4 thoughts on “Hello world!

  • Masonry and Courage
    By
    David R. Sandy, PM
    Freemasonry teaches us to practice the four Cardinal Virtues which are Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice. While these virtues have been written about for thousands of years, they are as relevant today as when Plato taught them. This article zeroes in on fortitude which is another word for courage.
    An examination of courage is incomplete without also examining “fear”. Indeed these two are linked. Our Masonic lessons teach us that this virtue is “equally distant from rashness and cowardice.” This phrase tells us that courage is not fearlessness. Neither is being afraid the single mark of a coward. The fearless man is reckless and foolish, while the man who lets fear conquer him is a coward. It is the man who faces down his fears who is courageous and has fortitude.
    Courage is a virtue that is difficult to simply define. Dictionary definitions may couple courage with intrepid boldness and daring. If we look closely at courage, we find that, there are different types. Here are a few for us to consider and examples of what courage looks like in today’s world:
    The first that comes to mind is Physical Courage which we also call bravery or valor. This is personified by the soldier charging across the battlefield or the firefighter who enters the burning building. Those who perform heroic deeds are well known for their physical courage. Freemason Audie Murphy received the Medal of Honor for his heroism. Hollywood movies and best selling books shower us with examples of physical courage or the lack thereof. Consider the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, James Bond, Harry Potter and John Wayne. In the Holy Scriptures we read about David and Goliath. All are examples of physical courage. Yet possessing physical courage alone is no guarantee of a virtuous man. Didn’t, Jesse James. Al Capone, John Dillinger and Darth Vader have physical courage?
    Although many Freemasons are soldiers, policemen and firefighters, a large number are not called upon to guard the perimeter, risk their lives to save and protect others or defend liberty and property at home and overseas. To understand this virtue more deeply and appreciate its significance in our lives more thoroughly, we must make a closer examination of the other forms of courage.
    Perseverance is the courage to be determined or steadfast; to stick with a purpose and to be discontent with merely holding ground. It means continually striving to move forward, even in times of failure and setback. Our Brother, President Theodore Roosevelt speaks of this kind of courage in his Citizen in a Republic speech where he describes the man in the arena, The man ”whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, (the man) who spends himself in a worthy cause.”
    Every Mason faces obstacles in life. He has the choice to conquer the obstacle or to give up and quit. Undeniably, giving up on mastering a video game is not the same as giving up on fighting cancer. So what does perseverance look like? By considering this question, an answer emerges: Does it take perseverance to increase Lodge attendance, serve as care-giver to an aged or handicapped parent or spouse, provide food baskets to the needy, convince a Lodge membership to raise their dues, raise an autistic child or start up a business?
    Moral courage is the ability to face ethical challenges. This is the Mason who holds onto his convictions when his values are put to the test. When a Mason puts ethics into action, he is showing moral courage. Also, when he stands up for a moral principle, when others are standing aside. While others may choose an aloof detachment from the issues, the Mason with moral courage takes a stand. This is not merely whistle blowing, which is a relatively quick action. Moral courage involves ongoing integrity exercised with poise, and serving as a role model for others to emulate.
    Social Courage – This is the quality of being comfortable in our own skin, standing tall, being the first to offer a handshake and greeting. Not being a slave to conformance to the expectations of others. Being one’s self at the risk of social disapproval. The ability to express opinions without checking to see if they are in line with others’ preferences. Standing firm against destructive peer pressure. Being the man who steps up and stands out when it is so comfortable to sit back and blend in. Social courage is speaking one’s mind, even though their voice is quivering.
    Another element of this multi-faceted virtue is Spiritual Courage. The obvious example of its practice is a Mason’s welcoming of the Grim Tyrant, but there is more. Consider the spiritual courage needed when explaining death to a young child. How about the courage to have faith? Or the fortitude to let go of needing to control all things in our lives.
    What does spiritual courage look like in a fragmented world, divided by sectarianism, intolerance, hatred and greed? Imagine the Mason who has friends who practice a faith other than his own. Isn’t a Mason taught to practice sharing rather than hoarding? Consider the Mason who asks questions about other religions and is tolerant of other men’s beliefs.
    The final component of this subject is Intellectual Courage, which is the willingness to face new ideas and to solve problems. Also, the willingness to be curious, check facts, ask questions and even make mistakes. This is the courage it takes to do something, even if it might be incorrect. Said another way, it is risk-taking daring and decisiveness.
    The Mason with intellectual courage takes as long as necessary to gain a thorough understanding of a subject and is not satisfied with a superficial overview. He listens intently and considers other’s points of view. He seeks out opposing positions on issues. The Mason with intellectual courage is not afraid to say, “Can you please explain that to me again?”
    Facing new ideas is generally coupled with change. Throughout history, Freemasons have been at the forefront of political and social changes. Freemasonry provided an atmosphere for free thought, where intellectual courage could be exercised. Those earlier Brothers of ours tested their ideas in the safety of their Lodges, then took great personal risks by sharing their innovations with the world. They introduced new governments, new philosophies and new ways of living. What was accomplished by Masons then, can be accomplished by Masons today through intellectual courage.
    Indeed, our Masonic lesson on fortitude provides us with a lot to contemplate.
    In closing, consider this thoughtful truth , appropriate not only in this discussion of fortitude, but also to our human condition in general, as men and as Masons:
    Regardless of where in life we are challenged and despite all consequences for the risks we accept in following our convictions or overcoming life’s obstacles, we must each decide on the path we take. The courageous actions of others may inspire us, instruct us and offer examples for emulation, still the courage to act on our decisions comes from within and each of us must look into our soul and then apply it.

