Sunday, March 27, 2016

The World is Taking Notice

Lest we think we are living in the same old world, here's an important reminder that we are not. The rest of the world is taking notice of what is going on vis-a-vis Tennessee and Georgia. How the rest of US Freemasonry responds will be very significant indeed.

Already, there has been a protest outside an academic conference on Freemasonry at UCLA It has also been noted in the US press, including NPR. In the European Masonic blogosphere what is happening here has been noted and critiqued. Several online organizations have formed attacking the position of Tennessee and Georgia already and a Facebook group dedicated to addressing the issue in Pennsylvania has been created as well.  Whatever one thinks of their approach or their position, allow me to remind everyone that what we as masons think about such responses doesn't matter here. What matters is what the public will think.

Freemasonry, especially North American Freemasonry, has historically been slow to react and less than accurate in divining which way the winds are blowing. With that in mind, it is extremely important that the rest of the US Jurisdictions do some serious communications at the top end and actually come up with, for once, a uniform strategy for dealing with this matter. It will not just go away, no matter how much we wish it would. I do hope they are listening.

In addition to these public notices I have become aware of various groups which are actively voicing their views on the matter. We are as someone remarked seeing only the tip of the iceberg thus far. Or are we sitting on the rim of a volcano?

I have no desire to stir any cauldrons. I am not trying to suggest what form any organized response might take. I am simply noting that it is needed. However, it seems to me that the big boys will need to finally earn their keep, if they wish to influence the outcome of this matter and lead us all to a happy end. Old biases will rip us asunder otherwise. .

Friday, March 25, 2016

Blinded By the Light: Resolving Freemasonry's Problems

Freemasonry is gradually wasting away. Only those masons who make the Ostrich Pose part of their Yoga regimen do not recognize this fact. There is a division between  those who see this as inevitable and those who think otherwise. I do not pretend to know what the final outcome will be, although, being the eternal optimist that I am, I do not think the end need be at hand.

And lest these words be misconstrued, I do not intend to criticize anyone for addressing the issue the way they have. Everyone has their own skills and perspectives, and these are not always going to agree with those of other people. Far be it from me to claim that my views are superior or that other masons are benighted. However, without being egotistical about it, I do think that my musings may be of use in debating and searching through the issues. These thoughts include some that are critical of the process and conclusions drawn by others, but not of the people who have offered them, nor of their intentions.

This needs to be a debate filled with passion, but not emotion. That means a passionate discussion, filled with challenging ideas, but not the heat of personal animosity.

 I watched an interesting presentation on YouTube this morning of a mason indulging in the most popular martial art of modern American - statistics. (Jon T Ruark whose presentation for the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge I located from a post on Brother Hodapp's website). He produced an excellent presentation, and if not the most artistic and entertaining of speakers (he was after all speaking on statistics), he acquitted himself quite admirably. If he could get me to follow his statistical analysis to the end he did a truly miraculous thing.

However, Bro. Ruark's presentation made me think of a few expressions, such as that which I used to head this post - blinded by the light, or that other which comments about the all too human foible of not seeing the forest for the trees. Again, I am not being uncharitable. I enjoyed Bro Ruark's presentation, noting as a total non-sequitur that he possesses a very Donegal surname, and am grateful because he inspired some interesting observations for me. Now, in fairness, I hate statistics, I truly believe that they represent, if not lies, mostly useless information. I think that explains in a nutshell everything that's wrong with our approach to problem solving today.

Forgive me for thinking that this presentation began with a conclusion and was constructed to support that conclusion. I think that in part because I know how many masons, both rank and file and the intellectuals, passionately disapprove of the "Made in a day" approach to resolving the Masonic numbers problem. I will note here also, that I do not disapprove of the "Mason in a Day" approach. the failure of "Masons in a day" events to resolve the problem of attrition demonstrates the need for an approach which consists of multiple responses.

