Saturday, November 29, 2008
I am a huge supporter of Masonic education in the Lodge and – not meaning to brag – have been largely responsible for ensuring that some sort of educational segment is offered during every Communication of my Lodge save for those that pertain to work. At the same time, however, I have come to the realization that the formal Lodge meeting is NOT the place for Masonic education.
After the sounds of shock have subsided, let me explain. During a Communication, the time is limited and the educational subject is not going to interest all in attendance. A Lodge setting is just too formal to allow for deep educational discussions. Now, don’t get me wrong. I still advocate simple educational teasers in Lodge. We need those – but the real education is not going to happen in that atmosphere.
To be truly effective, education should be taking place in a more informal atmosphere. Study groups, face-to-face conversations between Brothers, and participation in research societies or research lodges are viable and potentially productive avenues of approach. The supporters of Masonic education should, in my opinion, be pushing these types of activities and cease in trying to force Lodges into formal education programs.
Credit for this short article goes to Nick and Fred. They sparked the idea - though I doubt thay had a clue that they did.
Friday, November 28, 2008
The Decline of Civil Society and the Rise of Freemasonry
The signs of a real potential for the decline of civil society abound for all to see – even for those with the most optimistic of outlooks. Many of the doom and gloom signs are in direct contradiction to what the Founding Fathers of the United States, who were so heavily influenced by Freemasonry, seemed to have had in mind during the birth of this nation.
In the governmental arena, hard working Americans are forced into participating in mass charity on a larger and larger scale via a tax system run amuck. Many Americans seem content to vote away their rights and their tax dollars in return for promises of being cared for by government – a big, centralized government that the Founders, with their Masonic influences, specifically warned against.
Some elected leaders publicly decry the nation’s policies – policies that they often helped to create - and even her soldiers in ways that have not been seen since the War Between the States. Some of their public comments actually could be interpreted as providing comfort to the enemies of the country.
The great equalizer, the court system, steadily pumps out more and more decisions that defy common sense and logic. There are many examples of court decisions that seem to attack some of the very foundations – such as the First and Second Amendments - of what the United States was founded upon. Meanwhile, the courts are seemingly doing little to stem the crimes that cause many to live in real fear. Even in the rural areas of the United States; hard working and honest people are locking their doors, buying alarm systems, and demonstrating genuine fear for the safety of their property, their loved ones, and even themselves.
Despite more and more tax money being thrown at the issue, the value of education – a traditional favorite cause of Freemasonry - continues to shrink in many parts of the country as schools graduate many barely literate young people. This assumes, of course, that they graduate at all since the drop out rate continues to grow. The problem has reached the point that many – if not most – high school graduates can no longer pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), thus reducing the pool of qualified applicants for the nation’s military forces. There are even people walking around with four-year degrees that are incapable of passing this most basic of knowledge exams.
Traditionally, Americans have turned to their places of worship to find some common sense and relief from the chaos of society. Though this is still true for many people, there is also a habit amongst some churches to become more of a center for political activism rather than a place of worship. There are even churches in the United States – some of them with large congregations and high visibility – that openly degrade the nation and actually seem to be calling for the Almighty’s destruction of it. Even if not involved in political activism, many large churches have turned themselves into lucrative businesses where - from outside appearances - they are more concerned with growing their holdings and their congregations than they are with worship.
Added to these negative signs are indications that civility between men has taken a drastic turn for the worse. Handshake deals are no longer accepted or honored as they used to be. Simple, unintentional mistakes that cause no real harm often turn into frivolous but costly lawsuits. Even family members often look upon each other with distrust.
Meanwhile, as these and other negative trends continue to develop, Freemasonry is waiting in the wings and men are starting to take notice of her in ways that have not been seen in decades. Maybe they are seeking a refuge from a society that is making less and less sense to them. Possibly, they are seeking an education that they missed out on in school. Some men are obviously looking for those age old answers to their questions – answers that, for whatever reason, they are not getting in their religious endeavors and their houses of worship, though Freemasonry replaces neither. They may be simply looking for a place that still has the trappings of civility and the traits of a gentlemen society.
