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This is an Opinion site. Unlike Leftists, I back up my opinions with verified facts and the consistent application of personal morals. I do not do "current events" as I like to wait until facts come out and I have to grok on it until fullness is achieved.

This is a one-man operation that I get to after my day job and family. Currently posting only sporadically due to the time it takes me to make a post vs. the demands on my non-computer life. All comments are approved before posting to prevent spam. Coherent comments of differing opinions are welcome.

A Good Man

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A good man was lost yesterday. Louis Hudgings passed away yesterday, at the tender age of 98 years old. He was a 75 year Mason, having gone through his degrees right after serving in the Army Air Corps in WWII. He was a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, he served as the Grand Commander for the York Rite in Tennessee in 1975, Master of two different lodges and many more things that I can't think of right now.

This man, up until the day he died, was of sound and sharp mind. His handshake was as strong as mine. He buried two wives and had six girlfriends that I knew of. Whenever Bartlett Lodge had an open function, he brought at least three of his girlfriends with him. During my year as Master, he was my Chaplain and sat on my right hand during every meeting. He made sure I didn't mess up too bad while sitting in the East.

He was a holder of the Pin of Excellence and was Bartlett's lead ritual instructor up until recently. He always was exacting, yet constructive in his criticism when you messed up the ritual. One time, a brother was obligating an Entered Apprentice degree for the first time (He played the Master, the biggest part) and the most important part of the degree, delivering the oath the man swears to, this brother got nervous and none of the words came out in the right order. After that part, when we were returning to our seats, Brother Louie said, "I've never heard that obligation before." I just about fell over.

This picture is from Bartlett Lodge's birthday party for him the year I was Master. I had arranged for the Mayor to make a birthday proclamation and it was presented to him by a city alderman.

louie h

You will be missed, Brother, Mentor and Friend. I have no doubt that when you stand before the Great White Throne, you will hear those welcome words from Him, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."

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An Open Letter to Masons

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This letter is specifically for those Masons who shouted me down with cries of "Leviticus!" when I stood to speak for the elimination of most of 6.207 (27) from the Tennessee Masonic Code. It also applies to those who silently support them.

A friend on Facebook made a post which reminded me of something that I once said long ago; I had forgotten it until that moment.

For non-Masons, I have to explain something first so you have a context. After each degree, a Mason memorizes a series of answers to questions in a question-and-answer lecture that relates to the degree they just went through. In order to advance to the next degree, the Mason must be able to proficiently answer the questions. During the teaching, the instructor asks the question, then gives the answer. At the examination to determine if the Mason is proficient, he has to recite the answers with minimal, if any prompts.

Some lodges teach rote memorization, e.g. "say these specific words in this specific order" and the instructors never teach the meaning of what they are learning. As an example, one part went like this: "I will not reveal the secrets of this degree... without without due trial, strict examination or legal information." In the Masonic world, these three word pairs have very specific meanings as to what you are supposed to do to the brother to determine if a brother is entitled to receive certain knowledge. If you received your instruction from a "rote" instructor, you probably don't know what those methods are or what would determine a pass/fail. If you received instruction from my lodge, the instructors (including myself) would talk about what those words meant and what you had to do. We found that this extra knowledge helped in the retention of the memorization and inspired the Mason to learn more.

So what does rote memorization has to to with Leviticus? I'm glad you asked.

I have read my Bible from Genesis to Revelations. I prefer the New International Version because it is derived from the original texts and is heavily footnoted to provide context. In the Old Testament it was made clear that you could not enter the Kingdom of Yahweh (God) if you were not spiritually clean. If you sinned, the only way for you to atone for your sins was by making the appropriate sacrifice to God. In Leviticus, the exact steps you had to take in the sacrifice was laid out as well as the animal/thing used as the offering. There were five specific areas of offerings. Burnt offerings, grain offerings, fellowship offerings, sin offerings and guilt offerings. Each type of offering had a different purpose and required a different sacrifice depending on the social/financial status of the one performing the offering.

As an example, if you unintentionally broke one of the Ten Commandments this would fall under the heading of a "sin offering." If a high priest or the whole congregation was guilty, a young bull would be required. If the sinner was a leader, a male goat would be required. For a common person, the sacrifice had to be a female goat or a lamb. The poor could offer a dove or pigeon and for the very poor, a tenth of an ephah, or about 2.25 gallons of flour.

