Saturday, September 29, 2007

Grand Lodge – Day 1:

So I've been a Master Mason for a whole 72 hours... What's a new Mason to do first???

I know! Go to Grand Lodge!

I took a cab to the Grand Lodge building & there was already a large group of people hanging out out front of the building. I went in & it was sensory overload... So many people, exhibits everywhere: From the Masonic Homes, the Shrine, Eastern Star, Amaranth, Scottish Rite, Knights Templar, National Sojourners, Job's Daughters, Rainbow Girls, DeMolay, and various other people selling Masonic items, including LA Fraternal and The Master's Jewel.

Thank God that I got a tap on the shoulder & it was R., our Lodge Secretary. I registered, and hung out with him, walking around to all the exhibits. We eventually ran into Worshipful Master B., and subsequently ran into the majority of the officers of Mission #169.

After a while, it was time to go into the main hall for the opening of Grand Lodge. Check out the link here to get an idea of what what it looked like inside.

When we got started, this was a fully Tyled Lodge of Master Masons, so all the ceremony was done by the book. One of the coolest things I witnessed was a room filled with approximately 700 men giving the due guard and sign, in unison. Too flippin' cool.

I won't talk any more about what happened in the Lodge, but suffice it to say it was very cool.

It's funny; to think that this was the first lodge meeting of Master Masons that I've ever been to; outside of my raising 3 days ago.

We finished up around 4:45pm, and I walked down to a pizza joint near Grand Lodge. While I was sitting there waiting for my food, two very cool guys from Southern California sat nearby. I ended up talking to T. and R., and the three of us ended up at a bar around the corner from the pizza place & threw back a couple of drinks.

I ended up leaving at 7:45pm, going back to Grand Lodge for Chris Hodapp's talk. I walked in, started schmoozing & introduced myself to Chris, his wife Alice, and a number of other brethren there. We were all corralled into the lecture room where Chris gave his talk on the Masonic influences on the designing of Washington D.C.

One thing about Chris; if you've read Freemasons for Dummies, then you know his writing style. Very smart and informative, but not stuffy nor boring. In person, he's the same way. He has such a great knowledge of Masonry, but isn't big-headed about it at all. He jokes, and doesn't take himself tooo seriously.

Afterwards, T., (a visiting Mason from Denmark – check out his blog), and I walked back over to Chris & got our books autographed. I also got a picture with Chris:

I also met the guy who runs The Master's Jewel, and found out that he is also the same guy who runs Masonic Ink (the best resource I have ever seen regarding Masonic tattoos...) I also met the guys who run Golden State Masons.

I ended up taking a cab home, plopped down in front of my computer & started writing.

I'm tired, I'm going to bed.

But I'll keep you posted on what happens tomorrow.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Raising:

Tuesday came, and I tried to get some work done, not very successfully. All I could think about was what was about to happen that night. Instead, I updated this blog, bringing it up to date, and started getting ready for L. to come by & pick me up.

We got to the lodge around 5:45pm, and our parking lot was already filling up fast, so we decided to drive around the block to look for parking. It was a really great coincidence that we ended up parking in front of the metal grate at the Lodge's front door, as that was where my odyssey began with Mission #169. We walked around to the main entrance (in the back), walked in, and I greeted the brethren I saw, and their wives as well.

At the end of each month, we have a dinner & get-together for lodge members & their families, so that's what was going on tonight.

We had Chicken Shish-Kabobs (kudos to the cooks!) However, I joked that it might've been funnier if we had goat-kabobs.

*** For the Record: THERE WERE NO GOATS! ***

We were also hosting our brothers from Oakland-Durant-Rockridge #188, and my degree was to be the highlight of the night. The wives ended up watching National Treasure in the Friendship Room, while we did our thing in the main Lodge Room.

An aside about the O-D-R guys: These guys are awesome! Man, I would love to hang out with these guys in general! They'll keep you laughing the whole time, and the constant joking & bantering with these guys made the dinner absolutely great...

K. was there, as well as M., but they couldn't go into the lodge ceremony, as being a 1st Degree candidate and 1st Degree Mason, respectively, so they hung out for a bit, then took off.

I sat outside the lodge talking to the Tyler, (whom I have really enjoyed getting to know). At that point, one of the O-D-R guys came out of the Lodge, and a new O-D-R guy entered the building. Unfortunately the new arrival didn't have a coat & tie, so the Tyler couldn't let him in. The two O-D-R guys and myself walked over to the coat room, found him a jacket & tie when I heard someone calling my name. It was the Stewards; I think they may have thought I'd flown the coop! I came back to the Lodge entrance, they escorted me to the preparation room, and I started getting ready.

The funny thing about this, is that as I was getting prepared, I was checking everything over to make sure it was right. The Stewards said, “Hey, you're not supposed to know how to do that yet!”