There are a host of reasons why once made a "Mason in a day" those newly minted masons do not stay, none of which have anything to do with how they were initiated. They have everything to do with their experience within Masonry from that day on. All too often, I suspect masons have come to experience a freemasonry which is mediocre. That is most likely one of the big reasons why masonry has problems keeping members. To an extent Br. Ruark recognizes this in his comments concerning Traditional Observation Lodges as one possible solution. Indeed, T.O. lodges are likely to be one solution. Although I think they are perhaps to structuralist in their resolution of challenges, they have often met with good results.

Other blogs, notably Midnight Freemasons, have leapt into the arena with more references to statistics, and pie charts galore. They're all good. We need as much discussion as possible, and even discussion that reviews what has been discussed before can shed new light on old subjects.

However, there is an elephant in the room in the entire presentation which has not been addressed. Indeed, it has been noted, and joked about, but clearly the subject itself appears to be one which is off limits to a mainstream mason who with reason might fear negative reactions from on high to any such discussion. Well, I fortunately, have nothing to fear in speaking up. I am beyond the bureaucratic reach of any US Grandmaster, and to paraphrase a famous Freemason, Clark Gable, "Frankly, my dear brothers, I don't give a damn."

The elephant in the room was eloquently described by Br. Ruark, although I hasten to note, he said not one word against any Grand Lodge in his presentation. He described, by simply recounting the challenges he faced in engaging in a research project, the intent of which was to assist in strengthening Freemasonry, everything that is wrong with mainstream Freemasonry in the US today. In fact, although the problem is most egregious here in the US, it is a problem in most parts of the Masonic universe to one degree or another. The fatal element in Masonic culture, that aspect of Freemasonry which will ultimately destroy Freemasonry as an institution if it isn't stopped, is none other than the Grand Lodge system itself.

Whatever it once may have been, and I would argue that it probably was never a healthy influence on Freemasonry, it has grown to become an impervious, petulant bureaucracy that serves only to sustain its self importance. It is totally possible, although I doubt it, that it is manned by a large number of well intentioned individuals. Even if that were true,and I see no evidence to support that notion, those good men do not seem capable of making their bureaucracy beneficial in even small ways in encouraging masonry's survival.

The fact that a Freemason attempting to do a statistical analysis that might shed light on ways to grow the institution can get little response to his inquiries beyond being told that he had ignored protocol in asking, and then receive even less response when he subsequently followed the recommended protocol, should be enough to damn the Grand Lodge as a system. It is a head which has ceased to care about its body. If our individual brains were to refuse to consider or respond to the messages our internal organs or other body parts gave it, we would be dead in short order. That is the big take away for me from this report.

Freemasonry is dying folks. It will, by best reckoning, be dead in as little as 10 years, and at the most 25 years. The Grand Lodges are killing it off. It is true that Freemasonry needs to be more responsive to modern society and adapt to change. Failure to adapt will kill it in short order. A lot of that resistance is coming from on high. Of course, the blame does go back to the local lodge. Inevitably, all the members of the GL originated as members of a local lodge, no matter how many centuries ago they were entered and raised.

The best case scenario, I believe, will result in a much thinner and smaller institution. Freemasonry will not look like it does today if it survives at all. But, if it is to survive at all, it has to get out of its own way and stop being its own worst enemy.

How can Freemasonry address the problem that the GL has become? There are two solutions. The first and most radical, might also be the most traumatic. While it in some ways appeals to me more, and I have mentioned it here before, the idea of North American Freemasonry without Grand Lodges seems too dramatic a change to be accomplished, however beneficial it might be. The second is one which, although it would not be possible to accomplish without some, hopefully only metaphorical "blood letting", is one which could result in a dramatically revived fraternity. I am suggesting an inversion of power.

As Robert Cooper of the Grand Lodge of Scotland noted during a public speech given to Freemasons in the United States ( ) The Grand Lodge in Scotland has no power to order any constituent lodge to do anything at all. All individual lodges in Scotland jealously guard their power. As a result, the Grand Lodge may humbly and very diplomatically suggest that its member lodges might (or might not) wish to consider a recommendation that they would like to recommend. It is a refreshing idea, and one which I believe might go a long way to resolving the problems within US Freemasonry. Imagine a Freemasonry where the Grand Lodge served its member lodges instead of dominating them.

