Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Wishing you the best in 2009

I wish for all my brothers and sisters, Masonic and otherwise, a New Year filled with all the best. May all your visions, goals and dreams come true in 2009.

— Widow's Son

Image: New Year's Eve 2007, Sydney, Australia

Monday, December 08, 2008

Masonic Corral #2

For the past week or so, there's been a hitch in the giddy-up over in the Masonic Corral. It looked like newer comments weren't being posted, yet the "new posts" section over on the right of every page indicated there were new posts.

It seems the Corral has outgrown its fences after a nine month pregnancy.

The newer posts are actually being logged. However, on the main pages, apparently there can only be 200 posts.

But if you click on the fine print "- 208 posts -" (currently, 208; this will continue to increase if you continue to leave comments there) just below the title "Masonic Pissing Contest Gets Corralled," it will take you to a page showing the 200 original comments. There's a link at the bottom of that page that says "newer." Follow that link to comments numbered higher than 200.

But let's make things simple.

Consider THIS entry, the one you're now reading, as your new Masonic Corral.

If you've forgotten its purpose, please read the original post again. Then return to THIS post if you feel the need to violate your obligations by speaking ill of your Masonic brethren, or if you want to play "My Masonry is better than your Masonry."

— W.S., still sheriff of these here parts

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Friday, December 05, 2008

That's bleeping bull bleep!

Some anonymous someone said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Bro. Rudyard Kipling wrote, "Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."

And the late George Carlin informed us that, at least in 1978, seven particular words will "infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war... 400,000 words in the English language and there are seven of them you can't say on television. What a ratio that is. 399,993 to seven."

What makes a word "dirty," or "vulgar," or "profane"?

Earlier this week, on consecutive days, a judge in Cincinnati sentenced two men — one a black gangmember unhappy his trial wouldn't begin until February, the other an attorney representing himself in a civil matter — to six months in jail for contempt for using one or more of Carlin's dirty words in his courtroom.

Millions of English-speaking people use Carlin's words in their normal daily dialogues, and their listeners aren't offended. Millions of other English-speaking people are also familiar with those words, but find them objectionable and offensive.

Why do some consider certain words proper for use anywhere and at anytime, and others feel they are so "bad" that people should go to jail for using them?

Does the offensive power of certain words reside in the words themselves, in the sound vibrations of the words, in their meanings, or is it that some people are just "programmed" to be offended by them?

Jamel Sechrest reacted to the judge telling him he would have to remain in jail until his case came to court in February by saying, "That's fuckin' bullshit." The judge immediately said, "You don't say bullshit in my court," and cited him for contempt.

The next day, as attorney Michael Brautigam and opposing attorney Peter Koenig turned to leave the bench after conferring with the judge, Brautigam called Koenig a "fucking liar." The judge overheard him, and cited him for contempt, sentencing him to the same length of time behind bars as he had Sechrest the day before.

I'm not saying the judge should have, or shouldn't have, done what he did. That's his prerogative. His house, his rules.

I'm just wondering why some words offend some people.

Some of you probably winced when you read those two "awful" words above.


Both are simply descriptions of natural functions that all humans and animals do regularly. Neither act is foreign to any of us.

And, oddly, if we use Latin words to describe those same acts, no one takes offense. In fact, we tend to "worship" people, like medical doctors, for example, who use Latin words to describe bodily functions and body parts.

Coitus. Feces.

Those words have little or no "power," and usually offend no one.

Yet their Anglo-Saxon synonyms do.


Why do words that describe copulation and defecation upset people, yet words like "hate" and "kill" have no ill effect?

Granted, I don't like it when I'm out in public with my 10-year old son and we overhear someone — usually a teenager or young adult — using certain words. I don't want my son to hear those words, or to ever use them. I'm certain he knows them, and he knows — because we've discussed it — that certain words are "crude," or that they offend certain people, and his mother and I have taught him to be respectful, courteous and thoughtful.

But still... I wonder WHY those words, and not others, are offensive.

In the case of the two men in court, yes, they were being disrespectful to the judge's sense of courtroom decorum. But would the judge have reacted the same way had Sechrest said, "That's a load of crap!" (which would mean the same thing as what he did say) or "That's not fair!"? Was the judge upset that someone would question his authority, or was it that someone used one (or two, in Sechrest's case) of the Carlin no-no's?

To those of you who winced when you read the actual "dirty words" I wrote above when I could have used the modern newspaper codes of "the F-word" and "the S-word," I ask: Why is the code less offensive to you than the actual words, since you most certainly know what words the codes refer to. Those words are already in your brain and nervous system. You've simply chosen to have a different response/reaction to those words than other people who don't find them offensive.

These are things I wonder about when instead I should be doing something more productive.

In closing, let me quote the words of Jason Mraz, who sang, "Well, I'm almost finally, finally out of words."

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Black and white North Carolina Masons sign 'peace treaty'

Last week the "white Masons" and the "black Masons" in North Carolina stopped pretending each other didn't exist, and got together in a two-hour "ceremony full of formality and speeches" to sign a resolution of recognition the Charlotte Observer called a "peace treaty" and a "reconciliation."

"Today's a historic day, because we're here to say we're brothers again," said M.W. Bro. David Cash, a Methodist minister from Kannapolis and grand master of the Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina.

Sitting at the same table in the old House chambers of the state Capitol where North Carolina's resolution to secede from the Union in 1860 was signed, Bro. Cash and M.W. Bro. Milton "Toby" Fitch Jr. of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of North Carolina and Its Jurisdictions, signed the document officially recognizing each other's Masonry.

"We are of the same family," said Bro. Dan Blue, a Prince Hall Mason and state legislator from Raleigh. "This is an opportunity to complete a circle."

Congratulations, North Carolina brethren!

Okay, now it's Georgia's turn. As I've done each year since The Burning Taper went online, I call upon the newly "elected" Grand Lodge of Georgia and its new grand master, M.W. Bro. Edward Jennings, Jr., to recognize Prince Hall Masons.

Just do it!

Image: N.C. grand masters Toby Fitch and David Cash in prayer, Nov. 21, 2008

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

For what are you thankful?

It's Thanksgiving Day, 2008.

Our nation, our world, our economy, our politics, our brotherhood, and perhaps even your own life, are in disarray, change, flux.

What eternal ideals and anchors remain for you? For what are you eternally thankful? What does Thanksgiving Day mean to you?

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Pentecostal preacher provokes protests of pot pipe peddling

That old maxim taught in Quantum Mechanics 101, the one about how the experimenter always affects the experiment, holds true in the Macro World as well. Yesterday, my observation of a public event led to some strange interactions.

About 4:30 Thursday afternoon, I was driving home from a business appointment in Dawsonville, Ga., about 40 miles from my hometown. As I passed a shopping center with a gas station/convenience store out front, I noticed a large gathering of people lined up along a 200-yard stretch of the highway. I was driving too fast to read most of their signs, but I was able to catch one of them: "Bongs are wrong."

I turned around as soon as I could, and pulled into a nearby bank's parking lot, and took in the scene. Next to the bank was a Chevron station/convenience store. Four or five teenagers were playing catch with a football, and four sheriff's cars were in the parking lot, with a small group of people and the officers standing around. Along the highway were about 80 people, including probably 20 children aged 10 or under, holding paperboard signs. I couldn't read the signs, as their backs were to me, but on several of the signs' backsides, I could make out pro-life, anti-abortion messages. Apparently, the people were into conservation, getting double-use out of their poster paper. (I found out later this group also used to conduct protests outside an adult bookstore a mile further down the road.)