I half-smiled & said, “Oh yeah, that's right... I don't know this yet...”

Again, I knew (mostly) what was about to happen, but just hadn't experienced it for real.

The Stewards finished preparing me, and then...

=== snip ===

OK, it's over.

Wow, what an experience. Yes, I knew what was going to happen, for the most part, but there was one section where ____________________ happened, which I didn't expect. I kind of chuckled to myself saying 'that was cool.'

Another thing that happened was that Mission #169 gives you a lot of gifts when you become a Master Mason. People joked beforehand that I would need a bag to carry all of the cool stuff home.

They weren't lying.

It reminded me of the cool swag packages celebrities get when they go to the Oscars... A HUGE Masonic Bible, an trowel engraved with my name, date of my raising & Worshipful Master's name, books signed by all the attendees, my lambskin apron (signed under the flap by the Secretary & Worshipful Master with my entering, passing, & raising dates), a couple of cool gifts from the O-D-R Lodge, my dues card (which I will need tomorrow when I go to Grand Lodge), and a CD-ROM of all the Officer's Manuals, since the wheels are in motion to get me in the Officer's line.

On that note... Before the ceremony, the Senior Deacon for my raising told me that we'd need to get together sometime afterwards so he could explain to me what I would be expected to do next week at the stated meeting... Performing the role of Junior Steward!

OK... Within one week's time, I'll have been raised, gone to Grand Lodge, and performed as Junior Steward.

Very overwhelming, to say the least...

One of the most important things that I'd like to say, was that the performance of the Officers during the ceremony was superb. There were only a couple of times during the whole 2 ½ hour ceremony that anyone needed to be prompted, and the evening was all done in a dramatic, solemn way. My hat goes off to you guys; spectacular job.

Lastly, I would like to officially thank G. & L. for all their time & help to prepare me for everything. On that note, the day after (Wednesday), L. & I started working on the Master Mason proficiency... I don't have to have it done until I want to become Senior Deacon (at least 3 years from now), but getting it out of the way while the iron is still hot is a good idea.

Photo: My Raising 9/25/07, yours truly in the blue shirt, next to the Worshipful Master. Photo courtesy: Brother Sam Yee, Mission #169

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Informal Affair... 2nd Degree Proficiency:

So Monday came around and G. had set it all up with the powers that be that I could do my proficiency then. You see, all of the officers were having a 3rd Degree rehearsal that day, and they could just open the lodge “for real,” call down to the 2nd Degree, and I could do my proficiency.

L. came by & picked me up, and we went through the proficiency a couple of times in the car on the way over. It was really funny, as whenever I've seen the officers, it has been during some sort of Lodge function. But this was truly informal... (remember it was supposed to be a rehearsal) It was really strange putting on my apron over jeans.

I waited outside the lodge room as they opened the lodge, talking to H., the Tyler. Eventually they opened the doors, let me in and...


So there. Done. After the proficiency, I left the Lodge room & they continued with the... Well, whatever the hell they were doing in there. Both G. & L. came out with me & talked with me for a little while. According to both, they both believed it was a letter perfect proficiency. I'm not sure, I think it was, but I'm not positive.

Well, whether or not it was letter perfect, (I think it was), there's nothing left to do but wait 2 weeks to do the raising. It's scheduled for September 25th, a Tuesday.

< fast forward 13 days >

So I've been sitting here the past couple of weeks & I'm really happy with the way things have turned out. I have no pressure before the ritual to get the proficiency right, all I have to do is enjoy the process. Over the past week or so, I've been contemplating what they taught me during the ritual & what it means to be a Fellowcraft. I've always been a well-read guy... But I've taken it upon myself to read materials about history, science, sacred geometry, rhetoric, etc. I keep thinking of the principles of the Enlightenment and how through the constant seeking of knowledge and spiritual development makes you a better person. It's one thing to be a 'good person,' but when a good person strives to improve himself and make his world a better place, that's what separates a 'good person' from a leader.

That's another thing I've felt recently with my delving into Masonry; a greater sense of responsibility to my community, to my country, to the world.

In 24 hours I'll be a Master Mason.

Humph. 15 years waiting for it & here it is.

14 days and counting... Can I do this???

Cramming for my 2nd degree proficiency (full form).

Dear God. What've I gotten myself into?

I've done worse... I've prepared full operas in 2 weeks... I can do this.

Believe it or not, I've actually found learning stuff in foreign languages easier than this. When you don't speak the language, you can't interpret what's being said. The word is the word. But when you memorize something in English, it's too easy to put in synonyms. I found myself mixing and interchanging words like 'can' with 'could,' and 'try' with 'prove'... AARGH!

Well, thanks to non-stop coaching with G. & L., it all began falling into place. The first day (Wednesday) was rough; the second day, I had about 80% of the whole thing down pat. By Friday it was memorized, I just needed to keep running it over & over & over again until it was solid.

