Saturday, June 28, 2008

Words to the Wise

Here is what Brother Free does with Free Time...so to speak. I ponder the Wisdom of the Ages.
Solomon was Wise. A am not Solomon.

Ahhh...words of wisdom. We've all heard them. And, from time to time, we have all offered them to those who we hope to guide from the 'wisdom' of our own experience. Wisdom, according to Peter Avelard, is something akin to the distillation of truth that comes from questioning through our doubts. In the end then, it is the reason that stands. Thus, it stands to reason that we can trust the wisdom that guides us on our harrowing journey through the traps and travails of the lives we lead.

Doesnt it?

Hmmm. Not really.

Think about where you get most of your wisdom from. I think the best kind of wisdom comes from good old natural selection. You touch the fire...it burns...you stop touching the damn fire. Ahh...useful wisdom. But there are other kinds of wisdom. Most of the wisdom we take for granted we basically get from other people...people we consider wise...or in the know. And that's why advertisers put lab coats on Maybelline spokeswomen and why every political hack and pundit gets his 15 seconds of fame among the channel surfers.

Lots of people appear to be wise. The guy on the 3AM informercial with the ferrari, loads of dough and a yachtful of young blondes seems pretty savvy to me! And come Sunday morning, there is the suit and tie waving the good book with tales of instant fish and water walking. Scientists sure seem to be wise right alongside of bookish academics. And I think you're even smarter if you happen to have a Phd or an Md or an NAACP or IUD or something like that.

Face it. You wouldnt want someone who didnt know what the hell he or she was talking about doing your triple bypass. He better have a lab coat, an IUD and know something about cosmetics.

We learn and grow wise from experience. I suspect failure the first few hundred times that guys without the necessary lab coats sliced into coronary cases. And just how many odds and ends from the seabed did people have to gobble down before someone found the oyster and decided it would taste good on a cracker with tobasco?

Everyone has wisdom. Yadda yadda Yoda. Religions, advertisers, politicians, sages, scientists, teachers, parents. Lots of it going around. What part of it do you trust? I thought that wisdom comes from experience, from questioning. Can we take it for granted!? Is that wise!!?

'Just do it.' So sayeth Nike. Did you know that Nike was a classical goddess?She didnt even own a pair of running shoes. She wore sandals and they quote her? Did they even meet Nike? Her bust is in the Louvre in Paris. Go ask her whether she wants us to do it. And while you're there, ask her what it is that she wants us to do. I'm ready for the answer and I already have a pair of shoes, and sandals just in case.

Point is, we follow a lot of instructions in this world. I dont remember bringing the instruction book with me on the way in. Spiders know how to make cool webs and I know that girls make me happy when they run on the beach. But that is instinct. Is that the best wisdom? Is that the only manual for life we really need?

Well. Better not poke your friend in the eye or rob a bank when the cops are watching. That wouldnt be wise. But nobody really told me that when I was a baby. Without girls to tease my instincts I was pretty much a useless blob of crib crawler. Dont get me wrong. I liked girls then too, but I was hungry.

Is it wise to write about wisdom? I think that shows a bit of hubris myself. But I didnt always have the best instincts. Or was I just not wise enough to follow them? Hmm. Damn wisdom.

Maybe I'm catching on!

What got me thinking about this was a letter I wrote to myself when I was leaving high school for the real world many...er...a few years ago. I was cleaning out my garage when I found the letter written inside an old yearbook of mine. I dont remember writing the letter but I do remember leaving behind the only world I knew, with all of its comfort and familiarity, to boldly crossover into the fierce unknown...the mystery of adventure abroad!

What words of wisdom did I give myself before I left all security behind, before I waved the long goodbye and jumped the chasm of uncertainty? Just these..."Have fun...and don't eat too many tacos."

That's what I left myself with. That was the wisdom I armed my teenage mind with against those snares and mines of the world at large. Now I know that I have had fun...lots of it!! Yay! I'd like to say that I really havent gone too far with the Mexican food. Alas, I had three tacos just last night after going out and having some of that fun I hastened myself to enjoy. I was full after the first two. Did I eat the third? Yes. And that wasnt very wise.

After all of these years I really thought that I must have had some kind of amazing plan for my life back in the day. Surely, I had words to live by. Surely, I had the instruction manual under my arm. There are wolves out there just waiting.

I guess I know now why I spend so much time having fun. And I suppose that I have finally explained what it is about tacos.

How much 'wisdom' do I live by? How much 'wisdom' do you live by? Maybe we should all just shake the eight ball and start over. The world is always at war, the genders bash each other mercilessly, the ice is melting at the poles and we're worried about what?

Did you ever just look up? Do it sometime. Trust me, there is something there. I know...I know...wake up...walk to the fridge, go to school/work, think about sex, go home, think about more sex, watch a movie, play with the dog, stop the kids from fighting, go to bed, try to have sex, go to sleep.That's the routine. But look up sometime, day or night.