I walked into the store's parking lot, and hearing nothing of interest other than an employee from the nearby McDonald's trying to get a deputy to stop people from blocking access to the restaurant, I went towards the man with the megaphone and his nearby disciples.

"Don't shop at Chevron!," Megaphone Man (later, I found out he was a local Pentacostal Pentecostal pastor) shouted. "You can buy that gas elsewhere," he yelled at people at the gas pumps.

I was wearing a business-suit yesterday, looking quite spiffy in a white shirt and tie. I'd left my jacket in the car. I looked quite out of place, and apparently ominous, in the crowd of sweatshirted, bluejeaned protestors.

"What's going on?," I asked someone in my best blog reporter voice.

"We're protesting this store selling drug paraphernalia," one man told me. I asked if the gathering was impromptu or planned, and who was behind it. Apparently, one or more local churches had been planning it for some time, and it had been mentioned the day before on local TV. Interesting, local TV in Dawsonville would mean one or more of the Atlanta stations, as there is no local TV in north Georgia. Odd, there were no reporters at the event yesterday. Except, well, me.

Apparently, for the past two years, several stores in the area had been selling rolling papers, bongs, and, according to the protesters, "crack pipes." In Georgia, these items can legally be sold to adults by stores holding a license to sell tobacco as long as they pretend they are just for tobacco.

Four of the five stores had bowed to public pressure and stopped selling the offending merchandise, I was told. The Chevron station was the last holdout, and the fundamentalist churches were hopping mad.

"We love you," the preacher shouted at the store, "but we love our children more." This line varied during the event, with "children" sometime being replaced with the word "community."

"Stop killing our children!," the preacher continued.

I politely asked a few questions, and politely listened to the answers, remaining neutral, just wanting to know what was going on. I had no dog in this fight. I don't buy bongs, I don't go to a Pentacostal Pentecostal church, and I didn't need gasoline.

Then one man asked me, "Do you support us?" and I politely replied, "I'm just an observer." Apparently in this particular religious community, you're not allowed to not have an opinion, as I found out soon enough. It's more of that "either you're for us or against us" mentality that was so obvious during the recent national election season, a topic I've been thinking of writing about here on The Taper for the past couple of weeks.

One man proudly beamed, "Isn't it great Christians can come together in civil disobedience like this?!"

A man further down the line told me just as proudly, "We even have a permit for this gathering!"

Some civil disobedience, huh, having a parade permit?

I moved on down the line of people, taking snapshots with my cellphone camera. Everyone was happy to smile and have their picture taken, proudly showing off their signs.

About ten prepubescent girls were doing a series of cheers and a dance routine, singsonging something about Jesus being their "high."

I was about halfway down the line when a woman, probably around 30 years old, someone whom I'd already passed by without photographing, shouted out, "Don't let the man in the white shirt take your picture!"

Of course, I immediately turned around, walked in front of her, and said, "Say cheese."

Before I could snap her photo, she screamed at me, "You take my picture and I'll sue the pants off you!" I can't recall the last time I saw anyone flare up with so much anger so quickly.

From out of nowhere, a self-appointed bouncer [see top photo] stepped in front of her and said, quite menacingly, "Don't you take her picture!" I took his instead.

This man, whom I found out later was an off-duty sheriff's deputy, spent the rest of the time I was there walking along behind the line, watching my every move, like one of those big security guys you see standing in front of the stage at a rock concert.

Why would a woman standing along a public highway, supporting a cause by waving a sign, think she wasn't fair game for being photographed? It was attention she and her fellow sign-wavers were seeking, wouldn't you think?

I meandered on down the line, snapping more pictures of the protesters without protest. Like before, the sign-toters smiled and waved their signs as I walked by.

I went back to the parking lot and leaned against my car, still fascinated by what was going on. My workday was done, so I just kicked back and watched the show, pondering how interesting it was that two tenets of our national way of life were clashing here, free speech vs. free enterprise.

Cars and trucks were zipping by on the highway, many slowing to repeatedly blow their horns. One car slowed, beeped, and then "burned rubber." Immediately, an unmarked law enforcement vehicle took off after him, and pulled him over still within sight.

More people were showing up to participate in the event, and parked near me. A few cordially greeted me as they walked by. A couple of older gents stopped and chatted with me. One told me the man with the megaphone was Ricky Stepp, the pastor of a local ministry known as "The Father's House." (Google it — I'm not giving them a free link. The pastor's website shows that he has two congregations, one in Dawsonville and one in Toccoa, Ga. His evangelical churches are affiliated with the donation-supported Crown Financial Ministries, which teaches scripture-based home-budgeting, as well as with A Beka Book home-schooling curriculum programs which teach creationism to its students. That fact might also explain the many misspelled words I saw on their hand-printed signs.)

And still, the Bouncer stared at me.

On the highway, a pickup truck slowed, and its youthful passenger shouted to the crowd, "Fuck you crazy Christians!"

Other than the foul-mouthed passenger, most passersby seemed to be honking their horns in agreement with the protesters.

Suddenly, the man (he was no older than 25, perhaps much younger) who had asked me earlier if I supported them walked up to me. He introduced himself, and proffered his hand to shake. I shook his hand, and told him my first name.

"And...?," he replied.

"And what?"

"Most people who introduce themselves to me give me their first and last names."

"Do they?," I responded, and left it at that.

He then asked me, quite seriously, assuming he already knew the truth, if I was the attorney for Chevron. See what wearing a dress shirt and tie in north Georgia will do to you/for you?

I told him, "No, I'm just passing through and found this interesting."

I'm certain he didn't believe me.

We chatted for a couple of minutes. I asked him if he was a Baptist, and he proudly said, "No, Pentacostal Pentecostal."

What began as a discussion of the meth problem in north Georgia (not that bongs in a convenience store have much to do with crazy meth addicts blowing themselves up cooking the stuff or killing themselves using the stuff) quickly turned into him ranting about how "God's will as given in the Bible must be done before the end times." I stopped paying attention. He clearly had already made up his mind about everything, and discourse and communication became impossible. Besides, in his mind I was an unrepentant, sinful, lying lawyer intent on "killing the children."

He went back into the crowd, and probably reported me to the pastor and the bouncer as being Chevron's on-the-spot attorney.

Too bad he didn't see the Masonic emblem on the back of my car. What would he have thought then?

A man from the protest line shouted at me, "Brother, do you want to hold one of our signs?!"

"No, thank you," I replied.

From the parking lot came a young man of maybe 22, an educated, nerdy-looking guy, talking on his cell phone. I couldn't help but overhear his part of the conversation, which went something like this: "We should all take off work right now, get our "Bongs not Bombs" t-shirts, and get over here."

It was starting to get dark, so no one would have noticed his t-shirted friends anyway. The bullhorn preacher called his flock back into the fold, i.e., a large huddle, where they all joined hands.

I overheard one young man say to another as they were walking back to the preacher, probably in response to a car that had flashed its headlights at them, "Lord! Blind them!"

"They're already blind," his partner replied.

As I expected, the hand-holding huddle held a prayer, the words of which I could not make out. Perhaps they prayed for me, too, the "man in the white shirt."

A megaphoned "Amen!" accompanied each participant's shouted "Amen!," and the crowd erupted in applause. Several horn-honks from cars who had been taking up space in the Chevron's parking lot filled the air.

As the crowd broke up, one man shouted to me, "We love you, brother!"