Shortly after posting this blog, I became aware of the GL of Mass. response to the current unfortunate situation in Tennessee and Georgia. Thanks to John S. Nagy for that information. While my initial reaction was to think that Massachusetts was trying to sit on the fence by not taking any action, my second thought was that they were providing an example of exactly what this practice of informing and advising rather than dictating might look like.

I have no illusions that my own thoughts on such matters might ever rule the day, but all sorts of ideas need to be considered, and I keep hearing the same ones repeated. So, in the hopes of broadening the discussion, I will continue to throw ideas into the ring from time to time. It is for other people to decide what works best in their situations and how to implement their decisions. All the same, in the current climate, it seems healthy to keep all options on the table.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Storm Warnings: Tennessee's Latest

By now people should be becoming aware that Tennessee voted in support of banning homosexual membership. Rather than indulging in wild speculation, I will take the cautious approach of keeping mum and battening down the hatches, because I do see storm clouds ahead. Whatever direction the wind blows, it's going to bring rough weather.

For now, this is all I can do:

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly - Freemasonic Version

Cue the drums and the Andean Flutes, crane your necks looking for Clint Eastwood. No, you won't see Clint here, although depending on whom you ask, Clint either is or isn't a Freemason.  I'm frankly indifferent about that, although I have enjoyed some of his films. I especially like his quote to the effect that "I tried being reasonable. I didn't like it."

However, you don't not really expect me to talk about Clint today, nor about Westerns as a hollywood genre. I am turning my gaze, perhaps not surprisingly at the recent unpleasantness relating to Georgia, Tennessee, and other Masonic Jurisdictions in the United States. I have read all the required blogs and have been giving close attention to what various members of various jurisdictions and obediences have had to say about this subject.

A particular type of remark caught my attention and set me to thinking, mostly about a response. A few expressed their annoyance that while the media tends to ignore their good works, it will focus sharp attention on their problems. I don't think they had the presence of mind, or perhaps the honesty, to refer to this current unpleasantness as a failing. Some others wished the attention away, but a few actually went so far as to opine that such public attention to Masonic unpleasantness was unfair.

I spit my coffee across the room when I read that one.

I mean, really, what could possibly be considered unfair about it? If you make the audacious claim that you exist to make good men better, then you have to expect to be called upon the carpet for behavior which is clearly other than that. Now, some will claim that their morals teach them that homosexuality is wrong. In theory, standing up for your morals when the larger society eschews them, is a courageous thing to do. However, let's examine this claim for a moment. I am not interested in taking a stand on whether homosexuality is right, or moral, or even natural. Everyone has their views and they're welcome to them.  The issue in this case is not really about morality, and I will explain why.

Freemasonry also claims to not be a religion, and to not demand of its membership more religiosity than "that religion in which all men agree." Anderson further goes on to specify what that is. Here of course, is where most North American Freemasonry, have gone wildly astray, that he means Masons should be "Good men and true, or men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever denomination or persuasions they may be distinguish'd..." That in fact leaves a lot of room for interpretation, and a semanticist might well argue that the term persuasion might refer even to one's gender preferences.

The jurisdictions whose decisions have generated this row within Freemasonry are most certainly not following Anderson's dictates, though I have no doubt they will argue that they are. They are, whether you agree or disagree, following the teachings regarding sexual practices proposed by a specific segment of the Christian religion. That simply isn't Masonic according to the narrow reading of Masonic literature and law. Of course, Masons have always interpreted these things whatever way way they wished, and so long as that was considered the majority opinion where and when they did so, no objections were generally raised. Meeting behind closed doors created a sense of insularity, which over time evolved into a sense of imperviousness. The notion that I am right and nobody will criticize me. Eventually, this gave rise to the reaction that should someone criticizes "our way", they are clearly not Masons and we can ignore them. Of course, while this may have appeared to be a realistic assessment of the circumstances, it was never a rational one, nor was it right. I mean right in both the ethical and the pragmatic sense.

