Monday, October 31, 2011

Guest Article: Jack Roberts' KT Magazine Letter

I have received permission from Jack Roberts, High Priest of Minnesota Chapter No. 1, to publish a letter he sent to the editor of the Knights Templar Magazine. I think it's important read for all of us who are active in the York Rite.

Sir Knight Palmer,

I was disappointed to read in the March 2011 “Letters to the Editor” that another Sir Knight believes that those Brothers who do not conform to the beliefs of “fervent Christianity” should demit not only from their Templar Commanderies, but also all York Rite bodies.

The belief that a Brother must be a Christian – perhaps a fervent Christian, as suggested in the letter – to petition a York Rite body is entirely incorrect, and is a persistent mischaracterization of the nature of two of the three Masonic bodies that fall under the York Rite.

Neither Capitular Masonry nor Cryptic Masonry require a Brother to be a Christian. Neither body claims to be a Christian organization or based on Christianity. Although many of the values espoused and taught in both bodies have much in common with Christian teachings, a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons and a Council of Select Masters are more similar in membership and teachings to our Blue Lodges than Commanderies.

Perhaps I should say that Chapters and Councils “could” be more similar in membership and teachings to our Blue Lodges, but many Brothers perpetuate the myth that one must be a Christian to be a York Rite Mason. This myth wreaks havoc on our efforts to bring good and true Brothers to our Chapters and Councils.

Many times I have had to explain to Brothers that the structure of the York Rite is not like the Scottish Rite, which is a coherent and structured series of degrees that build upon each other. The York Rite is a loose confederation of three bodies that could operate independently, and have, in fact, operated independently in the past. Templar Orders are not the “capstone” or “completion” of the York Rite. A Brother can derive much value from the lessons and beautiful degrees of Capitular and Cryptic Masonry without taking the Templar Orders.

We in the York Rite need to let the strength of Chapters and Councils stand on their own, and stop suggesting that one is not a “complete” or “good” York Rite Mason unless one is a fervent Christian and a Sir Knight.

Jack Roberts
Damascus Commandery No. 1
Saint Paul, Minnesota

Friday, October 28, 2011

Business Pundit's list of 10 Inventors who were Freemasons

Business Pundit has published a list of 10 inventors that you didn't know were Freemasons. I'm glad to see that Benny is right where he belongs.I was surprised that the inventors of the hot-air balloon, the Montgolfier Brothers, were Freemasons.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Past Masters Degree

I've been thinking a lot about the Past Master’s Degree. Why? Well, as a Past Master, I have taken part in both a virtual (capitular) and an actual (blue lodge) Past Master’s degree. I've been wondering for a while now if the Royal Arch Chapter should confer the degree and whether the degree is still necessary to any Masonic body, whether it be the lodge or the chapter.

I should explain what a Past Master’s degree is for anyone who may not know what it is. The Past Master's degree was originally intended to impart the secrets of the Oriental Chair on a newly elected or installed Master. It was the handing over of the keys from the old guy to the new guy. In fact, many Grand Lodges still have a chair degree for the new Master. Chair degrees exist in many Masonic bodies, most especially within the York Rite.

The bizarre case of the Past Master (virtual) degree in the Chapter is really representative of the fluid nature of Masonry, particularly during its nascent period. The Royal Arch, as well as the Master Mason degree, was most likely chair degree. There was an old requirement that a candidate for the Royal Arch to be a Past Master. This created a problem. Lodges, and the chapters that ultimately took on the Royal Arch, wanted to make the degree available to all Master Masons. The easy fix would have been to actually read the by-laws of that era, an example of which Jerusalem Chapter in Philadelphia states, “[n]o brother can be exalted until he has been at least three years a Master Mason and has presided six months as Master of some regular warranted lodge or has passed the Chair by Dispensation.” (I believe that it’s still the practice of the Grand Chapter of Pennsylvania to allow Master Masons to be passed by dispensation of the Grand High Priest.)

Sadly, our ancient brethren believed that to allow all Masons, not just Past Masters, to take the degree would be an innovation and thus illegal. So what did our ancient brethren do? They created an innovation by allowing a Master Mason to sit in the chair for a brief moment and be called a Past Master (virtual).

