Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How do you define "Free Born?"

A few days ago while at a recent place of business, I ran into a brother who was present during my third degree. This was the same brother who often informed me his definition of what “free born” meant, and I am sure his coach imparted this same wisdom(?) to him. I am sure many of us have been imparted with this same wisdom(?) many times over. During this recent encounter, the brother expressed to me how he was “hurt” over our recent mutual recognition. Let me interject here, in the 26+ years since I was raised, he probably hasn’t attended the lodge more than a dozen times, and none in the last 20 years. Knowing his background, his remarks didn’t surprise me. I knew I couldn’t change his way of thinking, as it has been in his way of life for around 70 years now. I’ll not disclose how I know this but, I am well aware he and his siblings were brought up in a way and manner which was biased toward African Americans. To my knowledge none of his generation was ever in the Klan, but research shows most of his ancestors fought for the south during the civil war, and his great-grandfather was involved in helping establish the KKK. I firmly believe his feelings and beliefs were handed down though the generations, he was never taught different, and his feelings were carried over into Masonry – further enforced by his coach many years ago. What makes this a little ironic, are two things, first is his firm beliefs of prejudice, and second he is a die-hard democrat who votes a straight ticket and would never-ever cross party lines; need I say more.

Prior to the mutual recognition, in my travels I heard many brothers who were for it (usually the younger craft, less than 50 years old) and some of the older die-hard brothers who were against it. I even heard in a public gathering one brother proclaim that if Prince Hall recognition came to pass, he would demit to a state which doesn’t recognize Prince Hall, and obtain his 50 year status there (to this date, this brother has yet to demit, received his 50 year pin, and serves as an officer in his lodge.)

These two older brethren, have been taught that African American’s can’t be Masons because they are descendants of slaves. (Personally, I firmly and reasonably believe while some may, not all African Americans are descendants from slavery. To make such presumption all men of color are such descendants would be vastly erroneous.)

How many of us were brought up as these older brethren were? How many of us were told by our coaches and “well informed brethren” this same definition of “free born?” But more importantly, how many of us took to heart the meaning of seeking further light (knowledge), and remember we were told to judge a man by his internal qualities and not the external. How many of our generation practice this today when coaching or mentoring a new brother? I use the phrase “our generation” here, as I have observed these teachings of “free born” appear to have been somewhat twisted through the generations.

In my search for more light, I have stumbled upon the “free-born” issue was not based on slavery, but from a social status from the 14th century during the Pesant's Revolt in England. Without going into detail of the social and economic troubles of that time period which were compounded by a time of war, I want to share something I have learned from the writings and research of the late Brother John J. Robinson...

Up until the 1300’s the law of supply and demand to support the wars was in full force and effect. For the landowning class, there had never been a time when farm labor or farm tenant supply did not exceed the demand for it. Now the foundations of a way of life were beginning to crack. Now men began to pledge themselves in servitude to a stronger man who would offer protection. These stronger men pledged themselves to even stronger men, and so on. The warrior class became nobility, and as such needed wealth and labor to build their fortresses where their followers could come for protection. Included in these needs were the necessities of maintaining knights. Where did this labor force to build and maintain this system of protection – from the local peasants? In exchange for their servitude the peasants were eventually “given” nearby land, becoming tenant farmers, tilling farmland assigned to them on shares, while still making payments to the manor lord who provided them with protection during these turbulent times. Furthermore there were “stings attached” to being a tenant farmer; when one died, his best farm animal went to the lord of the manor, and his second best farm animal went to the Parish Priests. Neither he or his family could marry without permission; he was subject to restrictions on gathering firewood, taking wood to repair his house, killing wildlife for food, and even collecting manure that dropped in the fields and roads. If the manor lord owned a mill, the tenant had to pay for the privilege to use that mill. The tenant farmer was required to stay on at the manor to which they were born, and could never leave. In view of all of the above, the tenant farmer was a man bound in what some considered slavery.

Eventually men who revolted and called themselves “free” were required to prove it through genealogy and parish records.

While there is no proof Masonry was around during this time, there were secret societies with rituals, secret meetings, and signs of recognition by its members. Masonry as we know it didn’t publicly reveal itself until 400 years later when 4 lodges come to light, joined, and formed a Grand Lodge on June 24th, 1717 in Yorkshire, England. As we all know, one of the ancient landmarks of freemasonry is a requirement to be free born. In 1717, and most likely centuries before, the requirement to be free-born was in place. If it was proved a man was a descendant of those in servitude, he was denied membership, and if discovered after becoming a member he had to relinquish his Masonic membership.

