Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. I was wandering around Youtube and noticed that the Food Network had posted Alton Brown's videos on making a Thanksgiving turkey. If you've never watched "Good Eats", you don't know what you're missing. I've decided to post the videos on how he suggests you use a cook a turkey. It's brilliant.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Zuhrah Shrine to Sell Harrington Mansion

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On November 24th, 2009, the members of Zuhrah Shrine voted to sell the stunning Harrington Mansion, the Minneapolis Shrine Center and its parking lot at 2540 Park Avenue in Minneapolis. The Shriners of Minneapolis have occupied the building since 1929, when it was purchased for $25,000. According to Zuhrah's website, this is less than half the amount of the property taxes paid on the building (date unknown). Not sure what the future holds for Zuhrah Shrine's housing options nor the options of one of its tenants, the extremely successful Minneapolis Lodge #19, but whatever happens is completely undesirable.

This is a sad day not only for the Shrine but Minnesota Masonry in general. I pray that some relief will come to our various non-profit groups, not just the Masons. I just hate seeing beautiful buildings disappear to be used by some land developer with little care for its' sacred or historical significance. This loss will be felt throughout Minnesota and I wish there was a solution to avoid these problems. Masons have built this state but sadly, we are still treated as a forgotten relic, an organization from days gone by. It's not membership, it's not dues, it's not anything but a lack of consciousness by the public at large of what we do and its willingness to let us go.

Perhaps the Fraternity is changing. Perhaps land ownership will not be a part of what makes a Lodge special or important in the community. Maybe Grandma Gilmore is right when she says "a house is just a house", but it would be a real shame if we continued to allow the loss of these buildings when they have been a part of heritage for so long. Solutions need to found to prevent the loss of these great houses dedicated to our Craft.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sir Winston Churchill, The Start of a New Day

On Friday, November 20th, I visited a meeting of Sir Winston Churchill Lodge #351. This Lodge, although following what is termed the "Minnesota Rite" (a variation of Preston-Webb "American" Rite), it seeks to evoke the sense and sensibilities of the British Lodge way of life. It is a very interesting and different experience than what most brothers are used to.

Sir Winston Churchill is designed as an Affinity Lodge. An Affinity Lodge allows the brothers a better focus on a shared subject. An Affinity lodge can range from a British-styled lodge, a lodge of lawyers, or a Lodge of military men. The Affinity concept has been used for many years in jurisdictions like the United Grand Lodge of England or the Grand Lodge of DC, F.A.A.M. with great success.

Why do I think that Affinity lodges are so successful? I think it has to do with the common purpose or affinity. When a brother joins a lodge, he may not have a direct connection to the other brothers, either via avocation or interest. However, if that brother has that connection, he is more likely to become dedicated to that Lodge.

Sir Winston Churchill Lodge is also a mentoring Lodge. Sir Winston Churchill Lodge will partner with other Lodges to provide strategies for both Lodge leadership and Masonic growth in the state. Mentoring brothers is essential and this should include leaders of a Lodge. The Lodge has between five to seven years to get a brother ready to lead. We can and should help our Lodges in every aspect and SWC is one resource Lodge leaders should take advantage of.

A brother from my Lodge and his father and I went to SWC #351 only knowing what I had learned from talking with the brothers of the Lodge. Sir Winston Churchill #351 is the first Lodge in more than thirty years to meet in downtown Minneapolis. After making introductions, we began a social hour that involved a Emulation ritual degree practice an hour before the stated meeting started.

I have never seen this Rite done in any form and although I knew what I was seeing and hearing, it was like watching "the Office" from UK after watching "the Office" from the US. There are a few things that are different but the basic storyline still remains. The lessons of Masonry are taught through a new perspective. Marcus Aurelius wrote,"everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth." Of course, the more perspectives of the same subject that you have, the better able you are to see the penumbra of truth. The pursuit of truth and understanding requires that you change where you gaze. As I watched the Emulation rite practice, I felt like our operative brothers, walking to another side of the temple to better understand the whole.

I have never traveled Masonically outside my own state. That's right, never, even though I live less than thirty minutes away from the Wisconsin border. I'm steeped in Minnesota Masonry without any broader perspective. SWC #351 has helped me see the wider world. All Lodges do something different but even more so, each Masonic jurisdiction has its own variation on how Masonry is learned. Ritual in Minnesota is not the same as Iowa or Wisconsin; Pennsylvania doesn't even have a staircase. It is great that the brothers of Sir Winston Churchill Lodge are trying something new, giving Minnesota brothers opportunities that we would have to travel many miles to experience.

