Thursday, May 31, 2012

‘That High and Lonesome Sound’

Posting this unexpected interesting announcement makes the sad news about the death of Doc Watson yesterday a little easier to take. The Ninth Manhattan District’s German Masonic Charitable Foundation will host its first Traveling Man Bluegrass Festival next month at its German Masonic Park in Tappan.
Traveling Man Bluegrass Festival
Saturday, June 16, from noon to nine
German Masonic Park
120 Western Highway
Tappan, New York
Tickets are $25 each, and a portion of each sale will be donated to the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome research and other efforts into SIDS research.
Tickets are available here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

‘Light and meditation’

Historic Munn Lodge No. 203 will host a Festive Board June 14 to honor W. Milton Sporn for his contributions to the Craft, AND the occasion will be marked by a lecture delivered by W. Lenny Lubitz titled “The Influence of Light and Meditation in Masonic Ritual.”

Lenny is a friend of the Magpie. We frequent the same venues, from ALR to ICHF and more. I know he regards Masonic education very seriously, so I do not hesitate to recommend hearing him speak.

Cost is only $25 per person, and the event is open to Apprentices and Fellows.


Monday, May 28, 2012

‘Freedom is a light’


Facing Independence Hall is George Washington, standing in one of only five public squares
planned in William Penn’s 1682 survey of Philadelphia.

“Freedom is a Light for which many men have died in darkness” is the main inscription
on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington Square Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Today I’m just repeating a previous Memorial Day post, but with a different angle.

In everyday life, I think most people forget the meaning of patriotism, allowing that unifying virtue to be blended with what really is jingoism, or at best a “me too” moment, free of commitment or sacrifice.

As is often the case, the rituals of Scottish Rite Masonry help me make sense of such concepts. The Master of the Symbolic Lodge Degree (20º) in the A&ASR Southern Jurisdiction puts it succinctly:

“Patriotism, willing to sacrifice itself for the common good, even when neither thanks nor honor follow it; that asks not whether that which the country requires will or will not be popular, but does the right without regard to consequences. Let there be Light!”

As you know, this national holiday began as Decoration Day, the occasion to adorn the graves of the fallen of the U.S. Civil War. Decoration Day was established by General Order No. 11, issued by Gen. John Logan on May 5, 1868, who vowed: “If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.”

Again it is Scottish Rite that says it all. From the Chapter of Rose Croix: “So may the Light that never fails, the Love that never forgets, and the Life that never ends, illumine our world.”


Saturday, May 26, 2012

‘To keep and not conceal’


For you library conservators and museum curators out there, the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library will welcome a pro next month to present a program on how best to handle, store, preserve, and display Masonic papers, certificates, and other materials. Ms. Andrea Pitsch, who holds a Master’s Degree in Art Preservation, also encourages attendees to bring specimens, so she may offer informed advice on specific items. A lively Q&A session is anticipated as well.

Tuesday, June 12
6 p.m.
Masonic Hall, 14th Floor
71 W. 23rd St.
New York City

RSVP (required) to (212) 337-6620 or info(at)

This is a service being brought to you by the Library Trustees to assist you in the vital preservation of archives, books, and other records that both conserve and transmit Masonic history. A step beyond saving the archives of Masonry from inundations and conflagrations.

‘The Temple of Solomon’


Author James Wasserman will return to the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library for another speaking engagement next month, Director Tom Savini announced this week.

Wednesday, June 6
6 p.m.
Masonic Hall, 14th Floor
71 W. 23rd St.
New York City

Wasserman will discuss his book The Temple of Solomon, “a lushly-illustrated exploration of the Temple in history and legend.” (His publisher will have copies of the book available for purchase in both hardcover and softcover formats, as well as limited copies of the author’s other works.)

Attendance is free, and open to the public.

