Tuesday, November 16, 2010


What came you here to do? It is a reasonable question. If you have made it thus far, and your lodge is doing its job, then the Fraternity should have the expectation that you have an idea of your purpose, certain desires and expectations are necessary. If you have a goal, then how can you achieve it at all, if you have not a plan? If you have no goal, then what is the purpose?

It has become common place in the Fraternity, for the sake of false harmony, to claim that the Fraternity is all things to all men and that any and all symbols mean only what the particular viewer intends for them to mean. Worse, foolish statements such as, “You can’t truly define the Craft” have become the norm in a sea of idle minds that would rather leave the Craft with no definition than have the courage to define it for themselves, or more courageous still, discover what the actual definition is.

False tolerance has become the mantra of the liberally minded and fear of failure causes even the most brave to keep their definitions to themselves, all to the detriment of the Craft.

Freemasonry is extraordinary. It changes lives, it builds buildings, it establishes governments when we want to be honest about it. It is the best of teachings and one of the most just and beautiful philosophies that has ever existed, and we, as its guardians and tylers of enlightenment, refuse to define it for the purpose of false harmony.

In fear of offending those who have never and will never appreciate the philosophies of Masonry, we have removed our mystical tradition to the point that we know it not. So, even the most loving men in lodge, with good intentions, refuse to assign meaning to a symbol so that a man who might assign a different meaning might not be offended. Or, worse, the Brother is afraid that he is weak minded and might be found wrong by someone who he considered intellectually superior. Intellectual cowardice is the sin of the man who should have never been allowed in the first place, for the sword is as much a Masonic working tool as any other.

It is the first working tool, presented to the tyler, by the symbolic mind of the lodge to guard the psychological work of betterment when the lodge is in session. This is to say, symbolically, that the layout of the lodge and the positions of the stations and places are symbols in and of themselves of the human consciousness and the first working tool of the lodge is a sword to guard it during its work. Courage is necessary so that moral relativism never creeps in.

Those who have little of the second working tool of Masonry, patience, often rush to the Eastern philosophies for fast food enlightenment, and after an elementary introduction to comparative religion, believe they have found truth, or with a Google search begin assigning Buddhist meanings, or other such traditions, to the rich and deep philosophies of Masonry. The tragic result is often some bogus teaching or preaching that morality is subjective, than there is no duality, and that each man must decide for himself how to interpret Masonry. Skuvbalon! As the Apostle Paul might have said.

Masonry is definable. It is labor. Its philosophies have absolutes and some of them include:

1. There is a God
2. There is right
3. There is wrong
4. There is good
5. There is bad
6. There is moral
7. There is immoral

Masonry, by design, provides a path to discovering how duality and unity exist in a material universe that should not be shrugged off for some fake and unworkable philosophy that does not assign importance to the material existence or pretends that all things are relative. Part of the journey the neophyte or initiate is on teaches one to learn and assign value to himself, to others, to his world, and to God.

Masonry assigns symbols or implements with meanings. The supreme importance in the meaning of a symbol, is the meaning assigned by the creator of that symbol in a given circumstance. In other words, we must try to determine the meaning assigned to the symbols by the original creators of Masonry to determine what mysteries were hidden in the degrees for us to discover. If we do not believe there was an original intent for the symbols and rituals of the Craft, then we are left with belief that they were randomly thrown to together for everyone to judge for themselves the point of the entire thing. I find this idea intolerable and foolish. Masonry teaches, in its own degrees, a reference for order and definition. It states within its rituals time and again, continent to continent that Geometry is revered by Masons. Our symbols themselves are often blatantly referencing systems of order, foundation, and structure. We refer to the Mason himself as a Temple that must be designed, built, and improved upon.

So let us briefly examine the symbols and emblems presented, the archetypes they represent, and define Masonry; less it remained undefined and without value.

The candidate for Masonry is first instructed to be silent. He has others who speak for him in most regards, he is told to trust his God and his conductor, he is advised to organize his time, and to rid his life of vice.

Then, after proving that he is dedicated to silent service to God, he is placed upon a foundation where he is told that duality is necessary. He is given pillars as symbols of duality and he is first allowed to observe them, them pass through them, and then enter into the heart of them beyond. He is told that the pillars contain the secrets of Masonry within them. This teaching stems from the oldest of the Masonic Noachite legends and ancient mystical traditions concerning the secrets of society and psychology wherein the original pillars were brick and bronze. These substances having a meaning of their own. It is upon this journey that he travels into the heart of the earth, for it is necessary to journey across the mosaic of life and material existence understanding and inculcating all she has to truly appreciate the spiritual spark within us.

We learn that it is within OUR middle chamber that the next phase of our journey begins and that once there we are to labor. The pillars contain emblems of earth and creation, the symbol of the pillar and globe symbols of generative force, wisdom as a crown upon the symbol of raw intellectual power. We were first shown the very nature of the earth in chalk, charcoal and clay. We are lectured as to her powers of nature to both poison and heal. As as Fellowcraft we journey through the earth, through ourselves, through the universe and recognize the power of duality and the importance of study and work. We are told that if we study the nature of things, that we will understand Nature and Things.

Foolish statements can not be born in the earth, for she never lies regardless of our beliefs or personal norms that we call truths. The earth and Nature never wage in ridiculous discussions of what is truth. For her, they are a constant and they never error. We can believe that we can fly, and she will have as fall as we leap. We can believe that we can breath underwater and she gently drowns us with the truth. She is real, beautiful and constant. She knows of evil, of good, of right and wrong. Incorrect statements of the none existence of evil elude her lips. She is born in reality, and the spirit is a very real part of that reality.

It is in our final approach to a new beginning that the material, the old way of looking at things dies a horrible death and returns forever to the earth and remains with her. Our material self, which was a good man to begin with we should remember, is honored in death and buried nearer the temple with honors, this is to say that it remains forever a part of us and it was for a short time during our awakening that we misunderstood this until the symbol of the evergreen and immortality reminded us of it.

