Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why I Like Going to Lodge

It shields me from the constant stream of interruptions and tasks being piled onto my to-do list, if only for a few hours.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ladies: They're not just for preparing food

Much is often made of the generation gap between Masons who joined in the post WWII boom and the younger Brethren who have started joining over the last few years; because so relatively few baby boomers joined, there can be some pretty big cultural disconnects without the benefit of a generation that probably would have helped ease the transition.

Perhaps one of the biggest such disconnects that I've experienced so far is the notion of Masons' "Ladies"... a term that is meant in a gentlemanly way, but also carries with it the baggage of the Leave it to Beaver era. The old-school notion of involving the Ladies at Masonic functions often seems to revolve around inviting them to prepare a dish for some dinner or collation. Brothers under the age of, say, 45: If your spouse or girlfriend got a call from someone at the lodge asking them to make a casserole to bring to some function, what would her reaction be?

Monday, September 14, 2009

When Everyone's Wrong on the Internet

One of these days, I'm going to learn that it is ultimately useless to get drawn into an argument about Freemasonry on the internet. As Jeff Eaton said, the crazy guy always has more time than you.

From time to time a post related to Freemasonry appears on BoingBoing, a site that features links to all sorts of interesting stuff, often with a pop-culture bent. I read these threads with particular interest, because Boing Boing's readership strikes me as generally intelligent and considerate when it comes to commenting. As such, most posts about the Masons turn into jokes about old guys wearing funny hats and driving little cars, as opposed to raves about shape-shifting lizard people.

But inevitably, someone cries "Hypocrisy! You Masons talk about acceptance but I can't join because I'm an atheist or a woman! You think you're sooooo much better than me because I don't believe in fairy tales!" with undertones of "I wouldn't want to join your stupid little boys' club anyway! How can you take that stuff seriously?" and suddenly you're arguing about whether or not the Masons (and other private organizations) have the right to exist because they exclude members based on certain criteria... and it's all the more frustrating because most of the people who get so indignant about the no atheists/no women aspect of regular Freemasonry don't even want to join! It's just something else to argue and snark about online.

So, all I can do is try to make a cogent, well-written post and leave before things get ugly - and try to keep myself from going back, because it's just going to get my blood up.

So Has Dan Brown Thrown us Under the Bus?

With the prologue and first chapter of The Lost Symbol out of the bag, it looks like Freemasons are probably going to spend a lot of time correcting the "facts" portrayed in the book. Like the fact that the 33rd degree ritual involves the candidate drinking wine from a human skull. Thanks Dan!

Apparently there was a Supreme Council that did in fact include the wine-from-a-skull act in its version of the 33rd degree, but they were clandestine (not officially recognized by either the Northern or Southern jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite), and it was about 100 years ago. (

When I really consider it, I guess I'm not as annoyed at Dan Brown as I am at the people who accepted The Da Vinci Code as historical truth and will no doubt do the same with The Lost Symbol. Whether the Masons are good guys or bad guys in the story remains to be seen, but already there are hundreds of people out there who probably think we really drink wine from human skulls.

I'm now also wondering if Blue Lodges are going to be subjected to the Shrine effect, where fans of the novel join just so they can go on to the Scottish Rite and become 32ยบ Masons.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How do you Reconcile the Ideals of Freemasonry with a Pessimistic Outlook on Humanity?

The tenets of Freemasonry are all about being good and true, and being serviceable to fellow creatures. I do try to uphold these ideals in my day to day interactions with mankind, but like Brother John Ratcliffe, I often find modern society to be awfully discouraging.

My concentration this afternoon has been derailed by news coverage of idiot parents who are up in arms over the fact the the President of the United States will be giving a live talk about education to kids in schools all over the country next week. Why? Because rabid right-wing TV and radio personalities have convinced them that it's "socialist indoctrination." I'm at a total loss for words. Who are these people, and how do they get mainstream news coverage? Can you imagine the TOTAL! MORAL! OUTRAGE! we'd hear from these same talking heads if a liberal parent objected to a conservative President addressing their kid in school? "Unpatriotic! Unamerican! Encouraging the terrorists!"

Meanwhile, all any concerned parent would do in a reasonable society would be to discuss the President's speech with their kids after school that day, you know, like grown-ups used to do: calmly and rationally.

While I'll freely admit to having liberal tendencies myself, what bothers me is not the fact that a person might not agree with the sitting President's political views or agenda. It's the willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism that has overtaken civil discourse in our society, and the despicable people who bend those tendencies to opportunistic advantage, poisoning the well for the rest of us who want nothing more than to coexist amicably with our neighbors.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Times and Seasons, Years and Cycles

Masonic bloggers across the U.S. are announcing the arrival of the upcoming year with a mix of exitement and wistfulness at how fleeting our summer hiatus was.

As I get ready for what is sure to be a busy Masonic year (I'll be installed as Senior Deacon and Historian of my Lodge in October) I'm feeling much the same; July and August provided a much-needed break from the weekly rehearsals, Lodges of Instruction, and stated meetings, but I'm looking forward to seeing my Brothers again and going back to the quarries. It's a feeling that is dimly familiar, and I realize that it's very similar to what I used to feel when returning to school after summer vacation.

One of the best things about Masonry is that it provides a context in which to meet men from a very broad swath of the social fabric of our communities, something I haven't enjoyed since my college years ended in 1996. In college, a student is typically thrown into a dormitory building with other students from all different majors and all different parts of the country, united by your choice of school.