When you look up in the day (noonish) you'll see this massive ball of FIRE up in the sky. It's totally cool and looks really dangerous (I bet there are all kinds of lab coats involved). When you look up at night you'll see all of these stars - more balls of FIRE - in an endless sea of dreamlike nothingness.

Get a little perspective. That's wise. That's the best wisdom...next to what I said was somewhere up there before and in relation to the instinct kind of wisdom...if that is. Confused? Ahhh...you are wise.

Perspective helps with confusion. It lets you see the big picture. And the big picture is really way too big, frighteningly so. And that gives you some perspective.

No one knows what the hell they are talking about.

Some say anything is possible and others say you cant teach an old dog new tricks. Douglas Adams shared quite possibly the best wisdom ever in his book "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" when he wrote "Don't Panic" as the axiom for the universal guide. With those balls of fire up there that's definitely good advice whether it qualifies as wisdom or not.

How about...'find your own way but dont do anything really stupid.' That's mine. Nike cannot have that one no matter whether she decides to wear her own shoes or not.

Society might have a problem with that one so there is always the Golden Rule..."Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Pretty good stuff. Does that apply to Maybelline? I hope so. But it doesnt help me with my taxes. At least it keeps me honest.

What's your Golden Rule? What words did your father tell you to live by or what words did you write down only to find in your garage years later? You know what I think? Forget em. Try some new ones. Change your religion and move to another country. Course...the big ball of fire is still there. Damnit.

I, for one, am suitably armed when it comes to tacos and I do know the value of a good time.

Trust me on that one.

"Have fun...and don't eat too many tacos."

I will. And I haven't.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Post Feedback

Greetings Brothers. We always encourage your feedback on the posts and we strive to spark earnest discussion and contemplation. Feel free to share your ideas through comments, letters or telepathy...if you have that one figured out.

We Ruffians have a Myspace as well at www.Myspace.com/3Ruffians. There is a good bit of discussion that goes on there that is not readily made available to the rest of our Ruffian community. From time to time I receive an email that I want to share.

Following the post 'All Those Empty Chairs' I found several emails in my inbox in addition to the comments here on the site. I would like to post one of these letters that was sent so you might get an idea the tenor of the issue in question.

Brother Jesse Gross of Stevensville Lodge wrote:


"Dear Brother,

I have just finished reading your article about the lack of attendance, and was especially struck by your comment about brothers looking at their dues cards and smiling. I think one of the main problems the craft has in membership retention is that it doesn't impress its importance on the membership.

For instance, while going through the FC ritual, one is told to study the seven arts and sciences but is given no further direction. Its kind of like being dropped off in the woods with a sandwich and a canteen of water and being told "good luck". A while back I came up with an idea to present the new FC with several books which set up a foundation for each of the arts and sciences, namely "Treatise on Harmony" by Rameau, "Rhetoric" by Aristotle, and "The Elements" by Euclid. The newly passed brother may take them home and let them collect dust on his shelf, but when he glances over at them, he will at least remember the circumstances of how they were received and what they are to him.

More important than any of these books though, I feel that the book "Speculative Masonry" by A. S. Macbride should be issued along with the volume of sacred law to newly raised Master Masons (see my bulletin from a couple days ago). This is a relatively quick and easy read at just over 200 pages, making it much less intimidating than the others I have suggested. The Euclid is huge, and I've merely glanced through it enough to check out the 47th proposition.

As nice an addition of the King James Bible as was given to me, after reading the introductory material regarding masonry, I put it on the shelf next to my other bible, which I got from my parents who between them owned five or six bibles. My point here being is that most people own bibles already and since they have at least some idea what is in there, they tend to take it for granted. Thus Freemasonry has put them through some ritual at a minor expense and offered them nothing new, so there seems to be not much point.

I must confess that I wondered why I had joined freemasonry after my first several meetings were merely a bunch of well dressed gentlemen discussing whether or not to approve the budget and pay bills between opening and closing ritual. My friend who recommended me told one of the officers that he would quit going if that was all there was. Shortly thereafter, we started having educational lectures given at every meeting and it has been a much more enjoyable and purposeful experience.

If the general membership had more of a solid idea what Freemasonry was about and how they could improve themselves in it, I believe attendance would go up and remain constant.

Fraternally,

Bro. Jesse Gross
Stevensville Lodge #28

P.S. Let me know when you get the space ship, it sounds pretty cool."

Many thanks again Brother Gross for allowing me to share your thoughtful letter.
I attended Lodge again tonight for our monthly stated meeting. While our attendance isnt where it should be in my opinion...I am very grateful that those Brothers that I see regularly are just such really great guys. We really have a fun time together. And I am always impressed by the character of these fellows who all seem to go the extra mile for their brothers when they are needed.

Several brothers in our Lodge had been suspended for not paying dues. First and foremost, we agreed to ascertain the reasons for this on an individual basis. In some cases, Brothers might have passed away and our Lodge might not have been notified. In others, reasons of health or financial straits might be the cause.

