Category Archive: President’s Messages

President’s Message, May 2021

“Time is a great mystery, the general relation in which all things perceptible stand to each other in regard to their origin, continuance, and dissolution. It is a movable image of eternity, or the interval of the world’s motion, illimitable, yet silently ever rolling and rushing on…”

Knight of Time (29°) ritual
Egyptian Masonic Rite of Memphis

If you love Masonic ritual, especially for its literary characteristics, that Knight of Time Degree from long ago is a rewarding read. I quote it here simply to render an embarrassed apology for not keeping current month to month with a President’s Message in this space. Sorry about that. My time management skills never were enviable, and lately it has been hard keeping track of what day it is.

We Masonic researchers love past times, and we delight in reading history. One convenient gateway into Freemasonry’s yesterdays is examining those famous men who came in the same way and manner during previous generations. As I write this to you on April 30, it is the 232nd anniversary of Bro. George Washington’s first inauguration as President of the United States. On a typical anniversary, brethren from the Grand Lodge of New York would convene at the very location in Manhattan where that epochal event happened to re-enact the ceremony, replete with the actual Masonic Bible on which Washington placed his hand when taking his oath of office. That is not possible this year as New York still tries to find a way out of the various states of enforced inactivity stemming from the pandemic.

May 1, when this message goes live, is the anniversary of the occasion in 1917 when the Grand Lodge of New York met for its 136th Annual Communication, also in Manhattan. Among the speakers that afternoon was Bro. Theodore Roosevelt, who was Washington’s 25th successor in the presidency, who addressed his Brother Masons on the defining event of those days. Less than a month earlier, the United States had entered what we today call World War I. They were emotional times, with the gamut of enflamed passions, from love of country to hatred of practically all things German. I won’t reproduce all of Roosevelt’s speech, but excerpted for you here are highlights that may induce you to seek out the entire text for your history studies:

Brother Grand Master, Brother Masons from Canada, Brothers and every Mason from our State and from the United States: Busy though I was, and difficult though it was for me to get even an hour away, I could not resist the opportunity you gave to speak to a body like this at such a time as this on such a subject as this. I speak to you, who represent in every community in this State the men to whom we have the right to look for leadership in service, leadership in service to our own brethren, leadership in service to our State as a whole, leadership in service to the United States, and now leadership in service to the calls of justice and freedom throughout the world… .

Now, brothers, it is a fine thing for a nation which treats the possession of the heritage of mighty names in the past as a spur toward good action in the present, but it is an evil thing for that nation to have a heritage of noble achievements in the past if it treats that achievement as an excuse for failure to achieve in the present. It is a fine thing to commemorate Washington’s memory, but only if we try to act now in the spirit of the men who upheld the hands of Washington when he was alive. I want to call your attention to the fact that Washington was not much of a speaker, but he never said anything he did not mean, and he never offered to try to make good what he had said. And I wish us now in this country today to treat as a form of action to be translated into continuing action, or else to be treated as a disgrace to us. It rests with us, with the American people, to make [President Woodrow Wilson’s] message of April 2nd one of the great State papers in our history. And that message will either reflect credit upon America or deepest discredit, accordingly as we do or do not translate it into efficient action… .

There cannot be anything more infamous than a wicked war, and there cannot be anything more glorious, more soul-stirring, than to do one’s duty in the great war for righteousness now being waged, to the end that peace shall come and that it shall be the peace of justice and of righteousness. We don’t wish a foot of land or a dollar of indemnity at the end. All we ask to do is to render service to mankind, but we hope to earn for ourselves the inestimable privilege of handing on to our children, with added glory, the heritage we received from our fathers… .

Therefore, Brothers, use your influence to see that we do two things: prepare, really prepare, and do our full duty in this war; and inaugurate a policy of preparedness that is to be continued after the war, and at the same time strike, and strike now. Let me give you a homely illustration. If a householder knows that there is a homicidal burglar operating in the neighborhood, and says he does not care to purchase an automatic because he is neutral between the burglar and the other householders, and anyhow is a peaceful citizen and does not think anybody is going to attack him…he is guilty of folly. But suppose he then wakes up one night and finds the homicidal burglar in his house, but held by two neighbors so that the burglar can’t get at him at the moment. What do you think of that householder if, when asked to come to the assistance of the two householders with whatever weapon that is handy, which happens to be a poker, he says ‘No, I have now come to the conclusion that an automatic is the right weapon, and I decline to hit the burglar until my automatic has been bought.’ We should say, ‘You were guilty of folly before, but you are a plain, unadulterated fool now, and you cannot atone for folly in the past by worse folly in the present.’ It is just so with us.

If you squander precious time in the social media platforms, you may have seen this quotation in a meme lately: “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And weak men create hard times.” You might want to suppose that comes from some genius of ancient Western Civilization, but it is borrowed from a novel by a contemporary writer named G. Michael Hopf, a combat veteran himself. It speaks to the Masonic mind for all the obvious reasons you understand from the Third Degree while also insisting there is true urgency embedded in the often mistakenly downplayed daily events of our lives today.

Many Freemasons see themselves as inheritors of some knightly tradition from the Middle Ages, but I’m not one of those. I am content to leave myself in a lineage of strong men who crafted magnificent wonders out of nature’s raw materials in anticipation of good times. A kind of “Knight of Time,” if you will.

Fiat lux. Fiat lex. Fiat pax.

Jay Hochberg
President

President’s Message, February 2021

I have been negligent in submitting President’s Messages for publication here on our website, which several members have told me makes the Masonic Society, or at least its website, look defunct. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize for the longstanding oversight.

To catch up, let me tell you about the Zoom webinar we hosted February 12 to hear the greatly anticipated comments of an eminent Freemason. We are working on editing the video of that event, and we will share it online for all to see soon. In the meantime, here is my summary of the memorable speech.

