Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Simplicity of Being a Mason Among Masons

“What’s that you are reading?  So I see you are studying to be a Mason. What is that all about?”
"Give me a break; I'm just trying to figure out if this thing is for me at all."

As time passed and as I had more experience living as a Brother, it seemed as if just being a Mason was truly putting to ease this restless heart of mine. I was fortunate to have an  experience of a well formed lodge that had maintained tradition and emphasized quality of membership but could Freemasonry be that simple?  In a word, yes.

It was not so much about the study, rewarding though that was. The Brotherhood of Freemasonry done well was rather simple. I became less worried about the arcane and more focused on simply being… being a Brother. In fact the words "simplicity" and "availability" in our Lodge credo struck me very deeply. That is what resonated in my heart! That is what I love about this Masonic life at its best!

Simply love Masonic principles written in the rituals, exemplified in the work, lived in our daily lives.
Simply love being among good men believing in Brotherhood of Man, Fatherhood of God, basic yet inspiring.
Simply love fraternity, the sentiment of good will with those in my Lodge.
Simply love the joy of hearing the fellows call me "Brother" and the joy of calling them "Brother".
Simplicity; God's gift to me-simply to be a brother.

In an age where people find it hard to sit still and stay put, I desire to be available. To commit to being a Mason means keeping in touch in various ways with a set of men through my movement and travels.  Even on the seldom occasions I cannot make it to an Lodge meeting or event they are a touchstone, a reason for communication. I also find that when attending Lodge even if one doesn't say much, the presence says much more. Whatever Brothers do: whether it is efforts of friendship- finding out about our brothers and what is going on in their lives, sincerely wishing them well, lending a hand when possible, and giving the best of ourselves; or the work of the Lodge- setting up and taking down the lodge room, the chores of office, sending communications and publishing newsletters and updates, giving phone calls and emails, tiling the door, opening the meeting, etc.; there is also the work for the Lodge outside the Lodge itself- setting up for a group events, finding a caterer, making reservations, coordinating supportive and charitable efforts, offering advice and a listening ear, having fun while attending an event, etc.  - it is all really relevant. A Brother's main job is to be a Brother, to be available.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shriners Declared "Clandestine" by the Grand Lodge of Michigan

This from what I have always found to be the atrociously titled though well intentioned "Freemasonry for Dummies" blog and a comment (written in purple, followed by our commentary in black):
The Grand Master of Michigan, MW Frederick E. Kaiser, Jr., has withdrawn official recognition of the Shrine there, and it has been declared clandestine and illegal. Michigan Masons may not attend tyled Shrine meetings in that state.

The problem stems from a Mason who was expelled by the Grand Master in July allegedly for pleading guilty to a crime punishable by incarceration of one or more years, and per Michigan's Masonic rules. Unfortunately, the Elf Khurafeh Shrine and the Imperial Shrine (Shriners International) in Tampa didn't agree and kept the suspended Mason as a full member of the Shrine. A slight complication: he's the current Potentate. He had pled guilty to possessing and operating gambling devices, and probably won't be sentenced until February. However, since he did plead guilty, the GM expelled him. The Shrine did not...

From the GM's letter of November 23rd:

The expelled Mason, by action of Elf Khurafeh Shrine, headquartered in Saginaw, Michigan continues to be a member and Potentate of that Shrine. Elf Khurafeh’s action to retain him was subsequently upheld by the Imperial Potentate. This situation exists despite the reputed requirement that a member of the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of
the Mystic Shrine (Shriner’s International) must also be a Mason in good standing.

Discussion was initiated with the Imperial Potentate, and counsel for the Imperial Shrine. The Grand Lodge of Michigan explained its position, and requested that the Imperial Potentate reconsider his decision, given information previously unavailable to him. Unfortunately for all concerned and with heavy heart, I must state that no modification of
his position, nor of Elf Khurafeh Shrine’s, has occurred.

