April Message - 2014

posted May 4, 2014, 5:47 PM by McKinley Lodge
t was one of those evenings when friends start dropping by, and the living room becomes a beehive of conversation, several persons talking at the same time and on entirely unrelated subjects.

And, as it almost always happens when Brethren who are close friends are chatting, the Lodge was mentioned. Someone asked "Are you going to the Lodge tomorrow night?"

One woman, seated in an odd chair, where she was part of two conversations, turned her attention from the fireside and looked at the man who had addressed the inquiry to one of the other men in his group. The woman was a relative of one couple present, a resident from another city.

Frankly she addressed the men "I want you to tell me something. My husband (a man known to all present) has been a member of a Masonic Lodge since we were married, 18 years ago. I have never known him to go to Lodge. We have gone through some rugged times, especially in the Depression days, and there have been times when a dollar was the difference between a meal and an empty stomach. We would cut expenses. But he always paid his Lodge dues. I sometimes wonder why. I sometimes wondered what the tie was that was so strong he would never think of becoming delinquent in his Lodge; yet, I also wondered, why he never attended."

There was no immediate answer. Finally one of the Brethren ventured "I'm sure I can't answer the question to your satisfaction. There is something about Masonry that is a challenge to a man. He knows deep in his heart Masonry offers him a formula, a guiding light which, if applied conscientiously, would make of him the kind of man he truly aspires to be. I know your husband. I know that he is a Mason. His membership is not in the city where you have lived most of your married life. Your husband is like many Masons who become absorbed in business, move out of the immediate influence of their own Lodge, and with the best of intentions, never get around to visiting Lodges in the new community. He gets out of the habit. Always, though, back in his mind he has the intention of someday getting back into the swing. You asked why he paid his dues and never attended. He has faith in Masonry. He realizes his own negligence. He knows that withing Masonry is the path he would follow in his relationship to his fellow man. I think to him his Lodge is sort of a life buoy, anchored there; something secure and promising. He's swimming around, but he knows that when he gets tired, he can reach out and find a haven. He hasn't deserted the Lodge. He's just out of habit."


Brethren and friends,

I found this story published in one of our old Temple Topics. I found it particularly interesting because I've pondered the very same question numerous times over the years. There are so many members of McKinley Lodge that I've never had the pleasure to meet in person and I've wondered why these Brethren continue, year after year, to pay their dues and not attend Lodge. From a purely practical standpoint it doesn't make any sense (to me at least) to pay for something you're not using...something you're not getting value out of.

And that's where this story showed me that I may have had an entirely too narrow view on the subject. What I failed to see or appreciate is that Freemasonry does have value to members who don't attend our meetings. It has value because of what the organization gives to the individual - a set of moral standards by which to improve one's self.  It has value because of the life-long friendships - friendships which transcend the issue of attending or not attending business meetings. And finally, it has value because the Lodge is always there for you - a place you can always turn to for assistance when you need it, a place you can seek comfort and support in times of sorrow, and a place where Brethren will genuinely share in celebrating the joyful times in your life.

This story has helped me to better understand the value of Freemasonry and so I hope that by sharing it, you may also learn something.

And to the Brethren who haven't attended Lodge for a long time, I hope that in reading this, you feel a renewed connection to the Craft and it validates why you've retained your membership throughout the years. Know that at McKinley Lodge you'll always have an open door, a welcoming smile and a warm handshake to greet you.

Fraternally,

Ryan Mayrand, P.: M.:
Worshipful Master



Senior Warden's Message

I was recently asked a question pertaining to Freemasonry and religion, and it got me thinking that those of you reading this might get asked similar questions from time to time. I hope the following thoughts might help you to answer those questions in a positive and helpful manner.

The question could be as simple and straightforward as “How can you be both a Mason and a _______ (fill in the blank with a religion, i.e. Christian, Jew, etc.), aren’t they both religions?” Or, if they know a little about our organization they say that “After all, Freemasonry requires a belief in Deity, uses biblical references in its ritual, has holy writings open on an altar, and includes prayer in almost everything it does. How is that not a religion?” Further, one has only to look at the exam that Masons must pass for each degree to understand to some extent where this confusion comes from. Near the beginning of each exam, the Mason is asked “What religious precepts are reinforced in Masonry?” To demonstrate his understanding of the degree he has recently attained, the Mason’s answer should be something along the lines of: “1) to invoke the blessing of Deity before any great or important undertaking, 2) to regard all men for their quality of character rather than their outward appearance, and 3) to be charitable by contributing to the relief of those less fortunate than ourselves.” None of this is by any means secret; we want those outside of the organization to know that this is part of what we believe. Note, though, that we are reinforcing these principles that have presumably already been taught through the Masons own religion.

