Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Heaven and Earth Will Pass Away

 

"Geometry, the first and noblest of sciences is the basis on which the superstructure of Freemasonry is erected.  By Geometry, we may curiously trace nature through her various windings to her most concealed recesses.  By it, we discover the wisdom, power and goodness of the Grand Architect of the Universe and view with delight the proportions which connect this vast machine.  By it we discover how the planets move in their respective orbits and demonstrate their various revolutions."

We, as Freemasons, see a close and direct relationship between the functioning of the physical universe and God. After all, we do, in fact, refer to Him as "the Grand Architect of the Universe." He created it, constructed it, runs it, and that's all there is to it. In fact, you don't have to be a Freemason to hold that belief. We are so in awe of this creation that we ask, "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him?"

This belief doesn't just come out of thin air. We see so many things around us that tend to confirm there is something intelligent – perhaps divine – that is in control. In the classic "double slit" experiment, for example, we find electrons that behave one way if someone is watching and differently without an observer. Or, any scientist will tell you we know there is a "force" holding galaxies together. We have no idea about its nature and call it "dark matter."

If we draw a line in the sand, as some do, and say those paranoid electrons behaving that way indicate a form of divine intelligence, or buy into the common claim "dark matter" is in fact God holding the universe together, we set ourselves up.

There are plenty of examples where those lines have been drawn only to be erased by scientific discoveries. In the 17th century people saw the heavenly bodies moving around the earth and said they do that because God put the earth and mankind at the center of everything. Then a couple of guys named Galileo and Copernicus came along and burst that bubble. If we think those electrons and "dark matter" prove God exists, what will we do when a modern-day Copernicus finds a scientific causation? It's easy to fall into that trap.

If we keep doing that, and then back off on our definition and understanding of God with every scientific discovery, we seemingly wind up with what astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson calls "an ever-receding God."

Maybe it should be the other way around.

In other words, if we discover some phenomenon is not caused by a mysterious action of God, does that not also teach us a little more about what God is? The Second Degree lecture teaches us we should embrace the sciences. As those discoveries come to light the fact is God isn't receding. With each new discovery we learn more, not less, about the true nature of God: the spiritual, not the physical is what's important. Read our ritual carefully. It says By Geometry... science... we discover God's wisdom, power and goodness, not that we use it to discover God Himself.

Scientists have proven the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate. This has led to a theory about its end which says it will just keep expanding until the stars all burn out and the universe will die a dark and cold death. If you're looking for an area where science and religion… or spirituality… are in agreement, look to Matthew 24:35: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away." Don't get hung up about the physical universe. Both God and the scientists say it won't be around forever; but God's words – those spiritual lessons – will be.

Let's not worry over the fact that God didn't put the Earth at the center of the universe, or he may or may not be manifest in a bunch of shy electrons. Let's use His spiritual teachings to learn how to live our lives, improve them, and the lives of others.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Woodstock West – Altamont

Over the years, several people have asked me if I went to Woodstock. I didn't. In August, 1969, when that iconic rock concert took place, I had just graduated from college and had been hired as a high school math teacher. I was preparing for that job and simply did not have the time to devote to the trip. Probably the main reason, though, was that I couldn't afford to go. So what was undoubtedly the greatest rock concert of all time had to proceed without me. 

Although I missed Woodstock, I did go to a concert in 1969 which many have referred to as "Woodstock West." It turned out to be nowhere near as auspicious as Woodstock. "Notorious" is a better way to describe it. It was an ill-conceived, ill-planned mess that is now mainly forgotten, but on many levels for me was the worst weekend ever. 

With my girlfriend Barbara in college in, of all places, Oregon (she was a Duck), and me living at home in Indianapolis with my parents, I had nothing to do but throw myself into the teaching job. I enjoyed it, but the main thing I learned from being a high school math teacher was that wasn't what I wanted to do for a living. 

I got nearly through the first semester living a mundane and celibate life until early December when I got home one afternoon and got a phone call from Barb. "The Stones," she announced, "are putting on a free concert in San Francisco next weekend. I have tickets. Want to meet there for the weekend?"  