Elf Khurafeh Shrine and the Imperial Potentate have failed to adhere to their own Shrine law, by retaining a non-Mason in their ranks. They have also failed to honor their obligations under Michigan Masonic Law. Therefore, acting under § of Michigan Masonic Law, the Grand Lodge of Michigan hereby withdraws formal recognition of the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (Shriner’s International) as a Masonic organization in the State of Michigan. The relevant sections of Michigan Masonic Law are as follows:

§3.8.2: Any and all organizations, associations, or persons within the State of Michigan, professing to have
any authority, power or privileges in Ancient Craft Masonry, not fraternally recognized by this Grand Lodge, are
declared to be clandestine and illegal, and all Masonic intercourse with any of them is prohibited.

§ All Master Masons under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Michigan who hold membership in
Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine are forbidden to attend tiled Shrine meetings when there is in
attendance a suspended or expelled Mason.

It is therefore my order that no Mason who holds membership in a Michigan Lodge, or in a Lodge chartered by a recognized Grand Lodge who resides or sojourns in Michigan, may (1) attend any nonpublic function of any Shrine in Michigan or (2) have any Masonic interaction of any kind with any Shrine organization in Michigan. Furthermore, no Shrine function or activity will be afforded a special privilege not afforded any other unrelated organization that is allowed to use a building dedicated to Masonic purposes, or on the grounds of a building so dedicated.

Violation of these provisions by a Mason under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Michigan is punishable by charges of un-Masonic conduct.
 And then we have this from a commenter: "The GM had the intestinal fortitude to make an unpopular decision to assert the sovereignty of the Grand Lodge over all things Masonic. Unfortunately, some bodies forget that."

I respectfully though intensely disagree with the course of action and the commenter.  Being a Mason does not stop your freedom of association. The the A.A.O.N.M.S (known more popularly as the Shrine and its members Shriners) is not a Masonic organization in that Lodge functions occur; it is simply an association that limits itself to Masons. (At least most of the time; Shriners have regularly admit on an "honorary" basis any number of individuals who are not nor have ever been Masons.)  

These are independent Masons not conducting Masonic affairs.  When anyone starts to dictate to Masons what they can do independent of Freemasonry and outside the lodge then we run dead against the values that Freemasonry is supposed to be championing and imparting and the rights that Masons depend on the practice the Craft (see the Constitution and the notion of freedom of association and assembly).

(As a related aside, I often find it funny that an organization that promotes its history as a model of democratic principles often brings out the lurking authoritarianism in its members. Human nature...)

I entirely agree, for instance with the Grand Lodge of Kentucky's long held decision to not recognize the Shrine.  If anything I do not think that the grand lodges who govern the "blue lodges" should be in the business of conferring the favor of recognition or not to external organizations that do not deal in  blue lodges just as we expect for the most part (in this country anyway) for the York Rite, Scottish Rite, Shrine, Cedars, etc. to not get into conferring the degrees of the blue lodge. Fortunately, this tends to be the case, i.e., grand lodges do not attempt to  restrict among its members outside degrees that are separate and different from the work of the Lodge.

"Sovereignty of the Grand Lodge over all things Masonic" is a very big statement that while grandiloquent is not true, for reasons of practice and principles of Freemasonry itself); the gentleman also seem to infer "Sovereignty of all people Masonic" as well which to any Mason should be alarming on the very face of it. 

This not only takes things as far as restricting the freedoms of Masons in ways heretofore unknown and unwarranted, but also takes the additional step of determining that the grand lodge of a state has the right to dictate the terms of operation to an independent body, and one that happens not to even be headquartered in the state (not that this is the crux of he issue.)

While not a Shriner I admire their good work and I believe that since it is being done by Masons it is a credit to Freemasonry because the members are Masons.

I also believe that this may be a product of ongoing issues, one being the dispute between the idea of whether grand lodges serve Freemasonry or whether Freemasonry serves the grand lodges. With such a declining state of membership there seems to be a lot of tension and politics inside Freemasonry and between Freemasonry and organizations of Freemasons.

Brethren are examining not just the laws/ rules and practices and their basis and history. Sometimes we see where politics and practice may not be valid. Things may be rapidly becoming a case of "reform (and splinter) or die" but I think we are much better served if everyone comes to their senses and perhaps the sides step back from creating unnecessary conflict. Perhaps it is true, that "he who rules less rules best".