I dare say most religions would also espouse these principals, but there are definitely ways we differ from the religions we encourage Masons to be part of.

When I do I try to explain that Freemasonry it is not a religion, I point out that while we share many of the principals taught in formal religions, we do not have a doctrine or dogma like those at are central to most faiths. The most important of those doctrines probably have to do with eternal life. While we believe in eternal life, we do not have a specific way of attaining it. Rather, we encourage each Mason to find that path through the ways of the religion that they subscribed to before they were a Mason, be that Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, or whatever. Specific doctrines like Christian baptism or communion, Islamic pilgrimages and the like are not part of Masonry. And, while we use some stories and lessons from the Christian Bible, they are used in a metaphorical sense - to teach lessons of morality and good behavior, not history or doctrine.

In point of fact, while Freemasonry is not a religion itself, it is probably one of the biggest encouragers of religion in general. We want the Masons to be active in their places of worship and to be leaders in those organizations. I hope these thoughts may be of assistance to you if you are posed questions about Freemasonry and religion.

Fraternally,

Chris Goodwin
Senior Warden




Chaplain's Message


One generation plants the trees under which another takes its ease.

– Chinese Proverb

Brethren,

Today, I have been frost sowing wildflower seed. This is not complicated to do. It is a simple
technique which mimics Nature. Bring together a broad blend of flower seed—annual and
perennial, tall and short—and mix them together. I use an old Folger’s coffee container. (My
grandfather used to use a brown paper lunch sack.) Dump the seeds in, shake them up, and
broadcast them by hand on top of the snow—or frozen ground—where you want them to grow.

No need to do complicated bed preparation, fertilizing, or to set up irrigation. You simply leave
the area alone to sort itself out. What grows, grows. It is how Nature does it. And the diversity!
One exciting result of frost sowing is that you never know how it will look in six months; six
years. The only sure outcome is that butterflies, bees and birds will use the area and, in time,
the soil will benefit. I have used this technique for many years but today, it occurred to me, that
frost sowing is very Masonic.

Every day, in each encounter we have with others, there is an opportunity to sow goodness.
As Masons we should always be modeling integrity, uprightness, honesty, justice, and
perseverance. Charity and kindness and compassion for those less fortunate are also in our
creed. There is no way for us to know the outcome of, for example, sharing a commiserating
smile and comment of support for the harried mother in a grocery store who’s three year old is
having a tantrum. We cannot know the result of stopping to jumpstart a battered car belonging
to a young man engulfed by piercings and tattoos; swimming in oversized belt-less pants.

Equally, we cannot know what happens if we judgmentally sniff at the mother and child or drive
by the stranded young man.

My prayer is that, as Masons, we always choose to sow wildflowers—not thistles; to sow
goodness—not discouragement. We do this for the benefit of others, for those who come after
us, even though we may never reap the results.

Fraternally,

Tom Hill
Chaplain




Social Committee Report

Planning for the re-dedication is in full swing with the Social Committee. At our last meeting we began discussing some of the finer details of the event. The public events we have hosted this year and will host have an important side effect. That is, spreading awareness of our organization to non-mason friends, family, and members of the community. This not only helps us find good potential members but will also have a positive impact on attendance for our fund raising events. Please continue to promote our events to those you know that may be interested - the vast majority of events are open to the public.


The next McKinley Lodge social event after the re-dedication will be a Brewer’s game on July 13th. We'll provide more information on reserving tickets, etc. in the coming months.

 
Fraternally,

Zachary Fleischmann
Social Committee Chairman



Fundraising Committee Report


The "Scrips" talked about last month are coming along great. We plan to have them available by the time you receive this. Please contact me (Jim Stone) if you have questions as to how they work.

Most of our last Fundraising Committee meeting was spent working on the details of the "Winter Bazaar". Scheduled for Nov. 14th 2014. This event seems to have everyone excited, and is really starting to take shape. If anyone is interested in purchasing a booth to sell merchandise, please contact Micah Anderson at 414-213-4667.

We have a Fish Fry coming up on Friday April 4th 2014 at 5pm. It will be $12 for adults ($11 with a donation of a non-perishable food item), $11 for seniors ($10 with a donation of a non-perishable food item), and $7 for children. Please spread the word about the event. We look forward to seeing you there!