When you join a Masonic lodge, you're typically thrown into a group of men of all different ages and backgrounds, united by the community you live in and the tenets of Freemasonry. The Masonic summer break restores that sense of renewal that we all used to enjoy as students... when we go out into the real world, life often turns into a 365-day-a-year grind. While you still don't get a summer break from your day job (unless you happen to be a teacher,) taking a couple of months away from the Lodge gives you a nice opportunity to reflect on the proceedings of the preceding year, and contemplate the upcoming one.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Slight Disconnect

I have yet to join any appendent bodies. Because there aren't any left at my mother lodge, I did not have the oft-described experience of having guys shoving Shrine/Scottish Rite/Royal Arch/Grotto/Eastern Star petitions into my hands as soon as I signed the bylaws. And because I jumped right into an officer's chair, I haven't exactly had a surfeit of time to go exploring them on my own.

But I do hear from the Shrine every once in a while. They send letters inviting me to one shindig or another, rehashing the good works that the hospitals do, and the $2 million per day figure, and "fun in Masonry," et cetera.

I've gone back and forth on the notion of joining the Shrine... the hospitals are certainly a very worthy cause, and I can totally get behind the idea of getting together with other grown men to wear fezzes and drive tiny cars in parades, even I don't get around to it for another 10 years. On the other hand, the Shrine's original reason for being ("Blue Lodge is boring! Let's go party!") kind of irks me.

The letter I got yesterday doesn't exactly instill me with the burning desire to become a Shriner, though. I'm cordially invited to a "Rockin' Nobles Party" (quotes and apostrophe theirs), and of course the letter said that "your Lady" is welcome too (quotes mine).

My wife was amused by the use of the phrase "your Lady," which I think has lost whatever polish of civility and refinement it used to have and now seems strangely possessive and borderline creepy. As for the "Rockin' Nobles Party"? I can't think of a time in all my 35 years that the term Rockin' was ever anything other than painfully uncool. I don't know what the typical age bracket for new Shriners is these days, but I have a hard time imagining many Gen-X/Gen-Y Masons getting a letter like this and getting excited.

Send me a letter inviting me to a black tie dinner and whisky tasting, though, and I'll be all over it. I wondered a while back about whether any new appendent bodies had come into being lately, because I think it would be interesting to see what my generation would come up with if we started fresh without the legacy of ladies' auxiliaries and potluck suppers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Reference for the Rest of Us

Thank you, Brother Chris Hodapp, for putting together a go-to blog post covering some of the whys and wherefores of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, which seems quite likely to figure prominently in Dan Brown's upcoming book. Bro. Hodapp's post can be found at:

Please take the time to check it out, and then share it with all of your non-Masonic family and friends on your blogs/facebook/twitter accounts. We would do well to get as much plain-spoken information as we can into peoples' heads before they read a fictional tale about how Washington was really a British Loyalist but his Masonic Brothers covered up for him, or whatever weirdness is to be found in the book.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Templar Musings

Back in May I wrote about my resurgent interest in the York Rite, due largely to a Brother who has become a dear friend and who is heavily involved in all three York Rite bodies (Royal Arch Chapter, Cryptic Council, Knights Templar Commandery.)

I have long assumed that I would stop short of joining the Knights Templar, as I cannot honestly call myself a Christian despite having been raised in the UCC. Online discourse about whether or not a non-Christian can or should join is interesting, and seems to reflect three prevailing attitudes:
  • The ritual is to be interpreted literally and no man should ever petition a Commandery or take any of the Templar obligations unless they are a devout Christian.
  • Templar ritual, like the three Blue Lodge degrees, is full of veiled symbolism and as such, explicit references to Jesus or the Christian trinity are symbols for deeper truths. Insofar as you are not made uncomfortable or offended by these references, you can be a Templar.
  • It's fun to dress up in pseudo-military regalia and play with swords - don't sweat the obligations, man!
It's a question that leads to much interesting discussion, and to some extent reflects on the debate about the future of Craft Lodge Masonry. I've been thinking a lot over the summer break about the age old question of what Freemasonry is - the thing that troubles a lot of people about the current state of Freemasonry in the US is that new guys have a different vision than the old-timers, and there's an idea that someone has to be right, and there's an awful lot of energy spent complaining and debating about who's right and who's wrong.

My own current take is that Freemasonry is what you, an individual Mason, make of it. If all you want out of lodge are stale crullers and arguments over bills, then more power to you. It seems like kind of a waste of your obligations, but I won't begrudge you your comfortable routine. I can put up with those things while I'm pursuing what I want out of Masonry, which is better ritual, a little bit more pride in our institution and lodge buildings, and a place to get together with good men in an increasingly shallow and depressing society.

I've been pretty active in my mother lodge for over a year now, and to a lesser extent I'm engaged at the district level and also my great-great-great grandfather's lodge here in my own town. Among all the lodges I've visited and Brothers I've met, what I'm finding is that if you take the time to get to know a lot of Masons just a little bit, you'll start finding subgroups among the larger collectives of individual lodges or districts. Masons who really dig old regalia. Masons who like single malt Scotch and cigars. Masons who are particularly adept at ritual. Pretty much any interest you can think of, you can find other Masons who are into it and inclined to flock together.

And what's interesting is that many of these Masons AND groups overlap in different places, like a big colorful venn diagram. Nobody needs to pledge fealty to one particular Masonic clique; I can get my ritual fix by visiting lodge X who does particularly good degree work, and I can get my regalia fix by hanging out with Brother Y, who may also happen to introduce me to some very interesting books about US History and tell me I should talk to Brother Z, who's really into history. It's all good, and I think in some ways essential to our health as an institution. Can you imagine how awful your lodge would be if everyone was interested in the exact same things and had no new ideas to bring into each others' spheres of influence?

