Friday, October 24, 2008

Dust off your Forget-me-not lapel pins, Brothers

Though there are those who will take what I am about to say as political, I am not posting it out of any partisan motives; if this Huffington Post article, "Sarah Palin Linked to Second Witch Hunter" came from Fox News and was about Joe Biden I would be telling you not to vote for Barack Obama.

But it's about Sarah Palin, so I am urging all of my Brothers not to vote for McCain/Palin. If you can't endorse any other candidate, then please just don't vote at all. Seriously. Why? From the article:

One of Palin's two witch hunters has publicly stated, in a July 13, 2008 recorded address [see video, below], that Sarah Palin is in the Alaska "spiritual warfare" prayer network and thus Palin appears to be tied into to a U.S. and international "spiritual warfare" network, The Global Apostolic Prayer Network, which claims that a planetary-level demon spirit blocks prayers of Catholics from reaching Heaven and whose top members boast of possibly having helped kill Mother Theresa through prayer-warfare.

I would hope the outright craziness (not to mention creepiness) of this "prayer warriors killing Mother Theresa" business would be enough to convince any rational person not to vote Republican this year, but Masons may be especially interested in this other tidbit:

Global Apostolic Prayer Network leaders compare Catholicism to Freemasonry and have conducted prayer warfare which they claim may have helped to kill Mother Theresa. One top leader and apostle of this spiritual warfare movement endorses the activities of church-based Central American death squads.
Please, please, please - don't let anyone under the influence of these people anywhere near the White House.

Stephen King on the 30th anniversary of "The Stand"

Speaking of the existence of a Great Architect and the afterlife, there is a good interview with Stephen King about his novel The Stand, a long-time favorite of mine that deals with themes of good versus evil set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic America. From the interview:
It's a mystery. That's the first thing that interests me about the idea of God. If there is one, it's mysterious and powerful and awesome to even consider the concept, and you have to take it seriously. I understand where Bill Maher is coming from when he says, basically, the world is destroying itself over a bunch of fairy tales about talking snakes and men who are alive inside fishes. I'm very sympathetic to it, but at the same time, given the cosmos that we're living in, it's very persuasive, the idea that there is some kind of first cause that's running things. It might not be the god of Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, it might not be the god of al-Qaida, and it might not be the god of Abraham, but something very well could be running things. The order of the universe as we see it, the interlocking nature, and the way things work together, are persuasive of the idea that there may be some overarching first cause.

The rest is at

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

What is the Metric of Success?

This last Saturday, during our open house, my lodge received 7 new applications for membership. These were men who had each been interested in Freemasonry for some time and saw the open house as an opportunity to learn more without perhaps feeling the same level of commitment or scrutiny as you might by calling or e-mailing a lodge out of the blue.

These were not random schmoes who saw an "open house" sign, wandered in off the street and decided to submit an application as a lark.

I was not involved in any of my lodges' previous open houses except as a visitor last fall, but I know this most recent batch of petitions surpasses any past results on a purely numeric basis.

Was it a success? After some lengthy conversations with several Brothers yesterday I don't think we can claim success unless we follow through with these new candidates if and when they join, taking the initiative and responsibility to show them the ropes and get them engaged and sticking around.

As evidenced by my current predicament, my lodge's officer line could use a little bit of shoring up, but what we don't want to do is continue the trend of viewing all newly raised Brothers as warm bodies to stuff into officers' chairs (unless that's what they're into.) What a few Brothers and I want is to restore the aspect of fellowship at our lodge by getting members together for occasions other than
  1. Rehearsals
  2. Dinners/Stated Meetings
  3. Degrees
Maybe even getting Brothers together outside the lodge, which doesn't happen much right now in any organized fashion.

At the same time, I want to work the problem from the other end and find a way to soften the disappointment of newly-raised, esoterically-oriented Brothers who aren't going to find the mystical order of philosopher-Jedis they may be expecting based on their internet research. There has to be a way to do it without totally discouraging them.

As I experience all of these different facets of Freemasonry, the mystery that fascinates me most right now is what keeps men coming back to do this? Why do Officers sacrifice one night a week to practice ritual, even if they're not interested in (or maybe haven't even heard of) Pike, Mackey, et al? Why do old-timers show up to watch degrees they've seen dozens, even hundreds of times before? Why do some men take on the huge time and energy commitment of serving as a District Deputy Grand Master, even after all of the time and energy they devoted to their year in the East?

If you asked a dozen Brothers you would get a dozen different answers, and yet there is a common thread in there, somewhere.

Secrets, indeed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Square & Compasses Day is Tomorrow in Massachusetts

Saturday, October 18, 2008 is Square and Compasses day in Massachusetts. All Lodges across the state will be open from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Public welcome!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Take it With Me

Scientific American has published an interesting article called "Never Say Die: Why We Can't Imagine Death" at, examining the conundrum of how it is impossible for us to comprehend the absence of self-consciousness after death. You can't know what it's like until it happens, but once it happens you won't be around (in your current form, at least) to describe it. It's like trying to imagine what there was before the big bang... it makes your head hurt after a while.