‘Observing the Craft’

Retrieved recently from a dead PC is my review of Bro. Andrew Hammer’s terrific book Observing the Craft written for The Journal of the Masonic Society. I didnt know Hodapp already had written a review for the publication, so this review might as well have been lost in a hopelessly infected and disabled computer. But it was resurrected, with some other files, by a wizard earlier this spring, just in time to submit to Cory Sigler for his first issue of the new The New Jersey Freemason magazine, which arrived in the brethren’s mailboxes a week ago. I only had to dust it off, trim a few words, and click send.

Now, if I can get my thousands of JPGs off that computer, I’ll be a happy man.

Observing the Craft: The Pursuit of Excellence in Masonic Labour and Observance
By Andrew Hammer
Mindhive Books, 2010, 145pp.

Click here to order your copy.
Not to be confused with either Traditional Observance lodges or the Rite of Strict Observance, Andrew Hammer’s book has us cast our eyes to the East to observe his trestleboard for Masonic labors. Observing the Craft briefly and boldly reaches two key objectives: First, to show Freemasons that the rituals and symbols of the lodge impart all the Light Masonry intends, and secondly to convince the Mason that the lodge ought to be cherished, that it is worthy of his time and talents. Along the way, Hammer unflinchingly redefines Masonry’s numerous appendant, concordant, and affiliated fraternities as “distractions” that deprive lodges of the brethren’s attention; and he provides a simple formula for improving the lodge experience so that Masons can enjoy the excellence they expect and deserve. He gets that and much more done in only 145 pages, perhaps unsurprising for a Mason who shares the name of a tool made to deliver sudden, forceful impacts.

For context, it should be understood that Bro. Hammer is not a typical American Mason. A native of the United Kingdom (which explains his book’s British spelling), he is a Past Master of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, which meets inside the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. The ethos he helped bring to this historic lodge in the previous decade is summarized in a plain statement to prospective petitioners. I paraphrase: “The question is not ‘Can I become a Mason?’ There are many lodges in the area that will be glad to have you. The question is ‘Can I become a Mason in Alexandria-Washington Lodge?’” This is not arrogance, but it is a reason why his lodge was dubbed the Grand Lodge of Northern Virginia, a sobriquet bestowed unkindly by Virginia Masons who instead should have been taking note of A-W’s revival under the leadership of Hammer and his colleagues. In the revitalization of Masonic lodges taking place across the country in recent years, Hammer’s touch is felt thanks to his leadership in the Knights of the North think tank, The Masonic Society educational fraternity, other organized proponents of Masonic renaissance, and of course this book.

Observing the Craft is audacious in its phrasing, but its thinking is so fundamental as to be irrefutable. It is, after all, paraphrasing the teachings of the lodge. When Hammer challenges the flawed belief that more men equals a stronger fraternity, which leads to mass initiations, he says “The very essence of membership in the Craft is not about bringing people in, for whatever reason… the essence of membership in the Craft is that it must be sought.” He essentially is reminding us of the Entered Apprentice Charge, which urges us to be cautious in recommending a man to the lodge because it is the mysteries of Masonry that distinguish us from the rest of the community. And where that charge warns us against arguing with the ignorant that ridicule Masonry, Hammer insists “If we are to be consistent in that charge, then we must also not suffer ourselves to placate prying eyes or the mindless paranoia of philistines.” Not a motto for Square and Compass Day.

Addressing charity, the author describes it as “the perfection of every virtue,” something with which we all can agree, but he is fearless in making the distinction, long forgotten in Masonry, that “Masonic charity is not material benevolence. Rather, it is the spiritual and philosophical awakening which motivates it.” Does not the lecture of the First Degree instruct us, on the subject of Relief, in acts of emotional and psychological kindness?

The author also writes at length on tangible aspects of lodge life, namely dining, dress, and ritual. Of the first item, Hammer takes us to the Festive Board, a stylized Masonic meal (not to be confused with the Table Lodge) that follows the tiled meeting, but continues the decorum of that meeting. “The guiding idea is that the food should be of the same quality one would find in any fine restaurant, and it should be presented and served in a way that conveys dignity even if served on paper plates.” In ambiance, the Festive Board is a place of good cheer, where the brethren may speak candidly, offer toasts, and basically balance the solemnity of the lodge meeting with the joy of fellowship.