Leviticus Chapters 18-20 lists various sins. Some of them listed in Chapter 18 are repeated in Chapter 20 with punishments.

They include:

  • Giving (sacrificing) your child to Molech (the god of the Ammonites).
  • Not stoning a man to death for giving his child to Molech.
  • Anyone who turns to Mediums or Spiritualists.
  • Cursing a parent.
  • Sleeping with another man's wife (adultery).
  • Sleeping with his fathers wife.
  • Sleeping with his daughter-in-law.
  • Homosexuality ("If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman...").
  • If a man marries both a woman and her mother.
  • Having sex with an animal (man or woman).
  • If a man marries his sister.
  • If a man has sex with a woman during menstruation.
  • Cursing the deaf or putting stumbling blocks in the way of the blind.
  • Endangering your neighbors life.
  • Mating different kinds of animals.
  • Planting one field with two kinds of seed.
  • Wearing clothing made of two different kinds of material.
  • Eating meat with the blood still in it.
  • Cutting the hair on the sides of your head or trimming your beard.
  • Mutilating or tattooing yourselves.
  • Using dishonest measures.

In today's world how many people do you know of who sacrifice an animal every time they broke one of the above laws? Pretty much zero. And many Christians will say why through rote memorization. They say the correct thing ("Jesus sacrificed Himself on the cross for all of the sins of Mankind") but there is no knowledge, no realization of what that exactly means.

Here's what I realized and said many years ago: "Jesus' sacrifice on the cross rendered inert all of the laws laid out in the Old Testament."

Knowing our history is important. that's why the Bible contains the OT. However the laws contained in the OT are no longer requirements to be followed and strictly obeyed.

This is clearly spelled out in Matthew Chapter 22. In verse 36, the Sadducees asked, "Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus' reply in versus 37-40 reads,

Jesus replied, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on the two commandments."

Every law in the Old Testament became irrelevant the moment Jesus breathed His last saying, "It is finished."

Here's my final kick in the gonads to my hyper-religious former brothers:

If you demand adherence to the laws laid down in the OT, you negate Jesus' sacrifice. He died in vain because you prefer the old laws and don't think His sacrifice was good enough for you.

Think about that the next time you open your pie hole to shout "Leviticus!"

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The blade has fallen

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After an afternoon and evening running errands in and around Memphis today, I come back home and on my way into the house, I picked up the mail, which included a letter from the Grand Lodge F & A M of Tennessee. I have been waiting for and dreading this letter for some time.

The important part reads,

The defendant was found guilty of the charges and will receive the sentence of 'Expelled from Masonry' as of July 19, 2016.

I love this country and what it stands for so much that I spent 13 years serving it, ready to lay down my life if called upon. I love Masonry more. I felt it was necessary for me to make this stand because Masonry taught me to never compromise my character.

If I seem angry, short-tempered or more sarcastic than usual, this is why. I ask for your forgiveness.

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My Masonic Trial

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Last night, a trial was held to determine if I was guilty of the Masonic offenses I was accused of.

Let me say this: I am a fourth-generation Mason. I truly wish I would have joined this fraternity at 19 rather than 49. I will admit, I was not ready emotionally and spiritually to join until when I did. Joining this fraternity is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I love it more than I love this country. The fact that I served this country for 13 years and was ready to give up my life to protect this way of life pales in comparison to what I am willing to for this fraternity.

Since my meeting with the Grand Master back in April, last night was just about the first time that I had been in lodge. Every brother greeted me with every measure of warmth, friendliness and brotherly love that they have since I became a Master Mason. I want to make it clear that I detected no animosity from any of them.

When we opened the lodge, a sense of peace and "being at home" came over me. The kind of feeling like you've spend six hard weeks away from home and twelve hours on the road to get home, then you sit down and relax in your favorite easy chair. I greatly missed that kind of calmness in my soul.

While the outcome of the trial was never in any doubt, I tried everything I could think of to blunt the result. The trial commission (three disinterested Past Masters) will have to write a recommendation and send it to the Grand Lodge who will then determine my fate. This could take a couple of weeks, I don't know.

A final note, the brother who was tasked with prosecuting me told me after the trial that if he had not been asked to prosecute, he would have defended me. This only confirmed that there was no animosity in that lodge last night.

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This is wrong and here's why

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My Masonic fate is rapidly barreling toward me. Before my anticipated departure from the Fraternity, I wanted to share something to show just where I think the "less than" Most Worshipful Grand Master of Tennessee Billy Ray Cutlip is heading.