I got in my car and drove home.

Images: A protest rally at the corner of Ga. 400 and Ga. 53 in Dawsonville, Ga., November 13, 2008. Click on the photos to enlarge.

Update, Nov. 25: This article has been revised to correct the spelling of the word "Pentecostal."

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

How to be a (modern) gentleman

I came across some advice originally printed in the London Times, advice that all of us might well follow, but more especially, those of us who are Freemasons.

Feel free to add your suggestions to the list.

How to be a (modern) gentleman

1. Some things don't change: say please and thank you and ask questions about other people rather than talk about yourself.

2. Be punctual. Tardiness does not make you look important, it turns you into an arrogant incompetent who thinks that his time is more important than other people's.

3. The modern gentleman cares about the planet. Be environmentally aware (but not obnoxious about it).

4. Open doors for people and stand up when they enter a room, but do this for men as well as women. The modern gentleman doesn't treat women like porcelain.

5. Be modest. Bragging is distinctly ungentlemanly.

6. Be a good father. Nothing is less charming than a man who leaves childcare to women.

7. Be honest about wherever you have come from in life. Pretension is spineless.

8. Flirt — with everyone. Good flirting is a form of politeness. Pay compliments and put your companion at ease.

9. Do not phone/text/check your BlackBerry incessantly.

10. Dress tidily. Whatever style you are going for, scruffiness just isn't in.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Toward a stronger, more vibrant Freemasonry

This is the ninth in our series of essays from guest bloggers on the topic "Masonic harmony, unity and discord." This one is by Bro. Nick Johnson, publisher of the Masonic blog "Millennial Freemason." My thanks go out to Bro. Nick and to all who are participating in this project.

Toward a Stronger, More Vibrant Freemasonry
by Bro. Nick Johnson

All nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
— Alexander Pope

Before I begin with my analysis of the theme, Masonic harmony, unity and discord, I would like to thank the Widow's Son for giving me this opportunity to take part in this wonderful and insightful series of essays.

Let us begin: What's the problem with discord? It is my simple belief that although conflict may promote the problems of Freemasonry, it can also carry the hope of our Fraternity's future. In fact, through the promotion of both discord and harmony, in equal measures, we, as a Fraternity, can grow stronger and more vibrant. While studying conflict and human societies (particularly Freemasonry), it is essential that we look to history and the modern research in Conflict Studies to fully understand this subject.

The word "Discord" originates from the Roman goddess Discordia who had a counterpart in Greece named Eris. In Greek, the name Eris means "strife." Strife was commonly regarded in Greece to have two different personas. The first was equally abhorred and praised, as she caused harm but also strengthened the constitution of men. The second was feared and involved the murderous killings of war and was the sister of Ares. The most famous incident involving Eris was when she threw the Apple of Discord amongst the three major goddesses in the Pantheon, Aphrodite, Athena or Hera, when she was uninvited to a banquet for Peleus and Thetis’ wedding. Inscribed on the Apple was the phrase, "καλλιστι" or transliterated, "Kallisti" meaning "for the Fairest." As Zeus did not want to get involved, he gave the choice to Paris. As we all know, this choice eventually led to the Trojan War. This little trinket, a single apple, led many men to suffer and die.

As is always the case in the pantheon of Greek Gods, Eris had an opposite named Harmonia; in Rome, she was Concordia. As her name implied, she was the goddess of Harmony and represented a love for civic order and unity. And as always seems the case in Greek mythology, she was to be cursed. As a wedding gift, she was given a necklace, a necklace which brought misfortune to all who wore it.

We, as Freemasons, seek to receive the Golden Apple only to find it is out of our reach or in the hands of someone else. We become jealous with our neighbor, and find faults to take away from him what we believe rightfully belongs to us. Yet, this will to strive for what is better or what we deserve is not, in and of itself, an evil characteristic. Also, at times when we are given gifts, we become complacent which attracts misfortune. In fact, conflict occurs everyday and it is how it is dealt with which determines if it is constructive or destructive. Conflict is actively explored in academic circles to understand its origins and quell its harmful effects.

While attending law school, I participated in the Dispute Resolution Institute's certificate program. One of the required classes was Theories of Conflict. Theories of Conflict explores these themes of harmony and discord, separate struggles and unifying causes. The underlying theme in the course was not if conflict was inherently bad; it was the exploration of controlling conflict, especially when conflict becomes escalated.

According to Pruitt and Kim, authors of the book, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, conflict is a "perceived divergence of interest." Conflict is not merely a battle between parties, with winner takes all as the goal, but what we perceive as a divergence that leads to a zero sum game. This divergence gives parties the impression that there is only one solution, "mine not yours."

Sometimes conflict is very constructive. The best, current example is the presidential election. Both candidates disagree on certain issues and we, as citizens, must decide who we believe will do the best job as president. We may yell at the TV during the debates and chastise the attack ads, but we all agree that a President must be chosen and our emotions must be in check once the election is over.

Conflict involves both physical and psychological aspects. So if, as a Freemason, we find a policy unacceptable, for example, PHA recognition, we perceive a divergence of interest with the brother on the other side. We become physiologically shaken and psychological shocked by what our brothers say, but we may still live in relative peace. It is when a conflict is escalated, that it can become more destructive and lead to acrimony among the parties, and can quickly get out of control.

Escalation is the concept whereby one party begins to use stronger tactics to put increased tension on the other party. During a conflict, parties regularly use tactics to “win” a conflict. However, as these tactics become more and more contentious, the parties will increase the type of tactic used to match or beat the other's tactic. This trading of barbs slowly turns into a spiral of escalation until the conflict reaches violence or another factor has begun to slow the climb and halt its progress.

Escalation is incredibly common in Freemasonry. Every person, from regular Mason, irregular Mason, and anti-Mason, uses power and stronger tactics to attempt to win a Masonic argument. We may attempt to ingratiate a person to come to "our" side. We may attempt to belittle the other side. However, it is often the case that these arguments begin up the spiral of escalation. I, myself, have been wrapped up in these fiery debates throwing words as darts instead using them as tools. As the Masonic conflict continues, we become less concerned with the disagreement and more concerned with "winning." It is at this time, that we become entrenched and it is only by deescalating the situation that we can keep Masonic harmony. But how do we deescalate this contentious situation?

We can deescalate it by remembering the precepts of our Fraternity: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. When we get into an aggressive argument, we lose our fraternal bond, we become less concerned about relieving his suffering and we lose sight of what the truth is. So, what can we, as Masons, do about all this discord? Here is my advice: to those that believe that discord only brings destruction and suffering, remember that it is only through chiseling into a block and destroying its original character that we create something beautiful. And to those that believe that harmony must always be continued, at all costs, why is your gavel and chisel laying on the ground? The work is not over and you are behind schedule. We may have a disagreement with how we are working but we all agree that we are building a better society. Only by understanding both discord and harmony can we appreciate the unity that Freemasonry gives to all of its members.

"Our life is full of discord; but by forbearance and virtue this same discord can be turned to harmony." — James Ellis

— Bro. Nick Johnson

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Small town fun at the drive-in theater

There's a drive-in theater just up the highway about 15 miles from me. It's one of a small handful left in Georgia, and the only one within at least 100 miles of me. They always play first run movies, and it's always a lot of fun, whether I take my young son and his friends or I take a date there.

Just a moment ago, I checked its website, to see if there was anything playing this weekend that my 10-year old son (and I) would enjoy. There isn't. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is this weekend's feature. Even my son isn't entertained by those talking animal movies anymore (thankfully!).

