Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Lodge of the Holy Saints John of Jerusalem

The last broadcast of Masonic Central was a Table Lodge and all had a fun time. As I had to rise at 3:30 AM for work the next day I confined my toasts to some good English hot tea. Along the way in performing the seven toasts we came to the one for The Holy Saints John. After the toast we had a pretty good discussion going between the hosts Greg Stewart and Dean Kennedy, and Stephen Dafoe and myself about “From the Lodge of the Holy Saints John of Jerusalem.”

Why do we as Masons say we are from a Lodge of the Holy Saint Johns or John? I did some investigating and found that Ed Halpaus had written an essay on the subject that was most fascinating, so I will bring you his words on the subject. If you aren’t familiar with Ed Halpaus, he hails from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, Mainstream where he has served as Grand Lodge Education Officer. He publishes two Masonic subject essay mailings that one can subscribe to. One is Mehr Licht (More Light) and the other T.F.S. (Three, Five and Seven). You can request to be put on his mailing list by E-Mailing him at and mentioning the titles of the mailings in your request. I am a regular subscriber and always find Brother Halpaus spreads mucho light!

Brother Halpaus says that in answering the question who was the Holy St. John that is referred to in the phrase “the Lodge of the Holy Saint John”, a French Mason by the name of Bazot claims that it was St. John the Almoner. His father was King of Cyprus but he gave up his title to the throne to go to Jerusalem to assist the Knights and pilgrims of the Crusades. There he did much in charitable relief and acts of benevolence. St. John the Almoner was canonized by both the Greek and Roman Catholic churches and there were two feast days in his honor on November 11th and January 23rd.

But Brother Halpaus goes on to point out that is false that it was St. John the Baptist as the day the Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717 was held on June 24th, Saint John the Baptist day. Later St. John the Evangelist was added to the mix.

But there is a Masonic connection here, says Brother Halpaus. St. John the Almoner is the patron Saint of the Masonic Order of the Templars on account of his charity to the poor and his building of hospitals in Jerusalem.

But what was most interesting that Brother Halpus had to say was before the year 1440 the Masonic Fraternity was known by the name of John’s Brothers and subsequently Freemasonry as practiced in the USA, Ireland and Scotland was called Johannite Masonry. Here you will find the Masonic symbol of “The Point Within The Circle” “So the first three degrees conferred by the Symbolic Lodges in these countries”, Hapaus goes on to say, “is sometimes , although rarely now, called Johannite Masonry, because those Lodges are dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist.”

In England the terms St. John Lodges and St. John Masons were applied to those who were Freemasons before the Premier Lodge of England was formed and who in 1717 did not join the new Grand Lodge. They became old unrecognized Lodges and remained Trinitarian Christian while the new Grand Lodge of England was non sectarian. Right about now I am thinking about the difference in focus between American Prince Hall Masonry and American Mainstream Masonry and the interview on Masonic Central of Texas Prince Hall Deputy Grand Master Michael Anderson. There is much that can be said about the biblical roots of Freemasonry.

A question I asked on the radio show was why Jerusalem? A Lodge of the Holy Saints John yes, but why Jerusalem? And of course the obvious answer was that this is the area where King Solomon’s Temple was located. But I was searching for a still deeper symbolism here. And I found it when I read Brother Halpaus’ article.

“Jerusalem”, says Halpaus, “has a symbolic meaning of peace, rest and contentment. The name Jerusalem means City of Peace”. I have long held that world peace and Freemasonry have a direct correlation, and that every Lodge room is a sanctuary of peace and harmony and accord.

Brother Halpaus starts his article with a quote from the Book of Common Prayer. I will end with it.

“O pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls; and plenteous within thy palaces. For my brethren and companion’s sakes; I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the house of the Lord our god; I will seek to do thee good.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Prince Hall Masonry On The Radio

On December 7, 2008 R.W. Michael T. Anderson, Deputy Grand Master of The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas appeared on the radio podcast Masonic Central. This podcast is nationally and internationally known and has recently interviewed such Mainstream notables as Brothers Chris Hodapp, S. Brent Morris, Robert Davis, Tom Jackson, Stephen Dafoe and Nelson King to name a few. So Brother Anderson followed some heavy hitters on a radio show that is doubling its listeners every two months.