The statistics suggest that the downward spiral of Freemasonry’s membership is slowing. A large part of this can reasonably be attributed to the new interest being shown by men in the Fraternity. Freemasonry is not, however, doing anything drastically different from what it has done for hundreds of years. Freemasonry hasn’t changed – civil society has changed and it has not changed in a positive way for many people. It is felt by this author that, as society goes through this negative cycle – and it is a cycle with better days ahead, Freemasonry will experience a positive cycle.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
In 1882, a Senior Warden of a Lodge passed away. He was buried in a town of some great distance from the location of his residence and Lodge. Traveling today between these two locations would take about three hours by car.
His Lodge appointed a committee and pallbearers to accompany his body to its final resting place, which involved traveling by train and wagon. The Lodge covered the expenses of this trip. The Lodge further resolved for its members to go into mourning for sixty days and the Lodge hall itself was draped in remembrance of the fallen Senior Warden for a full year. He was not a Grand Master. He was not a District Deputy Grand Master. He was simply a Master Mason that was elected to be the Senior Warden of a rural, Southern Lodge.
Monday, November 10, 2008
In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After several minutes, the Worshipful Master took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth, all alone. Then he sat back in his chair, still silent.
His host watched all of this in quiet contemplation. As the one, lone ember's flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow, and its fire was no more. Soon, it was cold and dead.
Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The Worshipful Master glanced at his watch and chose this time to leave. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember, and placed it back in the middle of the fire. Immediately, it began to glow once more, with all the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.
As the Worshipful Master reached the door to leave, his host said, with a tear running down his cheek, "Thank you so much for your fiery summons, my brother. I'll be back in our Lodge next meeting."
Saturday, November 8, 2008
A Review of a Jurisdictional Dispute in the 1840s
Any examination of the right of Masonic Jurisdiction would be incomplete without a study of the difficulties that arose between the Grand Lodges of Mississippi and Louisiana. In or about the year 1847, The Grand Lodge of Mississippi warranted Lodges within the territorial limits of the State of Louisiana, where a Grand Lodge already existed. The reactions of the other Grand Lodges in the United States to the dispute between these two neighboring Grand Lodges serve as a telling reminder and lesson on the meaning of territorial jurisdiction.
The Grand Lodge of Louisiana was formed in 1812 shortly after Louisiana entered the Union as a State on 8 April of that year. The makeup and diversity of the Lodges that formed that Grand Lodge had a direct bearing on the dispute with Mississippi which occurred several decades later. Albert G. Mackey gave an indication of this diversity.
This much of the early history in Louisiana must suffice, as to continue a specific notice of all the lodges chartered and the various contests which grew out of the various rites in use, and the "Cumulation" thereof, would utilize our entire remaining pages of this chapter, hence must proceed to the organization of the Grand Lodge.
It appears from the records that twelve lodges had received charters in New Orleans prior to the organization of a Grand Lodge, as will appear in the following table: 1
Writing in 1861, but speaking of the 1847-1848 timeframe, Mackey further explained the makeup and practice of Freemasonry in Louisiana and how that diverse situation at least partially led to the dispute with the Grand Lodge of Mississippi.
...the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was at that time permitting many of its Subordinate Lodges to work in the York, Scotch and French rites, sometimes a Lodge using only one of these rites, and others practicing at different times two or (sp) them, or perhaps the whole three. Against this system, which is technically known in Masonry as a “cumulation of rites,” the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, in answer to the complaint of several York Masons of Louisiana, had protested, and asserting that there was not properly any York Grand Lodge in Louisiana, and that the field was, therefore, open for the entrance of any other Grand Lodge as an unoccupied jurisdiction, it had established several Lodges in Louisiana, which had subsequently united in the organization of a “Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons.” 2The Grand Lodge of Louisiana sent communications to its sister Grand Lodges throughout the United States which advised them of the alleged invasion of its jurisdiction. The Grand Lodge of Mississippi responded with similar communications. Mississippi offered the following preamble and resolutions that clearly explained the viewpoint of that body.