But I noticed something kind of interesting is happening there tomorrow afternoon and evening, and thought I'd share it with you. It's a benefit for the local Shrine Club. From the Swan Drive-In's website:
The Swan Drive In Theatre is hosting a Fund Raising Event for the North Georgia Shrine Club on Thursday, October 23rd, 2008.

100% of all proceeds, admissions and concessions will go to the North Georgia Shrine Club.

From 5 PM until 7:30 PM will be Karaoke provided by Jimmy Stanley's "Showtime Karaoke." This is an open mike event. We encourage everyone who wants to participate in Karaoke to come out and sing.

Harold Lee will be performing as Elvis from 7:30 PM until 9 PM.

9 PM, the movie "Hancock" starring Will Smith, Rated PG13

Bring your lawn chairs and/or blanket, wear your poodle skirts if you want to, Elvis will have you Rocking! A Full Concession will be available, TRY OUT THE FUNNEL CAKES!

Classic Cars and Motorcycles, Car Clubs, Street Rods, etc. are urged to participate.

You can arrive at any time from 4:30 PM thru the entire evening.

Movie will end at approx. 10:30 PM

Admissions will be $6.00 for Adults, $3.00 for children, ages 4 thru 11.

Come join the fun and help raise funds for a good cause. This is a great opportunity to have fun and give support to North Georgia Shrine Club.
This actually sounds like fun.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Space ice conks sleeping woman on head

Tin-foil hats probably won't be much protection, but you might want to consider sleeping in a hard hat, after a six-pound chunk of "space ice" crashed through a sleeping woman's roof and bonked her in the head.

"Something woke me up," said Mary Ann Foster, who lives in York Township, Pennsylvania. "I felt my head and I had kind of a big — a kind of a bump."

The giant ice cube left a two-feet-across hole in her ceiling, WGAL reported. The iceball broke into three pieces after hitting her.

"If I had been over further, if I had be laying on my back, if a bigger piece had hit me, I could be dead," she said. "Just remember, you never know what's going to happen. Just enjoy everyday."

There you go. Enjoy every day. You never know when you'll get conked on the head by space ice.

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CSA: The Confederate States of America

This week I've been working with a 26-year old, college-educated, happily married black man in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He's not a Mason, but after noticing my Masonic ring, he struck up a conversation about Freemasonry. He knows a few Prince Hall Masons from Pennsylvania, men he went to college with.

After getting past the "do you guys really worship Satan?" stuff that had gotten into his head from too much Internet surfing, we discussed Masonry in an interesting and unique way, with him telling me some things he knows about the workings of Prince Hall lodges.

He also provided me with a unique perspective on what it's like to be an African-American in the South.

He lives in Georgia, right on the border with Tennessee, which is much more "integrated" than the lily-white county where I live in rural north Georgia. He asked how he could join a regular lodge in Georgia. We talked about how he'd never be allowed to do that because of the unwritten rules of racism here.

Granted, I've known him less than a week, but I've spent all day with him several days, and based on what I've seen so far, once I've known him the required time, I'd have no problem with signing his petition and recommending him based on his character.

He's as law-abiding as you or I, yet he's had much more interaction with the police than most of you reading this. Traffic stops, he says, have been and are so routine that he checks his brake and tail lights every couple of days, and always drives under the speed limit.

Once, he told me, sitting a stop light, he was approached by a police officer who told him he'd done a "random" license-plate check and discovered that the car he was driving was not the same color as shown in the records. The tag was on the proper make and model of car, but was light blue instead of white. He'd recently had the older model car repainted.

Apparently, this type of thing is fairly common when you're black in the South. Not being a cop or a black man, I wouldn't know.

But imagine how much worse it would be if the South had won the Civil War.

That's the premise of an intriguing 2004 film called CSA: The Confederate States of America. It's showing tonight — Friday, Oct. 10 — on the Independent Film Channel (IFC). Set your DVR to record it; parts of it you'll want to see more than once.

Imagine a world where the South won the War. Slaves weren't freed. Abraham Lincoln wasn't assassinated; he fled on the Underground Railroad, was captured, imprisoned and then exiled to Canada, where he died in 1905 lamenting that he had never "truly cared for the Negro." Jefferson Davis moved into the White House to run the country. Mexico and South America were eventually conquered by the CSA. America supported Hitler. Television programs and commercials were blatantly racist; you can even buy slaves from home shopping channels.

The movie is presented as if it's a British documentary about the history of America, and you get the feeling that you're watching it on a cheesy UHF channel late at night. During station breaks you're presented with news updates and local and national commercials.

Parts of the movie are high comedy and satire, but some of it is dead-on frightening in its depiction of institutionalized racism.

First in the alternative history of the nation, and later in news updates about current events, you meet a Kennedy-esque dynastic clan that has been involved in national politics since the Civil War. What happens to a fifth-generation senator with higher political ambitions is cruelly hilarious.

In this alternative world, blacks in America were kept subservient and uneducated; this point is counterbalanced with interviews with educated blacks from England and Canada, discussing the state of their brothers and sisters within the CSA borders.

I hope you get a chance to see this film. You can watch a trailer here.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bro. FDR's fireside chat: More comforting than anything Bush, Bernanke, Paulson, McCain or Obama has said

If you're feeling stressed these days over the world's financial, moral and intellectual meltdown, you're not alone.

As Bro. Paul Harvey liked to say, "In times like these, it always helps to remember there have always been times like these."

If Bro. Harvey's colloquialism doesn't especially comfort you, perhaps words from another famous Freemason, one who steered this country through our previous economic depression and through much of World War II, here's a link to Brother and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Fireside Chats.

His very first fireside chat, given via radio on March 12, 1933, was titled "On the Banking Crisis." If you prefer to listen to the chat instead of read it, click here.

FDR was born in 1882, and died in 1945 while serving as the 32nd president of the United States. He served as president longer than any other person, being elected to four consecutive terms. He died in office, and was succeeded by his vice president, Bro. Harry S Truman.

Bro. Roosevelt was initiated October 11, 1911 in Holland Lodge No. 8, New York City. He participated in the Raising of his son Elliott (1910-1990) on February 17, 1933, in Architect's Lodge No. 519, also in New York City. He was present, but did not participate in the Degrees when two other sons, James (1907-1991) and Franklin D., Jr. (1914-1988) became members of Architect's Lodge on November 7, 1935.

FDR was made the first Honorary Grand Master of the Order of DeMolay on April 13, 1934 at the White House.

He was governor of New York from 1929-1933.

Bro. Roosevelt concluded his first chat, about the banking collapse of 1933, with the following words. They're more inspiring than anything coming out of Washington or New York these days:
...[T]here is an element in the readjustment of our financial system more important than currency, more important than gold, and that is the confidence of the people. Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan. You people must have faith; you must not be stampeded by rumors or guesses. Let us unite in banishing fear. We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system; it is up to you to support and make it work.

It is your problem no less than it is mine. Together we cannot fail.

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Casting your fake-vote for fake-president

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's....

Maybe it's baby Kal-El streaking to earth from the doomed planet Krypton.

Astronomers yesterday discovered an automobile-sized meteor hurtling towards our planet. It is predicted to burn up over Sudan this evening at 10:46 p.m. ET, according to Wired Science.

