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

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.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Cognitive Surplus and Freemasonry

Author Clay Shirky writes about cognitive surplus, the excess brain energy we're not using in labor or industry. While the term may seem slightly crude in the following context, it seems to me that Freemasonry gets its strength from a force akin to cognitive surplus, and that this force effects the fraternity in every way, from membership and attendance, to the commitment of officers, to innovations within the fraternity and participation in the attendant bodies. It seems to me that if the fraternity can channel even a trickle of the cognitive surplus of its brothers and of men interested in the fraternity, it could greatly expand its current level of societal impact.

Here's the link. It is a societal phenomenon that the fraternity would do well to pay attention to. Think of what one Wikipedia worth of cognition would do to Freemasonry. Shirky mentions gin as the first attempt to dampen cognitive surplus, and that happened during the era that the first Grand Lodges emerged, and the sitcom emerged during the last great masonic boom in membership. Coincidences? We are having a new peak in cognitive surplus. Can the fraternity channel some of this energy?