Lastly, if you haven't already received a letter from the Worshipful Master regarding the Master's Appeal, please let me know. The Social Committee is planning many fun and exciting events to make our Centennial year special. The Centennial Celebration taking place on June 21st, in particular, will be of special interest to you. In order to make these events possible, we're looking to collect funds from our membership. Please prayerfully consider making a donation to the Lodge as part of the Master's Appeal - your contributions will truly make a difference.
 
Fraternally,

Jim Stone
Fundraising Committee Chairman



Trustees Report

I'd like to start by thanking all of the organizations currently renting at the McKinley Masonic Center. Everyone has been helpful and understanding of our notes of correspondence located around the building. We appreciate your help with labeling of the lockers, cabinets, as well as for your assistance in cleaning out the refrigerator.

This is a big year for McKinley Lodge. The Lodge Trustees, several brethren, and myself have been working hard to clean, organize, and fix our building. You'll most likely see more notes popping up as labor to make the Lodge building the best it has ever looked before!

In order for the Lodge building to achieve this level of clean, we need your help. The biggest complaint we continue to receive from organizations is that organizations aren't cleaning up after themselves. Specifically, we would like your help with the following:

  • Putting furniture back into it's proper locations, in both lodge rooms, and dining rooms.
  • Wiping down counters and tables in  kitchens after food preparation and eating.
  • Sweeping/dry mopping, or vacuuming the floors if a mess is made (glitter being one of the biggest culprits).
  • Putting away belongings left out. For example, items left in the back corner of the large kitchen, items piled on cabinets, or items left out in locker rooms.

We're looking to keep all these areas clean, and your belongings secured. We're working hard at McKinley to market our building to outside renters. This turns a profit, and helps to keep costs reasonable. To do this, we need to look both clean and professional. It also keeps our items safe, and makes cleaning easier.

There's one last item I'd like to address...that being the rumor of rents going up. At this point everything will remain the same for the remainder of 2014. The Trustees and I are working to draft a new lease agreement for each of the organizations that currently meets at the McKinley Masonic Center. When the agreements are drafted, we'll sit down with the head of each organization to discuss. Let me add this. We have no intention of making large profits from our Masonic based organizations. We do however need to cover the cost of operating the building during each occupancy.

I have placed a comment/correspondence box outside of the library by the trustee bulletin board. Please use box to stay in touch with us.

Once again thank you for your cooperation.
 
Fraternally,

Jim Stone
Head Trustee



Masonic Lore

  • Benjamin Franklin laid the cornerstone of Independence Hall in Philadelphia while he was Grand Master of the State of Pennsylvania.
  • The first Grand Lodge of Masons in America was organized in Massachusetts on July 10, 1733.
  • The first Mason to have lived in American colonies is said to have been John Shene, Deputy Governor of West Jersey. He came to the colonies from Aberdeen, Scotland, where he was made a Mason in 1682, thirty-five years before the Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717.




The Rites of Manhood: Man's Need for Ritual
by Brett & Kate McKay


Does modern life ever feel excruciatingly flat to you? A bleak landscape devoid of layers, rhythm, interest, texture?

Are you ever haunted by the question “Is this all there is?”

Have you ever looked at an old photo and felt that the scene held such an inexplicable richness that it seemed you could practically step right into it?

The barren flatness of modern life is rooted in many things, including mindless consumerism, the absence of significant challenges, and the lack of shared values and norms, or even shared taboos to rebel against. But what is the solution?

Many would be quick to say faith, or philosophy, or relationships. All good answers.

But what is it that vivifies beliefs to the extent they can transform your perspective not simply for an hour on Sunday, but also in the mundane moments throughout your week? What can move an understanding of abstract truths from your mind into your very sinews? What can transform superficial ties with others into deep and meaningful bonds?

The answer I would suggest is ritual.

Our modern world is nearly devoid of rituals – at least in the way we traditionally think of them. Those that remain – such as ones that revolve around the holidays – have largely lost their transformative power and are often endured more than enjoyed, participated in as an obligatory going through of the motions. Ritual has today become associated with that which is rote, empty, meaningless.

