Saturday, October 27, 2007

Widow's Son attends Grand Lodge

Earlier this week I attended the 221st Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Georgia in Macon, Georgia. I had business in Macon, so my primary purpose there wasn't to attend Grand Lodge, but I did schedule my business appointment so I could be in town during the annual Masonic meeting.

The Grand Lodge met on Tuesday and Wednesday. I "dropped by" a bit late on Tuesday morning, arriving around 10:45 a.m. or so. I registered, got my name tag and a book of proceedings, picked up a paper-like Masonic apron at the front door, and made my way to the balcony of the Macon City Auditorium, a beautiful old domed marble and stone structure built in 1925. [Click here for a 360-degree panorama of the inside of the building.]

I grew up in Macon, and fondly remember attending many concerts and college basketball games in the building. I even met a then-famous female TV-star there when I was a child. I was about eight or nine, and we were going through a meet-and-greet line of celebrities. I must have been starstruck by her blonde hair and big boobs, or something, because I remember her saying to me, "Don't be shy, little boy," and then I shook her hand.

Last time I was there, in 2003, it was to attend the opening night of The Gregg Allman Band Tour, having been given backstage passes by one of the band members I had recently met.

So, with all these happy memories of being in the Auditorium, I was jazzed, and ready to forget my "troubles" with Georgia Masonry and feel a part of it again.

The meeting was underway as I took a seat in the back row of the balcony. I peeked over the shoulder of a brother in front of me to see what page he was looking at in his book, and then settled in to listen to what was going on. I'd walked in as they were going through, one by one, a list of brothers who had been tried and "convicted" of various (but unspecified) charges of unmasonic conduct. They were voting to approve the Trial Commissioners' suspensions and expulsions from the fraternity. There were probably 15 or 20 names listed. I was curious about these trials that had been held, and what these men had done to incur the ire of their lodge brothers. No explanations were given in the book or from the podium; the speaker just read the names and the meaningless words in the book, and asked for a vote for approval. Each vote was cast by current and past masters raising red cards. All the votes appeared to be unanimous, and there was no discussion of anything from the floor.

After about 20 minutes, my cell phone rang. I had just purchased a new phone the day before, and had forgotten to turn it off, and didn't know how to silence it, so I scooted out the back door.

I took the call and headed outside. As I was finishing up the call, brothers began pouring out the doors for the lunch break. A brother and friend from a lodge near my own, of which I'm an honorary member, walked by, and we greeted each other warmly. That was pretty much the brotherly highlight of my two days around hundreds of Masons. Earlier, as I'd registered and mingled in the hall before going in, I'd been upbeat and greeted several men with "Hi, brother," but most wouldn't make eye contact or acknowledge me; I might as well have been meandering a hotel lobby in a foreign country.

I don't know why I keep expecting Masons to be different. Perhaps I still think that as Masons we have some cosmic enlightenment the rest of the world doesn't have, that we're all friendly and outgoing and full of brotherly love. I'm no longer that shy little kid; I'm usually pretty outgoing and congenial in person. Maybe it's just that many people become withdrawn and shy when they're in a crowd; I don't know. I just know that being there, seeing the long faces, could have made me withdraw into myself, too, had I stayed too long.

Since I had business to attend to that afternoon, I didn't go back for the afternoon session.

But I did make a point to attend the Masonic Family Night dinner that evening, held at the Farmers' Market.

It was there I realized just how much I don't fit in with the majority of Georgia Masons. It's not that there is anything wrong, per se, with Georgia Masons, I've come to realize. They are what they are. But to me, generally speaking, they are Masons in name only. At least, they're not what I thought Masons were when I joined. I expected enlightenment, tolerance, a brotherly spirit, a zeal for learning and maybe some cosmic understanding.

Hundreds of vehicles were arriving at the market as I pulled up. I parked, and as I was getting out of my car (a low-end C-class, used when I bought it, eight-year old Mercedes), I caught the eye of a brother getting out of his vehicle with his wife.

"Hi, brother. How ya doing?" I said.

His reply: "I'm fine, Mercedes-Benz man...."

I didn't have a comeback for that, but it was just as well, because he wasn't finished.

"...but I'm still driving a Tahoe."

He wasn't done yet. He continued, "...but it is the Cadillac of Chevrolets."

What could I say to that? I just thought to myself, "What the...?" and headed over to the line forming at the entrance to the the huge shed where the dinner was being held.

There I was, among "brothers," and the first one I speak to is judging me by the kind of car I drive and defending his own choice of automobile.

As I walked to the pavilion, I found myself thinking, "Hmm... isn't Cadillac actually the Cadillac of Chevrolets?"

With cars on my mind, I noticed as I walked that at least 75% of the vehicles in the parking lot were pickup trucks. And while some of the trucks had Masonic emblems on them, far more common were American and Confederate flag stickers, "Proud to be an American" stickers, and quite a few "Proud to be a member of the National Rifle Association" stickers. I even saw one "America: Love It or Leave It" sticker.

"Mercedes-Benz Man" walked into a redneck hoedown. I don't think I've ever seen such a sea of white faces topped by ball caps in my life (no, I've never been to a NASCAR race). There must have been 1,200 or more people, Masons and their families, lined up under that huge roof, waiting to eat brunswick stew, grits, fried catfish, grilled hot dogs and sausages and corn bread. Though it was at a farmers' market, the only vegetables I saw were french fries and cole slaw. Unless you count grits.

I had paid my five dollars, so I put cholesterol out of my mind and lined up to get something to eat. Talking to anyone else in line was difficult; a nine-piece Masonic band's renditions of Hank Williams (Senior and Junior) songs were blasting out from the center of the shed, reverberating and distorting off the huge metal roof. Later I heard the band's version of the classic Buck Owens tune I've Got a Tiger by the Tail, and noticed a few older women shimmying to the music of their childhood.

After I ate, sitting on a curb (there were no tables, just folding chairs, and not nearly enough), I struck up a hard-to-hear conversation with an elderly brother from Columbus, Ga., who entertained me with a long story about how unclean his motel room was, it being owned by a "sand n*****."