I was impressed by the immediate charity of the Brothers who would rather pay the dues themselves than see Brothers suspended....especially for reasons unknown. Good stuff guys.

Maybe sometimes its all about Quality over Quantity. Maybe we dont have the most...

But we have some of the Best!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Spirit of the Craft

Uh oh Brothers...I'm in trouble. One of my fellow Ruffians made a point that I was on my soapbox when I posted the blog 'All Those Empty Seats.' He said I might as well be looking for a hymn to sing...and I should be passing around the tray for donations.

I think it should be said that I love Freemasonry. I am a dedicated...dyed in the wool...Craft Brother. And that is why I like to poke it and prod it and goad it and smack ideas around it. It is an all too simple thing to just complacently address the Craft...to keep up with the status quo as it were. But, in my opinion, that kind of 'going with the flow' attitude would be the very ruin of my passion for the Order. I want to stir things up because I think that Freemasonry is a great enough institution to deserve a vital future.

Freemasonry teaches many things. It teaches its Brothers, and mankind in general, to be true to one another. It instructs us to recognize the equality and worthiness of all approaches to the Divine, all races, all nationalities. Masonry extolls charity and freedom...patriotism and duty. We are taught as Brothers to be kind, patient, tolerant and generous.

Brothers...I just can't find a better way to be than that.

If you want to know the history of the Order then read some books! There is no shortage of books on the Craft. Start with 'Born in Blood.' Read 'Morals and Dogma' or a litany of other worthy works. Get to know the myths, the traditions and the ideology of Freemasonry.

When I joined the Order I made a specific point to join every aspect of the Craft as immediately as I could. I joined the Scottish Rite...the Royal Arch, the Cryptic and the Knights Templar. I followed that with the Shrine. I have so many dues cards that my wallet is bursting!

So why did I do that? Am I just a glutton for punishment? Seriously...that is one heavy load of initiations. I have been initiated so many times that when I sleep with an eyemask at night I sometimes find myself walking in circles around my bed!

The reason I joined all of those Craft bodies is simply because I wanted to know what Masonry was really about. I wanted to check out everything I could. I had heard all of the good and all of the bad as well. And since I'm not the kind of guy to pass judgment without truly knowing something...I wanted to know it as well as anyone could.

If I had found that Freemasonry fit the mold of the anti-masonic claptrap on the web or that it stood for something in opposition to the Light it speaks of then I would have walked away. But I found a Fraternal body that instead represented the best hopes of men...and the highest ideals of mankind.

Thus...I remain a Freemason. And I am very proud indeed of my association with so many fine Brothers as I have found while I too have been 'traveling to the east.'

I hail from the generation of the Arcade. I played Pac-Man and Donkey Kong on an upright. I remember my first Atari. And I remember how jealous I was of my friends Intellivision. He had 'Tron' and 'Boxing' after all. I played football in a Texas field and chased girls in a corvette. I listened to Boston, Led Zeppelin and thought David Lee Roth was a chick magnet role model.

Freemasonry was something I heard about here and there. Then I read some books that spoke of all things Masonic, Qabbalistic and Hermetic. I shelved them. There was stuff to do and girls to chase!

Over the years...I put some real life under my belt. I built businesses. I lost businesses. I married the girl of my dreams and then I watched her fade away. I grew up I guess. I looked around the world and saw a lot of chaos, antagonism and ignorance. I hoped there was an answer. I longed for something that would make sense of all of the meaninglessness I experienced.

Now I'm not going to say that Freemasonry is the answer to the Universe. As a Mason...I agree that those answers are up to you. But I will say that Freemasonry struck a chord with me. It isnt that it offers the answer to the trials and experiences of life. It isnt that it offers the only road to enlightenment or personal salvation. Again, that is up to each of us to find.

What Freemasonry offered me was validation. I always thought that personal freedom of thought and religion was important. And Masonry agreed with me. I always believed that men were equal in the sight of God no matter what color they were or what nation they hailed from. And, again, Freemasonry agreed. I thought God was God. There are lots of names for God...lots of descriptions. But at the end of the day...God...was God. It or He or She is One Being, or One Nature or One Order or Something...maybe All Things that we humans approach in the best ways that we know how. And we call those ways religions. And Masonry said we shouldnt hate each other or judge each other for our different approaches.

That sounded like love. Too much of what I had heard outside of that sounded like bigotry. Masonry didnt tell me what to believe. That isnt the point of it. It allowed for me to come as I was.

Therefore, in consideration of everything that I have found about the Craft, it is easy for me to defend those kinds of ideals and tenets. Those Masonic truths may seem simple...but they are priceless to the human spirit.

Masonry isnt a religion or even a simple philosophy. Freemasonry is a kind of Code. It is a Rule of virtue and honor...of duty and humanity. It beckons us each to that Greater Light whilst it implores us to make a home for that Light within and so shine it forth for the benefit of all.

And now.........to my soapbox Brothers.

Real Freemasonry is much, much more than just Ritual or Charity or Dinner with the new candidates.