First of all, to commemorate a Grand Master's year, he gives out a commemorative lapel pin and sells pocket knives. Here is a picture of the current pin:


This pin is unremarkable from previous Grand Masters pins, except for the symbol on the right side, the Christian Cross. Unless you are a Mason, the significance of this will escape you. I will clearly explain why this terrifies me and should likewise terrify all good Masons.

For some context, here are five of the 6 last Grand Master's pins. I do not have one of PGM Hastings' pins:

fivegmpinsEach pin reflects something personal about that Grand Master. Going from Left to right, Past Grand Master Boduch's pin is shaped like a Doctor's black bag and has a caduceus because he is a Physician. #2 is for PGM Mack Johnson and it has a star reflecting where his Lodge is within the state (just off the left tip of the square) and has his initials under the star. The middle one for PGM Laddie Wilson has the symbol for the Marine Corps, since he is a former Marine and a trowel, one of Masonry's symbolic tools. PGM Etherton's says "200 years of brotherhood," since his year was 2013 and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee was formed in 1813. PGM Musick's pin is University of Tennessee orange and a star over Memphis, where his home lodge is located.

Before I can go into why GM Cutlip's pin is terrifying, I must dispel the myth that the Masons are a religion. While it is a requirement that a petitioner believe in a Supreme Being and publicly express that belief, beyond that the Masons do not inquire as to the exact religion or Supreme Being. I do not care the manner in which my brothers worship their Supreme Being and they likewise do not intrude on my communion with my Supreme Being.

The Masons accept men of all religions without preference or prejudice. That's the standard to which we hold ourselves and our brethren accountable to. No one religion, even the primary religion of the land, is to be elevated above the others in Masonry.

The symbolism of this pin is terrifying to me as a Mason, even though I am a Christian. I do not begrudge a brother from wearing any religious regalia, in fact I support it because it shows he is not afraid to show his love for his Creator and will freely share his beliefs to all who ask about it. That being said, when the "less than" Grand Master Cutlip decides to promote his religion at the exclusion of all others as part of the symbol of his office, he might as well be saying, "NO KIKES, RAGHEADS OR OTHER NON-CHRISTIANS ALLOWED."

Do you think I am engaging in hyperbole? Could it be possible I am exaggerating? It has been tradition for over 100 years throughout Masonry that you don't discuss politics and religion in a Lodge. Because of the passions many people feel on those subjects, discussion of these subjects lead to disharmony among the brethren. We as Masons try to work in harmony for the betterment of ourselves, each other and the world in general. Preferring Christianity over all other religions sticks a big knife in the back of every non-Christian Mason that lives in or travels through Tennessee. I don't care if 999 out of 1,000 Masons in this state are Christian, why does the "less than" Grand Master Cutlip want to make that one brother feel unwelcome here? I don't care if that lone brother is Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, Pastafarian or any religion, it is not GM Cutlips' (or any other brother) place to exclude another brother because of their religion.

Just to make it clear, I understand Christianity is important to GM Cutlip, however I would be just as concerned if instead of the Cross it was the Star of David, the Islamic Crescent or any other specific religious symbol. I am not concerned about the phrase "Put God back in America" because I see it to be non-sectarian. The word "God" is actually a generic term, "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" (more precise Names for the Christian God) would be unacceptable for the non-sectarian Masonic fraternity.

This is what happens when you let extremists drive the bus. It doesn't matter if they are political or religious extremists, anyone who does not submit to the drivers' brand of extremism tends to end up under the bus rather than in the bus.

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I am proud to see this

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I heartily congratulate Shades Valley Lodge #829 in Birmingham, Alabama, for on May 5th, 2016, they took a step that I wish Tennessee Masons could or would take.

On that day, they raised Brother Ronald King to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason. While they have been integrated for some time, Brother King is the first Black man to go through the degrees in an Alabama Lodge.

During my year as Master of my Lodge, I tried several times to integrate a Lodge that was recognized throughout Tennessee as one of the best Lodges in the state. In 2014, when our Grand Master was from another Memphis Lodge, when he toured the state, he didn't talk about his lodge, he talked about Bartlett #211 as the standard all Lodges should strive for. We could perform all the degrees without the help of visitors (although all parts were offered to visitors first) and we had more Pins of Excellence than any other Lodge in the state. However, each time a Black man visited us, a cold shoulder was given to him.