"A typical meteor comes from an object the size of a grain of sand," Gareth Williams of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center, which made the prediction, said in a statement Monday. Objects this size are what cause the nighttime streaks that many people think of as shooting stars. "This meteor will be a real humdinger in comparison!"

I hope it really is a red and blue cradle carrying a child who will grow into the Man of Steel. The world needs Superman.

Update, Thurs., Oct. 9: Earth survived. And Great Caesar's Ghost!, it was a big bang.

Unfortunately, it wasn't Superman.

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Friday, October 03, 2008

1776-2008: America as we knew her, may she rest in peace

Welcome to the New World (Dis)Order, and to the United Socialist States of America. Or is it still the same ol' place?

Just moments ago, Pres. George W. Bush signed into law the "Wall Street Bailout," shortly after the House approved the pork-laden "new" version of the bill they had rejected earlier this week.

Seven hundred billion dollars, a "really big number," in one dollar bills laid end to end, would stretch from the Earth to the Sun over 3,700 times (or 370 or 37,000 — knowledge of math doesn't seem to be a requirement anymore, especially in accounting). That's a lot of macaroni and cheese and tomato soup Main Streeters (and their children's children's children) will have to eat while the Wall Streeters renew their standing orders for caviar and champagne.

If you were against this bailout, how can you in good conscience now vote to elect either senator as U.S. president? Both Barack Obama and John McCain supported and voted for this bill that "gives away the farm" and our country.

Here is the list of U.S. representatives who voted yea and nay on Monday. It will be interesting to see who changed their votes today.

U.S. Representative Ron Paul warned against this financial meltdown many times. As you saw during the primaries, the mainstream media wouldn't let Dr. Paul express his views during the debates, and seldom wrote anything positive about him during his campaign.

Former U.S. Congressman Bob Barr is now the Libertarian Party nominee for president, and is being ignored by the press almost as much as Ron Paul was. If you don't like the direction our country is now heading — and as of today, it's heading in a direction we never thought possible — consider the only alternative we may have left. The bailout votes this week should have proven to the world that there really isn't a dime's worth of difference between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

Image: The U.S. flag flown upside down is a sign of distress, not of disrespect. Long may she wave.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

A flawed system: Why there is so much disunity, disharmony and discord in Freemasonry

This is the eighth in our series of essays from guest bloggers on the topic "Masonic harmony, unity and discord." This one is by Bro. Fred Milliken, also known as Squire Bentley. Bro. Milliken is the publisher of the Masonic blog "The Beehive." My thanks go out to Bro. Fred and to all who are participating in this project.

A Flawed System: Why There is So Much Disunity, Disharmony & Discord in Freemasonry
by Bro. Fred Milliken

Freemasonry grew up with the birth of our nation, thus the Masonry in each state was considered sovereign as were the states. After the US gained its independence a loose association of states was formed under The Articles of Confederation. When this proved to be unworkable a more serious commitment to Federalization was put in place under the US Constitution.

The point is Freemasonry never changed and grew with the country and its civil government; never realized the mistakes made when too many decision makers afford no accountability. American Freemasonry stayed locked in the mode and style of 1776 thereby never allowing an American Masonic Identity. There was and there is no such thing as American Freemasonry, there is only Californian Masonry, New York Masonry, Texas Masonry etc.

In parts of the world in civil government there are artificial countries, with artificial boundaries and no sense of national pride. Whether it be Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq or various African nations, the artificial boundaries hold a loose collection of Tribes. These countries are said to have a Tribal System. Tribal equals trouble.

Next year the USA will have a new President, either Obama or McCain. Whoever it may be I know that that person will speak for the entire country even though they lack total dictatorial power. My President will be a Unifier, attempting at all times to bring the country together.

American Freemasonry has a Tribal Mentality which leads to constant friction, dissension and outright war. American Freemasonry has no Unifier, rather it practices Separatism. This is one reason we have so much disharmony and discord.

If you like the present system of 51 Feudal Barons lording themselves over 51 fiefdoms then you pay the price of increased disharmony and discord. And you automatically empower and refuse to condemn a Masonic jurisdiction such as West Virginia which has not yet entered the 20th century never mind the 21st.

As each fiefdom goes its separate way, some jurisdictions have admitted a large number of agenda driven people, those with an ax to grind, and when they have sufficient numbers they have changed Freemasonry.

For instance in some states conservative Christian evangelicals have overtaken some Grand Lodges and written into their state Masonic code a Christianization of their state's Freemasonry. Freemasonry had previously gradually evolved into being religiously neutral and it still is in many American jurisdictions. Prayers to Jesus, extra Bible readings in Lodge, no Holy Book permitted on the altar but the Bible, District Christian Church services, Bible presentations upon raising, no gambling permitted, no alcohol on Lodge property are just some examples of the way some Masons have codified their own personal moral and religious beliefs into the Constitutions and by-laws of their Grand Lodge. The Freemasonry in Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee looks a great deal different from the Freemasonry in Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and California.

Some of these same Masons have used the outmoded system of balloting to exclude men of diversity and to allow to enter others that do not reflect the values of Freemasonry. This amounts to ethnic cleansing or purifying the Lodge. Those welcome are Christians, politically conservative, White Supremists, Protestants, Republicans, the KKK and the Militia. Those blackballed and excluded are Blacks, the politically liberal, Jews, those in the peace movement or civil rights movement, Democrats, Muslims and anybody with a funny accent.

Some of us do not seem to be able to celebrate diversity. In Lodges in India you can find at the same time Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Jews, Jains, and Buddhists all sitting side by side. There are five Volumes of the Sacred Law on the altar: The Bhagvad Gita for the Hindus, The Qur'an for the Muslims, The Avesta for the Parsis or Zoroaastrians, The Bible for the Christians and Jews and The Granth Sahib for the Sikhs. If this does not cover the field a candidate may bring his own book of Faith. You will also find many different skin colors and political allegiances.

If you travel to Canada and experience their Freemasonry you won't find these deep seated divisions and animosities. Neither will you find them in the British Isles. Perhaps it is the nature of our contentious American society where Americans tend to be hysterical and mean spirited that dooms us to a Freemasonry of constant bickering, disharmony and discord.

As Masons we have been taught to be tolerant and accepting. This is one of the traits for which a Mason is well known. But we have carried tolerance too far. Those who have subverted Freemasonry for ulterior motives and their own ends want us to tolerate intolerance. How do you fight evil if you are required to tolerate it?

Other divisive and disharmonious behavior comes from a traditionalist attitude I sometimes refer to as "legalistic Masonry." These Masons, often entrenched in seats of Grand Lodge power, refuse to allow the change or reform of Freemasonry one iota, not even one word in one sentence. And they tell you that trying to change Freemasonry is a violation of a Mason’s Obligation. The reformers do not seek a change in the ritual or message of Freemasonry but rather the procedures and processes that back the practice of the Craft. This dedication to "legalistic Freemasonry" can be seen in those who insist on maintaining the Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction from Prince Hall inclusion. Their adherence to the strict letter of the law puts policy above people, separation above unity and reminds one of the cackles of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The disharmony and discord of American Freemasonry is far larger than the so called harmony of the Lodge. It is rooted in the policy and governance of Grand Lodge where the Grand Master and Grand Lodge Officers set the tone for Freemasonry in that jurisdiction. The Lodge is not alive but rather an inanimate concept. It cannot feel, laugh, cry or do anything that human beings can do. The harmony of the Lodge is an invalid concept and is often used to exclude, as in "We have to blackball this Black Man for the harmony of the Lodge" or "This Jewish applicant will just not fit here at this Lodge where we all are Christian. He must be rejected for the harmony of the Lodge."