Dont get me wrong...the Ritual tradition is a must...and a tried and true framework binding us to our roots. Charity is the most glorious of Angels and the finest crystalline virtue that we may keep in our hearts. And dinner before or after any Masonic get together is no small thing to a man with my appetite. Bon Appetite!

Even so, the real value of Freemasonry lies in its simple moral virtues and ideals. Indeed, they are so very simple that we often take them for granted. And yet, countless men have lost their very lives defending these basic truths and freedoms. We are almost bored with these virtues. A good many Brothers pour over book after book searching for the 'lost word' of a Master Mason while they roll their eyes singing the National Anthem or yawn when we say Masonry is a 'Beautiful system of morality veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.'

Did you get that? Nevermind the lost word. Masonry is a 'system of morality.' Oh...and what's missing today? People treat each other like enemies...like things. A system of morality full of tolerance and love and meted out with faith, hope and charity might be just the shot we need for what ails us.

It was certainly an oasis for this wandering Noble. I'd rather believe in honor and stand for something virtuous than uncover any idol of power or temporal gain. For we will all fade in time. But our footprints may remain...if even for a while...to lead our children and our brothers home.

I'm going to lodge tomorrow. It's time for another stated meeting. We'll have some coffee and pork. I'll rib our Tyler, Dean, about his fig newton Tyler cookies. I'll greet my Brothers. I'll sign the book, wear my apron, salute my flag, and sit through the same ritual as I have heard it time after time before.

As long as my Brothers believe in good...believe in the Virtues and Morals of the Fraternity, I will sit in support of it and them. I'm not there for the very letter of the Charge.

I am there for the Spirit of the Craft.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

All Those Empty Chairs

Here's a question for you Brothers...

Were all of the chairs and seats in your Masonic Lodge filled with smiling Brother Masons the last time you were at a meeting?

More than likely...many, if not most, of the seats in your Lodge were empty. Empty.

I recall what I imagined awaited me upon my first becoming an Entered Apprentice to my Lodge. I shared the usual trepidation of others before me awaiting invisible ropes, likely sharp objects and what I certainly hoped was not a real goat! Most of all, however, I imagined a room full of assembled Brother Masons all sternly watching me and judging my every move and utterance. From somewhere in my memories I called forth images from Kubrick's 'Eyes Wide Shut.' Now that would have been something!

The reality that I encountered was a good deal different than what I had feverishly imagined. While I can definitely say that there were some very fine gentlemen in attendance, all good friends now...there just weren't very many Masons there. Most of the hundreds of chairs in our Lodge were empty. And that lack of attendance made the whole event somewhat less climactic than I had expected...less mysterious and grand.

I know how busy people can be these days. I am personally involved in a number of business ventures. Most weeks I work somewhere around seventy or eighty hours. In addition to that we have our personal lives spent with friends and family. It all takes a real commitment of our time. And time is the one thing most of us don't have as a luxury anymore in what has become a dual income economy.

Spreading me even more thin, I am also a Sir Knight of the Knight's Templar Commandery, a member of the Scottish Rite and a Noble of the Mystic Shrine. Whew! Between the jobs, my social life, my community responsibilities and my Masonic involvements .... I don't have time for anything anymore! Who's writing this!? Don't I have have other things to do!?

The point of all of this is...Freemasonry is a commitment to yourself and your Brother Masons. I argue that it is also a commitment to the Craft itself.

There are some fourteen hundred members in my Lodge. And, at any given meeting, only about twenty to thirty members show up! There are many times, too many, when we are desperately calling up Brothers on the phone so that we can simply open lodge!

What's going on?

Yes. We are all very busy people. But that isnt the only reason the seats are empty. We must all remember our Obligations and our commitments. While it is true that we are told to place God and Family before our duties to Freemasonry, many Brothers simply wear their membership in the Fraternity like a pin and just smile at their dues card now and again.

The real question I hear asked all of the time is 'what will fill the seats again?' We really need to think about that.

Think about this. When most of us were young men we happened across books like 'The Secret Teachings of All Ages' by Manly P. Hall (at least I did) or we heard about the secret society that our grandfathers or fathers belonged to. There was something very hip about Masonry. It was occult in the sense of being secret and that easily stirred boyish fantasies and adolescent rebellious tendencies. Still, Masonry was religious enough to be displayed in church panelling. My minister, in fact, was a prominent Freemason.

A great deal has changed since our youth Brothers. Reading is not the most exciting thing for young minds to occupy themselves with anymore. Unless Manly P. Hall makes a new Masonic game for the X Box then I doubt he will inspire as many minds in this new generation.

Freemasonry is not as hip anymore either. I have a Masonic tattoo on my arm and most people have no idea at all what it is. When I explain to them that I am a Freemason they usually ask me if I can build them a good deck for the Summer. Of course, the internet sometimes hurts as much as it helps. You can google all manner of anti masonic 'nutballery'. For instance, I have found that, as a 32* Scottish Rite Mason, I am but one small degree away from ruling the world and flying spaceships back to planet Solomon. Honestly...that I can't wait for.

