The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nebraska, Hawaii, Montana, Alaska, North Dakota

Five more states and my Flag Counter will be full. If there are any Freemasons, Jews, job-hunters, or people interested in these things in Nebraska, Hawaii, Montana, Alaska, or North Dakota, please visit this site. I know that it's a bit cheap to solicit visits this way, but please indulge me.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Job hunting again: LinkedIn for Masons

My work contract ends at the end of October. I'm in job-hunting mode again. I work with Health Level 7 (HL7), a data protocol for transferring medical data over the Internet. In my last two jobs, I built and maintained data routes that pumped HL7 ADT (admit, discharge, transfer) data from hospitals and medical clinics to data centers.

I have a BA in Creative Writing and Literature, and an MS in Mathematics and Computer Science, with a Pure Mathematics focus. I have taught math at the high school and college levels, edited math textbooks and websites with mathematical content, maintained and customized document recognition software before doing what I currently do. Even though medical data skills are in high demand these days, I'm willing to consider other career paths.

I'm going to make a plug for LinkedIn, a website that helps with job networking. I have a profile there, and I've already found a few nibbles. One feature that really helps with networking is their Groups feature. Join as many groups as you can. Here's why.

On LinkedIn, if you add someone as a contact, but they reject you as a contact, you get a black mark on your record (they think you're a spammer). Get enough black marks, and you can't add contacts without presenting their email addresses. Get more, and you get kicked off the site. Thus anyone you add as a contact without their permission can hurt your reputation on the site. That's not a bad thing, but one has to be careful cold-calling people, even people who might be good to network with. If your target is a contact of yours, you can freely communicate with them. If they are a contact of a contact of yours, or a contact of a contact of a contact of yours ( 2 or 3 deep), you can get an introduction through your contracts. Otherwise they are out of reach.

But if you both belong to a Group, you can contact them within the group. There are dozens of masonic groups, Scottish Rite groups, Shriners groups, Jewish groups, Therapy Dog groups (my dog is a Therapy Dog through Therapy Dogs International), alumni groups, professional groups, even fans of different operating systems, computer languages, sports teams, you name it. You can search for people in your field through your group connections. You can even look for jobs, and see if anyone from your groups or contacts works there.

Masonic etiquette: I've heard other masons say that they add any mason as a contact who asks them to. This is commendable if due trial, strict examination, and lawful information has been gathered about the contact. The internet has its cowans, and the Recession has people looking for any angle to get a new job, so brothers are advised to be careful. If you see a network target who has masonica on his LinkedIn page, and you share a group together (especially a masonic group), it's not unreasonable to send him a message like "Brother A.B.: I am a brother at <lodge> Lodge #n in <town>, <state>, and I noticed that our career interests overlap. Please consider adding me as a contact. If you know of any employment opportunities that match my skill set, I hope you will consider me. Sincerely and Fraternally, Brother <you>."

Some groups ask you state your lodge, your office in that lodge if any, and maybe answer some questions from the lectures before allowing you to join them, or they might write to your lodge secretary to see if you are a current member. That's a good thing. You want them to tyle their group properly. The group might take a week or so before adding you. That's not cause for alarm.

If you want to add me as a contact, use the email form on this blog page to contact me. Good luck and good fortune to all of us.
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Monday, September 14, 2009

An Open Letter to Atheists

Dear Atheists:

Even though I am a religious Jew, I'm not your enemy. Really, I'm not. I was raised secularly, and spent a lot of my life without faith. For most of that time, I considered myself agnostic, but I never believed in an angry bearded anthropomorph in the sky (and still don't), and I would consider myself to have held implicit atheistic beliefs in my past. I still have many close friends who are both implicit and explicit atheists, and we respect each other enough to have respect for each other's beliefs. Because Judaism is a complex umbrella of ethnicity, culture, religion, spiritual practice, and de facto grouping, there is no conflict of interest to be an atheist Jew. I have atheist Jews who go to synagogue with me, and they are as welcome as anyone else there. Some will even fast for Yom Kippur, not out of any religious devotion, but as an expression of cultural identity. An atheist Jewish friend of mine defines Judaism as: "When they come to round up all the Jews, if they get you, you're a Jew." While more paranoid than my own personal definition, it does illustrate a point. Jews are not evangelical, and even if you wanted to convert to Judaism, a rabbi would try to talk you out of it unless you had your heart set on it.

I wouldn't even need to write this letter to you, except for a disturbing trend I see within your ranks, that has me concerned, especially because I want to extend an olive branch to you, and this trend makes me hesitate to do so. I am tolerant of other religions to the extent that they are tolerant of me and my faith. I have Muslim friends whom I love and support, but when Hamas says that Jews are descended from pigs and rats, I withdraw my support. I have Christian friends, and I admire their faith, but I do not admire those who claim I am damned to Hell for rejecting Christ, nor those who accuse me of killing Christ. Tolerance has to be reciprocal, or it doesn't exist. I love and support my atheist friends as long as they don't regard all faith as a sick delusion that has to be stamped out of human consciousness. My worry is that I'm seeing too many of you go from atheism to antitheism to intolerance of theism, and I don't like to share my community with bigots of any stripe, theist or atheist.

It's hard to be an atheist. The overwhelming majority of people believe in God, and it's easy to feel outnumbered and overwhelmed by those of faith. Believe me, as a Jew in the USA, I know what it's like to feel outnumbered and overwhelmed, and in Australia it was considerably worse. I experienced being forced to have a Christian religious education, to be told daily that I was damned, to be rejected, suspected, and condemned, and worst of all, to be treated as alien by otherwise well-meaning people. In your history, you were subjected to the same persecution as the Jews, Cathars, Rosicrucians, Swedenborgians, Sufis, Ishmaelians, Yazids, Druze, Quakers, Unitarians, and other minorities who believed differently from the faiths of the majority. The previous President of the USA vocally doubted whether you could be true citizens. That sucks. In some regions, you face discrimination at work, ostracism in your communities, and in other parts of the world, imprisonment or death.

There have been moments where atheists have been in control of their nations, but so far those have not been happy memories either. In the USSR, the League of the Militant Godless had state support, and sought to teach people that they did not need gods in order to live a fulfilling life. In their zeal, they destroyed churches, synagogues and mosques, and ended up imprisoning and murdering people. In Albania, every place of worship was ceded to the state, and converted to secular community centers. Priests, rabbis and imams were sent to re-education camps. It became a criminal offense to teach any religious thought or practice, making it the only state in the history of the world to actively seek to obliterate religion from its territory.

Like state religion, state atheism is horrible and inhumane. Any forced ideology exists through violence rather than reason, and a reasonable person opposes any forced ideology of intolerance, whether towards, or away from religion. That religions have, in their history, committed far more atrocities than those committed by atheists, does not make any of those crimes condonable or justifiable.

Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Communist, grew up in Sardinia. He watched the Young Sardinia movement emerge, modeled after the Young Turks movement. He saw Sardinians develop a political movement based on a Sardinian identity, and saw they had a chance of overthrowing their Piedmontese (Italian) occupiers and establishing a Sardinian state. Then he noticed that the movement was bankrolled by the local landlords, who were starving the local peasantry with brutal rents, and harsh reprisals for late payments or disobedience. That is when he asked himself: if the Young Sardinians take power here, will they be kinder, or more just than the Piedmontese? Would he be any freer than he would be under the status quo? That's when he realized that who ruled was not the only matter of importance, but how they ruled was equally important (by using that same logic, he ultimately later rejected Communism).

So how do we assure that you can live lives free of oppression? Because if you aren't free, you may gain power and enslave me some day, so I need you to live a life where you are secure in your liberties in order to be secure in mine. Here in the USA, we have had an interfaith tolerance written into the Constitution, but throughout our history, it has been a struggle to live up to that tolerance. If you actually look at the language, it is more than interfaith, but extra-faith as well:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
That means that respecting an establishment of religion is beyond the power of the state. If we truly live up to that sentiment, it should be beyond our power to compel another's faith or lack thereof. This is the essence of tolerance: that I believe what I believe, you believe what you believe (or don't believe), and neither forces the issue. We live in peace together because we do not try to coerce each other. I pray every day, and go to synagogue and pray with others who are there willingly, and you don't have to. However you may personally feel about my practice, you are enlightened enough to assume that, in my current level of enlightenment, I need it to function, and do not seek to deprive me of my needs. You may privately feel that such needs are pathetic, but you are compassionate enough not to interfere. You are gracious enough to let me be, and you may have faith that if I seek to improve my mind, I may one day reach your level of enlightenment and cast off my belief system, but you do not force my hand. Reciprocally, I may privately see you as stunted and deprived, starving for spiritual truth, and may feel that you are playing out old emotional damage by creating a deity of your bitterness and giving it non-existence as a form of catharsis, and that the real God is patiently waiting for your tantrum to end in order for you to see God again and reunite with your Creator, but I also understand that by so doing, you are healing, and I do not interfere with your process (I don't actually think that of most of you, but I'm being rhetorical here).

