Monday, April 16, 2012

Red Tape in a Blue Lodge

There is value in tradition. Rituals carry the legacies of the past. Symbols preserve the unspoken wisdom of the ages. Men continue the path well worn, beginning their journey as all have and following the countless footsteps laid before them. The traditions, rituals, and everyday practices of the lodge fasten today to yesterday and remain the umbilical cord of modern Freemasonry to its ancient and storied history.

And yet the world must change. Every generation supplants and surpasses the one before it. Is this not the secret dynamic of the art? Equilibrium? So must not the Order change as well?

In mere decades, the computer has revolutionized every facet of the human span. Microchips and the wizardry of science, sure to hang us all in a not so distant age, allow us now to govern our lives from the palm of our hand, to reach across the shores and time itself. Who could have foreseen this?

Is there yet a place for secret grips and tokens now that the Brethren carry printed dues cards and join lodge groups on facebook?

I say yes. I hold that the age old traditions of Masonry are the backbone and nervous center of the Order. The rites and rituals memorized through the succession of worthy and well qualified men are in themselves a Constitution, a Law and an Act of will. They are the foundation. Still, though we rest our homes, our cities and even our civilization upon such foundations, each generation expands its understanding, enhances its tools and reaches to greater heights of architecture and the sublime arts of the humanities.

The circle will always be a circle and the square always a square. The balance and the measure will never falter. The line will be drawn and the compass will make its arc. The laws of the universe, so like the laws and traditions of the lodge, will and must remain. But we have all lost our vision if we cannot renew the lodge...if we cannot build the lodge for the Modern Mason.

Young Masons must not be afraid to take up their rightful place as Architects in the New Order. Yet any new Mason must be readily and rightfully forged. Is it enough to give the man his third degree and brand him a brother Master Mason when he holds no knowledge, value or even understanding of the title he then carries? No. We should all be exhausted by the procession of the who are not so much seekers as joiners. Yet what do they know to seek? Do they even comprehend the foundation they stand upon by that right and the Work that they themselves embody...each Mason a Lodge?

Too many lodges are perishing because they refuse to understand the very reason or benefit of the traditions and rituals they hold so dear. They march men mindlessly through the degrees chafing and guffawing when a line is crossed as though they are the masters. And fools they are. Hiram's secret has become a myth of idealism and demagoguery.

The Master would not laugh, but embrace. The Master would teach. For every true lodge is built within the hearts and the minds of the men that occupy it. They are the lodge. Each brother Master Mason becomes the embodiment of the Order itself. No one is greater than any other. This is a Truth evident in the Foundation for those who would sincerely Seek It.

And so that Foundation must be strong. Each Apprentice and Fellow Craft must proceed by the Guidance and the Knowledge of his Brothers. Each man must be the Pillar of his Brother for the Lodge to rise so it may too wait upon the coming centuries. What then might rise above the Foundation so well fashioned for the ages?

Where now is the vision of Leonardo? Who now holds the craft of Michaelangelo? Freemasonry must embrace its Arts...its Vision. It must remind its young Masters that they are born of men of pedigree and promise. Virtue is their birthright by the blood of knowledge and wisdom past. So noble a venture might yet again transcend the vicissitudes and tyrannies of Time and State.

What has Freemasonry accomplished? Nothing, if it is stripped to the uselessness of cargoes lost ashore from a once proud wrecked and forgotten because its stewards lost their way. We have the tools but we must artfully apply them. Stone walls become glass cathedrals. Signs and symbols soar the silicon arrays.

Masons remember why they so carefully follow the steps of their forebears. And yet they make their own way.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Crisis of Our Humanity

The human condition is...

"Suffering" says the Buddha. "Whatever works" says William James. "The result of natural selection" says Charles Darwin. "Submission to Allah" preaches Muhammad.

Random. Created. Evolved. Fashioned. Continuing. Chance. Hopeless. Faithful. Ironic. Miserable. Beautiful.

Biologist Richard Dawkins is an atheist. He would have you believe that we are all the evolved products of billions of years and millions of generations. To Richard...we are genes and memes. Simply put, man is the culmination of physical and psychological patterns that have developed over massive epochs of passing time. We are walking and breathing systems of reproduction copying whatever works best to survive forward into the abyss. Surely, this is a gross oversimplification of the matter. But shouldn't any answer be simple?