From time to time I noticed, outside the pavilion, black people, probably employees of the market, gawking at the crowd of white people inside, then stepping back to look up at the sign to see who the heck we were. Occasionally, a black man could be seen, emptying the trash barrels, full of greasy paper plates and Coke cans, that lined the curbs. In a town 63% black, the employees had probably never seen that many white people together, either, doing southern white people things.

When the band struck up the Elvis Presley version of American Trilogy, I decided it was time to leave.

I headed over to a sports bar and sipped on a scotch for the next hour, immediately striking up conversations with some of the patrons, mostly college kids, offering sometimes wrong answers to the questions in the trivia contest that was going on. Odd, I felt more "at home" there than at the Masonic functions, though I haven't hung out with college kids since I was a college kid, and I can't remember the last time I was in a bar, and had never been in that one.

The next morning found me back at the Grand Lodge session. I noticed that only about half as many men were there as the day before. Wednesday's session was primarily to install the new 2008 grand lodge officers. I arrived before the session got underway. A man at a piano was playing a medley of upbeat Christian hymns, including Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest Name I Know.

The meeting opened with a prayer, and then the Grand Master led the crowd in singing the first and last verse of Amazing Grace.

The installation of officers was as predictably un-inspiring as any other installation of officers you've ever seen. There was the pretend-solemnity of the obligations followed by joking banter. Every man had to stop to hug and kiss his wife as he was paraded to his new station. Speeches were given by the incoming and outgoing Grand Masters, with both of them gushing about how wonderful the subordinate officers, their Masonic "sons" and "grandsons," were. Each new officer spoke, pledging their obedience and fidelity to the new Grand Master and his programs. (Heads up to Georgia Masons: You're about to be bombarded with the new GM's program, the Masonic CHIP program for children's fingerprinting and identification cards, already supported by 22 or so grand lodges across the U.S., as well as increased appeals for money for the Masonic Children's Home Endowment Fund and a push for greater participation in "perpetual membership.") Tired old jokes about how a grand lodge officer has to buy his wife a new dress if he forgets to introduce her abounded, and then, of course, the wife had to stand to be introduced.

The piano player played little ditties as each new officer was led around the basketball-floor makeshift lodge. Hail to the Chief was played when the new Grand Master was escorted to the East. For the Senior Grand Warden, he played Onward Christian Soldiers. I cracked up when he played the tune for the two Grand Deacons: Bicycle Built for Two. That bit of mental mirth led me to wonder what he'd play for the three Grand Stewards. I was hoping for Three Blind Mice; instead, he played We Three Kings of Orient Are.

After the installations and speeches, a break was taken to allow the women and non-Masons to leave the arena so we could "get back to business." The women, of course, all stood and chatted with each other and their men for at least 15 minutes, during which time someone took the microphone to tell us in the balcony that the Grand Master wanted everyone to come to the main floor, "to make it easier to count votes." Though I wasn't allowed a vote, never having served as Worshipful Master of my lodge, I obliged and went downstairs. I noted with a certain interest that several brethren ignored the "request" and remained seated in the balcony. Ah, youthful rebellion. My kind of people.

When the session began, they read off a few bills that had been presented as potential changes to the Masonic Code. Most of them were ruled "out of order," and thrown out by the outgoing Grand Master, for not being submitted in "proper form." After a while, I got bored, and left.

And now, like Jerry Springer would do at the end of one of his ridiculous redneck free-for-all television shows, I'm going to get all serious and tell you what I learned.

I learned that what I thought Freemasonry was and what it actually is in Georgia are two different things. I learned that I don't like the same kind of music as most of my Georgia brethren. I learned that I don't especially like the same kinds of foods. And I learned that I don't drive the right kind of car to be "one of them." Despite having grown up in Macon, and having lived in Georgia all my life, I find that I don't fit the mold of a stereotypical Georgia Freemason. I learned that I can find more camaraderie in a sports bar full of 20-somethings than I can in a lodge meeting.

And that's fine. They are what they are. I don't seek to change them; I couldn't if I tried (and once I tried). I think it's sad that Georgia (and elsewhere) Freemasonry has been "taken over" by a certain type of individual — the good ol' boy — but it is what it is.

It's time for me to focus my energies elsewhere.

Image: Macon City Auditorium in Macon, Georgia

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Irish town is 'badly infected with a Masonic influence'

If you happen to be in Ireland this evening, around 7:30 pm, be sure to stop by the Dromore Reformed Presbyterian Church for Rev. David McCullough's talk "Freemasonry Uncovered."

Those Christian Reconstructionists have their eyes on your soul, and they'll take it — ostensibly to save it — if they can.

From the blog Reformed Convenanter: And Now for Some Christian Reconstructionism:
I would like to take this opportunity to announce a public meeting exposing the religious beliefs of the Masonic Order. On Friday night at 7:30 pm Rev. David McCullough (my interim moderator) will be giving an address entitled "Freemasonry Uncovered" which shall compare the teachings of the Masonic Order on the character of God and the way of salvation (among other things) with those of Holy Scripture. I would urge all readers who can to attend this important meeting in order to equip us to confront the claims of this secret society with the teaching of God’s inerrant word. Pray that many unbelievers or professing Christians who are presently caught up in Freemasonry will attend this meeting and learn the truth about this false religion.

Location: Dromore Reformed Presbyterian Meeting House, Brewery Lane, Dromore, Co. Down

Time: 7:30 pm

Speaker: Rev. David McCullough

Readers should note that Dromore is a town badly infected with a Masonic influence; it is likely that the church and its minister will face much opposition for challenging one of the local communities cherished idols; please bear this in mind when praying.
Jesus, save me from your followers!

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Vision of Pope John Paul II appears in Polish bonfire

Images of Jesus are regularly seen on parking garage walls and spaghetti billboards. Visions of Mary used bring thousands of believers to suburban meadows near Atlanta. One devout Catholic woman struck a goldmine charging five dollars per person to view an image of Mary in some frozen food she found in her freezer. And Popes Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II have all voiced their acceptance of the Marian visitations to three children in Fatima, Portugal, 90 years ago.