Assisting the Co-owners Brothers Greg Stewart of California and Dean Kennedy of Nova Scotia, Canada interview Brother Anderson was Texas Prince Hall’s own Brother Frederic L. Milliken of Pride of Mt. Pisgah #135, Dallas, Texas.
Brother Anderson was able to paint for his audience a good picture of Prince Hall Masonry. He emphasized his belief that Masonry is not about outward appearance but rather inward character. He spoke lovingly about his Masonic mentor Lawrence “Pap” Anderson who instilled in him the importance of getting a good Masonic education and having a solid foundation of knowledge about the Craft.

Talking about how Masonry affects the individual, Brother Anderson said that you ought to be able to identify a Mason by his actions. “My actions should speak louder than anything else”, he emphasized. “Even if someone doesn’t know you are a Mason, they should be thinking that there is something different about that man”, he added.

He answered questions on the numbers of Texas Prince Hall Masons by saying it is not the quantity of men that we should be concerned about but the quality. Another question was asked about the emphasis upon Christianity within Prince Hall Masonry and Brother Anderson answered that Masonry should always point a Brother to the church. And then he said something about the Bible on our altars that everybody listened intently to. “The more words you put in you, the more words come out of you”, he said.

A question was asked about the longevity of service of Prince Hall Grand Masters and Brother Anderson replied that he thought it was a good thing and allowed Grand Masters to implement some long range visions. He said that he was very, very appreciative of Grand Master Wilbert M. Curtis and all he has done to being a new attitude to Prince Hall Texas and how growth even in mid winter Grand Lodge attendance has increased, reflecting the Brothers love for the continued leadership of their Grand Master. He spoke about Grand Master Curtis’s hard work in getting a compact signed with the Grand Lodge of Texas for Prince Hall recognition and the subsequent recognition by UGLE.

And still another question was about the Masonic Family and the cooperation and closeness of the rapidly growing Bodies of The Eastern Star and Heroines of Jericho. Brother Anderson spoke about the importance placed on the fraternalism of the entire Prince Hall Family.

Many people across the USA and Canada were exposed to a better understanding on just what Prince Hall Masonry is like and we can thank Brother Anderson for that. If you were there live on December7, 2008 you not only got a good show but an unrecorded after show. For those that were not there the show can be accessed on podcast on the Masonic Central website Knowledge begets understanding and understanding begets pride in your fraternity. You can tell that when you listen to Brother Anderson. So could the rest of North America.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fremasonry and Christmas

Compliments of Brother Neil Neddermeyer who writes Cinosam.


The observance of Christmas doesn't seem to bring satisfaction to some people. On one hand, many say it's too religious, and thus don't want Christmas trees in public buildings and nativity scenes within a shepherd's-crook length of government lawns. On the other hand, many say it's not religious enough; it's too commercial. They've been saying it for years-it's the central theme behind the charming animated cartoon A Charlie Brown Christmas which was made some 40 years ago.

Setting that aside, what does Christmas mean to the Freemason?

Certainly Freemasonry is not a religion, Christian or otherwise. It leaves the determination on spiritual matters to each individual Mason, so long as he believes in the Almighty Creator. But there are certain messages from the story of Christmas that are applicable to all Masons, not just those who celebrate a certain birth on December 25th.

Many Christians feel God gave his greatest gift to mankind, and that Gift's birth is marked on Christmas Day. And the spirit of giving is also outlined in our Masonic ceremonies. The new Entered Apprentice is reminded in the northeast corner of charity, and to practice it whenever possible. There's the monetary charity of that portion of our ceremony. And there's another kind. The one referred to in the Charge in the same degree which admonishes "to relieve his necessities, soothe his afflictions, and do to him as you would that he, under similar circumstances, should do until you." In other words, the Golden Rule, from the Sermon on the Mount.

Christmas is a time of faith for our Christian brethren. But all Masons are reminded in the different degrees of the principle of faith. In the explanation of the First Degree Tracing Board, we hear "How ready and willing ought we to be to adore the Almighty Creator." Therefore, let this time of year serve as a reminder to all Masons to practice their faith, whatever it may be.

Faith and Charity are names of principal staves or rounds on the Ladder you see every meeting on that Tracing Board. But there is another round, and that is Hope in Salvation. While Salvation has a particular connotation to those who believe in the story of the virgin birth, the concept of some kind of reward for following Masonic principles during our lives winds its way through the various degrees, as those of you familiar with the working tools explanations of the Second and Third Degrees well know.

