Friday, June 27, 2008

Serenity Now

It's been a spectacularly stressful couple of weeks around here. I've alluded to our new house over the last six months... it's been quite a project, more or less a complete rehab of an 1831 farmhouse, and there's still a good ways to go before it's "finished". We've run into the predictable cost and schedule overruns that can plague any large-scale home project, and have been increasingly in a state of limbo as we start to pack and distance ourselves from the house we've called home for the last five years.

Early last week we had a bit of stress relief when our landlord offered to let us go month to month on our lease, which was up at the end of this month. "Great!" we thought, "that gives us a few extra weeks to get the house into a habitable state, and plenty of time to pack and haul our junk over there!" We took them up on their verbal offer for the month of July, and promptly sent them another months' rent.

Two days ago our landlord reneged on their offer and told us to hit the bricks by July 1, leaving us with 5 days to pack AND move AND clean, instead of the 5 weeks we thought we had. If they hadn't offered to let us stay in the first place, we would have been much more industrious over the last week and a half, but as it was we thought we had some breathing room.

So, after allowing myself to freak out for an hour or so, I had a choice: let my anger and frustration over the situation stress me out even further, or get my shit together and adapt to the "new normal". I chose number two. Don't get me wrong, I am about as stressed out as I've been since the last time we moved 6 years ago, but I'm not going to compound it with anger at the landlord right now.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When in Doubt, Call Somebody

There was a bit of miscommunication around who will be sitting as officers for the degree we are squeezing in next month. Only a few of us showed up for rehearsal last week and again last night, and we all went home after it became clear that nobody else was coming... I had been asked if I could participate right after our last degree, but at the time I was non-committal because I wasn't sure if I could make the meeting. I had figured I would convey my availability by showing up for rehearsal, but when nobody showed up last week I didn't take the initiative to call someone to find out what was going on.

As it turns out, enough other people were non-committal that it was decided to organize it as a Past Masters degree. That's fine by me, as I would prefer to watch at least one Master Mason degree from the sidelines before getting sucked into the progressive line. I might have planned my Monday evenings differently had I known, though.

I'm really not upset about the mix-up in the big scheme of things, but I am starting to realize that I am going to have to take the initiative if I want to be "in the loop"... I think perhaps the core of long-time brothers who have been manning the ship for so long tend to assume that there is little interest in participation among newer brethren, and thus continue to plan and organize amongst themselves. Who could blame them when 2 of the 4 Brothers with whom I was raised in April haven't been back, and another was a no-show for his Fellow Craft degree last month?

Meanwhile, as a fairly new Mason I have been more passive and waiting to be set to labor... hence the disconnect in the middle.

Monday, June 23, 2008

We can't all be Wilmshurst

Yesterday I watched the first two parts of the John Adams miniseries produced by HBO earlier this year. While quite interesting, entertaining, visually stunning, and occasionally rousing (the patriotic indoctrination of the founding-fathers-as-demigods I received as a Massachusetts schoolchild remains surprisingly effective,) I realized that I would like to see the same production values applied to an adaptation of Freelon Starbird, a young adult novel told from the perspective of an 18 year old Philadelphian in the Continental Army during its hardships in 1776. I'm read about half of it so far, and I wish that I had been exposed to it as a kid; it paints a much more sobering picture of the complicated political climate in the colonies at the time, and how truly awful the conditions were.

The tale of the American Revolution has been mythologized to such an extent that it is very easy for us to forget how many colonists wanted nothing to do with any sort of rebellion, even if they weren't crazy about the whole taxation-without-representation business. This is portrayed to some extent in John Adams, but perhaps because we're so familiar with the cast of characters and the eventual outcome, it feels glossed over.

A few weeks ago I wrote about those 100 year-old "Masons these days don't study the ritual enough, they don't know what True Freemasonry is" quotes that often get trotted out as proof that Freemasonry is on a steady decline. I somewhat cheekily suggested that maybe all those quotes prove is that there have always been people who are never satisfied with anything. What I was really saying is that just as the uncomfortable or less interesting parts of the American Revolution often get glossed over, I think it quite likely that there were plenty of Masons 100 years ago who were just as dedicated to the Craft as Pike, Mackey, or Wilmshurst, but never saw what all the hullaballoo about esotericism was and never bothered to write books about what Masonry meant to them. Pike, Mackey, Wilmshurst, et al did, and have become canonized over the years; it has become difficult to separate what Freemasonry is from what they felt it was in their experience, in their times.