Barb and I had met in San Francisco in 1967. We were both sophomores, she at Oregon and me at Indiana. After spending most of the summer together I went back to school and she dropped out of college. We had had an off-and-on relationship since then, but it heated up when she promised her father she would go back to college if she could go to IU. Her dad wanted her to go back to Oregon but was all for her getting back into college, so he gave her the blessing to take summer classes at Indiana. For that summer and the next she took classes at IU. During those summers I worked as an orderly at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, and I headed for Bloomington every chance I got.  

After the summer of ‘69, she left for Oregon in late August and I hadn't seen her since. So when she suggested we meet in San Francisco, I didn't think twice before agreeing to go. The only question I had was why the hell we needed tickets to a free concert. She didn't know but, by God, she had them. I knew nothing about booking flights, but after I got off the phone with Barb, I immediately called a friend from college, Arland Reinhard, who was working as a travel agent. I wanted to go Thursday night, but the only direct flight was Friday morning. He strongly recommended I go direct, so I had him get me tickets on a flight leaving early Friday and returning Sunday. 

During the entire year I taught, I only took one day off  Friday, December 5. Barb had driven down from Oregon. The instant I emerged from the plane she hugged me and announced the concert had been called off. I didn't much care. Now we had three glorious days and two nights to share together in beautiful and semi-warm San Francisco.

Barb was a consummate free spirit but somehow, incongruously, she was a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority. Sororities and Fraternities were totally "out" with the hippie crowd of the day, but her membership came in handy. Zetas from all over had rented a house in South San Francisco to use during the 1967 "Summer of Love" and had kept it ever since. So we stayed there instead of at an over-priced motel in San Francisco. The “Top of the Mark” was a little beyond my budget.

The next morning, with a free day ahead of us we decided to go to Sausalito, a cutesy little burg just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Not wanting to waste a precious minute of our time together, we got up early and headed up there for breakfast. 

Barb drove her gun-metal gray 1963 Dodge Dart up there. It wasn't a bad car, really. Her dad had given it to her in 1966 and she drove it to San Francisco a year later, which was when we met. Then he almost took it away from her when she dropped out of college, but that's another story. We went to a small breakfast nook she knew about.The food was great but as we sat there Barb told me with all that summer school, she had enough credits to graduate in January. She would have an accounting degree and had accepted a job with a big accounting firm in Portland. My heart sank. I still had the teaching job back in Indy that would run through the upcoming semester and I had started to make plans for graduate school. Economically the only place I could go was Indiana or some other state school. Moving to Portland was out of the question, so now we were staring down the barrel of a continuing long-distance relationship. I asked why she couldn’t get a job closer to Indy or Chicago where her parents lived. She had a number of excuses, including not wanting to be close to her parents, then asked why I couldn’t get a job out where she was going to be, which I had already tried, but to no avail. We argued all through the meal. I wondered why she hadn’t told me the night before, but in a way I was glad she didn’t. At least we had one good night together. Apparently she had wanted me to come out there to see if she could make one last stab at getting together – on her terms. We finished breakfast and headed back out to the car on a downer, still having plans to explore Sausalito. When she started the car, an excited disc jockey came on the radio saying the on-again-off-again concert was back on.

We had a brief conversation about whether we should try to go. The concert was at Altamont Raceway, about an hour east of San Francisco. For my part, a Rolling Stones concert trumped walking around checking out stores for cute knick knacks any day. Besides, I figured it would help take my mind off of what I saw as a pending breakup. We decided that's what we were there for and headed east. 

About an hour and a half later, we were on the road approaching the concert site when our car crested a small hill and we could see maybe about a half mile ahead of us traffic was at a complete standstill. As we approached the brick wall of cars it was obvious we had hit the end of the trail.  