As regards dress, Hammer explains that attire is nothing less than a Mason’s “physical manifestation of his effort to bring his mind and soul to a state of excellence.” The specifics are best left to the lodge, but “No one should dress differently for lodge than they would to attend their house of worship or take part in any other important event in their lives.”

On ritual, it is “perhaps the single most important aspect of observing the Craft” and “what transforms a room into a lodge, the men in that room into Masons, and the profane into the sublime.” It goes without saying, so Hammer gently reminds that the performance of our rituals to the highest levels of proficiency is the primary goal, but his larger point concerns ways to “excite the curiosity of all observant Masons.” Urging us all to always work within the guidelines of our respective jurisdictions, the author suggests the following:

  • Confer the degree on one man only so he makes an individual journey, and is the center of the lodge’s attention.

  • Employ music to “elevate the assembly of minds gathered together” and to accentuate different aspects of ritual work at specific times. Conversely, use silence to remove all distractions from the sense of hearing. Obviously, this means no chatting on the sidelines, but also much more for the benefit of everyone’s state of mind.

  • To further assist the focusing of the mind, light and darkness must be properly managed. “Darkness, like silence, concentrates the mind by removing all other distractions” and the light revealed to the candidate when the hoodwink is removed should be only “a simple flame,” so no other “competing visual images” enter his mind. That’s the moving flame of the candle, mind you, and not the kitschy “Masonic light bulb.”

  • Appealing to our sense of smell, Hammer praises incense. The sense of touch can be addressed through what is called the Chain of Union, the interlocking of arms and clasping of hands to achieve “psychological and physical union” around the entire lodge room.

Clearly, to Andrew Hammer, Freemasonry is a verb. To observe the Craft is to take up the Working Tools and thoughtfully go about our labors in self-improvement, but doing so harmoniously together. It’s all explained in our rituals, lectures, charges, and other orations. The trick is to not be content with merely memorizing and reciting all that inspiring literature, and instead to animate it by doing what it advises. In his concluding paragraphs, Hammer explains “This book was written in an attempt to call the Craft from refreshment to labour. That labour involves confronting our fear with dignity; it involves standing up for the ideas of free thought and free association in the face of those who would demand we eviscerate our mysteries before their altars of cloying superficiality; it involves respecting ourselves enough to say that we must not be afraid to reach for more light within ourselves, that light of the contemplative spirit within each of us that cannot be meted out to curious bystanders just because they want to see it.”

It is the blueprint – if you will, the designs upon the trestleboard – for a successful lodge of skilled craftsmen. How many of us will heed the sound of the gavel?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

‘The Challenge of Rudolf Steiner’

Courtesy Cupola Productions.
New York Open Center will host the premier screening of Jonathan Stedall’s biographical documentary The Challenge of Rudolf Steiner this summer.

The screening, accompanied by a lecture, will take place Tuesday, August 14 at 8 p.m.

New York Open Center is located at 22 East 30th Street, near Madison Avenue, in Manhattan.

From the publicity:

Tonight the director of this long-awaited film introduces his new work. Shot in Austria, Switzerland, India, the United Kingdom and the United States during 2011—the 150th anniversary year of Rudolf Steiner’s birth—this documentary looks not only at the biography of this remarkable visionary and philosopher, but also at his world-wide legacy in education (Waldorf Schools, Camphill), agriculture (Biodynamics), medicine (Weleda, Hauschka), and all areas of social and spiritual life. At the heart of this film lie the classic questions: Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Admission costs $20 for members of NY Open Center, and $22 for non-members.

(How New York Open Center called dibs on the debut, over the Anthroposophical Society, is unknown to me.)

Click here to see the trailer.

‘Festive Board of Research’


Big event next month. Book your seats now.