The Masonic Society Lecture 2021

In lieu of the Masonic Society’s usual banquet during the annual Masonic Week festivities in Virginia, we gathered via Zoom February 12 to host one of the most dynamic thinkers and persuasive speakers on the Masonic scene today. As president of the Society, I hadn’t anticipated the pandemic would still hound us into 2021, so I in fact had been planning for our customary dinner-lecture at the hotel in Arlington when I first contacted MW Bro. Akram Elias last June. It was my desire to find a speaker who would continue a theme opened by RW Bro. Eric Diamond, one of our Board members, who addressed the group in 2019 with a speech that rightly should arouse Freemasonry’s latent desire to infuse a positive energy into the public square because, candidly, we have turned into an introspective and persnickety historical society. Having discovered earlier in 2020 the Masonic Legacy Society, co-founded by Elias, I recognized exactly such a presenter of urgent Masonic ideals. He graciously agreed to join us, without any hesitation, mental reservation, etc.

MW Elias has been a Freemason since 1996, when he was initiated, passed, and raised in Potomac Lodge 5 in Washington, DC. He has presided in the East of La France Lodge 93, Benjamin B. French Lodge 15, Cincinnatus Lodge 76, and Pythagoras Lodge of Research, all in Washington, where he also is a founding member of other lodges. In 1999, he joined the Grand Lodge officer line, culminating in his term as Grand Master in 2008. He is a York Rite and Scottish Rite Mason, and a Shriner, as well as a member of invitational groups. His Masonic accolades and accomplishments are too numerous to include here. In his professional concerns and employments, Elias has been engaged in the field of international relations for more than thirty years; he is a co-founder and president of Capital Communications Group, Inc., an international consultancy that provides to governments and private clients alike an array of strategies for navigating across humankind’s varied nations and cultures.

His presentation is titled “Freemasonry in 2026: A Force for Good, or a Footnote in History?” He spoke for approximately thirty minutes before fielding questions for an hour.

“I hope every Freemason would take a few moments to truly think deeply and seriously about what it means to be a Freemason in our country five years before our country celebrates the 250th anniversary of our independence,” he begins. “And about the special relationship that has existed between the Founding of the Great Experiment and the role Freemasonry has played in the establishment, development, and evolution of the Great Experiment; and where we are today—at a major crossroads. Will Freemasonry rise to the challenge once again to help propel this Great Experiment into the future?”

Elias defines the Great Experiment as the uniquely American system of governance needed “to advance the human condition.” Not only democratic elections, which had been tried with only partial benefits to previous societies, but also “the genius of the Founding Fathers,” meaning government as a “systems engineering machine that people can use to solve their own problems.” By employing individual liberty, self-governance, and the rule of law, America, which he acknowledged was led at that time by white, Anglo-Saxon property owners, could set in motion a system that would “expand the Experiment” so as to include and embrace all the people of America.

“Enlightened citizens are of the utmost importance to the success of this Great Experiment,” he also says, and that is where Freemasonry enters the history. “Masonic lodges truly were incubators” where its members elected their leaders, voted on legislation, and honed their skills in rhetoric. The lodge experience produced leaders of local communities who could safeguard freedom, which is always endangered. “America created civil society,” he adds. While the world always had “society” consisting of structures—religion, ethnicity, family—that predetermined a person’s identity, it took the American Experiment to birth a place where an individual could relieve himself of constraints and enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, and other inalienable rights. “It is also, from an Enlightenment perspective, freedom from ignorance, freedom from bigotry, freedom from superstition.”

“Masonic lodges spread across the country. It was a place where people learned to govern themselves,” Elias continues. “They were laboratories where Masonry is taken seriously. How does Masonry take an individual and make him better? That happens by studying seriously the deeper meanings of the symbols and allegories of our Craft. It is the esoteric, the hidden aspect, that enables a person to transform from within.”

“Masonry was instrumental to help bring people together of different backgrounds to try to work together to build their communities.”  The result over time was making the Great Experiment more inclusive. “One way to look at the evolutionary history of the United States is to see each generation had to fight its own viruses—we live in a COVID pandemic right now. Viruses have variants and can spread sometimes like wildfire. Well, ignorance, superstition, bigotry, and extremism are viruses, and each generation of Americans would face those,” he says, referring to the revolutions in American life that ended chattel slavery and racial segregation, and that expanded suffrage and economic opportunity beyond the original Founders’ social class. “It took generations and generations of Americans to fight hard and make the Experiment more inclusive.”

“As Masons, we are taught in our ritual—we live it in many jurisdictions in our country—we need to attract people of different faiths, backgrounds, races, nationalities, etc.,” he explains. “We know what are the minimum criteria for someone to knock at the door and be accepted in our Craft.”

“Five years before we celebrate our 250th anniversary, given where our country is, what are Freemasons going to do? Are we, as Freemasons, going to go to lodges and do the stuff that we would typically do—conduct some business, maybe spend some good time together because we are fellows who like one another and spend an evening together—or  are we going to really go back to the fundamentals of Freemasonry and make it relevant again?”

“Freemasonry has a unique role: It is to build a better person, a more engaged, enlightened citizen, and that’s what we need, because if we don’t have enlightened citizens who take on the responsibility, engage the system engineering machine, to move us forward, solve our problems, always expanding opportunity for all—if we don’t do that, it becomes the rule of the mob,” Elias adds conclusively. “As Benjamin Franklin told that lady who asked ‘What have you given us, Dr. Franklin?’ And he said ‘A republic, madam, if you can keep it.’ And a republic needs enlightened, engaged citizens.”

President’s Message, October 2020

(Mea culpa from your Secretary-Treasurer — Jay’s column is late because I’m late putting it up! Sorry about that! — Nathan)

We Freemasons like our milestones. From our first entrance into the worshipful lodge, and through the degrees, and, for some, through the chairs, and, for a few, grand rank. Of course we also have our anniversaries: that first formative year as a brother, then the fifth year, and shockingly suddenly it is time for the silver anniversary, then the golden, and maybe more. With this issue of The Journal of the Masonic Society, we mark not an anniversary, but a milestone. An anniversary measures time, and time can be passed without effort, but a milestone is like a target. There’s a reasoned plan, a deliberate exertion, sustained determination, and—hopefully, but not always—the achievement. So here we are at Issue No. 50.