To put it another way, consider the typical workplace that lets employees listen to the radio. It might start out with a manager choosing his favorite rock station. If enough coworkers complain, it might get switched to a country station for a while... but if the manager can't stand country, maybe they'll try a top 40 station. Eventually, it gets changed again and again until it winds up on a crappy soft-rock station. And there it stays because while nobody really likes it, at least they all hate it equally. It never seems to occur to management that if the overhead speakers were shut off altogether and each office pod were allowed to pick its own music, everyone would be much happier.

Freemasonry definitely has some systemic issues facing it (jurisdictions that may have seen a spike in raw membership numbers from one-day classes or other membership drives are finding that it's not only about getting people to join, it's about getting them to come back to lodge), but ultimately I think it's more about Brothers making their visions of what Freemasonry could be happen for themselves than imposing those visions on one another without stopping to ask what floats their boats.

As to the Templar question: my impression based on Templars I've talked to, and things I've read online is that there is almost a "don't ask, don't tell" policy with regards to one's assent to the explicitly Christian aspects of Commandery, at least in the United States. That is to say, it will be generally assumed by members of the order that you are a Christian. If you're not, but take the degrees anyway then it's pretty much up to your own conscience as to how faithfully you are upholding your Obligations as a Knight Templar. If you dissect these requirements semantically and interpret them to mean simply that you must believe that the Christian religion exists, and that you'd defend its right to exist, is that good enough for you? Is it good enough for the Brothers in your Commandery if someone learns that you attend a Unitarian Universalist Church or a synagogue and demands an explanation? Is it good enough for Great Architect? In the end, that's what really matters.

I was greatly amused by this anonymous comment to a post on this subject at

Templar: You know this is mainly a Christian organization and most of the members are Christian, right?

Non-Christian: Yup.

Templar: And that we refer to Jesus by name as our Lord and savior, and that he died for our sins.

Non-Christian: Well, he is your savior and he did die for your sins, who am I to say he didn't?

Templar: You have to swear to defend the Christian faith, are you okay with that?

Non-Christian: Sure, why not?

Templar: The Order revolves around strictly around Christian histories...

Non-Christian: Those are good histories.

Templar: ...and faith.

Non-Christian: It's a decent faith, too.

Templar: Well, I just want to make sure you can be comfortable with all of the Christian references to ensure you won't take offense.

Non-Christian: It's no problem with me.

Templar: Do you like wine?

Non-Christian: I love it!

Templar: Great! You got $100?

Non-Christian: Yup.

Templar: Excellent! I'll get it from you Wednesday at the Lodge.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Masonic E-mail List Etiquette

If you want proof of how corrosive religion and politics can be to lodge interactions, you probably don't have to look much further than your inbox. I wound up on the mass e-mail list of a Brother for whom I have a lot of respect, and with each toxic right-wing viral email he forwards to me that respect diminishes just a little bit.

It's not because I don't happen to agree with most of the bile being spewed in these screeds. People are entitled to their beliefs, and however different your views may be from mine I respect your right to those beliefs and opinions. What really bothers me is that invariably the tone of these messages assumes my complicity in the hate, disrespect, distortions, and intolerance that they preach.

They're sent with the assumption that of course I agree that this is a Christian nation that should have legally mandated and legally protected Christian prayers in school, and display the Ten Commandments in courthouses, and that Barack Obama is arrogant, and evil, and elitist, and probably not even a real citizen, and turning Amurrca into a socialist country, and I-wonder-how-those-pinko-liberals-like-their-change-NOW. They're so strongly worded that I don't dare respond with a polite "Please don't send me any more political e-mails" message for fear I'll get dragged into an argument I want no part of, which can't be won in the face of such anger and bitterness, and that has the potential to taint more relationships in my predominantly conservative lodge.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wondering Aloud

What was the last major appendant body to come into existence? Has anyone tried to get one going lately?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

It's Official - The Lost Symbol is about the Freemasons

I'm probably the last person to be blogging about the fact that the covers for both the US and UK versions of The Lost Symbol feature both Washington D.C. and Masonic Symbols prominently.

Which means that I will probably begrudgingly buy and read it, because about a month after its release, Massachusetts will be holding another state-wide open house, and I need to know how Dan Brown has represented (or misrepresented) our order. Talk about your free publicity, though!

If we can set people straight while still leaving them with a little hint of mystery, we could see a lot of new petitions, and I don't see people petitioning lodges because of this book as necessarily a bad thing. Having people clamoring at the west gate is a good problem to have, as long as you're willing to investe a little deeper than "Do you believe in a Supreme Being? Any questions? No? Ok, sign here and you'll hear from us in a couple of months."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Gate City Lodge #2 hits the NY Times

And thankfully, the article is not written in a ZOMG THE MASONS ARE ALL RACISTS tone. Rather, Sheila Dewan and Robbie Brown seem to be shaking their heads in along with the rest of us who live in the 21st century:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Bangor Masons have a New Home

Yeah! Bangor's beautiful 1868 Masonic Temple burned down in 2004, and instead of retreating to a bland new structure in the suburbs, the area's Masonic bodies have purchased some wonderful old buildings on the grounds of the former Bangor Theological Seminary. The closing was Monday. Congratulations and good luck, Brothers!


Speaking of Improving Masonry

I remarked not long ago that I'd rather hear about things people have actually *done* to improve Masonry than listen to people bitch about what the rest of us should or shouldn't be doing to improve it.

