Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

30 March 2007

Development of Masonic Ritual Redux

I have signed up to teach a condensed version of my "Development of Masonic Ritual" class at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Portland. The class will be two hours rather than the original three and cover slightly less detail. The audience is also expected to be larger making the kind of dialog we had last September impossible. However, the opportunity to reach out to so many Brethren who may not want to attend a long Saturday class is very exciting. Hopefully, I will be able to throw out some parts of the class and inject a bit about the development of the Scottish Rite Degree system, since this is being held in their auditorium. There is also a hook in the class to try and bring some of those men into the Maine Masonic College system.

In other news, the Maine Masonic College has kindly invited me to repeat my class again this Autumn. I am expanding the material by quite a bit, causing the class to grow from three to six hours. The new material will be the result of my research into the development of Masonic Ritual in Maine. There are two documents which I plan to share with people at the class. The first is my synopsis of the Grand Lodge Proceedings and lodge histories titled, "Events in Maine Ritual History." I have learned a great deal while working on this project with some of the most exciting decades still before me (1890s). The document provides extracts from my sources along with bibliographical references. The second, more exciting document, is a transcription of the Maine Ritual from 1874, before it was standardized in writing by Grand Lodge. The differences between our current ritual and the ritual at that time are very interesting. For example, today after the Master says, "The proper officers will attend to the preparation of the candidate." there is a dialog between the Master and Junior Deacon. In 1874 no such dialog existed with the officers simply exiting the room. This is but one of the many differences in the ritual.

Hopefully, the new material and the two documents will make the class sufficiently new that previous attendees will considering participating again in the class. When the dates have been firmed up, I will announce them here.

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18 March 2007

The Secret of Freemasonry

I was reading another provocative post by The Masonic Traveler entitled "So What?" For those who want to skip the extra reading, I would, hopefully fairly, summarize the post as "Freemasonry having lost its sense of the esoteric, appears to be utterly doomed." The next to last paragraph gives a distant, befogged hope, but having received page after page of well understood bad news, so little light can hardly dispel the darkness. As a subscriber to what I have been calling the "Esoteric Renewal Movement" we can hardly fault Bro. Stewart for his position. Yet, in his words I see revealed the core secret of Freemasonry which none but the rarest Mason can disclose.

At its very heart and soul Freemasonry is an initiatic order. We take one man at a time and move him through a ritual process, a processed written and created by a very small number of otherwise ordinary men, which is intended to transform him. Will it transform him; if it does how will it transform him? We have no way to know the answer to either question. We do know, as we express in the Entered Apprentice proficiency, there must be a pre-existing kernel of Freemasonry in a man's heart for our lessons to take root. Without this the degrees are a system of unmeaning rituals, and so they are to many men who pass through the West Gate. We can also be sure that there are just as many Masons who return to lodge night after night never having interiorized our lessons as there are Masons who never again darken the tyled door, yet still live Freemasonry to the fullest.

Since, thanks to the training of my high school forensics teacher, I am able to speak extemporaneously, I have been frequently called on by the Craft to speak about Freemasonry. During Fellowship Nights I will often talk to the men brought in by my Brothers to find out what they want to know about Freemasonry and then tailor the talk to those particular topics. It was not long before I realize the real secret of Freemasonry: we do not know what we have nor were we necessarily intended to.

Freemasonry is far greater than any of us who participate in it from the youngest Entered Apprentice in the northeast corner of the Lodge to the Most Worshipful Grand Master to whom we pay homage "for the time being." It has been said that Freemasonry is regional or even parochial, when in reality Freemasonry is solely individualist. All true initiatic orders must necessary be so. Every man is personally transformed in some way, if Freemasonry reached him at all, but they nature of the transformation, what he took from our lessons and what he may some day impart to us is different for every man. This difference is in our very nature and was designed into our order from its first speculative days. It is encoded into our ritual over and over again.