Again, I say this not to discount the idea that there may be deep esoteric meanings to the rituals, nor to discredit the work of these widely respected Masonic authors... just to point out that our Brothers didn't have Blogger in the 19th and early 20th century, so the perspective that got published is the one that has prevailed.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Masonry as Validation

Synchronicity is always interesting. I've had the title for this post kicking around my head since my last lodge meeting, and only a few days later Freestyle wrote a paragraph about finding validation in Freemasonry, in his post The Spirit of the Craft.

Freestyle wrote specifically about validation in terms of freedom of religion; how Freemasonry reaffirms our collective belief that one's personal faith is one's own business:
"I thought God was God. There are lots of names for God...lots of descriptions. But at the end of the day...God...was God."
I agree wholeheartedly. The crucial yet vague requirement of belief in a non-specified supreme being remains a rather unique feature of our order, and remains relevant even in the 21st century. Increasingly it seems like people are inclined to reject all notions of deity out of bitterness over acts of hatred, violence, intolerance and hypocrisy committed in the name of one religion or another throughout human history. I don't remember where I read it, but someone had a very insightful question that they liked to ask of atheists: "What is it, specifically, that you don't believe in?"

Apart from religion, though, so far my experience in Masonry has provided validation for a number of other things I have long believed true on my own:
  • People shouldn't be jerks to one another
  • Tradition and history are important*
  • Community is important
  • A person should aspire to knowledge of numerous subjects
  • It's OK to be an adult male, and to enjoy the simple fellowship of other adult males (no matter how loutish TV commercials say you are.)

* I write this cautiously, because there's tradition (Masonic ritual, Trick or Treating, Old Home days) and then there's tradition (arranged marriages, dog fights, female circumcision) - they're not all good.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bully logic

Last week's Boston Herald article made it to Boing Boing (, and for the most part the comments are refreshingly well-informed, and positive.

I must call shenanigans on one comment, though:

It's got it all... the anecdotal "dad of a friend" who was a "high ranking" Mason, how they found went through his secret Masonic stuff after he passed away (the safe and locksmith are a nice touch), and how they learned through these secret documents that "... the highest law in the land for them is NOT the American law system. That's treason as far as I'm concerned. "

He then employs the classic conspiracy theorist technique of preemptively calling any Mason who denies this claim a liar. How it makes my teeth itch!

Lately I'm noticing that "OMG baphomet/satan/devil worship ritual and bloody oaths" freakouts are old and busted, and "Masons are up to no good with their secrets and cronyism, but they're so lame, they're just a bunch of old dudes doing their stupid old-fashioned gothy ceremonies and it's just so totally uncool and lame that anyone would be into that, what a bunch of losers who can't make friends on their own" is the new hotness. I can't tell if people really feel that way, or if Internet Tough Guy bluster is just their reaction to an idea they somehow feel threatened by.

I find it sad that the idea of structured, organized community involvement has slipped so far out of our social consciousness that some people don't even recognize the basic goodness or relevance of it anymore, even if they don't have the time or interest in it themselves.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Junior Steward Presumptive

A couple of weeks I found myself sitting in the Junior Steward's chair during a Fellow Craft degree rehearsal. I was therefore not too surprised when I was asked (about 30 seconds before the meeting started) if I could "fill in" for the actual degree. Afterwards asked if I would be coming to rehearsals for the 3rd degree we're squeezing in next month.

Looks like I should start saving up for a tuxedo.


(Former) Springfield Masonic Temple - 6

I had a meeting in Springfield, Massachusetts the other day, and I gave myself a bit of extra time to drive by the Masonic Temple at 339 State Street to take some photos... I had seen a postcard view and was pleased to find that the place still showed up in the various searches I was doing online.

As the place came into view, I was literally awe-struck. The apartments of the Grand Lodge of New York were amazing in their own right, and the Worcester Masonic Temple is also a proud structure, but this was the first time that the edifice of any Masonic building I've seen in person had such an effect on me.

"My Brothers built this," I thought to myself, craning my neck to look at the huge, prominent square and compasses and stylized double-headed eagle prominently featured on the building's facade.

(Former) Springfield Masonic Temple - 8

What a testament to the pride and commitment of those Brothers in Springfield 85+ years ago, that they were willing and able to contribute and/or raise the substantial money that the place must have cost... some 86,000 square feet with four lodge rooms, a 1,500 seat auditorium, and a large banquet hall. $1,000,000 1924 dollars.