And now, the Vatican News Service, a Rome television station specializing in news about the Vatican, is showing non-stop a photo of a flame supposedly in the shape of Pope John Paul II.

In a flame? What's a beloved, dead pope's spirit doing in a flame, a Christian symbol of Hell?

The Polish man who took the photograph, Gregorz Lukasik, told the press, "It was only afterwards when I got home and looked at the pictures that I realized I had something."

Director of the news service and close friend of the deceased pope, Polish priest Jarek Cielecki, went to Poland from Italy (on a Vatican expense account, I bet) to see the photograph for himself. "You can see the image of a person in the flames and I think it is the servant of God, Pope John Paul II," he said.

Religious websites across the world have crashed because of the increased traffic by devout and/or gullible believers wanting to see this photo.

Why, in our 21st-century scientific and technological world, are so many people so eager to believe something so ridiculous? What does that say about humanity? Do we constantly need supernatural reassurance that there is life beyond this one? Do Jesus, Mary, and the Pope need to make regular interdimensional stops to keep us on the Path, or to keep the Sheep in the Fold?

The schedule is unpredictable, but it's still a form of brand marketing. Every once in a while, it seems, the Catholics need a good "manifestation" to keep people believing.

How long has it been going on? How long have people who want to believe in Things Beyond been seeing their favorite Biblical or religious character in random oil blobs, frozen drippings, and flames? And why?

To me, this Christian phenomena calls into question all visions and supernatural sightings, including the one that started the whole thing. Did people really see a risen, living Jesus Christ two days after he was crucified? Or did someone imagine they saw him, and then the madness swept the countryside, and then the world for the past 2,000 years, all based on one person's "belief" that they saw something in a flame, a Pizza Hut billboard, or, in the early morning fog at that tomb outside Jerusalem? What better way to capitalize on people's need for something cosmic in their lives, than to repeatedly create manifestations where there are none, and then, if you'll pardon the pun, fan the flames?

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Friday, October 12, 2007

Would you sit in lodge with a Prince Hall Mason?

Last month I had the pleasure of attending an Entered Apprentice degree at St. John's Lodge No. 2, in Middletown, Connecticut. I was warmly accepted as a brother, and had a great time.

The Grand Lodge of Connecticut recognizes the Connecticut Prince Hall lodges, and accepts their members as true and lawful brothers. A Prince Hall lodge shares the facilities with the "regular" lodge.

The Grand Lodge of Georgia, under whose jurisdiction my lodge works, does not recognize Prince Hall members as being legitimate brothers, and in fact, considers Prince Hall lodges to be clandestine.

Personally, I find the Grand Lodge of Georgia's refusal to recognize Prince Hall Masons abhorrent. Well over a year ago on this blog, I openly called for the Grand Lodge of Georgia to immediately recognize Prince Hall Masonry. Not recognizing brothers as Masons because of the color of their skin strikes me as utterly unmasonic. How hypocritical can we be, saying one of our tenets is "brotherly love" while refusing to recognize our brothers?

In fact, I find the forced segregation goes against the duties I owe to my God, my country, my neighbors and most especially myself. I am not a racist, and cannot understand it in another human nor, especially, in an organization that promotes itself as the champion of universal brotherhood.

But here I am, a Georgia Mason, apparently carrying the stink of my Grand Lodge's institutionalized racism with me when I sojourn afar.

Prefacing his question with "you don't have to answer this," after conducting my examination to assure I was a Mason, the Grand Marshal of Connecticut asked me what I would do if that night a Prince Hall Mason had been in attendance at St. John's Lodge.

Since I didn't have to answer, and there was no Prince Hall Mason visiting, I didn't answer, but have thought about it since. In an article about my visit to St. John's, I later said that I would have gone in, and welcomed the opportunity to sit with a Prince Hall Mason, believing that at that time I was in the jurisdiction of the Connecticut grand lodge, not the Georgia grand lodge.

As I've said before, I'm not a legal scholar, civil or Masonic. And further, being a racist or giving a damn what racists think just doesn't work for me.

The whole recognition thing is a smokescreen for racism, pure and simple. If I were to invite to my lodge an African-American brother, raised in a "regular" lodge of another state, or in a military lodge under the jurisdiction of another state that accepted blacks, I'd bet dollars to donuts he wouldn't be allowed in, even if I vouched for him.

But the rules and obligations? Was I under the jurisdiction of Connecticut, or Georgia, when I was visiting in Connecticut? If they recognize Prince Hall, can or should I sit with a Prince Hall Mason, or am I bound to the antiquated Georgia racist rules with which I emphatically disagree?

Brother Ashok from Hong Kong wrote to me the following, explaining how the United Grand Lodge of England, under whose jurisdiction his lodge operates, perceives brethren visiting outside their home lodge:
Hongkong Friday 12 October 2007

Dear Sir & Brother,

I try to read your interesting and informative blog on a weekly basis but I don't always succeed.

In "That which was found" you wrote: "A sojourning Mason temporarily falls under the jurisdiction of a regular Grand Lodge of the state in which he is visiting. Since I was in Connecticut, the rules and recognitions of that Grand Lodge are supreme."

Understandably, as a visiting or sojourning brother, I would try to conform to the requirements of the host GL, although the customs of my Mother Lodge or GL may sometimes vary and/or take precedent.

UGLE advises its members: In visiting a jurisdiction which, quite legitimately so far as it is concerned, accepts visitors from GLs which are not recognised by UGLE, brethren are reminded that it is part of their duty as members of UGLE not to associate masonically with members of such unrecognised GLs, and should such a situation arise, they should tactfully withdraw, even through their visit may have been formally or officially arranged....
I appreciate Bro. Ashok's email, and the message he brings me from the UGLE.

I remember well the night I was raised. After the formalities were over, but still in tyled lodge, a brother approached the altar to explain some of the things I'd just been through and the obligations. When he got to the part about "clandestine" lodges, he said, "...the only clandestine lodges we know of are the black lodges."

