Friday, August 21, 2015

Bridges: If You Build Them, They Will Follow!

We have heard it said again and again; there is a crisis in modern Freemasonry. It may be argued that there are many, and it also may be argued that many identify the crisis in contemporary Masonry differently. It just may be possible to find a common focus.

That focus is Freemasonry's leadership. Mind you, although I do believe that if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem, and the Leadership of Freemasonry too often is not part of the solution, the purpose here is not to criticize Masonic leadership. I believe, and my experience with masons who have leadership roles is that they often represent the best that you can find within the craft.

That being said, I have recently followed a discussion online, typical unfortunately of many I have witnessed over the years, of a very sincere brother who voiced opinions which are contrary in every detail with what Masonry is about, and yet, I experienced no surprise in hearing his opinions. A lot of regret, but no surprise. The opinions that far too many rank and file masons, all of them no doubt sincere and hard working masons regularly express are narrow minded, bigoted, dogmatic, and intolerant.

I am continually amazed that an organization dedicated to improving the individual and which espouses the universality of it's traditions, becomes intellectually mired in the minutia of dogma and sectarian differences. We can broadcast our concern for all humanity, but too often are incapable of demonstrating any humanity when dealing with other masons who possess what amounts in reality, in the reality that any rational human being would concur, to very minor differences in tradition.

We have managed to become blind to the forest by looking solely at our own tree.

What does any of this have to do with Masonic leadership? Well, who sets the example? Who leads? Who, to put it in blunt and very unmasonic terms, will these dogmatic brothers listen to? The leadership of their Grand Lodge of course.

Clearly, such remarks will be lost on the leaders of those Grand Lodges or Obediences which are led by people who have the same lack of understanding that I refer to. We all know some such jurisdictions, and I will not be so crude as to mention any geographical locations.  A godson of mine, who has been a member of one such jurisdiction, and whom I encouraged to take the route of "mainstream" Masonry because of his geographical constraints, has bemoaned the state of things in his own fine state. However, there are leaders in Grand Lodges in North America whom I am certain are more enlightened than their rank and file. Hopefully, they are not alone on the Grand Lodge level.

Those leaders, if they are alone in their own jurisdictions, have the responsibility to reach out to like minded masons across the country who hold similar positions, and do something to address the issue.

If they feel no pressure to do so for the obligations of Universal brotherhood or Masonic principles, they should at least consider the possibility that when those who are not Masons, "cowans" as the popular archaicism puts it, see such discourse, it reflects to them a sectarian organization that has ceased to understand its own teachings.

If the leadership does not realize that such bad habits exist among their rank and file, they aren't doing their jobs; if they do not recognize either how it hurts the craft or how it reflects a lack of internalization of fundamental Masonic principles, they do not deserve their positions. High titles should come with responsibility.

The time to address such serious problems within the craft is long overdue. There are many examples of fundamentalist religious bigotry in the world today, and we can see what it leads to. Can any Freemason committed to self improvement tolerate the same within their own lodge or jurisdiction? Well, that is not for me to say. Although actions speak louder than words, I have spoken.

I only hope someone is listening.

Eoghan Ballard ஃ

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rough Ashlar No. 22: Sins of the Fathers

What's in a word? How do we parse our meanings and our language when we discuss matters Masonic? I find it fascinating how brethren in some obediences, mostly those with ties to the UGLE, but not exclusively, use certain highly charged and judgmental terminology to characterize other paths within Freemasonry, always to describe those Masonic obediences which they feel themselves to be in competition with or which they find intellectually threatening.

Inevitably, when it is pointed out that the terms they are using are offensive, they quickly point to the fact that their obedience, or Grand Lodge, or some Masonic Writer 150 years ago defined the term as they use it, to assert it is correct usage. None of that of course, in any way negates the fact that the terms are offensive. What they conveniently avoid stating, although often their attitude and statements make this clear, is that they were intended to be derogatory when they were coined, and are used in that manner today. The intent then was to discredit other varieties of Freemasonry, and claim sole authority for themselves.  The intent today is to defend what they were taught, because they are usually shocked when anyone contests the legitimacy of such views. It is even more troubling when these people do not behave otherwise like low lifes and have both documentation and educated commentary to back up their statements.

Freemasonry, like almost all other human traditions, is nuanced and multifaceted. It is never monolithic, although there are never a shortage of people who would prefer it were.

Language is at issue here almost as much as the sectarian mindsets it reflects. Terms such as bogus, clandestine, spurious,  and only to a slightly lesser degree, irregular are often used to describe many forms of Freemasonry. The logic of these perceptions and judgments are so ingrained that the average Mason considers them perfectly logical and legitimate perspectives. Seldom do any but a few with broader experience or education, even consider the possibility that the premises upon which these assertions and terms are based is at best seriously flawed. In point of fact, the terms are seldom used correctly even within the so-called Masonic definitions of the terms; they are invariably used as synonyms. In fact, those who do use them tend to get defensive when someone points out to them that such language can actually be derogatory,  insulting and demeaning. It occurred to me as I wrote this that it is very much like institutionalized racism, designed to be unseen to those guilty of it. "We are not biased, this view is correct."