The symbols of our personal evils; those of want, impatiences and a lack of disinterestedness are brutally killed removing the error of harsh and foolish speech (the symbol relating to the throat), the error of an impassioned and unreasoned emotion (the heart) and intentional ignorance (the gut, the place of intuition and at one time seat of the soul or mind in ancient mystical traditions which is why we still say ‘gut instinct’).

This ushers in a time of a Substitute Word. A time when we live in the world and not of it. A time when a shadow of the True Word can be felt, but never fully comprehended. In reality, this is the closest we get in our present convention. The Craft lodge degrees end there because in this world there is no True Word. We bear the material as our burden on this road, it must be embraced and realized, so it can be utilized with self control.

Masonry teaches that our lives in this present existence should not be discarded and despised with hopeful wishes of an afterlife. It does not take time with decisions of the Gods and discussions of salvation.

Masonry is a philosophy of the here and now and it teaches us that we are working tools, to be loved, to be worked, to be worn. That God is closer than we think and the journey into the earth, is as much a journey within our selves.

It teaches that if we want to know God we can find him, but that once we admit a love for him and a trust for him, we must labor in this present existence. Masonry despises the lazy and has little use for the fools, the stupid, and the false.

Masonry is a philosophy of personal awareness and enlightenment with definable symbols, realtime lessons and a real life application.

So Brethren, next time someone says that Masonry is hard to define, define it for them. If we fail to define the Craft, then the Craft has no meaning. There is a very material, administrative, real danger in assigning no definition or no meaning to Masonry. It would mean that by default Masonry has no value. When this occurs statements like, “Masonry is many things to many men” is perverted into a belief that Masonry must be all things to all men. Then dues are reduced or remain artificially low so that Masonry can be fiscally of no consequence or sacrifice. Petitions are prostituted as waste paper and liter the tables of every lodge so that anyone might find one and fill itout. Members are sought like cattle instead of cultivated like an important commodity.

Define Masonry my Brethren, or you will lose it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Religion of Masonry

I received a letter from a Brother who was spiritually destitute and filled with guilt. I have contacted him and received his permission to use his letter in part and my response. His letter read in part, “Brother Cliff thank you for this weekend. I will never be able to express in words what it meant to me. There is something I feel compelled to discuss with you as you seem studied in the spiritual side of Masonry. I feel guilty about this weekend. When we were in lodge I had what I would call a spiritual experience. Never having one before, I was uncertain how to describe it, but it could be called filled with the Holy Spirit or maybe Pentecostal in the way that I felt.

I am a very religious man. I go to church every Sunday, and Wednesday Bible study. Yet, there I was in lodge having my first religious experience. I could feel the Holy Spirit move through me. So how can I say that Masonry is not a religion for me, if in lodge I am having a religious experience?”

My response to him, because I believe the topic should be addressed.

My Dearest Brother (Name Withheld),

Thank for the kind words about our lodge. Without bragging I will say that every man in that room worked hard to create that lodge and they deserve your kind words more than I, so I will pass them along as appropriate.

As to the other matter, if I may, I am going to ramble a bit and maybe even rant (as I am known to do).

When my little boy was born I was terrified. I had been married for more than a decade, I had a house filled with nice breakable things, I didn’t want for any toy that I spied and simply purchased as will with no college educations or school clothes to think of. I was young in appearance, but old in spirit and very, very set in my ways.

Having been present for his birth, the nurse handed my little boy to me just after I had cut his umbilical cord and they had wiped his mouth and nose free of debris. I looked down at him, still very afraid, and he opened his little eyes just for second, if that long, before closing them to let out a scream that would become very familiar in the next few weeks, it being the only words he knew at the time.

But in that “instant of time, without change of place or situation” I viewed creation, I viewed the power of God to work through his people to create, I saw good and perfect, I saw the product of love, I saw raw and infinite potential…I fell so deeply in love that for the first time in my life I understood just fractionally what it meant to know that I was a child of God and to be loved that way by our Creator changed me forever.

I had a religious, spiritual, and life changing experience.

A couple of years later, I would be asked to leave the church that I had returned to because of the birth of my son, because I was a Freemason. Devastated, angry, and hurt; I left.

I was faced with some incredible choices at that point. There I stood a Heretic, outside of the graces of the church, administratively stricken from the Book of Life by God’s administrators on earth to find my way “out of this darkness, this wilderness of doubt and dismay.”

It was God’s voice and presence that would guide me, more accurately, shout at me so that I could hear him through and above my own cries of anger at him for leaving me, abandoning me in my darkest hour.

But the Lord, being kind and pure, shouted at me with a whisper, one so powerful I found myself unable to refuse him.

………..and it happened in Lodge!

Having not been a “good Mason,” I thought to myself as a gazed down upon the ring I wore on my finger that had caused all the problems, I should at least attend lodge if I am going to hell for it.

That is when he whispered.

I began to take it all in, God’s handy work. Men. Men born the same way as my little boy, precious and true, a perfect gift from a perfect God. He would set a path in front of all of them, all varied, none of them the same, but those paths would lead to God, because you could not escape an omnipotent and omnipresence God who loved you like a child. You could, as some children do, choose not to have a relationship with your parents, but the love is too strong and too wonderful to die. You could shut a door and draw the shutters and pretend the light did not exist, but you are fooling only yourself.

God was everywhere, all the time, and more importantly, his love, as evidenced in his Creation, was as constant as the material Universe that I lived, loved, and breathed in. Life and creation were worship, loving my family was worship, loving myself was worship, doing good was worship, waking everyday and going to bed at night were worship, faith was an action and God a constant; and Brother, Masonry for you can be a form a worship, without ever being your “religion.”

Just because we shut the door of a lodge room and declare it tyled, does not mean that God has left the room. He shines as a light in your life and he should. He will be with you at dinner, with you at church, with you outdoors and in, and he will be with you in lodge.

