Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Children's Hospital at the University of Minnesota to be Renamed "the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital"

From http://www.uofmchildrenshospital.org/
In recognition of the $25 million gift made by Minnesota Masonic Charities, the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital (formerly Amplatz Children’s Hospital), will now be named the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. 

From the article:

When adding the Masonic Charities’ donation to $75 million it gave to support cancer research and care since 2008 and additional gifts it made over the past six decades, the Masons’ total support of the university tops $125 million.

Great job, Minnesota Masonic Charities.

If you would like to donate, visit http://www.shop.mnmasoniccharities.org/

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Going to My Grandpa's Home Lodge

My grandpa, my dad, and I at my dad's raising

The great thing about being in Minnesota is that sometimes, if a lodge needs a ritualist for some part, a lot of us will drop everything to help. I've been fortunate to help at a number of lodges and when I was an elected officer of my blue lodge, to have brothers come in to help us out. When I received a phone call from one of my mentors about potentially helping out with some degree work, I just got ready to suit up and head out the door. Then he mentioned the lodge: Fidelity Lodge No. 39 in Austin, MN.

"Fidelity? Really?"

Fidelity Lodge is my grandfather's mother lodge. Grandpa Dick passed away a few years back and even now, it's tough to think about his passing. Grandpa Dick was the man who got me started on my Masonic journey. He's a man I continue to respect, more so each day. When I got the call to help, I was beside myself. How could I possibly say no?

I have always had a major regret. It still eats at me every time I think of it. My grandpa was one of those Masons that joined at a very young age, around the same age that I did, and after a long life, he finally arrived at his 60th year as a Mason. The ceremony for his 60 year pin presentation was scheduled on the same night as a lodge meeting when I was still a Warden for my lodge. Sadly, what I now describe as the rather useless, kinda dumb, pre-meeting program was set for the same evening. Me being a young, dumb officer, I believed that I couldn't miss the rather useless, kinda dumb pre-meeting program so I skipped his 60th year award. He passed a couple years later so I missed all further anniversary celebrations; all potential trips to his lodge to sit in lodge with the man that made me a Mason were never, ever going to happen. I was devastated. When I received the phone call to help, I felt that redemption was possible.

Austin is a little bit of a drive from my house, but I was fortunate to have my mentor drive. We talked and shared stories and just had a real good time. I've visited Austin my whole life but I had never seen the lodge, not even the exterior of the building. This was all new to me. I can honestly say I was nervous. Like teeth chattering nervous.

We got to the door and I started thinking about what went through my grandpa's head when he opened this exact same door the first time he visited the lodge before he even became a Mason. I looked up the long flight of stairs, the really long flight of stairs and I paused.

"This is it," I thought. "This is grandpa's Masonic home."

I got to the top of the stairs and everyone saw us and started shaking our hands. It was as if I had known these men my whole life. One of the first men I met was Otto. Otto is very important to my Masonic story. When I was considering petitioning, my grandpa asked Otto if he knew a local lodge where I could join. He got in contact with my mentor and I was off to the races. I had never met Otto and had only spoken to him once over the phone. Otto is a great man and I had a lot of fun talking to him about my grandpa and the lodge.

I also met Bill who is also a great Mason and was very kind in showing me around the lodge. I was fortunate to have eaten with him and chatted about all things Masonic. And it was great to see Dean again. Dean and I have seen and chatted at Southeast Area events often, for almost a decade now. For the longest time, he was the only Austin Mason I knew and he was always happy to tell me about my grandpa.

Finally, the meal was over and I needed to focus. Ritual is very important to me and whenever I'm the Senior Deacon on this particular degree, I have to get my game face on. Masons in Preston-Webb states know why I'm saying this. Considering where I was, though, it was even more important to me. We had three candidates that night and I wanted to do a great, scratch that, stellar job for them.

Me next to the charter for Fidelity Lodge

As I began my ritual work, I started to look at the benches, at the officers' chairs, the altar, and the large lodge room. In my mind, I saw my grandpa. He was there. He was there listening to me deliver the ritual. He was there smiling with an encouraging glance. He was there as the candidate, experiencing the ritual for the first time. He was there as a long time member, listening again to the important lessons conveyed. He was there with me.

As we finished up the ritual work for the night, I finally sat down in the chair. I was emotionally drained but happy. I looked around. They were smiling. It was as if everyone in the room was saying, "you made your grandpa proud." It was tough not to tear up at that moment.