As Masons, we are taught to judge a man by his internal qualifications (honor, integrity and character) rather than the external (riches, appearance or skin color). To see men denied solely because of their skin color has always upset me. I am glad to see this advancement in Masonry.

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I will no longer sacrifice my Character

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Before anything is said, I am not a representative of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, nor any of the Masonic Lodges I belong to. I am speaking only for myself.

Unless you have been under a rock the past couple of months, you probably heard about two Tennessee Masons who got married in a same-sex marriage after Obergefell v. Hodges was decided by the Supreme Court (my thoughts on that decision are here) and posted that event on social media. They were consequently suspended from the fraternity for a year.

I realize I do not know all of the particulars pertaining to the facts of this issue. I have read and heard what the Grand Lodge (which I will abbreviate as GL from here on out) has said about this issue. I have received information from the suspended brothers and I have spoken with brothers from the lodge where they are members. I realize I will never know all of the facts and quite frankly, I don't want to know all of them. It's none of my business.

During our GL Annual Communication held in March 2016, there were several proposals to change sections of our code to address issues like this. The code proposals were properly submitted, discussed and voted upon by the members of the GL. I, as a Past Master and member of the GL, was there when the discussions were held and the votes cast. The membership of the GL consists of the Master, Senior and Junior Wardens of all lodges and all men who have served and completed their year as Master, who are called Past Masters.

I am not going to second-guess the Grand Master of Masons of the State of Tennessee, nor am I going to criticize him for the decisions, judgements or rulings of him or his appointees in this matter. It is not my place to do so, and in order for me to do it properly, I would need the facts of the matter, which I just said I do not have, I never will have and would not want them in the first place.

This post is not about any of that.

Before I begin talking about this situation, I have to "set the table" so everyone has a clear understanding of the context where this situation has come about and why I am doing this.

The Masons are a fraternity that has been around in its present form since 1717. We trace our history all the way back to the stonemasons who built King Solomon's Temple. We use metaphors and allegory to inculcate (teach) certain moral principles and duties we owe to each other and all mankind. Our only requirements to join are that you be a male of legal adult age and believe in a Supreme Being. Who that Supreme Being is exactly, we don't care. The Masons only care that you want to better yourself, morally and spiritually. We embrace men of every county, religious sect and opinion.

Masons are taught that each man takes his own path toward enlightenment. We are taught and reminded that there is no "wrong" or "right" way to interpret the symbols and allegories used to inculcate our lessons. What a particular symbol or allegory means to one Mason can be very similar or totally different to what it means to the brother sitting next to him. We freely discuss what these mean to us personally without trying to force our view on our brother. As I like to say, we travel "individually together" in our journey for enlightenment.

We are constantly reminded that we should be in harmony with each other and support, protect and aid all mankind, especially our brothers. There are no qualifiers in this obligation other than we must take care of ourselves and families before we can help anyone else. This is what I was taught when I became a Mason and it is in agreement with how I have tried to live my life before I became a Mason. Subjects such as religion and politics are considered divisive and are specifically not discussed in lodge.

Above all this, we are taught to regard our honor, integrity and character as second only to our love and devotion to our Supreme Being. A man without these traits is to be avoided.

Now that the table is set, let's sit down and break this bitter, unleavened bread.

What I am very angry about is how the situation has been handled. I am angry that this situation is going to have very long-range repercussions on this fraternity. Most of all, I am angry over the choice I have been forced to make about this situation. I should have spoken out on this several months ago. The cost to hold my silence has been great and the cost I will likely have to pay as a consequence of speaking out will also be great.

What I am going to criticize is the fact that I and every other Mason in the State of Tennessee have been ordered to remain quiet on this issue in public, especially on social media. No comments for or against, no "likes" of any related topic or anything. The Grand Master's words were:

Brethren, this Masonic matter is to be handled by the GL of Tennessee within the State of Tennessee and any further unauthorized discussion on this matter outside of the Tennessee Masonic fraternity will be considered a Masonic offense and will be dealt with accordingly.

Those who speak out are to be brought up on Masonic Charges. If found guilty, those who violate this order could be suspended or even expelled from the Fraternity. This Grand Master is now out of office, as the Grand Master's term ends at the close of the Annual Communcation. I am unaware of any renewal of that edict by the new Grand Master.