Allow me to reiterate, so that nobody misunderstands my intentions. I am not staking a position either that Freemasonry should nor that it should not admit homosexuals to its membership. My personal view is no more relevant here than the fact that there already are plenty of gays initiated into "mainstream" North American Freemasonry. The question being debated by most is whether the membership determines if they should be allowed to be, and also, who that membership is. In other words, who has a vested interest in the matter and how does that interest play out.

That's where things get interesting and in my opinion, far more interesting than the question concerning sexual orientation. Society at large has changed its view rather rapidly on this matter over the past few years, and quite a few of us who have been on the planet for a half century or more are frankly surprised at how swiftly the shift was when it finally became a matter for popular decision, regardless of our personal views. This sudden shift of course, left those, of whatever age, who didn't agree with the new public ethic, with a serious case of cognitive dissonance. After all, most of us were taught from an early age, either trough direct teaching or more subtle privately and not so privately expressed opinion, that gays were not normal. It stands to reason that a fairly conservative institution such as Freemasonry has become, would move slowly toward any change.  Such conditions reigned for a long time within Freemasonry, and thus allowed the racial ostracism which remains normative for far too much of North American Freemasonry to continue until today. It also has kept "mainstream" Freemasonry in the US, gender specific, even after our society as a whole has rejected that approach to matters. In UGLE style Freemasonry in the USA, it is still 1945. In point of fact, the majority in our society have decided to be accepting of sexual preference to a far greater degree than are accepting of either gender equality or racial difference. Ironically, there's probably more tolerance today for the idea of gay marriage than there is for interracial marriage, and that decision was decided back in 1967 with the supreme court decision of Loving v. Virginia.

I'm not trying to damn mainstream Freemasonry for any of this. It is what it is. But here, in this discussion, recognizing the reality, whether you care to or not, is important. Here is why it is important, and why actually airing all this dirty laundry in public is a very good thing for Freemasonry.

As I said a few paragraphs back, Freemasonry claims to be an ethical organization. It also claims to have as its goal making good men better. It supports the idea, in theory if not in practice, that each individual must come to their own process of self improvement through serious internal introspection. I will note, that while Freemasonry seeks to educate and expects certain standards to be embraced, it consciously states that its members must discover these things for themselves. Freemasons are supposed to work through the process of self improvement and it is a personal one. In doing that, Freemasonry has, intentionally or otherwise, hoisted upon its own shoulders the weight and responsibility expected only of those with the highest of principles.

So what are we doing, complaining when other Masons and the public beyond Masonry, the "dreaded cowan" do exactly that - expect us to stand up and show that we stand for "that religion in which all men agree" and that we be "Good men and true, or men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever denomination or persuasions they may be distinguish'd..."

In point of fact, Freemasonry can only be hurt by its own choices, and it can only be raised up and championed as a result of its own actions. In shedding light on what we think and believe, the public attention is aiding Freemasonry in reaching its own goals. How we will be judged by the public will in large part be the result of whether we pass our own test.

North American Freemasonry is both the benefactor and victim of its own history. It has unprecedented institutional freedom. Each state represents its own jurisdiction answerable to none but its own members. It also however, has come to believe the fiction that because those so called "regular" obediences are all under the eye of the UGLE, that they are somehow one body. What we see today in the battles being waged over the decisions of Georgia and Tennessee, are in part the result of the opposition between historical fact and the fantasy of self identity.

Regardless of those conflicting views, Freemasonry should welcome this as an opportunity to bring more light rather than heat to the situation. Freemasonry should look at this as an opportunity to polish the rough ashlar a bit more. Rather than complain, Masons should recognize that the public in fact views them as an institution that claims to hold itself up to the highest of standards, and are giving us the opportunity to see reflected in public, just how well we live up to such claims. Believing in either one or the other decision, if it is viewed as based upon what one recognizes as
moral, after due consideration and deliberation, should be something that any Mason would welcome. As a Mason, if you are uncomfortable voicing your choice for fear of how it will be received, that suggests you hold doubts about how honestly or arduously you have held yourself to your principles.