Masonry is a progressive science and Sir Winston Churchill #351 is a great example of our dedication to evolve. As I said goodbye to the brothers, I began to understand what I was feeling. The air was electric, the mixture of dedicated brothers and a great idea. And that is really what Masonry is, a really great idea pushed forward by dedicated brothers.

If you are in the area and you are looking for a new Lodge experience, check out their new website. This Lodge represents a new and exciting chapter in Minnesota Masonry and I'm thankful to the brothers of Sir Winston Churchill Lodge #351 for helping me to see a new perspective in Masonry. As Sir Winston Churchill said,”for myself, I am an optimist — it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Yes, I'm an optimist, and this Lodge is the future and what a bright future it is.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Becoming a Freemason Part 1: What’s a Freemason?

This series of posts will focus on joining a Masonic Lodge. Yes, it has been done before by great Masonic bloggers like John Ratcliff. The reason I’m doing this is that I think it is essential to give interested men all the tools they need to understand the process from petition to voting. I promise not to reveal our secrets nor ruin the experience for our new brothers but I do think there is a need to explain to a petitioner what they can expect.


So you want to become a Freemason? Do you know what one is? Do you know what they do? In this modern world of Internets and its series of tubes, you may have an interesting view of Freemasonry. Some of it may be right, some of it may be wrong but at least you’re looking. That’s why I’ve decided to help you out. The first thing we have to do is define what Freemasonry is.

Freemasonry is the oldest, largest, most well known Fraternity on the planet. We call among our brothers the most influential men that Deity has seen fit to produce. We have three tenets that Freemasons are taught to follow: Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth. We meet as equals and do not regard a brother’s political or spiritual identification as a disqualification to membership nor are we allowed to discuss in Lodge religious or political matters. The major requirements for membership are a belief in God, be a man of good moral qualifications, and be of legal age in the jurisdiction. (in MN, you have to be 18 years, but this age will vary depending on where you live.)

This description is incredibly basic and will not satisfy the curious man. That’s why I’d like to point you to a great resource. What is Freemasonry? is an eBook written by Brother Greg Stewart and made available for free. This is a compendium of all good knowledge that a man should possess before he petitions a Lodge. Frankly, there is nothing I can tell you that hasn’t been covered by Bro. Greg. He’s done a real service and if you want to do more reading about Freemasonry, go to his wonderful Masonic magazine, Freemason Information.

Freemasonry is a great place to meet friends that you would have never met because the Fraternity brings men from all kinds of backgrounds together. We come together as brothers to build better men and better communities. If you are interested, stay tuned next week as we explore how to locate a Lodge and try to find the right fit for your Masonic growth.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Corinthian Lodge #67 featured in the Pioneer Press

WB Paul Hardt, the Master of my Lodge, and I have been interviewed for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. You can read the article on their website here. Jessica Fleming interviewed WB Hardt, MWB McCarthy, and myself about who we are and what we do as well as the setbacks and successes Minnesota Masonry is having in our Renaissance.

One quote that really stood out to me was by WB Paul.

Just as younger people are searching for a place to belong, they are also seeking the intangible, Hardt said.

"I think a lot of people today are looking for answers," he said. "They're looking for spiritual growth. I think Freemasonry can be part of the answer. We do not see it as a religion, though."

I think that all men seeking the philosophy of Freemasonry are looking for answers, looking for a guide to help make sense of the chaotic world outside the Lodge. Even as the world becomes almost unbearable, the brother can enter the Lodge to become a part of that order. Yet, that is what Freemasonry is, one path to understanding how to be a better man.

It is true that younger men are returning to Freemasonry. The Internet has truly changed the way the Fraternity can and will be perceived into the future. I view this blog and all the other social networks that I'm a part of to really complete the circle from being to knowing. We have all the tools we need to get things off the ground, we just need to use them. And yes, WB Chris, we did mention Freemasons for Dummies.

I want to thank Jessica and the Pioneer Press for allowing us the opportunity to discuss something that is so a part of our lives. Masonry is an essential part of my life, helping to guide me through its ups and downs.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Judge, Are You a Mason?

