Dad are you feeling okay?” “Sure,” he said with a questioning look. “Well its just that your shirts not tucked in.” Dad looked down as if seeing his own clothes for the first time that day. He began to slip a little from there and it was months later that he convinced him to move into the city and stay at their house. It was the grandkids that did the trick.

As the disease progressed, he found that he had done more and more for his dad, who, losing some of his memory…still wanted his morning ritual more than ever. Its just that dad didn’t have the ability to do it anymore. First he shaved for dad, fearing that dad might cut himself, then came combing the hair, and one day, much to his father’s dismay, he needed help getting out of bed, getting dressed, and making it to the living room.

He saw them the day of the ring. The day that he had to put dad’s ring on for him as his hands were shaking to much for dad to do it himself. Dad stopped him and grabbed his hand. Dad rotated his son’s hand palm up and stared into his son’s eyes for a moment. He placed the ring into the palm and shut his son’s fingers around it as best as he could.

His voice did not come easy these days, but this was important and it needed to be said. “Son, some men join the lodge, take their oaths, carry a dues card, and show up to the meetings. Some men, men like you, live the life son. They put their chest out, they love with their whole heart, they work hard, they hug kids and kiss their wives with tenderness.”

He could see tears in his dad’s eyes and tried to remember a time he had ever seen him cry. Dad continued, “They care for their old dad in such a way that the old man never loses his dignity and pride. You might not be a member son, but you can wear this as much as any man I have ever met. I love you boy.”

The funeral had been at high twelve. Dad didn’t say why, but wanted it way according to the will and so it was done. He had intended on burying his dad with the ring when one of the men from the lodge had come up at the viewing. I’ve got a ring here for your dad. He called before he died and said to bring it. That his ring would be yours now….so put that ring on or back in your pocket, but your dad made me promise you would keep it.”

They removed the blindfold and he saw them there. The men from his dad’s…from his lodge. He was kneeling and had just taken his oath when the tears began and he couldn’t stop them. His dad would have wanted to see this, he would have wanted to be there and he had always been too darn busy to join and share this with him. Why hadn’t he done this sooner?

The thought of regret almost consumed him and threatened to steal the beauty of the evening. The initiation part of the night over, the lodge was handling some simple business when the Master of the lodge called for “good of the order” and old Mr. Henry from his dad’s office stood up. He was the same man with the ring at dad’s funeral months before.

He cleared is throat and said with his gruff voice, “I’ve got something I need to read Worshipful.”

Mr. Henry looked at him square in the eyes and said, “Your dad made me promise to read this when the day came.”

“Son, I knew this day would come and I promise you that I was there in the light when you received it. You see, I had my speech prepared. When the good lord asked me what I had done right, I asked him to take a quick peek at you. I squared my shoulders and said, ‘Lord, if I can simply be judged as half the man my son has become, I would be most gracious.’ My spark has rejoined the flame son. It was an honor to sit in lodge with you tonight, and the view from here was spectacular. I love you boy.”

The next morning as he shaved, combed his hair, slide on the ring and stared down at the greatest little boy God could ever create, he found himself chuckling as his son said, “Daddy, can I ask you a question?”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eddie and the Macro

Like many of us, I glue myself to the morning news to listen to how AIG is squandering our assistance, how another 800 billion this or 800 billion that is going to double the rate of inflation and the like. I wonder how could such a small group do this and get away with it in the face of so many people.

“Hold them horses,” a few are saying right now and claiming that Masons don’t discuss politics. The heck you say. Masons better discuss politics. They are some of the best and most intellectual and caring men I have ever met and if they don’t take an interest there are going to be bigger problems in and with our country still.

To my point, and none too soon, as I am always in danger of being lost in a good story or some random ramblings—The Lodge as a Macrocosm of society and the lessons it has taught me.

Brother Eddie (the name is made up) is dutiful if nothing else. He makes every meeting, sits in the southeast next to the secretary’s desk with a long line of past masters that always sit in the same spot. They hold a kind of court. They scream out violations of parliamentary procedure to keep things on track, the screaming out of which is a violation of parliamentary procedure. They like to yell out the helpful word when one is missed on ritual and on a good night about half are yelling out the same word.

Anyway, Eddie never votes yes. He disagrees all the time. Not sure why, but we count on his no vote on every issue…even paying the bills.