Adding insult to injury, many religions are lashing out against Freemasonry right from the pulpits. Apparently, I'm a member of a Cult worshipping some kind of big goat. Damn! I'm in every Masonic body it seems and I Still cannot find that damned goat!

That's probably a good thing. Though I'll keep looking for the spaceship.

I'm a bit perturbed when Christians lash out against Masonry because, as a Knight Templar, I can absolutely attest that Freemasonry shares Christian ideals...even more. If you have read 'Born in Blood' then you will see that it is very likely that Masonry evolved from those very same Christian Knights of the Temple of Solomon. The cause of these attacks is simply ignorance. But, as Masons, we are told not to defend the Order against such attacks. At least that is the will of most Grand Lodges.

It's time that we Masons take a closer look at our Illustrious Fraternity. We need, more than ever, to educate ourselves on the meaning and the ideals of Masonry. More than that, we need to get involved and stay involved. These days, the Order needs us as much as we need that kind of moral Fraternity.

Freemasonry must embrace modernity. It must seek, recover and restore its brightest creeds and virtues of truth, equality and fraternity. In order to survive, Masonry - through its Brothers - must commit more and must take a far more active part in this modern culture. Masonry must continue to contribute, not only to those worthy charities, but by inspiring the artists, thinkers, writers and statesmen of the future.

We as Freemasons must act. We must take part and fill those empty chairs.

So too must we bind ourselves as the most worthy of virtuous Brothers. We must transcend the fog of ignorance, lies and anti-masonry that seeks to destroy our Order. Perhaps we can each only do a small part. But even the pyramids were raised one stone at a time.

That is how we were raised. But we were raised, as Master Masons, to be a part of something greater than ourselves. So be a part and take part.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Population One

How many of your neighbors do you know? How about your myspace friends...at least the ones you list as your 'top friends?' If someone came along and asked you a bunch of personal questions about each of them would you be able to answer the most basic of them. How many children do they have? What do they do for fun? Who do they love? What is their opinion on the rain forest...world hunger...the x box?

Every single day, I walk or drive by literally hundreds and even thousands of perfect strangers. For the most part, I would assume that I can relate to them. After all, they look like me...unless they are female, long haired or crazy looking (wait...I'm a little crazing looking). They speak my language, eat where I eat (I'm getting suspicious about that), shop where I shop, and go to the same bars and movies that I do. Still, how much do I really have in common with these people who carry on about me in 'my' world like an army of movie extras in my own cinematic opus?

I go through the drive-thru and there is a girl mindlessly repeating her fast food niceties just like the kid at the bank or the guy tearing my ticket to see 'Jumper' on saturday night. 'Thank you...can I get you anything else?...have a good one.' My God. I say 'have a good one.' I have told people for years to 'have a good one.' Truth is, I don't have the faintest idea whether or not I am blessing them or cursing them. I just dont know what 'one' is. I could be telling them to have a good stroke, or have a good explosion or something. I don't ever really define what the 'one' thing is that I'm wanting people to have ...in a good way.

And that's the problem.

When I tell people to 'have a good one' without thinking about what it is that is 'good' that I want them to have then I am just skating the impersonal world void that society has become. Gone are the days, especially in my generation, when people commonly take time to look after each other or to get to know each other as they cross paths.

When I was a kid, my grandfather took me on an adventure. I grew up in a small Texas town. There wasn't usually a whole lot to do besides ranch chores, running wild with the local kids, and watching one of three whole channels on television. Thus, my grandfather drove us to the local diner where he promptly offered me a Marathon candy bar. Oh no no...it wasnt the new ones that are healthy for you; it was one of the chocolate and caramel variety...removed from the US shelves long ago and now only available in Great Britain as a Curly Wurly (I know...I was given a sack of them by an ex girlfriend). Together, we sat there in that diner, each of us eating candy bars. My grandfather, Pap as I called him, prepared us for something special that day.He got me all excited...and then took me to watch a train roll by...car by car.

There are a lot of things that I have done in this world. I've flown airplanes, hang glided, traveled the US in an RV, climbed to the top of a pyramid...and I dont remember all of it. Somehow, I do remember eating those candy bars with my Pap and watching that train go by.

I think that a lot of things in life are about focus. As busy as our lives are these days we can't help but focus on our careers, schedules, and the day to day obligations of friends and families. It seems like we are all losing the big picture somehow...in all of the details. We're cutting down a lot of single trees, and one day that forest we're overlooking just wont be there. We need some perspective.

According to the world census there are around six or seven billion people on the planet right now with some three hundred million just right here in the US. Think about that for a second. Seems like a lot of people doesnt it? Keep in mind though that those numbers tell us that, unless we're miscounting the Milky Way, there are only six billion humans like ourselves in the whole...infinite...immeasurably immense, universe. That's not even a drop in the bucket.