It is my guess, that if God’s love is as powerful and extraordinary as I fractionally comprehended it to be through the eyes of my little boy staring up at me, then maybe, just maybe God leans down and kisses us upon the forehead or lovingly ruffles our hair just a bit as I am compelled to do with my son.

Maybe, just maybe, you felt God’s touch that day in lodge in because God loves you with all his heart, whenever and wherever you are, and in that instant of time, he simply reached out to touch one of his little ones.

Be well Brother, feel no guilt. God loves you and so do I.



Friday, July 9, 2010

Wizards, Wackjobs, and Weirdoes

They snickered when he walked by, the two Brothers, longtime past masters and longtime members of the lodge, both slightly deaf, thought they were whispering. “Is he a wizard or just a wackjob?” the man had asked. Both giggled and snorted a bit, the other responded, “I don’t see a wand in his hand, but nothing would surprise me with this lot.”

The Wizards actions that brought such ridicule, the study of the esoteric areas of Masonry. He had read a paper the other day during good of the order and the paper was about speculative alchemy, since which time he was branded “one of those.”

Generally, my style is not a rant so much as it is a story. This writing is categorically a rant, so if you suffer from rantaphobia, I recommend reading no further. If you believe that men with less than 50 years in the Craft should keep quite and learn their place and that holding a dues card deems a man a Mason or an event merely taking place in a Masonic lodge is enough to deem it a Masonic event, again, I implore you, read no further.

Long gone are the fun filled days of my Masonic youth when I was overtly offended by statements that started with “back in my day” and ended with some sort of immoral moral story that included me sitting down, shutting up and simply being happy I was a Mason. I have reached a point that I am only saddened that a Brother has sat in lodge so many times and found so little in the way of Masonry. It seems that you can have 20 years of experience, or one days worth of experience over and over again for 20 years, depending on how you choose to see it, or more importantly for this rant, choose not to see it.

There is a shift in the Craft right now, a rent in the fae* as it were. Like all transitions, even the initiatory one that all Masons are supposed to go through, there are ripples and currents and instabilities. There is always a death before a rebirth. (For those who are now thinking, “Man, this guy must be one of those wizards, wackjobs, or weirdoes”…that answer is yes, and had you paid the least attention during your MM degree, your 18th degree, or the Order of the Temple you would have noticed there is a slight allusion death and rebirth in all of these).

The Craft as a whole is undergoing regeneration, an evolution of devolution as it were, a return to the philosophical, alchemical, and psychological aspects of Masonry. I am a proud to be a member of the transitional team, and don’t mind the ripples. Nonetheless, I have noticed that as the pendulum swings, the grumblings of those who would prefer to do nothing have grown louder. Because the cacophony has drowned out a few voices of education I find far more melodious lately, I have decided to address them.

First, I would like to address the statements that seem loudest.

“Just because you want Masonry to be mystical, spiritual, or include other hocus pocus, does not mean that it does.”

“What in the heck does alchemy have to do with Masonry at all?”

“Pike, Wilmshurst, Hall and others were weirdoes or oddballs and don’t speak for the Craft. Heck, most men in Masonry are never going to read those crackpots anyway.”

I have addressed these individually before and/or with groups. But, today I want to discuss, at least briefly, the converse or the root of the argument. Not the psychological or philosophical origins which are likely to do with unfit men being made Masons with little or no thought given to the work in attempts to bolster numbers and keep dues artificially low….that, is another argument for another day.

No, I want to discuss the foundation of the argument from rhetorical standpoint. I mean rhetorical in the traditional and academic sense of invention or discovery, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. I believe that the invention or discovery of the argument against Masonry as an alchemical art, a mystical tradition, or spiritual undertaking is flawed. So, I will make my argument here.

The converse to Masonry as a mystical tradition of metaphysical transformation generally takes the position that Masonry is a highly stylized social group with moral lessons imparted to its members. In short, it is a social order for good men to get together on occasion and help serve their community.

If this is the case, I find most of Masonry difficult, if not impossible to explain. When Masonry is regarded as a purely mystical tradition designed for transformation all of these misgivings and difficult explanations dissolve.

So, if Masonry is nothing more that a social and charitable order and all of the mystical and metaphysical “stuff” is drummed up by the wizards, wackjobs, and weirdoes, then I ask WHY:

1. Do we (the Craft) bother with a tiered initiatic system that includes archaic language modeled after the mystical traditions of Greece, Egypt, Persia, etc? Why not simply allow people in after a back ground check? Shared experience is attained easily enough by going to dinner together or consuming alcoholic beverages together. Why initiate at all?

2. Do the penalties and passwords directly correlate to alchemical operations in place and written about in the 1400 and 1500’s long before the public acknowledgment of Freemasonry in 1717. Alchemical operations include taking an herb that is torn out by its roots, placed in liquid, agitated twice in a day while remaining buried in a sand bath during the remainder of the operation. Any of this seem familiar? The passwords for the various degrees have direct alchemical allusions, why would the drafters of the operation make these connections, for pure coincidence? The highest point of a distillation apparatus was referred to as the pinnacle of the temple. It continues like this throughout all of alchemy and ancient alchemical text.

3. Does the neophyte’s journey culminate in an ancient death ritual similar to those found in ancient mystery schools designed for the sole purpose of spiritual enlightenment?

4. Is the word “mysteries” or “mystery” specifically included in many Masonic rituals if there isn’t one? Is this a lie?

I will be honest, if Masonry is a purely social order with some charitable intentions; it does a miserable job it. My arguments for this are as follows:

1. You can’t talk to the lodge without first addressing the Master which slows communication, which is the primary objective in a purely social event.

2. There is very little actual socializing during lodge and many lodges don’t have dinners anymore or the dinners are so terrible they have become a point of jest and humor within the ranks of the Fraternity.