Immediately the thought hit me like a truckful of bricks: "Oh, s#!t... have I joined the Klan?"

Had I realized at the time how racist the Grand Lodge of Georgia and my local brethren were, I would never have become a Mason.

(To those who feel the need to comment, "Then quit if you don't like our rules," I say, "Nope. Too late. I'm a Mason and I'm going to stay that way, and work towards positive changes for the fraternity.")

What would you have done, in my place, a non-racist Mason from a racist Grand Lodge, if you visited a non-racist lodge in another jurisdiction and a Prince Hall Mason was also visiting? And why? Please elaborate.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Remembering October anniversaries: Jacques de Molay, Sputnik, and 'Atlas Shrugged'

Several noteworthy anniversaries occur this month.

October 13, 2007, will mark the 700th anniversary of the mass arrests of Jacques de Molay and the Knights Templar at the order of King Philippe IV and Pope Clement V. It is believed that this is the origin of the superstition of Friday the 13th being bad luck.

Two other anniversaries are being noted this month, too.

It was 50 years ago this month that the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik, the first satellite. Sputnik sparked the space race between the United States and Russia. I saw former lunar astronaut Jim Lovell on television the other day; he said that were it not for Sputnik, we'd have never gone to the moon.

Also in October, 1957 Atlas Shrugged, a novel by Russian immigrant Ayn Rand, was published. Millions of copies have been sold. A 1992 survey by the Library of Congress determined that, after the Bible, Atlas Shrugged is the most influential book in the United States. It helped launch the modern free market and the libertarian movement, according to an opinion piece in today's Washington Times.

Image: Ayn Rand

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chimps choose more rationally than humans

The Burning Taper is known across the Milky Way for its never-ending coverage of monkey business. If it's about a primate, we'll print it.

Our masthead should be "By monkeys. About monkeys. For monkeys."

(Read more RAW.)

In the past we've brought you cutting-edge monkey business including:Now we learn that chimps are more rational than humans.

Chimpanzees make choices that protect their self-interest more consistently than do humans.

Researchers used a two-player economic game where each player, either chimp or human, receives something of value and can then share it with the other player.

If what is offered is rejected, then neither player gets anything.

Humans typically offer half of the booty, and typically reject any offer significantly less than half, even though rejecting it means neither player will get anything.

Chimps, though, will offer much less than 50%, but will accept any offer.

What's this mean? Researches think it means that humans will go without to punish another person, or to keep him from getting more than his "fair share."

Chimps don't care about being fair. They simply protect their self-interest, and they are unwilling to lose something simply to punish someone else who is being unfair.

Chimps, like most "lower" animals, live in the Now, and are concerned with their immediate present, unlike humans, who constantly live in the past or the future, worrying excessively about other people, both in their attempts to be fair to them, and to punish those who they perceive as unfair.

(Read more Tolle.)

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Church wants square and compasses removed from historical landmark

Christians are a strange bunch.

Oh, sorry. I mean, some Christians are a strange bunch. I promised I wouldn't "paint with a broad brush" an entire religion of what, two billion people.

In Elgin, Illinois, near Chicago, overseers (their word, not mine) of Family Life Church are appealing a ruling by the city's heritage commission that they can cover, but not remove, a compasses and square emblem on the outside wall near the top of the building and a cornerstone from the Masonic temple they bought to use as their worship center.

The building, "erected to God" in 1923, is protected as a historical landmark.

Church officials told the city that the symbols "conflict with their religious beliefs."

Meanwhile, last Saturday, in Fort Morgan, Colorado, near Denver, officers of the Grand Lodge of Colorado performed a cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Christ Congregational Church.

During the ceremony, the symbols of Masonry were explained.

"The Holy Bible is the inestimable gift of God to man," Karl Hinkle, Junior Grand Deacon of the Grand Lodge of Colorado said. "By the square, we square our actions, while the compasses teach us to circumscribe and keep our desires and passions within due bounds."

Exactly what are the religious beliefs of the evangelicals in Illinois, that the three great lights of Freemasonry "conflict" with?

You can read Family Life Church's "faith statement" here. It's a long list of their beliefs. I don't see anything expressly forbidding Masonic symbols, but since they quote the book of Ephesians twice in their list, they're probably fans of the anti-Masonic Ephesians 5:11 website.

As I quoted in the recent article "Christian Kool-Aid," "belief is the death of intelligence."

I wouldn't say that the overseers are totally brain-dead yet, but the coroner is on stand-by.

Image: The Masonic square and compasses emblem atop the Family Life Church in Elgin, Illinois

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Freemasonry IS a religion!

Most every state's grand lodge publishes literature that says something to the effect of "Freemasonry is not a religion...."

On this blog and numerous other sites on the web, Masons are constantly replying to comments, usually from rabid anti-Masons, explaining that the fraternity is not a religion.

Guess what? As of October 3, 2007, according to the California Court of Appeals, we are a religion! And we can thank the Scottish Rite for making it official.

In the late 1950's, the Scottish Rite Cathedral Association of Los Angeles (SRCALA) requested and received a zoning variance to build a massive four-story Masonic facility, which includes a banquet room that will hold 1,800 people and an auditorium that seats 2,020, lodge and meeting rooms, as well as an adjoining parking lot. The property is on Wilshire Blvd., and borders on the affluent Hancock Park neighborhood.

With available land at a premium, the SRCALA requested, and was granted, permission to build the parking lot with far fewer parking places than would normally be required for a building project of this size. The variance was granted only because the SRCALA pledged that the building would not be rented out for commercial enterprises and that the sole use of the building would be for Masonic, charitable and non-profit events.

Almost from the beginning, when the building was completed in 1963, the SRCALA began renting out the facility for private functions, and by the 1970s, as Masonic membership began to noticeably fall, they began to rely on renting out the building as a means of making enough money to cover the expense of building upkeep.