In my view, whatever you believe to be right or wrong in this debate, if you as a Freemason believe it, you should be very comfortable being scrutinized. In any case, the day has come, for better or for worse, in which such debates will end up going before the court of public opinion. Let there be light.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Trance Dances, Rebels, & Bygmester Finn: Irish Freemasonry

Since we are coming up upon that date which represents perhaps the most despicable demonstration of misplaced national pride in the world, Saint Patrick's day, rather than adding to the volume of frankly embarrassing behaviors that Irishmen, and many who are not Irish indulge in in the name of a most sober saint, Patrick, I thought it might be interesting to note a few articles which touch upon some perhaps not so widely known aspects of Irish Freemasonry.

Today, many assume, wrongly so, that Freemasonry in Ireland is associated with the Orange Order, and has always been primarily anti-Irish and anti-revolutionary in character. As with most else that they've had to say about the Irish or about Freemasonry, the English lie. They lie through their teeth.

Freemasonry was not founded in 1717, much less in London, and no, it has not always been anti-Irish. It was after all, originally founded by the people who ultimately came to support the Jacobite cause. Many Irish died fighting for the Jacobite cause, and the Jacobites were in the main supportive of the native Irish cause. Freemasonry has been active in Ireland fairly much as long as it has in Scotland.

In Ireland, Freemasonry has taken some fairly interesting twists and turns, both in relation to cultural practice, the arts, and politics.

The notion that Freemasonry, whether Operative or Speculative would first arise on English soil is, if one contemplates the idea for more than a moment, a preposterous notion. When the English, latecomers to insular Europe arrived in Post Roman Britain, they had little skills in stone working. All the early Saxon churches were produced, like the rest of English architecture, out of wood and wattle, in true barbaric fashion. The Celtic speaking peoples, and their predecessors, had been building with and carving magical and esoteric symbols in stone there for millennia already. Ultimately, they were most likely responsible for teaching the English what they understood of both the operative craft and ultimately the speculative as well. And if, as it has been noted, English Speculative Freemasonry owes its birth to its northern neighbor, Scotland, it later required the Irish, in the guise of the antients to sort out the mess they promptly made of it.  The Irish were present in France after the defeat of the Jacobite cause, and the existence of the Irish Master Degrees and the record of Irish masons who founded what ironically was called the first "English" lodge in France, is in fact well documented. (Hayes, Richard. The Irish Brigade and Freemasonry. Reprinted in "Ireland and Irishmen in the French revolution. 1932)

Irish Freemasonry is ancient indeed, and the quintessentially Irish symbol of Freemasonry, the Baal's Bridge Square, is dated to 1507.  It represents undeniable evidence that Masonic philosophy and practice was kicking up its heels in Ireland long before 1717.

Various scholars have tackled the quandaries presented by the remnants of Irish culture, long in duration and unfortunately subject to confusion due to the destructive influence of the English invasion, cultural as much as military. One such scholar, Alan Nowell, has written a number of articles in the academic journal, Irish Archaeology, on the subject of early Irish dance, archeological evidence, and its possible relationship with Freemasonry. In his view, the Irish dance Fer Cengail, (O.I. meaning tied or connected men) may have middle eastern roots and may be related to other lore associated with the Freemasons. Whatever reaction one may have to his position, it represents both a fascinating read, and an amazing research topic. (Nowell, Alan. "An Insular Dance: The Dance of the Fer Cengail?" in Archaeology Ireland, Vol. 19, No. 2, Summer 2005. pp. 36-39.)

It should be noted, from a purely historical perspective that Freemasons were very involved with Irish efforts at gaining independence prior to their more successful attempts in what became the United States. The American Revolution was aided and abetted by many Irish and Scottish Masons. The claims that all Irish masons involved in revolutionary activity in Ireland were "Hedge" or unrecognized Masons is about as honest as the claims of the First English Grand Lodge that Masons did not discuss politics in their meetings, and were politically motivated claims.  The Irish connection must also be noted in the case of Elizabeth St. Leger who in the 1600s was the most noteworthy Female Freemason, and also that Prince Hall and his first African American Freemasons were initiated by an Irish Military Lodge.