All of this will change over time, one way or another. Either "mainstream" masons will simply get used to other forms being around and will perhaps grudgingly adjust, or by continual exposure, they will come to change their views. Alternately, mainstream masonry will continue to shrink until the variants will mostly be of equal or greater size and their voices will have no real significance anymore. It would be nice, but probably too much to hope for, that the leaders of UGLE derived Freemasonry in the US, will see fit to drop the fossilized ideas of 200 years ago and join the 21st century.

I have recently had a discussion with some brethren, and I must admit there has been a little growth, though not nearly enough, since the last time I dealt with the topic at length. That may just be chance, but I hope it means that prolonged exposure to the wider Masonic world is giving some of my brethren pause for thought.

The terms themselves are not legitimate. In theory, regularity is an important consideration for Masons. But who in reality made it so, and does it even bear any relationship to its origins any longer? At one time, when all masons were operative masons, there was a legitimate reason for that concern. It not only was a matter of being able to perform serious work well, but was tied to one's livelihood. With the advent, not so much of speculative masonry as of the establishment of Grand Lodges, the issue became about power and influence, not safety, skill, and livelihood. One has to question why a group of men, whom we now know were not unique among masons in their day, and by no means the first or only, should represent the establishment of a universal hegemony within Masonry.

Especially when their leadership is driving Freemasonry to its grave.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Vandalism at the Provincial Grand Lodge of Madrid

En la noche del 15 de agosto del 2.015, la puerta de la sede de la Gran Logia de España - Grande Oriente Español en Madrid, aparece con carteles de una organización de ultraderecha, con imágenes xenófobas, antisemitas y racistas.
Los hechos han sido denunciados a la policía.

— Gran Logia Provincial de Madrid

On the night of August 15, 2015, the door of the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of Spain - Spanish Gran Oriente in Madrid, appears with signs of an organization of right-wing, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and racist images.
The facts have been reported to the police.

— Provincial Grand Lodge at Madrid

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Reclaiming Freemasonry in the Post Modern Epoch

Modern Tracing Board by Joseph Thompson
Among the many things that occupy my thoughts and in seeking out the tasks in front of us all,  it occurs to me, and from what I can see, a few others as well, that in bringing a revitalization and renewed energy to Freemasonry, we have to really take stock of what it is that drives Freemasonry.

It should be evident to any Mason who has given serious thoughts to the state of Freemasonry, that the tried and true answers that have frequently been spoken of are insufficient to bring new life into Freemasonry. Freemasonry, to be again vibrant and successful as an institution, must have renewed purpose.

It is not going to capture that energy it needs to become strong again by speaking of "making good men better" or even speaking in a more substantive way of the Mason's search for self understanding and improvement. There are too many ways for people to do that. While those things will remain in the heart of Freemasonry, and of course also in its living practice, we need more. Freemasonry needs a new spirit, a new focus to see itself renewed.

In the early days of Speculative Freemasonry before it made a pact to become involved with nation building, as it did during the growth of the British Empire or its conflicted and conflicting role during the French Revolution, it was actively involved in the intellectual and the social politics of its day. By social politics, I am referring to its involvement with the new societal ideals which flooded societies of the enlightenment.

Today, we find ourselves in a new world - postmodern, post-industrial and although not all have realized or admitted it yet, a post-capitalist one. If there are any space in which Freemasonry can make itself relevant today, it most surely will be by offering light on the societal challenges we face. Those are, among others, the ecological crisis we face as a planet, and the social and humanitarian crises that our now global society will have to deal with urgently and effectively if we are to survive as a species.

These ideas may seem to those who were initiated and raised in what is thought of today as "old school" Freemasonry as startling, or at least unconsidered, but are they that foreign to the spirit which inspired the foundation of Speculative Freemasonry in its early days? I think not. It seems that as Freemasons, we have bigger fish to fry than worrying about falling numbers and how to make lodge more interesting for young people. Freemasons always led by example, and I think it is time that we do so again.

Doubtlessly, not all will be thrilled with such notions, and I've no doubt they're ready to dismiss them. So be it. But if a handful of Freemasons and a few Masonic obediences or Grand Lodges have enough vision to take the first steps in such a direction - engaging these issues and becoming not only spokespersons for change in the larger society, as well as within their lodges, they can lead the way. None of this means turning our backs upon tradition, ritual, or those things with which we are accustomed and which we as Masons love. It means recapturing the true spirit which led our forefathers to found the craft in the first place. It means requiring of ourselves that we take what we preach, what we study, and what we claim to be our highest intentions, and bringing them out of theory and introspection, out of discussion, and lectures, and architecture, and into the world of action, grappling as Freemasons with the real problems in the world in which we live. To do less is unmasonic.