As the world around us changed the nature of men changed as well and they brought Freemasonry with them. During the 17th and 18th centuries men wanted a richer, more meaningful set of degrees and so the Hiramic Legend was created, William Preston gathered the working from all over the British Isles and wrote his famous lectures, collectors Webb and Cross Americanized this work and added their own innovations. During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the numbered degree systems blossomed like a summer field with thousands of degrees, many now lost, in practice around the world. During the esoteric period of the 19th and 20th centuries famous esotericists created, between the lines of Freemasonry, a deeper, richer world which I doubt Anderson, Preston, Webb, Cross and Gleason could have imagined. When we are unjust so too is Freemasonry unjust. We we are loving and kind so too is Freemasonry.

Freemasonry is never lost of itself because Freemasonry is never anything but who we are. It has no life of its own.

The Secret of Freemasonry is that it expresses who we are, for good and ill. Our ancient operative Brethren dropped their tools to the earth and Freemasonry was surely bound for death, how could it be otherwise? Lodges closed all around Britain, the lessons of Masonry all left derelict until a the Speculative Freemasons stepped up. What they did with Freemasonry must have left the few remaining Operative Masons seized with horror. Freemasonry became an expression of their times and of those men, rescued from the dustbin of history. This is why I refuse to discuss membership and why I threw away my Scottish Rite Membership Fundraiser (sorry, M.W. Bro. Ridlon).

Freemasonry is rich with its own past and malleable as children's clay. It will be, some day hence, a new institution reborn in a new image by the hands of new men. For my order I fear not death for I know it will long outlast me, never as it was, but always as it will be. So I charge all who care to listen, give neither thought nor time to the supposed membership problem. Turn all of your attention to your Brothers, make a family of them and be kind to one another at all times. The day may come when each lodge does not own its own hall, but Freemasonry is not a building, is it not a ritual, it is you and your Brothers. Make it what you will.

"So what." I agree. Better that my esoteric Brethren spend their time teaching the esoteric arts than worrying about what Freemasonry never was: membership counts. If there are any Maine-area esotericists, give me a shout I know of two lodges where your thoughts might find friends.


10 March 2007

Scottish Rite Secret Master Degree

An officer from the Yates Lodge of Perfection, the first of the four Scottish Rite bodies here in Portland, contacted me today to confirm my participation in the 4th degree of the Scottish Rite (Secret Master). This degree was rewritten a few years ago to be a preview of Scottish Rite degrees a new brother is likely to see. It previews the 8th (Intendant of the Building), 12th (Grand Master Architect), 16th (Prince of Jerusalem), 18th (Knight of the Rose Croix or H.R.D.M.), 23rd (Chief of the Tabernacle), 26th (Prince of Mercy), 31st (Grand Inspector Inquisitor General) and 32nd (Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret). At least that is my understand of things based on reading the background, set direction and lines.

I am not particularly in love with the writing in this degree. The first few exchanges in the first scene are not awe inspiring. The modern language also puts me off a bit, but that is probably imprinting from the Craft Lodge. I was really excited to receive this email, because it is the first time a close friend from Deering and I are going to work in a Scottish Rite degree together. I really enjoy doing ritual with him and I am so excited to have a chance to get up on stage with and work in a stage degree. There is so much to like about the Scottish Rite, and this is one of those many things.

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09 March 2007

More Scottish Rite History

The book Chuck Ridlon loaned me about the History of the Scottish Rite has been incredibly interesting. I have read almost the whole thing already. While I was dimly aware of the Cerneau Scottish Rite from the history contained in the Folger Manuscript book by Bro. S. Brent Morris, I had no idea just how deep the schism cut. Our present disputes and disagreements in Freemasonry are quite simple by comparison. This dispute went on for quite some time, even past the Union of 1867, and appears to be in the process of being resurrected today (see Joseph Cerneau Another View).

Perhaps these are merely the birthing pains for a generation of great and esteemed brethren like the famous Josiah H. Drummond and Killian H. Van Rensselaer? Unlike our interior and exterior detractors, I see a fraternity filled with many good men of varying gifts.

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06 March 2007

AccuRev Shines Again

When I started as a developer, there was really no such thing as "connected" development. The environments I wrote code in were often astounded by tools as primitive as RCS, so "disconnected" development was beyond imagination. At DeLorme we used Visual SourceSafe for many years. It was a great tool for small team development and worked well for us until our level of concurrent development skated right past its capabilities. We had a heck of a time managing disconnected development owing to the manner in which VSS was tightly coupled to file sharing. We tried a number of packages, such as Source Off-Site, but they never quite caught on here (no idea why).