From the Secretary’s Desk:

Dear Fellows and Active Members of The American Lodge of Research,
There has been a very strong positive response to our upcoming Festive Board of Research on June 29 at Sagaponack . The Lodge would like to ensure that our Fellows and Active Members are reserved a seat as we have limited capacity.
If you have not already secured your place, please do so by June 4 by paying $65 either online or send your check to the Lodge’s address below.
It promises to be an exceptional evening, both intellectually and gastronomically, featuring a presentation on esoteric research by Bro. Mark Koltko-Rivera, Ph.D.
7:30 p.m. – Annual Communication in the American Room (Masonic Hall, 19th Floor)
9 p.m. – Festive Board at Sagaponack : Dinner, Talk, and Festive Toasts.
Sincerely and Fraternally,
Bro. Michael
Michael A. Chaplin, M.D.
The American Lodge of Research
Masonic Hall, Box M2
71 West 23rd Street
New York, New York 10010 USA

Friday, May 18, 2012

‘Masonry as Mystery School’

Aurora Grata-Day Star Lodge No. 647 cordially invites all Master Masons to hear VW Bro. Piers Vaughan present his lecture titled “Symbolism, and Freemasonry as a Mystery School” next week.

Wednesday, May 23 at 7 p.m.

American Room, 19th Floor
Masonic Hall
71 W. 23rd Street in Manhattan

Light collation to follow. RSVP to grsolberg(at)

'2012 Ingathering'

Alexandria Council No. 478 will host New Jersey’s Harold V.B. Voorhis AMD Ingathering this year on Saturday, July 28 at Livingston Lodge No. 11 in Livingston.

Papers will be presented by Bro. Frank Conway, Bro. Mark Koltko-Rivera, Bro. John Lawler, and Bro. Michael Neuberger.

The Grand Tilers of Solomon Degree will be conferred.

Honored guests will include:

  • MV Joe R. Manning, Sovereign Grand Master of the Grand Council of AMD
  • RV Matthew D. Dupee, Deputy Grand Master AMD
  • ME Edmund D. Harrison, General Grand High Priest of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons International

Registration is transacted on-line. Click here to sign up.

Thanks to V. Henry and V. Jose for the info. Graphic courtesy of Bro. Jeff at Lodgical.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

‘Happy anniversary to the GCR’

The Grand College of Rites of the United States of America marks its 80th anniversary today. It’s almost as old as Thurman!

If you have been here before, you know the GCR bears the Magpie Seal of Approval, meaning membership is highly recommended. There is so much to be learned from the rituals and other literature of the defunct bodies now in the care of the GCR that it’s a crime to miss it. And for fifteen bucks a year?!

Click here for the petition.

Click here to read the unpredictable origins of the GCR.

Click here to read about our annual meeting three months ago, and about the publication, Collectanea, for the current year.

Friday, May 11, 2012

‘Have you heard the good news?’

Like I mentioned in a post somewhere below, there are some good things happening in New Jersey Freemasonry these days, some beginning at the top, but others rising from the grass roots.

Every year, our grand lodge hosts what it calls a leadership conference at the Elizabethtown campus of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. I don’t know what goes on there – when I used to bother asking about it, brethren either would just stare at their shoes or start gushing wildly about brotherhood, and frankly I don’t perceive a statewide improvement in leadership – so I can’t describe it to you in any detail, but it is several days of classroom-type instruction and break-out sessions, and the like. This year it will take place at the end of October.

Anyway, and don’t ask me how this has come to be, but Cliff Porter will be the guest lecturer this year!

W. Bro. Cliff is a Past Master of Enlightenment Lodge No. 198 in Colorado. He is the author of several books: The Secret Psychology of Freemasonry and Masonic Baptism among them. In addition, he is one of the guiding lights behind the Sanctum Sanctorum Education Foundation, and Living Stones Magazine.

Undoubtedly one of the sharpest thinkers on the Masonic scene today, and I’m sure he’ll be great at the leadership conference.