I have a unique vantage point for surveying the Masonic Society’s body of work. By dumb luck, I was invited to join at the start not only as a Founding Fellow, but even as a member of the Board of Directors. It seemed a little crazy to me, because the rest of the leadership team consisted of highly regarded figures on the Masonic scene in America. I was a recent Past Master and currently in the East of my research lodge, but I wasn’t a Past Grand Master, or an author, or a luminary of any kind. I hadn’t even unleashed my blog on the world yet. But I recognized the need for, and believed in the mission of, the Masonic Society—as I do still—and happily signed on with a desire to make a good fraternity better. As my colleagues writing to you here on this subject surely have mentioned, the basic concept of The Journal of the Masonic Society is to be “the Time magazine of Freemasonry.” (For those of you too young to know Time, it was the benchmark general interest magazine of American journalism, accessible to readers from all walks of life, and still around after 97 years.) We aim for a harmonious fusion of scholarly research, speculative thinking, news/current events, opinion/reviews, photography, and more. I believe we do it well, so perhaps in this context, respecting Time actually propels us toward a milestone.

Before our launch in 2008, there had not been such a resource available to the laboring Master Mason since the 1920s, when it was a pretty common thing. From the 1700s to the Great Depression, motivated Masons edited and published independently to satisfy a demand for useful information. The brethren wanted to read about their fraternity during a time before grand lodges and other bodies began supplying official periodicals. When those magazines debuted, the independents drifted away. What happened upon the advent of the Masonic Society was pretty amazing! Before, many existing magazines showed inevitable editorial biases. Grand lodge magazines were weighted in favor of the charitable work, while the publications of multi-state and national bodies seemed to struggle for want of good material. A different Masonic society was given to printing biographies of long deceased Baseball Hall of Famers. The arrival of The Journal of the Masonic Society changed much of that. The fruits of the labors of contemporary writers, showcased in a modern layout and design, and buttressed by the independence brought by paid memberships reminded Freemasons in America that it’s better to have the best. It was thrilling for me to see brethren come to our kiosk at Masonic Week to sign up for membership; to see brethren reading The Journal while relaxing in the hotel lobby. I’ll never forget strolling through the ground floor of Masonic Hall in New York City one night in May 2009 and overhearing a passing group of older Masons talking about us. “There’s a new society,” one said. “It’s alternative. It’s called the Masonic Society, and they publish a very attractive magazine.” And then there was the morning I received a call from the principals of that other Masonic society, offering me the editorship of their magazine (with $9,000 annual pay and a few perks) when they finally decided to plan a future without their longtime editor. That meant infinitely more to me than being coroneted a 33 Mason. I declined as graciously as I could given the shock I felt. I was committed resolutely to the Masonic Society and to building something new that was urgently needed in the Craft. (They wound up hiring away another key Masonic Society figure, and he has been doing a wonderful job with that academic quarterly.)

There is no rule and guide for presiding over a modestly sized non-profit group in the Masonic world. Worshipful Masters have their rituals, lodge bylaws, grand lodge constitutions, and generations of accreted traditions, habits, and preferences. Presidents of the Masonic Society? Not so much. Consequently the Society can differ in conspicuous ways with each new president’s term. It’s safe to say we have staved off chaos, but predictable, comfortable success is elusive too. That’s good though. Keeps us on our toes. Over the years, we have had to cycle through a number of officers and directors, worthy and well qualified Masons all, but who could not give the Masonic Society the sustained professional attention it demands. Our first Executive Editor was Chris Hodapp, probably the best known Freemason in the country thanks to his books, blog, and speaking engagements. He produced this great magazine—words and layout—for its first eighteen issues, even while he fought off cancer. Today he is our Editor Emeritus. Chris was succeeded by author Michael Halleran, Past Grand Master of Kansas, who continued the excellence. In more recent years, we have been lucky to have our second President, Mike Poll, at the helm, bringing his many years of experience as an eminent Mason and indefatigable book publisher to lead us to new heights, to more distant milestones, with Art Director John Bridegroom, graphic designer extraordinaire, crafting the layout.

And life goes on, Freemasonry is a “progressive science,” time waits for no one, and, as you read this fiftieth issue milestone of The Journal, we already are well into production of No. 51. See you then.

Jay Hochberg
President

President’s Message, August 2020

Issue 49 (Summer 2020) of The Journal of the Masonic Society has been out for about a month, so let me tell you about it in case you are not yet a member. You’ll find a lot of facts, logic, and reason within its pages.

In fact, the Winding Stairway of the Middle Chamber Lecture in the Fellow Craft Degree (for a great many of us) is presented in several contexts. Jim Rumsey of Texas gives us “The Masonic Philosophy of the Winding Stairway: A Pathway to Enlightenment,” in which he leads us up the stairs, step by step. On Music, for example, this elected member of his grand lodge’s Committee on Work explains how “Music teaches us to manage our time…and to understand that it takes time and patience to accomplish life.” And that “Harmony is bringing all things together and managing conflict.”

Meanwhile, in his “Light from the East Coast,” the President of the Masonic Society brings to our attention the Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Thomas Reid, whose name is noted in the Second Degree section of William Preston’s Illustrations of Masonry. Reid is renowned as the Father of Common Sense. His treatise titled Inquiry into the Human Mind expounds on the Five Physical Senses, also known to Free and Accepted Masons through the MC Lecture, and the President’s point is to urge Freemasons to use their faculties and common sense during the pandemic so as not to be “affected by hysterical media or by politicians who never planned for any emergency.” Hmmm.

Pennsylvania’s William Britton shares “Reflecting on the Reflections of a Newly Made Mason,” an essay that was inspired by a talk he witnessed in a lodge he had visited and that made quite an impact. Sharing his thoughts, for example, on Astronomy, Britton says:

As the seasons change—winter to spring, spring to summer—so the morning changes to midday, then afternoon, and leads us into the center, or middle chamber of the day. With that advancement comes maturity—time when we are fully able to make intellectual decisions in life, rather than using our emotions, relying on rationality as a means to make decisions based on reason. It is here, in the middle chamber, we are given more refined tools that become essential to the precision required in the building process. When a building is being erected, every stone in it must be so placed that the stress of gravity pulls on all portions of the structure in such a manner that its unity and consistency are preserved. Such it is when we base our decisions upon the foundation of rational reason.