It only takes a few visionaries. Does the craft still have any of those?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Iona: Uaigh Chaluim Chille ga creachadh-Desecration of Columkille's Grave

A few days ago, the grave of Naomh Colmcille (St. Columbkille or St. Columb) was desecrated on the Island of Iona in Scotland.

The monastary of St. Columb on Iona was the center of his work to convert Scotland to Christianity, founded in 597 AD. The site is an important one for Celtic Christianity and figures in some legends concerning Freemasonry in Scotland. The island was considered sacred prior to the arrival of Christianity and is associated in legend with women druids. One of the early names for Iona was Idhe na mban (Iona of the women) and Idhe Dhruidhneach (Iona of the Druids).

Jane Martin, Historic Scotland Manager at Iona Abbey, indicates that many believe his remains hold special powers, “His remains were thought to have powers.”
Several suspects have been arrested and will face charges.
The damage which was not too excessive is already being repaired.

BBC Alba has reported:

Uaigh Chaluim Chille ga creachadh
“Tha poilis a' rannsachadh an deach oidhirp a dhèanamh gus uaigh Chaluim Chille air Eilean Ìdhe a chreachadh.Thuirt Alba Aosmhor gun deach milleadh a dhèanamh air doras-ùrlair os cionn làrach na h-uaighe tràth feasgar Dhiluain.Thuirt manaidsear Abaid Eilein Ìdhe, Sìne Mhàrtainn, gu bheil iad an amharas gur e cuideigin a bh' air turas là chun an eilein a bu choireach.Thuirt i, ged nach robh dad air fhàgail anns an uaigh a ghabhadh a ghoid, gum bu chòir do dhaoine le fios a leigeil chun nam Poileas ma bha iad air dad amharasach fhaicinn.”

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Thinking Outside The Box

In the last post, I shared an image I received online from a friend and brother which I thought offered a brilliant image and idea, although it only expressed the barest essence of that idea. That idea was that Freemasons need a wake up call.
Freemasons do need a wake up call. All of us. As I see it, while I find much more to commend Liberal or alternate Freemasonry to the UGLE derived variety, I can see many of the same institutional problems in both Continental and Insular Freemasonry, although admittedly the descendants of Insular Freemasonry in the United States tend to be less friendly toward their brethren in other branches of the fraternity than the Continental Masons are.

While I realize other Masons' mileage may vary, my view is as follows. We Masons do need a wake up call. We are the inheritors - all of us - of a wonderful tradition. It in essence, whatever its ultimate origins, and however it came to us, is a set of instructions for self improvement. By following these instructions, which as we all know, are delivered through symbols and rituals, we can indeed make ourselves better. 

Somewhere along the way, however, almost all of Freemasonry has lost its way. Certainly, we still have access to those teachings, and now and again, one or another of us, endeavor with varying success to apply them to our own lives. We do it however, rather fitfully. We have as a group become sidetracked by uniforms, and the self same rituals, and worst of all, by the chimeras of power and division. 

We seek the power of offices and we have made our fraternity safe and comfortable and alas, largely unchallenging. We have allowed our institutions to become servants to politics, both originally of empire and state, and ultimately of a less purposeful and self deluding politics of the lodge and grand lodge. The distortions of our histories which helped justify these efforts have become gospel to us, and we use them to keep a wedge between our own form of Masonry and those of other obediences. 

So we become obsessed by the minutia of our traditions. We study and research, and from time to time we go forth and do battle with other groups, which today means mostly throwing insults at perceived enemies online, convinced that the "other" Mason is all the horrible things we have claimed of him, or worse yet, her.

And we hope that the great numbers of the past will return. We assume if we pitch the same lines often enough, but maybe update the graphics, that a new generation will become enamored of what we have. We have invested a lot in our Masonry. We have studied its forms, we have become fond of it. And yet, we cannot see the writing on the wall; we are essentially not being honest with ourselves. Freemasonry is slowly fading like an old ghost.

Now, I happen to find Freemasonry as diverting, as stimulating, as worthy of study, and as beneficial as the next Mason, so saying these things is not an attempt to disparage the fraternity.  The issue is we need to think outside the box. It is perhaps no accident that the forms of word lodge in other languages may be translated by several words into English. Those words include house, store, and box.

We need to think outside the box.

In essence, we need to think beyond the lodge; the Masonic lodge, our lodge, any lodge.

To those responsible for getting the message out, for education in their lodges,  to those who represent our current version of advertising - Masonic books and blogs, since like politics, and religion, we like to pretend that we don't discuss such matters, we need to explore other ways of sharing the essential message of Freemasonry, of why it called us and of how it has benefitted us.

But however we seek to reach out, we have to turn away from the tried and true approaches and be more creative. Here's the wake up call - We have fallen asleep. The truth we have to wake up to is this: The Freemasonry of years gone by has gone. Tomorrow's Freemasonry, if there is any, will be different. And all of them will share the same secret, because if we are doing things right, the mystery of Freemasonry is constantly reborn, in a distinct, but perhaps familiar form for each generation.