Even so, managing my own life is quite enough thank you. I couldnt possibly keep up with the thrall of humanity at my very doorstep. Who is the guy or girl that delivers my mail I'm so fond of ignoring? Who cares? Who are those kids making all of that noise outside at seven in the AM? That...I'd like to know so I can call their parents and complain.

People are really good at having relationships with people that dont really exist, like movie characters or soap characters. They're great at reaching out to or letting in celebrities or entertainers. It's hard to comprehend the wave of national mourning brought about by the death of Princess Diana...or the massive media blitz surrounding Britney Spears lack of underwear or Paris's naughty midnight tapings. Have you seen my copy by the way?

People are extremely social...really touchy feely from their beginning. As babies they cling to their mothers and seek the warmth and companionship they need to be nurtured into adulthood. And here we are living in a world that is almost automated now where companies teach us all what to say, how and why to say it and what will come of it if we do or dont. It's getting a bit cold out there.

It's a small wonder then why a population that never personally met Princess Diana was so touched by her loss or why J-Los baby is the tabloid catch of the day. People who dont have time or who have been conditioned by this new automated society still have a basic human need to emotionally involve themselves...even if its with a character on a daytime soap opera.

We have begun to live our lives, and feel our feelings, without having to make real investments in real people in real time. Who has time for that...and with all of these strangers?

People like people they can identify with...or at least who they think they can identify with. I'm a Cowboys fan. Hmm...if you're wearing a star on your hat come game day...then i like you. If we went to the same university then I like you even more. It's funny, but it gets kind of specific. Really though, don't we all have something in common right away? We're people...black or white, male or female. We all feel the same joys, love, pain and fear that the other does. We look up to the same sun and moon day after day...the same stars.

When I was a teenager, my teacher taught our class a story about a guy dying on a train and nobody noticing. The train just went on with its business. The universe, she said, was cold. Ce la vie...life goes on.

It certainly seems that way. The nazis managed to kill millions of people in death camps in the second world war. Who were those people? It doesnt matter who they were now right? It was horrible...but the train moved on.

The universe may be cold...indifferent. That's a matter to be debated by philosophers, scientists and religious leaders. Whatever the case may be, it can be certain that the human heart is not. Sociopathy is a disease...an illness of an individual to circumvent and bypass emotional attachment and compassion. That same kind of behavior on a cultural level is still, I argue, a disease. Normal, healthy people have feelings...they have hearts.

Compassion is almost lost on us now. War is the answer to everyone that opposes or frightens us. Fear turns to judgment of the inner self and those familiar selves sharing the planet with us. These days, we don't give others a break and we dont even give ourselves a break. No wonder everyone is going postal on the highways or in the schools. We would rather accent what is different about each other than what is the same. And most of it...including that fear of rejection or alienation, is the same.

Wil Smith was in a movie this year in which he portrayed the last man on earth. That's a lonely, awful place to be for someone as social as a man. We are so busy disconnecting and judging, however, that many of us might as well just be the last man or woman on earth.

How many neighbors do you know by name? Do you spend more time on your myspace or keeping in touch with your friends there? If you could personally relieve someone's debt or illness would you do it...if what it cost you was your time?

Here is a news flash. You cannot win...because life is not a game. You cannot survive life and neither can anyone else. Your enemies, if you have any, will all die. And you will too...taking nothing with you...especially the time you are squandering being too busy.

You're on the train, not just watching it. It is wise to appreciate the journey and all of the other passengers making it with you. I've never forgotten watching that train go by with my grandfather. But that is because I have never forgotten the time he spent that day with his grandson. I look back over my life and all of the best moments seem to have someone else there with me. When I was born, when I got here, they were all strangers.

I cannot promise anyone that the train wont just coldy move on when you die. But being here, being alive, is the warm center in that chilly space surrounding it...making it mean something. And knowing someone else is there, others are on the train too, should indeed make life warmer.

People rely on one another. Our mates, our families, our dentists for that matter! They matter!

Damn the heartless corporations. Damn the media for beating up on our flawed humanity. We are not machines. We are not symbols. We must not be determined by our jobs, routines and single minded programming.

We are life. We.

Friday, June 13, 2008

We Wish Tim and His Family Well

It is all too easy to feel jaded in this world we live in. We're used to people being superficial or living by motives rather than sincerity. Hypocrisy seems to be the byword of religion these days as all too many churchgoers seem to schedule their 'Good' days (usually a Sunday) and then ... the 'rest of the week.'

Walking a straight line isnt easy. But when I looked into becoming a Mason, one of the most attractive things that I found about it was the Masonic admonition to do what was right simply 'because it is the right thing to do'. That's humbling in every way. But it is perfect too, and somehow beautiful as all true things are.

I received a phone call today from a Brother, and a man who I hope to think of as a friend of mine. He wanted to call and check up on how I was doing after walking the Hot Sands of the Desert last week during my Shrine initiation. He wanted to be sure that I had a good experience and that everything was going well for me.