I like what he writes in this piece. I think it recalls Stoic philosophy, but you decide for yourself. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling anyone who would listen that when our GMHA avows “My l u ma tk; bt m intg nv,” he is not referring to pure, honest duty. He is affirming how his obligations are integral to his being. When one speaks of a building’s structural integrity, he is not talking about the building’s honesty; he is referring to the building’s very ability to exist per the proper applications of the useful rules of architecture. The Emperor Marcus makes this very point in his Stoic reflections we know as the Meditations.

Upon opening this issue of The Journal, I actually landed in the middle, where we find “Masonic Perspectives: A Second Look at Aspects of Controversial Topics in American Freemasonry.” This is one in a series where the authors reach into history to demonstrate how—to borrow Karr’s famous axiom—the more things change, the more they stay the same. In this case, John Bizzack (Masonic Society Board Member) and Dan Kemble examine two articles from the May 1929 issue of The Builder magazine. The first is titled “The Future of Freemasonry,” by Herbert Hungerford, and the second is “Where Are We Drifting?” by R.J. Meekren. You probably can guess what these two vintage articles say, because you probably have been saying the same thing, namely that “we in America have been bitten by the lust for size, for numbers, for wealth.” (Hungerford) And that the “leaders of the Craft have very frequently expressed grave fears in regard to losses from various causes, especially those by suspension for non-payment of dues. Rather less frequently, doubts have been voiced as to whether the growth in the last decade has not been altogether too rapid.” (Meekren)

There is much detail provided in membership statistics, but it is not dry reading. It really is a very important lesson in Masonic practice that future grand masters ought to read and comprehend, so the Craft may break its pointless cycle of initiating and losing such high numbers of brethren.

In The Journal’s Spotlight section, we find an interview with the irrepressible John “Coach” Nagy, a persuasive voice in social media and a prolific author. Here Nagy extols the urgency of research, and illustrates the value of etymology in understanding Masonic vocabulary—something I prize myself. We use the terms Free and Accepted, Freemason, and free stone often enough, and Nagy explains that our word “free” should not be taken merely as “unrestrained,” but as per its French origin, franche, meaning “superior, excellent, pure, master.” The discussion spans three pages, but I wish it went longer.

Likewise looking into word meanings and our need to guard the West Gate, Francis Fritz of Arizona asks “Are We a Secret Society?” It’s a pretty short, but thoughtful, opinion piece that just may cure brethren of reciting a certain ubiquitous catchphrase about a society with secrets. Check it out and decide for yourself.

Giovanni “Joey” Villegas of Manila, Philippines renders a lengthy study in the back of the magazine on the subject of “Masonry in the Time of the Corona Virus,” that naturally was written independently of the President’s message in the front of the magazine, but that synchronously also encourages us to keep calm. After a deep recitation of facts and numbers on how the fraternity worldwide is dealing with the pandemic, Villegas reminds us that “Masonry is indeed about applying the tenets and teachings for the benefit of our brethren and of all mankind. You don’t need to have a meeting to learn and serve Masonry. It was never about collecting degrees or aspiring for positions and awards. It always has been about Brotherly Love (caring), Relief (helping), and Truth (learning).”

The regular features of The Journal consistently help us navigate the Masonic world outside our lodges. In the reviews section, Steven Shimp, a Past Master of St. John’s Lodge 435 in Pennsylvania (I’ve never seen a St. John’s Lodge numbered so high!) praises the Masonic Lite podcast, hosted by five fellow Pennsylvanians. Shimp credits the show for using informal talk to present Masonic education. In the books department, Seth Anthony (another Pennsylvanian!) discusses the Roger Dachez and Alain Bauer book Freemasonry: A French View, which he lauds as “an excellent, short read that is absolutely packed with Masonic knowledge” and that clarifies for the American reader the often vexing story of Freemasonry in France. My friend Dave Tucker of New Jersey sizes up Michael Poll’s Measured Expectations: The Challenges of Today’s Freemasonry, which was honored as the Grand Lodge of Illinois’ book of the year. “Measured Expectations examines the needs of a newly raised Mason,” Tucker writes. “The book is full of very practical observations and suggestions.” Another(!) Keystone State Mason, M. Vincent Cruciani, reviews the insightful Roy Wells’ Some Royal Arch Terms Examined. Noting how the book is more useful to English Royal Arch Masons than to Americans, Cruciani encourages us to read the book for its decoding of Hebrew terms.

Speaking of Mike Poll, the Editor in Chief of The Journal, in his Editor’s Corner column, also addresses Masonic life during the pandemic. (Let me point out that this issue of The Journal went into production in April, so it’s important to appreciate the time lapsed.) He notes the online discussions among Masons, and the organized efforts of brethren to help, aid, and assist the needy, whether they are Masons or not. “We are Masons and have the need to act like Masons.”

Perhaps as a kind of bookend, Masonic Society Second Vice President Greg Knott, in his photography feature “Through the Camera Lens,” takes us on a tour of the Civil War battlefield of Fredericksburg. He shows us the statue of Confederate soldier Richard Kirkland, who was thus memorialized because he risked his neck to bring water to the wounded Union men strewn about the field. “This selfless act is a reminder of the obligation we have as Freemasons to assist our brothers and others who might need some aid,” Knott writes. “During this time of COVID-19 pandemic, let us remember to reach out to our brethren and their families to ensure their well being.”

SMIB.

There still is more to this issue of The Journal of the Masonic Society, but it’s hard for me to believe you’ve read even this far, so see for yourself. It’s the best $45 you’ll spend in Freemasonry.

Fiat lux. Fiat lex. Fiat pax.

Jay Hochberg
President

President’s Message, June 2020

The faster society appears to spiral into oblivion, the more we, as Free and Accepted Masons, can be confident that our gentle Craft illumines the way forward. As I write this to you on the closing day of May, swaths of multiple American cities are left in smoking ruins following days of riots, looting, arson, and other savagery. Amid the current fog of war, seemingly everyone is pointing fingers at everybody else: It’s a rent-a-mob or it’s the far-Left or it’s the far-Right or it’s the Russians or maybe Martians. (The gallows humor in me recalls that funny hand gesture in the Table Lodge—following a very different kind of fire, and before a very different form of battery—when we ritually “Point! Left! Right! Point! Left! Right! Point! Left! Right!”)