    David R. Sandy
    Past Master
    Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 116
    A. F. & A. M. of Maryland

  • The Holy Saints John
    By
    David R. Sandy

    References to “The Holy Saints John” and “A Lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem” are among the first things we may recall from our earliest experiences as Freemasons. We learned that they were Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. We may have pondered their association with Freemasonry and how it came to be.

    King Solomon, Hiram Abiff, Hiram of Tyre and others are the integral characters in Masonic teachings, and their association is well known to most Masons through our ritual and lectures. Conversely, there is little mentioned about the Holy Saints John. Perhaps this is an intentional omission, meant to excite our curiosity and encourage us to investigate on our own.

    Many eminent Masonic scholars have written much on this subject, and their works are a wealth of insight into Masonic history and philosophy. This essay should be considered a brief overview of the connection between the Masonic Fraternity and two of the men it reveres. Let us examine.

    Saint John the Baptist
    Saint John the Baptist was the son of a priest, Zachary, and Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth was an older woman when he was born, and the angel Gabriel foretold his birth. It is likely that he was born southwest of Jerusalem, and lived in the wilderness as a hermit until he was about 30 years old. He began to preach on the shores of the Jordan River and drew great crowds who came to listen to him speak about the evils of the times, penitence and perform baptisms. He may have been the first to refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God.” He encouraged many of his followers to follow Jesus and among them were Andrew and John, He was considered a dissident, imprisoned by Herod and beheaded upon the request of Salome, who was instigated by her mother.

    Saint John the Evangelist
    Saint John the Evangelist was the brother of James and cousin of Jesus. His mother, Salome (not the same Salome who had John the Baptist beheaded) was the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. He and James were fishermen, and among the first to follow Jesus. They held high rank in the early Christian Church. Since about 200 A.D., scholars have debated whether all attributed to him might be the work of three men, John the Apostle, John of Patmos and John the Presbyter.

    Patron Saints
    During the Middle Ages, it was a common practice for trades people to choose a saint of the church and looked to them for protection. Frequently, patron saints have been selected because there was a perceived connection between the saints and the guilds. For example, among the London tradesmen, St. Peter, St. Crispin, St. Matthew, and more were chosen by the tailors, physicians, fisherman and others who identified with these Saints.

    Consider the possible connection our earlier Brothers may have felt toward Saint Barbara, believed a protector against being struck by lightning or suffering a sudden and unforeseen death. Whether it was being struck by lightning when working on a tower, crushed by a tumbling stone or falling off a scaffold, their occupation subjected our ancient Brethren to these risks regularly.

    There is plenty of historical evidence supporting the selection of Saint John the Baptist as the patron saint of Masonry. What about Saint John the Evangelist?

    Many distinguished Masonic scholars have pondered this question, and exhaustive research has been devoted to finding an answer to when Saint John the Evangelist was adopted by the Craft. Dr. Albert Gallatin Mackey claims that during the 16th century, Saint John the Baptist was considered the sole patron of Freemasonry and that some time later Saint John the Evangelist was added. No one knows for sure, but in records dating to the earliest days of Speculative Masonry there is clear indication that Saint John the Evangelist became attached to Masonry. For example, the archives from 1726, of the London Lodge, that met at the Swan and Rummer Tavern. These records indicate the election of officers for six-month terms, and the installations were on June 24 (St. John the Baptist Day) and December 27 (St. John the Evangelist Day).

