Tuesday, March 8, 2016

‘Knuffels to Rotterdam’

From her Facebook page, Betty Langenberg
with two of her beloved dogs.

Freemasonry, going back to the first grand lodge’s first book of jurisprudence, published 1723, is said to be best understood when it “becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.” The authors weren’t talking about geographic or physical distance, although in retrospect that may make sense, but were alluding to the artificial barriers of religious opinions that estranged Roman Catholics from Protestants, and that also divided Protestants by their differing denominations. And then there was politics! In modern times, that Center of Union that closes any “perpetual distance” often exists on the internet. The term “E-Masonry” was coined in the book The Temple That Never Sleeps, written by Josh Heller of Pennsylvania and Gerald Reilly of the United Kingdom. Heller is the co-founder, with Chris McClintock of Ireland, of a discussion forum named Masonic Light; Reilly is one of that group’s original conversationalists. T3NS, as the book is known among us, recounts the history of the group, making clear the wonderful alchemy created when Freemasons of numerous backgrounds, from a galaxy of lodges, and of both sexes unite in respectful discussion of all things Masonic. (Actually, “All Things Masonic” was the name of the original e-group. It became Masonic Light in May 2000 after Yahoo! acquired the e-groups.)

It is difficult to explain the bond that existed among those of us who were regular participants in the free flowing conversations that made this group so special. On February 20, 2004, Tim Wallace-Murphy phrased it this way:

“Perhaps I am simply a romantic old Irish curmudgeon who still has both feet planted firmly in mid-air, but … there is indeed a spirit of community among us, one which manifests itself in compassion for any members illness or miss-fortune; delight in members’ achievements and a growing sense of fraternity that crosses all man-made boundaries of class, culture, religious belief, as well as those barriers imposed by nature such as geographical location. ’Tis surely better to progress slowly over a long period of time to create an ambience which lasts longer than we will as individuals.”

I’d better come to the point.

I was admitted to this eclectic and wonderful group in January 2001. Not finding anything remotely akin to the Masonic education I expected from my lodge and the many Masonic fraternities I had joined since 1997, I looked to the internet for informative and inspiring Masonic discussion and instruction. Yahoo! Groups were big at the time. I signed up for a number of them, including Paul Bessel’s MasEd (as in Masonic Education) forum, and it was there where I encountered a female Mason named Betty Langenberg from the Netherlands. Specifically, she was with—at that time—Pythagoras Lodge No. 5, under the Dutch Grand Lodge of Freemasonry for Men and Women, located in Rotterdam. (Later in life, she would affiliate with Loge Ziggurat in the Hague.)

More than the novelty of “meeting” a woman Freemason, it was Betty’s knowledge, wisdom, warmth, and humor that cemented many friendships between her and many of us in the group.

On March 8, 2001, after consulting with both Josh and Chris, I invited Betty to join us on Masonic Light. It would initiate a whole new dynamic in our group discussions. Janet Wintermute arrived after a few days. Then Nadia from Athens. And Vera from Belgium. And many more over the years, most electing to avoid conversation, and others commenting in reserved tones, but many gregariously joining in the sharing of Light. I’d say we all benefitted. Personally, by the time I was being installed Master of my lodge in 2004, I felt I possessed a somewhat worldly perspective on Masonic life. I certainly was more understanding of the Craft’s teachings, and their diverse interpretations, than most of my peers who served in the East of their lodges near me at that time. There probably were about fifty MLers (there have been many hundreds who have been members these sixteen years) whose participation in the group discussions have enriched my personal Masonic experience immeasurably. I will remain indebted always.

And there were private chats outside the group.

Sister Betty and I talked (I mean e-mails) at some length, off and on, for many years. Our respective frustrations with Masonic bureaucracy. Our mutual love of tobacco. The weirdness on the streets of the Netherlands I sometimes followed in the news. Her repeated offers to let me crash on her couch should I ever visit her country. I regret not acting on this, not only because I haven’t traveled to the Netherlands since 1990, but naturally because it would have been amazing to meet up and make the personal connection (and maybe even get a tour of her lodge and grand lodge!). I never closed that “perpetual Distance.” There just never seemed to be enough time.

We all have so little time.

Betty Langenberg wrote poetry. (Click here to read a few poems.)


Brother, is there something between you and me?
The east is glowing in a golden candlelight,
we listen to Mozart, and think in different languages,
Yet, I understand you, as you understand me.

I dont know your place in your society,
I do not know to which God you daily pray,
There must be thousands things that seperates you and I.
Brother, is there something between you and me?

You make the sign and know the word.
I know you now,
although you live under a different sky;
You are my brother, seated next to me.

Brother is there something between you and me?
Between us, in the chain, the secret lives.
I heard your heart, as you heard mine,
and from countless miles, we recognize.

Betty passed away January 6 after a long illness. She was 66 years old. Her funeral service was held January 12. Her remains were cremated.

I didn’t intend to post this edition of The Magpie Mason on the fifteenth anniversary of Betty’s joining us on Masonic Light. I wanted to do it in January, but I sometimes procrastinate, and especially did so here. By the time I stopped dreading writing this and got to it, I observed the coincidental timing. I accept this in a very positive way!

What also is positive, and also with fortuitous timing, is Josh’s new effort to get Masonic Light revived and buzzing again. ML (and I think probably all Yahoo! Groups) has been quiet and still for several years, as we all have migrated to more modern social media platforms. To rally everyone, I launched Masonic Light 2.0 on Facebook in 2014 for the fourteenth anniversary of ML’s founding. It ain’t the same.

Betty almost always concluded her posts to the Masonic Light group with “Knuffels from Rotterdam” (or from a rainy Rotterdam, or a cold Rotterdam, or a sunny Rotterdam). Knuffels are hugs.

I close this tribute to my Masonic sister and friend with Knuffels to Rotterdam. Goodbye.

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