The point is that tolerance is allowing others to believe things you think are wrong, and respecting their processes enough to allow them to work things out on their own. Obviously there are places where tolerance ends. If I feel that God wants me to strap dynamite to my body and blow up a shopping mall, I should be prevented from doing this as expediently as possible. If you feel that I require a lobotomy because I believe I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the Universe, you should be prevented from having your way. There are going to be gray areas, like the Jewish practice of B'rit Milah, or the education of children, but we can negotiate these gray areas in a respectful manner if we develop the practice of tolerance for the clearcut cases.

In religious communities, the idea of interfaith dialogue is a hot idea right now, and it's a good idea. Most Jews and Muslims have no idea how many points of similarity we have together. Jews and Christians have a lot of tragedy and reconciliation to process, having come from a common source. We may see the reintegration of Catholicism with Orthodox Christianity in our lifetimes. Tolerance depends on mutual understanding, and we have seen many religions in the USA that previously excluded and oppressed lesbians, gays, bisexuals, the transgendered, and those questioning their sexualities welcoming them back into the fold (The United Church of Christ has done great work here). Although Christians once regarded (and many still regard) homosexuality as a terrible sin, some Christians are able to be tolerant, and by so doing, have won many to their faith. There is nothing like respecting a person as they currently are to earn their respect. There is no reason that a dialogue between believers and unbelievers, in the interest of tolerance, can not take place.

So my plea to you is to be tolerant of others, and to encourage others to be tolerant of you. People who think differently from you will think things that annoy you, but if you can communicate with them in an atmosphere of mutual respect, please do so. I know that many religious people are so intolerant of your beliefs that they cannot meet you half way. You are under no obligation to be tolerant of such people. But please understand that not all religious people are your enemies. Some of us love you and respect you, and want to earn your love and respect as well.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This blog is moving to a new address

I've been invited by Greg Stewart and Dean Kennedy to join their excellent website Freemason Information. I've been enjoying their podcasts for a year now, and I was delighted that they created their website, which has among its contributors and commentors some of the most interesting masons in the blogosphere.

Therefore I was deeply honored that they invited me to be one of their regular contributors. I will continue this blog on their website. My first post is here. This is cobbled from old posts on this blog, updated to be contemporary to new readers. Please continue to read my blog on Freemason Information, rather than at this URL.



Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Destruction of the Temple

Tomorrow night begins Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath immediately preceding Tisha B'Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. Jews remember the destruction of Solomon's Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. It is also the anniversary of the destruction of Zerubbabel's/Herod's Temple by the Romans. It's also the anniversary of:

  • The twelve scouts of Canaan returning from their mission with exaggerated tales of how mighty the Canaanites were. Because of the general panic of the Israelites in the desert over these false tales, God doomed the Israelites to wander in the desert for an additional 40 years, and condemned them all to death in the wilderness, allowing only those born in the desert to reach the Promised Land (except Joshua and Caleb).
  • The failure of the Bar Kochba revolt, the last Jewish king to rule in Palestine.
  • The razing of Jerusalem by the Romans, and the final ancient exile of the Jewish people from their homeland.
  • The expulsion of Jews from England in 1290.
  • The Alhambra Decree of 1492, expelling the Jews from Spain.
  • The expulsion of the Jews from Vienna, 1670.
  • The start of World War I, 1914.
  • The mass deportation of the Warsaw Ghetto Jews to Treblinka Extermination Camp, in 1942.

Some of the later anniversaries were not accidents. The Tsarist Russians and Nazis would often time their massacres for Jewish holidays to further demoralize the Jews, and the irony of exiling or murdering us on Tisha B'Av was not lost on many of the Jews' historical enemies.

Oddly enough, the Messiah is supposed to be born on Tisha B'Av. This strange midrash is supposed to provide encouragement, that even on the Jews' saddest day, there is a glimmer of hope.

Because Solomon's Temple was destroyed on Tisha B'Av, this anniversary is a Masonic day of mourning as well. Every mason, and especially every Scottish Rite Prince of Jerusalem, would do well to have a moment of silence on Thursday to remember what we lost.

Orthodox Jews are prohibited from observing Holocaust Remembrance Day (post-Talmudic rabbis do not have the authority to create new days of observance, not until the Messiah gives them that permission), so they remember the Nazi Holocaust on Tisha B'Av.

This year, Tisha B'Av falls on a Wednesday night, and continues until an hour after sundown on Thursday. Traditional observance includes the harshest kind of religious fast for these 25 hours:

  1. No eating or drinking of any kind, save life-saving medicines.
  2. No washing or bathing.
  3. No applying of creams or oils, except if medically necessary.
  4. No wearing leather, especially not leather shoes.
  5. No sexual relations. Some refrain from physical gestures of affection of any kind, even going so far as not to greet others during this time.

Reading the Bible is forbidden (because that can be joyous), except for the books of Lamentation, Job, and parts of Jeremiah that address the destruction of the Temple. One is forbidden to sit in a chair until after noon, sitting on the floor instead. Some people sleep on the floor without a pillow the night of Tisha B'Av. Old or damaged prayer books and Torah scrolls are given a funeral and buried, the same way that old or damaged flags are burnt on Flag Day. Work is to be avoided, if possible.

There is an evening synagogue service, and the entirety of the Book of Lamentations is sung. The cantor we had last year began sobbing in the middle, and someone else had to take over. Like I said before, it's a very sad day.

Last year, Tisha B'Av fell on a Saturday night to Sunday night. I observed all of the mandatory rules, which was easier because of the weekend. This year, it falls on a work day, and I'm more conflicted. My heart wants to follow all the observances, but two things interfere. One: I have a go-live with a major medical practice at my job, and I'm a contractor, so I don't get holidays. Our client has 9 branches, all of which are going live on Thursday, and I'm the project lead. If I fast, I'm going to be a mess when I need all my mental acuity. Two: I'm moving this weekend through next week, and I don't want to fast and do heavy lifting. I'm really conflicted as to what to do. I need a good night's sleep for my go-live, so I might go to services, but not observe the fast. I feel like a bad Jew, but I'd rather not be an unemployed, homeless Jew on top of it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pike gets me thinking

I'm reading Albert Pike's Magnum Opus, or the Great Work for The College of the Consistory. I'm enrolled in the School of Perfection (4° to 14°) for the next two years, but since I've mailed off my initial assignment for the School of Perfection, and am waiting for my next assignment, I thought I would read ahead.

It is important to note that I am in the Valley of Boston, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ) of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite (AASR), and Albert Pike was Sovereign Grand Commander of the Southern Jurisdiction (SJ). We respect Illustrious Brother Pike in the NMJ, but he was never our leader, and our ritual and degree titles are different from his vision of what they should be. The Southern Jurisdiction is the mother jurisdiction of all Scottish Rite jurisdictions in the world, but this was established before Pike was born, and it is not at all clear that SJ exerts any authority over other jurisdictions. The book he is best known for, Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, or Morals and Dogma for short, is a difficult read and compares a lot of different faiths without singling any one out for special praise. That makes fundamentalists very uncomfortable, and anti-Masons love to misquote Morals and Dogma to make their point about Freemasonry in general, falsely claiming that Pike was the world leader of all of Freemasonry, an office that does not exist. In the NMJ, we can side-step the controversy by pointing out that Pike did not write our degrees, and that he has never had any authority over the NMJ. I'm not sure our bitterest enemies, especially the proponents of the Taxil forgery and the Three World Wars crowd, care very much about facts.

In any case, Morals and Dogma gives the reader the following warning:

In preparing this work, the Grand Commander has been about equally Author and Compiler; since he has extracted quite half its contents from the works of the best writers and most philosophic or eloquent thinkers. Perhaps it would have been better and more acceptable if he had extracted more and written less.

Still, perhaps half of it is his own; and, in incorporating here the thoughts and words of others, he has continually changed and added to the language, often intermingling, in the same sentences, his own words with theirs. It not being intended for the world at large, he has felt at liberty to make, from all accessible sources, a Compendium of the Morals and Dogma of the Rite, to re-mould sentences, change and add to words and phrases, combine them with his own, and use them as if they were his own, to be dealt with at his pleasure and so availed of as to make the whole most valuable for the purposes intended. He claims, therefore, little of the merit of authorship, and has not cared to distinguish his own from that which he has taken from other sources, being quite willing that every portion of the book, in turn, may be regarded as borrowed from some old and better writer.

The teachings of these Readings are not sacramental, so far as they go beyond the realm of Morality into those of other domains of Thought and Truth. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite uses the word "Dogma" in its true sense, of doctrine, or teaching; and is not dogmatic in the odious sense of that term. Every one is entirely free to reject and dissent from whatsoever herein may seem to him to be untrue or unsound. It is only required of him that he shall weigh what is taught, and give it fair hearing and unprejudiced judgment.

I have to be very careful here. My brothers at the Guthrie Scottish Rite Temple have been very generous in letting me study their courses, and I am very grateful to them for their gift of masonic light. I am also loyal to my mother valley and mother jurisdiction. SJ has its Master Craftsman program, and the College of the Consistory is a SJ program, but I'm not aware the NMJ has anything similar. If I were aware of a NMJ program that invited a brother to study their degrees in depth, I would take that program in preference to a SJ program, because I'd be studying my own degrees instead of an extra-regional variant. A visit to both jursidictions' websites reveals nearly 50 books for sale at the SJ website, and only one at the NMJ website, and that book is not about Scottish Rite Freemasonry. I'm still very new to the Scottish Rite, so I assume that we at the NMJ are a bit more guarded about masonic education, and I will be invited to study and learn when I prove myself worthy. Until then, I am glad that other opportunities have been afforded to me, and it is my sincere hope that the light I gain from these SJ programs will go some way towards making me worthy of whatever educational program the NMJ offers its brothers. It is most sincerely not my intention to offend my NMJ brothers by studying SJ ritual, and it should not be interpreted as a preference for SJ practices over NMJ practices.