I answered everything to the positive. I'm a little sore all in all, though I have to laugh there. But I'm doing just fine! I don't exactly remember anything quite like that in the Scottish Rite or the York Rite either.

While I was on the phone I asked this Brother a few questions and discovered that his wife is undergoing heart surgery to remove a blockage in a couple of days.

And here he was ... on the phone ... checking to make sure I was ok. Wow. Maybe it's just me but I dont get a lot of that.

The man I am talking about is the man that Raised me as a Master Mason. He has a voice you wont forget, a quiet charm and something else. This man, Brother Tim Couch, has the Light.

Tim is the DDGL of the 34th Masonic District of Missouri. He is a Past Master of Friend Lodge #352 in Ozark Mo. and a Member of the Scottish Rite (K.C.C.H.), Shrine and the Missouri Lodge of Research. He has memorized more Ritual than I can understand and keeps his finger on the Masonic pulse better than any man I personally know.

Still, what makes Tim stand out to me is something you cannot know in meeting a man just once. Tim has real character. He has always gone out of his way to help me and others. He has never asked for anything in return. And it is completely obvious that he is perfectly sincere. He genuinely cares about people.

Tim Couch is quite simply the finest example of Masonic conduct, and Masonry, that I have had the pleasure of knowing. To be honest, I always feel a bit weird around guys like Tim because I don't want to disappoint them.

Guys like Tim are rare in the outside world. I think this kind of man is the kind of man Freemasonry is trying to make of all of us. I'm sure he's human...at least a little sure...and that he has his own rough ashlar somewhere to work on. But Tim has a pretty good knowledge of the Working Tools and he's putting them to good use.

I'll certainly put Tim's wife and his family in my prayers and I hope that you Brothers out there do the same.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

That All Men Are Created Equal.


"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition That All Men Are Created Equal (emphasis mine)." - President Abraham Lincoln (From the Gettysburg Address)

The Widow's Son from the Excellent Blog 'The Burning Taper' featured a blog that sparked our Ruffian interest.

Here is an excerpt from that blog:

"A Masonic event of historic importance occurred recently in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Friendship Lodge No. 84 recently hosted a visit from members of Oak Springs Lodge No. 41, Prince Hall Freemasonry. This was the first time members of the two local lodges met together. More than 70 Master Masons from three states attended.

They met together in tyled lodge to witness the Master Mason degree conferred, the Herald-Mail reported.

Masons in attendance included M.W. Bro. John Biggs, the Grand Master of Masons in Maryland and R.W. Bro. Melvin Thorpe, senior grand warden of The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Maryland.

Prince Hall Masonry is primarily made of black men. Mainstream Freemasonry in the United States is predominantly made up of white men, and the two Masonic streams have been segregated since Prince Hall's inception in the late 1700s. In 1989, the Grand Lodge of Connecticut became the first mainstream grand lodge to recognize Prince Hall Masonry. Since that time, all the mainstream grand lodges outside the Old South have recognized Prince Hall. The Grand Lodge of Texas was the most recent holdout to finally recognize Prince Hall members as Masons, in 2007. Delaware finally recognized Prince Hall Masonry a year before that, in 2006.

The remaining states that do not recognize Prince Hall are Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida.

A Mason from the non-recognition states — from either mainstream or Prince Hall Masonry — is subject to suspension or expulsion from the fraternity for sitting in a tyled lodge of the other group, or for allowing a member of the opposite group to sit in his lodge.

Recently, it has been reported that mainstream Bro. Charles Martin, who held/holds dual membership in Kentucky and New York, has been expelled from Masonry by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky for sitting in a Prince Hall lodge while serving in the American military in Iraq. At present, this report is unconfirmed, though it is known that the Grand Secretary of the Kentucky Grand Lodge wrote Bro. Martin to inform him that charges of unmasonic conduct had been filed against him. The outcome of those charges is unknown to me at this time. It was stated on some blogs that he had been expelled; on other blogs it was said his trial had been postponed." (The Burning Taper)

I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am to be a Master Mason. And I am proud of this because I know what the Ideals of the Order are...Brotherly Love, Relief (or Charity) and Truth. On March 6th in 1775, an African American named Prince Hall was made a Master Mason in Irish Constitution Military Lodge No. 441. Today, Prince Hall Freemasonry is recognized by Most of the Mainstream Grand Lodges (40 out of 51) and is considered regular by the Grand Lodge of England. True Masonic Ideals achieved this.

Times are surely changing as evinced far and wide in our culture and on the obvious political front as Barack Obama, an African American, now faces the very real possibility of becoming the first African American man to sit in the Oval Office.

Still, it is apparent that segregation continues, especially in the South. This intolerance is not a part of Masonry so much as it is a part of some of the individual Brothers in the Craft. I am saddened whenever I hear a Brother speak ill of Prince Hall. Unfortunately, bigotry continues to be a part of some mason's rough ashlar.

Some may argue that if something began one way then it is best if it stays that way. From that perspective, white men founded Freemasonry and those are the faces that should be seen in the Lodge. Really? Where is the Brotherly Love...the Truth?