The Guardian is reporting that the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, is reversing a rule requiring serving in the United Kingdom to declare their Masonic affiliation. This reversal comes after the United Grand Lodge of England stated that they might seek review of the rule in light of the ruling in Grande Oriente d'Italia di Palazzo Guistiniani v Italy. That case, in part, created a connection between the right not to be discriminated with the right to freely associate as one chooses which is found in the European Convention of Human Rights (a treaty created in 1950 to address the abuses suffered during World War II.)

The rule requiring the Freemasons to declare their membership began in 1997 on recommendation of the Commons home affair committee. The report stated,

[N]othing so much undermines public confidence in public institutions as the knowledge that some public servants are members of a secret society one of whose aims is mutual self-advancement.
This is a very good decision by the Justice Secretary. With the belief that they will defend a brother above all else, many in Britain view the Craft as evil and self-serving. In fact, I recently received an email which disparaged Masonry which arrived via a address. It still shocks me how distrusted my brothers in the UK are. (Maybe it's that whole meeting on the level thing, or acting uprightly, you know, "evil stuff")

In North America, Freemasons are not disparaged as harshly as our Masonic brothers across the pond. I have rarely received animosity directed towards me because of my Masonic affiliation. Judges in America are held to very high standards, yet, judges, lawyers and other officials make it known that they are Freemasons, not because it is required but because they are proud to be called a Mason.

This reversal is one sign that the human right to associate with whom one wishes has to be recognized. In the United States, we have the First Amendment which defends our right to choose with whom we would like to associate. A free society is not one that dismisses the rights of people to join as a collection of individuals, but celebrates and understands the service that these groups do for their community. Let's hope that this continues to be a trend in Europe and throughout the world.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Marked Man?

On Monday, November 2nd, I took my Mark Master degree, the first degree of the Royal Arch Chapter. I petitioned my Chapter, Corinthian Chapter #33, around September and have been very excited to start the degree work ever since. My Grandfather is a member of the York Rite. In fact, the way I found out about Freemasonry was when I noticed an envelope with a Knights Templar return address at its corner. Continuing down a path just as my grandfather has before me is truly inspiring and continues to create more connections to Freemasonry and my own family. For anyone not sure what a Royal Arch Chapter is and its connection to a Lodge, I'll try to explain.

The highest degree in Freemasonry is the third degree; that's it. However, further learning in Masonry is still available to the Master Mason. A Master Mason is given a set of keys to many new doors that were previously unavailable to him. A brother can choose to go the Scottish Rite or York Rite path, as well as the OES route, the Shrine route or a myriad of other groups.

Scottish Rite is a series of 29 degrees numbered 4° to 32°. Each degree teaches moral and philosophical lesson to the brothers going through them. The degree work is done very differently than in a Lodge as each are presented as one act plays and the brothers sit in the audience. Scottish Rites are divided into Valleys and most states don't have more than a handful of Valleys. This means that the classes are much larger than you would find in other bodies in Masonry. Chapter and Council work are done in a more traditional way.

Royal Arch Chapters are local just like Lodges. Corinthian Chapter #33 meets in the same building as my Lodge and I know many members. I was a single candidate, making the experience very personal. I hadn't been a candidate for almost 4 years so this experience brought back many great memories of my first time in Lodge. In fact, that is the greatest quality of the York Rite. The degrees are conferrred one at a time with a brother as the candidate, taking a part in the action. Chapter is not passive but an active process of learning and studying. I participated in the first degree of a Chapter known as the Mark Master degree.

I won't reveal the actual ceremony but I will quote what the General Grand Chapter has to say about the degree:

The Mark Master Degree is believed to have originated as a ceremony of registering a craftsman's mark in those years distinguished by operative craft masons and their temple building. It was later developed into a full-fledged degree by the Masonic fraternity as we know it today, Some scholars say it was the earliest degree and may predate all others by many years. It is highly regarded by students in all Masonry, teaching lessons that have proven of value in all walks of life. Some Grand Lodges place so high an eminence on the Mark Master Degree, that they confine it to the jurisdiction of a separate grand body, the Grand Lodge of Mark Masters.

I really liked the personal experience within a Royal Arch Chapter. The work performed by the brothers really felt special because I was the only candidate. Taking part in lessons helps to impress them on my mind more completely. I was truly impressed by the work of the brothers and I really feel that I have increased my knowledge in Masonry. And as I carry this penny with me, I will continue to improve myself in Masonry and in life.