I often work like mad on flights to and from professional conferences. For some reason being away from every distraction is a perfect environment for me to design and prototype or just work through thorny code. At the last Microsoft Professional Developer's Conference (PDC'05), I was coding up a storm for our new GIS importer architecture for what would become XMap 5.0. Even with all of the disconnected editing support in Visual Studio 2003, the experience was still unpleasant. VSS kept raising up and getting in the way. When I found a low-level problem, delegating it to a gifted developer back in the office meant a difficult update in the hotel room.

On Sunday, I was sitting on an airplane working on the new architecture for our GIS exporter module when I ran into a problem in a low-level string library we maintain. Just like the PDC trip, I wanted to delegate this back to the office so the unit tests would be updated to check this case at every build. I patched the problem and sent the email off to someone back at the office. Now AccuRev had a chance to really shine. I kept my changes to my private workspace, allowing that developer to test out my particular case without promoting my unstable code to the integration build (win #1). When he had made the changes to the string library and it passed unit testing and the integration build, I threw my temporary changes away (win #2) and brought his changes down with a single click (win #3). Everything built as perfectly here in San Antonio, Texas as it did in Yarmouth, Maine (win #4). Now I am able to work on some ideas I picked up at the conference with a nice, clean build (win #5). The very heart and soul of disconnected development.

AccuRev is a great product. It managed to both facilitate our processes and improve them without a big religious conversion associated with other development tools.

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03 March 2007

Freemasonry and Dissent

An esteemed older Brother invited me for dinner some time ago. I had no idea what he wanted to talk about when I accepted. On the appointed night we met for dinner and while seated at a quiet table he got right to the point: should Freemasons be able to criticize Grand Lodge government in blogs. This was never something I seriously questioned: Yes! Actually, the answer is a little more complex...

I recognize that there is an absolute requirement in all of our discourse that we maintain a certain level of mutual respect and love, yet when we say "...harmony being the strength and support of all societies, more especially ours..." it is not meant to stifle all forms disagreement. If that were true, we ought to be ejecting One Day Partisans left and right without regard for whether they are for or against. Then who would remain to participate in our meetings?

We two talked for some time about the matter at hand. He outlining the authoritarian position common to his generation, which he imagined was acquired from their participation in hierarchical institutions. He would be more inclined to release his personal opinions to fully exist within the structure of his lodge, District, Grand Lodge and so forth. It is, essentially, a chain-of-command approach. I eventually realized that while my generation apparently believes in the right of individual conscience, my own position was based much further back in history.

Portland Lodge No. 1, chartered in 1769, included both Loyalists and Patriots, or rebels depending on your point of view, and managed to meet during the American Revolution with officers of mixed political affiliation. Two Brethren, with passions inflamed, nearly came to blows in the street, yet still met in lodge together. Freemasonry in Maine is positively drowning in Civil War buffs. Just try asking a Freemason who is a Civil War enthusiast, "Is it really true that Freemasons on opposite sides of the line really helped each other?" Make sure your chair is comfortable because the discourse can positively go on for hours.

Is the censoring of Tim Bryce a more intense debate than the Revolution? Is the United Grand Lodge of America more divisive than the Civil War? I defy any reasonable Freemason to argue this position; it is preposterous! The current debates are so incredibly minor compared to the debates of our Brethren before us that if we cannot tolerate these, then, my Brothers, we are not Freemasons at all. If we cannot safeguard dissent over these minor issues, then what we have today is less than a shadow of the great Fraternity of our forefathers. We would then be but children play acting in the attire of our parents.

I do not believe that. I believe that what we have can survive this and though we may occasionally loose our way, as it appears the Grand Master of Florida has, we will find it. I place my trust in the essential goodness of these men and their ability to resolve this embarrassing situation.

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Scottish Rite History

I have been a member of the Scottish Rite for only a few years, since February of 2005. From the very beginning the richness and drama of the degrees appealed to me. Even as a candidate I was forever hanging out in back with the cast to see the world behind the current. I had not yet capped my Scottish Rite Degrees with the Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret (32nd degree) when I was already in the cast.

