Saturday, December 27, 2014

‘Masonic Society news’

Issue No. 26 of The Journal of The Masonic Society is reaching members’ mailboxes now and, since it is still St. John’s Day, I thought I’d share the details with some other news. First, for those who can attend Masonic Week in Virginia next month, please know The Masonic Society’s Feast and Forum (our annual meeting) will be hosted Friday, January 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the hotel. Click here for the Masonic Week meal reservations form, and don’t forget New Year’s Day is the deadline for reserving your accommodations.

Second, if you want to advertise in the pages of The Journal, have a look at our rate card, and contact me at ads(at)themasonicsociety(dot)com to make the arrangements.

I haven’t received my copy of The Journal yet, but Bro. Leif in Norway got his, and Bro. Makia in Jersey received his, and Secretary Nathan in Indianapolis took delivery on the overruns a few days ago, so it’s getting around. Anyway, in this Fall 2014 issue, you shall find a complementary mix of writings providing insight into ritual, some current events, smart analysis for best practices, and other, frankly, must read info you need to know.

Casey A. Fletcher, a Member of the Society, presents “Elus in an Envelope,” an exploration of the 9°, 10°, and 11° of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (Southern Jurisdiction) of Freemasonry. The “Elu Degrees” convey an alternative story from what is revealed to Master Masons in most Masonic lodges in the United States. Fletcher provides his readers description of the action in these rituals, which is indispensible to those who haven’t received these SJ degrees, and he explains some of the vexing esoteric aspects of the degrees that I hope will entice Master Masons to pursue membership in the A&ASR-SJ.

In her “A Brief Historiography on the Persecution of Freemasons During the Spanish Inquisition,” anthropology Ph.D. candidate Laura M. Wilhelm of University of Nevada-Reno compares and contrasts distinct historical narratives from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries that show Freemasons as hunted victims of the Inquisition in Europe and the New World, and Freemasons as masters of the world, spreading around the globe with the rise of British Empire, and its unbridled proliferation across the United States. Of course the two streams of history are not mutually exclusive. Freemasonry is a human society that adapts to any locale; it can be revolutionary and heretical where dissent from authority is needed to spark liberty, and it can be peacefully conservative in free societies. It can be compromised and compliant in Cuba. Long story short: Ms. Wilhelm does a fine job of piecing together less known facts to relate a story that will advance your Masonic knowledge.

I smiled when I read the headline of Mohamad Yatim’s article “Freemasonry and Your Return on Investment,” knowing that my friend’s professional background in finance and his honed leadership skills in Freemasonry would result in a bold opinion that needs to be heard: Namely, that the officers of Masonic lodges must be thoughtful and practical in structuring the revenue side of a lodge’s budget.

Long ago, when the iconoclast Stephen Dafoe compiled his Masonic Dictionary, the letter D entry was “Dues that Don’t Anymore” by Masonic secretary-treasurer extraordinaire Nathan Brindle (actually the Secretary-Treasurer of The Masonic Society), who patiently explained the urgency for lodges and other bodies to assess their financial needs and manage their dues rates accordingly. From what I can see in my own Masonic memberships and observations of others, Nathan’s call has been heeded. As far as I’m concerned, the goal is not to raise dues for the sake of raising dues, nor even to “keep out the riff-raff”—riff and raff very often will come up with the money if motivated—but to ensure the lodge is adequately funded every year, and able to save some for tomorrow. Being adequately funded by the lodge’s membership reaps two principle benefits: That Masons themselves accept the basic obligation of sustaining their lodges, and that lodges need not trick the public into paying the bills either by renting the premises or, worse, hosting the abominable pancake dinners and spaghetti breakfasts that no one admits are tacky and unprofitable.

Anyway, Mohamad illustrates how the decline of the U.S. Dollar has been ignored for many years by lodges in the United States, and he makes the compelling case—the only argument worth hearing—that Freemasons should pay sufficient annual dues to create a quality Masonic experience. Proper maintenance of building and grounds; meals we’d be proud to serve and eager to eat; furniture, décor, paraphernalia, regalia, etc. in great shape; and some parity with other men’s attractions, like golf club memberships, are vital exterior characteristics that make a Masonic lodge appear relevant in the 21st century. How does your lodge fare?

Michael Halleran, our Executive Editor (and Grand Master of Kansas), suggests an “Implausible Collaboration?” in which he tells the story of a Mason named Charles Gray, a doctor in the U.S. Cavalry during the Civil War. Drawing from Gray’s diary, Halleran presents the amazing personal story of a Union officer who was permitted to travel to lodges despite being… a prisoner of war. The New York (Ark Lodge) Mason was captive in South Carolina, where he visited lodges and enjoyed hospitality and gifts from the local brethren. Any well read Mason ought to know facts and fables of Masonic civility between combatants, particularly during the U.S. Civil War, which show how Masonic brotherhood can transcend borders and conflict when the Masons involved give life to the spirit of the brotherhood, but this is “a direct, contemporaneous, and unimpeachable account of actual Masonic collaboration between enemies.” But not all was brotherly love. Some Masons among the Confederates passionately objected to the fraternization, and made damning charges against those who treated their captured brethren to fairly extravagant comforts.

