Monday, February 15, 2010

‘Appointments and disappointments’

The helpful calls and e-mails reminding the Magpie Mason to post information and photos of Masonic Week 2010 cannot go ignored forever (even though I haven’t even been home 24 hours yet and still haven’t unpacked the car!) Here is the first of maybe half a dozen posts on last week’s fun and frivolity. More to come this week and maybe next.

Masonic Week 2010

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities

In previous years, this body of water on the hotel grounds was a bubbling fountain, but last week it was a tundra after 30 inches of snow and bitter cold winds knocked the Washington, DC area off its feet.

The Magpie Mason looks forward to Masonic Week the way a kid anticipates the start of summer vacation. It’s a few precious days of catching up with old friends from across the country and around the world, with countless opportunities to make new friends. Along the way, there are meetings, banquets, hospitality suites, private huddles, lobby networking, secret rituals, public embarrassments, cocktails, venal politicians, egos (both inflated and bruised varieties), and a parade of old white guys whose drawls make Strother Martin sound like Alistair Cooke. In short, a lengthy schedule of appointments (with inevitable disappointments) crammed into four days inside a Hilton.

My coverage of last year’s Masonic Week was entirely positive, but the same will not be said of what you’re about to read. The trouble began with snow, a form of frozen precipitation not unknown to the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, yet still capable of shocking just about everyone there into paralysis. Snow doesn’t hit that area either as frequently or as forcefully as it impacts the Northeast or other regions that are only a degree or three latitudinally north of the Mid Atlantic, but its appearance is not exactly one of the Ten Plagues of Exodus either. I mean, they have snowplows, and shovels, and boots, and gloves, and previous experience with snow. So what’s so confusing? The snow falls, you clear it, and you carry on with life as though it is possible to live with some snow on the ground, because it is possible. Okay, okay, in all fairness we’re talking about record snowfalls landing only a few days apart, but why must the recovery take so long?

What I’m cranky about is the cancellation of the two events that most drew me to Alexandria in the first place, plus some other discouraging events that require cautious explanation. The first event was to have been the “The Art of Initiation” at the George Washington Masonic Memorial. I was very fortunate to have been invited to take part in the planning of this event. Actually, that dates to the summer of 2008, when the original idea was to showcase the practices of Traditional Observance lodges for the attendees of Masonic Week 2009. This was to involve brethren from New York who would give lectures, and a lodge in Washington, DC that would exemplify Emulation ritual. So what happened? The Grand Lodge of New York withdrew its recognition of the Grand Lodge of DC just in time to kill the event, an eventuality resembling an act of God for its sudden and improbable freakishness. Fast forward one year, and this time the event is killed by an actual act of God: 30 inches of snow dumped on a city that wets itself when three measly inches are forecast.

Ever have the feeling the Grand Architect is trying to tell you something?

In February 2008 we sat at this table smoking cigars in the mild weather. No chance of that this year.

There is some vague, noncommittal talk of holding “The Art of Initiation” later this year, perhaps autumn, so maybe we’ll just get some locusts. Anyway, I doubt my New York brethren will have time to visit Virginia for a one-night engagement.

The second event called on account of snow was the annual top secret meeting of The Cabal* at Gadsby’s Tavern. We would have met Thursday at 12:30 p.m., more than 24 hours after the snow stopped falling. Despite that respite from the snow, it was not possible to get the tavern open for business, a situation so foreign to me that I still cannot believe it.

And there was more aggravation. The title of this edition of The Magpie Mason conveys cheeky innuendo understood completely only by myself and two other guys, but your imagination will work. And the final blemish on The Week That Was involves a childish anti-Semitic jape spoken proudly in unmistakable clarity in a group conversation in the middle of the hotel lobby. There we stood: myself, two truly distinguished VIPs visiting from Britain, several other fine Masons we all could look up to, and this other person: an effete little fop.

We were enjoying nostalgic discussion of things British, in the context of quality goods that cannot be had today, specifically a certain style of automobile, when Mr. Fop, in a conspicuously lordly voice as he tried to impress the Englishmen with his Grey Pouponness, says “Surely you know the Jew’s Canoe – the Jaguar!” I directed my eyes to the floor. Everyone else ignored him.