I remained silent because I wished to speak on this subject during the Annual Communication, which I did. This enforced silence was painful for me, because I wanted to voice my views on this subject. I believed I compromised my honor, integrity and character by my silence. I will not repeat this error.

Even though there is no official edict forcing my silence, the possible consequences of this post making its way across the Internet are these:

  • Nothing. The GL of Tennessee doesn't find out about this post, or decides to take no action. (.000001% chance of that happening)
  • I am charged with a Masonic offense, tried, found guilty and suspended for a certain term from the Masons. During my suspension I cannot attend visit a lodge except for public events. I cannot speak about any Masonic subject with a brother during that time. Any lodge who lets me visit or brother who supports me would suffer a similar fate. (Most likely)
  • I am expelled from the fraternity entirely. I can never attend or join another regular Masonic lodge for the rest of my life. (Possible, not probable)
  • Absolutely nothing. This is different than the first possibility, but far worse than even being expelled. I have aspirations of advancing in the GL hierarchy (District Chairman, Grand Lecturer or something similar) and/or obtaining my Pin of Excellence. I would like to be considered for positions of authority in the several appendant bodies I belong to. With this possibility, all of these would vanish. I would be an equivalent to "that Ensign" that spills coffee on the Admiral and finds himself permanently stationed in Alaska until he resigns or retires, never advancing in rank past Ensign. (90+% chance of this in any case except expulsion)

While I understand how and why this fraternity has responded (generally with silence) to such incidents in the past, this kind of response is no longer a viable option. In the "Old Days," an incident like this would likely remain a local issue, and never venture beyond the city or county borders. Today, all it takes is one blogger to say something, or someone posts the news channel video to YouTube or Facebook and suddenly a lot more people know about this issue. When this happens, a large number of people now know that this happened, with very few of the facts of the matter with none of the context. Silence and stonewalling is not an appropriate response to situations like this anymore. Misinformation has to be fought with correct information.

There are people out there who upon seeing the words "Gays Suspended from the Masons in Tennessee" together go off on a tirade "OMG-WTF-SMH-SJW" and all the rest. Those people cannot be reached nor convinced of anything beyond what they have already made their mind up about. The good news is there are enough people who want context and more information before they decide. Those people understand that there is more than one side and there are multiple forces in play. Those are the people you need to reach.

The current consequences of the enforcement of this Tennessee Masonic Code has been the GL’s of California and the District of Columbia have suspended recognition of the GL of Tennessee. The GL of Belgium was waiting for what came of our Annual Communication before making a decision. A suspension of recognition means I cannot travel to these areas and sit in lodges there. Other GL's have spanned the spectrum from fully supporting the GL of Tennessee, respecting our decision but not agreeing with it, to no comment.

No one really knows the future. My experience convinces me that this issue is forcing religion and politics into every lodge where it does not belong. This will affect every lodge across the United States, if not the world. Our membership has been declining worldwide for years and this decision can only accelerate that decline. Every organization needs young people to join and remain members if it is to survive and grow. Young men across this country who do not share this mindset will regard the Masons as an organization they wish to have no part of, because of the decisions of the GL's of Tennessee and Georgia.

More GL's may also decide to suspend recognition of the GL of Tennessee. This will lead to a patchwork of recognition and confusion.

What makes this worse is that it is very difficult to change this from within, because if you can become an officer of a lodge, it generally takes 4-6 years from when you "join the line" until you become the Master of the lodge. It will take 15-20 years minimum to be able to change the direction of the GL, as the older and more stalwart members have to die off to negate their votes and views.

I weep for this fraternity. I am a third-generation Mason, as my father, his father and two of my great-grandfathers were Masons before me. It saddens me beyond words to see and experience this divisiveness in an institution meant to unite men of every country, sect and opinion.

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An Important Life Lesson

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Whenever I see a picture or graphic I like, I save it on my iPad, then download it to my home system on Sunday mornings. One really hit me and I wanted to share the lesson.

The picture was about a little girl complaining about things not being fair to her father.

Her fathers response:

You’re never going to get the same things as other people. It will never be equal. The only time you should look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough.

Think about that for a moment. Don’t compare what you have against what someone else has, because some will have more, or less, or not the same as you. Make sure they have enough. The truest test of your character is when you are able to bless someone else while you are going through your own storm.

I think if each us did this, imagine how much better the would would be.