In the rituals of many (most?) lodges in the English-speaking Masonic world, we reveal to the youngest Entered Apprentice the Four Cardinal Virtues: Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance, and Justice. Of the first, we, under the Grand Lodge of New York at least, say “this virtue is equally distant from rashness and cowardice, and should be deeply impressed upon your mind.” Of the second, we explain “Prudence teaches us to regulate our lives and actions agreeably to the dictates of reason, and is that habit by which we wisely judge and determine on all things relative to our present, as well as our future, happiness.” And Temperance, of course, is that “due restraint upon the passions which renders the body tame and governable, and frees the mind from the allurements of vice.”

That fourth virtue is considered apart from the first three. Whereas Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance concern our inner work, the refinements of heart, mind, and body, Justice causes us to look outward. It is a product of successful moral building in Fortitude, Prudence, and Temperance that we project toward others to aid in constructing a just society. The ceremony of initiation in my lodge says: “Justice is that standard which enables us to render to every man his due, without distinction. This virtue is not only consistent with Divine and human law, but is the very cement and support of society; and, as justice, in a great measure, distinguishes the good man, so should it be your practice to be just.”

The rituals most of us in America employ basically originate from the writings of William Preston, but there were other essential thinkers in Freemasonry in Preston’s time. William Hutchinson published his book The Spirit of Masonry in 1775. His book didn’t catch on quite as successfully as Preston’s Illustrations of Masonry, but, if nothing else, on the subject of Justice he thoughtfully advises:

“To walk uprightly before heaven and before men, neither inclining to the right or to the left, is the duty of a Mason, neither becoming an enthusiast or a persecutor in religion, nor bending towards innovation or infidelity. In civil government, firm in our allegiance, yet steadfast in our laws, liberties, and constitution. In private life, yielding up every selfish propensity, inclining neither to avarice or injustice, to malice or revenge, to envy or contempt with mankind, but as the builder raises his column by the plane and perpendicular, so should the Mason carry himself towards the world.”

And:

“Yet merely to act with justice and truth is not all that man should attempt, for even that excellence would be selfishness. That duty is not relative, but merely proper; it is only touching our own character, and doing nothing for our neighbor, for justice is an indispensible duty in each individual. We were not born for ourselves alone, only to shape our course through life in the tracks of tranquility, and solely to study that which should afford peace to the conscience at home, but men were made as mutual aids to each other.”

That sounds great, but where do we begin? In my April message to you, I urged we keep to the Masonic adage “Follow Reason” when trying to decode the various and changing communications from government to the public on the subject of COVID-19. This latest pandemic of rioting and destruction is said to have been ignited by a policeman’s killing of a civilian in Minnesota. The accused police officer is white; the deceased was black. It didn’t have to happen, and it shouldn’t have happened, but, for our purposes, Follow Reason holds true here too. There are facts that accountable public officials, civic leaders, news media, and others neglect to share with the American public. They have their reasons, but we have Reason. The Federal Bureau of Investigation publishes its annual Uniform Crime Report, a compendium of all kinds of data—some of them imperfect due to collection methods—concerning crime and punishment in the United States. Therein you will find how most arrest-related deaths result mostly in dead white people, and that white police officers kill white civilians. White police officers have killed black civilians. Black police officers have killed white civilians. Black police officers have killed black civilians. If fiery riots erupted after each incident, we’d be living in hell—an atmosphere of ceaseless deadly heat and no Light.

I close with more from Hutchinson: “Let us then, by our practice and conduct in life, show that we carry our emblems worthily, and as the children of the Light, we have turned our backs on works of darkness…preferring charity, benevolence, justice.”

Fiat lux. Fiat lex. Fiat pax.

Jay Hochberg
President

President’s Message, April 2020

“May you live in interesting times,” goes the saying that simultaneously rings like a blessing, but actually is anything but well-wishing. You have to admit, these are interesting days. For the first time in living memory, people everywhere live in fear of a contagion that is killing thousands worldwide and leaving countless more infected. I, for one, am not panicking.

We, as Free and Accepted Masons, are taught to train our minds so that we seek information, refine it into knowledge, and then carry on with some degree of wisdom. The truth about this COVID-19 is, yes, it is lethal to some and is present practically everywhere, but this is not the end of times. Let us, as the Moderns of the eighteenth century said in motto, “Follow Reason.”

The number of Americans diagnosed and recovered vastly exceeds the number of patients who have succumbed. In my own life, I just received word—as I write this—that my 96-year-old aunt, who had been convalescing in physical therapy following recent shoulder surgery, has died. The facility has been quarantined for weeks for everyone’s safety, but nothing is foolproof.

Oscar Alleyne, the First Vice President of the Masonic Society, is an epidemiologist who serves as chief program officer for the National Association of County and City Health Officials. Oscar earned a Doctor of Public Health Degree at New York Medical College, and he has years of experience with far more serious outbreaks (H1N1, Smallpox, MERS, West Nile, etc.). In addition appearing frequently on television to reassure a jittery public, Oscar also has been co-hosting web conferences for Masonic audiences to explain what he knows about staying safe. Seek him out in these media because I can’t avouch for a more rational source of information. For raw data, please keep up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here. At four o’clock every weekday afternoon, the CDC updates the statistics on the nationwide total deaths and total COVID-19 cases. Right now, there have been 3,603 deaths. I recommend ignoring the “death ticker” that one self-described news channel on cable television is maintaining. The number shoots up like the dollar amount on a gas pump. If nothing else, remember the flu is killing tens of thousands of Americans this season. Funny how we don’t hear about it.

In fact, I advise against consuming too much “news media.” The initiated eye will see it is intended to hold a fearful audience captive for increased clicks or viewers or readers or whatevers. Instead, Follow Reason. We Freemasons keep our faith in God and fear no danger. We’re not imprudent but, armed with the Cardinal Virtues and the Theological Virtues, we are better able to keep healthy, safe, and sane.