And the neighbors began to complain. The unintended use of the building had become a public nuisance because of noise and trash and traffic and parking congestion on the residential streets.

In 1979 the SRCALA was told by the city they would have to file for a zoning variance, but the group ignored the order. In the 1980's, they were twice cited for zoning violations.

In 1993, the city initiated public nuisance abatement proceedings against the group, citing them again because of numerous complaints about noise, trash and traffic. A hearing concluded the building was a public nuisance, and the zoning commission prohibited the SRCLA from using the property "for any purpose other than for non-profit activities directly related to the purpose and function of the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple."

SRCALA appealed the zoning board's order via the zoning appeals process, and was denied. They then appealed to the city council, and were again denied.

Unable to earn enough money to maintain the facility, SRCALA closed the building.

After nearly 10 years, the SRCALA leased the building to a newly formed limited liability corporation called Los Angeles Scottish Rite Center, LLC (LASRC).

LASRC refurbished the building and immediately began marketing the facility under various names, including the Wilshire Windsor Pavilion, the Wilshire International Pavilion, the International Culture Center, and as the Scottish Rite Temple, advertising the building as a facility to be rented out to the public.

It didn't take long for the neighbors to get riled up again, and by 2003 the city cited the facility not only for being in violation of the 1993 order but also for not getting a business license or paying business taxes but also for failing to obtain necessary police and fire department safety permits.

In 2004, the zoning administrator issued a report re-imposing the 1993 conditions on the new, for-profit corporation, and further stipulated that the facility could now only be used for Masonic purposes, and that they could no longer charge for parking. The city council affirmed the report, and the mayor concurred.

The LASRC paid no attention to the order, and continued with business as usual, hosting boxing matches, concerts and other entertainment events. The LASRC even sold, or allowed to be sold, alcohol without proper permits.

The neighbors howled.

Yet another public hearing was held, this time by the city council, who was miffed that LASRC was not in compliance with their order.

A new order was given: No functions allowed, not even Masonic ones.

Both SRCALA and LASRC appealed. Their appeals were rejected.

In 2005, the groups filed a lawsuit in California Superior Court against the City of Los Angeles.

Here's where it gets interesting.

SRCALA and LASRC charged that the city had no right to tell them what to do, because they were protected under the 2000 Federal statute known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalize Persons Act (RLUIPA).

In other words, they said to the city government: "Hands off! We're a religion!"

The Superior Court ruled that RLUIPA did not apply to the LASRC, and that Freemasonry was not a religion, based in part of evidence from a Masonic brochure that said, "The Scottish Rite is a part of the family of Freemasonry.... Freemasonry is the oldest, and by far the largest, fraternity in the world." [Although] "it is religious in nature, it is not a religion."

The Scottish Rite-related groups appealed the Superior Court ruling to the California Court of Appeals.

Last week, the appeals court ruled that yes, Freemasonry is in fact a religion, and falls under RLUIPA and other laws protecting freedom of religion, but sorry... since the private corporation LASRC was the entity in charge of the building, the city's actions weren't based on the appellant being a religion, since the corporation was a business entity, not a Masonic organization, therefore RLUIPA doesn't apply in this case.

So there you go. Thanks to the Los Angeles Scottish Rite, the government now considers Freemasonry a religion. Next time you engage in a conversation with an anti-Mason about whether we're a religion or not, you have one less leg to stand on.

You can read the Appeals Court opinion here.

Now excuse me. I must go bow to the East and pray to Hiram Abiff.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

'Then more Light you shall receive!'

I finally became Worshipful Master of my lodge.

No, not Worshipful Master of Pickens Star Lodge No. 220, F&AM, of Jasper, Georgia, where I was raised and am still a member.

I finally became Master of my own lodge.

While drinking coffee and watching the sun come up, and reading Bro. Theron Dunn's Beacon of Masonic Light blog, all the basic Masonic concepts and symbols I learned so long ago came together in a new way for me, first in a minor and then in a major epiphany. No, the earth didn't shake, and there was no clap of thunder, but I began to see things in a new Light.

Bro. Dunn's most recent blog entry is titled "Who is the Widow?"

The title interested me not only because it's a good question, Masonically speaking, but it hit me on a more personal level, since, out of all the Masonically-themed screen names I could have chosen, I was "led" to use the moniker "Widow's Son" when I began this blog two years ago.

His article speaks of goddesses: Isis, Ishtar, Mary the mother of God. It talks about Hiram Abiff, about spirituality and creative forces.

I enjoyed reading it, and I started to leave a comment, which would have been my first comment ever on his blog.

I wrote, "Indeed a thought-provoking post."

And then, I was at a loss for words. I wanted to express that his article was good, one of the more enjoyable I'd read there.

But what thoughts had it actually provoked?

I sat in silence for a few moments, and then these words almost magickally appeared on the screen, coming from a deeper source within me than my usual level of conscious awareness.
The Lesser Lights:
  • Sun = God = Ra = Father = Hiram before his death = Junior Warden = The Plumb

  • Moon = Goddess = Isis = Mary = Mother (Earth) = The Widow = Hiram as a dead level = Senior Warden = The Level

  • Worshipful Master = Man, or the Potential of (a) Man (or Humanity) = Resurrected Sun Horus = Resurrected Son Jesus = Hiram as a raised perpendicular = The Widow's Son = Worshipful Master = The Square
Here I paused, as I pondered what I'd just written. I sat back, had another cup of coffee, and kept asking myself, "What then, are the greater lights, and what do they represent?"

After a few minutes, and more coffee, I wrote the following. At first, it was a struggle to find the right words. This didn't come as easily; it seemed to have had to filter through my mind, unlike the previous material, which just "appeared."
The square represents our "new," or resurrected self, or that potential in us.

The compasses, as we are told, represents circumscribing our actions, or drawing a circle around ourself, or a concentrated focus.

What then emerges? In most Masonic locales, there is a G within the merged square and compasses, or sometimes the Volume of Sacred Law, often the Holy Bible in Western cultures. The Bible here is not meant to be taken literally, but as a symbol, as are the square and compasses.