During the comment section, when everyone in the lodge was asked if they had something to say, I paused to let everyone speak. Finally, I stood up. I told everyone who I was and what the lodge meant to me.

"A lot of you knew my grandfather. My grandfather was a man of few words. I just want to say, 'thank you.'"

I said a few other things but really, I just remember the thank you. We closed the lodge and I went out to chat with everyone. A number of the brothers came up to me and told me little stories about my grandpa. One brother told me that he worked with him on the railroad starting the fire in the engine (and he even said to me that I would never remember his name which turned out to be true.). Another told me about bowling with him. It was great. I was starting to fill in the blanks of his life, a life I had never known.

Bill pulled out a book of members and there was my grandpa's page, right there, open on the counter. I stared at the page a long time. This was his record. This was the record of my grandfather. He had a memorial laid up in this very lodge's records for eternity. As I was leaving, the brothers handed me a mug and pen from their sesquicentennial (and later, they even sent me a thank you card).

As we drove away, the night sky filled with low clouds, I looked out the window at a view that I had seen countless times but one I best remembered as a child. The cornstalks swayed as a late August rain was slowly rolling in and my mind wandered back to that cold and crisp Thanksgiving day in 2005; my family and I entering my grandparents' door, greetings exchanged, and coats doffed and hung. I remember seeing the letter on the counter, a letter from a knightly order, and the long conversation I had with a man I admired then and continue to admire now.

Now that I have my own kids and my dad is a grandpa, I often think about the time when my own kids are grown. What will life be like then? But I try not to tarry too long on that question. I start to play with them and wish they'd stop growing. I wish those little moments could slow down. That I could have just one more hour at the playground, just one more day before he has to start preschool, just one more year before he's getting on a schoolbus. That's the funny thing. When you want time to stop, it speeds up. As one brother told me, "raising children is like this: the days are long and the years are short." The best we can do is try our best to remember and store away those memories in our heart.

I'm going to say something that we never said while you were alive but, Grandpa, I love you, I miss you, your great-grandchildren are doing great, and I look forward to seeing you again.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Royal Order of Scotland and Me

Me with the freakin' huge claymore
On Saturday, I was fortunate to be one of the candidates for the Royal Order of Scotland, an invitational body of Freemasonry. It's a high honor and one I am unsure to be completely worthy of. But I know the brothers have confidence in me so there is that.

To explain, the Royal Order of Scotland is a national body that meets on the national level. What this means is that the body travels to a few locations each year and confers the degrees after which a very nice dinner is served. The work is done stupendously and by some very top figures on the national Masonic scene.

The Royal Order of Scotland is one of the oldest of so-called high grade degrees. It was developed during the early era of degree creation.

From the website:

There are no reliable records tracing the history of the Order from its alleged revival in 1314 to the middle of the eighteenth century, when it appears to have flourished in France about the year 1735-40 under the adherents of the Jacobite Cause, who being refugees from Scotland practiced these Degrees no doubt for the purpose of maintaining a common bond of union among them in a foreign land. It is stated that in 1747 in a Charter which was in existence in 1840, granted by Prince Charles Edward Stuart to the Masonic Lodge at Arras, he described himself as Sovereign Grand Master of the Order of "Rose Croix de Herodim de Kilwinning".
I was impressed by everything I saw and I can't wait to get another chance to see the degrees again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Guest Article: John Helcl, II, "Within the Gates"

Sir Knight John Helcl, II
The original Order of the Templars met their demise by the suppression, a foul action by outside forces
beyond their control. Sir Knights, are we are under the looming shadow of a modern suppression of our order, a suppression that is not from some nefarious source hiding in the dark corners; but within our own ranks? This is not to say there are dastardly actors or forces at work, but to ask are we the victims of our own actions or inactions? To you, Sir Knights, I propose this critique- not in opposition of our Order and its principles, but as a call to action to revisit the pillars of our past and perhaps, to engage in some organizational introspection.

Many factors are at work in this suppression, but I will skip what members think of first- money. Hopefully, I’ll be given the opportunity to write further upon that subject. The membership effects caused by being a cost-prohibitive, uniformed organization deserve its own notation (and let’s be honest, Commandery isn’t for the light of purse).