God made the First Grand Lodge...the Heavens and the Earth, of which King Solomon's Temple is merely a pale reflection. And in That Grand Lodge, men of All colors were born and have served that Great Divine Will ... together.

What makes a man a Mason is not his religious belief, his nationality or...his race. A Mason is a man...any worthy man, who strives toward those Ideals of Perfection of his own free will. God will know that Mason and Recognize him no matter what Lodge he belongs to.

Surely it is difficult for some men to find the personal courage to break free from their prejudices...many of which have been deeply ingrained over a lifetime. But it is time for Masons who are hesitant to receive their Prince Hall brothers to Remove That Hoodwink and see at last how wonderful it is that so many young black men have followed in Hiram's footsteps and deigned to journey to the Light.

I realize the topic of Prince Hall Freemasonry can be a heated one, depending on where your Lodge may be. But I speak with so many fine and eager Black American Prince Hall Masons and am often warmed by just how much Freemasonry means to each and every one of them. These are men looking to make themselves better men through the Craft. And I applaud these men I gladly call Brother.

Change does not always come easily. But it is coming. If we Masons truly believe in Brotherly Love then such change is welcome. As far as I am concerned, Prince Hall Masons are welcome in my Lodge anytime.

Brother Martin has had to fight a battle that should have been over years ago. A Mason must be a kind of paragon of those ethics and morals that are taught in the Order. Whenever I see men standing against Brotherly Love and expelling or even threatening to expell a man for standing by his Brother in Mankind...That's when I see UnMasonic Conduct.

Come on Brothers. We're better than that. Don't forget for a moment that Light is composed of Every Color. Good for you Prince Hall.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Building a Better America

"I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag..."

There is a great deal of political spin going on these days. Pick up a newspaper, read a blog, leaf through a magazine or just watch television and you can't help but run across the modern tabloid fiasco that is the Presidential equivalent of Spain's running of the bulls.

As a Ruffian, I'll be the first to say that I don't care whether or not you've decided to vote for John McCain or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. Good for you. Voting is the first step to real democratic freedom! As far as any of that is concerned, it is my opinion that the issues are what should matter. I think we might as well just vote online with blind ballots, issue by issue, and see what we, as a people, come up with.

To hell with the rhetoric. To blazes with the political spin. And a good bite of the thumb to the Media Machine, Pundits, and Lobbyists that all stand to make money from our votes.

I'm a Freemason. I'm proud of that. And I'm even more proud to know that Freemasonry had a giant hand in assembling what is, ostensibly, the greatest of free and civilized countries, the United States of America. Don't get me wrong. I think very highly indeed of other countries in the world, perhaps your other country. I also cannot say that I agree with everything that America stands for in the modern age.

Things have changed since the beginning when Brother George Washington laid the corner stone of his great Nation. Some of these things have changed for the better and some have changed for the worse.

Still, America is a great nation. Yes, the Constitution has been amended. The Laws of the Land have been altered to reflect the evolution of the American Society. But the United States, with all of its flaws, is the child of a group of bold and brilliant dreamers, men who believed in a better way to live.

Whatever side you are on when it comes to being a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian - Pro War, Anti-War ... If you are a Freemason you know that the first call is to be a Patriot. And being a Patriot means that you hold true and fast to the Ideal that your Nation represents.

Do you remember what the Ideal of the United States of America was as our forefathers imagined it to be...before the rhetoric...before the spin? As a Freemason, you surely know the Ideals of the Order. We look to God for Light and trust in the Angels of Faith, Hope and Charity to guide us. We remember Temperance and Fortitude and know well the value of Honor and Truth. We all share the Freedom to seek that Divine Light in our own manner. And we believe that with hard work comes reward. We can trust our Brothers and we know that we are all equals in our Lodge of Master Masons.

And lest we not forget that we admit, with patience, only men of Moral Character. Still, we want to believe in all men. We are willing to give relief to those that need it as well as to our Brothers.

We know there is potential in man. For God deigned to lay the corner stone of life in each man. Thus, in each man we can be certain of a temple waiting to be raised to greatness.

And this is true, as well, of the United States of America.

The Freemasonic American Dream is in Our Hands now Brothers. The past means nothing. It is over. Only the present matters. And we are now the Forefathers of the Future of America. It is our Masonic Ideal. It is our experiment. It is up to us.

Many...many great Brothers have sacrificed their lives for the American Dream. Now, all too many men idly blink their eyes amidst the rain of rhetoric and political spin. It is easier to simply settle for anger and frustration than to actually Do anything about it. It is easier to point fingers, lay blame and give up. But this is not the Masonic way. And this is not George Washington's way.

Brother George said it best... "For men have Virtue to withstand the Highest Bidder."

Masons are men of Virtue are we not? We must not give up on this Country that our Brothers believed in. We are builders. Find your stone, perhaps rejected, and build the High Arch of Ideals again.

Build America.

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