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Progression in the chairs

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I saw a wonderful discussion on this on Facebook and wanted to expound on this to the point it wouldn’t fit in a comment. So here we go.

To my Brothers, I explain the stations and places first because more than Masons read this. I want all to have a context on how a harmonious Lodge is run.

I am currently Master of my Lodge, so I am writing from that perspective. There are eleven officers that run a lodge. They are the Master, Senior/Junior Wardens, Treasurer, Secretary, Senior/Junior Deacons, Senior/Junior Stewards, Chaplain and Tyler. Only the Master, Wardens, Treasurer and Secretary are elected by the Lodge. Deacons, Stewards, Chaplain and Tyler are appointed by the incoming Master. When I talk about “the line,” this is a progression from Junior to Senior for each of the Stewards, Deacons and Wardens before a man can become the Master of a Lodge. The Treasurer, Secretary, Chaplain and Tyler I will discuss after these places.

Each of these positions have different duties and responsibilities. Let me explain:

Starting from the bottom up, we have the Stewards. These Brothers work for the Junior Warden. For 1 to 2 years, their job is service. They assist the JW in the preparation, production, delivery and cleanup of meals in the Lodge. These places in the line teach humility, service and obedience. Because of the physical demands of these places, this is where 90% of those who drop “out of line” occur.

If a Brother makes it through his time in the kitchen, he is made a Deacon. The Deacons are responsible for the setup of the Lodge for meetings and making sure Brothers visiting from other Lodges are verified to be able to enter the Lodge. In my Lodge, we have a clear policy that a man may not progress past Senior Deacon if he has not obtained his proficiency card during his year as SD. The proficiency card testifies that a Brother can perform any part in the first section of the three degrees of the Blue Lodge.

If a man makes it to Junior Warden, he is elected by the members of the Lodge to a serious leadership position. This position teaches the man about being a leader of the Stewards and a good fiscal manager of the monies placed in his keeping. The JW is given a fund of money for him to purchase food for meals and the drinks available for consumption at the lodge. Brothers are expected to pay what they can for their meals. The JW must balance providing a menu of healthy and tasty meals without “breaking the budget.” It is made clear to the JW that if necessary he can ask the lodge for more money if the donations are down. If he runs a surplus at the end of his term, it is generally donated to the Lodge Charity fund.

The Senior Warden is kept very busy. He spends his year getting ready for his year as Master, interviewing petitioners who want to enter Masonry and assigns “the work,” or who performs what parts for the degrees held at the lodge. A good SW makes sure a Brother can perform the parts they are assigned proficiently. Some Lodges allow reading of the Work out of the ritual book, my lodge does not. Until you can perform it in school to the senior instructor, you don’t get to do it in an actual degree.

The Master is not in charge of anything, although he is responsible for everything in and about the Lodge. The SW is in charge of “the Craft” while they are at labor, the JW is in charge while the Craft is at refreshment. The Master’s job is to make sure everything is working as it should.

Once a Brother has served his time as Master, he then becomes a Past Master. Generally, the positions of Treasurer, Secretary, Chaplain and Tyler are Past Masters. Once into one of these positions, the Brother usually stays for several to many years. The Treasurer and Secretary especially are the foundation of the Lodge. They provide the stability and continuity necessary for the Lodge to run smoothly. All of the Past Masters in my lodge are more than willing to share their knowledge and experience with me to make sure I make the best decision.

Now the discussion which started this was about “election or progression?” Progression meaning once a Brother starts as Junior Steward, he advances every year and (hopefully) after advancing every year, in his 7th year he becomes Master. Granted, the Wardens and Master are elected and any Brother could be nominated for any elected office without serving a day in the line. The chances of being elected are usually pretty close to zero, but it could happen. Each Lodge is different and the politics of the Brethren have an effect on the outcome. For example, a Brother stepped out of line in my Lodge (I was ready to appoint him as my Junior Deacon) to be elected Junior Warden in another Lodge where he is a plural member. The other lodge needed someone who held a proficiency card (he does) in the JW position.

We also use the positions of Stewards and Deacons to “shake out” those who might not be suitable for the position of Master. A Brother might look good and have the enthusiasm to get put in line, however he doesn’t advance or drops out because he doesn’t have the right mindset or temperament to possibly lead the Lodge.

No Brother “deserves” the next higher place or station. He must earn it by superior performance, a willingness to serve and a true sense of humility. Through my progression of the line, all the way up until now, I have sought to nurture and inspire all of my Brothers.