3. We give very little money away for a charity.

4. We barely help ourselves. Brothers will fall away from lodge without being noticed and rarely receive so much as a phone call before his NPD letter is mailed.

5. Men rush home instead of socializing because meetings are filled with minutes, paying bills, and petty arguments all while sitting in the same seat and next to the same person you always sit next to. This is not social.

As a purely social or charitable order, Masonry utterly fails and becomes nothing more than bizarre and archaic ritual with no meaning. Further complicating the issue, it would mean that several parts of the rituals used throughout the world are filled with outright lies. The rituals and charges of the various orders of Masonry speak to mystery, enlightenment, and a need to study the deeper meanings and converse with well informed adepts and Brothers. If Masonry is a social club that teaches the golden rule, what is left to “study.” We could some it up with, “Hey that’s naughty, stop it.” Those lessons are learned prior to grade school for most and certainly don’t require an elaborate death ritual to inculcate them.

So it is, I must relegate myself to the denizens of the wizards, wackjobs and weirdoes that will study as the ritual begs, search as the charges recommend, and never stop trying to build the temple, hone the stone, and perfect the ashlar.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Five Minutes with Ali

“Its about five minutes away,” Ali said, with a warm smile and a slight accent that is not quite like any accent I had ever heard before. The Turkish language is a fun one to listen to. It is not Russian, its not Arabic, its not Persian, its Turkish. From an outsider’s perspective it sounds a little forceful almost as if the two people speaking it are about to launch into a fight only to witness the conversation end with a hug and some laughter.

This is a story about how five minutes with Ali and Freemasonry changed the universe.

For the story to make sense, we must first travel back in time, to his childhood and beyond, to understand how it all happened. Not Ali’s, but the young boy who would someday meet with Ali.

His neighborhood was a poor one he thought now. It never seemed that way as a child when there was nothing to compare it to. He always had a bicycle, lots of friends, and a few square blocks packed with people was the extent of his known universe. His father had been an abusive alcoholic and drug user and faith played little part in his growing. Hope, he had learned, was a falsehood. Life was tough and the tougher you become the better off you would be. Expect the worst and you won’t be disappointed was a lesson best learned early to save you from the severity of attack by never being caught off guard.

At the age of 12, the boys father would meet with a violent death. It was no surprise to the young man. His father lived a violent life, it was fitting and expected he would die a violent death.

The largest shift in his life would not be that his father died, it would be that he would finish his boyhood with his grandparents. A wonderful little neighborhood where you didn’t have to worry about where to ride your bicycle, friendly folks, and plenty to do. But, it was not was not the neighborhood or the people in it that made such a fantastic influence upon our young man, it was his grandparents, especially his grandfather that would have play such an important role in this story. The grandfather was a Freemason. He was not vocal about it, but he was a Freemason. This same grandfather, paid for the young boy to goto the best private school in the area and it happened to be a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod school.

It was culture shock, but the young man thrived. The boy became a Lutheran, and with the zeal of a reformed smoker who can not help but to tell everyone how deadly their smoking was and just how bad it was for them, the boy proselytized the beauty of Lutheranism and the dangers and evils of Catholicism. The boy just knew with his whole heart that heaven was reserved for Lutherans and all others were destined for the fiery place. He remembers now, with a tear, telling his little Catholic friend that the Pope was an anti-Christ and being awed at how hearing this his little friend did not immediately repent and accept Lutheranism the path to heaven. Wow! How ignorant could a person be the boy would think. How could a person hear the only real truth of Lutheranism and not embrace with with speed?

It was in this very school, being paid for by his grandfather, that he would learn that Freemasonry was a cult its members were dangerous. Knowing that his grandfather was a Mason it was vital that he rush home the very same day that he learned members of the “the Lodge” were secretly duped into Satanism and going to hell and save his grandfather.

His grandfather was the kindest, smartest, and most loving man that the boy had ever known. He would single handedly change the boys opinion of what it meant to be a man. Being a man was talking softly, but with weight. Being man was loving a woman and not demeaning them. Being a man was knowing Shakespeare, quoting poetry, and holding your own while facing down a bully. All of these things he had seen emulated by his grandfather. This made it all the more important to save him from hell the young man thought.

He ran home the whole way, there was no time to waste with his grandfather’s soul at stake and clearly in the grasp of a Satanic cult. Grandpa was home and sitting at the kitchen table for moment. “Grandpa! You are in a cult, the Freemasons are a cult, you are going to hell,” he exclaimed. “Well, my day was fine thank you for asking,” his Grandfather said, “and how was your day?” he continued. “Grandpa, don’t you understand, the Freemasons are a cult, they are Satanic!”

His grandfather smiled and said, just a minute. He left the room and returned with the Bible that had been presented to him when he was “raised” to Master Mason and a small ritual book the boy had no idea at the time what that meant. His grandfather said, “Come take look, there isn’t anything sinister about it and I can explain some of it for you.” The boy rebuked in the name of Jesus as he had been taught and refused to even gaze upon something from a Satanic cult for fear Satan could enter his heart through this seemingly innocuous tools. The breathless rebuking continued as his grandfather sat patiently for the boy to take a breath. When he did the grandfather spoke softly, “Son, the school I send you to is a good one. They have their beliefs and I have man. I am sending you there for your education, not mine. If you ever have an honest question about the Freemasons I will do my best to answer it for you, but I won’t argue with you and I won’t apologize for Masonry. It doesn’t need my arguing for it and it doesn’t need my apology. Now, you pay attention in that school of yours, but keep in mind that when it comes to faith, that is often a very personal journey and you shouldn’t be so quick to assume that so many people are going to hell.” His grandfather smiled another warm smile, got up from his seat, ruffled the young man’s hair a bit in a loving manner, and walked away. That was the end of the conversation. His grandfather passed never having resolved that issue with the young man.