The most significant modern work of Anglo-Irish literature, indeed it is commonly considered the most important modern novel in the English language, is James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake." The song of the same name is well known by Irish people world wide,  but the book is seldom read by popular audiences.  Most College English majors read the book, and I myself read it while still in High School. Finnegan's Wake is written in highly idiosyncratic, mixing standard English, neologistic multilingual puns (often taken from Gaelic) and portmanteau words, which produce a very dreamlike and surreal reality. In this epic novel, there are extensive references, in Joyce's quixotic language, to Freemasonry. Many articles have been written on the subject, but one, to me which is most interesting is Laura Peterson's "The Bygmester, His Geamatron, and the Triumphs of the Craftygild: "Finnegans Wake" and the Art of Freemasonry (James Joyce Quarterly, Vol 27, No, 4. Summer 1990. pp. 777-792.)

In case you are curious about Finnegan's association with Freemasonry, perhaps it is best to read Joyce's first remarks about the Master himself,

"Bygmester Finnegan, of the Stuttering Hand, freemen's maurer, lived in the broadest way immarginable in his rushlit toofarback for messuages before joshuan judges had given us numbers or Helviticus committed deuteronomy (one yeastyday he sternely struxk his tete in a tub for to watsch the future of his fates but ere he swiftly stook it out again, by the might of moses, the very water was eviparated and all the guenneses had met their exodus so that ought to show you what a pentschanjeuchy chap he was!) and during mighty odd years this man of hod, cement and edifices in Toper's Thorp piled buildung supra buildung pon the banks for the livers by the Soangso. "

Clearly, one cannot doubt that this description demonstrates all the clarity of many a Masonic piece of architecture, but with a great deal more alliteration.  Although we have our own infinitely superior native language, Buidheachas do Dhia, which as all Gaelic speakers know, is the language spoken in heaven, we have seen fit, out of compassion to our less fortunate neighbors, to have vastly improved the literature of theirs.

 Lá Fhéile Phadraig maith daoibh uilig!

GL of Tennessee Suspends Recognition of California, as well as of English Grammar

In a remarkable turn of events, the Grand Lodge of Tennessee has not only suspended recognition of the Grand Lodge of California but has overturned the rules of English Grammar

Regarding appendant bodies, please see:
What the GL of CA said about various appendant bodies

Thanks to the Tao of Freemasonry!

Thanks to Greg Hall for sharing the link which clarifies the position with regards to appendant bodies.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Politics of Fear and the Masonry of Exclusion

I have been contemplating the current storm surrounding Georgia and Tennessee and attempting to focus my thoughts on the matter. I've shared a few observations, but it continues to occupy my thoughts now and again during otherwise busy days. In the long run, I remain, true to my own nature, ultimately positive in my view of the situation. By that, I mean to say I view this as a good thing. Masons, of any description, have a natural tendency toward complacency. We don't like controversy, we don't like argument, and we like to allow things to evolve. But of course, complacency tends to discourage evolution. It much prefers the status quo. 

I'd like to propose considering at least for the sake of this discussion, a parallel or analogy between politics and Freemasonry. We see the affects of the politics of fear which have governed our nation now for far too long. The politics of fear and the creation of divisions between citizens which has accompanied that have damaged our nation and hurt the lives of many. A rational, thoughtful person, regardless of where their political inclination may position them, will recognize that the effects of such political manipulation is detrimental to society as a whole.

An unsentimental and honest examination of contemporary Freemasonry should make it clear that there exists similar forms of influence within Freemasonry. For the most part however, rather than presented as the claims of political leaders, the politics of division within Freemasonry are hidden in the guise of tradition. Admittedly, that remark alone is probably enough to make certain segments of the Masonic community run in search of their buckets of tar and their feather pillows. However, I am not the enemy of real tradition. False tradition, no matter however hoary it may be, should be subject to critical scrutiny.

For far too long, Freemasonry, especially in the United States has been defined, far too often by US vs. THEM, by who gets included and who is excluded, rather than by its largely vapid claims of universal brotherhood. And for the defenders of the faith among us, no, I am not attacking the one true Freemasonry. I am however, saying that we need to eliminate our contradictions and get honest, as much with ourselves as with others. 