Some cars had just stopped in the road. Others were parked alongside. Barb drove up as far as she could and parked off the side of the road behind the last car in line. All my years of experience dealing with the traffic jams at the Indy 500 kicked in. I suggested she turn the car around and back up to the last car in line, leaving maneuvering room behind us, but not enough room for another car to squeeze in. Then we grabbed a couple sleeping bags she had in the trunk for the occasion and hiked in. We were about two miles from the site but finally made it following the stream of people ahead of us. 

The crowd was immense. I have since heard estimates there were 200,000 or more in attendance, and we were at the back of the pack. Even though we were pretty far back the speakers boomed almost too loudly at times. The sound was distorted and echoes coming in from hills and buildings surrounding the site made it annoying. To this day I do not know what band was on the stage when we arrived. The more I think about it, it may have been a sound check. After about five minutes they stopped playing and left the stage, so we found a spot on the perimeter of the mass of humanity, spread out our sleeping bags, and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. For about the next hour, nothing happened. It looked to me like they were still building the stage, but it was really hard to tell exactly what was going on that far away. Bored to death, we sat there and didn't have much to say. For the first time in a long time I felt uneasy with Barb. At least on the trip to the concert we had the radio to break the silence. The highlight of that hour or so of waiting was when a girl came by with leaflets and a bucket collecting money for the "Panther Defense Fund." Barb and I both dropped a dollar in her bucket. The next bit of entertainment was when a motorcycle came inching through the crowd toward the stage. People said it was carrying one of the entertainers. God knows who. 

Barb broke out some chocolate chip cookies for lunch or dinner. By this time I wasn't sure what time it was. The whole place wreaked of pot and that's what the cookies tasted like. Up toward the stage were a couple of really tall scaffolds with lights and speakers on top. There were a couple guys on each and later when the music started, one of them started gyrating around what looked to me like a very unstable structure. A scene from the Indianapolis 500 came to mind when one of those scaffolds fell, killing some of the occupants. I wouldn't have been surprised if the same thing happened there. 

Back where we were there were no restrooms, a.k.a. Porta-Poties. There were some up by the stage area, but to use them would have meant a trek through the stoned crowd and a long wait in the lines that had formed there. So back in our area, people used a couple of small hills for shelter. One was “boys” and one was “girls.” It probably worked out better than the Porta-Poties. At least there were no lines.

I estimated about half the crowd was high and many others were stark naked. Fights sprung up here and there and someone said a woman in the crowd had a baby. The did have a medical tent set up, but that was mainly for kids on bad trips. The concert was shaping up to be a mess. I remember thinking maybe hunting for knickknacks in Sausalito might have made for a better day after all. 

People were milling around the stage, pushing up toward it and some were climbing up onto it, only to be escorted or thrown off by the security staff… none other than the Hell's Angels motorcycle club.

Amid all the confusion my mind kept wandering back to the bombshell Barb had dropped on me at breakfast. The day was turning into a huge downer. I could see our two year relationship coming to a grinding halt. We had broken up or at least taken a break from each other a couple times over the physical distance between us. After I graduated I tried to get a job in Oregon but… well… maybe I didn't try hard enough. I figured if she really cared for me she would have tried to get a job in Indiana or at least have talked to me about it. 

Finally, Jefferson Airplane, a group I recognized, came up on stage. I figured things were bound to get better but they didn't. The band started to play and Gracie Slick began to sing. As the show went on, people became more aggressive about pushing up onto the stage. After just a few minutes things got pretty bad. The music stopped and Gracie stood up on stage repeating over and over, "Easy, easy, easy." She looked scared and had a right to be. 

One of the members of the Airplane and a Hell's Angel started shouting at each other. Gracie gave a lecture about peace and love. It fell on deaf ears. 

The commotion at the stage never really let up. It came in waves with people trying to climb on the stage and getting pushed off. The next few acts were OK, but the view from the "South 40" where we were wasn't good and the sound never improved.