In my lodge, we do not teach rote memorization of the words of the ritual. We teach these Brothers to understand what the words mean to them and to impart that knowledge by how they deliver it to the candidates of the degrees. I learned so much about Masonry just by learning the EA Screen and the FC Stair lectures.

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The Pool of Knowledge

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I need to say this before I get started. I don't have all the answers. I don't even know what half of the questions are.

All I can do is relate how I see things by the paradigm of my life and experiences. If my thoughts and conclusions agree with yours, that's great. If you don't agree with me, that's great as well. If my words inspire you to seek out the truth for yourself, that's a win-win in my book.

I had a wonderful conversation with a brother last night. I consider him a friend and a mentor. I deeply respect him as a friend, brother and shipmate. When he starts talking about Masonry, I listen and try to understand. The things we talk about delve into the deep, philosophical subjects. We got into discussing the basic framework of the signs and symbols of Masonry.

Each degree in Masonry teaches the candidate different things. They teach the duties a Mason owes to their Creator, their country, their neighbors, their family and to themselves. We teach them virtues to help them attain those duties. Each degree builds upon the prior degree. However, the learning never stops. Once a man achieves the degree of Master Mason, we continue to encourage him to keep coming back to school nights and learn the degree ritual.

I have been studying my ritual book since I received it the night I became a Master Mason. That was 4 1/2 years ago and I am still discovering new things as I learn all of the parts so that I may earn my Pin of Excellence. You can sit through a thousand degrees and learn a little. Or, you can learn the parts to confer a degree and learn a lot more.

I tell my brothers, "The words we use in the ritual are the same. How we personally relate to those words and how we convey them to the candidate is where they will learn. You are not just speaking these words just because you have because they are in the ritual. You are trying to convey, through your words, tone, pace and manner, information that this brother needs to enrich his life. Don't recite these words. Understand what they mean and live them."

I say all this, because there has to be a mutual framework of concepts and ideas, terms and language in place before we can truly discuss the deep and underlying philosophies of Masonry. That framework is in the ritual book. If you can't tell me what's in that book, you can't tell me why it's in the book.

I firmly believe that there is one pool of knowledge. It is so vast and deep that each of us can hope to understand only the tiniest sliver of it's totality. My sliver is neither superior nor inferior to yours. If we can find common ground, we might find that they compliment each other.I have found that there are three basic types of people who visit this pool.

  • You have those who come with a thirst for knowledge and understanding. These people drink deeply and reverently from this knowledge and are enriched by it.
  • There are those who claim to seek knowledge, but they take only what agrees with them. They gargle from this pool.
  • The last group runs in, grabs a mouthful without understanding what it means and then uses it to bludgeon others to force the others to accept their mouthful without questioning. This group spits in the pool.

Masonry is about the individual as well as the fraternity and the whole human family. Our journey is our own. However, there are frequent opportunities to share what we learn with others. Our lives cross many times on many different levels. Share what you have when you can.

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A Tale Of Two Cities

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"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

If you have been reading this blog and its archives, you know I have been experiencing some difficulties over the past nine months. These difficulties are not very dissimilar to the difficulties I experienced when I started this blog some eleven years ago. Other than my personal growth between these two periods, there is only one external difference.

This one change has literally been the difference between night and day. Back in 1999-2002, about 90% of my "friends" and family abandoned me. The people who stayed with me were my beautiful bride, my parents and about three friends. My sister, her family and my brides family to this day still refuse to have anything to do with us. Most of my other friends and acquaintances were based on the social circles I attended. So, when I stopped attending those social events, they dropped away.

Today, it is totally different. The one difference? I am a Mason. My Masonic brothers have been there, with and for me every step of the way. They have helped me in a thousand little acts of friendship and kindness. If my family is short of food, a box of food to sustain us appears mysteriously on my doorstep. If I need to pay a bill to keep the lights on, or the phone on so potential employers can reach me, money appears in my hand when I shake the hand of a brother.

If I don't have the gas to make it to Lodge, a brother knocks on my door and says, "You're going to Lodge tonight. Let's go." I have had multiple brothers ask me for my resume so they can give it to their supervisor. I'm sure that the words they say to their supervisor are along the order of, "This guy is a Mason. I trust him. You can as well." They also send me job openings that I might be qualified for.