Now, first of all, every third-grade bully knows the proper usage is “Jew Canoe.” There is no possessive form, or any apostrophe at all. The little moron couldn’t get that right, so maybe he’s inexperienced at this, but the next time I hear something like that out of him, I’m gonna grab his little turkey neck and give him the lesson in manners his inbred alcoholic parents should have given him 30 years ago. The little priss will read this eventually, and I’m sure he is bright enough to recognize himself. Selah.

The beautiful scenery outside the Alexandria Mark Hilton.

Oh, and did I mention the hotel bar was closed Friday and Saturday nights?

Sorry for the negativity folks, but venting is cathartic. (Perhaps alchemical?) I promise the forthcoming reportage of Masonic Week will resume in The Magpie Mason’s customary cheerful tone and optimistic outlook. The rest of Masonic Week 2010 was just fine. Or, in other words, “It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times,” but next time it snows, I stay home.

*There is no Cabal.


Jim Dillman said...

You've expressed my sentiments pretty accurately as well. I remain deeply disappointed about the cancellation of the event at AW22. I've been drooling with anticipation for months. There is little chance I'll be able to make it to Alexandria for the rescheduled event, but I'm not ruling it out.

You'll have to let me know backchannel who the pencil-necked geek that made the anti-Semitic remark is so I can heap some abuse on him as well.

By the way, you are finally bookmarked so I don't have to spend an hour catching up every few weeks. Thanks again for the lift. A two-hour nap in a chair at the gate made the wait relatively short.

Magpie Mason said...

Glad you got home safely, Jim.

Perhaps I protest too much about the Jew-baiting. I'm not usually so responsive when confronted with that kind of thing and, believe me, I'm no orthodox rabbi either. The thing is, Masonic Week clearly is the domain of white Christians, and there's no mistaking it, so I'm starting to wonder if I'm actually welcome there.

I'm told the AMD Grand Council meeting was closed with a prayer to Jesus Christ, and the entree served later at the banquet was pork. At the dinner, where there were two tables of visiting Masons from Togo, the pianist broke into a few bars of "Dixie," as if the event was the VMI Class of 1940 alumni banquet.

I get tired of feeling like an outsider, especially when I'm paying the bills.

Anon_e_mouse said...

No, you don't protest too much... hopefully more of the brethren will echo your sentiments and "counsel" those who stray from the principles we all have been taught to follow.

Jonny ClockWorks said...

Brother Magpie,

I enjoyed reading Your reports of AMD Week in Alexandria, as I could not attend due to the snow.

I am sorry you had to witness that ugliness, but even as our Fraternity preaches the tenets of perfectibility, we, unfortunately, are all too human. The inappropriateness of this Brother's racism should be brought directly to his attention, with the aims to reform rather than scold, {no matter how badly one wants to throttle the ignorance out of him!}

You do raise an issue that has made me curious in the past, however. I would love to hear your thoughts regarding your Religious practices and resolving them with the differences in the 'Christian' lines of Freemasonry. I take it that you are member of SRICF, and I know several Knights Templar that are of the Jewish faith as well. {Pike writes of this being the case with a Brother way back in the mid 1800's.} Each individual makes a choice, but I would love to hear various opinions on the matter.

{I would have a hard time participating in most Talmudic Study group, primarily because I would not be wanted there.}

Magpie Mason said...

Hello Bro. Jonny,

We're in total agreement on how best to approach the brother. One of my favorite pieces of Masonic oratory is the Closing Charge which challenges us to extend the most charitable judgment to an erring brother by informing him of his mistake, helping him correct it, and protecting his reputation in the process. So obviously I have failed him. Sometimes, when someone is traveling in the wrong direction, I won't try to meet him halfway. I have since learned that this individual has a habit of being verbally abusive, and perhaps those who actually know him can step forward. I really cannot discuss him or this matter any further without revealing his identity, which I do not want to do.

Your other comments and questions are more interesting anyway.