In the end, Dr. Gray was released from incarceration in July 1862, and he returned to New York, but then resumed a career in the Army. “For reasons unknown,” as Halleran concludes with this startling detail, “[Gray] withdrew his membership in Ark Lodge on 3 May 1870.”

In his “The Observant Mason” column, Andrew Hammer presents “Perfecting Our Points of Entrance.” Here, the author of Observing the Craft explains how ritual might benefit from a reordering of the Perfect Points of Entrance. As we know them, the guttural, the pectoral, the manual, and the pedal correspond to the Four Cardinal Virtues. In Hammer’s estimation, “the four perfect points of entrance may correspond to the four realms of existence as found in the Kabbalah. These realms take us from the temporal to the spiritual plane, and correspond to overlapping areas of the Sefirot, or Tree of Life.”

In short, this most thoughtful and esteemed speculative Mason reassigns each Point of Entrance to a different Cardinal Virtue. Readers familiar with Hammer rightly can expect another clearly reasoned suggestion for improved understanding of Masonic ritual and symbol, and those who do not know Hammer yet may be startled by his unapologetically being right all the time.

And finally in the feature article department is my own reportage of the 2014 Masonic Restoration Foundation Symposium at Cincinnati in August. I cannot believe it’s been four months already, and I’m glad I wrote this story so I don’t forget what happened. The full text of the article is below; it is a slightly different and definitely longer version than what could fit in The Journal.

Elsewhere in The Journal are the usual features:

  • President’s Message – The lovely and talented Jim Dillman delves into Indiana Masonic history to find a valuable lesson in charity.
  • News of the Society – Cool current events in the Craft. And some weird, scary stuff too.
  • Conferences, Speeches, Symposia & Gatherings – our calendar of Masonic events in your district and around the world.
  • Book Reviews – Contemporary and classic titles reviewed by the sharpest minds.
  • Masonic Collectibles – An exclusive look at exceptional rarities courtesy of—who else?—Yasha Beresiner. Not to be confused with Masonic Treasures, which adorns the back cover.

If you are a Freemason in a lodge under a grand lodge that is part of, or in amity with, the Conference of Grand Masters of North America, then you should join The Masonic Society, and enjoy the benefits of membership. Our quarterly Journal, a membership patent you’ll want to have framed for proud display, and other tokens of fraternal esteem are waiting for you. Click here and take it from there.

Here is my news from the MRF 2014 Symposium:

Masonic Restoration Foundation
meets in Ohio

The Masonic Restoration Foundation hosted its Fifth Annual Symposium in August in Cincinnati, Ohio, drawing hundreds of Freemasons from around the United States to learn about the Observance movement from those who have set T.O. lodges to labor. Founded in 2001, the MRF, according to its website, serves as a clearinghouse of best practices in Freemasonry. Its supporters share ideas and information, discuss Masonic topics, and conduct local, regional, and national Masonic education conferences upon request of members or lodges, and with permission of the Grand Lodge in which its events are held. This weekend event was hosted jointly by Caliburn Lodge No. 785 and Arts & Sciences Lodge No. 792, both of Ohio, with Lodge Vitruvian No. 767 of Indiana and Lodge Ad Lucem No. 812 of Pennsylvania. The itinerary kept its participants and guests active with discussions, lectures, meals, and ritual, among other attractions. It should be noted how all seven brethren who presented lectures during the symposium are members of The Masonic Society.

The location was the Cincinnati Masonic Center, a beautiful example of neo-classical architecture built in 1928. Its origins begin in 1916, when the Cincinnati Masonic Temple Company began acquiring contiguous properties in the Queen City’s downtown business district with the goal of erecting a temple. The Scottish Rite Valley of Cincinnati and Syrian Shrine joined the effort (although the Shrine did not move in), and the result is the grand landmark on East Fifth Street, a location well known in the city thanks, in part, to its Taft Theater, a popular performing arts space. Bro. Donald Crews, author of the newly published book Cincinnati’s Freemasons (and a TMS Member), began the symposium with his lecture recounting the history of Freemasonry in Ohio, an informative and very interactive talk that engaged many brethren from out of state whose grand jurisdictions played roles in the establishment of the fraternity in Ohio during the 1790s.