When I shake a hand of a brother and a "How are you doing?" If I try to just say, "Okay," the brother does not let go of my hand. He puts his other hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eye and says, "I want to know. How are you really doing?" in a look and tone that radiates sincere concern and affection.

I didn't become a Mason until I was 49 years old. My father, grand-father and great grand-father were all Masons before me. I am kind of sad, but very glad I waited until then. The Masons were ready for me the day I turned eighteen. The problem was, I was not ready to be a Mason. "Where were you first prepared to be a Mason?" is a question asked of all of us. "In my heart" is the answer we give.

I remember the day when my heart was prepared for me to be a Mason quite clearly. My sister sent me boxes of books and other effects after my parents passed in 2001. I was deep in my own struggles at that time. I threw it all into a storage locker and promptly forgot about all of it. After I moved into the home we live in now, I pulled everything out of storage and stacked it in my garage and again put it out of my mind.

It was about the 8th anniversary of my Dad's passing, and we were finally settling into our home. I was in the garage on a Sunday afternoon, going though these boxes when I found my Dad's 1929 copy of Mackey's Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. I stopped and gently caressed the books, then I said something like, "Dad, I hear you. You're right, it is time." I got in my car and drove over to the home of a friend whom I had known for years (about 12 years at that point, from my rocketry days) who had become a Mason several years prior. We talked and talked, then we talked some more. He paid part of my initiation fee, signed my petition and submitted it to his Lodge.

I went through my first Degree on January 12th, 2010 and was raised to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason on March 30th, 2010. I became an officer of the Lodge that December, and have steadily moved up since. Each station in turn has taught me important principles for life. Service, humility and management of others as well as myself. Over the past few months, I have learned give, especially when I have almost nothing to give. A man who has two nickles and freely gives one of them to another gives more than a billionaire donating a million dollars.

The trust of my brothers and the Universe have in me had to be earned. I consider the energy to earn that trust has been well invested. The lessons of Masonry have taught me many things. When these troubles pass, and I know they will, I see my direction for the rest of this life will always be to perform the duties and practice the virtues Masonry has taught me.

But exactly, does that entail? To never deny something another person needs that I can provide. Be it financial or emotional support, physical or spiritual help. An ear for them to talk to, a shoulder to cry on or a hand up. I have adopted the credo to leave every person I meet a bit better than when I found them. It can be as simple as a smile or an encouraging word. Imagine what the world would be like if all of us practiced that, every day.

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Beginning The Journey

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A good friend and brother posted this to his FB feed this morning. I wanted to share it because it struck a chord so deep in me that I got chills.

This is what I want to instill into every brother and petitioner that walks into my lodge. If you are a Mason, I suggest you try and do the same.

OCTOBER 1947 - Grand Lodge of Manitoba, by Carl H. Claudy

No man has a mind big enough, quick enough, open enough, to absorb and understand in an evening, even the introduction to what Freemasonry knows; not in a month of evenings. No degree, no matter how impressively delivered, can possibly take him far along this road. All that the E.A. degree can do is to point the way, and give the seeker sustenance by which he may travel.

And equally true it is that while men do receive the degrees of Freemasonry at the hands of their brethren, there is no Freemasonry in a man's heart if he is not willing to sacrifice some time, give some effort, some study, ask some questions, digest some philosophy, to make it truly his own.

The candidate is designated an Entered Apprentice because we have conferred the initiatory degree, in which he took a central part. No man however, can in reality be "Entered" unless he is willing to enter.

In the character of a candidate you were brought into a large place - a very large place - a universal brotherhood. Henceforth a pathway lies before you, and whether you will travel blindly or not, depends only and wholly upon you.

As a newly initiated craftsman you should ask yourself this question, "Have I become a real Freemason, or merely joined the Lodge as another member?"

An Entered Apprentice is barely born, Masonically. He must learn and learn well, if he is to enter into his heritage. That which is worth having is worth working for. Experience in life teaches that what comes without labor turns soon to ashes in the mouth. Without labor there can be no rest; without work there can be no vacation: without pain there can be no pleasure; without sorrow there is no joy.

You have crossed the threshold of a very old and very ancient craft. What you do in the future, and how well you learn the lessons taught you as an Entered Apprentice, will be the yardstick by which your craftsmanship is measured.

In your Lodge you will find faithful brethren ready and willing to help you, on your journey. In your Masonic Library you will find a literature replete with the story of Freemasonry, and these books may be borrowed simply by asking for them.

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