Regarding the situation in Georgia (which I assure you, my Brethren in other parts of the country, seems as backwards and alienating to all of the Masons I've talked to here in the Northeast as it must to non-Masons reading the articles starting to trickle out in the news), I've e-mailed my DDGM to 1) Bring the matter to his attention and 2) Ask him what my Grand Lodge can do about it.

I'm not mentioning this to pat myself on the back for sending an e-mail... just to remind folks that if enough of us take the small steps like getting the word out through our respective Masonic grapevines, stuff might actually start to happen.

Or you could just keep complaining to anonymous people on the internet, that might work too.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Brief Observation

Rants about what everyone should do to improve Freemasonry are much less inspiring than stories about what someone has actually done to improve it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

2 Years

It's hard to believe I started this weblog a little over 2 years ago on June 5, 2007. 3/4 of a year later I was made a Mason.

Rather than try and wax eloquent, I'll sum it up by repeating what my good friend and Brother Mike said on one recent evening:

Freemasonry is magic.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Watch that Cable Tow

Early on, when I was devouring all the information I could find about the Blue Lodge and appendant bodies of Freemasonry, I couldn't wait to get going; take the first three degrees, then continue on to the York Rite and eventually the Scottish Rite. The idea of all those degrees was exciting - not so much for the elaborate and impressive titles that accompany them (although those are certainly fun,) but for the idea that each one represented some important and relatively obscure bit of knowledge to mull over, each one building on the last, hopefully leading to some kind of ultimate Masonic enlightenment.

After joining and getting swept into the officers' line of my mother lodge, I decided fairly quickly to let the appendant bodies wait. As an officer I'm spending quite enough time as it is in Blue Lodge, and to echo Bro. Tom Accuosti's sentiments I don't feel like I've gotten everything there is to get out of the Craft degrees before rushing off to the next.

However: An interesting thing happens when you get out and visit other lodges, and spend time getting to know other Brothers. Chances are good you'll strike up acquaintances with Masons who share pretty closely your interest in a particular aspect of Freemasonry (like history, ritual, philosophy) or some of the manly avocations that seem to go hand in hand with Masonry (like single-malt Scotch, homebrewing, and cigars/pipes)... and when those guys start talking about how much they enjoy their Chapter or Valley, the natural reaction is to start thinking about joining so you can experience more of that kind of fellowship.

Such is my situation... my interest in the Royal Arch has been rekindled of late, but I really can't rationalize piling another monthly meeting onto my calendar. I am going to try to make myself wait, banking spare time in the way a kid will bank pennies for a baseball mitt or bicycle.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

No Seldon Plan

I recently listened to Episode 30 of the Masonic Central Podcast (direct MP3 link) featuring Professor Margaret C. Jacob, who covers a lot of very interesting historical ground about the spread of early speculative Masonry, and the way it comes to be either very open or very secretive depending on the surrounding political/religious climate. Also fascinating was her explanation of the Masonic libraries stolen by the Nazis during World War II and then kept by the Soviet Union (and then former Soviet Union) until 2000; information that suddenly doubled the amount of material available to Masonic researchers. That's the kind of discovery that can potentially turn lots of established historically accepted "truths" on their heads, and if there's one thing Freemasons like to discuss it's historical truths.

Whether approaching Freemasonry as a direct descendent of the ancient Egyptian Mystery Schools, or a less mystical, gentlemanly by-product of the Enlightenment, one always encounters discussions about the intent of the unknown Brothers who first developed the symbolism and ritual of the Craft. Opinions differ as to what their intentions were, but there does seem to be a general impression that they were trying to establish something very deliberate, and enduring.

Professor Jacob talked about how Freemasonry in the 18th century taught men, among other things, skills of leadership and self-government - a very unique thing during a time when most of the world was still ruled by monarchy.

When it comes to Freemasonry and its role in the 21st century, she painted a less flattering (but uncomfortably accurate) picture. While Freemasons were ahead of the curve during the 18th century in terms of forward thinking ideas about religious tolerance and human rights, in the 21st century we're being dragged behind modern society kicking and screaming; the issue of continued racial segregation (in the form of Grand Lodges' refusal to recognize Prince Hall Masonry) in the south was cited as one reason that many of her students have a very difficult time finding any sort of relevance in the Fraternity, as was regular Masonry's continued exclusion of women.

I will admit that I have a really hard time with the idea of women belonging to my Lodge/Grand Lodge. I feel that the question of gender is quite different from race in this context; I believe, unapologetically, that adding a co-ed dynamic to the Lodge experience would distract greatly from the Work (with men probably more to blame for that distraction than women, frankly.) I have no problem with Co-Masonry, and perhaps the next logical step would be toward recognition between US Grand Lodges and the Supreme American Council of Co-Masonry - but I think that forcing all lodges to admit women would destroy a lot of them, as many Brothers would stop attending, demit, or form new, clandestine, male-only lodges.

Back to the original creators of speculative Masonry... did they foresee these crises of race and gender, but trust to future Freemasons to be carry the torch of enlightenment and lead the way when society was a little more ready? Did it not even enter into their deliberations because race and gender inequality was "the way we've always done it?" Did they even care what happened to Freemasonry after their deaths? We're so used to thinking about Freemasonry as a tradition whose origins are lost in time, that it's hard to remember that, at some point, someone was making it up as they went along.

One of my favorite science fiction stories is the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. The premise, in a nutshell, is that a mathematician named Hari Seldon develops a statistical science called psychohistory by which he's able to analyze past socio-political trends to predict future ones, and in so doing foresees the collapse of the Galactic Empire, to be followed by a 30,000 year dark age before a new empire would arise.