In Sovereign Grand Commander George Newbury's history of the NMJ, he notes that the NMJ at one time made the Rose Croix (18°) degree Christian-only, a restriction that Ill. Bro. Newbury rejected and dropped. He also notes that Pike was deeply unhappy about this restriction. Pike writes in Magnum Opus: "If, anywhere, brethren of a particular religious belief have been excluded from this degree, it merely shows how gravely the purposes and plan of Masonry may be misunderstood. For whenever the door of any degree is closed against him who believes in one God and the soul's immortality, on account of the other tenets of his faith, that degree is Masonry no longer. No Mason has the right to interpret the symbols of this degree for another, or to refuse him its mysteries, if he will not take them with the explanation and commentary superadded."

It is fascinating how Pike expounds on Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, with one Council of Kadosh degree in the explicit idiom of each, and insists that Knights Kadosh have to learn about each of the major Abrahamic faiths and go through a degree in the mode of each faith in order to achieve the title. He also speaks about Masonry's compatibility with Buddhism and Hinduism, even calling the Buddha a mason. His liberties with masonic history rankle the more historically-minded Freemasons I know, but he is careful to explain that he is being allegorical, and he is expounding on archetypal truths, not historical truths.

(UPDATE: I found this explanation in the Master of the Symbolic Lodge lecture (20°):

We teach the truth of none of the legends we recite. They are to us but parables and allegories, involving and enveloping Masonic instruction; and vehicles of useful and interesting information. They represent the different phases of the human mind, its efforts and struggles to comprehend nature, God, the government of the Universe, the permitted existence of sorrow and evil. To teach us wisdom, and the folly of endeavouring to explain to ourselves that which we are not capable of understanding, we reproduce the speculations of the Philosophers, the Kabbalists, the Mystagogues and the Gnostics. Every one being at liberty to apply our symbols and emblems as he thinks most consistent with truth and reason and with his own faith, we give them such an interpretation only as my be accepted by all.)

This little nugget from the Secret Master (4°) lecture I'm sure would rankle other masons:

If you have been disappointed in the first three degrees; if it has seemed to you that the performance has not come up to the promise, and that the common-places which are uttered in them with such an air, the lessons in science and the arts, merely rudimentary, and known to every school-boy, the trite maxims of morality, and the trivial ceremonies are unworthy the serious attention of a grave and sensible man, occupied with the weighty cares of life, and to whom his time is valuable, remember that those ceremonies and lessons come to us from an age when the commonest learning was confined to a select few, when the most ordinary and fundamental principles of morality were new discoveries; and that the first three degrees stand in these latter days, like the columns of the old, roofless, Druidic Temple, in their rude and primeval simplicity, mutilated also and corrupted by the action of time, and the additions and interpolations of illiterate ignorance. They are but the entrance to the great Masonic Temple, the mere pillars of the portico.

As someone for whom the Middle Chamber lecture, as I received it, stole my heart, this does not sit well with me. How many of my brothers actually study the seven liberal arts? How many masons do you know still put an apostrophe before every final s? Brother Esquire insists that Pike loved the first three degrees, but was deeply critical of the Preston-Webb versions of them. I'm also aware that the Morals and Dogma version of this lecture is less harsh than this. But even still, I don't reject this paragraph out of hand. While any contemporary mason will tell you that there is enough in the three Craft degrees to satisfy a lifetime of curiosity, I understand the yearning to explore further degrees and bodies, and the Scottish Rite has a marvelous opportunity to satisfy this yearning in its brothers.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Biblical Inerrancy

This was written in response to what The Euphrates wrote about Inerrancy and Homosexuality in the Episcopalian Church at Freemason Information, but I am reposting it here.

The Orthodox tradition in my faith starts with inerrancy of the Five Books of Moses, but provides extensive commentary and interpretation through the Mishnah (Oral Torah), the Talmud, and nearly two millennia of commentaries upon them. Thus, while Scripture unfiltered tells us, "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them [Leviticus 20:13]," there must be at least two witnesses [Deuteronomy 17:6], and the Talmud tells us that a court of 23 judges had to vote, and the vote could not be unanimous (which would hint at a conspiracy to execute the condemned), and that the two witnesses could not corroborate their testimony before testifying, but would have a moral obligation to intervene, warning the accused that their behavior carried the death penalty. Only if the accused acknowledged each warning, but continued their behavior after each of two witnesses warned them to stop could they stand trial. Thus while the Mosaic Law says put them to death, the Rabbinic Law requires that the two men have sex somewhere where a person could come upon them in flagrente delicto, warn them to stop or face the death penalty, and continue even after having been warned and having replied that they were going to continue regardless, have another person do the same thing, and then have the two witnesses, independent of each other, report the transgression to the authorities, and have a tribunal non-unanimously vote for their execution in order for the sentence to be carried out.

So while the Law is inerrant, the Rabbis in their wisdom made it nearly impossible to extinguish two lives for loving each other in a non-standard way.

Interestingly, the word abomination in the Levitical law is תּוֹעֵבָה, the same word used to describe eating the flesh of swine, hares and hyraxes, as well as fish without scales, and shellfish; having sex with a menstruating woman, using a rigged scale to cheat a customer, wearing women's clothing, remarrying a wife after divorcing her, possessing gold or silver taken from an idol, and for a woman to crush the testicles of one of her husband's assailants.

The death penalty is also assigned for a lot of offenses in the Torah: Fortune telling, blaspheming, violating the Sabbath, disobeying or publicly cursing one's parents, a woman losing her virginity before marriage, adultery with one's daughter-in-law, false witness, contempt of court, allowing a dangerous ox to gore a neighbor through negligence, prostitution by a daughter of a priest, worshiping Baal Peor or sacrificing to any other god than YHVH, and adultery with a married woman all carry the death penalty.

Execution took place via stoning, decapitation, strangulation, or being forced to drink molten lead. Moses orders people to be impaled, as does other leaders in the later books, but YHVH never proscribes that as a legal penalty.

The Talmud mitigates this severely by making it very difficult for a court to put anyone to death. The Talmud tells us that if a court executed one person in seven years, it was considered an excessively "bloody" court.

Because I'm not a Christian, I don't understand why a few Christians fixate upon the homosexuality of others; and yet eat pork, allow their children to curse at them at the mall, have pre-marital sex, and enjoy the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. Maybe Jesus or Paul says more about homosexuality that I'm not aware of. If the New Law trumps the Old Law, which Levitical sins still apply?

P.S. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because their inhabitants were cruel to strangers, and lacked basic hospitality. While they tried to bugger the Angel of the Lord that visited Lot, they had already been condemned to death for their previous sins of cruelty and inhospitality.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Albert Pike Warns Us in 1857

I edited this from my initial post.

I'm reading the ritual book of the Scottish Rite degrees as Albert Pike revised them for the first time, in 1857, recently republished as Magnum Opus, or the Great Work. I recommend this book to any Scottish Rite Mason. The degree work really is astonishing, and the brave soul who endured these versions of the Perfect Master (5°), Confidential Secretary (6°), Knight Elu of Nine (9°), or Royal Arch (13°) degrees must have been mind-blown by what he experienced (I'm currently reading the 14° ritual, so I would imagine that there are further surprises up the road).

Reading the "Legend, History, Etc." for the Grand, Elect, Perfect and Sublime Mason (14°) degree, I came upon the following passage:

They admitted many into the order, made known to them its truths, and taught them its duties. For a long time they were wisely cautious to admit none but proper persons, who could appreciate the true purposes and objects of the Royal Craft. But by degrees the inferior grades of Masonry were so spread abroad, that men were indiscriminately admitted without due inquiry; and it was forgotten that Masonry was not a popular, but a select and exclusive institution. Improper men gained admission. It became no privilege, nor any mark of honour, to be even a Master Mason; dissensions grew rife among the members; ambition, entering in, coveted rank and honours, the secrets were improperly divulged, and Blue Masonry fell into contempt.

...Masonry continued to degenerate; candidates were admitted without due inquiry, and for the sake of revenue alone; the degrees were conferred with too great rapidity, and without a knowledge of the principles, or even of the work of the preceding degrees, on the part of Candidates; men of little intellect and information swarmed in the order, and debased and degraded it; others joined it merely through idle curiosity, and wholly degraded and set at naught their obligations; frivolous ceremonies were multiplied and new degrees invented, and large bodies of men calling themselves Masons threw off their allegiance, pretended to a knowledge of the True Word, and invented new Rites; so that the Temple of Symbolical Masonry became a mere arena of strife and a house of contention.