The tone of Grand Lodges and their desire to control Masonic thought, their poor handling of the computer revolution and Internet Freemasonry, and their suspensions and expulsions without a Masonic trial have dumped onto Internet Freemasonry, its Forums and Blogs, bitter expelled past Masons who feel that they have been dealt an injustice and are out for revenge. If Grand Lodges were not so controlling and arbitrary in their use of power, were not so political and so thin skinned perhaps Freemasonry in the USA would be a little more subdued and harmonious.

So what is to be done? I offer three suggestions which are not the sum and total of what might be accomplished but merely a start into a more harmonious American Freemasonry and bringing Masons together.

1. A National Constitution and Masonic Bill of Rights

It's too late for a National Grand Lodge. It would never fly today even if it were a good idea which it probably is not. There needs to be a semblance of sameness and order throughout the 51 jurisdictions which comprise American Freemasonry. This has nothing to do with changing or standardizing the ritual of Freemasonry or dictating the practice of the Craft or removing the sovereignty of state Grand Lodges. It has to do with fairness, of creating a sound base or foundation that exists everywhere so that each jurisdiction can go on from there to implement the practice of Freemasonry as it sees fit. It has to do with the processes and procedures of Freemasonry, the definition of Freemasonry, who can and cannot be admitted into Freemasonry, what ethical code can we all agree upon and having the same Landmarks. It also has to do with the rights of individual Brethren and protecting them from abuse and misuse of power. If we can do this we can eliminate a lot of the disharmony.

2. Masonic Legislature

Freemasonry grew up in the time of Monarchies and the Divine Right of Kings. Times and attitudes have changed into a way of life that is more participatory by the average citizen. Freemasonry needs to reflect that change and allow for the say of each individual Brother. A Masonic legislature which could make or change policy by a democratic vote would perhaps lessen those who go running off to start their own version of Freemasonry because they have been locked out or arbitrarily squashed. A true will of the majority goes a lot further in gaining support than the arbitrary desires of the Masonic Pope sitting in the Grand East. Lest anyone think that this would strip the Grand Master of all power and stature it could be set up so that a Grand Master could veto anything the Legislature passes unless this body has voted on a course to be taken by 75% or more of those convened. A change of this nature would be up to the individual choice of each state Grand Lodge and not be imposed upon them.

3. Ballot Reform

I devoted a whole blog to this subject. The present unanimous secret ballot permits prejudice and revenge and no good reason to reject an applicant and thwart the will of the majority. Its use keeps out Blacks, Jews & Hippies and just about anybody you don’t like.

But it also lets in some undesirables like the KKK. One member gets in unnoticed and he brings in scores of others always keeping their other life from discovery. Black balls that should be dropped are not.

There is a case to be made for a secret ballot. What you definitely do not want is a raising of hands in open Lodge. There is also a strong case to be made that it is terribly unfair and unjust to reject a good man for no good reason or because of prejudice.

The so called phony harmony of the Lodge is not justification for a unanimous secret ballot. In essence one is putting pseudo harmony ahead of Civil Rights and human rights. This is not the way a person joins the United States and becomes a citizen. The election of a President or of a Worshipful Master does not have to be unanimous.

I would offer that the decision of admittance to the Lodge be made in a semi secret ballot of the three members of the Investigating committee who will have taken training in Investigative technique and who sit as a permanent committee of the Lodge for a duration of office as determined by the Lodge. If any member of the Lodge has an objection to an applicant they are to bring that objection to this committee who will investigate it. Rejection will then come for a solid reason and not "I don’t want a Black man in my Lodge." The Three so constituted will offer no comment on their decisions. The implementation of this change would be a choice left up to each individual Grand Lodge.

It is not only within American Mainstream Freemasonry that there is disunity, disharmony and discord. Relationships with other Obediences are governed by Grand Lodge rules and regulations and in many cases they not only prohibit Masonic Communication but also Masonic discourse. This is why disharmony is not just a local Lodge problem. It goes all the way to the top where a Grand Master feels that he can tell you who you can talk to and who you cannot. Orders from on high often ask a Mason to shun other Obediences. When you do that you can't expect not to get some flak back.

Perhaps a case can be made for Unrecognized, Irregular, Clandestine knock offs many coalescing around the cult of an individual. But for those practicing Regular Masonry excepting the violation of sex, there really is no good reason to be spiteful. If Women's Masonry, Co-Masonry, and other Regular Clandestines, which in some areas includes Prince Hall, would sit down together, break bread together, sponsor some charitable events together, do some social functions together, and rent the same building for meetings, even though none of the different Obediences ever sat in Lodge together, there would be more peace, harmony and accord. In many parts of Europe the different Obediences of Freemasonry do not trash each other but seek ways of accommodation thereby avoiding the tension and conflict and ill feeling that fortressed American Freemasonry has. Much of this anti social behavior is aided and abetted by Grand Lodges.

I have some of my writings on a wonderful website run by a Co-Mason. When some Brothers of an Internet Masonic Forum I belong to found this out they called me a traitor and said that not only would they never visit that site again and never read any of my writings therein but that they would also boycott any postings I made on the Forum. To them I was guilty of aiding the enemy and giving him publicity.

We need an ecumenical spirit among the different Regular Obediences of American Freemasonry. If we had an ecumenical spirit there would be less disharmony and discord. It's up to the Grand Lodges to pave the way in setting the TONE of American Freemasonry.

Quite frankly I am dismayed by those Brothers who say that they don't come to these places anymore because of all the squabbling and bickering. Some of the loud noise is being made by those of us who seek a change of heart from those who are responsible for much of the disharmony that exists. Working to make the future an improved, quieter, more unified and harmonious Masonic experience, today sometimes requires some robust jousting.

But these Brothers would rather trade rights and justice for phony harmony right now. Why can't you just zip your lip and go along to get along they say? Then there would be peace and harmony. Yup, and injustice too. Go along with racism in Freemasonry, go along with expulsions without a Masonic trial, go along with no Masonic discourse with other Obediences, go along with rigged elections and shunning those that do it another way. My reply is why don’t you come along? Come along and help solve the root causes of disharmony and discord.

— Bro. Frederic Milliken

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Friday, September 26, 2008

The Blitz Spirit

This is the seventh in our series of essays written by Masonic bloggers on the topic "Masonic harmony, unity and discord." Bro. Ben Rowe's article here gives us an international outlook on Freemasonry. Bro. Ben is a young Master Mason from Middlesex, England, near London. He is the publisher of The Chequered Carpet, formerly titled Middlesex Fire. My thanks go out to Bro. Ben and all who are participating in this writing project.

The Blitz Spirit
by Bro. Ben Rowe

Ah, that title got your attention, didn't it?

I don't know what Widow's Son wrote about me in the little blurb above this piece, whatever it was though, I'm certain that the ruder it is, the more accurate you would find it to be should you meet me in person. For those of you that have not yet come across my (criminally neglected) little blog, The Chequered Carpet (previously Middlesex Fire), my name is Ben Rowe, and I am a 22-year old Master Mason in England. I am a member of three lodges: Gooch (1238, Middlesex, Mother Lodge); Windsor Forest (6581, Berkshire); and Old Haileyburian (3912, London). My family has a bit of a history in and around Freemasonry, and I was initiated on my 21st birthday.