Seldon and a team of psychohistorians take it upon themselves to develop a plan by which they can manipulate future history to shorten that dark age to a mere 1,000 years, by situating a "Foundation" in such a way that it is able to preserve much of the knowledge of the current Empire and remain at an advantage over the more barbarous neighboring planets.

The Foundation stories chronicle a series of crises that arise along the plan's timeline, carefully designed by the psychohistorians so that the Foundation will ultimately have no choice but to follow the particular course of action that will advance the formation of a new, enlightened empire at the end of that 1,000 year span.

When we talk about the original creators of speculative Masonry, it seems like we often attribute a similar prescience to them, that they were creating this peculiar system of morality (veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols) to be passed down through the ages, and that we are not to question or deviate from the landmarks they left us.

I don't think that attitude has worked all that well, as Professor Jacob aptly points out. Part of the problem is that American Freemasonry has been fighting its own internal battle with membership attrition... if we can stabilize that problem, it will be up to this new wave of 20-40 somethings to aggressively re-establish the relevance of our Fraternity in an increasingly fragmented and distracted society.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Planning Ahead

Like many an active new Brother officer, I find myself hurtling towards the East. It's a prospect that excites and intimidates me simultaneously.

After serving as Senior Steward pro tem for a couple of meetings last year, the first chair I was officially installed in was Junior Deacon - at the time I was a little bit freaked out by the knowledge that this put me one step away from being Senior Deacon (and thus the Middle Chamber lecture) which was a little more involved than I had anticipated getting so soon after being raised.

Over the ensuing months a few things have happened:
  • I've gotten to know the Brothers at my mother lodge better
  • I've gotten a better sense of which things have "always been done that way" and which things are done that way just because people got out of the habit during leaner times
  • I learned the Middle Chamber lecture before I actually needed to know it, demonstrating to myself that learning ritual is not a big deal IF you give yourself time and work at it slowly but surely.
  • I've visited other lodges, and had a chance to compare and contrast with my mother Lodge.
This last has probably been the most helpful to me in terms of developing a more holistic view of the Craft, and has given me a lot of ideas that I would love to see implemented at my own lodge. Even though I am still three years away from taking the Master's chair (if the current line of officers continues to move up) I often find myself thinking in terms of who I may be able to call on to help with a particular initiative when I'm Master, or whether there are any steps I can take now to lay the groundwork for something new/different during my year in the East.

Of course, the first major planning step was to decide that yes, I do actively want to be Master of my lodge for a year. That sounds obvious, but it's a pretty crucial decision that I think often gets short shrift from Brothers who suddenly find themselves in one of the Wardens' chairs with some amount of pressure to keep going because many lodges still have trouble finding officers. It's not for everyone, and if a Brother becomes Master against their better judgement out of a sense of duty or obligation, it's potentially destructive to the whole lodge.

Once you've made the decision to go for it, though, you should start planning, even if you're still Junior Steward (for one thing, holes in lines open up and you may find yourself bumped up a seat or two before you know it); think about what you want to accomplish during your year in the East, think about what skills you need to develop to effectively run a meeting, settle disputes, and set the Craft to labor. When the gavel is handed to me, I don't want to find myself standing there like a deer in the headlights, and turning to the Past Masters to answer questions about every little procedural detail, or about how something is "supposed" to be done (whether by custom or by obscure detail not found in the cipher book). So, I'm watching meetings intently and asking the Brothers with an eye for ritual lots of clarifying questions, and I'm trying to build a mental index of talents and interests of the Brethren at my lodge.

I figure if I try to plan everything out now, I might have about half of my act together when the time comes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

That Which Was Lost

I've known for some time that my paternal great, great, great grandfather was a Freemason. A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me to do a bit of research in hopes of finding out what lodge(s) he belonged to.

To my surprise, I learned that he was a charter member of the lodge here in town in 1866 - the lodge to which I had already applied for affiliation only a few weeks earlier. That was the only lodge to which the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts had a record of him belonging, and given that he was 68 years old when it was chartered I contacted the Grand Lodge of Vermont
to see if they had any record of him having joined while living there earlier in the 1800's.

I learned that he joined a lodge in Caledonia county by demit in 1855, but unfortunately there was no record of which lodge he had demitted from, so I still don't know where he was entered, passed, and raised. I wonder if this may be due in part to the aftermath of the Morgan affair, during which time the Grand Lodge of Vermont itself went dark.

In light of these very specific details of my ancestor's Masonic activities I find myself simultaneously exhilarated and saddened.

When I first became interested in joining the Masons, I was wary of the back-slapping, back-room, good-ole-boy network type of bonding which I worried might be in store. While I have encountered some Brothers who seem to place more meaning on simply belonging to a private club than on the tenets of our profession, my personal experience is usually that a man being an active Freemason usually speaks volumes about his character. It serves as a kind of shorthand in much the same way that our symbols are shorthand for much deeper concepts.

Knowing that he was a Mason gives me a surprisingly strong sense of kinship and friendship with this man whom I previously knew only as a small photograph taken some 140 years ago. While the rituals have doubtless been streamlined in the interim, either one of us could sit down next to the other in Lodge and follow along.

Of course, shared experience as a means of bonding is not unique to Freemasonry. There are any number of father-son traditions that get handed down across the years; participation in a particular sport, military service, attendance of a particular private school or college, and so on. The thing that I find so very compelling about the shared experience of the Craft with my great, great, great grandfather is that underneath all of the more superficial aspects of Freemasonry, the goals of our shared profession are so lofty, fundamental, and universal.