In our more modern times, our English and Canadian brethren removed this requirement from the Royal Arch. I think we should do the same. The Royal Arch is not under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge, at least in the United States and Canada, so there is no need to follow any old regulation.

I think the one advantage for removing it from the Chapter work and conferring it only in lodge is to really get that brother, who has been elected to serve a term in the East, ready for his installation. Being Master of the Lodge is not easy. When I was Master, I felt incredibly overwhelmed as I’m sure that all future Masters also feel. There's a lot of planning that goes into a lodge. 

Lodges are, for all intents and purposes, a small business. Many lodges own property, collect revenue, and have costs that have to be considered. The lodge has a duty to its members and to the public at large. Sadly, most Masters are ill-equipped to take on a lodge and its various business needs.

I think, by conferring a Past Master’s degree on a new Master, he can become ready. He becomes ready not because he must stand alone but because he learns to stand united with the other Past Masters that sat in the Oriental Chair before him. That’s its purpose.

Conferring the degree so as to teach a lesson is laudable but I really think that the original purpose as a Chapter degree remains, to allow Master Masons to be exalted. We can dress it up in all kinds of different costumes, add beautifully written lectures and the like but it remains unnecessary like an appendix or tonsils. It’s time to have our Chapters focus on capitular work and our lodges to celebrate the work and sacrifice of its officers.

Chair degrees are both a reward for service and a call to the leader of a Masonic body to be mindful of the work that he will have to perform for the good of the Craft. Being a Master is hard. A lot is sacrificed by the brother who takes that responsibility. Shouldn’t we at least be there, as PMs, to encourage him and give him our support, for the good of the Order?

What’s your opinion? Should the Past Master’s degree remain a necessary degree in the Royal Arch? Should it only be conferred in lodge?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Knights Templar: Questions and Concerns Before I Join

I will likely be petitioning a commandery near me. Before doing this, however, I’ve been asking around and researching Masonic Templarism. I’ve found some strange points that I need clarifying. In fact, from what I hear from some other Sir Knights, I’ve been made a little more reticent to join than during my initial inkling to petition.

I've decided to present my wants and don’t wants in a list.

  • To learn about chivalry.
  • To practice chivalry.
  • To feel close to my paternal grandfather who was a Sir Knight.
  • To be an honorable man and true to his word through the lessons of knighthood.
  • To carry a sword because, well, it’s freakin’ cool to carry a sword.
  • To learn about the history of early knighthood, and what it meant to be an historical knight.
  • To present papers on topics of Chivalry.

Don’t Want:
  • To do an excessive amount of drill.
  • To join an evangelical Christian organization. 
  • To be a Civil War Re-enactor.
  • To join a Masonic body that believes all Masons should be Christian.  
  • To swear an oath to harm others of a different religion.

For me, I chose to go through the York Rite first. My paternal grandfather was in the York Rite while my maternal grandfather was in the Scottish Rite. I really had no idea which was better and Chapter and Council had moved to Farmington so it was an easy choice, at least for convenience sake. I have really enjoyed my time in Chapter and Council and love the challenge of making the Farmington York Rite viable. In my opinion, all Master Masons should go through the Capitular degrees, at a minimum, because I really do believe that the Royal Arch has something to say to them. Some days, I wash we lived in the English system of conferring only the Holy Royal Arch (as they call it) degree without the Mark, Past, or Most Excellent Master degrees being conferred previously because it would make that degree even more essential to the understanding of Masonry and would ease the pressure on Chapters in general. I finally have the time to “complete” the York Rite which is why of come to this series of questions and concerns.. (I’ve spoken with many companions who remind me that the three bodies are separate, so it’s not a completion of a Rite at all.)

I’m concerned that should I join the Knights, I will be joining an organization that I will demit from immediately. I was really struck by something that Worshipful Brother Ray Hayward wrote in his monthly message for Minnesota. He said that, “[s]peculative Knights Templar are those people who take the moral and spiritual aspect of the historical Templars and apply them to lead a fuller, more meaningful life.” I really hope that this will be my experience. I want to hold my sword before Circe, as Odysseus was instructed to by Hermes, using the lessons of speculative knighthood to be more assertive within my life.