The Stones finally came out and did a couple numbers. Then they broke into Symphony For The Devil and things got worse. From our vantage point it looked like a massive fight was going on up at the stage. The music stopped and Jagger asked everyone to cool it. His little talk seemed to do some good and the music started up again. The band went into a long instrumental set while Mick seemed to talk to a few people on and off stage. It kind of looked to me like things had calmed down a bit but then the music stopped again and Jagger kept asking, "Why are we fighting? Why are we fighting? Who is fighting and why?" Mick continued to lecture and threatened to stop the show. From where Barb and I were sitting, I couldn't see any fighting. It more or less just looked at this point like people were milling around the stage. At one point Mick called for an ambulance and then the music started up again.

With all the interruptions, the show was pretty uninteresting. Barb was disgusted, "I wish they'd just get on with it. I'm getting cold." She was right. Night had set in and the temperature was dropping. You could “see your breath,” as they say, when you talked. I figured we had come all this way for the show and I wanted to see it through to the end, but half of me was ready to leave. I asked Barb if she wanted to go and she said, "Not yet. Let's see if things settle down." 

Barb and I had a little wine. That's it, but to me it looked like at least half the people around us were stoned blind. And that held true as far as I could see clear up to the stage. The Stones stopped singing again and then more scuffles ramped up up by the stage. Things got really quiet. Then a helicopter took off from in back of the stage. I learned later the Hell's Angels had killed some guy who had pulled a gun. 

Things actually did settle down and the Stones did a few more songs. At some point, with the music still playing, I started to think about getting out of there. I figured it was going to be the traffic jam of the century; and it was getting pretty cold. In all the histories of Altamont you never hear much about the weather. I suppose the sleeping bags would have been OK, but neither of us wanted to spend the night. So, in the dark, with the sounds of the concert still going on behind us we started to walk out.

It was way too dark to see. A full moon sure would have helped but, no such luck. We stumbled through the field out to the road and that made the going a little easier. I had no clue how we were going to find our car among the rest of them. We just kept walking, following the edge of the road and every once in a while a car would drive by and its headlights would temporarily light the way for us. We walked for what seemed like forever. After I thought we had gone enough distance I started checking out every car we passed. Then I remembered we had turned the car around and sure enough we finally came across Barb's Dart facing the other way. Traffic was much lighter than I had anticipated and we probably wouldn't have had to turn the thing around, but it helped a little. 

I offered to drive but Barb said that was unnecessary. Besides, I'd had more wine than her and that sealed the deal. Originally, we decided to go back to the sorority house, but neither of us wanted to go clear down to South San Francisco. We were dead tired. Neither of us spoke much as we drove along. After we had driven for about a half hour we saw a motel sign and stopped there. It wasn't fancy, but they had a vacancy and that was enough for the both of us. The minute we hit the room we both dropped into bed and fell dead asleep.

The next day we slept until almost noon, leaving an uncomfortably short amount of time to get to the airport. I hadn’t packed my things when we left Saturday morning, so we had to head for the sorority house which was, thankfully, fairly close to the airport.

The ride back to the sorority gave us plenty of time to rehash our dilemma. We had been through the “distance” issue many times and were both tired of it. Barb’s take on things was “this isn’t working.” My take was also, “this isn’t working.” Not at all surprisingly, we agreed it wasn’t working. So that was it. I don’t remember any moment when we officially broke up, but just kept agreeing thinks weren’t working out and sitting in somber, depressing silence for a lot of the ride. 

I grabbed my things at the sorority house and Barb drove me to the airport. More silence. More depression. She parked and walked with me to the gate. We had just made it on time. The plane was boarding, so there would be no long goodbyes. We embraced and I turned toward the gate: “Don’t look back,” I thought, “don’t look back.”

I turned around anyway. Barb was crying. That told me something. She did care. Somehow I knew this wasn’t over. I would see her again and patch things up like we had done before. I took one final glance as I went into the gangway. It was the last time I ever saw her.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Peggy Sue and the Freemasons

 

In the 1986 movie Peggy Sue Got Married, Kathleen Turner plays an adult who attends her high school reunion, suffers from a major case of the vapors, and is transported back in time. She lands back in 1960, when she was a high school senior, with a chance to start anew, correct old mistakes, and perhaps make a few new ones.