The tinge of sadness comes from the knowledge that he's a Brother I won't get to know in this life. Being directly related to him provides a vivid context in which to consider the man, but when you start to consider all of the interesting worthy Brothers who have gone before us the world over, they can seem like sand through the hourglass.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A $5 case for a $7 Apron

My new-to-me apron arrived without a case, and not having another $50+ to spend on a case right now I headed to Michael's and picked up a 22"x 17" Star Eco-Smart "red wallet" portfolio for the princely sum of $5.00. Black would have been nicer, but this is a start. I think perhaps my next mission will be to keep an eye out for a used case on Ebay and at local flea markets.

I haven't examined a purpose-built case to see how aprons are typically fastened to keep them flat and attached to the side when the case is being carried around, but in my case I'm simply using a few binder clips to fasten the apron to the top edge of the portfolio, with a bit of padding to keep the clips from digging into the apron itself.


I'd like to join Bro. Chris Hodapp in saying that the Buffalo, NY Jesters indicted for numerous unwholesome activities have no business being Masons. According to a new article at the incident has sparked a wider investigation, and it's looking like the Buffalo incident is not (as the Jesters organization claims) isolated.

Like Widow's Son has said in his posts about the Jesters on The Burning Taper, what creepy old men do together on weekends is their own business, but I am disgusted and insulted that they would do so under the auspices of Freemasonry. I can't think of any reason they would claim to "proudly believe and participate in Masonry"1 while systematically violating their Masonic obligations and flouting numerous of our core principles except as a way to appear just & upright by association.

Any conspiracy theorist will tell you that Masons don't have a corner on super-sekret rituals and activities. The Jesters should go their own way and leave us out of whatever it is that they stand for.

1"Royal Order of Jesters - Masons, Shriners, Freemasons, Masonic Lodges, Grand Lodges" Royal Order of Jesters
n.d. Web. 4 May 2009.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More about Aprons

My English Constitution apron arrived with remarkable speed, having been mailed from the UK last Friday and showing up at my doorstep the following Tuesday.

It's a beaut - there are a couple of small spots that need re-stitching and the whole thing will benefit from a surface cleaning, but overall it's a very nice apron, especially for the $7.50 or so USD that I paid for it.

Upon re-reading the Massachusetts members' handbook, there is a very brief section about aprons - a few notes about which aprons a Past Master or Past District Deputy Grand Master may wear if they sit as an officer, and then some scant instructions about members' aprons: Members of a lodge wear blue-bordered aprons, while guests wear white ones.

I thought this was interesting, as I've only ever seen a handful of blue-bordered aprons provided by a lodge, and that was not at my mother lodge - also, I was handed one of those blue-bordered aprons as a guest! I expect that this is one of those things that each lodge evolves its own traditions around. Or perhaps lodges don't attach much importance to apron specifics, beyond making sure that all Brethren are properly clothed before entering the lodge room.

I find this kind of minutiae fascinating.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Badge of a Mason

After ruminating last week about the plain white cloth aprons we wear in the US, I found myself poking around Ebay to see what was available in the way of regalia that's just a little more inspiring. There are plenty of sellers offering new Master Mason aprons in what I guess you could call "U.S. Style" - dark blue trim with an all-seeing eye on the lap and the square and compasses underneath... screen-printed or embroidered, depending on how much money you want to spend.

The one listing that really caught my eye was for a gently used apron in the UK, in the English Constitution style: lighter, royal blue trim, silver chains at the end of the tassels, and three rosettes: one on the lap and one in each lower corner. Amazingly, the bidding never even reached £4.00 and the lambskin apron, which belonged to the seller's grandfather, should be on its way over the Atlantic to me soon.

I have not read or heard of any regulations in Massachusetts regarding the style or decoration of aprons, and there is another Brother in my district who I have seen wearing a British-style apron, so I plan on wearing this one whenever I'm not sitting as an officer at my mother lodge. To me wearing this apron feels like a rational homage to the roots of our fraternity (and my ancestry) in the UK.

I decided that I wanted a nice apron not as any kind of status symbol, but as a point of pride in being a Mason and a token of the seriousness of the business in which we are engaged. I have a feeling that it never occurs to a lot of Brothers that they could get themselves something nicer. Partly because there aren't many physical storefronts selling Masonic regalia these days, but mostly because (at least in my lodge/jurisdiction) the subject of aprons is really never discussed with new Brethren beyond "Take your lambskin home with you, you won't wear it again until you get buried with it. Wear these cloth ones from now on."

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Official: Dan Brown's next book out in 2009

Dan Brown's next book will be titled The Lost Symbol and will be published on September 15.

[edit] Whoops, I thought I had read on one of the announcement news stories that book will take place in London, but most speculation still places it in Washington D.C. and with a title like The Lost Symbol (Which is pretty bland compared to The Solomon Key) it could well involve the Freemasons.

Part of me feels like I should read The Da Vinci Code just so I know how the Freemasons were (mis)represented in the story and can discuss it intelligently, but this review was so off-putting when I read it five years ago that I really have no interest in reading anything by Mr. Brown.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What's in an Apron?

I attended my first Fraternal visit to another lodge as a member of our District Deputy Grand Master's Suite last night, and as such I got to wear a purple-bordered apron. I felt a bit conflicted about this temporary status symbol as I listened to the section of the Entered Apprentice lecture which tells a new Brother that "Masonry regards no man for his worldly wealth or outer appearance."

I believe that presiding and past DDGM's are absolutely entitled to wear their purple aprons with pride and well-deserved respect for the amount of work and pure time they spend serving their district, but me putting on a purple apron felt a little bit presumptuous and/or showy; the DDGM's Official and Fraternal visits are a part of Masonry (in Massachusetts, anyway) that seem to be less about the tenets of our profession than about ostentatious formality.