The VSL, or the letter G, must then represent the merging of the square and compasses, which leads to Gnosis, or enlightenment.
I sat back, satisfied that I'd written some good material, and had some more coffee.

I re-read what I'd written. I especially kept going back to the part in the lesser lights section about the Sun, and the Junior Warden. The thought that I'd never progressed past the office of Junior Warden kept popping into my head.

The myth of Ra, Isis and Horus is fairly well-known. But there's a player in the myth that isn't always mentioned. It's the same player found in the God/Mary/Jesus saga.

Darkness. Set. Satan.

In my mind, I began to overlay the Egyptian and Christian myths with the Hiramic legend, and that I overlaid on my own Masonic life. When I was Junior Warden of my lodge, I was, literally, accosted by three Past Masters whom I've semi-jokingly referred to in my mind and in print as the Three Ruffians, Jubelo, Jubela, and Jubelum. Those three were inspired to take the actions they did by one from the Grand Lodge, a man highly regarded by some in Masonry yet who to me has long represented the North, or Darkness. I had long blamed them for my "downfall," not only for knocking me out of my station in the lodge and off my path to the East in "real life," but also for derailing my Masonic-spiritual path.

In hindsight, I should thank them. Their actions, rude and unpleasant though they were, sent me online to seek my Masonic path to More Light. This blog, along with my regular reading of other Masonic blogs and sites, was a direct result of their seemingly unmasonic behavior. Had I continued in the normal progression to the East, I'd never have learned the many things I have learned. I'd just be "one of the guys," mumbling through rituals I had little understanding of, looking forward to receiving one of those gaudy Past Master's blue nylon jackets my lodge is fond of presenting to Past Masters.

Today I found that Light I'd long sought. I don't just mean the minor epiphany of better understanding the three lesser lights. I'm fascinated by myths and gods and goddesses and what they represent, but that's not the major revelation.

The major revelation is that I created the problems I had in lodge all by myself. Yes, the Ruffians and the Grand Lodge leader of the pack were wrong in their actions, at least in my eyes. But they were following their Paths as they best saw fit. What they did changed my Path, as I was not yet ready, or worthy, to sit in the East, neither physically in a lodgeroom, nor metaphorically-spiritually as captain of my own ship.

I'd never have come to understand the Masonic symbols — or lessons — had I remained "in the line." I'd never in a million years learn what Masonry "really" is sitting in regular lodge meetings in that lodge. It took being shunned by them, being away from them, to lead me to where I am today.

So I say a belated thank you to the Three Ruffians, and to the Man from the North. Without you I'd be just another soon-to-be Past Master of a physical lodge in rural north Georgia.

Because of you, today I accept the Master's chair of my own lodge, that is, my own life.

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Monday, October 08, 2007

A rose is a rose is a rose

In the ridiculously titled article "Bush reveals his Freemasonry — again," blogger John Parsons calls Pres. Bush to task for saying, "...I believe that all the world, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God."

I don't often agree with Bush, and as far as we know, Bush isn't a Freemason, but his statement is factually true.

Assume that God exists, and, as Muslims, Christians, and Jews believe, there is but one God. Logic dictates, then, that no matter who is doing the praying, and no matter what religious label they've taken upon themselves, the prayers are directed to the same Deity.

No matter what name you call him.

My son calls me Dad. My Masonic compatriots call me Brother, or Widow's Son. My parents call me Son. And my ex-wife calls me "you son of a bitch." But no matter what name I'm called, the name refers to me. There's only one me.

Ditto for God, as far as Muslims, Christians and Jews believe. There is only one God.

Why do the Christians who get upset at Bush for saying what he did think they own exclusive rights to "God"?

The Old Testament deity of the Jews was known by many names — El, Elohim, Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh, Adonai, Yahweh, etc. And Arabs, who typically believe in Allah, traditionally have their origin in Abraham's son Ishmael.

And of course, Christians co-opted the Jewish god as their own, confused things by also calling him Jesus, and then repeatedly translated most of the names of the deity into "Lord" or "God" when they printed the Bible, thus masking the many names of the Great Architect of the Universe.

"Official" spokesmen for God didn't like what the president said.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, was quoted in the Baptist Press as saying the president "is simply mistaken."

According to a Washington Post account, Land said in an interview: “We should always remember that he is commander in chief, not theologian in chief. The Bible is clear on this: The one and true god is Jehovah, and his only begotten son is Jesus Christ.”

The Rev. Ted Haggard, then-president of the National Association of Evangelicals, also contradicted the president in a press statement. "The Christian God encourages freedom, love, forgiveness, prosperity and health," said Haggard. "The Muslim god appears to value the opposite. The personalities of each god are evident in the cultures, civilizations and dispositions of the peoples that serve them. Muhammad’s central message was submission; Jesus' central message was love. They seem to be very different personalities."

In November 2006, Haggard was forced to resign from NAE following allegations of drug use and sex with a homosexual prostitute.

Gary Bauer, former presidential candidate and president of American Values, said Bush's comment was "not helpful to the president. Since everybody agrees he's not a theologian, he would be much better advised to punt when he gets that kind of question."
I think Haggard, with his statement about the "personalities" of God, not only shows his ignorance (the Old Testament God rarely exhibited "love" as a trait, but instead was murderous and vengeful), but actually makes a case for the non-existence of God by showing that the traits we attribute to God are man-made. Both individuals and entire cultures create their own visions and versions of what God is to them. We see in God what we want God to be.

Perhaps Bush was being Masonic after all in his words, being tolerant of all religious viewpoints.

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

— From Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Christian Kool-Aid

There are two quotations from famous Discordians that have always made a lot of sense to me.

Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill wrote Principia Discordia, long long ago. On page 00054, it is written: "Conviction causes convicts."

And Robert Anton Wilson wrote in Cosmic Trigger, "Belief is the death of intelligence."

These ideas have just been (again) proven true to me.

Saturday night I couldn't sleep, so I was online, following up various links to the word "Freemasonry." I saw a link to a Christian forum where Freemasonry was being discussed, so I clicked on over to see what was up.