During the ensuing do-wop-laced couple of hours, Peggy Sue reassesses her early relationship with her boyfriend-become-husband/ex-husband Charlie, played by Nicholas Cage. She forms a friendship with an ostracized high school geek and plants his turbocharged brain with coming attractions like the moon landing and gizmos such as microwave ovens, pocket calculators, and digital watches he could invent to become rich and famous. Then, as an inspired young inventor herself, she manufactures the world's first pair of pantyhose.

After her requisite fling with a laconic motorcycle-riding rebel-with-a-cause-poet, she runs off to visit her time-warp resurrected grandparents. There, she comes clean about her time-traveling escapade.

"Grandma… Grandpa… I want to tell you something. Somehow, I've traveled back in time from my late 30s, when I'm married with two children… And I miss my kids and want to go back."

The understanding Gram and Gramps believe her. So, what's a gal to do in order to time-hop back to the future without a DeLorean? I'm glad you asked. Grandpa has the solution. He'll hustle her off to his Lodge where they have just the ceremony for that.

They arrive at the Lodge building which on the outside is a conical structure resembling a Crazy Cup Ice Cream stand, but on the inside is almost certainly a genuine Masonic Lodge, replete with dozens of grayscale portraits of real-life Past Masters… just like the ones in your Lodge. The wide-eyed Peggy Sue has a question for Granddad.

"What does Grandma think you do at these meetings?"

"Stag parties and poker games," quips Gramps. Well, there goes one of our secrets.

The Brothers are suited in royal-purple robes with gold-colored fringe and embroidery. Accessories include a cornucopia of hats. What appear to be more lower-ranking Brothers wear black drooping Renaissance hats while others have elaborate royal-purple pyramid shaped headgear. Gramps, probably being something like a Past Poo-Bah, has a purple rectangular block-shaped headpiece with what appear to be four doorknobs on the top corners.

Peggy Sue gasps, "Grandpa, do you have to wear that hat?"

Gramps adjusts the hat moving it to the perfect position, "Wouldn't be a Lodge without hats." Another secret revealed.

Inside the Lodge room, the head Muckety-Muck sits in a familiar setting behind a podium elevated to a level three steps up. Opposite him, we see the customary sight of two columns. Not surprisingly, an altar stands in the center of the room.

A Brother informs Peggy Sue the Lodge was founded by a time-traveler (as was my own Lodge, but I digress). The ceremony begins with the resident musician playing Beautiful Dreamer on a mandolin. A Brother steps to the altar, breaks an egg into a chalice, and completes the concoction with an elixir of red goop. He follows this with the sign of the degree which is thus made: the hands are crossed palm-inward in front of the face with the thumbs touching the nose. The hands are then flapped vigorously with the Brother staring upward, symbolic of a prospective time-traveler flying off to a new epoch. The gesture draws a snicker from Peggy Sue – a reaction we may all have seen from our wives during open ceremonies. Three raps from the symbolic East brings the already standing Brothers to order as he enjoins the "Lord of the Universe, Ruler of Light, King of the Sun" to guide Peggy Sue, clad in a gold robe, forward in time.

Peggy Sue has doubts, "This is not going to work." Grandpa reassures her.

Chaos reigns as the scene fills with thunder and lightning. The Lodge goes dark, Peggy Sue disappears and when the light returns a Brother yells, "Let's play cards!"

Any well-educated Mason would recognize the faults in this particular rendition of our Time Travel Ceremony – which is so secret it's something I cannot discuss in this public forum. Of course due to those faults, it did not work. Instead, when the Lodge was dark Charlie (remember Charlie?) swept in, grabbed Peggy Sue, and whisked her away into the stormy night.

I suppose this could morph into a discussion of how the outside world views Freemasonry, but we'll leave that analysis for another time.

Anyway, Charlie drags Peggy into a greenhouse where they are out of the rain, tells her he's a changed guy and begs her to marry him.

Peggy Sue is furious, "What the hell do you think you're doing? I have to go back into the Lodge… My grandfather is in there. And you were never there for me and the children so I'm not crazy enough to marry you twice."