Don't get me wrong, in many ways ostentatious formality is one of the things I cherish about Freemasonry in Massachusetts; as a society, we don't treat much of anything with formality any more, and if you ask me one of the biggest secrets of Freemasonry is that it's a last bastion of the lost art of gentlemanliness. I love the courtesy, civility, and mutual respect to be found in a well-governed lodge. Give me another 20 years and I'll probably be one of the old timers who manages to look dowdy in a tuxedo, but right now I rather enjoy dressing formally for the evening's work.

The thing about all of the announcements, processions, and ceremonies around a District Deputy Grand Master's visit, though, is that they don't really have anything to do with "the business in which we are engaged"... they're really more about hierarchy. And that's OK, I guess - I'm not one of those "down with the Grand Lodge system" people, and from what I've seen the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts provides a lot of support for its constituent lodges. I think things would be a lot more chaotic and fractious without it. As for that purple-bordered apron I wore last night, it felt... superficial. I won't say I didn't like it - not so much because of the purple but because it wasn't a tattered, slightly yellowed old thing made of flimsy cloth. As an officer I get to wear a nicely embroidered apron most of the time, and the contrast to the lodge loaners I wear when visiting other lodges is always a bit stark.

In most (all?) jurisdictions in the United States, an Entered Apprentice is given a nice white lambskin (or perhaps "lambtex") apron during their initiation, but then they're told to put it away in a drawer until they die, at which point it is to be buried with them. Instead, lodges typically provide a big stash of plain white cloth aprons for members and visitors to wear. Past Masters and Past District Deputy Grand Masters are often given nice presentation aprons at the end of their terms, but most Masons are stuck with the white cloth loaners. This has bugged me for a while - if an apron is the badge of a Mason, shouldn't we take a little more pride in the ones we wear in lodge? If you try to argue that it's not the apron but the man who wears it, then why do Past Masters and Past DDGMs wear such nice and ornate ones?

I tend to fall into the "formal" camp when it comes to the question of how lodges should dress and conduct themselves - to me it signifies the respect that Brethren should have for the Craft and especially for the candidates being introduced to it. When I see photos of Brothers wearing their aprons over jeans and t-shirts in other, more casual jurisdictions, I admit that it rankles. However, the purple apron I wore the other night seemed like a cautionary reminder that formality should not be for its own sake.

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Many Non-Joiners are in this Fraternity, Anyway?

One year ago this past Thursday I was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason. A year later I find myself Junior Deacon of my mother lodge, and earlier in the week my petition for affiliation with the lodge in my new home town was read. I've become good friends with Brothers whom I would never have met within my professional or social spheres, and my perspective on the Craft continues to evolve.

When I first got interested in Freemasonry nearly two years ago, I researched obsessively online. I was not looking for "secrets," exactly -- rather, I was trying to find an accurate description of what it's about. What I found were voices of passionate Brothers who described Freemasonry as a once-great, Jedi-like order of gentlemen which used to be all wise and mystical and stuff, but has lamentably fallen from their once-lofty ideals and devolved into a cheap imitation of its former self. This was the overall impression I had to go on during the eight months between my application and my initiation, and as my Entered Apprentice degree approached I steeled myself for frustration and disappointment.

My actual experience has been much more nuanced. There have certainly been frustrations along the way and it is still sometimes disheartening to look at the artifacts of the now-defunct Royal Arch Chapter and Knights Templar Commandery that used to meet in my lodge's building, but overall I still believe that Brothers who spend all of their time and energy kvetching about how Freemasonry isn't traditional or philosophickal enough are missing the forest for the trees.

As I get to know various Brethren and start to talk with them about their experiences over the years, one statement that comes up with curious frequency is, "I'm not a joiner." I used it myself in a very early post here! Why in the world do so many non-joiners become Masons, and get so involved with an organization which, at one level, is all about social gatherings? One such self-professed "non-joiner" is a three-time Past Master of our lodge!

When looking at Freemasonry from the outside, it's easy to get the idea that most of the "inner temple building" work that Masons do happens during our meetings. After all, the three degrees are designed to provide candidates with the working tools to build their own moral and Masonic edifices, right? Except half the time the Officers of the lodge are too busy trying to remember their parts and floorwork to pay attention to the actual content of the ritual, and the gobs of information thrown at the candidate are too much to be absorbed in a single evening. (As one apt description goes, it's like getting hit by a wave: Most of the water passes right over you, but you still get wet.)

So if we don't work on our rough ashlars during meetings, then when do we? It's often said that Freemasonry has a curious dual nature, public and private... Public insofar as lodges sometimes host community dinners, do fundraisers, blood drives, et cetera, and Private for all the things people typically associate with the Masons; closed lodge rooms, members-only functions, secret passwords and handshakes. I think that perhaps it could be said that Freemasonry has a curious treble nature: public, private, and personal. When I'm studying ritual, either to memorize it or to internalize its messages, I'm generally by myself, at home. When I contemplate adding one more Masonic event to my calendar and think about the length of my cable-tow and whether or not I'm making effective use of the 24-inch gauge, it's an internal dialog.

I think that the fellowship I have enjoyed at Lodge meetings and other Masonic functions is something more than the effects of a shared experience, which is something that can bond any group of people together. The shared experience of the three degrees is certainly part of it, but I think that the personal aspect of the Craft runs under the surface and provides an even stronger, unspoken connection. How refreshing it is to enjoy a good meal with a group of men who I know are engaged in their personal labor to chip away at their own rough ashlars and leave the world a better place than they found it... it really does recharge my batteries in a way I would not have expected as a textbook introvert.