So let this season of the year remind all Masons, no matter what their religious beliefs, to follow those universal tenets of the Craft-faith, hope and charity. Doing so should bring satisfaction to you at Christmas-time.

Jim Bennie, PDDGM
Southern Cross No. 44, Vancouver B.C.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Would You Do As Grand Master #9

Here is a young Texas Mason soon to be shipped out to Afghanistan. He writes a very interesting personalized Blog, From Darkness To Light. This is our future. Long after I am sitting in The Celestial Lodge Above, this thoughtful Mason will still be here and my bet is as a big leader.

To begin this I would say that I have been from one side of this country to the other and have visited Masonic Lodges in between, and what works in Santa Fe, New Mexico might not work in Alexandria, Virginia and for that I give your rule number one, if it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it. Bottom line if a lodge is bringing in new members, having a positive impact in the community, teaching esoteric work, or whatever than there isn’t a justification or a reason to mess with the way that lodge is doing business. That being written, there would be some changes that I think could help jump start Freemasonry in the 21st century.

Offer up a choice of blue lodge types: I think that anyone that has been a Master Mason for six months knows that there are vast difference between lodges, even within a Masonic District, I would like each Masonic District to have at least three types of lodges available, Traditional Observance “like” Lodges, 20th Century Traditional Lodges, and Community Outreach Lodges. Traditional Observance “like” Lodges would have a heavy emphasis on ritual and esoteric work, would meet in dark suits or tux have table lodge once a month, and require papers written by it’s members. 20th Century Traditional Lodges, are the lodges that most people think of today, with an emphasis on fellowship (fish fry’s, pancake breakfasts, etc) is proficient at the ritual, and does small charity events. Community Outreach Lodges while meet all of the tenants of a Masonic lodge do extensive work in the local community and other Masonic charitable organizations.

I believe a key in to attracting quality candidates is giving them an option to choose which lodge meets their needs, all potential candidates who are serious about joining Freemasonry would be briefed on each lodge and encouraged to visit each type to find which Masonic journey route they would like to go. Some candidates want to join the same lodge that Father or Grandfather joined, and that’s fine, but we want to give everyone a choice in the type of lodge they would join. Far be it for me to say that only one kind of lodge is the only way to save Freemasonry.

Now living in a state like Texas and realizing that there are large rural areas that can hardly support one lodge let alone three, I refer you to rule number one, and would allow the members of that lodge to decide their best route given their membership (again, it’s about choice and the choices the brothers want to make).

Celebration of your Lodge’s Heritage: In the race to cure “Masonic World Hunger” (MWH) most have forgotten the little things that build pride and attract membership, that’s the foundation and the beginnings of your lodge. I don’t care if a lodge was founded in 1797 or 1997 it has a unique story of brotherhood and leadership that needs to be celebrated both within the walls of our temples and in the local community. That is why I would dedicate October as a month that all lodges celebrate their founding and telling the story of how they came to be, both within a tyled meeting and the community at large.

Encouragement of Younger Brothers Involvement @ Grand Lodge: A common theme that we get in our fraternity is why we aren’t attracting good men anymore, one of the factors in my mind is that Freemasonry in America has become an aging institution that isn’t putting it’s best and brightest and younger members forward, instead we rely on retired lawyers, judges, and doctors to be our face. While that brings a sense of stability, it isn’t doing much to attract men in their 20’s and 30’s. We need to celebrate our younger members, their professional achievements and have them be actively involved @ the Grand Lodge level. I am not saying that after a guy is raised slap a DDGM badge on him, but there are plenty of ways to encourage involvement at all levels, without being a Past Master, this can encourage something other than the old grey hairs we see in our local newspaper.

Community Work with Other Masonic Organizations: To help build relationships and ease tension I would work with The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas in a joint Community Outreach program to positively impact a community hit by disaster (hurricane, draught, etc). This would be a partnership between two non-profit organizations with one common goal, the relief of our common man. This would hopefully lead to both sides of the aging organizations to realize that they are not in competition with each other for membership and start to heal scars that were brought by the past. We have already recognized each other; why not work together in the areas that we have commonality.