And guess what? They sold it in 2007. It's now the headquarters of the International Communion of the Holy Christian Orthodox Church. The linked article mentions declining membership and growing suburban Lodges as reasons that the building had become a "White Elephant," but it also says:
[Archbishop] Paul told BusinessWest that he intends to make the facility more of a community asset than it has been historically, with the probability that more groups can take advantage of its four large meeting rooms, 1,500-seat auditorium, and 800-seat cafeteria.
Why is the ICHCOC the first owner of the building to have that idea? Why weren't the auditorium and banquet hall being rented out all along? I'm sure the decision to sell the place was not made lightly or easily and I don't know any of the circumstances that led to it (I'm sure taxes on such a huge downtown property were outrageous, something the church probably won't have to worry about) but I admit that every time I read about lodges giving up their historic buildings I feel angry and betrayed that such amazing resources are being allowed to slip away. I don't think we will see such grand and elegant Masonic buildings erected in our lifetimes, if ever again. Certainly not on dues that haven't been adjusted for inflation since the 1950's.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Masons are Hip in Boston, too

Some of my Massachusetts Brethren are featured in a new Boston Herald article, Frat boys: Masons drum up members among Hub rockers.

As with the L.A. Times article which probably inspired it, the piece focuses on two things:
  1. Younger guys are joining the Masons
  2. They're actually cool young guys. With goatees, even.
The emphasis on the Masons-as-the-hip-new-thing met with some derision/consternation as it bounced from weblog to weblog in the online Masonic community, but personally I think these articles will reach the right people. As I said myself last June,
"While I am prepared to be among the youngest members of a lodge, I don't think I want to be the only young member."
I'm sure I'm not the only person out there who sat on the fence for a while, wondering if they would find other men who are of similar age AND to whom they could relate.

(Photo by John Wilcox)

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fictional Fraternities

I followed a link to this interesting list of fictional fraternities from the Van Gorden-Williams Library's weblog post Improved Order of the Benevolent Quiz-Takers, and quickly noticed that a couple that are missing:

The Bookhouse Boys

From WikiPedia:

The Bookhouse Boys are a secret society on Twin Peaks formed to combat the darkness surrounding the town.

The members, some of which belong to the police department, also play a kind of vigilante role against drug dealers etc. The series says that it was formed about twenty years previous to the events, so probably some time in the 1960s. They are not afraid to take the law into their own hands, e.g. when Bernard Renault is interrogated in the Bookhouse.

Like the Freemasons, they have their own secret gesture, a stroke with a finger on the temple.

The Esoteric Order of Dagon

You may remember these fellows from H.P. Lovecraft's story The Shadow over Innsmouth:
It was called, she said, "The Esoteric Order of Dagon", and was undoubtedly a debased, quasi-pagan thing imported from the East a century before, at a time when the Innsmouth fisheries seemed to be going barren. Its persistence among a simple people was quite natural in view of the sudden and permanent return of abundantly fine fishing, and it soon came to be the greatest influence in the town, replacing Freemasonry altogether and taking up headquarters in the old Masonic Hall on New Church Green.
Although it's true that I didn't know much about the Masons and certainly never gave any serious thought to joining a fraternal order until last summer, it's interesting to read through that list and realize how many cultural cues I grew up with. All of the "funny hat frats" on TV helped reinforce the stereotypal view of lodges as goofy, harmless stag gathering places, while The Bookhouse Boys and the Esoteric order of Dagon were examples of the more mysterious, shadowy sort.

Wait, we *do* have secrets?

The Philadelphia Masonic Temple has been undergoing a multi-million dollar exterior restoration, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer article at

The article covers the history of the building, and then covers some of the usual bullet points about the Shriners, declining membership, younger men joining, et cetera... and then closes with a teaser from RW Stephen Gardner, Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania:

To be a Mason, he said, "you must acknowledge the existence of a supreme being. In that sense we're religious, but we don't discuss religion."

Another thing they don't discuss are Masonic rituals, which Gardner said were based on the Bible, but "not really religious lessons."

Asked to explain more, he replied, "I would prefer not to go into that, per se."

Compared with "We don't have any secrets, really," which do you think would make someone vaguely interested in Freemasonry curious enough to learn more?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Year to the Day

I started this weblog one year ago today. At that time, I had just started a new job enabling me to work at home. This stirred up a few issues which I realized had been troubling me in a larger sense for several years.