On Friday night I talked with G. and asked his opinion on how it was going. He said that we didn't need the 2 weeks, I was good to go right now. If I felt up to it, I could do my proficiency that coming Tuesday.

Holy crap.

I just learned the 2nd degree proficiency in 4 days.

Let's do it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Whaddaya Know?! I'm Famous:

I originally created this blog hoping that someone may find it, read it, and get some insight about what Masonry is, and help anyone who may be on the fence about joining.

One of the best books out there is Freemasons for Dummies, written by Worshipful Brother Christopher Hodapp. Right about the time when I put in my application, I found his great book, and wholeheartedly recommend it. If you're interested in what the fraternity is, is not, or are thinking of joining, it's the one book you NEED to buy.

There are so many books out there that are utter trash, (and I should know, I think I have them all) this book is a breath of fresh air. Hodapp writes in plain English what you need to know, dispels misconceptions and outright lies, but doesn't take himself too seriously!

Imagine my surprise when I found out that my little ol' blog was a featured post on Chris's blog.

Thanks for the post, I appreciate it!

Again, if you don't have Chris Hodapp's book yet, stop reading this post right now and go out and get it!

Photo: Freemasons for Dummies, Christopher Hodapp

Friday, September 21, 2007

One of the most amazing things I've ever seen:

Shortly after I got involved with Mission #169, another 'new guy' showed up roughly around the same time as my buddy, K. This guy, M., is a really cool guy who was originally from Lebanon, but lives here now, where he has a wife & child.

After getting to know M., I found out that he's a Lewis; in other words, his father was/and is, a Mason. M. had been interested in Masonry for years, but in Lebanon, as in much of the world outside of the U.S., Masonry has had to go underground. There is so much conspiracy-theory paranoia, that so many Masons are (rightly so!) afraid of letting people know that they're a part of this great fraternity. M. said that his father had been a Mason for about 13 years, and M. never even knew it.

Well, he's here now, and he's welcomed with open arms.

Fast forward a few months...

It has come time for M.'s initiation, and our current Worshipful Master specifically wanted to obligate him.

You see, M. is Muslim, and decided to take his Obligation on the Qur'an.

Also, our Worshipful Master happens to be an Episcopal Priest.

With all of the hostility, strife and intolerance in the world right now, it can pain the heart when you think of all that is going wrong. But that night, I saw an Episcopal Priest obligate a Muslim candidate on the Holy Qur'an.

Friendship. Brotherly Love. Truth.

That's what Masonry is all about... and I saw it that night.

Welcome, Brother M.

Photo: Holy Qur'an with the Square & Compass

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Initiated Eye:

After working all day Wednesday (2 days ago), I decided to go to The Initiated Eye exhibit over at Grand Lodge. It took a couple of transfers on the Muni transit in San Francisco to get there, but I arrived around 6pm.

I talked to J., the guy at the front desk, and he gave me some pointers. There is a video near the back of the exhibit about Emile Norman, the guy who created the mosaic at Grand Lodge, then I walked around the Masonic artifact cases where they had a number of different Masonic items, some which they pulled from the rubble of the 1906 earthquake. I think two items were the most impressive: There is a sword, which was in the fire so long, that the heat fused the scabbard to the blade. You can still see the guy's name engraved on the sword. Secondly, there's a Past Master's jewel which is all charred & disfigured, and right next to it is another jewel; I think it's a Senior Deacon's jewel, but there's not that much of it remaining to tell.

There were quite a few tracing boards hung on the walls, and an entire wall with beautiful historic aprons on them, some with intricate embroidery on them.

Added to all of this, is the main part of the exhibit: Paintings by Peter Waddell. I don't need to describe them, I'll let his amazing work speak for itself.

Check out the exhibit; it's really quite amazing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

One *#%$ing word! AAUGH!!!

So the Lodge scheduled my 1st degree proficiency during the tail-end of the August Stated Meeting. I had it down pat. No mistakes. Over & over I would go through it with L., and G., respectively.

I showed up at the pre-meeting dinner, then went over & over the entire thing in the foyer while the rest of the Lodge had the Stated Meeting. It was at this same meeting that my friend, K., from my post “Good friends, great meal” was voted upon and approved as a candidate. Anyone who's worried about the future of Freemasonry definitely isn't hanging out with Mission #169... That night they voted & approved a total of FIVE new candidates, that month alone.

At the end of the Stated Meeting, they called down to the 1st Degree, G. came out & took me into the lodge. I was seated in a chair, and...

=== snip ===

OK, it's over. I'm so ticked at myself right now... So close to perfection, but missed it by one flipping word. I used a synonym. AARGH!!! I knew it as soon as it came out of my mouth, but the damage was done. I just had to complete it as is.