    There is no certainty to the reason for the choice of either Saint John, by Masonry, but some of the Masonic similarities could offer an explanation. Saint John the Baptist maintained his inflexibility and fidelity to his trust, even to death. In him, we see an example to emulate. An example of freedom, purity, a zealous attachment to his principles, and a fervent desire to benefit all people. Saint John the Evangelist taught brotherly love, subduing passions, charity, and aid to widows and orphans. Of all the Apostles, he is considered the closest and most loyal to Christ. Saint John was there at the crucifixion where Christ entrusted him with caring for His mother, Mary.

    Another connection comes from the opening words in the Gospel of Saint John, which reads very closely to and sounds very much Masonic.

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…” – John 1:1-5, KJV

    Note the connection between the “Word” and “Light” and divinity. It seems natural that our earlier Brothers saw the similarity. They were good choices, nonetheless, for the teachings of Freemasonry are undeniably embodied in the lives, teachings and work of these two great men.

    A Lodge of the Holy Saints John at Jerusalem
    Physically there is no Lodge so named in the city of Jerusalem. Many explanations of the origin and meaning of this phrase abound. A “Lodge of the Holy Saints John” is understandable. There are many Lodges named St. John’s Lodge. The profound qualifier “at Jerusalem” makes us wonder why.

    One obvious explanation is that this was the location of King Solomon’s temple. A more insightful suggestion is that the phrase comes from the name Jerusalem, which means “The City of Peace.” Ironically, the city has historically symbolized peace, contentment, and harmony.
    This explanation is given by the distinguished Freemason, Doctor Joseph Fort Newton:

    “It was wholly natural for Freemasons of that period, being skilled craftsmen themselves, to imagine that St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist were in turn craftsmen of the highest skills; and since all craftsmen must surely belong to a Lodge somewhere, where else would these skilled artisans have belonged but to an ideal imaginary Lodge at Jerusalem. ”

    Conclusion
    While we say that Freemasonry has existed from time immemorial, it is highly unlikely that either of the Saints John were members. They were born and lived in a period between the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the Middle Ages. Notwithstanding, they assuredly both had other higher callings.

    Why we dedicate our Blue Lodges to these two Saints and celebrate them each year seems to be because these humble men were living examples of the principles of Freemasons. In their words and actions they demonstrated a reverence for and devotion to God, and they lived purpose driven lives, working daily to make themselves better men, and thereby the world a better place.

    References
    The Holy Bible, King James Version.
    The Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition. 1911.
    The Philalethes, April 1992.
    Coil, HenryWilson, Coil ‘s Masonic Encyclopedia. Macoy Publishing 1996.
    Mackey, Albert G. The History of Freemasonry. 1898.
    Mackey, Albert G. An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. 1917.
    Newton, Joseph Fort, The Builders, A Study and Story of Masonry, The Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, IA: 1914.