When Widow's Son first wrote to me about getting involved in this project about Masonic Harmony, Unity and Discord, I had absolutely no idea what I could write about. I've been thinking a lot more over the last couple of days, and I've got a rough idea of what I'd like to get into a little later on in this piece — but first I wanted to talk briefly about the announcement from North Carolina, coupled with my experiences at Berkshire Provincial Grand Lodge on Tuesday night.

I was absolutely delighted to see that North Carolina decided to formally recognise Prince Hall Freemasonry. Being from a very long way away, I have nothing further to add than that.

In England, all lodges are under the United Grand Lodge of England. England is then divided along the ancient county lines to form our Masonic provinces. These provinces are not Grand Lodges in the way that every State in the U.S. has its own Grand Lodge, but we do have a certain level of autonomy (almost a federal system, actually) and each Province has its own Provincial Grand Lodge (PGL) that administers each of the lodges and Masonic centres in its province, co-ordinates various province-wide charitable appeals, and awards provincial honours and awards (for example: Provincial Grand Sword Bearer, or Provincial Senior Grand Deacon, etc.) that are given to those brothers whom the Provincial Executive decides have contributed a great deal to the Province over the last little while. Of course, we all know that honours and promotions are not the be all and end all of Freemasonry — we are all brothers, all on the level, and all equally deserving of each other's kind regard. That doesn't stop the whole hulla-balloo being a lot of fun to watch.

On Tuesday I went along to the Annual Meeting of Provincial Grand Lodge, where all of the new honours were handed out. It's always a wonderful event, with many brothers from all over the country in attendance. On top of us rabble from Berkshire, we had in attendance Provincial Grand Masters and their deputies and assistants from at least ten other provinces — lots of chains and big impressive aprons to rattle!

The reason I mention this, in conjunction with the news from North Carolina? Of more than 500 brothers in the temple, and 420 or so that sat down to dine in the Festive Board afterwards, there was only one — just ONE — non-white brother in attendance. That fact really shocked me. Here I found a real example of 'unity,' in the most literal sense of the term!

Now, as I said, we have only one (regular) Grand Lodge in England — we don't have a divide between our Grand Lodge, and a Prince Hall equivalent; UGLE is for brethren of all races colours and creeds — so why do we have so few brethren from (that wonderfully obtuse term) ethnic minorities? Now, those that aren't particular fans of Freemasonry would say that we're all elitist white men, that we're all racists, that people not "like us" are not made to feel welcome — only the latter of those points is only partly true, and it's only so very slightly true that it's not really worth mentioning.

You see, I've never seen any extrovert racism in a Masonic lodge, or dinner, or from any brother mason in any situation. No brother has ever said that they "don't want black men in their lodge," no black, Asian or "whatever" brother has ever been told that they're not welcome — regardless of someone's colour every visiting brother I have ever come across has always been welcomed with open arms, and has been treated as just that: a brother. So why do I say that the "not made to feel welcome" is partly (however minorly) true?

The thing is, we're not getting the message of what we're about out to everyone. Many black people see the points of those that don't particularly like Masonry that I mentioned earlier — and believe it, because we're not doing enough to show them why those anti-masons are wrong. People of all colours are welcome, in my lodges, in my provinces and in my country — we're just not letting them know that. That's not entirely our fault, though. As we're told expressly not to go out recruiting, and as we're told that potential members should come to us first, there's no 100% successful way of getting that message out. Many provinces, such as Berkshire, are now having Open Days (as I mentioned in a blog post last year) where we open up one of our temples and let anyone off the street come in, have a look around, have a cup of tea and a chat and ask as many questions as they want. These are wonderfully attended by anti-masons looking for proof of our "crimes" — most leave with a positive view on us.

At other times our Provincial Grand Master has been on the radio to discuss what Freemasonry is about, and to take calls on a phone in, that sort of thing. Nothing hugely out there, but it's all slowly getting the message out that we won't kill everyone's babies, and kidnap everyone's wives and girlfriends. With regard to the "ethnic statistics" I mentioned earlier, then, I can only conclude that it's just a symptom of the past — and certainly not an indicator of our future. On the whole, those attending PGL are wardens and above in their lodges — people that have been in the Craft for 10 years or more (I was only in attendance as my step-dad was getting one of those honours I mentioned, and because I weasel my way into anything I can). The roles of Steward, Inner Guard and Junior Deacon in the lodges I visit are increasingly swelled by non-white brethren, a fact I observe with much joy. In ten years time, we'll see a very different situation at Provincial Grand Lodge, and all lodges through out the province, and throughout the country.

My initial thoughts aside I then began to think a little bit more, about wht harmony and unity is, how they can be achieved, and whether or not we're actually missing out on these grand and possibly undefinable benefits. Bro Widow's son asked me to do this to provide "an international perspective" — a service I'm very happy to provide, but without being sure whether I'm the best man for the job! I started thinking about Masonic discord in England, or internationally. I can honestly say that with the odd very minor exception of someone not happy with their officer's role, by experience of Freemasonry in England, and in my lodges, is very different to the experiences I hear about on the web. Are my experiences that different to the average America? Well, I spoke to a few of my American friends that I met through various forums and networking sites such as Facebook, and came to the conclusion that: no, things weren't that different to the ordinary mason, in the ordinary lodge, in the ordinary town. So what is different? Well, I re-read the sentence that I just typed, and noted something very important: the Internet.

We're all, online, given a monitor and a keyboard behind which we can hide — speaking to chaps thousands of miles away it's very easy to forget that they, too, are in front of a monitor and keyboard — in fact, it's very easy to forget, at times, that they too are human beings with wants hopes and fears. The Internet is a great "leveller" — the only problem is that, at times, it reduces us all to a lower level, instead of elevating us all to a higher one. The Internet can be a very combative place — so every problem and disagreement we come across is immediately amplified (I've been very guilty at times of wading in unnecessarily) and every tongue-in-cheek remark is liable to be misinterpreted, and mulled over for days. So what can we do?

Immediately my mind was drawn back to my now finished (thank the Lord) law degree, and more specifically my studies of criminology. Criminology, for the purposes of my course, was the study of the criminal mind, along with a philosophical discussion of the criminal law, on top of debates about freedoms, duties, the justifications for punishment — basically everything upto and around, but not including, the criminal law. One of my first lectures was the classical justification for punishment. In this we are told that punishment is used for many reasons, to reform offenders, as a deterrent, to incapacitate offenders — along with many others.

The one that jumped into my mind on this occasion was the facility that punishment provides as a form of denunciation, and to provide society-wide cohesion. Effectively, by providing society with a negative yard-stick, by denunciating certain people and actions as "bad" we are reinforcing good behaviour. But, not only are we doing that, but, if you think about it, everyone wants to be thought of as good. Deep down we all want to "fit in." Deep down, we all need a "bad guy": someone to aim our collective rage at, someone to be made an example of. We love films where the good guys win — we feel like we are on their side — their victories become our victories, their lows are our lows, their highs are our highs. By having a shared negative, by having a collective struggle, society is brought together — "harmony" and "unity" are created.

So, back to my title — the "Blitz Spirit." During the 2nd World War, London was bombed to buggery, but the people got together, and London became a united city. The legendary blitz spirit was born — we had a common enemy, and we would fight them, and we would win. After the bombings of the 7th July, that spirit arose again, but only for a very short while before people carried on with their lives and their petty arguments again. Everyone needs a villain.