Charlie convinces her things will be different and we fade back to 1986, as Charlie wonders, "What children?"

The adventure culminates with Peggy Sue waking up from her fainting spell, securely back to the future, There, Peggy and her ex-husband reconcile. [aaaawwwwwwwwww] This leaves the door open for Charlie… a.k.a. Nick Cage… a.k.a. Benjamin Franklin Gates… to go off on his own quest where he discovers the Freemasons are the stewards of a great National Treasure.

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Morgan Affair


At lunch with a couple of my Brothers at Grand Lodge, the conversation understandably worked its way around to things Masonic. I was surprised when I happened to mention the Morgan Affair neither of the Brothers, both Past Masters, had heard of it. I have since found out that this is far more common than I expected, not just with new initiates, but also among seasoned veterans.

Among the many, many important events in Masonic history if there is a single tipping point it is the early 19th century series of events known as the Morgan Affair, which has greatly contributed to much anti-Masonic sentiment. It is so significant it's something every Freemason should be aware of and reflect upon. In light of its dubious outcome and with the mysteries and myths that its aftermath has spawned, not to mention the questionable behavior of Brothers involved, there are lessons to be learned.

In 1826, a man by the name of William Morgan announced he was going to publish a book revealing the Masonic ritual and secrets. Morgan claimed to have been raised in what he called "a foreign land," but that assertion is in doubt. Nothing is known of his Masonic history except in a single Masonic record showing Morgan did indeed receive the Royal Arch Degree in Western Star Chapter No. 33 of LeRoy, New York on May 31, 1825. Over time his relationship with Masons who challenged his membership as well as criticized his character, was acerbic and some Lodges banned him from entry.

In an attempt to prevent the publication of his book, a group of Freemasons kidnapped Morgan from a jail cell where he was locked up for theft, and took him to Ft. Niagara.

Those facts are pretty well cast in stone but from that point there are claims and counter-claims and no one really knows what happened. The prevalent anti-Masonic thought was that the Masons murdered Morgan and dumped his body either in the Niagara River or Lake Ontario. One account even claims his body washed ashore and upon finding it, the Masons buried him a cabletow's length from that shore.

Other accounts say the Masons did not kill Morgan, but gave him money or offered him farmland, released him into Canada, and told him never to set foot in the US again. The case became more bizzare when a body washed up on the shore of Lake Ontario, was determined to be Morgan, and buried. Subsequently officials exhumed the body and determined it to be that of a local farmer. What followed was a series of claims and accusations and a trial where at least four of the Masonic kidnappers were convicted and imprisoned. For years thereafter rumors that Morgan was sighted or said to be living in Canada, the east coast of the US or even Central America were common.

The entire incident led to much animosity about Freemasonry, and the creation of the Anti-Masonic political party. It caused many Lodges and even some Grand Lodges to close their doors. Years of anti-Masonic sentiment followed, some of which is prevalent today.

And after all that, after his death or disappearance, Morgan's associates published the book anyway. By itself it probably would have done little harm to the fraternity, especially in comparison the permanent scar the incident left on American Freemasonry.

We will likely never know the full story. Regardless of what actually happened it is a graphic reminder that actions have consequences and it is an ever-present incentive to live up to our obligations. Had just a few Brothers remembered that back in 1826, this significant tipping point in Masonic history might well have faded into history as a local dispute. Whether you had heard of the Morgan Affair or not, it is important to be aware of it because its repercussions reverberate even today and at least indirectly in some way affect your Masonic life.

 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Freemasonry's Black Hole

 


You have made your journey to the East. Planning for this milestone consumed you. It saturated your life. Thoughts of budgets and programs bloated your brain until there was room for nothing else; and, oh yes, there was that big part you had to memorize. Then you got there. You brought those programs to life. You managed the budget. You were gut-punched by the unexpected. You punched back. You won.

Now your year is coming to an end. Where, you wonder, did the time go? It all went by so quickly. Suddenly you realize you are traveling near lightspeed toward the event horizon… that point of no return… of the great black hole of Freemasonry: life after being Master of your Lodge.