  • To Polish and Adorn the Mind
    By
    David R. Sandy, PM

    Technology is making us less intelligent. There was a time when people were able to absorb and retain large amounts of information and knowledge. In many cases, technology has taken away the need and the desire to do so. When a piece of information can be stored and retrieved without using our brains, we become easily distracted, our attention spans are lessened, we experience diminished capacity for memory, and we can suffer academically.
    Technology bombards us with an endless stream of distractions. Hypertext is a major culprit. These are the colorful little links that are peppered throughout online articles. They make our brains work harder than they would otherwise, and the result is less brain power for processing what is read, i.e., diminished comprehension.
    Our attention span is further lessened by the conditioning we get from Hollywood. Notice how the average length of a movie shot is now about 2-3 seconds!
    There have been studies of the body’s release of melatonin, the hormone that has a significant role in regulating the internal clock. Devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets emit a blue-enriched light that has disruptive effects on its release, causing less restful sleep.
    Other studies have identified a growing concern for what is being called “Internet addiction.” The stereotypical internet addicts are notably gamers who shun food and sleep in order to play for days on end. Spending a lot of time on the internet can cause changes in the brain that mimic those caused by drug and alcohol dependence. Abnormalities appear in select areas of the brain, thereby disrupting emotions, attention span, and decision making.
    The hippocampus is an area of the brain involved with navigation and memory. Those who rely on GPS to navigate have less activity in this portion of the brain. Researchers have found that the use of spatial memory and using visual cues to remember routes and develop cognitive maps can help deter problems with memory loss in later life.
    So, what can Freemasonry offer in this digital age to help assist mankind against the detrimental side effects of living with technology? What can Freemasonry offer to men living in a world that devalues memorization and debases the benefits of mentally retaining useful information and maxims?
    Over the last four centuries, Freemasonry has survived and flourished for multiple reasons. The main reason is that it finds a way to maintain its relevance by filling voids and providing needs for mankind. We see this in each century, and it is as significant today as it was 300 years ago.
    In the Fellowcraft Degree, the candidate symbolically negotiates a winding stairway consisting of three, five, and seven steps. Why winding stairs? Why not a straight staircase? Perhaps this is because a winding staircase can be a metaphor for human life. We can’t see very much of what lies ahead. Just as things are gradually revealed to us in life, so are the lessons of the degree incrementally revealed to the candidate. As he moves up the stairs, his attention is called to the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences. Curiously, there is little explanation in the ritual regarding six of these seven subjects and no effort to bring their significance to the candidate.
    Yet, after the degree has been conferred, the Candidate is charged with, “The study of the liberal arts, that valuable branch of education, which tends so effectually to polish and adorn the mind, is earnestly recommended to your consideration.” That charge is telling us to continue to be students, to be learners. Our edification should never stop, and we should continue our Masonic passage and journey of self-improvement. We symbolize this goal in our Lodges with the rough and perfect ashlars and by the Masonic agenda of making good men better.
    In our journey to become better men, we must work diligently to understand the world that surrounds us. To the modern Freemason, the study of the seven liberal arts and sciences can serve as an appropriate allegory for a life of self-improvement and mental growth. Although the soul’s path to virtue is not easily navigated, the study of the seven liberal arts and sciences does help to point the way.
    Reflect on how these classics can be applied to Freemasonry and life:
    When we consider Grammar, remember that in earlier times, grammar meant Latin grammar. It was not the wearisome process of determining the parts of speech; instead, it was the art of writing. Grammar is the art of producing well-written compositions and skillful speaking. Studying great poetry and oratorical works enables one to write and speak elegantly.
    Generally, Logic is the art and science of precise and factual thinking. By practicing logic, we process and analyze inputs of information or data, culling out the erroneous, deceptive, false, and contradictory. Through logic, one sifts through incoming material or evidence, identifying fallacious arguments and statements, then systematically removing untruths and contradictions, thereby yielding authentic, honest, and trusted knowledge.
    Rhetoric is an art of communication, either oral or written. Through rhetoric, a speaker or author endeavors to persuade, apprise, or motivate their target audience. Rhetoric uses facts derived from the practice of Logic and presents them skillfully through the use of Grammar. The result is a persuasive argument based on truth.
    Arithmetic is the science of real (non-negative) numbers, their properties, computation, and manipulation. Arithmetic deals with integers, rational numbers, and remainders after division.
    No further enumeration on Geometry is needed here other than to remember that it is the Greek idealization of Geometry that has passed over into Freemasonry.
    During the time of Pythagoras, the study of Music was viewed as mathematical in nature. In a much earlier time, man discovered that the lengths of the strings of his musical instruments resulted in different sounds. Shortening or increasing the lengths of the strings would raise or lower the pitch. He further discovered that joining several strings together would produce sounds especially pleasing to the ear, i.e. harmony. Further discoveries revealed that the ratio of the lengths of the strings corresponded to whole numbers. Through music, the soul feels pleasure in counting without realizing it is counting.
    Freemasonry has venerated Astronomy nearly as much as it has Geometry. In all cultures, astronomy is the science of the heavens and is intimately connected with religious tradition. The sun, moon, comets, stars, the ecliptic, and meridian have places in our Masonic lessons.
    The Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences signify education, wisdom, and learning. We should better comprehend the use of music, plays, and art in our lives. We should use mathematics and geometry. We need to expand our vocabulary and practice writing. As we persevere in learning throughout our lives, we will become better men in Masonry.
    In closing, let us remember that Freemasonry promotes repetition and we must not lose sight of its power. The repetition of learning and reciting ritual has a latent purpose. It exercises our minds and facilitates learning. The key to knowledge and learning is repetition. Repetition readies the mind for further light. We will not notice and benefit from all the beauties of Freemasonry if we do not develop our minds. The Masonic experience is designed to distinguish the Mason from the profane.
    The repeating of affirmations leads to beliefs. When beliefs develop into convictions, things start happening.

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