I have read in this very magazine submissions to the national editor that have been, to put it mildly,
religiously divisive (and often completely incorrect). Thankfully all the voices have been from outside our noble State, but it brings light to a pressing issue. Is Templary is drifting apart from Craft Masonry? From local units up to the Grand Encampment, are we fissuring our collective ashlar? And if so, why has this happened? Within the Commanderies throughout our country, why are there are Knights that take off their apron (literally, and in spirit) who then don the Templar uniform and become some strange hybrid of Patton and Torquemada? The inclusiveness, tolerance, and Brotherly unity that we are all obligated to practice gets left in the sock drawer alongside the Lambskin of these members. Conversely, among us there are members of our Order that are the embodiment of Knighthood whether in or out of uniform, but when it comes to inclusion and the policies of the Grand Encampment, they are the voices in the desert. These Knights remember, and live, each and every obligation from Entered Apprentice to Sir Knight. We should all be so lucky to act like these men- or at least to know them among our ranks (and in Minnesota, there are many).

The original Order gained the ire of their crusading peers for their open acceptance and working dynamic
between themselves and the Jewish, Druze, and other communities in Jerusalem- even the Muslims of the realm (provided they met off the battlefield, of course). Sir Knights, the iron-clad edicts of the Grand Encampment have left Commanderies no choice but to continue an institutional disservice to our Brothers by engaging in the exclusion of a Brother based solely upon his specific faith or belief in a higher power that is outside of Christianity; thereby violating one of the cornerstone tenets of Freemasonry. This is not only contradictory to our obligations as Craft Masons, but is an equal and opposite deviation from the practices of the original Order whom we seek to emulate. Perhaps it is an organizational mindset that can’t be hurdled. Or perhaps it’s as simple as bringing back the triangle apron as a uniform requirement- both to function as a physical manifestation of our unbreakable connection to the Craft, and as a constant reminder of the binding tie of our obligations as Master Masons.

We can, and should, remain a Knighthood of Christian values and principles, assembled humbly in the
name of Christ while still welcoming our brothers of all noble faiths to join us. We should never forget to love all of our Brothers and welcome them as both Jesus and the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon would.

We can defend the travelling pilgrims of all faiths, defend the faithful of all flocks, their widows, and
orphans as the original Order did. In doing so not only can we continue to remain in accord with the spirit of
Templary and the teachings of Christ, but become better Knights, Commanderies, and Brothers because of it.

Every Mason of profound faith, from every faith, that seeks to make their world better should be a Knights
Templar, and join us in the noble crusade of defending the widow, orphan, and the peaceful pilgrims of all faiths.

Semper Servitus,
S.K. John E. Helcl, II (O.Cist.Tertiari)
Eminent Grand Standard Bearer, Grand Commandery of Minnesota

Monday, August 11, 2014

Toward a Stronger, More Vibrant Freemasonry (Guest Post on the Burning Taper, October 2008)

Well, dear readers,

I started to get a little nostalgic. Okay, I was full on nostalgic and I started to look through old papers of mine and came across this one. The Widow's Son, who ran a very controversial but often great blog, the Burning Taper, asked me, back in late '08, to write a guest piece for a series on Masonic harmony, unity, and discord. I've decided to repost it on my blog because I still think it has value. Enjoy!

The Judgment of Paris, Capodimonte porcelain 

All nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
Alexander Pope

Before I begin with my analysis of the theme, Masonic harmony, unity and discord, I would like to thank the Widow's Son for giving me this opportunity to take part in this wonderful and insightful series of essays. 

Let us begin, what's the problem with discord? It is my simple belief that although conflict may promote the problems of Freemasonry, it can also carry the hope of our Fraternity's future. In fact, through the promotion of both discord and harmony, in equal measures, we, as a Fraternity, can grow stronger and more vibrant. While studying conflict and human societies (particularly Freemasonry), it is essential that we look to history and the modern research in Conflict Studies to fully understand this subject.

The word “Discord” originates from the Roman goddess Discordia who had a counterpart in Greece named Eris. In Greek, the name Eris means “strife.” Strife was commonly regarded in Greece to have two different personas. The first was equally abhorred and praised, as she caused harm but also strengthened the constitution of men. The second was feared and involved the murderous killings of war and was the sister of Ares. The most famous incident involving Eris was when she threw the Apple of Discord amongst the three major goddesses in the Pantheon, Aphrodite, Athena or Hera, when she was uninvited to a banquet for Peleus and Thetis’ wedding. Inscribed on the Apple was the phrase, “καλλιστι” or transliterated, “Kallisti” meaning “for the Fairest.” As Zeus did not want to get involved, he gave the choice to Paris. As we all know, this choice eventually led to the Trojan War. This little trinket, a single apple, led many men to suffer and die.