In other good news, and this one strikes close to home because it concerns publishing, is the complete change of direction given to New Jersey Freemason magazine, the official periodical of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. When I was a young Master Mason, this publication was produced on newsprint, in tabloid shape if I recall correctly. Through the foresight and toil of the editors then, it made the transition to magazine format on glossy paper about 10 or 12 years ago. The problem through all that time to the present has been the content of the magazine, which ran the gamut from uninspired to unnecessary. Actually it has been very typical of grand lodge magazines: big on posed “grip & grin” photos, charity work, necrology, and bureaucratic odds and ends, but bereft of anything Masonic. I guess they did the best they could, but now the magazine is under the direction of W. Bro. Cory Sigler, editor and publisher of The Working Tools e-zine. Cory reached out to New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education No. 1786 to tap into its talent, and otherwise has made a strong effort to build a staff of writers to provide solid Masonic education pieces, current events reportage, and other content that thinking Masons actually will want to read. I haven’t seen the finished product yet, but it’s in the mail somewhere.

The first printed issue of The Working Tools.
In addition, let me congratulate Cory on his first hard copy publication of The Working Tools. After 51 issues over the course of six years, he has just gone to press with an actual magazine magazine. (Cory, forgive me, but except for your first issue, I’ve never really read The Working Tools before. I can’t read magazines on-line. I need the physical book in my hands. It catches my cigar ash, you see.)

And last but not least in the Good News Department is the launch of a book club in northern New Jersey. The brethren of the Second Masonic District, chiefly at Fidelity Lodge, but also drawing Masons from other lodges, recognized a need to discuss real ideas in Freemasonry, and thus this book club and discussion group.

You know they mean business and are hungry for reform when the first text they choose is Laudable Pursuit, the biggest plum among the fruits of the labors of the Knights of the North. Truth be told, it mainly is the work of Chris Hodapp, but it was published anonymously at the time (around 2005) for reasons I hope we’ve all forgotten by now.

I found out about the book club’s first meeting by accident, but then was contacted by the organizers. I said sure I’ll come! I thought they’d get a kick out of having a KOTN alum present, and I did get a few minutes to speak and share some inside baseball.

For better or worse, the topics confronted by LP stimulated the group to the extent that conversation was hard to organize, and we realized a second meeting to discuss LP was necessary. I missed that one. But what was really cool was the group itself: about 30 Masons, varying from a newly raised Master Mason to the District Deputy Grand Master.

The group will meet next on Monday the 21st at Nutley Lodge No. 25, and another KOTN alum will be there: none other than Hodapp himself, who will be in New Jersey for a few days to co-star in our 2012 Scottish Rite Symposium, with Bob Davis and Brent Morris. Click here for info on that! Thanks to the size of the auditorium, we actually have some seats remaining. Only $50 per person, which covers breakfast, lunch, and souvenirs.

There are other good things in the works here, and I look forward to telling you about them when the time is right or as they develop.

Monday, May 7, 2012

‘Making old news new again’

Hebrew University archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel will hold a press conference Tuesday to “announce all-new findings related to the time of Kings David and Solomon, including presentation of artifacts never before seen by the public related to construction of Solomon’s temple and palace.” The press conference will be followed by a tour of the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavation site.

I know most Masons cannot see beyond the knife and fork, but you loyal Magpie readers are accustomed to making Freemasonry truly relevant in your lives by welcoming information from diverse sources, historical and contemporary. To that end, check out the following links to read articles from the field of Biblical archaeology, which has the potential to contextualize much of what we discuss in lodge.

The establishment of the Israelite monarchy?

Better yet, treat yourself to a subscription to Biblical Archaeology Review, always a source of sane discussion of rational ways to approach and better understand the Bible.

‘Gnosis from an old memory, literally’

A group photo of Brother Masons found its way to my Facebook wall. A posed shot obviously following a joyous and joyful church service.