If you now are coping with a lot of extra time due to interruptions in your working life, please know there are myriad sources of Masonic interaction being kept current. There are webinars hosted by lodges, grand lodges, and other groups. Podcasts abound seemingly everywhere, including the new Meet, Act and Part co-hosted by Greg Knott, the Second Vice President of the Masonic Society. Just today, Founding Fellow Piers Vaughan released his translation of an obscure French text concerning Freemasonry, Martinism, and other topics here. And wherever you are at 9 p.m., please take part in the worldwide Time to Toast, organized by the United Grand Lodge of England, when we raise our glasses to absent brethren—because right now, we all are absent until we return to less interesting times.

Fiat lux. Fiat lex. Fiat pax.

Jay Hochberg
President

President’s Address, 2018 Annual Meeting

The following was read on behalf of WBro. Davis at the 2018 Annual Meeting of The Masonic Society on February 9, 2018, in Alexandria, Virginia.


Brethren and guests,

I regret that treatment for prostate cancer prevents my attending this meeting, but I know I am leaving it in good hands.

In October 2015, my predecessor, Jim Dillman, called and chaired a board retreat in St. Louis, Missouri, to set strategic goals for The Masonic Society. We were one vote short of a quorum, so the gathering was not an official board meeting, but several of us attending said that the meeting was one of the most productive we had ever participated in. At the meeting, we set three initiatives for the next two years, and distributed them to the members for online discussion.

I subsequently, before taking office at Masonic Week 2016, talked with each board member separately, as well as other key members of TMS, and learned their own priorities and commitments.

Our first initiative was an annual TMS conference, and indeed we had TMS’s first two annual conferences, a small but excellent one in San Jose, California, in October 2016, organized by board member Gregg Hall, and a larger one in Lexington, Kentucky, in September 2017, organized by board member John Bizzack. Chris Hodapp, editor emeritus of the Journal of The Masonic Society, called it “one of the very best and most useful Masonic symposiums I’ve attended in a long time.”

My own hope is that TMS Conferences will attract and serve not only Masonic leaders and researchers, as Masonic Week does so effectively, but also more and more of the many Masons who have, perhaps only recently, become interested in the history, philosophy, and symbolism of the Craft. If they attend only one national Masonic event, I hope it will be ours.

But conferences are expensive, and require an extraordinary amount of planning and preparation time, so our now-available funds and volunteers may not be able to support an annual conference. Increasing our membership may allow us to continue annual conferences, but for now at least, we may be able to hold conferences only biannually.

Our second initiative was a TMS School. So far, the school has offered one course, in the history and philosophy of Freemasonry, created and conducted online by Michael Poll, editor of our journal. The board has begun discussing another TMS School program, an educational tour of Masonic sites in the UK, organized by board member Greg Knott.

Our third initiative was a TMS Scholar program, to offer financial support for a major project by a selected Masonic researcher, who in turn would be available to speak to lodges of research and other Masonic organizations during his or her term of service. Planning for this initiative is ongoing.

And I know that many of you share my view that under Mike Poll’s editorship, The Journal of the Masonic Society continues to be Freemasonry’s leading periodical.

My personal highlight during my term as president occurred a year ago, at Masonic Week 2017, when board member Greg Knott and his lodge brother Todd Creason arranged for past president Jim Dillman and me, representing TMS, to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, at Arlington Cemetery. We did so, in full Masonic regalia. I was especially honored to be allowed, as a veteran, to render a hand salute to our fallen heroes.

In conclusion, it has been an honor for me to serve as The Masonic Society’s president during the last two years. It has been a pleasure to know and work with my brother directors and officers, as well as many other TMS members. I am very optimistic about the society’s future.

Again, I’m sorry I can’t be among you tonight. But I know you’ll proceed to meet on the level, act by the plumb, and part on the square.

Fraternally and sincerely,

Ken Davis, President, The Masonic Society

President’s Message, Issue 34: TMS 2016 Annual Conference

President’s Message, Issue #34, The Journal of The Masonic Society

How good and how pleasant it is …
by Kenneth W. Davis, FMS

I’m recently back from one the most interesting and informative Masonic events of my life, the 2016 Annual Conference of The Masonic Society, which took place October 7-9, in beautiful Morgan Hill, California.

2016 Annual Conference Program CoverHonoring the conference theme, “Freemasonry on the Frontier,” speakers took participants on a fascinating historical tour of the expanding North American frontier, from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Kicking off the conference Friday evening was Jefferson H. Jordan, Jr., immediate past grand master of Masons in New Mexico, speaking as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, “Mark Twain.” Clemens’s talk emphasized his Masonic experience and his travels on the Western frontier of the United States.

The first presentation Saturday was by William Miklos, who invited us to participate in “an Imaginary Conversation among the Thirteen Masons of the Continental Convention.” Bill is founding master of the Golden Compasses Research Lodge, past master of the Northern California Research Lodge, and a founding member of TMS.

Following Bill were Moises Gomez, past grand historian of the grand lodge of New Jersey, who spoke about the early traveling lodges of his home state, and Kyle Grafstrom, junior warden of Verity Lodge 59 in Kent, Washington, speaking on “Freemasonry in the Wild West.”

Saturday afternoon began with Adam Kendall, a founding fellow of TMS and editor of The Plumbline, the journal of The Scottish Rite Research Society, who presented “Pilgrimage and Procession: The 1883 Knights Templar Triennial Conclave and the Dream of the American West.”

He was followed by Wayne Sirmon, treasurer of Mobile Lodge 40 and past master of the Texas Lodge of Research, who spoke on “West by Southwest: The Expansion of Frontier Freemasonry from the Old Southwest”—by which he meant, to my surprise, not New Mexico and Arizona, but Alabama. (Who’d have thought?)

The “frontier-themed” presentations ended with a fascinating look at “Freemasonry and Nation-building on the Pacific Coast,” by John L. Cooper III, past grand master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of California. We were especially honored to have John present, as he is currently president of our sister organization, The Philalethes Society.

After Saturday dinner was a special bonus presentation by Moises Gomez, who in addition to his Masonic honors is a twenty-eight-year veteran of the Emergency Service Unit of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. As such, Moe was among the first responders at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He spoke on his experiences at “Ground Zero” and the Masonic values he saw embodied there, and he presented conference participants with a commemorative pin.

9/11 Commemorative PinThe single most important person in making the conference a success was TMS board member Gregg Hall, who coordinated all local arrangements and pitched in with preparing our gourmet meals.