The young man joined the Army and would serve in the first Gulf War. This would continue to shape his views of the world and especially of Islam. War is a funny thing, in that you see the absolute best of people and the absolute worst on both sides, depending on which side you were on, it seemed to the young man, determined which parts for each side you chose to remember.

He would serve eight years in the Army before entering a career in law enforcement. By time he did, he was a strong icon of the conservative American White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. The world was a very black and white place for the young man. Republicans were good and Democrats were evil. Lutherans were good, everything else was not. He was very much on the road to fundamentalism and it was an easy and comfortable ride. He remembered attending a church group function where he was told, “Those who claim you should have an open mind are claiming this so that Satan has room to enter.”

Something continued to haunt him though. Why were so many of the men in his life that he loved and respected, a number of them were members of the same law enforcement department he had joined a month after leaving the military, members of the Freemasons? He would see their rings, their tie clips, and the like and they were all good men. How could so many be duped into a cult. The answer was simple. They were not duped and there was more to Masonry that met they eye.

It was at his dinning room table with his mentor and friend Steve he would ask the question that would change it all. “So, how does a person become a Freemason anyway?” Steve smiled from ear to ear and said, “I thought you would never ask.” The young man joined wanting to feel closer to his grandfather, and having researched the Craft, came to the believe the church, in this issue, was simply mistaken. He was not attending as regular as he used to because too many questions seemed to haunt him. If Lutherans were the only people going to heaven, why would God create so many people to simply send them to hell? What was the point in time and space that only Lutherans, or only Christians for that matter, could enter heaven? If God had told the Jews they were his chosen people, why would he change that and renege on a promise?

After joining Freemasonry, the young man felt moved to return to church and did so. He had not given it much thought on the Sunday he walked into the church wearing his Master Masons ring. The arguments of old had long gone from his mind and he had forgotten how strong the church felt about Masonry. He wouldn’t forget for long. He was immediately approached and asked about the ring. Ultimately, he was issued an ultimatum. He could choose the church or he could choose Masonry, but he could not choose both. He has always had a strong response to ultimatums and he left that particular church never to return.

He searched in vein for a church doctrine or biblical dogma that was in conflict with Freemasonry and could find none. So it was, so he was, so he had become when he was offered an opportunity to travel to Istanbul to meet with a controversial spiritual and political leader who had written several books on Masonry, none of them positive. The Grand Lodge of Turkey had once been bombed by extremist and a number of Islamic radicals and fundamentalist believed that Masonry was evil.

The warnings were dire. “Do not go!” Some counseled that is was likely a “trap.” “Islamic countries are dangerous ground. What do you really think this trip can do, what can one person or a couple of people do to change things?”

He went anyway, the all did.

Ali and Eti were the first to greet the young man and his traveling companions. All had come as a small group of Freemasons, one who was an orthodox Jewish Brother.

Ali explained we were about five minutes from the hotel, that we could drop off our bags and grab something to eat.

Weekend traffic in Istanbul is a bit of a tricky thing. It is both exhilarating and terrifying and any lines painted on the street or traffic signals hanging overhead are clearly just loose suggestions. He was slightly out of breath by the time the half hour trip to the hotel was completed.

Ali said they should all meet back down in the lobby in about five minutes and we could walk to get some food, it was only about a five minute walk.

About 20 minutes later Ali appeared in the lobby and they walked for about 15 minutes to one of the finest dining experiences one can possibly have. It turns out that a few thousand years as the center for cultural exchange and trade makes a society rich. Not in gold, but in culture, history, food, art, and all the things that make Turkey an almost surreal experience where every step, breath, and blink are filled with layers and layers of history. Marble is born down by several inches where the footsteps of kings, potentates, and sultans once walked. Holy men and world leaders have lived. loved, conquered and lost in the city. It was as if every bit contained 100 years of experience.

The group had only four days to tour four thousand years and they were determined to do so in between meetings and television appearances. It was a whirlwind.

It was on the last night of their visit they would change the universe.

Ali was Muslim and informed us that he really needed to pray in Mosque and although he hated to leave us for a moment, the prayer would only take him about five minutes.

Everyone chuckled, as it had become clear that Ali always said five minutes. Ali laughed himself and promised that he was being more accurate this time around. The young man said, “Ali, can we go with you and pray?” Ali seemed a little taken aback and asked to confirm he had heard him right?

Ali walked them through the purification and bathing that one does before prayer and walked us to a quite area in the mosque and explained the prayer, the movements, and the words for us.

That is when it happened, that is when the universe changed, altered, and would never be the same for it.

There in a small mosque, at one time occupied by Jews, Christians and Muslims during its lengthy history, a small group of men who were Islamic, Jewish, and Christian would line up and pray together.

After the prayer, he looked up and several older men seemed to have stop cold. Ali explained the situation and smiles filled the room. The young man was patted on the back and blessed by man who was moved by the display.

So it was that a young man who had embraced fundamentalism would take a chance on meeting with a devote anti-Mason in an Islamic country and would find an epiphany.

Christians, Muslims, and Jews, some of them Freemasons lined up in a little mosque and prayed together. The result, smiles.

Five minutes with Ali and Freemasonry had changed him forever. The power of one man who has witnessed tolerance, admiration, and respect for people of all cultures is powerful medicine for a world so ill.

A onetime Lutheran Fundamentalist had met with a onetime anti-Mason and they enjoyed another, they learned from one another, and they respected one another.

The relevance of Masonry is tolerance, the relevance of Masonry is prayer together with your Brothers and fellows, and the relevance of Masonry is changing the universe one five minute interval at a time.

Thank you Ali, I look forward to seeing you about five minutes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Value Meal Masonry

Almost eerie shadows bounced and danced their solemn dance to the candlelight casting its shadows and souls upon the walls of the lodge, the temple. The men moved in silence in a circumambulation around their altar. Dress in tailcoats, their hands gloved, the aprons of the finest lambskin.