Let me correct you on the SRICF: I am not a member. (In 2002, I was offered a spot in the local college, but I turned it down because I did not want to join yet another dinner club for the past grand masters and their wives. I already had accepted invitations to other orders, and felt mislead once I saw how they functioned. That said, knowing NOW what our mutual friends have accomplished, and being confident in their future successes, I regret that choice, and I regret being barred by religious restriction. But this leads me to your important questions.)

Regarding my "religious practices and resolving them with the differences in the 'Christian' lines of Freemasonry," I simply am a Jew who, as a Freemason, reaches out to those Masonic degrees/orders that not only teach me, but also expand my horizons. I was initiated into the AASR in May 1998. The 18° was The One for me. A year later I joined the officer line of the Chapter, and from there the brethren seemed to have forgotten I'm Jewish, and two years hence I was physically recruited for the Orders of KT. I was wined, dined, and assured by the then principals of Trinity Commandery No. 17 in New Jersey that KT membership was akin to the higher degrees of AASR, so there was nothing philosophically or ethically contrary to my present work. My own independent research had me believing that already.

"What about the 'Christians only' membership requirement?" I asked. The answer I was given could be considered lacking. I was told a belief in the Christian faith was required. Well, what does that mean? "Christian faith" itself can mean different things to different people. How does one measure "belief" in it? I do support the tenets, as much as I know of them, of Christianity. I see nothing in Christian thought that is incompatible to the way I want to live my life. (Ditto Buddhism, et al.) I look for philosophy, and not for saviors. I don't believe any one faith monopolizes all the answers man needs to learn, and I know many faiths share common teachings.

I have no regrets about joining KT, and I'll spare you the details of my involvement, saying only that I was honored to have been appointed Grand Historian in 2007.

Very recently however, one of our mutual friends has caused me to wonder if I had made a serious error, and I'm grappling with that. I don't yet know what the resolution will be.

(Continued in next Comment.)

Magpie Mason said...

(Continued from Comment above.)

But about SRICF and other orders: I have no objection to them at all. I try to be very careful when writing anything less than supportive of them to be clear that I have no desire to see them disbanded or forcibly integrated, neither of which could ever happen anyway. Their existence does not cost ME anything. Whatever flaws I think I recognize in them involve only the disparity between Freemasonry's ecumenical embrace and the "Christians only" orders' barring of non-Christians. Allow me to quote from SRICF's website, as it is phrased February 17, 2010:

"The Christian qualification is required because the character of the Grade rituals is completely Christian, and would not be understood or appreciated by those of other faiths."

There is a lot I can say about that simple sentence. I'll just point out that it is presumptuous, and it is hilarious that they think their study of Kabbalah would be too much for Jews to handle. (Again, their existence costs me nothing, and if that is what they want to believe, then fine. A broken clock is correct twice a day.)

And I'll also say that quoted sentence is a lie. It is the expression of a mentality produced in a period of history when ethnic, religious, and cultural diversities became very frightening to the racial and religious majorities, especially to those with enough clout to not only BE Freemasons, but to shape the fraternity's character. When Masonic Week was created in the 1930s, no one involved could have imagined in his wildest hallucinations that a delegation from Togo would appear at AMD Grand Council for initiation. They are spinning in their graves because, to them, the people who are not white and not Christian who are accepted into Blue Lodges embody "error and abuse" of what Freemasonry was intended to be.

In closing, I want to address your concern about "most Talmudic study groups." I don't know exactly what you mean, but by your suspicion of not being wanted there, I take it you are referring to an actual school of religious instruction. Well, if one is not Jewish, it would be hard to justify finding him a seat in the classroom at the expense of a scholar who is working toward becoming a rabbi. If you arrived at a synagogue on a Saturday morning for services, you would not be turned away, but Talmud study is intensive academia for those select few who devote their lives to preserving and handing down the Jewish faith to the next generation.

Freemasonry is not ordained to protect and propagate Trinitarian Christianity, or any other sectarian faith, and that is the difference I hope to persuade you to consider.

Cordially & fraternally,