Especially curious is the fact that even people who steadfastly believe that there is nothing after death think in terms of a deceased person having a consciousness:
"One particularly vehement extinctivist thought the whole line of questioning silly and seemed to regard me as a numbskull for even asking. But just as well—he proceeded to point out that of course Richard knows he is dead, because there’s no afterlife and Richard sees that now. "
So is the popular human belief of some sort of continued existence after life on earth merely an evolutionary, cultural, psychological defense mechanism against the bleak existentialism of knowing that the entirety of one's existence gets snuffed out and disappears completely when we die? Or is it the touch of the Great Architect, trying to steer us all on the path of leaving this world better than we found it, to ready us for entry into the Celestial Lodge?

I think about this question a lot; I try to be coldly analytical and dismiss my deep-seated belief of some kind of organized intelligence at the heart of creation as a purely human construct, a collective bed-time story to keep us from going crazy at the thought of leaving our friends, families, and happy memories behind for the long, empty night that awaits us all when we die.

It just doesn't work. For all of the scientific advances humans have made during our cosmically short time here on earth, I don't believe that we have learned enough about anything to be able to state authoritatively how everything in this universe came to be, or where our souls go when we die. At the same time I have a hard time subscribing to the idea that there is a single true religion, and that only followers of the "right" faith get a golden ticket to the big Wonka factory in the sky when they die, while everyone else is punished for eternity.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Dilemma

Our Junior Deacon wasn't at rehearsal last night, and I offered to understudy the position for the evening, since the JD is a little more involved in things than my own position of Senior Steward... and it seemed like I might as well get a head start on learning the JD ritual, figuring that by the time I have to step up next fall I'd be in great shape.

Little did I know, the JD (Who was raised only a few months before me) has had to drop out of the line for a few months. I'm not on the hook for this week's meeting, but it's clear that the chair is open if I want to go for it.

Out of context, the office of JD is not too intimidating... but it's the knowledge of the Senior Deacon's duties right around the corner that gives me serious pause. In an ideal Lodge with a full and stable line, it would take a Brother at least three years to reach the office of Senior Deacon. That's three years of watching the SD's floor work and ritual, learning a lot of it by brute repetition. Maybe it's even enough time for some of the Middle Chamber lecture to sink in.

By contrast, I've only been a Master Mason for 5 months and I'm already looking at the third chair in the line. It doesn't feel right in terms of that learning-by-osmosis factor, nor in terms of integration with the lodge; I mean, I don't even know where all of the light switches are yet! I feel like I've got more basic things to learn before I take such a prominent place in the initiation of new candidates.

The question that is troubling me is finding the balance between what's best for me and what's best for the lodge. Better for the Lodge's sense of stability to have an empty Junior Deacon's chair, or an empty Junior Steward's chair (assuming the Junior Steward wanted to move up as well)? Better for me to sit in relative obscurity for another year, giving me more bandwidth to deal with my duties as an Ambassador and my efforts on the lodge web site, not to mention the ongoing saga of the renovation of my house?

Our installation of officers doesn't happen until next month, so I've got some time to think about it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

More Fodder for the Tinfoil Hat Crowd

When I first watched Dan Aykroyd's video pitching his new Crystal Head Vodka, I assumed that the tone and content was tongue-in-cheek, much like Roger Ebert's recent Q&A about Creationism, but that does not seem to be the case.

And that's OK, I guess; whatever floats your boat & all that... but John Hodgman points out something I failed to notice on my first visit to the Crystal Head web site: The square & compasses can be seen in the lower right corner of the page, tucked into what appears to be a map of some Mesoamerican city. As Mr. Hodgman says,


(And is it wrong that I want a bottle?)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

On the Subject of Openness/Advertising

The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has been running a lot of the Ben Franklin TV ads lately on WGBH, Boston's PBS affiliate. Just this morning I was surprised to hear that some news update or other on WAAF's Hill-Man morning show (your typical low-brow morning zoo) was brought to me by the Grand Lodge of Freemasons.

As Masons (especially the sort who spend idle moments reading and writing about the Craft online), we have a tendency to focus and dwell on anything and everything having to do with Masonry, and we're especially sensitive to our portrayal in popular culture and the mainstream media. "We're selling out!" "We're watering down the fraternity!" "Freemasonry isn't about slick advertising!" ... et cetera. The thing is, non-Masons who have zero interest in Masonry aren't going to pay any more attention to these ads and articles than they would to any other brand/product/service/organization they don't care about. It's the idly curious and fence-sitters that this kind of exposure reaches, and I think that's a good thing. I have to grudgingly concede that even the shallow, "We don't have any secrets" articles that irk me so might reach worthy men who are intrigued but uncertain about their preconceptions of Masonic secrecy.

Seeing an ad and taking the initiative to petition, be investigated, and take the degrees are two entirely different things. Yet it seems like a lot of the negative reaction within the fraternity towards greater publicity stems from the idea that any old cowan or eavesdropper who sees an ad or article about Freemasonry is going to try and join. I simply don't believe that to be the case.