Maybe it doesn't hit you right away. Oh, those first few weeks after your term is over… that sweet era when the responsibility void hits, when the burdens of leadership rest on someone else's shoulders, when you get to go to meetings, plan nothing, do nothing, and wear that sporty new Past Master's apron… is a nirvana reserved for a precious few… the newly minted junior Past Master.

But it's an illusion. You eventually realize you've been sucked into the great void. Oblivion awaits. You can't sit on the north heckling the ritual performance forever. You can only take so much listening to debates about the menu at the next dinner, reading of the minutes and grousing about the outrageous bill to fix the air conditioner. You realize they can do all of this without you. Weeks ago you were the most important guy in the Lodge. Now you are, by your standard, irrelevant. You're not even the top-dog of all the Past Masters. You're at the bottom of the barrel. And like anything that reaches singularity in a black hole, you disappear. Experience shows us it happens to many, possibly the majority of Past Masters. They gradually stop coming to meetings, fade away, and leave us wondering whatever happened to them.

As you try to fight this trend instead of "whence came you," a new question pops up: "whence go you," or more simply, "now what?" The fact is most of us don't want to sit around doing nothing. We need relevance, something to do, a goal, a project, a responsibility, a raison d'ĂȘtre.

Part of your planning as you approach the east should be to figure out what you will do when it's all over. Your Lodge has many needs you can fill: maybe it needs a new Lodge Education Officer, an appointed office filled, a mentor for new initiates, a Lodge historian, someone to take the helm of a civic project or, God forbid, a new Secretary. There are also appendant bodies to consider. The York and Scottish Rites especially offer more opportunities for the Masonic education, fellowship and community service we crave. Grand Lodge committees always need staffing. You might even put together an article for the Midnight Freemasons.

Whatever you do, vow to stay active; and the activities you choose should include those that keep you coming back the foundation of our Fraternity – your Lodge.

Friday, October 15, 2021

The Unfortunate William Dodd


 Born in Lincolnshire in 1729, William Dodd was a vicar's son who became an honor student at the University of Cambridge. He was a man of letters, authoring over 50 books and pamphlets. He subsequently became a doctor of divinity and served as chaplain to King George II as well as a Minister to Magdalene Hospital. Dodd was initiated into the mysteries of Freemasonry April 3, 1775 and a month later he became England's first Grand Chaplain.

As an accomplished author and eloquent orator, Brother Dodd became very popular with the people of England and was well connected with the most important people of his time. He enjoyed moving in the circles of the rich and famous and began to favor the trappings of wealth and society.

His immersion in the lifestyle of the gentry became a near obsession and earned him the title, "the Macaroni Minister." That obscure term relates to people of the day who became deeply involved in the extravagant lifestyle and ate Italian pasta, which was rare and expensive at the time. It is the origin of the first verse in the song Yankee Doodle, originally written to disparage American colonists:

Yankee Doodle came to London riding on a pony,

Stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni…

Well, the Macaroni Minister was no Yankee but he certainly became a dandy. Piling on the excesses and luxuries of the life of a member of the British nobility finally became too much for his finances. Dodd incurred heavy debt and exacerbated the situation by trying to gamble his way out of it. His gambling losses simply made things worse.

In 1774, he attempted to bribe his way into a high-paying position, but his scheme was discovered and he was fired from all of his existing positions. A few months later when he joined the Masons, it may just have been an attempt to once again become well connected and begin his journey back up the social ladder.

In need of funds, Dodd forged a bond from the Earl of Chesterfield, then borrowed against it to settle his finances. The plan might have worked, but the banker involved saw a blot on the bond document which obscured some of the text. He rewrote the document and when he took it to the Earl for signature, Dodd's plot was discovered.

Dodd confessed to the crime. Since the banker had acted so quickly, Dodd had spent very little of the money, which enabled him to make full restitution.