This is powerful stuff. Pike wrote this in 1857, a decade after the clamor from the Morgan Affair had died down. The Anti-Masonic Party had folded back into the Know-Knothings and other Nativist movements, and men were nervously, tentatively re-inhabiting their lodge rooms and doing degree work again. Why was Pike so angry at this time? In the ritual of the previous degrees, he mentions the York Rite, the French Rite, the Rites of Misraim and the Rite of Perfection without disparaging any of them (although he claims the Scottish Rite is "uniting the excellencies and rejecting the defects of the others."), so he doesn't object to extra-3° degrees per se. I wonder what he would think of one-day classes, PR campaigns, and such. I also feel a need to defend the Shrine here: there is a place for frivolity in Masonry.

Pike is walking a knife-edge danger of hypocrisy here, it should be pointed out. In the lecture, he explains that the purpose of the Perfection Degrees (4°-14°) is to safeguard Masonry that has knowledge of the True Name (or the Lost Word) from vulgarization and trivialization. But there is nothing stopping his Scottish Rite, or any other appendant body, from being exactly what he warns us against here. Also, every contemporary mason is taught that the Master Mason degree (3°) is the highest degree in masonry, and that no degree offered by any appendant body is superior to the Master Mason degree. We have all met masons who disagree: who tell us as soon as we are raised that the York Rite, or the Scottish Rite, or the Shrine is where true Masonry exists, and that the Blue Lodge is a joke. These brothers do no credit to their appendant body, nor to their Blue Lodge. Without the Blue Lodge, men aren't masons.

I'm fascinated with this passage by Pike, but it also makes me uncomfortable (not the only thing he wrote that does). It almost reads like a more fiery version of Dwight Smith, or his contemporary successors, except I'm much more sympathetic to them in this task than to Pike because they seek to fix the root of Freemasonry rather than the branch. Pike is taking me on a journey, and I'm not sure where it leads, but I cannot imagine that my loyalty to my Blue Lodge will wane before I get there. I trust that when his whole course is revealed, it will harmonize with my Blue Lodge work, rather than conflict with it.

Anyways, it got me thinking, and I wanted to share.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Traditional Observance Scottish Rite Freemasonry

I have enrolled in the College of the Consistory at Guthrie Scottish Rite in Guthrie, OK. Because I live in Massachusetts, I am taking their correspondence course, a five-year course in the Scottish Rite degrees, Southern Jurisdiction (SJ) version. I belong to the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction (NMJ), and we've taken more liberties with altering the degrees than our Southern brothers have. I don't know what Albert Pike (who never had any formal authority over NMJ degree work) would think of our current Master Traveler degree (4°, which in the SJ is called Secret Master), but I think our version of the Chief of the Tabernacle degree (23°) is very moving, even though no Tabernacle is ever mentioned in it, and it does not possess the esotericism of the SJ version.

I am grateful that Guthrie Scottish Rite have allowed me to cross jurisdictions to take this class. I am studying a copy of Albert Pike's Magnum Opus, and Dr. Rex Hutchen's book, A Bridge to Light, is on order from the Scottish Rite Headquarters, SJ. This has been a fascinating read thus far. I envy the brothers who got to experience the degree work that Pike describes, and I wonder what kind of Valley would have the budget to hold degrees faithful to Pike's vision. In each degree there are different costumes and sets, and they take place in rooms of different shapes and sizes. The Knight, or Sovereign Prince of Rose Croix, of Heredon degree (18°) takes place in four rooms, and the description of the degree work extends over thirty pages, including two pages of Statues and Regulations of Sovereign Chapters of Knights of the Rose . It would take a Scottish Rite Temple with many different lodge rooms, a vastly well-stocked costume and prop room, and a line of officers in each body who were astonishingly good at ritual to pull off what Pike describes.

It's clear that his version parallels the York Rite more closely in the first three bodies of Scottish Rite, with Lodge of Perfection paralleling the Royal Arch Chapter, the Chapter of Rose Croix paralleling the Commandery of the Knights Templar, and the Council of Kadosh paralleling the Council of Royal and Select Masters, with the Consistory providing a synthesis and culmination of the preceding degrees. Please forgive me if I'm mistaken in observing these parallels.

It is so refreshing to have the whole structure explained to me, and to have in-depth instruction in each of the individual degrees. I feel a bit sheepish being called a Sublime Prince after one day of degree work, and I want nothing more than to feel like I deserve without suspicion the degrees I've earned. How can I call myself a Grand Elect Mason when I'm not proficient in the tokens, grips and passes of the preceding degrees?

Maybe in future, if there is enough demand for it, the NMJ will create something similar. I would love to see a Traditional Observance (TO) Scottish Rite Freemasonry emerge, where the Lodge of Perfection actually sits as a tyled lodge, with the officers in their proper chairs, and the other bodies behaving similarly. The current structure is very popular, and provides many brothers with what they want from the Rite, and I would be hesitant to rob them of what brings them meaning and joy. Instead, I see TO Scottish Rite as a smaller group within our Valley who meet to study and perform the degrees in more depth, in a smaller setting.

Scottish Rite became, and remains popular because of the theatrical nature of the degree work, and I would never consider eliminating or diminishing that component of the work. But in a class of 150 candidates, your chance of being an exemplar is nil. I would be willing to pay extra to take the slower path. Imagine if one tenth of the candidates were like me. Fifteen of us would take the degrees one at a time, not in an auditorium but in a tyled lodge room. We would pay suitable degree fees per degree for the privilege, and have a Festive Board afterwards. Later, we would have a Lodge of Instruction, and have to exemplify the degree to move on to the next one, maybe even having to write a paper on each degree to demonstrate our understanding of the lessons learned. We would meet with each other and with the officers of the body whose degree we were working in, and learn the degree in depth. This would take officers deeply committed to this work to accomplish, but imagine how rewarding the experience would be. Imagine what the Rite would be if even a tenth of us were going through this process.

Right now, we have one-day classes that are exciting and fulfilling. We have great rehearsal dinners, and have a lot of fun performing the degrees. It is entirely sufficient for most of us, and should remain as is as long as that continues to be the case. But there should be a deeper layer underneath for those of us who seek the Light inherent in these degrees. The Light should be the core of the Scottish Rite, not the fringe. There should be no prejudice in favor of TO Scottish Rite Masons over the others, and no privilege coming from taking the slow route other than the education received. This work should not invalidate the fast-track route, or make brothers who choose the easier way feel that they are lesser Scottish Rite Masons for their choices.

In the status quo, the majority of Scottish Rite Masons in my Valley do not participate in Scottish Rite after they receive the Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret degree (32°), except perhaps to visit sometimes when other one-day classes take place. They pay their dues year after year just for the honor of putting "32°" after their name. They are the financial engine fueling what we do. They are pure revenue without cost, and I worry that such a revenue stream may prove untenable over time, especially during economic hardship. I would imagine that many of them will be dismissed for non-payment of dues over the next year or two, unable to justify in hard times paying into something they don't participate in. TO Scottish Rite Freemasonry will not fix that.

Two things will fix that. One, the idea basic to psychology that men value more what they invest more in; and two, a strong impression that they have joined something of value, that is willing to invest as much in them as they are in it. If it takes time and effort to earn the degrees, a brother will keep coming back to further his progress, and once he has reached the summit, he will value his accomplishment more than if it were easily handed to him, and he will stay devoted to the body that challenged him again and again before he gained his mastery. If the esprit de corps of the Scottish Rite is obvious to every witness, others will want to join such a body. If upon receiving the Master Traveler degree (4°), the Lodge of Perfection welcomes him with overwhelming hospitality, and if upon receiving the first degree in each subsequent body, he is shown similar hospitality, so that by the time he becomes a Sublime Prince (32°), he is revered with honor by other Scottish Rite Masons, and welcomed into an exclusive fold, he will cherish his degrees and titles. This is present in Pike's vision as described in the Magnum Opus, where there is special protocol for welcoming a Knight of the Rose , or a Sublime Prince into a lodge. Men respond to such things. Make the degrees feel important to a man, and they will be important to him. Remember, that's what outsiders already think the Scottish Rite is. How many of you have been told by non-masons that someone is a 32° mason, as if that were a crowning accomplishment? What if it were?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Shriners vote to keep all 22 hospitals


The Imperial Shrine session has voted to keep all 22 Shriners Hospitals for Children, including Galveston, which was destroyed in Hurricane Ike and needs to be completely rebuilt. Thanks to Brother Chris Hodapp for pointing out this news.

The Shrine has voted to keep the philanthropy, lock, stock and barrel. While the compassion exhibited by this is exemplary, I worry what will happen to our cable-tow stretched as tautly as it will be for making this commitment. Does the Shrine have the resources as it stands now to honor this commitment, or will we have to change who and what we are in order to keep the hospitals open?

I don't have any objection to this vote, but I also see the recent history of the Shrine as one of declining membership and diminishing revenue. Will we have to drop the masonic requirement for membership in order to stay afloat? Will each Shriner double his financial commitment, or will we generate the revenue some other way? Will the aspects of Shrinedom that do not relate to the hospitals suffer through this? Will other appendant body philanthropies go the way of the Shrine in tough times, or will the Shrine become the focal point of masonic philanthropy, and other masonic philanthropies will disappear?