Over the centuries, we have moved from a “class system” of society, and as such the “class system” has fell from within our organization (remember the part about judging a man on his internal qualifications?) As Brother Robinson writing reveal, free born isn’t directly related to the color of a man’s skin. If Masonry practiced today the same “freeborn” requirement it did 300 years ago, how many of us would qualify. How many of us could prove we aren’t descendants of those same tenant farmers; some of which whose descendants left England for a new life in the new world? How do we portray “free-born” to our newly raised brothers; do we solely base it on thee color of a man’s skin and that his race is the most recent victim of slavery? What would your family tree reveal from the 14th century – do you descend from manor lords or tenant farmers; would you qualify for membership? Think about it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Step Forward : A Masonic Life Lesson Learned

The following was written by WB Brian Rau of Montgomery#426. Brian was deer hunting the morning of his last meeting as Master when the following event occured. As Brian was fixing to close the Lodge for the last time, he rendered the following for those of us in the Lodge. It truly touched my heart...as I'm sure it will yours' as well. Derek.

December the 1st of 2009 was a day that will live forever in my memory as one of my greatest hunting days. Success was mine in a big way; more accurately a very BIG way. The buck deer I harvested that day was the largest deer I have ever seen while afield deer hunting, and the second largest deer I have ever seen in the woods and fields of western North Carolina, in all my days. It was a beautiful 9-point deer with a rack of moderate size and mass, not anything close to those taken in Ohio or Minnesota, but a real treasure for western North Carolina, and a true blessing for me in more ways than perhaps I will ever realize. Though the shoulder mount will be a beautiful adornment on the wall of my living room, and the meat will provide many delicious and healthy meals, the experience provided a serendipitous lesson that was the real gold nugget of the event.

First, let me describe the event in basic details. I was 30 minutes from the time I had decided I needed to be home, to get cleaned up for my last Stated Communication as Worshipful Master of Montgomery Masonic Lodge. That morning I sat in the root-ball pocket of a large oak that had fallen over many years before, located about 200 yards behind my parents’ house, at the very head of the branch by their house. As it was getting on into the second half of our short deer rifle season (buck only), and I had not even seen the first doe in the area, I decided to walk up the head of the valley and on top of the knoll behind my right shoulder to look for sign in the oak stand there before heading straight down the spur ridge to the house.

Nearing the top, I heard movement to my right in a laurel and brush thicket, which I suspected could be either a fleeing squirrel, or a nervous deer moving away from me towards the oak stand. As I slowly crept up though the stand of small birch in the draw and was looking for a quick glimpse of a deer running off through the thicket to my right, I was astonished to see something I would never imagined in my wildest dreams. Just 25 yards laterally left and 20 feet in elevation above me, on the dividing main ridge, a beautiful mature buck step up from the backside Laurel and Rhododendron thicket, with his eyes scanning the same thicket I had been skirting. I froze in anticipation of his immediate recognition of my presence. I was amazed as he started walking forward along the ridge and then started to cut diagonally down across the end of the draw, maybe 40 yards in front of me, just past a blocking laurel patch. I cautiously stepped forward another ten feet or so, before he cleared the laurel. By then, he was 50 yards or so ahead and passing through the densest area of the small birch stand. Once again, I was left with the sinking feeling that I would watch a beautiful opportunity to harvest a real

Class-A deer bound away, either to lack of a decent shot, or to his inevitable and eventual detection of me.

My usual mental attitude at this situation would be to accept defeat and just try to be thankful for having caught a glimpse of such a fine specimen in my old, but unsuccessful, hunting grounds. But God had a different plan for me this day, and one that I can learn so much from, not just about hunting, but about life and opportunities. As this fine buck neared the bottom of the draw, a different voice in my head said step forward, despite my “well-founded” fear of detection. I took two or three steps forward and looked through the new scope on my trusty old Marlin .30-’30, but the shot was still too narrow. Rather than giving up, I squatted down and braced myself and my rifle against the nearest birch, just as the buck stopped with his head directly behind the largest birch in his area, and just two steps short of the only shot I would be given this day. This narrow window of opportunity was not visible when I was still standing at full height, and would not have opened up from any height, if I had not taken those fateful steps forward. As I braced, quietly cocked the hammer back to full cock, and unblocked the safety, the buck stepped forward one step and started to turn his head to look nearly straight at me. I held my breath, expecting him, or an unseen deer elsewhere, to make that dreaded “blow” that would send them all running tails high for the next drainage. To my relief, he turned his focus back to straight in line with his path and stepped forward with a clear resolve. My Marlin, the new Hornady LeveRevolution ammo, and my scope did the job as good as I could ever have asked; and the buck went right to the ground with stiff legs, in the spot where the bullet struck him. Needless to say, I approached him with rifle to shoulder, like I was in a drug raid, and did not let my guard down until I had placed the barrel of my rifle against his chest and his eye.