The Brothers took their seats and the lodge was called to order, the ritual perfect and well practiced. The booming voice of the Worshipful Master and wraps of the gavel calling something forward from deep within everyone that the work at hand was important.

Classical music wafted through the air and hung heavy on the deeper notes, the vibration touching the very souls of the men who sat through it. The business of the night was a discussion of philosophy and it went well.

At the conclusion of lodge, the men retired to the dining room for a tradition Agape celebration with toast, fine food, and fine wine.

The taste of the foods blossomed well with the wine selected for that dinner and it was with bitter sweetness that the Brethren pulled their chairs from the table for the final toast of the evening.

Cigars and Scotch followed as the men discussed their views on religion, politics, and the fraternity well into the night.

The next morning the men headed off to work. Tradesmen of all types, policemen, military, Brothers from all walks of life headed out from their suburban homes to their cubicles, cop cars, and offices to earn a living.

I have the great fortune to belong the lodge described above and so does my Brother, friend, and neighbor.

We often sit together on my porch solving the world’s problems both with a glass of bourbon and I with a cigar. It was during one of these sessions my friend, who is a Fellow Craft, spoke his prophetic words of wisdom about lodge, specifically his lodge experience and one of the reasons Masonry is important to him and should be treated as such.

“You know,” he began with a tone in his voice echoing his contemplation, “my whole life is average, I live in an average home, I have an average job, and I shop at superstores for my average food, my average clothes, and my average television. I love that Masonry is not average. I love that once a month I get treat something special and that I feel special because of it. I’m glad we don’t experience Wal-Mart Masonry. I don’t want quicker, easier, or cheaper. I don’t need my Masonry in bulk with low quality materials. I don’t want Wal-Mart Masonry that one day of my month.”

He is new to Masonry and his lodge is “special” because we make it so. He does not come from the Masonic experiences most of had when we formed our lodge. He was initiated into our lodge and has “grown up” there. Nonetheless, he hit on something quite profound. How much of Masonry has suffered as we moved to Wal-Mart Masonry.

As tracing boards that were profoundly beautiful and steeped in artistic imagery moved to PowerPoint presentations, as quality wrought ritual moved to stuttered lines from a man moved into the progressive line to quickly, as Festive Boards moved to paper plates and plastic forks, as dressing for lodge meant no holes in your jeans—what disservice have we done to ourselves and to our Craft as we turned to the convenience and cost of Wal-Mart Masonry.

When there is little value placed in the trappings of the lodge, when there is little value placed on the experience itself, when there is more emphasis placed on completing things quickly and with little cost, how can we believe that men will find value in the thing itself, in the finished product?

We are often men of average means, of average lives. I am content to buy my food at the at largest store for the cheapest price. I am content to buy my clothes from the sales rack, but should I be content with generic low-cost Masonry?

If we are to believe our own brochures and websites we make good men better. How do we do this by treating everything like it should be quicker, cheaper, and in bulk? Do I really want my Masonry from the superstore with little thought given to its intrinsic and philosophical values? Do I want my morality in a low cost buy six and the seventh one is free?

If we practice our own philosophies then kneeling at the altar of Masonry should be more than a slight distraction before we head downstairs for a ham sandwich with generic mayonnaise and fruit punch because soda is cost prohibitive.

If we practice our own philosophies then changing a man’s life and actually improving him should be thought of as an experience worthy wearing socks that match and having on something more profound than a pair of blue jeans.

We are supposed to invoke the blessing of Deity before our undertakings and yet we approach our Creator with hurried expressions and a distain as we bicker about bills and provide little or no education.

The Craft turned into a superstore of membership at one time. We worshipped at the altar of large numbers so that we could keep our dues artificially low and provide some bang for the buck. Then, as the membership dwindled, the dollars stayed low, and the experience was hacked to bare minimum so that we didn’t “waste” our member’s time. Waste their time—with Masonry…..

The Fraternity can no longer afford Wal-Mart Masonry. To save Masonry we must change our thinking from quantity to quality. It is not about how many men are Masons, but how many men should be Masons. Masonry can no longer afford the quick sale, the PDF petition available for all who might want one.

The Fraternity must learn to value itself, so that others might see value within it. The tough thing about making Masonry valuable is that it takes effort. Meetings can’t be thrown to together, meals can’t be nuked, and Brothers can’t be raised in an afternoon with no memory work.

We love to hail Freemasonry as the home of our Founding Fathers….well, then work to make it the Masonry they would have revered and let’s leave our value meal days behind us.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thoughts from a Slightly Older Masons

It was years ago, funny how time flies, that I had written a short paper called “Thoughts from a Young Mason.” I railed on the many programs that failed to recognize the need for a fulfilling Masonic experience that lacked educational aspects. I recommended several changes that would not be difficult or costly to implement.

The speech was intended as a parting speech, in that, I thought it would make me so unpopular I would be run out of the Fraternity for having the gall to go against, what was then, the status quo. As with many things in my life, I learned a lesson. I learned that age was not the divider I thought it was. I learned that Masons old, young, tall, thin, new, seasoned, and the like were, in the end, Masons. Many were unfulfilled by business meetings with little or no education, many felt that the degrees were extraordinary and deserved further study, many identified with the ideas presented and desired changes, progressions, and fulfillment.

The speech became a paper, the paper and article, and the article spread on the Internet to the degree it was e-mailed to me as a “MUST READ” and listed as having an “anonymous author.” I laughed.

The article still floats around the cyber Masonic world and even now, years later, I received an e-mail from a Brother thanking me and finishing with the question, “So how old are you?” He had not realized the article was written years ago and I responded as such and indicated my current age. The response, “Wow, the way you wrote that, I thought you were actually young.” Ahh, life lessons.

But my space is limited, and I should probably get to the point or, at least, identify the point and meander towards it.

Most will likely not remember this, but I wrote that article when a man several decades my senior began to lecture me on what young Masons want. It spurred me towards action, not that I was offended, but I realized there was a complete misunderstanding of what young men coming to the Craft and to the Scottish Rite were searching for and I wanted to set the record straight.