Probably the biggest perceived issue for me was lack of local social contacts... The combination of working far from home, living in a tiny rural town, not being a "joiner", and not having kids to make acquaintances by proxy had conspired to leave me feeling isolated. Working at home, I realized, would totally cut me off from the outside world unless I actively sought out some kind of social interaction.

Another issue was a general sense of malaise, a feeling that my life was somewhat adrift, in terms of both spirituality and long-term goals and aspirations. Last spring my wife and I had just paid down a significant portion of our debt, but the prospect of buying a house still seemed beyond our reach. (Little did I know at the time that we'd close on our first home just six and a half months later!)

Really, I said it best myself in that first post:
At age 32, the realities of adulthood are starting to set in. I'm not talking about the music getting too loud, lamenting my high school or college glory days, or agonizing over the couple of grey hairs that have shown up in my beard. I'm talking about finding oneself removed from the built-in support networks of a place like college or high school, and close enough to middle age that horizons don't seem quite as wide-open as they did in my twenties.

Not that I'm preoccupied with death - just that I've had a growing sense over the last couple of years that it's time to stop screwing around. I don't rightly know what that entails, but I have some ideas, and it is here that I intend to explore some of them.
My first order of business last summer was to find a local community group to join, to get myself out of the house and hopefully make some local friends. Elks, Lions, Kiwanis, Odd Fellows... I scoured the internet for such information and (most important to me) first-hand descriptions as I could find, hoping I would be able to find some kind of experience that would be like "Boy Scouts for grown-ups."

The group that kept popping up peripherally again and again in my searches was the Freemasons. I didn't really know anything about them other than the typical vague notions of ritual, secrecy, and exclusivity. As I started to actiely dig for more information about the Masons it was easy to discard the Masonophobe nonsense for what it was, but I did have my own suspicions about the ritual in terms of the Masons as a basically religious group, which was not really what I was looking for. I can still remember quite strongly the cognitive dissonance I felt about Masonic ritual; "If Freemasonry isn't a religion, then what the heck is the ritual for?"

The more I read, though, the better sense I got about the ritual's place in the overall Masonic experience... and thanks to helpful first-hand accounts from various Masons online a lot of things were de-mystified for me. I was intrigued by weblogs by self-professed "esoteric Masons," and my suspicion started to give way to excitement that such a group of intelligent, well-spoken people existed. It still took a while to get used to the idea of becoming a Freemason myself... I spent a lot of time turning the idea over and over in my head, and it was around that time that I decided to start this weblog.

Freemasonry wasn't going to be my main focus... I had initially imagined this as a place to think out loud about any number of "deep thoughts", using a pseudonym so I could write freely about anything without worrying about friends, family, or spouse stumbling across it.

Needless to say, the Masonic aspect took over as I chronicled my eventual decision to petition, and the long wait that followed. A lot of the time I was forming opinions or expectations based on the experiences of others; Like a lot of people I was drawn to the Masons because of their history and metaphysical/philosophical Light-seeking aspect, but I read so many laments about lax ritual, stubborn old-timers, lodges abandoning their grand old buildings for steel sheds in the suburbs, and "fork and knife Masonry" that it almost seemed like disappointment was a foregone conclusion.

So here I am, a year later... a Master Mason, all of the secrets of Masonry revealed to me, pseudo-lambskin apron tucked away in my dresser drawer, Masonic ring on my finger, edging inexorably towards the officer line.

Am I deeply disappointed, or feeling betrayed that the Freemasonry I've inherited has strayed from its glorious roots?

No, not really.

Having gone through the degrees and attended half a dozen or so Masonic functions I have seen instances of those things that newer Brothers can find so frustrating, but I tend to reject the notion that the Masonic grass was always, always greener in the days of yore. True, there are plenty of passages written 80 or 100 years ago by Masons lamenting the sorry state of the Craft, and you could take that to mean that Freemasonry has been in steady decline since the first speculative lodge was opened however many hundreds of years ago.

On the other hand, you could spin that as proof that there have always been people who are never satisfied with anything.

I'm being a little bit glib, but I think I have a valid point. Don't get me wrong - I do have some reservations and frustrations about the current state of Masonry in the U.S., but I'm not crazy about the "desperate call to action, throw the baby out with the bathwater" attitude often presented as a solution. The changes we seek will happen if we devote as much energy to implementing them in our lodges as we do writing about our frustrations online. It won't happen overnight, but if we truly believe that they're fighting for then we should have the patience to wait it out.