It provokes mixed feelings. Of course on the one hand it’s great to see a bunch of friends enjoying what makes them happy and lively, and in second place is the lonely feeling that comes from being reminded of some Masonic orders’ artificial membership restrictions based on religious tests. Thirdly, I am simply kind of befuddled and indifferent. And so I want to concentrate and reconcile the competing sentiments so that understanding prevails. That ain’t gonna happen in the half hour I’ll devote to this blog post, because for as long as I’ve had ideas on the matter, I have viewed the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as a bridge that ought to unite Jews and Christians to a degree, instead of separating them irreconcilably. Jesus was Jewish. The New Testament is, arguably, and except several texts, a Jewish document. This is what enabled me physically, mentally, spiritually, and ethically to work my way East in the local Chapter of Rose Croix years ago. So I am stymied on those occasions when I consider these Christian-only fraternities within Freemasonry. They convene, sometimes in church, and close the doors, and what do they do – assuming they’re not just dinner clubs for the VIPs? They delve into Jewish mysticism, pretending it’s not proprietary to Judaism because all religions supposedly have some identical mystic path. I guess all religions speak Hebrew as well.

Magpie edit: Muskrat, stop bugging me about this.

Anyway, the photo jogged my memory sufficiently to send me directly to this one specific issue of Bro. Jay Kinney’s long missed Gnosis magazine. For anyone or anything to focus my mind so keenly as to allow me to step adroitly into my library (the floor is covered with piles of books needing to be filed away) and nimbly locate this one particular magazine is something quite powerful indeed. (By contrast, after thirteen years of carrying a cell phone every day, I still am capable of forgetting it somewhere.) But there it is: Issue No. 30 from the winter of 1994. Its theme is Sufism, Islam’s mystical branch, itself divided into numerous schools. Hardly my field of expertise, and yet I’m not utterly lost thanks to one of my favorite courses in my university days.

“…know that Sufis prefer the knowledge that comes by inspiration, to the exclusion of that acquired by study,” writes F.E. Peters, a professor of mine many years ago. “Again, they desire neither to study such learning nor to learn anything of what authors have written on the subject; to inspect neither their teachings nor their arguments. They maintain on the contrary that the ‘way’ consists in preferring spiritual combat, in getting rid of one’s faults, in breaking one’s ties and approaching God Most High through a single-minded spiritual effort. And every time those conditions are fulfilled, God for His part turns toward the heart of His servant and guarantees him an illumination by the lights of understanding.”

The Sufism issue of Gnosis delivers diverse articles on Sufi traditions, including that which popped into my head by way of that photo on Facebook. Written by Ya’quh ibn Yusuf, then a doctoral candidate studying Jewish mysticism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, it includes a few paragraphs that can rattle some people. Like me.

I’d love to provide you the entire article. I want to hand you the magazine. You should have your lodge purchase the entire collection of back issues. I’ll share only that which I remembered, boldfacing the specifics. Do not be distracted by the mentions of Sufism. Or perhaps you should, mentally replacing the word Sufi with the word Masonry.

“…most of us in the West are already Christians or Jews. And while I believe it may be a mistake to narrowly identify with the religion of one’s ancestors, there is also a price to be paid for ignoring one’s own ancestral heritage. Our religious background is very much a kind of ‘local material’ out of which we are constructed. If we seek to follow Sufi teachings and develop our connection with God by digging deeply within ourselves, our own religion provides us with tools and a place in which to do some digging.
“Let me offer some examples of how I have seen these issues working themselves out among friends of mine. In Israel most Jews generally identify themselves as either ‘religious’ or ‘secular.’ It takes some courage and initiative to venture beyond these identifications and pursue one’s own spiritual search. I have observed that as they rise to the kind of challenge that Sufi teaching represents, secular seekers typically need to heal their rejection of Jewish tradition, while religious seekers need to overcome a general reflex of defending Jewish tradition as well as their specific allergy to Jesus… [This is] a matter of opening blocked channels to elements of religion which, it turns out, have a life within as well as outside the individual…
“All religions can be viewed not as ends in themselves, but as outer forms of belief and behavior that exist to facilitate inner work. The problem is that each religion also exists as a corporate entity that seeks to promote its own working set of tools and beliefs, and, like religions and sects, every spiritual group has a kind of collective ego that is fed by new adherents. All this should come as no surprise. What I believe we should bear in mind, however, is that too much of a focus on the particular form we are employing – whatever form that might be – serves to keep us stuck on the surface of appearances and prevents the work from moving more deeply within. This is why, as I understand it, Sufi teaching emphasizes ‘completion, not conversion.’
“Thus I have met observant Jews who have a personal relationship with Jesus, but choose not to convert to Christianity, and Christians who admit that their primary relationship is with God the Father. Certainly I know many Sufis who share the essential perspectives of the Prophet Muhammad but choose not to embrace Islam. In each of these cases there is an understandable reluctance to let an institutional mentality appropriate what properly belongs to the greater glory of God…
“Our task, as I understand it, is not to get rid of form on the social and religious levels any more than on the physical level. It is to appreciate the reflections of divinity to be found within form, to make of the forms in which we are involved a vehicle for the Divine. However we may choose to affiliate ourselves, whatever working basis we may choose to embrace, we do well to remember that the work of transformation does not depend on our concepts and categories, but on our actual cooperation with the grace of God.