It amazes me how things come full circle and so the same Brother who, years ago, had spurred my writing frenzy has once again captured my attention and fired my passions. The other day he made the statement that Masonic education was a waste of time and hoped the “fad” that had been going on would die out soon; he continued then, that he hoped the “young guys” that had been “acting like they were running things” would learn a lesson. He didn’t elaborate on what the lesson might be.

This time, I must admit, my immediate response was anger. Why? Well after the first article things changed with my Masonic experience, not because the article per se, but because change was in the wind, and the collective voice of the unfilled Masons, young and old, had ushered in desperately needed changes. The Supreme Council started the Master Craftsman program which was a success by anyone’s standards. Blue Lodges around the States began shifting their focus to a fulfilling educational experience and my local Scottish Rite was excelling in every way. Meetings had become interesting; reunions were filled with debate, discussion, and study. Every aspect was progressing and growing our members. Members of the “last class” were jumping into things at the following meetings with both feet. All the way around, I had no complaints accept those brought on by my own lack of patience.

So, I had to wonder, what lesson would the “young” men learn? Why was Masonic education, to this Brother, a fad?

I was truly baffled until I had one of those small epiphanies. This brother was not angry, he was not ignorant, although his statements were, he was not a “bad” Brother. He was afraid.

The Masonry he recognized was passing away before him and he wished for a time, for men, for friends that were no longer there. Life has little stability, and with Masonry, at a minimum, the tradition, ever unchanging, offers a bit of safety net. A little cornerstone where even the rooms in which we meet have changed little for hundreds of years; it is traditional and it is safe.

This story is not new. There is a lodge in which the Past Masters all sit in the North and grumble. They are collectively referred to in a respectful, but humorous manner, as the Northern Lights.

The things is, we are all moving north, if you catch my “drift,” and yes, the pun was intended. There will be a time that the familiar will bring comfort and the desire will be to see the young “learn their lesson.”


This division represents a failure on both sides of the issue so to speak. Education need not be lofty and difficult to understand. Sharing personal experiences, expounding on a symbol, discussing the inner meanings and life application of the degrees are valuable to all Masons in Masonry. Nor does education need be, nor should it be, a pursuit of the young. What lesson are we applying in Masonry when we believe we have learned all it has to offer?

We need to work to make education applicable, interesting, and valuable to all of our members. There are many aspects to Masonry and we cannot allow ourselves to focus the resources of our educational programs solely on singular object or particular personal interest. We need to fulfill our members and that means working hard to do so.

That being said Brothers, and this if for my scared friend, we cannot allow the fear of change to give birth to ignorance, disparagement and discontent. Time will temper our young friends, life will mature them and Masonry will improve them. Wishing upon them the negative or viewing education as adversarial is foolish, regardless of our age.

The sad lesson of the Northern Lights is the fact they have relegated themselves to irrelevancy through their negativity. Rather than becoming trusted mentors, they are viewed as humorous grumblers. If we react with anger, fear, or distain to all things that are unfamiliar because discomfort moves us to this, we will only isolate ourselves and remove our relevance and influence that our years and training could have provided.

If our voices are always angry and become nothing more than echoes from the dark part of the lodge, sitting alone and hoping a similar fate upon the happy and fulfilled members we have no influence, no say, and no personal growth.

Brethren, our numbers our stabilizing, our experiences are improving, and our knowledge of the Craft is growing. If just a few Brothers with an idea could form the great nation we know call home, imagine the force and impact our Fraternity could have on our individual communities if our members chose to work together.

The greatest thing that we can learn in Masonry is that we have more to learn. Let’s learn about one another, lets respect our various approaches to Masonry, lets end the ignorance, lets shed our fear, and lets change ourselves and maybe just the world.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Power, Truth and Symbol

The power of the symbol is unmistakable. We only need to drive a vehicle, holding it steady, to one side or another of a dotted line to recognize its power and hold over our psyche and our behavior. If it were not recognized as such a powerful tool it would be enough to train drivers to simply stay on one side of the road. Yet, we provide this symbol as a strong and powerful reminder of just where we are supposed to stay.

If this word picture is not compelling then I ask you to imagine a man going to a large evangelical church with a pentagram on his chest, exposed for all to see and the reaction that he might receive.

The symbol is so powerful that simply rotating it can change the psychological and physiological response to it. Take the same pentagram worn by our churchgoer and rotate it upside and it seems more ominous and evil than before. Let’s take the cross, widely accepted in today’s culture as the central symbol of the Christian faith, and turn it upside down; now it is a symbol of Satan and the dark arts. I find it amazing that a simple 180 degrees can change a symbol of hope and regeneration into a symbol of black magic, demons, and despair.

Allow me to digress for a moment in an attempt to illustrate a point. One morning I had listened to CNN and the words “moral responsibility” popped out of someone’s mouth and what riveted my attention afterward was that it had been preceded by the words “Federal Government.” History teaches that whenever the government begins to administer and inflict a moral responsibility upon you, you can be certain that it has little to do with morality, responsibility, or common sense; so I listened.

This particular story was in regards to the Jenna Six and the noose as a symbol of hate. The story continued that the symbol of the noose should be banned because of its attachment to the innocent killing of African Americans. There will be those, with whom I will lose a little ground because once such a symbol enters into the story, the emotion attached is so powerful that reasonable debate and articulated reason leave the room. Regardless, I will continue with the illustration as I think it is a good one and an important one.

Trying to ban the noose as a symbol is a failure in recognizing the true power of the symbol. The problem with the logic of banning a symbol is that it is based on a presupposition that is completely false. That presumption is that banning the symbol of will ban or remove the belief behind it. This does not eradicate the true power of the symbol which is the belief system they represent. You could ban the cross and there would still be Christians, you could ban the noose and there would still be hate and bigotry.