The year 2017 will include two already-scheduled TMS events. The first will be our seventh annual dinner at Masonic Week, February 9-12, at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia. The dinner will take place Friday, February 10, at 6:30 pm, and will feature an after-dinner talk by Mike Poll, past president of TMS and editor of this journal. All Masons, ladies, and guests are welcome!

Our 2017 conference will be held September 7-10, at Embassy Suites in Lexington, Kentucky. The conference, tentatively titled “Celebrating 300 Years of Freemasonry,” is being coordinated by Masonic author and TMS board member John Bizzack and is being cosponsored with Lexington Lodge 1 (chartered in 1788), The Rubicon Masonic Society, The Grand Lodge of Kentucky Education Committee, William O. Ware Lodge of Research, and Ted Adams Lodge of Research.

Besides presentations by nationally known speakers, the conference will include tours of the Kentucky Horse Park and Ashland Estate, the home of famed nineteenth-century Mason Henry Clay, as well as a formal festive board at historic Spindletop Hall.

As a former faculty member at the University of Kentucky, a thirteen-year resident of Lexington, and an official, governor-proclaimed Kentucky Colonel, I know first-hand the beauty of the Bluegrass State and the hospitality of its people. Just as my wife, Bette, and I took advantage of the location of our 2016 conference to make a spectacular trip down the California coast, I hope many of you will take advantage of the equally beautiful and historical setting of the 2017 event.

(An aside: when I lived in Lexington, I was not yet a Mason and did not know John Bizzack. Only recently did we discover that I served on the very grand jury that indicted the criminals whom John and his fellow police offers rounded up in a sting operation. The Masonic world is a small one.)

I look forward to seeing many of you at Masonic Week in Virginia in February and at the TMS Conference in Kentucky in September. Each of them will be a must-go event in this Masonic anniversary year. Be there, and on the square!

Fraternally,

Kenneth W. Davis

President’s Message, Issue 33

President’s Message, Issue #33, The Journal of The Masonic Society

Point to Heaven . . .
by Kenneth W. Davis, FMS

You won’t be surprised to learn that my Masonic e-mail signature block includes the line “President, The Masonic Society.” However, the line before that carries another Masonic title, “Chaplain, Albuquerque Lodge 60 and the New Mexico Lodge of Research.” I value deeply my office in TMS, but I value equally the honor of serving as a chaplain. As chaplain, I try (succeeding only in part, of course) to follow the injunction given me when I was installed (from the monitor of the Grand Lodge of New Mexico):

“Reverand Brother . . . it is your special duty to conduct the devotions of the Lodge, and to present before the throne of Heavenly Grace the spiritual needs of your Brethren. In all your intercourse with your Lodge, it is expected that you will ‘point to Heaven and lead the way.’”

As chaplain, I recite the opening and closing prayers, as well as the prayers within degrees. But I also love—though I am a layman—the occasional opportunities to be “pastoral” for my brothers.

When we elect a new candidate for degrees, and after the secretary has called him, I give the candidate a phone call. I introduce myself, extend my congratulations, and ask him three things.

First, I ask him what Volume of Sacred Law he wishes to take his obligations on. I tell him that no one, at least in the context of blue-lodge Masonry, will ask about his specific religious tradition again. As our twenty-first landmark requires (again in the version within the New Mexican monitor), “that a Book of the Law, a religious code of some kind puporting to be an exemplar of the revealed will of God, shall form an essential part of the furniture of every Lodge.”

I often ask the candidate to check the website of the Grand Lodge of Israel. In that highly contentious country the seal of the Grand Lodge of Israel displays the Jewish Star of David, the Christian Cross, and the Muslim Crescent.

Second, I ask the newly-elected candidate to not read any details of the degree rituals, so he can experience the degrees without foreknowledge and preconceptions.

And third, I tell him about chambers of reflection. Like, I suppose, most North American lodges, the two blue lodges of which I’ve been a member do not have such chambers. So I ask the candidate to find three blocks of time between then and the degree—at least fifteen minutes each—when he can sit alone, in the dark and in silence, and meditate on his past, present, and future, including his eventual death.

(Incidentally, though I don’t have a skull on my personal home “altar,” I do have the polished box, provided by our cremation service, that will one day hold my ashes. That’s a pretty good memento mori for me.)

The most moving event in my service as chaplain happened in June of this year. John Baker, a fifty-year Mason and Albuquerque 60’s marshall and oldest active member, passed away. I had sat next to him in lodge for several years, and had come to rely on his friendship, advice, and occasional prompting.

While John was hospitalized, I had visited him and said a prayer, but a Masonic commitment prevented my attending his funeral. So I was grateful to be invited to his cremation. Three members of the lodge were there, along with John’s son-in-law, an artist.

We gathered around the uncovered cardboard box in which John’s unembalmed body lay. We each said our goodbyes, and I offered prayers. John’s son-in-law, though not a Mason, had painted on wood an abstract image of an all-seeing eye. He laid it on John’s chest, and asked him to personally present it as an offering to God.

With the funeral director, we put the cover on the box, wheeled it into the cremation room, and slid it through the open door of the furnace. The funeral director closed the door, and the other four of us together pushed the green button that started the flames. I had never before felt so powerfully the reality of the words from Ecclesiastes 12:7 recited in the Master Mason degree: “Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was; and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” I’ll tangibly felt John’s spirit making its final exit from his body.

Thanks for letting me honor John by telling that story. Please send me your own “chaplain” stories, or better yet, post them on the TMS member’s forum.


By the way, an excellent source for Masonic prayers, for many occasions, is the pocket-sized Compendium of Masonic Prayers and Graces, by Rev. Neville Barker Cryer, published by Lewis Masonic.


A final note:

This journal’s editor-in-chief, Michael Halleran, who gave us more than four years of excellent work, has resigned. I’m proud to announce that he has been replaced by Michael Poll, whose service begins with this issue. Mike Poll is eminently qualified for the job, and he has gathered an outstanding team: Assistant Editors Mark Robbins, Christopher Rodkey, and Christian Christensen; Art Director John Bridegroom; Advertising Director Jay Hochberg; and Review Editor Tyler Anderson. Please give them your thanks and support!