What is Freemasonry? Is it a club for White Rednecks? Is it a club for old and comfortable businessmen? Is it an adult version of the "Our gang" clubhouse with the hand scrawled sign saying Girls keep out? Or Gays keep out? Or Blacks keep out? And does anyone take seriously the claims of "recognition" between Prince Hall and "mainstream" Grand Lodges when you can go to 99% of the lodges within the country and see either a sea of white faces or a sea of black ones?

It has to be clear to any and all, that mainstream Freemasonry today is not really ready to address the issue of gender. But today it has to face the question of Gender preference. The alternative will be the continued desanguination of  the lodge. Any thinking mason also has to realize, however persistently he pushes the realization to the back of his mind and himself into a state of denial, that eventually, all such issues of separation or division, which ultimately are polite terms for bias, whether they be related to race, gender preference, religion, or gender itself, will have to be grappled with and resolved. Ultimately, we also need to be honest that given our society as a whole, dealing with these things will mean dissolving both in word and in deed, any such barriers to membership, in the long run if not as a short term prospect.  The only real question is whether we tackle these issues while there are still functioning lodges able to consider petitions from potential initiates.

As I write this, I hear the old familiar voices ringing in my ears, that this will never be, that I am simply attacking "real" Freemasonry, etc. etc. Those are all very self applauding, and comforting ideas for those who voice them. They preclude the need to seriously consider the issue. They all reflect the politics of division and fear. "We are 'real', and you are not." "Why do you attack our fundamental traditions?" They are all disingenuous defenses. At the end of the day, I will not be directly affected by the decisions made by "mainstream" North American Freemasonry surrounding those issues. I am not gay, nor am I a woman. And I do not have to abide by the decisions of any of those Grand Lodges as my Freemasonry is less than fraternally described by many as "clandestine," a broad misuse of the term, as I am not remotely clandestine about it. After all, if there are any laws I uphold more fervently than those of the Craft, they are those of good English.

In one way, it might be argued by some that I should see the "downfall" of mainstream Freemasonry as a blessing. It would enable more growth for other forms of Masonry. However, that view, occasionally suggested by mainstream Masons, but never by the liberal masons I know, is simply wrong. The differences, the divisions within the Craft are ultimately artificial and of far less importance than the values we should be upholding. These are merely denominations, sects, and of secondary significance. Are not Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics and Copts, all Christians? Liberal Freemasonry has far more to gain from a healthy and open-minded "mainstream" Freemasonry, than from its demise. Indeed, although probably one mason in a thousand may view it this way, alas, we are all in this together. As I remarked recently and repeat here, to quote the Revolutionary Motto, and it would indeed be revolutionary for Freemasonry if we as a whole would adopt it, "United we stand, divided we fall."

That motto brings me full circle. "Mainstream" Freemasonry needs to consider what that motto means in relation to the membership of Freemasonry and Freemason's membership in that other universal fraternity - the human race. There is, despite differences of color, ethnicity, religion, language, sexual preference, and gender, only one human race. Are we going to become Universal, or continue to define ourselves by those whom we exclude? How much benefit does anyone really accrue by doing that? How much light can we seek when we limit the spectrum to a small bandwidth? Can we actually define ourselves by what we are, rather than by what we are not? Those are questions that need to be contemplated, because just as for us as a species, our survival as Freemasons depends on getting together while embracing our differences rather than trying to homogenize them.

I cannot make those decisions; other masons have to do so. Although I might wish to see a particular outcome, I offer these thoughts not to influence the decision, but to encourage a thoughtful one. Masons have decisions to make, the Lodge has work to do.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Continuing Open Debate in Freemasonry Today

It is tempting at moments like this, with such unprecedented discussion and debate taking place in public forums, and we can imagine similar challenging discussions occurring behind closed doors,  to postulate that we could be experiencing a pivotal watershed in the history of contemporary Freemasonry, at least in the United States.

I should like to suggest that, in spite of being well aware that in periods of fluidity such as this, such predictions may come back to haunt an individual, precisely because I am essentially an optimist. I am however also a realist. And so, my reason for believing this to be a possible moment of change, does not rest upon which side of this ethical debate wins.