Bob Davis at the informal
Sunday panel discussion.
The brethren adjourned to the ballroom for a festive board hosted by Lodge Vitruvian No. 767 of Indianapolis. The fine meal with ample libations for the toasts would have been enough, but MRF Past President Robert G. Davis of Oklahoma (a Founding Fellow of TMS) complemented the affair with his well received lecture “Journey to the Masculine Soul,” his thoughtful explanation of why good men should explore the mysteries of Freemasonry. “When we create lodges where the overriding vision is social honor and we select men of status to join our ranks, we sustain the cultural paradigm upon which Freemasonry was erected,” he said. “We educate and demonstrate to every generation of members the Masonic importance of status. And the way we sustain status in our lodges over time is when the upper level men become mentors to the lower level men and the upper level men are consciously aware that the subject of mentoring is social honor—which can only be taught through life experience and symbolic interaction.”

Davis’ term “social honor” is key. “In the hierarchical relations of lodge, (and we are informed in the Entered Apprentice Charge of this relationship), we are indeed superiors, inferiors, and equals to each other, and it is essential that we play roles as all three,” he added. “We must be prepared to pass from one position to another just as we are born, age and die. We must be taught, as we must teach others. This is the true dynamic of our society of Brothers. There is a time to rule, a time to be ruled, and finally, there is a time to pass the reins to the next generation.”

“Tying this to social honor—the inferior, no less than his superior—regulates the social contract we have with each other as Brothers,” Davis explained. “This is why an inter-generational contract works. The ideal type of equality is friendship. We cannot have friends who are not equals. The social contract required in Freemasonry is that friendship lives in honor. Honor determines status because again, above all else, a specific style of life is expected from all those who wish to belong to the inner circle. In a fraternal sense, style is our group identity. We dress and act like others whose company we cherish. Honor in an aristocratic sense is an exclusive concept. Only peers are considered capable of honor.”

The altar of Arts & Sciences Lodge No. 792 holds six VSLs.

The next morning a lodge of Master Masons was opened by Arts & Sciences Lodge No. 792, an Observant lodge set to labor four years ago. Six Volumes of Sacred Law appear on the altar. In addition to the Holy Bible there are the Tanakh, the Koran, a Shinto text, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Jefferson Bible, Thomas Jefferson’s interpretation of the Gospels published after his death. The solemn opening impressed the brethren assembled, who filled nearly every seat in the spacious Eastern Star Room. Refreshment was called so that the day’s programs could begin. Four lectures were offered in pairs in the morning, forcing the attendees to make hard choices of which to attend. TMS Member Oscar Alleyne of New York presented “Fides, Vita, Rex: Communicating Esoteric Topics without Making Them Run for the Hills,” and TMS Founding Member Daniel Hrinko of Ohio, a psychologist, discussed “The Initiatory Experience and Human Nature.” Hrinko explained in plain language the mutual benefits of a lodge bringing a new man into the fraternity, and cautioned that each petitioner deserves particular care. It is essential to both those who initiate and those initiated that time and effort be invested and for familiarity to be established—steps far beyond what an investigating committee takes, and even what one mentor can offer. He advocates devoting up to six months to help a petitioner and the lodge decide if they are right for one another—a busy period of establishing trust, building a potentially lasting connection that is a fundamental to the initiatory experience. “We do things for emotional experiences, so try to understand why he petitions for the degrees of Freemasonry,” Hrinko added. “Tell him our reasons to help him discover his reasons. Make it personal.” The months leading to an Entered Apprentice Degree should be a mutual personal investment with readings (Plato’s “The Allegory of the Cave,” for example) and honest discussions to build friendship. And when the time arrives for initiation, the lodge must fill its role as a sacred space that receives new members with respect and solemnity.

Paul Smith
The second pair of lectures were delivered by Shawn Eyer of Washington, DC (a Founding Fellow), who praised the virtues of music in lodge with “And Hinder Not Music,” and Member Paul Smith of New Hampshire, who spoke with moving candor of “Forming a New Lodge: Sharing the Reality.” Smith recounted his tale of laboring in the quarries of his mother lodge, and weathering various frustrations in the process, before his personal studies led him to the Traditional Observance movement—and the real headaches began. The steps taken by Smith and a small group of like-minded brethren were common sense and necessary; he explained in detail how a club was formed to examine the many aspects of T.O. lodges and figure the best ways to incorporate them into a local lodge. “What do we envision?” they asked reflectively. The organizing—matters of regalia, lodge paraphernalia, and the like—were easily addressed, but they faced resistance when presenting the concept to other Masons, including close friends. Those who have been around long enough recognize that obstacle. Accusations of elitism and similar conduct abounded, but the founders of what would become Phoenix Lodge No. 105 responded with a Masonic relations campaign to clarify the myths and facts of T.O. lodges, including sending forth brethren to speak in other lodges about the virtues of the T.O. model. When it was time to call a vote of the Grand Lodge, it was unanimously in favor of chartering the lodge. Smith explained the commitment the lodge makes and its candidates’ reciprocity. One requires eighteen months of activity before being raised to the Third Degree: six as a petitioner, six as an Apprentice, and six as a Fellow Craft. This time includes making presentations to the lodge that demonstrate understandings of Masonic ritual and symbol, and other displays of understanding.