On Worthy Boards, I found a thread that had just been started by a regular contributor there, obviously a Christian, who had (against the board's rules) copied and pasted a long diatribe against Freemasonry, "proving" that the Masonic "plan of salvation," yadda yadda, was unchristian, Satanic, etc. You've seen it before, or something like it. The poster had included links to the websites for the Ephesians 5:11 and Ex-Masons for Jesus crowd.

For some reason I was "inspired" to register on that forum, and write a nice, polite response to the lies about Masonry that had been posted. Maybe that inspiration was from "the Lord," maybe it was from the goat-headed Baphomet or Pan, or maybe it was just my tired brain seeking some stimulation until I could fall asleep.

The poster had made ten points comparing Masonry to Christianity. Many of her points were just so off the wall I had to respond.

So I did. Politely, I might add.

Satisfied that I had "done my duty" (to the Lord, to Baphomet, or to my sleepy mind, I don't know) for Freemasonry, I skimmed the site and found some poor guy searching for the "truth" about Lucifer being kicked out of heaven after a fight with God and/or the angel Michael.

I posted a few words, sharing my belief that the myth of Lucifer "falling from grace" was a Hebrew re-telling of the Osiris/Ra myth, and that that in turn was simply based on the motions of the planet Venus in relation to the Sun.

Satisfied, I went to bed and fell into the arms of Morpheus.

Today, I checked back on the site, to see if there were any responses. But I couldn't find my posts. Not only had they been deleted, but the entire threads, begun by their regulars, were gone.

I poked around for a few minutes, checking to see if I'd simply not looked into the correct forum areas.

Apparently, one of the site's moderators had been watching my travels about the board, because while I was still on the site, I got an email message:
Widows Son,

Hello my name is Dave and I am a Moderator at Worthy Boards. The reason that I am writing is that I have removed a couple of posts by you.

One read like an apologetic for Free Masonry. Our focus at Worthy is the Glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ's Outrageous Grace.

I also want to ask that you not end your posts with the "burning taper" website as your sig. The reason is that the site reads like an apologetic for Free Masonry. Free Masonry is not compatible with our Statement of Faith. Please read it. It is not our focus at Worthy.

Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior Widows Son?

I wrote Dave back the following:

I simply told your regular poster there (who obviously lifted her diatribe against Masonry from another website, thus violating your rule about plagiarism) that she was wrong in her statements about Masonry. I didn't start it, and would never even have found your site had it not contained the lies about Masonry.

Don't worry... I won't pollute your board with Masonic stuff. I don't plan to be a regular there, but I will be back to answer any negative stuff your members post about Freemasonry, even if you do delete it soon after I write it. Being a Christian doesn't give anyone the right to publicly lie about paths others have chosen.

So why'd you also delete the post that answered the question by your member
about Lucifer?

Thanks for writing.

I sent the message, and then turned my attention back to their site, having noticed a thread called "Prayer Warriors" (they like that militaristic jingo; there is also a forum devoted to "Spiritual Warfare").

Someone had requested prayer for his aged uncle who had, supposedly, lost his life's savings to an Internet scam. I was amused by one particular response to his plea.
QUOTE(Zadok Rox @ Oct 7 2007, 08:05 PM) *
Lord Father, I pray that you would restore to Shortstop's uncle what was swindled from him in Jesus' name. And, Lord, please save the people who conned him and that they turn themselves in. In Jesus' name, amen.
I figured, hey, this is a good time to ask a question I've always wanted to put out on a Christian-themed forum somewhere, 'cause I'd like to see what kind of responses it would get. So I wrote:
I have questions no one has ever suitably answered for me. Namely, how does prayer work? What are the mechanics of prayer? Is God swayed by a certain number of prayers on a particular subject? Is a group prayer, or you all individually praying for the swindled uncle, more effective than a solitary prayer from one person? Does God grant favors based on the number of prayers, or the quality of a prayer, or what?

Widow's Son
I hit "save" on that one, thinking, hmm, maybe I'll get some thoughtful responses. Maybe I can get a glimpse into how these people's minds work, and find out why they think God is their cosmic Santa Claus, always ready to do a favor if asked. Apparently not too many Christians believe in the Deist God that simply made the Universe and then sat back to let us utilize our free will.

Boy, was I wrong. No answer was to be forthcoming. As I clicked to another post, I got this message:
Your account has been temporarily suspended. This suspension is due to end on Sep 19 2018, 08:24 PM.
Two-thousand eighteen! I've been banned from Worthy Boards for nearly ELEVEN YEARS! For defending Freemasonry and asking some simple questions.

So much for the love of Jesus. So much for Christians reaching out to the "unsaved." So much for Christian compassion.

As a libertarian, I have no problem with them locking me or anyone out of their forums. It's theirs; they can do what they want.

But as a spiritually-minded intellectual, it amazes and amuses me.

Back to the Discordian quotes I mentioned at the beginning of this article....

These people, not unlike the "fundamentalist" Masons who don't like the "harmony" of their forums mucked up with "radical" questions or ideas (like women Masons or black Masons), when confronted with something that doesn't fit into their narrow little worldview, simply cut off the offending idea. Like ostriches with their heads in the sand, or a child putting his fingers in his ears and shouting, "La la la la, I can't hear you."

Their convictions, or beliefs, have imprisoned them. "Out, damn Satan!" they shout at anything that forces them to THINK, to use their god-given brains for something other than hat racks. Their belief, certainly, has killed their intelligence.

The Worthy Boards are filled with thousands of posts, almost all of them a variation on "Woo hoo! Ain't our God good!? If you don't think so, you're going to hell. Praise God!"

Is this what heaven's going to be like? Millions of brain-dead souls bowing in the street, doing nothing but muttering praises and adulating and sucking up to the "loving" yet vengefully wrathful, condemning God of the Bible?

Jesus save me from your followers!

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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Italian politician outs himself as Freemason

Usually when I write an article for The Burning Taper, I at least know something about what I'm writing about. But in this case, I admit I don't have a clue.