In fact, I have used quite a bit of Worshipful Brother Ray’s writings to justify, for the most part, my decision to join a commandery. You can find his papers here. Worshipful Brother Ray is a very wise man and a brilliant teacher of those lessons we find within the York Rite.

So that’s where I stand right now. If you can help me out with my quandary, that would be great. Please leave a comment below or send me an email.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Minnesota Masons Featured in the WSJ

Today, in the Wall Street Journal, Masons of Minneapolis Lodge No. 19 and Braden Lodge No. 168 were featured on the front page. And they did a great job of representing the future of Masonry. The article features many of my friends and really discusses the Fraternity in glowing fashion.

Brother Matt, a good friend of mine, gave three reasons why he joined:
"I wanted to become a better person, I like retro stuff, and I'm a big believer in guys hanging out and talking with other guys."
I think sums it up for a lot of Masons.

I was fortunate enough to be in the discussion group at Braden described in the article. For me, watching Masonry evolve into a new style, unlike what are grandfathers or great-grandfathers were members of, will be interesting to see. Thank you brothers for allowing me to sit in with all of you. And congrats to WBro. Reed and Bro. Adam of #19 and Bro. Matt of Braden for the great quotes. What a great day for Minnesota Masonry.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Broaden Your Horizons

I wrote this article for the E-Mason Newsletter that goes out once a month from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota. If you want to subscribe,  fill in your e-mail address in the lower right corner of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota website. I subscribe to all six Area e-newsletters because I like to stay informed of what's going on throughout the state.

Masonic Education is such a broad topic for lodges to deal with when planning a stated communication that I think that lodges avoid educational presentations because they are unable to fully grasp what is expected. As LEO of my lodge, I have been thinking more and more what the brothers want. I think Lodges, and LEO’s in particular, are hit with two major assumptions, 1) that education should only come from the LEO and 2) only Masonic subjects should be discussed in lodge.

The creation of the Lodge Education Officer has been either a boon or a bust for lodges. I have heard from some brothers that the LEO is expected to come to lodge with education every meeting. This is patently wrong. It is the duty of every Mason to continue learning. So how can a LEO get other brothers involved in the education process? As I was thinking about this question, I remembered something that does for individuals and corporations. Amazon runs a website called the Mechanical Turk which enables companies to finish tasks that computers are incapable of doing by using human energy. In the age of the Internet, this is called crowdsourcing. People can look at photos and tag who’s in them or read an article and find word choice problems which computers are incapable of seeing and understanding. LEOs, use crowdsourcing to your advantage. You’re not alone. You don’t need be the only person to present education. Instead, get brothers to write papers or make presentations about subjects that interest them. This brings me to my next point: you needn’t be obsessed with dogfooding.

Dogfooding is a term used by software and Internet companies to describe using only those products that were created in-house. It’s the idea that if you only use what you make, you will make sure that it is the best. Many in Masonry think that the only truth we need to be in search of comes from inside our ritual. I disagree. Many times, ideas of a non-Masonic nature should be discussed in lodge. I find many interesting articles about new discoveries in space and physics, in philosophy, or art and music that are relevant to or pique the interest of another brother. Many times, any of the aforementioned subjects can relate back to the seven liberal arts and sciences.  We are restricted only from discussing politics and religion in lodge. Again, don’t get bogged down by content. We don’t need to regurgitate everything that Mackey has said, or look at every infinitesimal nuance that may be drawn out from the ritual. Learning what an actual stonemason does or discussing the advances in quantum computing is just as relevant to the modern Mason as the symbolism of the all-seeing eye.

LEO’s, just remember that you’re not along and that you’re not beholden to Masonic subjects. And as always, if you ever do hit a snare, make sure to contact the Grand Lodge’s Education Committee. They are an incredible resource. The Education Committee also publishes an assortment of papers and presentations that can be used in lodge. Education in lodge is not unattainable, it just requires a little planning.