Rarely am I at a loss for words when writing – fact is, I feel like I’m cheating here – but the above explains my thinking so well that I do not mind relying on it. In the “Great Work,” to borrow a phrase, there is room for Masons of most faith traditions to labor side by side if they want to. I do avoid saying “all” traditions, because somewhere there must be something that cannot fit, and because “all” connotes an absolutism that I sensed from that Facebook photo in the first place.

I am happy for my friends in the photograph. Almost all are smiling, their countenances revealing the satisfaction bubbling from within.

Having read a little about Freemasonry over the years, to me it seems the history of Freemasonry essentially is the story of Masons segregating themselves from other Masons. Try it for yourself: Start with Saint John Baptist Day 1717 when four lodges did you know what, and look at every group that either arose or splintered from another, each claiming to offer the whole Truth and nothing but. In the Christian-only fraternities within Freemasonry, I believe we see not only the promise of a sectarian truth – the “concepts and categories” mentioned by our magazine writer – but also the rejection of Enlightenment thinking (e.g. Anderson’s Constitutions’ Charge Concerning God and Religion) which is the guiding philosophy that enabled Freemasonry to spread throughout the world and endure the centuries so strongly... that it has been able to come into the lives of the very men in the photo.

That’s all I got. I desire neither to change nor intrude into what is, and I hope never to discuss this on The Magpie again. No calls please.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

‘Masonic kiddie ride?’


At a local carnival this ride appeared to be kind of popular. Named Pharoah’s Fury, it is a giant swing with a long boat-shaped car that seats several dozen.

It’s hard to discern, but that is a triangle at the top, with the eye inside. Here's a blurry photo:

And the moving part of the ride itself kind of looks like the form of the compasses with the quadrant. And at each end of the car is this anxious-looking Tut-type of face:

This ride is so scary, even King Tut is nervous!

Okay, it’s 2:30 in the morning and sleep is coming slowly.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

‘The Bernie’

Monday night was the annual occasion of “The Bernie,” the dinner-lecture hosted by Shiloh Lodge No. 558. In its fifth year, it is formally known as the Bernard H. Dupee Memorial Lecture, and it was instituted by Bro. Matthew Dupee in honor of his father, a very devoted brother who missed only three stated meetings in more than 52 years of lodge membership, and who is remembered as “Brother Bernie,” the happiest Mason anyone knew.

Needless to say, it was a great night. Two hundred Masons filled the large dining room at the William Penn Inn (est. 1714) for a tasty meal, charming company, and an enlightening lecture by none other than RW James W. Daniel, Past Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, and Assistant Secretary of Quatuor Coronati 2076, and Secretary of Lodge No. IV… of St. John Baptist Day 1717 fame, among other noteworthy handles. I wish I possessed some of his public speaking skills because he is able to communicate his information clearly while using humor to keep his audience engaged. It was a pleasure to listen to him.