The reaction by other Grand Lodges was relatively swift in coming. On 7 September 1847, the Grand Lodge of New York had – in part - this to say.
Whereas, in the opinion of the Grand Lodge, each distinctive rite produces different powers which govern it, and are independent of others; and whereas, no Grand Lodge of Scotch, French, or cumulative rite, can legally assume jurisdiction over any Ancient York Lodge; therefore, Resolved, that the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, being composed of a cumulation of rites, cannot be recognized by this Grand Lodge as a Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons.
Resolved, That that this Grand Lodge will grant charters to any legal number of Ancient York Masons residing within the State of Louisiana, they making due application for the same. 3
Resolved, That as we have heretofore recognized the Grand Lodge of Louisiana as the sole, supreme and legitimate government of the symbolic degrees of Masonry in the State of Louisiana, so we shall continue to sustain her rights.On 7 December 1848, a committee appointed by the Grand Lodge of South Carolina to study and report on the dispute in Louisiana included the following language in its initial report.
Resolved, That all Lodges planted in the State of Louisiana by the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, or any other Grand Lodge than the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, established in the year 1812, are irregular Lodges, and as such cannot be recognized by us. 4
The encroachment upon the independent jurisdiction of an independent Grand Lodge, is contrary to every principle of Freemasonry, the constitution and usages of the Order, and is manifestly unjust as it would be for the Governor and Judges of one State to exercise jurisdiction in another. 5That committee of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina went so far as to examine whether or not the cumulation of rites – as the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was alleged to have been practicing – was proper. The committee concluded that “even if such government was corrupt, it would not be the privilege of its equal to invade its rights…” On 4 September 1849, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina adopted resolutions pertaining to this matter – the fifth of them as follows.
Resolved, That without a speedy conclusion of the differences between the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, and the body assuming to be such, all other Grand Lodges are recommended to adopt such measures as will prevent the members of the unlawful body from visiting – for which purpose this Grand Lodge enjoins on all Lodges under its jurisdiction not to permit any persons from Louisiana to be admitted for examination in their Lodges, until they produce the certificate of the original Grand Lodge of Louisiana. 6It should be noted that the Grand Lodge of South Carolina was heavily influenced by Ancient York Masonry and was somewhat sympathetic to the position that the Grand Lodge of Mississippi had postulated. Despite this, South Carolina still sided with the Grand Lodge of Louisiana on the grounds of territorial jurisdiction.
In one of many other examples of how the Fraternity looked upon the subject of jurisdiction and in the same year that South Carolina issued resolutions concerning this matter, the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire took a similar position.
As we regard it settled, that one Grand Lodge cannot exist within the jurisdiction of another, and as we believe that we are now called upon to decide between the contending parties, we offer the following resolutions:Of course, the Grand Lodges of Louisiana and Mississippi eventually resolved their dispute and the territorial sovereignty of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was restored. The manner in which the various Grand Lodges responded to the threat to Louisiana’s sovereignty and jurisdiction should not be overlooked by anyone desiring a good lesson on what exclusive territorial jurisdiction in the Masonic fraternity really means.
Resolved, That we regard the action of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, in establishing Lodges within the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana, as unauthorized and improper; and that we decline to hold any Masonic intercouse (sp) with the association recently formed, called the Louisiana Grand Lodge.
Resolved, That we recommend to the Fraternity in Louisiana and Mississippi a reexamination of the points in dispute among them, in the spirit of brotherly love and kindness, and with a view to the restoration of union and harmony. 7
1 Mackey, Albert G. MD. The History of Freemasonry. New York: The Masonic History Company, 1898, p. 1447.
2 Mackey, Albert G., M.D. The History of Freemasonry in South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Steam Power Press, 1861, p. 373.
3 Ibid, p. 374.
4 Ibid, p. 374.
5 Ibid, p. 375.
6 Ibid, p. 375.
7 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, from June 5842, to June 5856, Inclusive, Vol. II. Manchester: C.F. Livingston, 1869, p. 212.