I've never heard of this guy, and everything I found on him on Google was in Italian, except for a short Wikipedia entry that appears to be a translation from another language, or written by someone for whom English is not a first language. I used the Babel Fish to read a few articles, and his blog, but it was all Greek to me.

Anyway, it's about an Italian career politician named Clemente Mastella, who is mayor of an Italian town, a member of the Italian Senate, and also the national Justice Minister. According to Wikipedia, he's a Roman Catholic, married to another Italian politician, and (like many politicians) has been involved in several scandals in his long political career, and apparently is either loved or hated by his fellow Italians, depending on their political persuasion.

I stumbled on a short news article about him today, written in English, that caught my attention.

He "outed" himself as a Freemason.

He reportedly said:
"I would like to tell Travaglio that I have never worn one of those 'smocks.' But no, I am about to come out of the closet, so to speak: it is true that I am a Freemason, with the number 52947. In this Masonic lodge I was taught to respect others and especially those who think differently from myself, to foster democratic values, and to acknowledge the fundamental importance of the judiciary."
The editor of the story at AGI News inserted that Mastella said that the number he gave, 52947, referred to the date, 5 Feb. 1947, of the "founding of the ministry." Wikipedia, however, gives Feb. 5, 1947, as Mastella's date of birth.

Surely someone can make up a nice Masonic conspiracy story out of this self-outing and the mysterious number 52947.

Freemasonry Watch, are you watching?

Vatican anti-Masons, care to take a stab at this?

Freeman? Are you there? Jack Chick? Anyone?

Image: Bro. Clemente Mastella

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds

Regular Taper participant Hannah recently pointed out to me in a private email that I've sort of painted myself into a corner, blogwise, with my post last week about not focusing on negative things. I wrote in Bloggers Unite for Love and Compassion about the Sept. 27 "Bloggers unite against abuse" multi-blog project sponsored by, and their plans to decry abuse in all its forms, saying that putting that much attention on such a negative thing might help bring such things into further materialization instead of helping to reduce them.

Hannah wrote to me: "I read your blog post ["Rosalind Brodsky: The Delusional Time-Traveler", about the conspiracy artist] and remember the blog post from the day before [about abuse], about not giving energy to things, and about The Secret. Aren't you giving energy to these wingnuts? Why go there?"

She brings up a good point.

Let me see if I can rationalize my way out of this quandary.

Over the past two years (I missed the 2nd anniversary celebration on Sept. 28) The Burning Taper has become infamous for pointing out the flaws and faults of Freemasonry, especially in the southeastern United States. That old Masonic curmudgeon W. Bro. Ed King wrote that the Taper is "known for never missing the opportunity to make a disparaging remark about the fraternity," and countless others have misunderstood me since I began, calling me a pot-stirrer, a propagandist, preachy, a seedy journalist, and a planter of dissension.

Certainly I've written many blog posts critical of Freemasonry. We're not a perfect organization, human nature being what it is. Pointing out our group's flaws is, to me, a necessary thing, having lived through a particularly ugly pogrom against me by my lodge brothers back in 2005.

In spite of that, and the numerous other negative Masonic acts of racism, deceit, power-grabbing and outright stupidity across the country and world by Masons that I've written about, I still love Freemasonry.

And that is why I write.

Shining a light on what's wrong in Masonry can only help, in my opinion, make Masonry better and stronger. It's not like I've encouraged 500 other blogs to write about the same topic on the same day. It's simply the path I have chosen to follow.

I've changed over the past two years. My anger against W. Bro. Grady Bozeman, the man who led the "attack" on me for having done my duty as Junior Warden, has gone away. My anger against the other brothers from my lodge who were involved has subsided. I now attend my lodge again; I'm just not as active there as I was before, and will probably never again be an officer of my lodge.

I've come to terms with the fact that there are still men in my lodge who strongly dislike me, but that's now their issue, not mine. Through this blog and my Masonic travels, I've come to realize that all of Masonry is not what I've discovered here in the backwaters of north Georgia. The regular readers of and commenters on the Taper, Masons or not, have become my brothers and sisters. I've built strong Masonic bonds with brothers and sisters I've never met from all over the world, as well as face-to-face Masonic relationships with Bro. Tansey and other brothers in Connecticut, and with the Atlanta-area members of the Rite of the Rose Cross and the United Grand Lodge of America.

I still think there are things within Freemasonry that need to be pointed out, things that need to be remedied. Intolerance, for example. Racism. The heavy influence of fundamentalist Christianity seen in some lodges. The debate over whether women can be, or are, Masons. The blind obedience to unelected Grand Lodges. And much more.

And I still think organized religion, especially of the fundamentalist variety, is a danger to our society.

I'll continue to write about these and other things, as the mood strikes me. I don't necessarily think talking about them will give power to these things or will make them stronger; I hope bringing these things to light will empower those who agree with me and who disagree with me to think in new ways, and perhaps to take action to make things better.

I like what the Portuguese blog A Partir Pedra said of me:
Widow's Son is a Mason who cultivates controversy, but respects other people's opinions; foments a quarrel, but intends it to be enlightening; and defends his intransigent ideals with a democratic spirit.
If my rationalization here isn't convincing, then I'll shift to Plan B, and quote a few passages from Ralph Waldo Emerson. His essay "On Self-Reliance" has influenced me greatly since I was 23 years old. I've read it countless times.
Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world....

No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution; the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition as if every thing were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways....

...[T]ruth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, — else it is none. The doctrine of hatred must be preached, as the counteraction of the doctrine of love, when that pules and whines. I shun father and mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the doorpost, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation....

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude....

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Out upon your guarded lips! Sew them up with packthread, do. Else if you would be a man speak what you think to-day in words as hard as cannon balls, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. Ah, then, exclaim the aged ladies, you shall be sure to be misunderstood! Misunderstood! It is a right fool’s word. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood....
Image: Ralph Waldo Emerson. His essay "On Self-Reliance" can be read here.

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