These are the initiatives that I would feel would help our Fraternity, would it solve “Masonic World Hunger”? No, but giving brothers and candidates a choice in their Masonic experience is a key component, along with showcasing younger brothers and having a positive impact on the community beyond raising small amounts of money, but giving time and labor can have a lasting impression.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Understanding Prince Hall Freemasonry

On December 8, 2008 the Deputy Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas, Michael T. Anderson, appeared on the radio podcast Masonic Central and I had the honor of helping to interview him. This was an exposure of Prince Hall right from the horse’s mouth to an audience of mainly Mainstream Masonry from all over.

This show has a blog or chat board that allows those logged on not only to listen to the interview but also to post questions or carry on a conversation with others logged in. There were questions but what got my attention were some of the comments. “We are farther apart than I thought we were”, said one. “He’s preaching”, another blurted out. It’s not that these comments were disrespectful because they were not. It was the chasm of understanding that still needed to be overcome that sunk in.

Most Mainstreamers do not understand the closeness of Prince Hall to Christianity and why prayers to Jesus are allowed in Lodge. They have “sanitized” their Freemasonry and put up a wall of separation between spirituality and Masonry. To understand why Prince Hall operates as it does you need to go back into Black history.

Black people whether slave or free were not allowed to go down to the park and hang around or sit around and talk at the General Store, or attend the town BBQ and Fair or meet at the Grange or have a picnic together. Blacks were not allowed to congregate on their own lest they be a threat to White society and later during segregation Blacks were only allowed to assemble in non White areas which unless you owned property amounted to nowhere - nowhere but the one place where Blacks were permitted to assemble in large numbers, the Black Church.

So if you were a Black man and you wanted to meet a woman, you met her at the church. If you wanted men friends you met them there also. If you were looking for a tutor or some knowledge in an area you went to the church. If you wanted to inquire about Freemasonry you did so at the church. And in later years you most often met the Black politician running for office in your area at the church.

From the Black church flowed everything, not because that is the way Blacks chose it but because that is the way it was forced upon them. Consequently 99% of all Black Masons came from the church. The church was the one area where you got to know strangers. 150 to 200 years ago all Blacks were Christians and mainly churched in just a few different denominations. So every Mason coming from the same religion and the same few churches made the Lodge a gathering of church men expressing their spirituality and their Masonry together.

In the Black community everything became intertwined. Areas of life living were not segregated into little boxes of isolation. Freemasons were very active in the community in Black politics, community action and charity. Politicians and community activists were active in the church and often came to disseminate their message from the church pulpit. Many male church members were Freemasons and brought their religion with them into the Lodge since everyone else there was of the same persuasion. The Black community has never accepted the “Separation of Church and State” Doctrine. Prince Hall Freemasonry is not secular but religious. The Black political world, the religious world and the Masonic world were some of the same people with different hats on, the same people who went around and around in an interconnected circle. There was no wall of separation. Since many Black Lodges were not well heeled most met at the church. The Black church on certain nights became the Black Lodge building.

Now times have changed. You see many Blacks in denominations previously unheard of such as Roman Catholicism. You see some Black people in different religions other than Christianity, such as Islam. Prince Hall isn’t exclusively Christian. It admits men of all religions and will obligate them on the Sacred Volume of Law that pertains to their religion. And today you will find a small mix of others in the Prince Hall system who do not feel uncomfortable at all because Prince Hall only allows the expression of one’s faith not the proselytizing or conformity to any religious dogma.

But we are talking about association not the practice of Freemasonry. We are talking how men act and behave as they gather in the Lodge feeling close to each other. They act out their traditions, they way they were raised, especially when all present feel exactly the same. But that is not the same as practicing and teaching what Freemasonry is all about.

It is the failure of Mainstream Masonry to take any responsibility for the traditions of the Black community and the way Black Freemasonry developed that is the problem today. It is the failure of Mainstream Masonry to take any responsibility for a duly chartered branch of Masonry that always practiced regular Freemasonry and observed the Landmarks to be declared Clandestine for over 200 years. It is the failure of Mainstream Masonry to take any responsibility for creating a monopoly in each state by the American Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction thereby deliberately blocking Black Freemasonry and then today to say that Prince Hall would be recognized only if it wasn’t a separate Grand Lodge. It is the failure of Mainstream Masonry to take any responsibility because today it says that only solution is a merger whereby Mainstream would dominate and change Prince Hall when for 200 years Prince Hall has sought inclusion within Mainstream Masonry.