Brother Dodd went to trial and based his defense on the fact that this had been an act of indiscretion and that the crime was mitigated by the fact he returned all the money. The jury did not see it that way. Its members convicted him of forgery, which at the time was punishable by death. Even so, the jurors recommended clemency for the popular preacher. Notwithstanding, the judge sentenced Dodd to be hanged. Dodd was so popular, 23,000 people petitioned the King for a pardon, but to no avail.

On June 27, 1777, the day of his execution, the 48 year old Dodd rode in a black mourning coach with his father. On the way to the gallows the coach stopped, as dictated by tradition, at a pub, where Dodd was given a beer. This practice is said by some to be the origin of the term, "one for the road." The guards along with him also received a beer, but the driver of the coach could not partake because he was said to be, "on the wagon."

Another tradition of the time was that stewards at the gallows would take up a collection from the bloodthirsty crowd in attendance. If they collected enough money, the condemned man would be given a short drop in order that he would succumb more slowly and give the spectators a longer, more graphic performance. In spite of his popularity, the crowd anted up enough for the gruesome show.

As Dodd dropped from the scaffold, however, the Lord High Executioner ran down the steps, grabbed Dodd by the legs and pulled him downward to prevent flailing and to "speed things along."

In a bit of irony, Dodd had always been a death penalty opponent. Just earlier that year, he had given an inspiring sermon against it. In addition, he was a big supporter of the Humane Society which at the time was advocating the possibility of reviving those who had been hung, drowned or died under similar circumstances, speculating that even though appearing deceased, a bit of life might remain. Even today the Society's motto is lateat scintillula forsan, meaning “a small spark may perhaps lie hid.”

The fact is, some executions were sloppy enough at the time that this is known to have worked on rare occasions. So as soon as Dodd was cut down his friends rushed to claim his body knowing his neck had not been broken by the short drop. They carried him into the mourning coach and tried to go to the home of Dr. John Hunter to attempt a revival. The crowd reportedly rushed the coach and prevented its exit either to view the body or prevent its transfer, and it is unlikely any attempt at revival occurred. However for years rumors persisted that Dodd was revived and went off to live in France.

Dodd's Brother Richard was Rector of Cowley, which is where reports say Dodd's burial took place. Today, no marker exists for his grave, but a wall plaque says he rests within the cemetery. There is no record of his burial there, which has fueled speculation that he may have survived.

Shortly after his hanging, England changed its penalty for forgery and Dodd remains the last person executed for that crime; and while a minute measure of doubt may remain about him surviving the execution, one thing is for certain: upon hearing of his conviction, the Freemasons immediately expelled the unfortunate William Dodd.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The End of the World – For Real

Contemporary history has a few days about which everyone who was alive at that time remembers where they were and what they were doing. Chief among them: the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion, and September 11, 2001. For many Boomers, there is another day, forgotten within the recesses of time; the day the world was going to end… really going to end. This was not a drill.

On Monday, October 22, 1962, word spread across the country that President Kennedy had called congressional leaders to Washington, and was going to make a major speech. As I sat in history class that afternoon, our teacher, Mrs. Frances Humphreys, announced that news, explained the situation with the Soviet Union, and summed things up with the chilling words, "This is exactly what the President has to do to declare war."

US relations with the Soviet Union were terrible – worse than they are today in spite of what our pop-culture news might claim. Nikita Khrushchev had told the US, "We will bury you," and he meant it. Russia and the US were armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, and people were building bomb shelters at a rapid pace. We knew a nuclear war was un-survivable, and now we were on the brink of one.

I rode the bus home that day, and spent the next several days, in a silent fog of disbelief, contemplating the fact that not only I might not survive such a conflict, but also that the entire world might be ending… for real.

Now known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, this terrifying event that took the world to the brink of annihilation ended peacefully. However, no one, not even President Kennedy knew how things would turn out. Even though we all survived, it does not change the fact that every living person back then went through something no one, before or after, has experienced: the fact that the end of the world was imminent. Further exacerbating the impact, the Boomers went through it as adolescents and children, forever leaving them with that scarring memory. No wonder that generation went on to implore the world, "give peace a chance."