Yet every culture, in every part of the world, in every era has engaged in rituals, suggesting they are a fundamental part of the human condition. Rituals have even been called our most basic form of technology – they are a mechanism that can change things, solve problems, perform certain functions, and accomplish tangible results. Necessity is the mother of invention, and rituals were born out of the clear-eyed perspective that life is inherently difficult and that unadulterated reality can paradoxically feel incredibly unreal. Rituals have for eons been the tools humans have used to release and express emotion, build their personal identity and the identity of their tribe, bring order to chaos, orient themselves in time and space, effect real transformations, and bring layers of meaning and texture to their lives. When rituals are stripped from our existence, and this fundamental human longing goes unsatisfied, restlessness, apathy, alienation, boredom, rootlessness, and anomie are the result.

What is Ritual?
According to Catherine Bell, professor of ritual studies and author of the preeminent textbook on the subject, ritual has been traditionally defined as an action that lacks a “practical relationship between the means one chooses to achieve certain ends.” For example, shaking hands when you meet someone can be considered a ritual as there is no real reason why grabbing another’s hand and shaking for a second or two should lead to acquaintanceship. It is a culturally-relative gesture; we might very well greet each other with a pat on the shoulder or even no physical contact at all. As another example, washing your hands to clean them is not a ritual since there exists a clear practical relationship between your action and the desired result. But if a priest splashes water on his hands to “purify” them, that’s a ritual, since the water is largely symbolic and not really meant to rid the hands of bacteria.

Bell lists six attributes of rituals:

  • Formalism: This is a quality rooted in contrast and how restrictive or expressive the accepted code of behavior is for a given event/situation. For example a backyard picnic is very casual and will not feel like a ritual because there are few guidelines for how one may express oneself. A very formal dinner, on the other hand, has a more limited range of accepted behaviors and thus can feel quite ritual-like. Bell argues that while we sometimes see formality as stuffy, since it curbs more spontaneous expression, formalized activities are not “necessarily empty or trivial” and “can be aesthetically as well as politically compelling, invoking what one analyst describes as ‘a metaphoric range of considerable power, a simplicity and directness, a vitality and rhythm.’ The restriction of gestures and phrases to a small number that are practiced, perfected, and soon quite evocatively familiar can endow these formalized activities with great beauty and grace.”
  • Traditionalism. Rituals are often framed as activities that carry on values and behaviors that have been in place since an institution’s creation. This link to the past gives the ritual power and authority and provides the participant with a sense of continuity. The ritual may simply harken to those who came before, as when university graduates don the gowns that were once typical everyday classroom wear for scholars, or it may actually seek to recreate a founding event – as in the American celebration of Thanksgiving.
  • Disciplined invariance. Often seen as one of the most defining features of ritual, this attribute involves “a disciplined set of actions marked by precise repetition and physical control.” Think of soldiers marching in drill step or the sit/stand/kneel pattern followed by Catholics during the course of a Mass. Disciplined invariance suppresses “the significance of the personal and particular moment in favor of the timeless authority of the group, its doctrines, or its practices,” and “subordinates the individual and the contingent to a sense of the encompassing and the enduring.”
  • Rule-governance. Rituals are often governed by a set of rules. Both war and athletics are examples of activities that can be quite ritual-like when their rules regulate what is and is not acceptable. Rules can both check and channel certain tensions; for example, the game of football channels masculine aggression into a form of ritualized and controlled violence. On occasion the rules fail to sufficiently check the tension that is always bubbling right at the surface, as when a chaotic brawl breaks out amongst players. That the game reflects a similar submerged tension within society at large is part of why the audience finds the ritual so compelling.
  • Sacral symbolism. Ritual is able to take ordinary or “profane” objects, places, parts of the body, or images, and transform them into something special or sacred. “Their sacrality,” Bell writes, “is the way in which the object is more than the mere sum of its parts and points to something beyond itself, thereby evoking and expressing values and attitudes associated with larger, more abstract, and relatively transcendent ideas.” Thus something like incense can be a mere mixture of plants and oils designed to perfume a room, or, when swung from a censer, can represent the prayer of the faithful ascending into heaven.
  • Performance. Performance is a particular kind of action – one that is done for an audience. A ritual always has an intended audience, even if that audience is God or oneself. Tom F. Driver, a professor of theology, argues that “performance…means both doing and showing.” It is not a matter of “show-and-tell, but do-and-show.” Human are inherently actors, who wish to see themselves as characters in a larger narrative, and desire the kind of drama inherent in every timeless tale. Rituals function as narrative dramas and can satisfy and release this need. In the absence of ritual, people resort to doing their “showing” on social media and creating their own drama – often through toxic relationships or substances.