This story also illustrates the degradation of the symbol to the worship of the symbol itself. When faith is not reasoned, educated, or investigated it has the tendency to move toward the favorite religion of the ignorant and lazy, which is idolatry in its most base sense. What is meant is that the worship of symbols without truly understanding the stories, allegories, and belief systems behind them. This shallowness of believe manifest in religious wars, bigotry, and religious intolerance so prevalent in today’s world. The ease of allowing someone else to tell you what you believe is intoxicating in ways and leads to the ignorant obedience to the pulpit. Never having picked up and read their own holy books, these so called believers, these worshipers of the symbol itself, have the audacity to condemn others who actually read theirs, screaming aloud that they are heretics, sinners, and doomed to some fiery fate. For instance, this was the threat of the Gnostic current within Christianity and why it was so harshly stamped out by those who saw the church as a political foundation for power to administer on behalf of God, which of course, they do through degrading the tradition to an almost superstitious belief in the symbols themselves. All of a sudden the wine is literally blood, holy water can repel evil spirits and the like.

Why all this talk of religion, of current events, of hate, idolatry, bigotry even and what can it have to do with Freemasonry? In a word: Everything.

If Masonry has a religion it is the symbol. Not the ignorant worship of the symbol for the thing it represents, but for the devoted research, study, and inculcation of the meaning behind the symbol. The reality that the symbol, by itself, is a beautiful allegory of meaning when combined and mixed with the inquisitive mind and the working spirit that does not lay idle in hope that someone will tell it what to believe.

Understanding this truth, and the reality of the situation, is important to save Masonry from devolving into a system of ignorant tradition that becomes what it should vehemently labor against.

When, for the sake of harmony, for the sake of expediency, for the sake of laziness, we move quickly through the work, fail to uphold the highest standards, or fail to guard the West Gate against the ignorant and lazy Masonry is destined to the fate of foolish leadership or egomaniacal title collection that will bulldoze and destroy the philosophers of the Craft for fear that their own ignorance will be exposed and their titles recognized by others as ill received.

Allowing these men to lead results in a fundamentalism of sorts that holds highest the most ridiculous elements of the Craft while sacrificing its most sacrosanct to the fringe and barely tolerated. All of a sudden, and at once, the obligation becomes a gray area, we argue with anger, we guard foolish behaviors because we know no other behaviors, because we have opted for habit instead of devoted research, one being so much quicker and easier than the others.

We tell ourselves that someday we will study, that someday we will learn, but until then we spend our energies in Masonry climbing ladders and arguing against progression because we fear it for we have not studied it.

Preposterous statements that the Chamber of Reflection is a purely Christian Rite entitled to the Commandery are made by ignorant men whose only knowledge of the Chamber is their participation in it during a particular Christian Rite. Insufferable jewel collectors claim that Masonry is being wrongly crafted into the image of a few. They do this and claim this because a five minute Internet search is the pinnacle of their research and they fear discovery as a fraud armed with shallow philosophies if the true aim of Masonry is adhered to.

These men worship the symbol, dig no deeper than a facial examination of the lectures, and believe wrongly that some of the legend should be taken as literal history and that the discovery of alchemy and mysticism is a “stretch.”

These men commit the greatest of Masonic sins if such a thing exists because they allow the ritual and rites, without study, to become Masonry; the very thing Free Masonry should stamp out. The power of the symbol is the beliefs in the archetypal spirit of man that they tug at and represent. If Masonry is allowed to degrade into a set of working tools with elementary lectures explaining rudimentary moral concepts the Fraternity will die because its philosophies already have.

We must, within the Craft, utilize the philosophies of the Craft. We must educate and inform our Brothers so that they can form their own opinions without relying on the opinions of others. We must combat ignorance with logic. The brick of mortar of any institution is just that. It does not possess a conscience and does not have a “moral” anything. The minute we are put down, relegated, or denigrated for philosophies that stand behind the symbol and are told that there is nothing more to the symbol than a simple explanation or definition, or that the symbol is powerful for the symbol itself we should rise up, study, educate, and remember that if we put aside Masonic philosophies to fight on their behalf we have likewise been infected with the virus of ignorance and fundamentalism.

We must combat these things with Masonry, with philosophy, with open minds, loving hearts, and education.

What is the relevance of Masonry people wonder….well I wonder where in the world would a philosophy designed to unite and eradicate ignorance and laziness serve a great good. Then I wonder where in the world it would not.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Answering Dan Brown Question

I was asked the other day how one should answer questions about Dan Brown's new book the Lost Symbol.

My answer was and remains as follows:

My recommendation is not to apologize for Masonry and not to spend your time trying to "debunk" the Lost Symbol. In general, it was accurate. Masonry, in my estimation is a transformative art that does have the capability to transform matter.

It is fine and accurate to say, "I'm sorry, but I can't talk about that." But why should we nitpick the novel when it is so utterly positive. In many ways Dan Brown got Masonry better than some of its own members. The perspective that it is special, should be guarded and treated as such, and has the power to transform lives is 100% accurate.

Look people in the eye and say, "Yes we are a secret society, slightly less secretive these days and I believe this is the to the detriment of the Craft because the mystery we do have and is under the constant apology of so called intellectuals lining up at the cameras on behalf of Masonry in hopes of garnering numbers is sickening. The Craft is not for everyone, most men should not be members, not because the Craft is bad, but because they truly are not good enough in heart, mind and spirit to be members. That is what makes it special.

You may call me an elitist, but I must be honest, the world could use a little more elitism, a world where people cared to their core about themselves, about others, and about the condition of the world. A world where people hated the idea of remaining idle and spent their time, energy and money truly trying to improve themselves, and therefore, their community.

So go ahead, line up. Let the Christmas Christians and the closest conspiratorialist line up to declare we are evil. You likely know that in your heart of hearts, even if you had a dues card, the true secrets of Masonry would allude you just like they alluded the villain in Dan Browns' story."