I acted as The Guide in the new Secret Master (4th degree), which was a great introduction. A good Masonic friend, Wor. Bro. Andy Haslam of South Portland, acted in all of the scenes with me as Hiram. We had a great time together with lots of laughs. The best part about Scottish Rite degrees is the stress relief of the curtain closing. In Blue Lodge Freemasonry there is no break. The degree work starts and you are in front of everyone for up to two hours. In the 4th degree we had a curtain close every ten minutes, allowing us to relax and prepare for the next scene and laugh at our mistakes. We repeated the degree once more the following year and now it is scheduled for May 2007 with myself and Bro. Chris DiSotto, another good friend. You can bet we will have a great time.

I was really brought into the fold with my work as Zerubbabel in the Prince of Jerusalem (16th degree). I finally had the full Scottish Rite back stage experience with a big cast, makeup, lots of lines and a generally great time. The same Brothers I knew to be somewhat stiff and boring at lodge really opened up at the Scottish Rite. It was more fun than I can say. Since the beards are single use affairs, applied masterfully by R.W. Bro. Jack Gray of Portland, I kept mine on when the young guys got together and went into town.

Now I am a regular in the 4th and 16th degrees and will be becoming active in one of the Scottish Rite bodies, if possible. In an effort to learn more about the Scottish Rite and its structure M.W. Bro. Chuck Ridlon has loaned me his copy of A History of the Supreme Council by Newbury and Williams. The book is quite enjoyable and has an entire section on a man named Henry Andrew Francken. Time for a little genealogy research!

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02 March 2007

Crazy Cell Phone

In general, I am pretty cheap where cell phones are concerned. We all have the pay-as-you-go service from Virgin Mobile USA which costs as little as $15 per quarter (Tandy and our oldest). I use my phone a bit more than that, nonetheless my rates are quite low. When I am out of time; I am out of time. No huge bill at the end of the month.

Anyhow, the girls bought me the Slice by UTstarcom (Phone Scoop) for Christmas. When I first received the phone it was great. My old slider, which I had for two years, was wearing out terribly and it was time for an upgrade. The phone is, however, possessed by gremlins! I lock the phone every time I put the darn thing in my pocket, but nonetheless as I pull it out some button calls 911!! You can imagine my horror the first time it occurred. It happens so often now, that I've gotten accustomed to the experience and just push the terminate call button. I struggled to love the phone, heck it has a great Texas Hold'em Poker game, until...

On Thursday I was sitting in my office working when I heard two people talking quietly. I looked toward the door and found it closed. There was no one standing outside my office. Suddenly, I realized the people are in my pocket! I fished the darn phone out and there was an active call with two people chatting about something. I was so upset I stabbed the terminate call button and was ready to throw the thing in the trash can. Just sitting at my desk and bumping into my chapstick or pocket knife was enough for it to engage. I pressed the call history button to see what the number was and the phone responded, "Phone is locked, press * to unlock." Whatever...

I am going to buy another cell phone before I wind up charged with littering for throwing this one out of a window. I took today off since we were pretty sure it would be a snow day and it would let me spend time with the girls before heading to GITA 2007. While Circuit City ineptly prepared Tandy's new iMac, they sent it home without its power cable, we sought refuge in the Maine Mall drinking iced chai, steamed milk and looking at the cell phones. The Mall was a ghost town, so the young bucks in the cell phone kiosks were hungry and aggressive. After so long with Virgin Mobile USA, who have been great for us, I just could not bring myself to sign a contract. It seemed so...binding and restrictive...so final! On the other hand, Motorola KRZR was incredibly sexy to a gadget freak like myself. I must have touched every cell phone in the entire Maine Mall, which is really saying something, In the end, I went home still bearing my stupid old possessed-by-gremlins cell phone.

I took a closer look at what Virgin Mobile USA could offer me to replace this evil Slice. While I had Bluetooth on my required list this morning, I've since realized that the minimum $100 bump in pricing is probably not worth the convenience. Actually, I am totally sure. I am thinking about taking the easy way out and going with the Slider Sonic, a natural upgrade to the Slider which served me well for two years.

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