In my Shrine Temple, we have erected a bulwark against diminishing membership, which threatens to drop below 5000 Shriners. A campaign by the Illustrious Potentate, "5K No Way," is trying to swell membership, and I was swept up in this drive, and crossed the sands as a consequence. In the interest of full disclosure, my work is in medical data IT, and my interest is primarily in supporting the hospitals, but this campaign of Potentate Robert Smith moved me to join. Also, the interview with Brother Peter Millheiser on Masonic Central showed me how useful the Shrine can be for hosting informal masonic groups outside of blue lodge.

We have some difficult challenges ahead. I think having more Shrine units like the Hibiscus Unit Brother Millheiser describes in his interview might get more masons to cross the sands. I hope we have enough energy and determination to keep the hospitals afloat, keep the Shrine Temples afloat, keep the spirit of the Shrine strong, and strengthen blue lodge participation among Shriners.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Masonic Charity and the Shrine

Originally, the Ancient Arabic Nobles of the Mystic Shrine required their members to be either 32nd degree Scottish Rite masons, or Knights Templar. This worked as a policy for over a century. It ensured that only men serious about masonry would enjoy what the Shriners had to offer. The assumption was that a Noble worked hard in his blue lodge, and also worked hard in his Valley, Orient, Chapter, Council, and/or Commandery, and wanted a place where he could relax in merry fellowship with other brothers whose commitments to masonry were as serious as his.

This had significant appeal to many workers in the quarries, and the Shrine Temples proved to be social centers for many Freemasons, among those who had earned the privilege. So many worthy men joined the Shrine that they had a great deal of attention and devotion focused towards these Shrine Temples, and the Shrine in general. These were men who were deeply committed to their blue lodge, often forming the officer core of their lodges, and their more accomplished past masters. They were officers in Scottish Rite and York Rite bodies, and deeply committed to these bodies, too, often involved in many different such bodies. They knew and understood their ritual, and took their work very seriously, but also understood that they were not seeing the merrier side of men they worked with, and loved the company of their brothers enough to want another place, on top of all the other places, to congregate with these brothers in a more light-hearted setting.

Brothers flocked to the Shrine in sufficient numbers that they were made aware of the power to do good that such an assemblage of good men could generate. In the earnest attempt to concentrate the power to do good, these men created the Shriners Hospitals for Children. In this current age of medical insurance and health care reform, it is hard to see what an incredible gift these hospitals were and are. Any child under the age of eighteen, stricken with horrific injuries and diseases, could visit a Shriners Hospital and receive total medical care, free of charge, for life. The level of generosity implicit in such an institution is staggering. Shriners are hardly exaggerating when they describe their hospitals as the "Greatest Philanthropy in the World".

The Shrine was so successful with their hospitals that every appendant body began their own charity or charities in imitation of the Shriners Hospitals. The Scottish Rite built two hospitals, but eventually got out of the hospital business. Instead, they worked on schizophrenia research, and learning disability tutoring. The York Rite supported eye injuries, the Grotto performed free dentistry for severely handicapped people, the Tall Cedars supported muscular dystrophy research, and Grand Lodges across the USA formed their own external charities.

I am not aware that the question was ever asked, as these hospitals were created, if it were appropriate for the Shriners to devote so much labor to such a thing, something pretty far afield from the original intention of the Shrine. Instead, we kept making hospitals, and kept making Shrine Temples, and grew, and grew.

Half a century after the Shrine was first formed, one in four men in the USA belonged to at least one fraternal organization. It was the general consensus that the Free and Accepted Masons were the gold standard of fraternal groups. So much so that many new organizations sprung up in blatant imitation of Freemasonry: the Knights of Pythias and Columbus, and the Independent Order of B'nai Brith come to mind. As the Shrine would only take its members from masons who had made a deeper commitment to masonry than the average mason, it began to be seen as an elite organization within Freemasonry. But, to keep the average Shriner from being too conceited, the entirety of Shrinedom is laced with gentle self-effacing humor, from the induction ceremonial onward.

It should also be noted that, as the Temperance movement spread across the USA, blue lodges became abstinent of alcohol, but the Shrine did not. Whereas 18th century Freemasonry was generous with libations and merriment, in the 19th century, Grand Lodges across the USA forbade alcohol in open lodge. Some have gone so far as to ban alcohol from anywhere on the premises of a masonic building, whether or not lodge is in session, whether or not masons are using the building at the time. At the time, it was felt that this was an appropriate public relations response to the Morgan scandal: the cliché of the drunken mason staggering home after a lodge meeting proved too embarrassing for Grand Lodges, and in an attempt to appear more respectable, grape and grain were dismissed from the lodge room.

Other fraternal bodies felt no need to ban alcohol. Indeed, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks incorporates the use of alcohol in their ritual, and were originally founded to use a loophole in the liquor laws of New York. I'm sure other fraternal organizations are similar, with the Ancient and Honorable Order of Turtles being an extreme example.

The Shrine originally met in a restaurant in New York City, and always centered itself around a well-stocked festive board. After getting to know a brother in lodge, chapter, council, consistory, commandery, and such, it was always a familiarity to see what he was like with a few drinks in him. That and the fact that only a small fraction of men in the USA have ever fully endorsed the Temperance movement made it inevitable that some appendant body of masonry would allow for alcohol in their meetings. In masonry, besides the Shrine, we have the Grotto, the Tall Cedars of Lebanon, and High Twelve as well who allow alcohol in their meetings.

Prohibition came and went, and the Depression hit, and fewer men participated in fraternalism. The structures we built when fraternalism was in its ascendancy could no longer be sustained in the same manner, at least until the Second World War ended, and our numbers swelled, peaking in 1960. A new generation came into being that rejected the values of their fathers, and preferred more counter-cultural expressions of belonging than fraternalism could provide. By the 1990s, things had reached a nadir. The Shrine was a heavy platform resting on two platforms that rested on a platform. Without a healthy blue lodge membership to select from, the Scottish Rite and York Rite could not have the same numbers, and the Shrine therefore had fewer brothers to choose from, and yet had nearly two dozen Shriners Hospitals for Children to support.

A few trends emerged to swell the ranks. The most controversial was the concept of the one-day class, in which a candidate would take all three degrees of craft masonry in one day. Also, Scottish Rite and York Rite bodies began their own one-day classes. Thus, a man who wanted to become a Shriner could enroll in a one-day class at their Grand Lodge one weekend, enroll in a one-day class at their Scottish Rite Valley or Orient the next weekend, and then attend a Shrine Ceremonial the third weekend, and be a Shriner in three weeks. As long as he continued paying dues to whichever blue lodge took him, and to his Scottish Rite group, he could remain a Shriner. Blue lodges and Scottish Rite bodies gained a source of revenue without incurring any expenses, and the Shrine got a new member.

Eventually, in 2000, the Shrine dropped the York or Scottish Rite requirement for membership. This was a shock for the York Rite and Scottish Rite. It was also a shock for the Grotto, which did not require anything above blue lodge membership in its members, had also allowed alcohol, but had never gained the fame or numbers that the Shrine had. The Shrine membership had a bump after this, but then continued its decline, following the decline in fraternal participation across the board.

What is the result of all of this? The Shrine is deeply worried about declining membership. My Scottish Rite body still does one-day classes exclusively, even after the Shrine requirement was lifted. There are still craft lodge one-day classes, although I don't know anyone who has participated in one. Every appendant body is being crushed under the weight of their philanthropies while their numbers decline. Accusations are being made of poor management of these philanthropies, and some bodies are asking if it still makes sense for them to imitate the Shrine's generosity, or whether they should focus their financial power on making a quality experience for their members, in order to retain them.

The Shrine leadership is meeting in San Antonio as I write this. Six, (or some would say, nine) Shriners Hospitals for Children are facing imminent financial collapse, and in the panic, rumors abound. There are murmurs that the Ancient Arabic Nobles of the Ancient Shrine may drop the requirement that their members be masons. I don't know what to make of rumors, and I only repeat this one to ask what would happen if the Nobles meeting in San Antonio take this drastic step. Are there men out there who are waiting to be Shriners, but Freemasonry is a barrier for them? Are men thinking "I want to be a Shriner, but I could never be a mason. What a shame!"? On the other hand, the Shriners Hospitals for Children might be a philanthropy too large for masons alone to maintain. But if we get rid of the West Gate, what follows? I personally have no objection to women becoming Shriners, if the masonic requirement is lifted, but I'm sure not everybody agrees with me. The length of the Shriner cable-tow is being stretched to its limit, and it may be its cruel fate this week to have to choose between its philanthropy and its masonry.

I am a Shriner, and I'm proud to be a Shriner. It makes me deeply proud to know that, about a mile from where I type this, children are sitting in a burn ward in a state-of-the-art hospital getting world-class treatment, and that their parents have no financial burden to bear. I love the special bond I feel with my brother Nobles, and love to meet in fellowship with them, both inside and outside the Shrine Temple. The Shrine is not for everyone, and I fully respect the opinions of those brothers who are more critical of the Shrine than I am. It's not for everyone, and it's not nearly as solemn nor as esoteric as the other bodies, and should never be a substitute for the blue lodge.

I am also a 32nd degree Mason in the Scottish Rite, and proud to be a Sublime Prince. I worry that I may not have sufficient knowledge to call myself such; my up-to-date membership card, and participation in degree work at the Lodge of Perfection does not make me feel like I possess knowledge I lack about the higher degrees. With no disrespect to the leaders of my Valley, I would gladly hand in my pocket jewel temporarily until I have actually earned all 29 degrees in the four bodies, and had suitable education in their meaning, even if that took many years to accomplish. I wouldn't want the ghost of Albert Pike to despise me for my ignorance.