All these considerations and issues aside Prince Hall Freemasonry vehemently denies that it is injecting Christianity into the practice of its Freemasonry. What it is saying is that Masonry is scripture based and that the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the playing out of the legend of Hiram Abiff are all Biblically based and therefore to study and connect those scriptures to the knowledge a Freemason needs to learn adds understanding and meaning to the whole process.

There is no proselytizing of Christianity or any particular Christian denomination in the Prince Hall Lodge room. Nor are other religions prohibited from joining and being raised on their Volume of The Sacred Law.

What a Prince Hall Mason would say is that connecting scripture from which the story of Freemasonry originates is putting into context the whole story, the whole meaning of the teachings and virtues of the fraternity. It is not injecting religion into the Lodge room it is making the philosophy of Freemasonry complete.

In many Mainstream Lodges upon being raised the Lodge presents a “Masonic Bible” to a new Master Mason. Some Mainstream jurisdictions even have ritual that goes with the presentation. This “Masonic Bible” is merely the King James Version with scriptural references to the ritual of Freemasonry or a Masonic concordance. All that Prince Hall is doing is alluding to these scriptural references (that Mainstream agrees are there) and pulling out the full Biblical story. From King Solomon’s Temple to Jeptha Judge of Israel to Hiram King of Tyre and Hiram Abiff these stories are all in the Bible. By knowing the full story and all that preceded and followed it within a Masonic scriptural reference a Mason is provided a rounding out of knowledge so that the whole story of King Solomon’s Temple can be seen in its full context.

When I do Bible readings for my church my Pastor asks me to read beforehand for my own edification the whole chapter from whence the reading comes so that I will understand the whole context of the story and the point being made.

If you have had a chance to listen to the podcast on Masonic Central with Brother Anderson you will notice that I asked Brother Anderson to explain what and why The Book of Ruth is taught to every Prince Hall Mason. Not only do we learn that a testimony in Israel was when a man plucked off his shoe and gave it to his neighbor but also it is there we meet Boaz. The full story of Boaz has a very definite moral teaching and every Prince Hall Mason knows the connection of Boaz to Jesus. Boaz was from the house of Jesse and this lineage produced David that went on to give us Jesus.

What we are talking about here is Faith not religion:

“The covering of a Lodge is the clouded canopy or starry decked heaven, where all good Masons hope at last to arrive by the aid of a ladder, called Jacob’s Ladder, having three principal rounds denominated Faith, Hope and Charity;”

IT’S FAITH NOT RELIGION that permeates the Lodge.

Prince Hall Masons would say that the story of the Building of King Solomon’s Temple is taken out of context unless the scriptural references are pursued and tied in to allow the full meaning to blossom. Most of these scriptural references in the Blue Lodge are Old Testament, which is not a direct tie to Christianity.

So Prince Hall Masons looking at Mainstream Masonry would say it is practicing Masonry out of context and without the scriptural story it is secular Masonry, neutered so as not to offend and so bland so to be politically correct. Prince Hall Masons would point out that there is no Constitutional right not to be offended and that they will maintain their position of wishing any and all a Merry Christmas along with continuing to teach Freemasonry as a scripturally based philosophy.

Perhaps this is too harsh an assessment or you might think an exaggeration. But the constant criticism of Mainstream Masonry leveled at Prince Hall without researching the facts of the situation and the history behind traditions which is available to anyone who would take the time to search and investigate, only spreads disharmony, discord and disunity.

Monday, December 8, 2008

On The Radio, RW Michael T. Anderson

Deputy Grand Master, Michael T. Anderson of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas appeared on the Masonic radio show Masonic Central Sunday 12/07/08. It was an opportunity for Prince Hall Masonry to become more well known and hopefully better understood.

"Masonry is moving towards what its true meaning is - you don't judge a Mason by his outward appearance but by his inward character", said Brother Anderson.

He went on to explain how he got involved with Freemasonnry and the influence his mentor "Pap" Anderson had on his Masonic development. The great emphasis that he places on knowledge was something that Pap instilled in him. One of the fine examples he used was the application of the 24 inch guage to daily life.