Eddie, in our world is the extremist. Any and all extremist. I don’t mean this in the whole terrorist type sense…I mean those who hold views to the hard or extreme rights and lefts, always voicing their discontent on every issue. These are the one issue folks who honestly believe that every vote against their issue will destroy the world. They are happy to call names many times, fling a little mud, and then cry foul when you disagree with them even respectfully.

Back to Eddie—for forty years he has been voicing his opinion, and for about 38 years no one has listened. He used his voice a little too much, he nullified his own opinion by never quieting his passions. His vote in lodge is nullified by automatically being considered a no and his opinions are thus disregarded. He is considered as part of the process without making so much as a shadow of an impression on the minds of his fellows.

Masonry teaches many wonderful truths. One of them is the power of timing. Masons stand of the portico of the world between hard and right and wrong and stare into the Masonic world of potentiality. The possibility that there are several rights and several wrongs, or none of either, is a powerful potion for the mind. It can drive one mad, or set them free depending on the perspective.

I believe (this is important here, because these are my opinions) that the waste in the world, the theft, the extraordinary arrogance of ruling classes is made possible by the silencing of the voices by their own screams. When a society becomes chalk full of Eddies, the voices, rising collectively in their musical and anticipated whine, are so loud, they are never heard and simply discarded as part of the process. A small hiccup.

What if? What if we lived in a world where people sat back, contemplated the totality of a situation and cared for its outcome. What if we sat quietly for just a moment and then acted fast and firmly with decision and determination.

The man with the scythe stands behind her in the degrees. She weeps for that which is lost…for the loss of strength. Time has destroyed the crier and the screamer and stands poised to cut down beauty, the beauty of freewill and free choice if we do not heed the warnings.

Masonry teaches the power of words, well spoken ones. It also, via Eddie, taught me the powerlessness of words and how quickly they can come to mean nothing at all.

Pick your battles, pick your time, and choose your words wisely. Call a crime a crime, forgive the small ones, and don’t pretend that your opinion is the right one because it feels better. Stand on the portico of Masonry and look into your world from the lodge applying the lessons you have learned. Take an interest and labor in the quarry of your community, but do not ramble, do not scream, and do not believe that rhetoric without action will solve a thing. In many cases it might help to silence the masses as we all scream our wasted cries in unison.

Find the courage that you found as you were reminded that implements of man, to include your words, can be virtuous or torturous, charge forward, your faith is well founded, practice silence when necessary, and approach your world with balance.

That is the Relevance of Masonry, balance in a world that can’t find it and men whose voices are powerful because they are not allows billowing.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

No Second Chances

He had known about the assignment for weeks. He didn’t want to do it, he had little interest in old English literature and nothing seemed more boring or pointless. Wrestling practice, Sophia Calloway, and several other things in life had taken his attention and upon close inspection by him, seemed more worthy of his time.

So, in the end, on Wednesday he showed up with no paper in hand, and a really great story. Mr. Philips, the 22 year old recent college graduate and newly crowned high school teacher, had learned how important self esteem is to his students and he provided an out. He would hate to see this young man fail and damage his ego…er um self esteem. So, more time is given with little thought to those that actually completed the assignment on time.

We had Dr. Casey Blood speaking in lodge the other day. Dr. Blood is a quantum physicist and Sufi mystic. He was relating an excellent presentation of the mathematical evidence for the existence of a soul and explaining his belief systems for what might happen to such a thing in this cycle of life.

The question of a “hell” came up as well as reincarnation and Dr. Blood’s response has caused me to contemplate much. He said, stating it as his opinion, “I think you get one shot.” He followed up with the belief that if your soul fails to progress it simply ceases to exist. Can you imagine…one shot or you simply cease.

I wondered how much different our lives would be if all things were approached with such speculation. How often would we choose to remain idle or ignorant if failure meant that we would simply no longer be?

There is a lesson in Masonry that goes hand in hand with such a philosophy. Work. Masonry is work, progression is work, self improvement is work, raising a Brother is work, morality is work. Labor is revered in the Craft, so much so that our allegories are inundated with it. We labor in the quarry of life and spirituality with our respective “working tools.” Masonry is work.

I thought of the times in my life that my actions or words were based on the very fact that I believed I could take it back or repair it later. The consequences, weighed even briefly, seemed tolerable and the “right” or moral choice was not picked.

I mused on the times that I had neglected something important in my life with the belief that I will choose the other “next time.” What if there were never a “next time.” How many times had my beautiful little boy run up to his daddy for a little playtime and I refused because I was tired or busy? What if there was never a “next time.”