My obligation as a mason extends to distressed brother master masons, their widows and orphans, they making application to me as such, and I finding them worthy, so far as I can without injury to myself and my family. In this respect, all of these philanthropies are extra-masonic. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that we are not masonically obligated to perpetuate the philanthropies that are crushing us. Are we saving the philanthropies while allowing distressed master masons, their widows and orphans, to suffer? Are the Rites bodies being injured by their philanthropies? Put more simply, are we offering the best degree work and education we can to our brothers and candidates in blue lodge, in the York Rite, and in the Scottish Rite, before we extend our arm to do charity, or are we doing charity at the injury of our brothers and candidates? If by doing them, we diminish the core of what we are, what use are the philanthropies to us? I'm not saying that this is necessarily my assessment, merely that before this becomes a risk, we should hold fast to that which makes us us.

My grandfather died in 1965 after a long battle with cancer. While fighting his illness, he failed to pay his lodge dues, and was suspended for non-payment of dues just before he died. His widow was never contacted by a mason until I joined Freemasonry, four decades later, and only on my insistence. In contrast, my lodge (different from my grandfather's, which has since merged with a larger lodge and has lost its name) sends flowers annually to masonic widows, and calls them from time to time to see how they are doing. Before we suspend a brother for non-payment of dues, the lodge secretary and the Worshipful Master have talked to him and asked what we can do to help him continue with the fraternity. We telephone elderly and disabled brothers and arrange rides for them to and from lodge. We visit sick brothers in the hospital. That's just part of being a mason, as far as I'm concerned.

The rallying cry has been made by other masons: "Leave Philanthropy for the Shrine". While that may not be the correct policy, I do urge us to see if we are providing our best to our brothers and candidates without injury to ourselves before we worry about others. How the Shrine manages this they will decide this week in San Antonio.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

God and reason

I was going to write this when I first created this blog, but the story is much older.

I was raised without religion. I was made aware that I was Jewish, but I've lived most of my life outside of the Jewish community. My mother's side of the family has been secular for at least five generations. My mother's mother has a letter that her grandfather wrote to his father. In the letter, he describes meeting a Hasidic Jew on a train, sitting next to him, and asking him about his religious beliefs. It is clear in the letter that my great-great grandfather had no religious education of his own. My mother's side of the family were wealthy German Jews, who moved to the USA some time in the mid-19th century, not as refugees but from a position of strength. They did very well over here. The author of the letter was invited to President Garfield's inauguration, and my grandmother still has his invitation in a scrapbook. They had rather a poor estimation of their less wealthy, more pious coreligionists from Eastern Europe. In this, they shared the prejudices of the mainstream.

My grandmother married a Polish Jew who became very religious later in life. My grandmother had no objection to this, but did not share in his piety, nor did her children. My mother married a Galitzianer from a working-class family, and her snootier relations were mortified.

My father's father's father was rousted from his bed, in his shetl in the Ukraine in the middle of the night, as Cossacks were burning the village to the ground, murdering men and raping women. He and his pregnant wife ran for their lives and made it to a safe haven many miles away. He had stored some emergency money there, and they used the money to buy passage to Boston. My grandfather was born in Lynn, Massachusetts a few months later. He worked in a dress-making factory, then he was a foreman at the factory, then he ran the factory. My father's mother's father also ran a dress-making company, Siren Dresses. His eldest daughter was born in Moscow, and the rest of the brood were born in Lynn and Swampscott. My grandparents were born in the midst of the Great Depression. It took them several years after their marriage to afford wedding rings.

For my father's side of the family, being Jewish was a means of mutual protection rather than a spiritual thing. They could find protection, solace, company, and assistance from other Jews. The first two generations here in the USA spoke Yiddish, and could travel throughout the Jewish world this way. My great-grandfather still kept his business contacts in Russia, and my grandfather had business in New York, and later in Brazil, all through speaking Yiddish. I doubt my mother's side of the family spoke Yiddish after the Haskalah. My grandparents observed Passover, but it was more of a dinner with a story than a religious event for them. My grandparents would take me to their synagogue for the yahrzeits of relatives, but that was the only time they ever went. I doubt my grandfather owned a tallit, let alone tefillin.

So it's somewhat odd for me to be a religious Jew, who prays twice a day and goes to synagogue every Friday night and Saturday morning. My father's mother's brother Morris was devoutly religious, as was my mother's father, but I can't think of any others in my family.

My father is a strongly rational agnostic, and my brother and I were raised that way. I thought my father was an atheist, but he objected to being called an atheist when I called him that, saying that he respected the religious beliefs of others (including his devout Catholic third wife, and their children), and that he wasn't willing to assert the non-existence of God. He has been very supportive of my religious life, which frankly came as a surprise to me. His second wife was a hostile antitheist ex-Catholic who aggressively mocked any show of piety anywhere near her, and my father never voiced any objection to her behavior in that regard, so I assumed he shared her attitude.

I always had a clear sense of my Jewish identity, as most secular Jews in the USA do, but we never lived in a predominantly Jewish community, never belonged to a synagogue, and never observed any Jewish holidays except the occasional Passover Seder with the grandparents. When I was about ten years old, my father gave me the choice of Hebrew school, or Pee-Wee hockey, and I chose the hockey. I went to two or three Bar Mitzvahs as a boy, but never wanted one myself.

I grew up regarding myself as a spiritual agnostic. I dabbled with Unitarian Universalism, mostly because most of my teenage sexual experiences happened at YRUU retreats. I also tried Quakerism, for which I will always have a deep respect. I was active in Young Friends, and gained a lot from going to Quaker meetings, but I was kicked out of Young Friends for a reason I will blog about later.

I bought my first Tarot deck when I was twelve, a Rider-Waite deck. As I got older, I became interested in Ritual Magick, first through Wicca, and then through the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the work of Aleister Crowley. I deeply distrusted the OTO, and never joined them (no offense to OTO brethren out there, but your priority disputes and court cases are not very good advertising), but I knew people in the OTO and A.˙.A.˙. and learned a lot from them, but never felt comfortable entering their hierarchy. I also fundamentally distrust the cosmology Crowley published, and the law of Thelema does not speak to my condition. The best thing I gained from all this was a deep and abiding love for Hermetic Qabalah.

I first began to consider the actuality of God in graduate school. I was working on the Comprehensive Exams for my MS in mathematics. These exams are hard. It is difficult to describe how hard they are to someone who has never experienced something like them, but I will try. There were four subjects: Real Analysis, Complex Analysis, Algebra, and Topology. Each subject exam was two hours long, and had four problems on it. You submitted your best three answers, and had to get two of them right to pass the exam. That meant you scanned the test for the "zinger", the problem that was deliberately too hard, and skipped it, and then you had 40 minutes to solve each remaining problem. Each problem took about a week to solve. That meant that if you didn't already see the problem and solve it while you were studying for the exam, you probably would not be able to solve it at the exam. You had to remember the solution to every problem you solved while studying the prior exams going back about 10-15 years, and regurgitate the answer on the day of the test. At your first try, you could take as many exams as you wanted, but you had to pass at least two exams in order for your passes to count. You had to pass all four exams to graduate.

I was studying for the algebra exam, and I was working on an old test problem from a previous exam. I worked on the problem from 9:30 PM to 1:30 AM, and I got too tired to continue, so I reluctantly went to bed. That night, in bed, I dreamed the solution to the exam problem. I felt a rush of euphoria, which made me snuggle into the bed and ride out the feeling of bliss. I was rudely interrupted by a voice that told me, "Schmuck! That's the real answer! Wake up and write it down!"

I did, and went back to sleep. In the morning, I looked at what I had written. It was elegant, succinct, direct and powerful. With a minimal about of exposition, it attacked and immediately solved the problem. I was amazed. And that problem showed up on the exam I took.

My advisor had a theory that the mind we walk around with most of the time is not particularly smart. It can follow orders, and at can memorize and shuffle facts it knows, but it is not equipped for bursts of genius. If we find an interesting problem, we can attack the problem with the mind we walk around with most of the time, but if the problem is sufficiently interesting, our waking mind cannot solve it by itself. It works and works and works on it, and with one's will, one can drive the waking mind to continue its pursuit of a solution. If the waking mind sufficiently exerts itself, a deeper mind will notice that the waking mind is working on something. That deeper mind, its interest piqued, will decide to involve itself in the problem. There is a blinding flash of inspiration, and the deeper mind generates a solution. Then it is up to the waking mind to shape that solution into something workable, conveyable, capable of being printed and shared with others.

The job of the waking mind is to be disciplined enough, to work hard enough on a problem that the deeper mind pays attention to its exertions. The waking mind has to have all of its tools in perfect working order. It has to know all working definitions down cold, and make clear cognitive leaps that obey the laws of logic and reason. But for any truly interesting problem, the waking mind is not equipped to find a solution. The world of knowledge is full of really hard problems, problems the solver has to live with for days, weeks, and even years. The waking mind can work on the same problem day after day if properly disciplined, and it can tackle the easy sub-problems associated with the problem at hand, and it can clear away everything that is not the kernel of the problem, but it cannot get at the heart of the problem. It's just not smart enough. Nobody is smart enough.