Smith’s overall message to those embarking on creating their own Observant lodge is don’t believe for a minute that it will be easy and will enjoy the support of the grand lodge. The reality is not only will there be opposition, but that even some of your supporters will change their minds, but if there is room for convivial Masons and charitable Masons, there also must be room made for those brethren who work toward excellence in meaningful ritual and continuous Masonic education.

Michael Clevenger
The Keynote Presentation of the day came from Michael Clevenger, a Past Master of New England Lodge No. 4 in Ohio, a Leadership Instructor for the Grand Lodge, and a TMS Founding Member, who discussed “Becoming Masonry.” For this writer, it indeed was the most salient summation of not only the specific cause of the Masonic Restoration Foundation, but also of the meaning of Freemasonry itself. Clevenger presented practical philosophy; he puts into the brethren’s hands the tools needed to craft a Masonic life. This is not recitation of ritual, but a way to use ritual and symbol to create daily lessons that modify one’s attitudes and behavior, augmented by plans that reinforce Masonic teachings and in effect serve to organize the mind along Masonic philosophy. In Clevenger’s system, each degree and every Working Tool provides ways to apply Masonic teaching to daily life. Worksheets give the Masonic student a place to write down and compare ideas, such as what the ritual says, for example, about the Common Gavel; what the Common Gavel means to the Mason personally; and how he will use these concepts in real life. In addition, the brother is challenged to envision how the Common Gavel and his knowledge of it will benefit his life, his family, job, community, and—yes—Masonic lodge. In setting specific goals, Clevenger’s method encourages daily reinforcement of Masonic values. A Freemason is to know himself, through reflection, evaluation, and learning; to know others by developing relationships; to be of value to others by assuming an attitude of service; to show respect by practicing the Golden Rule; and to be a leader who displays Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth.

In addition to the ritual oaths and obligations of Masonic degrees, Clevenger devised “My Masonic Obligation,” a philosophic guide to life: “I am a Mason because I believe that no man should live his life in a random manner. He should be guided by a plan that honors his God, supports his fellow man, and provides a way to improve himself daily. Masonry provides this plan for me, and I will live in pursuit of knowledge and understanding for the purpose of providing for my family, supporting my Masonic brethren, and improving my community. My continued hope is that I live respected and die regretted.”

Chris Hodapp and Mark Tabbert

It’s always a treat to meet the authors of the books we love, and rounding out the lectures with informality and ease were TMS Founding Fellow Chris Hodapp and Member Andrew Hammer, author of Observing the Craft as well as the President of the MRF, appearing separately for Q&A with the brethren. The session with Hodapp was facilitated by Founding Fellow Mark Tabbert, of the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Virginia, who made the most of Hodapp’s breadth of knowledge as the tireless traveling man who probably has visited more lodges than anyone in promotion of his book Freemasons for Dummies, which has sold more than 120,000 copies, making it the best selling book on Freemasonry in generations. “Traditional Observance is not the savior or golden goose for us all,” he cautioned. “At Vitruvian, we sometimes have more visitors than members. So pay attention to the visitors. You are influencing their thoughts.” Attentiveness to new brethren is key also. “A Mason’s fourth meeting is the most important one,” Hodapp added, “because that’s when he sees if the fraternity practices what it preaches.” He also noted a change in what’s being preached, meaning the most common question facing the fraternity in recent years was what does the lodge do for the community, but with a generational change, that thinking has vanished. Remedies he’d like to see include increases in annual dues and assessments, so that Masonry places a higher value on itself; the abandonment of one-day mass initiations; and a split of the Shrine from Freemasonry to allow the Nobles to do everything necessary to raise funds for their hospitals. “I’m very optimistic about the fraternity,” he concluded. “A younger generation will come in like a freight train, raising dues and insisting that ritual work be better.”

But the day was not over yet. The brethren returned to the lodge, and the Craft was called back to Labor to witness Lodge Ad Lucem No. 812 of Pennsylvania confer the Master Mason Degree of its jurisdiction’s ritual. Unique among the various Craft rituals of the United States, the Pennsylvanians’ ritual is akin to certain lodge rituals of England. One Fellow Craft was raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason in a ceremony none will soon forget. Contributing toward the spirited community of the brethren was the closing event of the day: a Scotch Harmony—a lesson on pairing savory hors d’oeuvres with exotic whiskies, with generous samples of all and the guiding hand of a Scotch whisky expert.

The Sixth Annual Masonic Restoration Foundation Symposium will take place August 21-23 at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania’s famous Masonic Temple in Philadelphia.

No comments: