Saturday, December 16, 2006

'Change your thoughts and you change your world'

Last Tuesday, for the first time since the last election night 12 months ago, I attended a Masonic lodge meeting. I went to the Stated Communication of my home lodge, on election night.

There were a few fresh faces — a couple of new guys who appeared to be around 30 or younger — and many of the old faces I'd known for years. Some of the older guys seemed to have aged quite a bit, several were now home sick, and one had been put into a nursing home....

Most of the men greeted me warmly, as I did them. One — in his shiny suit and gold chain — did his best to avoid direct eye contact or having to speak to me. He stumbled as he zigzagged around a brother and me having a conversation in the vestibule.

One brother asked "Where ya been?" and I answered, "Learning to subdue my passions," which got a chuckle out of all those within earshot.

The meeting was the same as it ever was... some of the officers knew their opening lines, others (who had been in office since last December) still giggled and fumbled their way through the ritual.

The same Past Masters sat on the sidelines, talking too loudly to each other throughout the opening, mostly telling each other that one of the officers should have said this instead of that.

The opening prayer by a chaplain I didn't recognize was long, filled with faux emotion in the style common to fundamentalist church-goers around here. I'm sure I was the only one there who thought it unmasonic or even unusual, the prayer pleading with and begging Jesus-God-Father-Lord (every fourth word was one of those names) to save our souls, heal our bodies, and make us "ever humble in Thy sight," etc., etc. The prayer closed with a thunderous evocation of "in JEE-zuz PRECIOUS and HOLY name! Amen!" and we all sat down.

Before I knew it, just like every other meeting at this lodge I'd ever been to, "applications for relief" turned into men standing up and reciting a long list of ailments, maladies and diseases of everyone they knew, with a request that the rest of us "remember him in your prayers."

Finally, a break was called so everyone could smoke, go to the restroom, and/or put donations for "higher education" into a basket.

If you're not a Mason, you may not know this... but the above description is pretty much what all Masonic meetings are like, at least in the South. Unless there is a new candidate to be initiated, passed or raised, or an election (once a year), that's pretty much it for Masonry until next meeting. Except when the Gold Chain Guys show up to promote the Grand Master's "program for the year." The pretend humbleness is always interesting to watch.

I left at the break, as did several of the regulars. Masonic elections are never exciting. Campaigning, electioneering, or even saying you want an officer's position are against the rules. I left before they voted, yet I would bet $1000 that I know who was elected to every chair. The name of the man that "should be" elected to a particular office is whispered down the line as each vote takes place. I don't know why it's called an "election," or why they bother.

The most amazing thing to me about my attendance at this lodge meeting was this: I don't care anymore. I'm at peace with it. I see what's wrong, wish it would change, tried to change it, but don't care anymore if it does or if it doesn't. As some of my more enlightened friends say to me from time to time, "it is what it is."

The majority of the men in my lodge think that is what Masonry is — opening a lodge, saying a prayer, pledging allegiance to a flag, sharing all the details of his or his neighbor's recent surgery or illness, tossing a dollar in a basket, occasionally watching a new guy join (900 out of 1000 new members will stop attending within two months of joining, 90 will keep coming but never learn much about Masonry, and then there's that one in a thousand who will try to effect change from within, be beat down, and then start a blog like I did, or start a whole new Grand Lodge, like the UGLA has), closing the lodge and going home. Maybe their joy is in just being there, basking in the brotherhood or experiencing the sameness of it all, year after year.

Good for them. Good for you. Enjoy it, brethren. I wish you well.

I paid my dues. Figuratively as well as literally. I'm current. I'm legit. I'm "in good standing." I'm a Mason, a Freemason, and will always be. I remember my obligations, and I'm here if you need help.

Maybe writing this blog for the past 15 months really has helped me learn to subdue my passions, or at least get past my anger at what happened in 2005. I've often focused here on the bad things about Masonry — hypocrisy, lying, fraud, financial misdealings, backstabbing — and there is much wrong with Freemasonry today.

But just as you can't change the world unless you change yourself... you can't change Freemasonry without changing yourself.

I'm changing. A change in me will be reflected in a change in this blog, in Freemasonry, and in the world. I hope it's a change for the better.

"Change your thoughts and you change your world." — Bro. Norman Vincent Peale (1898-1993)

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15 comments:

  1. I'm so proud of you. You've learned alot about yourself this past year. You've dealt with your feelings of anger and betrayal. Now you can turn your attention and efforts to something you can do something about.... YOUR LIFE!

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  2. This is a great post. I have been a Mason for 7 years, am a past master, and I feel the same way about the Fraternity. I made a change too. I demitted from my Lodge and joined the UGLA. I am now finding interest in Masonry that had long since been forgotten.

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  3. I, too, have felt repercussions of attempting change, and the ignorance of elders who feel bigoted commentary have a place in masonry? I commented to an elder how I have been active in Prince Hall Raisings, and a comment about unequality as humans was spewed forth without thought. Great masonic examples!
    Brother WS, I know your state of mind, myself and another PM were discussing what would the past few years of masonry been like if we did not have elders to battle with over breaking traditions and interpreting masonry differently than the post WWII mason. We feel lodge is more than ass kissing, introductions, bad food and non charitable men meeting for no other eason than to get out of their houses or to try to aquire another title or hat or pin or whatever material masonic bling bling that they pursue.

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  4. I'm a new Mason. I've been raised for less than a year. Our Lodge isn't as grim as what you've describe, but not as exciting as it should be. With man more on the roles than attend the meetings, change is either in the offing (and could be facilitated by inactivity on the part of the reactionaries) or death is inevitable.

    We have a new Grand Line, and a new Line in our lodge. Our Grand Lodge is quite progressive by comparison to what you've described, and our new Line in Lodge will be very different. Young men, many of them Philippinos with different ideas and hopes. Supported by the old guys without opposition in the elections.

    We'll see what we see. Keep hopeful it's the best way to change as well.

    Steve Brettell, M.M.
    Grand Lodge of Maryland

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  5. For You:
    http://www.jacquielawson.com/viewcard.asp?code=1078119421272

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  6. One brother asked "Where ya been?" and I answered, "Learning to subdue my passions," which got a chuckle out of all those within earshot.

    So, does this mean that you're not going to be a "pot sitirrer" anymore?


    If you're not a Mason, you may not know this... but the above description is pretty much what all Masonic meetings are like, at least in the South.

    You make it sound like it's a bad thing, WS. ;-)

    Seriously, your readers should understand that a lodge does need to run, and that means taking care of a bunch of dull administrative tasks: Getting estimates to fix the leaky roof, looking for volunteers to weed the plantings around the building, who's paying the bill for the lawnmower repair, and when is someone going to replace the bulb on the 2nd story light now that the ladder is broken.

    Just like the PTA or your condo /HOA board, these things need to get done. And yes, there are often some of the same people there all the time, half of them doing something and the other half complaining about how it should have been done differently.

    Human nature is funny that way.

    And if a bunch of old timers want to come down every other week to hang out with their friends, and get some ccomfort out of the fact that things are not changing, then so what? Up in Conn, we have a lot of guys who join a lodge and then a few years later affiliate with another lodge in which they feel more comfortable or at home. Maybe the lodge has younger, or more active members (the two are only slsightly correlated). Maybe the lodge has more members interested in the esoteric, or in community service, or in serving on GL committees.

    There is nothing saying that you can't join elsewhere. Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to visit other lodges in your area, just to see what's out there that might be more to your liking.

    Tom Accuosti
    The Tao of Masonry

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  7. That's what I'm saying, Bro. Tom. Why stir the pot when it's already thickened into a thick, dark, unchangeable jelly? Let them have their never-changing quasi-church service every other week... it's just not what I expected Freemasonry to be.

    Unfortunately, all the other lodges I've attended in a 50-mile radius are nearly identical, except there aren't as many gold-chain title-chasers in the other lodges. I'd have to go all the way into Atlanta to find a lodge not over-flavored with fundamentalist Baptists.

    — W.S.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this post brother. For all it is worth, and maybe it isn't worth much, it is different everywhere you go.

    First of all I have never (and I mean *never*) heard a reference to Jesus Christ in any Masonic situation umder any circumstances. This includes the Blue Lodge, Jobs Daughters, Rainbow Girls, DeMolay, and the Shrine. I have only heard reference to 'God', 'Supreme Architect of the Universe', or similar generic phrases.

    To date I have attended lodges in Missouri, Washington, Florida, and Paris. Perhaps not a wide sampling I imagine, but enough for me.

    If I were to hear repeated references to Christ in Lodge I would calmly explain to the Worshipful master that I am not a Christian and that it was not part of ritual. (I have all of the prayers for opening and closing memorized and they are are each both wonderful and generic and nondenomonational in expression.)

    I belong to two lodges. One that performs a degree ceremony every single meeting and another that can barely open and close. I love experiencing each. The one where we perform a degree every meeting is very gratifying as we are part of this great theatrical production that goes back throughout history; inflicting this bizarre ceremony on unspecting suburbanites who think they joined the rotary club, only to have us screw with their heads.

    The other meets in a grand building that boggles the mind to contemplate the society that created such an ediface. It is like holding a lodge meeting within the center of a Great Pyramid or some other remnant from pre-history.

    Here I fight to keep this flame alive as it flickers in a dwindling gloom that often times seems invevitable. I always remind myself that I am merely satisfied to meet here so long as we can and will not let the decline of Western civilization entirely defeat our will to carry on.

    In both of my lodges we discuss those who are in sickness and distress. I find this an opportunity to realize that we are part of a shared community that ought to, and should, care about each and every one of us.

    I am so sorry that your experiences within Freemasonry are frequently so negative. Simply recall that as your hear from brethren around the world it is not this way everywhere.

    In many places in the world it is strong, vibrant, growing, active, and illuminating to mankind.

    What is the next great battle of Freemsasonry? Maybe it is something as simple as reminding ourselves that we should, are, could, ought to be, part of a shared community of men trying to do good in the world.

    I have felt nothing but friendship, fellowship, and acceptance within the Fraternity. I pray that, some day, you arrive at a new shore where you can experience the vibrance and resurgency that is being felt in so many corners of the country.

    Brother John

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  9. Bro. John wrote: First of all I have never (and I mean *never*) heard a reference to Jesus Christ in any Masonic situation umder any circumstances.

    Yes, it must be different in different parts of the country. I have been to at least a dozen lodges in Georgia, and never NOT heard a reference to Jesus Christ, not only in prayers but often in the second part of the First Degree. I think He's an honorary Mason around here. One local lodge actually has a copy of Da Vinci's The Last Supper over the Outer Door, inside the lodgeroom.

    If I were to hear repeated references to Christ in Lodge I would calmly explain to the Worshipful master that I am not a Christian and that it was not part of ritual.

    I did this, first privately, then in open lodge, and was damn near tarred and feathered.


    — W.S.

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  10. Jesus's name has been brought up in prayer when I have attended Prince Hall raisings.

    When in Rome......

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  11. The Widow's Son is right about Georgia lodges. I am in the same district. I have laughed so many times in open lodge at the Baptist prayers, etc. that I started getting stared at. I now attend 2-3 times a year for the comic amusement. I never did bother holding officer positions because the people I would have served with could barely memorize the rituals, despite the Masonic requirement of being physically and mentally fitto join.

    What Masonry fails to realize is that memory is the LOWEST form of intelligence. Productive imagination and creative thought reign supreme.

    As an avowed agnostic, I find fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity utterly pathetic and devoid of human intellect. Any religion in which literalist interpretations of historic narratives is required smacks of evil in that it disrespects things that are purely human and Masonic: creative thought, labor and skill. The Bible and other "holy" books are nothing more than historical narratives to be interpreted in context. Yes, the may impart some profound knowledge albeit rarely. More than likely, these books simply echo social advances of mankind particular to the time in which they were written.

    The filth of primitive religions, be they Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Methodist, etc. has no place in lodge. Masonry has helped to cultivate the great minds of Western civilization, from Newton and Mozart to Washington and Franklin. The nasty fundamentalism of the 20th century has turned a noble institution into one where stupidity and filthy organized religion rule. It must be stopped.

    The good news is that the invariably stupid old guard of the 20th century southern lodges is dying.

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  12. - I have laughed so many times in open lodge at the Baptist prayers, etc.

    - despite the Masonic requirement of being physically and mentally fitto join.

    - What Masonry fails to realize is that memory is the LOWEST form of intelligence.

    - I find fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity utterly pathetic and devoid of human intellect.

    - The filth of primitive religions, be they Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, Methodist, etc.

    - into one where stupidity and filthy organized religion rule.


    My, what a pleasant young man you must be.

    While I'm under the impression that you are actually a troll, I have a teeny, little fear that you may actually be a member of the fraternity. It's no wonder that you remain "anonymous." Thank you for that, because I'm a little embarrassed for you.

    Masonry, like many other organizations, is going to reflect the character of the environment in which it develops.

    One would hope that the members of a lodge would be more sensitive or aware of the tradition of religious tolerance, but the irony is that you are reflecting the same intolerance. Obviously, the brothers in your area derive comfort and solace from their brand of Christianity, and yes, it's quite possibly overshadowing the Masonic ideal of tolerance.

    Yet what kind of tolerance are you showing? What kinds of good examples are you setting? If you were visiting another country, would you laugh at the prayers they offered up elsewhere?

    The other thing that strikes me is your obvious disdain for your brothers. Why even retain your membership? For the sake of "cosmic amusement"? It certainly can't be to provide assistance, offer up help, perhaps coach your brothers on ritual (if they can't measure up to your standards).

    No, I guess that would require tolerance on your part, wouldn't it?

    Tom Accuosti
    The Tao of Masonry

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  13. Relgious intolerance, Tom?
    Really! I would expect a more erudite response than that.

    So it sounds like you advocate a healthy dose of organized relgion in lodge because it should reflect the "character" and "environment" of the places in which Masonry operates. That notion, my dear brother, should be anathema to any self-respecting Mason. For espousing such nonsense, you should be ashamed.

    Only belief in a Supreme Being is required in Masonry. Nothing more than that is demanded, nor should it be. When Masonry begins to allow one religion or outside belief over another to affect its own rituals and beliefs, it risks its own irrelevancy and subjugation to those beliefs.

    That is exactly what has happened in the southern lodges. They now resemble nothing more than some filthy, despicable Baptist prayer meeting. Yes, there is need to call them filthy and despicable for they suppress human thought and encourage mental indolence, actions that any self-respecting Mason should find repugnant.

    I've been a Mason for 10 years. I was drawn to the Craft not only because of family tradition (most of my male ancestors were Masons, many being leaders in their lodges, one being a Grand Master in state lodge), but also because of the intrinsic notion that we were all "on the level".

    My criticisms are warranted. Unfortunately, constructive criticism is not tolerated and even punished in southern lodges. Saying anything against evangelical prayers brands you an "irreligious libertine". Sadly, such intolerance will lead to the end of Masonry in the south before too long.

    Clearly, my dear brother, your defense of the tolerance of backward, admittedly anti-Masonic religions in lodge belies a more sinister motive.

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