What would my priorities be if there was never a next time?

There are teachings in Masonry about the ideal man, three times he is given a chance to fail, and three times, even unto death he chooses morality, courage, and secrecy.

I decided that day that I would try a little experiment. I decided that I would stop living my life like I might get a second chance. I would stop believing that finality was negotiable. I would live like every chip from my rough ashlar would count like the first chip and that it might be the last.

The relevance of Masonry? In a world where self esteem is more important than the truth, in a world where the third chance is the norm, in a world where consequences are subjective and up for compromise, in a world where justice depends on the quality of the attorney……I will choose to live my life like a Mason…I will choose to do the right thing first, for its own sake. I will fail and I will stand ready for the consequences and I will continue to work, without compromise, for that perfect stone.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Welcome to Leadership

It was the big weekend soccer game. The tension hung in the air like a warm fleece blanket, as welcomed as one on a stifling summer day. The minivan was loaded, the mini-players ready to run, kick, jump, and slide. It would be a big day, one to remember regardless of the outcome. Dad had always said it was not winning that mattered, it was how you played the game.

Dad always said that….but today he didn’t really show it. He screamed profanities from the side lines, he yelled at the referees, he shook his head in disappointment so many times that the little guy had lost count.

Years would pass, Timmy was now coaching soccer and the method he tended to employ was the yell, bicker, scream technique. He had been honed by the example of his father and now this was how he chose to lead.

I have heard it said that leaders are born and not made. Hogwash I say. Leadership is not completely genetic and the role models in our lives and the systems they put in place have much more to do with our capabilities as leaders than some X or Y chromosome floating about.

As important as leadership is, there is very little in the way of productive leadership formation in the community for the young adults entering that community as contributing members. How many times have we looked at a political race and said, “Geesh, I don’t like any of the choices.” Yet, what do we do collectively as a community to raise the next set of leaders for our local HOA to the Presidency? If we, as a society do not take an interest in raising our leaders, who will?

I have recently found myself in several leadership type roles within Masonry. I have had the opportunity to help grow education, to help grow a lodge, to help progress Masonry. I love Masonry and want to serve it, but to help lead it, to guide it?

I have been filled with doubt lately as more responsibility is placed upon my lap. I wonder if I will make good and right decisions that will be lasting and do the most possible good. I wonder if not only will I render my decisions effectively, will I deliver the information properly so that it is well received and well executed. I wonder why me?
I have laid awake at night and wondered if the Craft has done itself a disservice by putting so much trust in me.

It hit me the other day like a ton bricks, my responsibility to the Craft, and then a kind Brother helped me to understand.

First, when you sit in the East and look out upon a group of men that you respect, that you look to as friends, Brothers, and mentors; as they look back to you as a leader, they never loose sight of the fact you are their Brother. From the time you are initiated into the Craft, this body of men is building you as a leader. They sculpt you, hone you, and chip away at you. They give gentle guidance, firm redirection, and use persuasion to explain to you. You are not in the East alone, you do not sit by yourself, you sit surrounded by men who continue to guide you and grow you. The position is one of humility, first your friends instruct you, and then let you use that instruction in the form of leadership.

In a world where children are raised by the XBOX and the idiot soccer Dad is the example, Masonry teaches a kind humility and social confidence. It builds leaders out of good men, it seeks to improve the man, and the man then seeks to improve his community.

It is no accident that so many of the world’s great leaders were Masons. Masonry naturally refines good men, so that they can one day be leaders in their own lives, and sometimes, in the lives of their community.

Second. I shared my fears and doubts with a friend of mine in the Craft. He said, “So, sometimes you doubt yourself? Sometimes you don’t get any sleep while you worry? Sometimes you have to give a lot of thought to your decisions?” He paused, “Welcome to leadership.” He went onto explain that the man who believes himself perfect for the role and has little doubt in his abilities is likely arrogant to the point of failure. That the best leaders care and care deeply…and this is not a fault.

In a world where we complain without a solution, where we find fault for its own sake, where our leadership training in life is to “knock them down a peg,” Freemasonry is quietly and consistently growing leaders of their own lives, confident men who care about their choices, who have the courage to fight through doubt and make a decision, even when it is difficult to do so. So you have doubts, so you wonder if you are making the right decisions, you care that deeply about yourself, others, and your world….welcome to leadership…welcome to Masonry.