Fraternally,

Kenneth W. Davis

President’s Message, Issue 32

Important: For new information on the TMS Conference, Scholar, and School, see the tabs above.

By the Exercise of Brotherly Love . . .
by Kenneth W. Davis, FMS

Here in New Mexico, the first-degree lecture lists the “Tenets of a Freemason’s profession” as “Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth”—doubtlessly not a surprise to Masons everywhere.

The lecture continues by defining brotherly love:

By the exericise of Brotherly Love, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family—the high, the low, the rich, the poor—who, as created by one Almighty Parent, and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support, and protect each other. On this principle, Freemasonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion; and conciliates true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.

In the US, the “perpetual distance” between people of different religious and political tribes seems large. Even in some Masonic lodges, religious and political differences among brothers are causing discord, even hatred. Young brothers are being told, for example, that Freemasonry is for members of only one religious tradition.

How did our Craft get into this situation, and how do we get out? One answer, although certainly not the only answer, may seem puzzling at first. I suggest there may be a correlation between true brotherly love and a deep devotion to our ritual—including lectures like the one I quoted above—and to what it stands for.

Freemasonry is often defined as “a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols.” We live in an age filled with signs but almost devoid of symbols. In the sense I am using the word sign—a sense drawn from the science of semiology—signs have single, simple, explicit, surface meanings. An octagonal yellow road sign usually means stop, and nothing else. (Even those who choose to ignore that meaning acknowledge it.) In contrast, symbols have multiple, complex, implicit, deep meanings. The American flag is not just a sign, but a symbol, with a wide range of meanings around the world, positive or negative or both.

To complicate the matter, something can be a sign to one person and a symbol to another. To someone who lost a loved one because of a driver running a stop sign, the octagonal yellow road sign may call up a host of associations and feelings; it may become a symbol. And to someone in the world with no particular feelings either way about the United States (can we imagine such a person?) the American flag will be just a sign, simply identifying the USA. The fading Coca-Cola painted on the side of my childhood home (an apartment over our newspaper shop) can be seen as a mere sign, pointing to a particular brand of soft drink, or as a symbol, representing a whole cluster of economic and sociological and psychological and historical meanings.

In some earlier cultures, people lived lives surrounded by what they saw as symbols. A rock wasn’t just a rock; it was a part of the body of Mother Earth, or the residence of a god, or an emblem of solidity, or an instrument of punishment, or all of the above. Our culture, in contrast, has few symbols. We tend to focus on surface meanings. A rock is just a rock—or at best an example of granite or marble or sandstone. Most of us are “fundamentalists” in one way or another, taking what could be symbols and reading them as if they were merely signs, with simple, single, knowable meanings, religious or scientific. The literalist religious fanatic and the radical atheist have much in common.

The language and imagery of Freemasonry is remarkably rich in symbols, if we respect them as such. As Masons, we have the opportunity, in every lodge meeting, to move beyond our everyday world of signs into a highly charged, deep symbolic world.

In my mother lodge, one of my brethren was an ordained Gnostic bishop steeped in Western esotericism, while others declared—quite vocally—that they hold little truck with esoteric interpretations. From my Gnostic brother, I was reminded that the letter G in the east end of a lodge can stand not only for geometry and God (the latter mostly only in Germanic languages), it can also stand for gnosis, the inner sacred knowledge—light, if you will—that we Freemasons seek. For me, now, when I see the G, I recognize that it is not just a sign: it has at least three symbolic meanings for me.

So Masonic ritual, if taken seriously, is deeply symbolic. What’s that have to do with brotherly love?

My answer is that the way we see things as signs or symbols is reflected in the way we see people. In the industrialized, materialist West, too many of us—especially men, I think—see most other people has having simple, single meanings. One way we do that is through labeling: he’s a Republican, she’s a Mexican, he’s gay. By giving a person a neat label, we can avoid—we can’t not avoid—looking into the depths of meaning that person carries. Another way we attribute simple, single meanings to people is through seeing them as functionaries, as things that exist solely to serve a narrow function for us. As an unknown (to me) writer put it, “People were made to be loved. Things were made to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved, and people are being used.” We go through our days not really seeing the people who wash our cars, or clean our restrooms, or fight our fires, or teach our children.

A former colleague of mine who taught psychology was once leaving a ice cream shop near the University of Kentucky campus holding hands with his wife and carrying their young daughter on his shoulders. They passed two students heading toward the shop, then overheard one of the students whisper to the other, “If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that guy was my psych professor.” To that student, my friend existed only in the classroom; he couldn’t possibly eat ice cream, much less have a wife and daughter.

Because we men, especially, tend to look at other people in these ways, we find it very hard to develop close, initimate, deep male friendships. I suggest that a fundamental cause is our male tendency to dismiss other people as having simple, single, superficial meanings rather than complex, multiple, deep meanings.

When, as a brand new Mason, I learned that some of my brothers had partisan political views almost diametrically opposed to mine, I honestly questioned whether I had joined the right lodge. After all, I had spent much of my adult life avoiding relationships with “that” kind of people.

I’ve since learned how foolish that reaction was. (I was about to say “juvenile,” but realized that would be an insult to children.) I share with those brothers a respect for the deep symbolic language of our ritual, for its rich multiple meanings. Having this mutual respect, we are able to look past surface differences into the depths of each other’s being and respect what we find there. That’s not sappy sentimentalism, but a truth I’ve learned, to my great surprise, in my seventh and eighth decades of life. I believe I was a good man when I became a Mason at the age of sixty. Now, thanks to Masonry, I’m a lot better.

Millions of men in our culture are seeking that truth, without even knowing it. They are looking for deep symbolic meanings below the surface of things, and they are looking for deep male friendships. I suggest that those two yearnings are closely related, and that Freemasonry is uniquely positioned to fulfill them. Many lodges are finding that deep respect for ritual can lead to deep respect for one another.

In our time—with deep divisions among people and cultures that seem to remain “at a perpetual distance” from each other—the world desparately needs Masonic respect. It’s a gift Freemasons, in our daily encounters, can give the world. We call it Brotherly Love.

Fraternally,
Kenneth W. Davis

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