Of course, you might ask fellow evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould about Dawkins. He would tell you that Dawkins is the one oversimplifying things. More agnostic than atheist, Stephen thought that God was not the subject of empirical research and represented a kind of unscientific bias in Dawkin's thought catalog.

Perhaps unaware of his vast lineage, man has fallen by the billions to the pox, to war, to cataclysm. The fact that any of us are alive today is a sure testament to a struggle if nothing else so eloquent. We all ask the question at some point why we are here...what is the meaning of it all. In the end most of us either live in denial of an answer, find some personal motivation or seek the solace of an answer in a shared faith...a religion perhaps.

There are plenty of religions to choose from to be sure. Out of his cave man looked to the stars. And under foot he found revelation in the local plantlife. A constellation would steer the mind as well as the navigators of human destiny. And a mushroom would let the man look within. Astrotheology and shamanism painted caves, constructed pyramids and gave rise to stories, and myths...more explanations.

What is real? Dont ask me. Ask the likes of Stephen Hawking or Carl Jung. Again, one looks to the stars for his answers and one looks deep inside the Self. Is the Self, the psyche, God? Are we the myths made flesh and blood? So many, such as the mythologist Joseph Campbell, would think so. But man doesnt know his place after all. The travail of mankind is that each individual decides his place and, like the Biblical God, fashions himself in 'his' image.

We either entrap ourselves or free ourselves by our own perspective. What we believe to be true...becomes true. Ask the orphans of madness populating the behavioral centers. Ask them what is true. Are we all mad with faith? Go ask Bill Maher who sees faith as 'Religulous'. It is clearly ridiculous to him to believe in something outside of what he chooses to believe in. Perhaps we are all a bit more 'Religulous' than Maher would like.

At the end of all of our philosophies, our religions and our ideologies we stand the naked ape before the stars. Ask the young woman of the pain of her births. Ask the soldier the worth of killing. Ask the old man on his deathbed what he lived for. And ask the sick, the wounded, the the end is the pain of life worth the living it?

Be at peace...yet we are not peaceful. Go to war...yet we are mortal. How many untold agonies tell the true tale of the human struggle? 55 million of us died in World War 2. Is that not Apocalypse? What of the unspeakable brutality of the murderous Inquisition? Man is Gladiator in the arena, spilling his own blood and crying victory.

Damn them all for being anything but a Humanitarian. What belief can justify the horror of murderous war? What god or religion is still calling for human sacrifice on altars that must be, must only be, profanities in the analog of our species? So many of us now are of steel. And like that tyrant, we steel ourselves against the suffering of nations, of our brothers, our sisters...our other selves.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This is the golden rule. Buddha, Jesus, Krishna...they all said as much. Or look away...stand as god among mortals. Live forever in contributing to the suffering of others. Is not such a thought madness? For all of us are mortal after all, aren't we? All of us suffer and bleed and eventually die.

It is not a miracle that we rise in the morning and greet the warmth of the sun. But there is no explanation for it. Science is not qualified to philosophize. And the rational mind must know at once that 'the answer' is elusive by our own relative perspective to it. And so we each greet the sun indifferently, accepting our fate under the heavens.

We are not so blind now. We cannot excuse ourselves in ignorance. We are learned men and women...or so we tell ourselves. Only in the moment of your pain may you judge the pain of others. Only at the moment of your death can you know that we are all the same you and I.

We are builders. We are creators. In spite of all of our weaknesses, man has raised civilizations, built bridges and artfully expressed the inexpressible beauty of a stunning likeness to god within...the works of Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Beethoven...

And yet...we spend our lives surviving in third world countries in war torn chaos like animals. Or the more fortunate gorge themselves on heart wrecking fast food, driving the right cars and wearing the right clothes. We evolve Dawkins says. In his view, we are no better than enlightened monkeys. Few of us, if any, prove him wrong in the end. We are vacuous, banal, and self serving. My life. My generation. My time. My ...

If we don't wake up in time, then the dream may become a nightmare and we may always sleep in terror of waking. At the dawn we must confront what we are left with and we must, at last, embrace it and live a life that is genuine by all accounts.

I am a man, he says. And I see that we all are.

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