The whole time I had watched him, I knew he was a fine deer; but once I saw him close-up, I realized what an amazing trophy I had been blessed with. Without another thought, I found myself on the ground on bended knee, thanking God who had whispered in my ear, “Step Forward”. It was He who made that day possible, and it was He who provided that narrow opportunity and the steadying tree right where I needed it to be. Surely He kept the wind in my favor, and let my all-too-big body form blend in against the woods that were so vertical, when I occupy so much more space horizontally. Yes, of course, the rifle and ammo, the camo, and my scent control efforts all were helpful, and the bullet did an amazing job on impact; but how many times do all those efforts and technology fail to put a deer on the ground in front of the best hunter, in the best of conditions. For all this to take place for me (I will tell anyone I am not the most skilled and experienced hunter), I believe a personal miraculous blessing from God was given to me that day. Most of the pictures taken of me by the time I drug that deer down the mountain through the thickets, over and under downed trees, and through the creek bed, make it appear as though I was not very happy or thankful; but nothing could be further from the truth. Though my exhaustion and near dehydration may have temporarily shut down my deeper inner-thoughts and reflections, the important lesson that would bless me most, would come in the following hours and days.

Base lesson learned here for both mankind and more especially the brethren in Freemasonry: Step Forward!!!. Many times in life, and more especially in our Masonic activities and planning, we will see all the obstacles and the reasons we will “surely” fail to fully accomplish our goal or affect the change we desire, so we will not act at all. I do not suggest that as Masons and men, we should foolishly and haphazardly attempt to do anything and everything that comes to mind, without proper planning and due effort. But alas, through faith in the Great Architect of the Universe, we plan to do our best wherever and whenever we see a need; and we make the effort with prayer, force of numbers, and the knowledge that it is the right thing to do. When the situation looks like it is too narrow an opportunity to reach the desired goal, then we should first step forward and look for an un-seen opening, before admitting defeat and failing to act. The great power of Freemasons to affect real and positive changes in the world around us is in faith in God and the power of teamwork, not only amongst the brothers of one lodge, but among multiple lodges and all Masons working together. We should always remember that to first receive the blessing from God that Masonry has been to our lives, we first must have come to the Lodge with an open, hopeful, and faithful heart, and then knocked more than once and been tried multiple times, to reach that most sublime and desirable place of enlightenment and brotherly love. Let us not sit quietly in a seats in the lodge, and not stand up and offer what we can for the good of our fellow man, and thus for the good of Masonry. Let us not fail to ever act where there exists need, without due and prudent consideration as to what we can do, with God’s blessings and faith-driven efforts.

With Him at the center of our Lodges and our lives, we should meet on the Level, acting by the Plumb, and Step Forward to serve Him in the world, guided along the straight and narrow path by His light, giving Him due praises for His many blessings, that we might part this world on the Square, and enter that “House not built with hands, eternal in Heaven”.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Montgomery & Marble Springs Lodges 2009 Christmas Parade float

Montgomery #426 and Marble Springs #439 joined forces for their first ever Christmas Parade float on December 5th, 2009. It was a cold, blustery day. But, the weather couldn't stop a sizable group of dedicated Brothers from making an appearance for the good of the order. Lots of constuction work, and prep went into the float with a fine Masonic Compass being jointly built by Henry Hiss and Jeff Hutt. Montgomery member Michael Turner even brought along his young daughter on the ride to show that families are an important part of Masonry. The riders distributed hard candy along the way, with a good time being had by all involved.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Blue Ridge Lodge installs Officers

It is no secret that as a whole our Lodges are getting "older". The average age and years in membership at most of our lodges is nearing and past the age of "Social Security". Well, I'm glad to see that in WNC we have a few Brothers/Lodges who are trying to "buck" that notion. How many of y'all can remember what your Lodge accomplished in 1988? In Blue Ridge Lodge, 1988 was a big year....cause that was the year that Harold Neeley welcomed a son named Matthew into the world.....little did he know that 21 years later he would get to install his own son into the East....as probably the youngest Worshipful Master in NC Masonry.

Below is a few words from Secretary Dave Cashion PM.....
"Matthew Neely was installed Master on Dec. 19, 2009. With his birthday being 08/15/1988, he may be the youngest Master in the state. He turned in his petition on his 18th birthday. His Father Harold, a very proud father, installed him as Master. Dads don't often get to install the sons. The Officers and members Blue Ridge are looking forward to the upcoming year. Our annual Christmas Dinner was postponed due to weather, and will now be a Valentines dinner. 2010 events will include the Lodge Picnic, Hot Dog sale fundraiser, and Christmas Dinner. We looking forward to receiving the DDGM on January 21, and hearing his message."



Matthew receiving the Lodge Charter.