Brother Anderson also spoke about what the Masonic Order really stands for, the importance of community, Prince Hall's close identity with Christianity, and the greatness of the sitting Grand Master Wilbert M. Curtis and the signing of the compact of recognition with Mainstream Masonry in Texas.

All this and more are available for you to listen to, preserved in podcast form, merely by logging onto

Masonic Central

Friday, December 5, 2008

A 26/11 Survivor Story From the Front Lines of Mumbai/Bombay India

My friend in India is a Freemason and when he came to Massachusetts we went to Lodge together. I sent him an E-Mail inquiring of his well being after the terrorist violence and killings broke out and this is what he sent me back (ALL NAMES WITHHELD FOR PRIVACY).

Yes by God's grace we are OK. I live in South Bombay, at Churchgate, and all of the action was within 2 kilometers from my house. The Taj, Trident (Oberoi) and Nariman house is south of me. The CST (Victoria Terminus) and Cama hospital is east of me. And the Metro Cinema and Bombay Hospital are bang on the street behind my house to my north. All within walking distances.

The Freemason's hall is just 2 blocks away from the CST terminus where the first shots were fired at about 10.30 pm. Many of the brethren living in the suburbs commute by train to CST and then walk to the Hall. There was a Provincial Grand Lodge of Ireland in India meeting going on, and they were at the banquet table when the commotion occurred just outside. At first they thought it must be some fire-crackers, but there were people running about on the road outside. So, they sent one of our Hall orderlies out to see what was happening, and he came back to report that there was some gang war and shooting going on outside - which was an impossible thing in south Bombay. And within minutes, all mobile phones started ringing with people calling from home to let those who were inside know of what was going on, as it started coming on all the TV channels. Meanwhile, many pedestrians, escaping from the shooting at CST got into the foyer of the Freemason's hall for shelter. And then, the dinner was ended fast and the brethren started dispersing very cautiously. Later, I am told, every one reached home safely. This was on the very first day, (Wednesday) when no one yet knew what was happening. Returning by train was impossible. But many of the brethren got lifts or shared taxis to reach home.

Then on Friday we had our Scottish District Grand Lodge installation which was postponed as the "War" was in full swing. On Saturday, we had our District Grand Conclave (Order of the Secret Monitor) installation meeting which was also postponed. By Saturday, the action at all fronts was over, but yet Bombay had a deserted look, and nobody would have come for the meeting anyway. Besides, till about noon, mo one knew when this carnage would be over. Let's see - tomorrow (Monday) all will be back to normal - hopefully. Except that everyone would be going home early after Office. No late-nights for a long time, I presume. Otherwise, Bombay is alive and awake till well past midnight.

And Brother Fred, thank you for your concern.

With Fraternal regards,

He followed that up today with a message he received from one of his friends. This is bone chilling.

Dear friends,
First, I wanted to thank you all for the incredible concern and support that you'll have given me over the past few days which have been among the most emotionally and psychologically draining of my life.

By the grace of God my father was rescued from the Oberoi on Friday with two (minor) bullet wounds and is now speedily recovering. He did however lose the two best friends he was dining with that fateful night (who are like godfathers to me). We also lost a lot of other friends and colleagues and have watched our beloved city reduced to a war zone and brought to its knees.

On Wednesday night, my father and his two friends arrived at the Indian restaurant on the first floor of the Oberoi Hotel for dinner at about 10pm. They had barely sat down when they heard gun shots in the lobby of the hotel. The terrorists, armed with AK-47s, grenades and plastic explosives, had entered the hotel and were executing everybody sitting in the ground floor restaurant. Realizing the situation, the staff of the restaurant my father was in asked them to quickly exit through the kitchen.

As the guests tried to rush into the kitchen, one terrorist burst into the restaurant and began to shoot anyone that remained in the restaurant. At this point my father was in the kitchen and along with his two friends rushed to the fire exit. They had barely descended a few steps when they were trapped from both ends by terrorists.