I think that a lot of the Light we seek comes from the overall Masonic experience... not only the ritual but the dinners and collations, the road trips to other lodges, the joking around during rehearsal. Those things couldn't sound less esoteric or spiritual on the surface, but from what I've experienced so far Freemasonry is greater than the sum of its parts, which is what gives it that elusive X factor that makes it so hard to describe succinctly. To put it another way, I think that while poring obsessively over our symbols and rituals for hidden messages and meaning, some Brothers miss the forest for the trees. That's not to dismiss the idea that there may be deeper messages or meanings in the ritual, just that they are only a part of the Masonic whole.

Speaking of experience: I recognize that my experience is my own, and that I may be more fortunate than some having joined the lodge and jurisdiction I did. I am not trying to invalidate or belittle the some of the very real frustrations or problems that I know exist in other lodges and/or jurisdictions. I simply want to add a positive voice to the chorus.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Travel in Foreign Countries

In the unlikely event that anyone reading this is 1) A Mason, 2) A FileMaker developer, and 3) Going to DevCon in Phoenix, Arizona next month: Drop me a line at and maybe we can at least meet up long enough to grab a cup of coffee during the week.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good Questions from Bro. Accuosti

VW Bro. Tom Accuosti left a thought-provoking comment on my last post, in which I wondered aloud why so many brethren disappear after the third degree:
Good question. What about the mentors and avouchers for the new guys. Do they keep in touch with them? Does the investigation committee mention that they would like the new guys to participate?

When I go out on interviews, I usually tell them that we'd like them to commit to at least one event per year. A Child ID, an afternoon making sandwiches, a cleanup day, something. That generally sets the tone that we expect something, but nothing too vague or arduous.

Do you rehearse every week? That's great!

These are good questions, which I can only answer from my place as a relatively new member myself:

What about the mentors and avouchers for the new guys.

From what I could tell, the assignment of mentors is fairly casual at my lodge - it seems like that duty usually falls to the Secretary.

Do they keep in touch with them?

Yes and no; early on I got calls asking if I was planning on attending district Lodges of Instruction, and the invitation to stop by on Monday night is open-ended, but there haven't been any "just checking in to see how you're doing/if you have any questions" conversations or phone calls.

Does the investigation committee mention that they would like the new guys to participate?

The committee who investigated me asked if I was prepared for the time commitment involved in joining the Masons - the three month timeframe at two or more nights per month - but other than telling me "you get out of it what you put into it," that request/expectation of minimal commitment wasn't expressed.

It's definitely a tricky balance; on the one hand, Freemasonry is not supposed to interfere with your family or professional commitments... on the other, there's the stubborn part of me that wonders why someone would bother joining if they knew they would be too busy to participate in their Lodge.

Of the four of us who were raised in April, only two of us came back for the next regular communication in May, and as far as I know I'm the only one who has gone to any functions (exemplification, table lodge, Lodge of Instruction) at another lodge.

Ultimately, though, it's not fair for me to speculate as to why Brothers don't show up or get involved unless I'm prepared to ask them about it. I have my interest and enthusiasm, and it's OK if it's not shared by everyone.

Do you rehearse every week? That's great!

As far as I know, at least some folks show up every week (assuming there's a degree happening at the next meeting) unless it's a long weekend. I'm not sure whether that carries through the summer break or not.

This is how it happens

My lodge is open most Monday evenings for degree rehearsal, and so candidates can go over their ciphers with a mentor.

Knowing this, I stopped by last night to poke through the lodge library, which I had not had a chance to explore yet.

When I came back down from the library, the officers were just headed into the lodge room to begin running through the second degree, and I was heartily invited to come in and watch... I had been encouraged to come and watch before, but I hadn't had a chance since taking the third degree.

As everyone filed into the lodge room and took their chairs, it was realized that there were no Stewards present. The Senior Steward arrived shortly thereafter, but not before I agreed to sit in the Junior Steward's chair, you know, just for the sake of the rehearsal.

It has not escaped my attention that we do not currently have a Junior Steward installed. If I keep showing up on Monday nights, I will probably wind up sitting in that chair next year.

Is this why so many new brethren disappear once they're raised, for fear of actually getting involved?

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