Of course, there are fears, and these are far from
unspoken, that a decision to remove all obstacles to the public admission of gay men to mainstream Freemasonry in the US will be the impetus to eventually cause the removal of barriers to women joining mainstream lodges. There are of course reasons why that may be arguably true, and also reasons one might argue one will not lead to the other.

However, as significant as any such decision may be, and I do not by any means intend to say that the outcome of this quite public debate will be insignificant in itself, I think the entire situation, as Brother Christopher Hodapp has noted, will ultimately have a big impact upon the rank and file well beyond this event.  I tend to feel that even if that causes the rank and file some momentary discomfort, it bodes well. It will force us all to look more closely at our own values and seek, to pluck the mote, not  as the biblical passage advises us, from our brother's eye but from our own.

What I see as being a watershed in this moment, is not so much what decision ultimately is made, but the realization by the leadership and (hopefully) the majority of the rank and file, that such choices play out in a far more public way with consequences for all, than we previously were content to believe. We must realize that we are a part of the larger society, and that to be a force of good in society we must engage society. That however, means we cannot afford to be too far out of step with it. The choices of each group will from now on, have implications for us all. As Bro. Hodapp notes, and I paraphrase him, time will tell.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

More Old Lodges Disappear

While Masonic attention may be focused upon other traumatic events at the moment, there is something else that only occasionally surfaces and is given only sporadic attention. However, although it is usually considered as a singular event, I thought it might be good to consider it as an ongoing phenomenon, because that it is. Every month in the US, at least one, and often many lodges are lost. Some are lost to closings, other represent the sale of a lodge building which may be repurposed, as the one mentioned here in Princeton, New Jersey. Others may be demolished, as is most likely the fate of the Bethlehem , PA lodge mentioned in one of the links below, and still others fall victims to natural tragedies such as the fire which destroyed an old Lodge in Milton, Calaveras County (California).

Whatever the reason, these are individual losses for specific communities, but they represent an ongoing process for American Freemasonry as a whole. Because of that, as unpleasant as it may be, I think people, Masons in particular, need to pay heed to this, and begin to think about it as a series of related events, as part of an ongoing process; one which does not bode well for our fraternity. These lodges, most of them anyway, will not be replaced. While that represents an architectural loss for the nation, it represents even more for Freemasonry.

It is my belief that Masonry as a whole needs to get a lot less dogmatic and a lot less denominational, and start looking for solutions. We needn't unify as a single jurisdiction or obedience, we needn't dissolve our differences and agree on what Masonry is, but we should still be able to find ways to become more accepting of our differences and learn to work together for the common good. Will that ever happen? I have serious doubts, but there was once a common phrase in this country, "United we stand, divided we fall." So, I do believe we fail to do so at our peril.

Bethlehem, PA. Masonic Lodge and Mansion to be torn down:
Princeton, NJ Masonic Lodge to be converted to apartments:

Highland Park (Los Angeles) Masonic Lodge for sale:

Calaveras County lodge destroyed in fire:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The One Small Blessing surrounding the Current Scandal involving the Grand Lodges of Georgia & Tennessee

In looking at the past few days turmoil over the Grand Lodges of Georgia and Tennessee, after the latest twist in which the Grand Lodge of California has decided to suspend recognition, showing at least the minimum ethical response one might have hoped for, which has apparently made DC feel forced to do likewise, there is one small and very slight positive element, a minor blessing, in all this mess.

No, that' is not that these two Grand Lodges have felt obliged to act; they should have done so within 24 hours of the original events. In any case, these same Grand Lodges are always looking for ways to be an embarrassment to anyone not still living in the 19th century. They should have been stripped of recognition permanently ages ago if recognition really meant anything. Of course, we know it doesn't. It's a matter of convenience.

What we should view as a great blessing is the fact that nobody much pays any attention to what happens in Freemasonry anymore. Because, that anybody, anywhere, would be willing to call such institutions as the GL of Georgia or Tennessee "brethren" is absolutely shameful.

It is events such as these that make me eternally grateful that I am not associated with UGLE derived Freemasonry. Vivez la différence!