(That being said, are there Brothers who think of Freemasonry as just a private, charitable dinner club with a few "Boy Scouts for grown-ups" ceremonies thrown in? Sure. There are also Brothers who take things to the other extreme and insist that most of us aren't worthy of their philisophickal table scraps and should have joined the Elks and left the business of mystical, esoteric, spiritual alchemy to "REAL" Masons. I don't worry too much about the former because I know they certainly don't worry about me, and I have yet to encounter the latter in meatspace... I doubt many would deign to darken the door of a Massachusetts lodge anyway, what with our open houses and advertisements.)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A delightfully positive, substantive, and non-sensational newspaper story about Freemasonry

Lodge St John Kilwinning No. 173 in Largs, Ayrshire Scotland is celebrating its' current building's 100th year, and the Largs and Millport News has done a very nice feature on them:

Monday, April 6, 2009

Our Masonic Profiles

I've been thinking a lot lately about what kind of Masonic profile I present to the profane world. Not so much in terms of being a good representative of the Craft (I like to think that I don't have to alter my default behavior to do that) but the extent to which I "promote" it. If I re-post every new item on my lodge website to my Facebook account, or constantly re-tweet my lodge on Twitter, what purpose am I serving? Am I raising public awareness about Freemasonry in my community, or am I just spamming (and potentially weirding out) all of my contacts?

It's no secret to any of my closer friends & family that I'm a Mason, but the fact is that many of them don't seem to care much one way or another. It's been nearly two years since I decided to petition a lodge, and I wonder if I'm reaching the end of a typical cycle that active new Brethren go through, where the initial excitement and pride give way to personal reflection as they begin to really absorb the ritual & symbolism of Masonry, and figure out where they're headed.

To put it another way, I'm all for elevating my lodge's public profile and I am no less proud to be a Mason than I've ever been, but I don't want to do Freemasonry the disservice of making it seem too commonplace by posting every little event or announcement into my social media stream; so many of them are really interesting only to Masons (and local Masons at that) that I feel like my profane contacts will either just tune them out, or figure that I've gotten all cliquey (at best) or culty (at tin-foil hat worst) now that I've joined a lodge.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

We Have an Image to Maintain

Of all of the weird behaviors people exhibit related to the subject of Masonry, the one that has been fascinating me lately is this really weird, sort of upside down negative reaction that some people seem to have when they learn that the Masons are having an open house, or that there's a book called Freemasons for Dummies, or whenever a Mason is interviewed for a newspaper article. What's with the people who make snarky, yet somehow vaguely disappointed comments like, "Pfft! For a secret society they sure make their buildings easy to find!" or "Secret societies aren't as secret as they used to be!"

It's as though they would rather have their sinister, mistaken, pop culture preconceptions about the Masons proven true! Aww, man! You mean the Masons aren't a sinister cabal who control the weather and eat babies? What a ripoff! I was really hoping that they'd send their minions after me to kidnap and brainwash me after stumbling on this sekret knowledge of theirs!

Public perception has been on my mind lately because of the impending state-wide open house we will be having on Saturday in Massachusetts; as a lodge ambassador I'll be one of the Brothers tasked with hanging around the Lodge from 9:00 to 3:00, greet visitors, and attempt to explain what the heck it is that we do. My goal is to formulate a description that contains enough of a concrete explanation that will spark the interest and imagination of the right sort of man, but to be oblique enough about everything else to preserve a sense of mystery and (dare I say it) exclusivity.

But alas, if you storm into our lodge expecting us to confess to keeping the metric system down, or fluoridating the water supply, you may find that your sense of mystery suffers.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Just in time for the Open House

I just finished watching the "Secrets of the Freemasons" tabloid documentary that the National Geographic channel produced a couple of years ago - while actually fairly factual and not as ridiculous as the programs put out by the Discovery and History channels around the same time, they sure lay on a lot of sinister music (I'll have to talk to our lodge organist about that, he doesn't play anything nearly that spooky) and just about every sentence in the narration begins with, "Some people believe," or "Conspiracy theorists believe," or, just to mix it up a little bit, "There is a general consensus among historians that the Masons were not behind the French revolution, but some conspiracy theorists believe that the Freemasons were involved."

Nevertheless, as someone who will be greeting the general public at our open house this coming weekend, it's probably worth watching all of these things, since that's where a lot of people may have gotten their information.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Late to the Party

I finally got around to checking out The Setting Maul podcast (link goes directly to the podcast feed - you can also go to and so far I'm quite enjoying the Brothers' take on things.

I soured on a lot of internet-based Masonic discourse a while ago because so much of it is polarized and fraught with hyperbole... nothing is ever accomplished because the positions taken are often so fatalistic: either Masonry has been irrevocably ruined, or there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, and that's that.

The Setting Maul, at least the first few episodes I've listened to, is reality-based - that is to say, it acknowledges the frustrations we often encounter in Masonry, but rather than railing on about whose fault they are or how crappy it is that things are in such a state, the Setting Maul folks talk about ways to deal with some of those realities. The refreshing thing is that a lot of them start with ourselves: looking in our hearts and thinking about whether any of the problems and/or solutions lie within, rather than just pointing fingers. And even if there's not always a solution, it's nice to commiserate without quite so much drama.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Hello from DrupalCon DC


Hello from DrupalCon DC! On the off chance that anyone (other than Trevor) who reads this site also happens to be a Drupal developer and here at the conference, send me a tweet @MrAndyChase and let's set up a BoF session.

Otherwise, please enjoy this photo from the House of the Temple, which is surprisingly near my hotel.