The more of these attributes a behavior/event/situation invokes, the more different from everyday life and ritual-like it will seem. The fewer of these attributes present, the more casual and ordinary it will feel.

For a more simple definition of ritual, here’s one that works: thought + action. A ritual consists of doing something in your mind (and often feeling something in your heart), while simultaneously connecting it to doing something with your body.

Rituals fall into a wide variety of categories. Theorist Ronald Grimes lists 16 of them:
  • Rites of passage
  • Marriage rites
  • Funerary rites
  • Festivals
  • Pilgrimage
  • Purification
  • Civil ceremonies
  • Rituals of exchange (as in worshipers making sacrifices to the gods in hope of receiving blessings from the divine)
  • Worship
  • Magic
  • Healing rites
  • Interaction rites
  • Meditation rites
  • Rites of inversion (rituals of reversal, where violating cultural norms is temporarily allowed, as in men dressing like women)
  • Sacrifice
  • Ritual drama

The important thing to understand about rituals is that they are not limited to very big, very formal events. Rituals can in fact be large or small, private or public, personal or social, religious or secular, uniting or dividing, conformist or rebellious. Funerals, weddings, presidential inaugurations, church services, baptisms, fraternal initiations, and tribal rites of passage are all rituals. Handshakes, dates, greetings and goodbyes, tattoos, table manners, your morning jog, and even singing the Happy Birthday song can be rituals as well.

Whither Ritual?

In many traditional societies, almost every aspect of life was ritualized. So why is there such a dearth of rituals in modern culture?
The embrace of ritual in the Western World was first weakened by two things: the Protestant Reformation’s movement against icons and ceremonialism and the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationalism.

Historian Peter Burke, argues “the Reformation was, among other things, a great debate, unparalleled in scale and intensity, about the meaning of ritual, its functions and its proper forms.” Many Protestants concluded that the kind of rituals the Catholic Church practiced gave too much emphasis to empty, outward forms, rather than one’s internal state of grace. They rejected the “magical efficacy” of rites to be able to do things like change bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Christ.

The magical efficacy of ritual was attacked from the other side by Enlightenment thinkers. As discussed above, ritual is inherently nonrational since there is no practical relationship between the action and the end result. It is not rational to think that painting one’s body before battle will offer protection, that a rite of passage can turn a boy into a man, or that smoking a peace pipe can seal a treaty. Thus, ritual began to be associated with the superstitions of primitive peoples.

Suspicion of ritual again grew after World War II, in the wake of the way in which ritual ceremonies had been used to solidify loyalty to the Nazi cause.

Cultural embrace of ritual then really began to unravel during the social movements of the 1960s, which emphasized free expression, personal freedom, and individual emotional fulfillment above all. Rituals — which prescribe certain disciplined behaviors in certain situations, and require a person to forfeit some of their individuality in service to the synchrony and identity of the group — constrain spontaneity and the ability to do whatever one pleases. Ritual thus came to be seen as too constraining and not sufficiently “authentic.”

For these reasons, the use of and participation in rituals has been greatly curtailed. Or perhaps as historian Peter Burke argues, we’ve just replaced old rituals with new ones: “If most people in industrial societies no longer go to church regularly or practice elaborate rituals of initiation, this does not mean that ritual has declined. All that has happened is the new types of rituals—political, sporting, musical, medical, academic and so on—have taken the place of the traditional ones.” But the new rituals – watching sports, attending music festivals, checking Facebook, shopping, visiting a strip club on your 18th birthday — are light on nourishment and do not satisfy. Traditional rituals provided a mechanism by which humans could channel and process that which was difficult to grapple with – death, maturation, aggression – allowing the participant to discover new truths about themselves and the world. New rituals, if they can even really be called such, attempt to deny anything ugly in life (lest that lead you to close your wallet) and present a shiny, glossy façade — "confetti culture" – that facilitates passive consumption and turning away from examining given assumptions.

Next month, we will share an argument that despite the cultural disdain for ritual, it is a human art form and practice which should be revived. It is true that ritual can be used for good or for ill, yet its benefit is so great that fear of the bad should not lead us to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Even if a man sees no place for ritual in his faith, he can have great use for it in other areas in his life (indeed, if his faith is completely unritualized, he has all the more need for other kinds of rituals). We will argue that even the most rational man might make room in his life for some “magic,” and that while ritual may seem constraining, it can paradoxically be incredibly empowering and even liberating. How that might be so, is where we will turn next time.
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