As is always the case in the pantheon of Greek Gods, Eris had an opposite named Harmonia; in Rome, she was Concordia. As her name implied, she was the goddess of Harmony and represented a love for civic order and unity. And as always seems the case in Greek mythology, she was to be cursed. As a wedding gift, she was given a necklace, a necklace which brought misfortune to all who wore it.

We, as Freemasons, seek to receive the Golden Apple only to find it is out of our reach or in the hands of someone else. We become jealous with our neighbor, and find faults to take away from him what we believe rightfully belongs to us. Yet, this will to strive for what is better or what we deserve is not, in and of itself, an evil characteristic. Also, at times when we are given gifts, we become complacent which attracts misfortune. In fact, conflict occurs everyday and it is how it is dealt with which determines if it is constructive or destructive. Conflict is actively explored in academic circles to understand its origins and quell its harmful effects.

While attending law school, I participated in the Dispute Resolution Institute's certificate program. One of the required classes was Theories of Conflict. Theories of Conflict explores these themes of harmony and discord, separate struggles and unifying causes. The underlying theme in the course was not if conflict was inherently bad; it was the exploration of controlling conflict, especially when conflict becomes escalated. 

According to Pruitt and Kim, authors of the book, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, conflict is a “perceived divergence of interest.” Conflict is not merely a battle between parties, with winner takes all as the goal, but what we perceive as a divergence that leads to a zero sum game. This divergence gives parties the impression that there is only one solution, “mine not yours”.

Sometimes conflict is very constructive. The best, current example is the presidential election. Both candidates disagree on certain issues and we, as citizens, must decide who we believe will do the best job as president. We may yell at the TV during the debates and chastise the attack ads, but we all agree that a President must be chosen and our emotions must be in check once the election is over.

Conflict involves both physical and psychological aspects. So if, as a Freemason, we find a policy unacceptable, for example, PHA recognition, we perceive a divergence of interest with the brother on the other side. We become physiologically shaken and psychological shocked by what our brothers say, but we may still live in relative peace. It is when a conflict is escalated, that it can become more destructive and lead to acrimony among the parties, and can quickly get out of control.

Escalation is the concept whereby one party begins to use stronger tactics to put increased tension on the other party. During a conflict, parties regularly use tactics to “win” a conflict. However, as these tactics become more and more contentious, the parties will increase the type of tactic used to match or beat the other's tactic. This trading of barbs slowly turns into a spiral of escalation until the conflict reaches violence or another factor has begun to slow the climb and halt its progress.

Escalation is incredibly common in Freemasonry. Every person, from regular Mason, irregular Mason, and anti-Mason, uses power and stronger tactics to attempt to win a Masonic argument. We may attempt to ingratiate a person to come to “our” side. We may attempt to belittle the other side. However, it is often the case that these arguments begin up the spiral of escalation. I, myself, have been wrapped up in these fiery debates throwing words as darts instead using them as tools. As the Masonic conflict continues, we become less concerned with the disagreement and more concerned with “winning”. It is at this time, that we become entrenched and it is only by deescalating the situation that we can keep Masonic harmony. But how do we deescalate this contentious situation?

We can deescalate it by remembering the precepts of our Fraternity: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. When we get into an aggressive argument, we lose our fraternal bond, we become less concerned about relieving his suffering and we lose sight of what the truth is. So, what can we, as Masons, do about all this discord? Here is my advice: to those that believe that discord only brings destruction and suffering, remember that it is only through chiseling into a block and destroying its original character that we create something beautiful. And to those that believe that harmony must always be continued, at all costs, why is your gavel and chisel laying on the ground? The work is not over and you are behind schedule. We may have a disagreement with how we are working but we all agree that we are building a better society. Only by understanding both discord and harmony can we appreciate the unity that Freemasonry gives to all of its members.

Our life is full of discord; but by forbearance and virtue this same discord can be turned to harmony.
James Ellis

If you liked to read the full series of paper, click here.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below.