The terrorists then rounded up anyone alive (about 20 people) and made them climb the service staircase to the 18th floor. On reaching the 18th floor landing they made the people line up against a wall. One terrorist then positioned himself on the staircase going up from the landing and the other on the staircase going down from the landing. Then, in a scene right out of the Holocaust, they simultaneously opened fire on the people. My father was towards the center of the line with his two friends on either side. Out of reflex, or presence of mind, he ducked as soon as the firing began. One bullet grazed his neck, and he fell to the floor as his two friends and several other bodies piled on top of him. The terrorists then pumped another series of bullets into the heap of bodies to finish the job. This time a bullet hit my father in the back hip.

Bent almost in double, crushed by the weight of the bodies above him, and suffocating in the torrent of blood rushing down on him from the various bodies my father held on for ten minutes while the terrorists left the area. When he finally had the courage to wiggle his arms he found that there were four other survivors in the room. They communicated to each other by touch as they were too afraid to make a sound.

My father moved just enough to allow himself room to breathe and then lay still. The survivors passed over twelve hours lying still in the heap of bodies too afraid to move. They constantly heard gunfire and hand grenades going off in the other parts of the hotel. They feared that any noise would bring the terrorists back.

After approximately twelve hours, the terrorists returned with a camera and flashlight and joked and laughed as they filmed what they thought was a pile of dead bodies. They then moved to the landing below where they set up explosives. On their departing, my father decided that it was too risky to remain where they were due to the explosives. Along with the other three survivors he climbed the rest of the stairwell, where they discovered a large HVAC plant room in which they decided to take shelter. They passed the rest of the siege hiding in this room trying to get the attention of the outside world by waving a makeshift flag out of the window. They drank sips of dirty water from the Air Conditioning unit to survive.

Finally on Friday morning they were spotted by a commando rescue team that was storming the building and were evacuated to safety and taken to the hospital.

This is just one of the countless horror stories that unfolded in those two days. There are many stories of entire families being wiped out while eating their dinner, or young kids losing both parents, or pregnant women being shot while pleading for their lives, or hostages being beaten to death with the butt of a rifle so that their faces were unrecognizable. The terrorists attacked on every level.

They killed middle class workers when they shot up the railway station, they killed the elite in the hotels, they killed tourists and kids as they ate in a café, and they killed the sick and dying when they stormed three hospitals. They shot people in the roads, in stations, in hotels, and even entered an apartment building. They killed Indians, Americans, Britons, Israelis, and several other nationalities. They killed men, women, children, policemen, firemen, doctors, patients. This was systematic, cold-blooded, slaughter.

We have lost a lot of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Every person who lives in South Mumbai has a story about how either they or someone they love either died or had a narrow escape. The true extent of the horror will only make itself clear over the next few days.

Mumbai is a proud city and we pride ourselves on bouncing back from any adversity. We survive and prosper despite all the difficulties placed on us. We are no strangers to terror and have had to pick up the pieces and move on after several attacks. This time however, the sheer scale and audacity brought the city to its knees. The openness of our society, the bustling hoards in our train stations, the vibrancy of our news media, and the thousands of tourists, diplomats, and business leaders packing our hotels was used against us to devastating effect.

In the end one tries to make sense of all this. Barack Obama said about the killers of 9/11: "My powers of empathy, my ability to reach into another's heart, cannot penetrate the blank stares of those who would murder innocents with such serene satisfaction."

Unfortunately, this is becoming an all familiar scene in today's world. While I cannot understand, I recognize again and again the hatred, anger, and desperation of the terrorists and the cold blooded, targeted, ruthlessness of those that dispatch them. They respect nothing but their own twisted beliefs and to achieve them have declared war on an entire way of life. India now finds itself as a major front of this global war.

How do we fight such hate? How do we inject humanity into such monstrosity? How do we convince those who think they kill in god's name that no God would condone such barbarity? How do we maintain our own values and humanity when faced with such hate and provocation?

Over the next week as we say goodbye to those we lost and help those that survive, Mumbai and India will ask themselves these questions. I hope the rest of the world does too.

Thanks again for all your thoughts and prayers.

"Just as certain world religions say that people who do not believe in a personal God outside themselves are atheists, we say that a person who does not believe in himself is an atheist. Not believing in the splendor of one's own soul is what we call atheism."
- Swami Vivekananda

Monday, December 1, 2008

Masonic Traveler's Tracing Boards

Tracing Board #1

Tracing Board #2

#3 Tracing Board

Now I hope you will read Masonic Traveler's essay below on what he would do as Grand Master. A gifted person's work should be appreciated!