The waking mind has to realize when to step away, and leave room for the deeper mind to work its magick. Afterwards the waking mind has to leap into action, molding and shaping the solution into something that truly fits the problem, and has to justify that the solution delivered by the deeper mind actually solves the problem.

There are many smart people in the world, but nobody is smart enough to solve the most difficult problems with their everyday consciousness. The most successful problem solvers know how to do the ground work for the deeper mind, and then know how to shape the work of the deeper mind into something that covers every aspect of the solution. The deeper mind is totally disassociated with ego. This is somewhat akin to what Ouspensky calls the "False Intellectual Center" and the "True Intellectual Center". Ouspensky also talks about the "False Emotional Center" and the "True Emotional Center".

Using the language of Kabbalah, I would say that, starting in Malkut, one ascends to Yesod. From Yesod, an intellectual problem is tackled in Hod, by the False Intellectual Center. The False Intellectual Center struggles with the problem (G'vurah), and attracts the attention of Chokmah, the True Intellectual Center, channeled through Da'at and Tiferet. Similarly, from Yesod, an emotional problem is tackled by Netzach, by the False Emotional Center. The False Emotional Center tries to relieve the emotional distress (Chesed), and this attracts the attention of Binah, the True Emotional Center, channeled through Da'at and Tiferet. If someone has a better explanation of these processes, I would love to improve this theory. A good argument could be made that Binah and Chokmah should be switched here, but I'm sticking by my original assessment.

The point is not that the voice that visited me in the dream is God, nor that the deeper mind is God, but that all higher consciousness flows from God. Once you encounter an consciousness greater than your own, that dwells not where you dwell, but is accessible in certain circumstances, after much preparation and exertion, it is not hard to allow for other such consciousnesses, cascading upwards until a single, supernal Consciousness is reached, from which all lesser consciousness flow. A river of light that immerses you when you make yourself available for such an immersion.

Without reason, this experience is drastically limited. Without the ability to feel deep emotion, this experience is drastically limited. And yet the prime mover of these experiences is beyond emotion or reason. Reason is very high, very nearly the highest form of consciousness. But not the apex. That is why a belief system that puts the False Intellectual Center (or the False Emotional Center) at the apex is patently absurd to me. We are small fishes, and there are big fishes out there that want to share their wisdom with us, and all fishes are just fragments of God, who is the entire world of oceans and everything in them, and beyond ocean, and who wants us to glow with the light He has to share with us, but wants us to find that light through our own exertions.

Tom Robbins gave the advice that, in seeking a spiritual tradition, the first place one should look is in one's people's tradition before looking at other traditions. We carry ancient racial memories that are much easier to awaken than the memories universal to all beings. A Jew should learn Kabbalah, a Celt should learn Celtic paganism, a Greek should study the Greek mystery traditions, a Hindu should study the Vedic tradition, etc. (This is deeply unsatisfying to people with universal faiths like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Baha'i, etc. Having never been raised in such a tradition, I can only sympathize from afar. From an intellectual standpoint, I agree that universal faiths are an improvement on tribal, parochial faiths, but I will blog about this debate elsewhere).

When I pledged my lodge, I listed my place of worship as First Parish Unitarian-Universalist Church in Cambridge. My former roommate is a member there, and I had visited many times with him, and liked that community. There is a sizable Jewish presence there (or Junitarian) as well. But upon reflecting about that choice, I realized that I was being disingenuous. A voice in my head asked me: "Why did you say you were a Unitarian? Schmuck, you're Jewish." (My inner voice calls me schmuck a lot). The next Friday night, I walked into Havurat Shalom for Kabbalat Shabbat services. I visited a number of synagogues over the next month or two, and chose Temple Beth Zion as my congregation, and have been a member ever since.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Emblems Lecture

The Emblems lecture went well at my lodge, well enough that the District Deputy Grand Master asked me to deliver the same lecture at his blue lodge this coming Thursday. Some of the brothers who will be officers next year at my lodge are coming, along with the newly-raised brother I sponsored, for his first visit to another lodge.

The brother who was elected to be my lodge's Worshipful Master next year has asked me to be an officer next year, and I have accepted. I don't know if it's appropriate to publish in a blog what office I will hold until I am installed, so my readers will have to wait until September to find out which chair I will sit in.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Women in Freemasonry, and Continental Freemasonry

There are female-only Grand Lodges, and mixed sex Grand Lodges. I regard lodges that accept women as legitimate (but not regular) if they are recognized by a reasonable body of female masons or co-masons, assuming they keep the other Ancient Landmarks, but I will not sit in Lodge with them nor allow them to sit in my lodge. I'd work with them on charitable events and for mutual protection, and even enjoy socializing with them. I would respond to the Grand Hailing Sign given by a woman.

Continental Freemasonry (or Oriental Freemasonry) follows the Grand Orient of France, sort of like the Grand Lodge of France, only different. French Freemasonry split over whether to recognize atheists as masons, the Grand Orient accepting atheists, and the Grand Lodge refusing. These Freemasons may be mixed-sex or not, but they do not require belief in a Supreme Being. They are popular in Europe and Latin America, and in Lebanon. British-based Freemasonry (like us) do not recognize them as masons.I regard Continental Freemasonry, if in amity with the Grand Orient of France, as legitimate (but not regular) assuming they keep the other Ancient Landmarks, but I will not sit in Lodge with them nor allow them to sit in my lodge. I'd work with them on charitable events and for mutual protection, and even enjoy socializing with them. I would respond to the Grand Hailing Sign given by an Continental mason.

I need communion with other men, framed in ritual, and devoted to Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. I go to a non-Orthodox synagogue twice a week, and pray with women and there are female officers and a female rabbi and I love my religious community. I get mixed-sex communion at my place of worship. For Freemasonry to work for me, and to give me what I need from it, I need to sit in a lodge of men. Women get the rest of my life, but not my lodge time. I think that men need this structure to help them become better men. Better people as well, but particularly better men.

Men all over the world are starving for good role models of sane masculinity. Boys put themselves in terrible danger trying to prove themselves to their peers with acts of recklessness and false bravery. Our society lacks good initiation rituals, and without initiation, a man does not know he is a man. A woman's body initiates her throughout her journey. She grows breasts and hips and knows she's not a child anymore. She becomes menopausal and knows she's not a young woman anymore. Men lack this, and ritual takes the place of biology for men.

High school graduation does not initiate manhood. A bar mitzvah is not sufficient. Eagle Scout ceremonies miss the mark (although the Order of the Arrow is pretty good at this). A youth needs to walk into a room, or into a forest, or into a cave, and walk out a man, through the help of older men not related to him who have gone through the same ritual. When men are not given a proper initiation, they turn to playing chicken with cars, gangs, petty crime, drugs and alcohol, predatory sexual behavior, other ways to prove themselves. Freemasonry is the best structured method I know to initiate men into the right kind of manhood.

I have many friends who are atheists or agnostics, some of whom would benefit from Freemasonry, but would never petition because of their inability to submit to a Supreme Being they cannot conceive of. I'd rather have such a person benefit from Freemasonry to the best of their ability than stay in the dark. My own prejudices lead me to regard Continental Freemasonry as inferior to Ancient Freemasonry, but I'd rather these Brothers and Sisters enjoy partial light than no light.

Update: I feel it is important for me to make three disclaimers here. The first is that I will not consider sitting in a tyled lodge with any but regular masons, whose Grand Lodges are recognized by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

The second is that I have nothing to do with rogue groups like the Grand Orient of the USA, and the several hundred fake Prince Hall Grand Lodges (although I'd like to see some sort of resolution between PHA and PHO). Masonic diploma mills are beneath contempt, as are fake appendant bodies.

The third is that it was pointed out to me that the Grand Orient of France and masonic groups affiiliated with them are actively involved in politics, have been involved, as masons, in revolutions in Latin America, and do things like protest the Pope's visit to their country. I regard such behavior as fundamentally unmasonic, and utterly toxic to the fraternity. Such behavior gives anti-masons fuel for their hatred, and destroys harmony within the lodge, and between lodges.

The argument is made in many places that atheists cannot swear oaths because without belief in Deity there is nothing backing the oath. Thus an atheist cannot make masonic Obligations. I do not subscribe to that argument, although I respect the beliefs of those who do. I can understand, and I totally support those who feel that without belief in Deity, Freemasonry is impossible. I do not regard an atheist as a regular mason, and woud never consider joining a masonic lodge that admitted atheists, but not because I feel they are incapable of Obligation. My reason instead is because the blue lodge is dedicated to God. It is the Temple of Solomon rebuilt. Masonic light is given us by the Great Architect of the Universe, and by His light we see light. Without Deity there is no altar, and therefore no lodge. The circle ceases to have a point in its center.

That being said, I know people who call themselves atheist or agnostic and are very spiritual people. They, in general, seem fixated on Deity being an angry, bearded anthropomorph in the sky, who sits on a throne and is mad at everyone for following their lower chakra urges, and they utterly reject such a grotesque caricature (as do I). I am convinced that if some of them could enter my mind and see what my conception of Deity is, they would slap their foreheads and admit that such a Presence was on the threshold of their experiences all their lives. I would want such a person to have experiences that would lead them to understand that the focus of their spiritual intent was the very thing they rejected, the stone that the builder refused. I won't open my West Gate to them, but I'd love for their experiences to lead them to some sort of West Gate, when they are ready.