In Freemasonry we have no enemy — there is no collective bad guy, there's nothing nasty that we, as a group, aim at. Instead, we all have positive goals and aspirations to aim towards — a lodge raising a certain sum of money together for a certain project, that sort of thing. Ten Pounds would say that if your lodge has ever had a disagreement with your grand master, for a month or two your lodge has never been closer — everyone has a collective negative target, that sort of thing. When everyone's just ticking along nicely, with past masters just rotating through the chairs (as we are seeing far too often in England) small bickering and arguments break out, over absolutely nothing — and the next thing you know, someone has resigned from the lodge. It's a great shame.

But more than that though, the "struggle" of Freemasonry is not an external struggle — it is an internal struggle with oneself struggling against his inner demons — to control his passions, to lead a better, more moral life. When we are only fighting ourselves, it is very easy to get wrapped up in that struggle — and so become disjointed from our brothers (who all have their own private battles).

When those private battles project themselves onto the Internet, as I said earlier, because of differences in custom, of understanding, of all sorts, it's very easy to see why everything suddenly can blow up in the way it does. I suppose I'm quite lucky in that the readership of The Chequered Carpet is still very small, and so I don't see the blogwars that we so often see on The Burning Taper — but I feel immensely privileged to have somewhere like the BT that I can come and see the views of my brethren from across the pond, and all over the world.

I would crave one thing though — one thing that could never, ever, be attained — there will be arguments online. Lots of them. There will be disagreements. Lots of them. People will fly off the handle and (at times) become parodies of themselves. As I'm sure my other brothers in this project have said, people are very different online to who they are in person. That is no fault of that person — it's a fault of the Internet. By putting a screen name up, or whatever, or just seeing someone's whole personality as words on a screen, we immediately dehumanise them. And we become angry at the things they say, because we don't understand them, and (at times) we reply with certain levels of bile and vitriol. No one, hopefully, is blaming us or judging us when we do this — but I know we'd all love it if we could stop. We just can't.

So, here's my plea: when you read something that you disagree with, feel free to let the red mist descend, and post some glib comment in return — be angry at the internet persona, disagree with and ridicule the nickname — but try your best to remember that behind that nickname lies a real person. A real, breathing person. Do not dislike that person — you have never met them. To steal a quote you often hear on very bad reality TV shows: "Don't hate the player, hate the game."

— Bro. Ben Rowe

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Massachusetts Grand Lodge's 275th anniversary draws to a close

The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts is finishing up its year-long celebration of its 275th anniversary.

W. Bro. Henry Pierce is a Mason from Amicable Lodge in Cambridge, Mass. He sent these photos to share with you some of the things that have been going on in Massachusetts this year.

The Grand Lodge sponsored "Masonic Night" at a Brockton Rox minor league baseball game. Ben Franklin bobble-heads were given out to the first 1,000 fans through the gate.

There are also photos here of various pieces of literature circulated during the year, of a 275th anniversary paper apron used during the Grand Lodge Annual Communication, and a collection of pins from both the grand lodge and one given by visiting brethren from Brazil.

Click on the images for larger views.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Freemasonry: One journey, many paths

I present to you the sixth in a series of essays written by Masonic bloggers on the topic of Masonic harmony, unity and discord. This one is by Bro. Silence Dogood, publisher of The Middle Chamber. My thanks go out to Bro. Dogood and to all those who are participating.

One Journey, Many Paths
by Bro. Silence Dogood

There have been few Masons that I have had such a fundamental disagreement with as the late Brother Theron Dunn. Brother Dunn epitomized much of what I couldn't stand in mainstream Masonry: he was an ardent supporter of anything his Grand Lodge did and didn't see any need for improvement in the organization. I found his articles smug and condescending and I regularly checked his blog so that I could quickly post a scathing rebuttal to anything that he wrote. But nothing irritated me more than the day he posted a comment on my blog in reference to my invitation for guest articles of any viewpoint, when he actually doubted my willingness to post an article in disagreement with my own views.

So I asked him to write a guest editorial for The Chamber. "Take that," I thought.

Brother Dunn did produce an article and when I read it, I was very surprised. It was a well written analysis with which I actually agreed. Later, when I invited my readers to chat with me via Yahoo! Messenger, Brother Dunn was one of the first Brothers to take me up on my offer.

We had a nice conversation for about a half hour. We discussed Masonry, politics, our careers, and some of our future goals. We had to end the conversation when he received a phone call from his wife and we said good bye. When I logged off, I thought to myself "I really like this guy." Little did I know that it would be the last time I chatted with him. Brother Dunn became ill and passed away before we had another chance to talk. My heart felt great sadness for the loss of a Brother that I never knew. However, I found consolation in the fact that when we had last communicated, we met upon the level and parted upon the square as Brothers.

That is true Masonic harmony.

There seems to be a misconception, among some, that Masons cannot have differing opinions. There is a sense in many Masonic assemblies that there is only one correct way to do things and only one consensus that may be developed. However, dissent is at the very heart of Masonic ideals. In the lecture of the Entered Apprentice degree, we are taught that "Masonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion." This is what makes Masonry so special. Unlike other organizations, Masonry accepts men of all political, religious, and philosophical convictions and unites them as Brothers. Masonry accentuates the concept of one journey, many paths. It promotes the journey towards enlightenment, while accepting that many paths may lead to that ultimate goal.

Unfortunately, too many Masonic assemblies no longer function by this concept. Masonry has become an organization where groupthink and yes-men are rewarded and those who think outside of the box are ignored. The Brothers who bring fresh ideas into lodge have not been allowed to bring there ideas to fruition and soon lost interest and stopped darkening our doors. Of course, this has always occurred due to the noble desire to not offend our older Brethren who have run the organization their way for many years. The last thing that we want to do is make these Brothers feel obsolete or that we don't appreciate their procedures, but the truth is that society is evolving and Masonry must continue to evolve with it.

Would it hurt to listen to the minority with a dissenting opinion? Would the fraternity cease to exist if we honestly tried something new? The answer is a simple "No." If we heed the advice of men with new ideas and implement them into the lodge we can at least observe what affect they have. We can learn from everyone's opinion, whether their idea is successful or not. As Masons, we are supposed to seek light and one of the best ways to do that is listen to the opinions of all of our Brethren.

So where does this leave the Masons who frequent the Masonic Blogosphere? The e-Masons that are able to make any comments they choose while hiding behind a false moniker. As Masons, we should be able to read the opinions of others without getting our feathers ruffled. We can have our disagreements, but they should be discussed with intelligence and courtesy. Name calling and the degrading tinkling contests which occasionally break out on the internet are unbecoming of the fraternity and do nothing to further Masonry.

The internet is an outlet for those with ideas to communicate them to other Masons. It is a forum for those concerned with the state of affairs in their lodge to vent their frustrations. It is also a place for those excited about the current events in their lodge to proclaim their pride in the fraternity. Who are we to degrade a Brother for communicating any of these things to us through the Blogosphere? Many of us are just looking for an attentive ear and an instructive tongue. Perhaps much could be gained from considering a Brother's motivation for his comments before denouncing his opinion. Perhaps we could benefit from a little more tolerance.

Regardless of our differences, Masons should always meet upon the level, act by the plumb, and part upon the square. Whether it is in lodge, on the street, or on the internet, we can all benefit from a little more brotherly love for one another. In my case with Brother Theron Dunn, I don't know how I would have felt had we never leveled with one another. We must always remember that we are all Brothers, regardless of opinion.

Masonry is one journey with many paths.

— Bro. Silence Dogood

Image: The late Bro. Theron Dunn

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