Afterwards, so many brothers approached me saying how they were impressed with my performance, but that one mistake was the only thing that I could think about. More than one guy came up & said that it was the best proficiency they'd ever heard.

Umm... Wow.

I'm proud of what I did, and I couldn't have done it without my coaches... But it's a little embarrassing & very humbling to hear people gush at you like that. You'd think with all the performing I've done, I'd get used to people wanting to give their praise, but it still feels a little uncomfortable.

Next thing I knew, a buzz started going around about me & 'going up the line,' saying that I had a aptitude for ritual & should go for it.


Yeah, I've had fantasies of becoming an officer and helping bring Masonry into the next century, but now that I'm faced with it; it's very intimidating. It's a huge responsibility that I could be taking on here. I can only hope that with the guidance of my elder brethren I won't %@#* up.

Lastly, by the time we wrapped up & were leaving the Lodge, they already had my degree ceremony set for (get this...) September 11th.

A couple of days later I received notification that in addition to doing my degree on September 11th, due to my performance of the proficiency, they scheduled my 3rd degree two weeks later, on September 25th. We're hosting a Lodge visitation for our sister Lodge, Oakland-Durant-Rockridge, and the powers that be thought that nothing could be better than performing a 3rd degree for them. (gulp!)

So... That would leave me 14 days to learn the 2nd Degree proficiency.

Holy crap!

What've I gotten into???


I'm not really worried; heck, if I can learn a 4 hour opera (in German) in 4 weeks, I can do this.

...I think

Photo: Peanuts, by Charles Schulz

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

First Degree Proficiency:

Within minutes of my degree ceremony, I was approached by G., the Head Candidate Coach, and also L., another Candidate Coach. Both of them are Past Masters, so they both have amazing amounts of wisdom when it comes to Masonry and ritual. They told me that in order to pass to the 2nd Degree, I would have to commit a bunch of information to memory, and would be tested on it.

From what they said, it was recapitulation of my experiences during the ritual, along with the obligation that I swore to, in its entirety. Apparently there is an option to take the “short form” of proficiency, which is MUCH shorter and MUCH easier, but both of these gentlemen would have nothing of it. I was to learn the entire “full form.”

(That being said, I have found out recently that the “short form” proficiency is only to be used in extreme circumstances, when there appears to be no way that the candidate can memorize the “full form.”

I won't be so bold as to speak for my entire generation, but I think that people may try to make it easier for us 'young-uns' to join Masonry, but I for one, don't want it. If someone truly can't learn it, that's cool, do the "short form." But personally, I want it to be hard. I want to know that I've earned it.)

I met with both G. & L. on numerous occasions, together and separately, and pounded through the memory work. Luckily for myself, committing text to memory comes quite well & very quickly. I pretty much had whole thing memorized in about 2-3 weeks, but due to other degree ceremonies scheduled and the Lodge going dark in the Summer, I didn't do my proficiency for about 3 months.

As an aside: Now, having memorized the whole flippin' thing, I can assure you that (at least in California, anyways)
Duncan's Ritual is WRONG!!!

That's all I'm going to say on that point.

The second main part of my proficiency was to write a paper answering 3 questions posed in the California Grand Lodge Entered Apprentice Handbook. This was really quite cool, as I could put some of my thoughts on paper about what the ritual was supposed to convey and what it meant to me.

If I'm allowed, I might post that text here on my blog. We'll see.*

Now that it's all memorized and it's good to go... The only thing left to do is...

Wait a time with patience, until it's time to do the proficiency.


*Our Lodge Secretary, R., is looking into it.
**Clarification: The Grand Lodge of California doesn't have a ritual book like those shown above, at least not to my knowledge. We're required to commit the proficiency to memory by rote.

Don't tell me they let YOU in?!?!?!

After Mission #169's first Child ID program that we had at Carnaval, I volunteered at a second one in Bernal Heights.

So I was walking around, handing out fliers to the various families and a person behind me says, “Don't tell me they let YOU in?!?!?!” I turn around, and it's J., a friend of mine whom I haven't seen in about 7 years. J. is there with his wife & family, and I was quite flabbergasted!

Over 10 years ago, one of the first times I ever sang the role of Sarastro in The Magic Flute, I did it at a young artist Summer Opera program here in San Francisco. While I was there, J. was a cool, young tenor who sang the part of the 'bad guy,' Monostatos. It was there & then that I started telling him what I knew about Masonry, what they represented, and how someday I'd like to join.

Fast forward 10 years, and he asked about me & my involvement in Masonry and I told him what I've been up to.

He then says: By the way, I'm the Marshall of California #1!

It seems that he's been a Mason for about 5 years or so, not long after I moved to Florida.

What do you know... I haven't seen the man for 7 years, and not only is he a good friend, but he's a brother.

It was surreal, but in a great way.

Photo: The Magic Flute from the Metropolitan Opera