I would never want to see the militant atheism, or antitheism, of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or Sam Harris fall under the banner of Freemasonry. I would fight that with everything I had, within the bounds of the law, of course.

Internally, I've been making an analogy to Judaism, in which there are three major camps, and several minor ones. Orthodox Judaism applies Rabbinic Law absolutely, Conservative Judaism tempers it for modern times, and Reform Judaism chucks out the law and replaces it with looser creeds. Minor camps include Reconstructionist Judaism, which splintered off from Conservatives in favor of a panentheist view of God, and a sense of Judaism as a civilization rather than a set of codes of law. Jewish Renewal, my denomination, seeks to focus more on spirituality than law, but allows individuals to follow the law at their own level, subject to their individual consciences, but wants to be as inclusive as possible without destroying what makes us Jewish. Humanistic Judaism rejects Deity completely, and sees itself as a cultural organization. Messianic Judaism accepts Jesus Christ as the Messiah (and therefore technically isn't Judaism). Modern Orthodox Judaism seeks to remain Orthodox while still embracing modern culture that more strict Orthodox Jews avoid. Conservadox Judaism is another group most of which came from Conservative Judaism and wanted something stricter, while a minority came from Modern Orthodoxy and wanted something looser.

I regard myself as a Conservadox mason. What separates me from an Orthodox mason is that I don't feel that Anderson's Constitutions, or the Preston-Webb monitor is the final word in Freemasonry, the same way that Orthodox Jews feel that the Torah, interpreted through the Talmud, is the final word of God. I imagine that the fraternity will go through significant changes in the coming decades, and I don't entirely dread this if it is done properly. I would happily sit in a tyled lodge with Conservative or Orthodox masons, assuming their Grand Lodge was in amity with mine. If I ever sit in the East, the first time I would run the lodge as Orthodoxly as I could without upsetting the Brethren, and afterwards I would follow my conscience within the bounds of my Obligation. For example, I would not turn a visiting brother away for lack of suitable attire.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Priestly Blessing

Back in the time of the Temple, the Priests would bless the people with the Priestly Blessing, which was communicated by the LORD directly to Moses (in Numbers 4:24-26):

May YHWH bless you and guard you –
יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה, וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ

May YHWH make His face shine on you and show favor to you – יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
May YHWH lift up His face on you and give you peace – יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ, וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

In the Orthodox community, those men who are hereditary descendants of the ancient Priests, the Cohens, bless the rest of the community during the Amidah prayer with the Priestly Blessing. Their hands are placed in a peculiar shape, the form of the Hebrew letter shin (ש). Leonard Nimoy, raised Orthodox, saw the hands of the Cohens, and co-opted it as the Vulcan salute.

These days, outside the Orthodoxy, parents will bless their children during B'nei Mitzvah with the Priestly Blessing. In my synagogue, we pair off and deliver the Priestly Blessing to each other on Friday nights. It's a lovely sentiment, and the tune to which it is song is very pretty.

Masons are fascinated with all the rituals associated with the Temple, and as a mason, I feel inclined to point out what happens when you look at the actual Hebrew:

The first sentence is three words. The Tetragrammaton is the center word, flanked by a verb on either side. The first verb has root ברכ, or bless, which is where we get the name Baruch, (and in Arabic, Barack). The second sentence is five words, with the Tetragrammaton the second word, and the third sentence is seven words, with the Tetragrammaton the second word. The last two sentences share three words in common: the Tetragrammaton (without a verb for it to act upon), His face, and a preposition meaning "on you".

The numbers 3, 5, and 7 jump out of the blessing, and the 5 and the 7 have an inner core of 3. Having just delivered the Emblems lecture of the Master Mason degree to six candidates last Thursday night, the significance of this is very acute.

The lecture was well-received, and I have been asked by another lodge to deliver the lecture there for four candidates in two weeks.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Shrine; Bunker Hill; Third Degree

It's been a few weeks since I've checked in. My life has been seriously busy, but I wanted my readers to know what I've been up to, even if I don't have a long time available to write at this moment.

  1. I joined the Ancient Arabic Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, and had my Ceremonial last weekend. My girlfriend and I went to Aleppo Shrine Temple for the afternoon, and I enjoyed it immensely. To be honest, I was not going to consider joining the Shrine until after I had passed through the Officer's Line at my blue lodge, but the announcement that the Springfield, MA Shriner's Hospital was on the closure list changed my mind. I figured that if I joined the Shrine in 5-7 years, that's 5-7 years worth of dues they're not getting that could be going to helping Springfield stay open.

    They really know how to impress a new Noble. The Grand Master of Massachusetts and his Grand Marshall were there, along with the Grand Commander of the York Rite for Massachusetts. They have lots of patrols, bands, and other groups. My girlfriend was joking that I should become a Shrine Clown. A part of me is tempted, and a part of me is horrified. Actually, if I were to join one of the patrols, I would join the Aleppo Shrine Minutemen. They are a Colonial-themed drill team with real live muskets (black powder weapons = loud) and Colonial-era costumes. The only problem is that they meet twice a month, and one of those times is when my blue lodge meets.

    The Shrine seems like a lot of fun, but I'm going to be conservative about joining groups there until after I sit in the East, assuming I earn that honor some day. I'm already going to be Junior Deacon next year at my blue lodge, am very active in Lodge of Instruction for the 3rd District, and I'm active in Lodge of Perfection at the Scottish Rite. I don't want to burn myself out.

  2. Last night, my lodge laid a wreath for General Joseph Warren at the bottom of the Bunker Hill Monument in honor of Bunker Hill Day. General Joseph Warren died at the battle. He was Grand Master of the Ancient Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. His commission, from General George Washington, had not arrived when he got to Breed's Hill, so he picked up a musket and fought as a private and was felled by a bullet in the battle.

    It is a legend within my lodge, almost certainly apocryphal, that the brigade he fought alongside were Masons from the Ancient lodges in the area, most especially the Massachusetts Lodge and the Lodge of St. Andrew (MW Paul Revere's mother lodge), and when he was killed, the Brothers gave the Grand Hailing Sign, and the British soldiers fighting them, who were also Masons, stopped fighting and declared a temporary cease fire. The masons converged around the body of the fallen Grand Master and performed improvised Masonic funeral rites, and then continued the battle. The body was unearthed by British soldiers who were not masons, and the body desecrated. The corpse was recovered by Brothers and was re-buried after the battle, and Warren's family moved the body to a family plot years later. Thus, our slain Grand Master was buried three times, like another slain Grand Master we know.

    In honor of this, the Brothers present pledged an Oath as Master Masons that, when peace returned to this nation after victory, they would charter a new lodge in his honor. The Treaty of Paris was signed, and before the ink was dry, the charter of King Solomon's Lodge was signed by MW Moses Michael Hays, and RW Paul Revere, the Grand Senior Warden. Originally, the lodge was to be named Joseph Warren Lodge, but the Grand Master pointed out that, as the first lodge chartered in a free and peaceful America, King Solomon's Lodge was a more appropriate name, as it represented a new beginning. Eleven years after being chartered, the Brothers of King Solomon's lodge built the original Bunker Hill Monument in memory of MW Joseph Warren. We owned the land it stood on, and maintained the monument.

    In the Morgan era, the monument became a symbol of masonry, and a target of hatred. It was often vandalized, and eventually destroyed by anti-Masons. It was understood that the monument should be rebuilt, this time by public subscription open to non-Masons, so that the monument would be a symbol of the Battle of Bunker Hill rather than just one fallen Grand Master. Noah Webster led the effort, and the first railway system in the USA was built to transport the quarried granite from New Hampshire to the site on Breed's Hill. When it was completed, King Solomon's Lodge donated the land to the Bunker Hill Monument Association, and in honor of our donation, a granite replica of the original monument (which was wooden) was erected at the base of the new monument. We've laid a wreath in front of the replica of the original monument every year since.

    After the ceremony, we met at the Warren Tavern in Charlestown for refreshments. King Solomon's Lodge met at the Warren Tavern for the first three decades of our existence. A good time was had by all.

  3. Tonight, my lodge is raising six brothers to the Sublime Degree. It is Past Masters' Night. There will be filet mignon and lobster. At least one 50 year medal will be awarded. The new officers will be picked. And I'm delivering the Emblems lecture at the end of the degree ceremony. One of the candidates is my first sponsored candidate. I've very proud of him. It should be quite a night.

This is my first anniversary of my raising. I'm a Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret in the Scottish Rite and active in Lodge of Perfection there, a Noble of the Mystic Shrine, the Inside Sentinel of my lodge and come September the Junior Deacon. I have completed all the requirements for the Master Mason Rookie Award, and at the will and pleasure of the Worshipful Master and the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, they may deem me fit to receive it. I know the Emblems lecture, and plan to learn the Middle Chamber lecture this summer to understudy for the Senior Deacon (although I cannot imagine that he'll miss a Second Degree). I've really taken to the Fraternity, and feel very much at home here.