RW James Daniel
His topic was provocative. In the migration of Freemasonry across the Atlantic, we always think first of the export of Craft degrees from the British Isles to the Americas, or of France’s “higher degrees” reaching the Caribbean. Bro. Daniel turned us around to see the transfer of certain degrees from the United States to England in his paper titled “Anglo-American Masonic Relations, 1871-90 (Or the U.S. and Us, 1871-90).”

I especially appreciated his effort to contextualize Masonic doings within the real world outside. It seems to me that many Masons, perhaps because our meetings are tiled, look at Masonic history as the story of something always apart from the world outside, as though the fraternity was a monastic order and its brethren frozen in time, cloistered behind their guarded doors. Of course that is not so; we go to lodge to escape the “concerns and employments” of the world for a short time before inevitably returning to it. Things take place outside that have obvious and lasting impacts on the tiled lodge. (Trust me. Talk to the accountant who completes your 990, or to the insurance agent who did away with your candles.)

Anyway, Daniel painted a picture of Anglo-American relations, and it is not what you might expect based on how things always have been during our lifetime, or even the fact that the American population during Daniels’ timeline was almost entirely descendant from ancestors from the British Isles. “The populations of the two countries were in the habit of disliking each other,” he explained. “Most Americans, when they thought of the British, disliked, distrusted, and sometimes feared them” out of tradition or habit.

Within Freemasonry at least there was one means of conciliating true friendship, namely the sharing of information. Thanks to Freemasons’ Quarterly Review, the magazine started by Bro. Robert Crucefix, Masons in England were able to read dispatches from American grand lodges, even on the unmentionable subjects concerning the Morgan scandal. “In tracing the various publications from the Grand Lodge of New York, we have been much gratified to observe that there is no studied concealment of facts; on the contrary, the Craft is fully informed of the circumstances that led to them, and what resulted,” the magazine reported, helping to change the image of Americans, prevalent among the English, as primitive, unsophisticated louts.

The flow of this information also abetted the sharing of entire Masonic rites. You probably are aware of the importation into England and Wales of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite from the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction during the 1840s, but you might not know other systems of degrees also made the voyage. Of the Cryptic Rite, Daniel shared a statement from the period:

“We cannot but look upon the introduction of Cryptic Masonry in England by an American Grand Council as one of the most important events in the Masonic history of this country tending to not only draw still closer the fraternal bonds that now happily unite the fraternity of the United States with that of our mother country, Masonically as well as politically, and also as being a preliminary step toward assimilating the Masonic systems of the two greatest nations.”

A powerful statement.

Daniel’s presentation was received with hearty applause. Let me tell you it was quite an audience. With Matt Dupee was Tom Jackson, Brent Morris, Ed Fowler, and other VIPs. Aaron, Jan, George, Chuck, and Jerry were among the familiar Pennsylvania brethren. I heard it said the New Jersey contingent outnumbered the Philadelphians! There was Mohamad, Henry, Nick, Rob, Howard (2011 recipient of The Bernie), John, Rich, and others.

Bro. Daniel's Bernie jewel.
Oh, The Bernie! Actually the Bernard H. Dupee, PM Medal for Masonic Excellence. Past recipients are Fowler, Howard Kanowitz, Reese Harrison, Yasha Beresiner, and Thomas Hopkins. And Bro. Daniel joins their ranks.

Presented in tandem with the jewel is a pair of purple socks, a tradition recalling the late Bro. Dupee’s own sartorial statement of individuality. And maybe proper attire for the Cryptic Rite.

Shame on me for not attending previous Bernie dinners. I even was approached about speaking once, but I chickened out and recommended Howard. Obviously that was the better move, but I’m kicking myself. This was a really great night.

Save the date: April 29, 2013 for the next Bernie.

Thomas Jackson and James Daniel.

Bro. Daniel receives the traditional Purple Socks from Bro. Dupee. I have a lot of respect
for Matt Dupee, based in no small measure on his having imparted a valuable lesson
in justice to his grand lodge in a court of law. You gotta respect that. Or at least I do.