Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What Should I Read? Todd's Book List For New Freemasons

Finding my book on the shelf at the House of the Temple Library, Washington, D.C.
At least once a week, somebody asks me if I have a list of books I'd recommend for new Freemasons.  I don't usually like reading lists--Freemasonry is a broad topic, and everyone has different tastes and different interests.  But since I keep getting asked, I thought I'd put together a list for new Masons.  Some of these were books I read when I first became a Mason that helped get me interesting in learning more, and some of these books I read later and have a good opinion of and are readily available.

As a new Mason, I'd highly suggest you read one of these (or both) right off the bat:

Freemasons for Dummies by Christopher Hodapp

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry by S. Brent Morris

Both of these are great primers to help you understand who the Freemasons are, what we do, how we started, and a great deal of history about the Fraternity.  So start there.

As a new Mason I also enjoyed John J. Robinson's books.  There are three, and all three are good, but I particularly enjoyed these two:

Born in Blood by John J. Robinson

A Pilgrim's Path by John J. Robinson

Two more books I read early on and got a lot out of were:

Freemasonry and its Etiquette by William Preston

The Meaning of Masonry by W. L. Wilmshurst

If you want to get a little deeper into your understanding of Freemasonry, try these highly readable tomes:

Light on Masonry by Arturo de Hoyos

Solomon's Builders by Christopher Hodapp

The Craftsman' Symbology by Anthony Mongelli, Jr.

Now I like history, and reading about how Freemasons have impacted that history.  If you enjoy that as well, definitely read these:

The Better Angels of Our Nature by Michael A. Halleran

Famous American Freemasons Volumes 1 & 2 by Todd E. Creason

There's also a great book full of great information and color photos about Freemasonry in America that you may enjoy:

American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities by Mark A. Tabbert

Now this isn't a definitive list--just some of my favorites.  There are libraries full of books on the topic of Freemasonry.  Discover for yourself what you enjoy, whether it's the history of Freemasonry, the ritual, or the esoteric side of the Craft, and then read everything you can get your hands on.  You can contact your state Lodge of Research or one of the fine research organizations like the Scottish Rite Research Society or the Masonic Society if there is a particular topic you want to learn about and they'll be more than happy to help you find reading materials.  Many of the Masonic magazines have book review sections--I found a lot of interesting books by reading reviews in those magazines.  And if you attend your Grand Lodge annual meetings or any large symposiums or events, there are almost always vendors there with Masonic good for sale, books included!  

So start with my list if you like, but get out there and explore for yourself those particular topics that interest you.  And don't forget to share that knowledge with your Brethren.

~Todd E. Creason

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017: Getting Back To Study

Here we are in 2017, and we have a brand new year in front of us--a blank slate full of possibility and potential.  I'm not much for resolutions.  What I like to do at the end of the year is look back over the last twelve months and figure out what I did right, and what I could have done better.  Let's just say I was very distracted the last half of 2016, and didn't get a lot accomplished.  There were two reasons: 

On the positive side, it was a pretty good year for me--it was a pretty good year for all Chicago Cubs fans.  I still have a very difficult time believing that the Cubs won the World Series.  Over the holidays I had the opportunity to watch that final game again, and it elicited the same strong emotions it did the first time.  It just doesn't get much better than that.  It's something I'd always hoped I'd see, and now that I have, I still don't believe it. 

On the down side, I spent too much time following current events--mostly my lifelong obsession with American politics.  It's an affliction that many historians suffer from.  Many Americans had this same addiction over the course of the last 18 months or so.  Time to put it behind us and move on.  I hope we never have another Presidential election like that one.  As far as the results go--what a stunner!  Just like with the Chicago Cubs, nobody saw that one coming, did they?  Everybody was wrong!  And no, I don't necessarily believe Donald Trump is going to make America great again, but on the other hand, I don't believe the world is going to end at his hands either.  Like with every President who came previously, I believe some things will get better, some things won't change, and some things will get worse.  That's America.  Perhaps we can come together again and focus on the things we all have in common rather than yelling and screaming about where we don't agree. 

This year, I'm going to get back to my usual routine.  Instead of watching so much baseball and so much news coverage, I'm going to spend my spare time reading and writing.  I've decided to expand my usual reading topics this year and explore some new topics.  I'm working my way through an interesting book now on the golden age of piracy.  Argh!  The facts are certainly a lot different than the fiction.  I'm also going to cut out some of the time I spend on social media.  Spend more time creating content rather than wasting time looking at it. 

I've said it before, and I believe it.  The internet should be viewed as a tool.  Too many people view it as a world.  It's not.  The world is out here.  And in 2017, I'm going to spend a little more time out here. 

Happy New Year!

~Todd E. Creason


Friday, December 9, 2016

In Memory of Brother John Glenn: Rocket Man

“I don’t know what you could say about a day in which you have seen four beautiful sunsets.” 

 ~John Glenn
(1921 - 2016)

This is the chapter entitled "Rocket Man" from my 2007 book Famous American Freemasons: Volume II:

On a beautiful summer day, a father took his eight-year-old son to work with him. They were driving to check out a future plumbing job. On the way back home, they drove by a rural airport where an old bi-plane sat in a nearby field. The father and son decided to stop and check it out. The pilot, wearing the typical helmet and goggles, was taking people for rides in the plane. The father asked his son if he wanted to go up.

“You mean it?” the boy replied.

The father had wanted to fly ever since he’d seen bi-planes fighting over the lines during World War I. His young son shared his enthusiasm. After the father handed the pilot a few dollars, they climbed into the back cockpit and sat side by side in the small seat, hooking a strap across them both. The engine revved. They bounced down the runway until suddenly, they were in the air. The young boy couldn’t believe how high they’d climbed. When the plane banked, he could look straight down. As an elderly man, he still remembers that everything on the ground looked small, like the buildings and trees on a train set in a store window. From that day forward, the boy was hooked on airplanes.

Years later, as a young man, he was flying over North Korea. He was in a steep diving run in his F9F Panther, targeting a complex of buildings being used by the Communists for the staging of equipment and soldiers, when he saw off to his right the tracer bullets from a Communist anti-aircraft emplacement streaming past him. He made a mental note of the location. After dropping his bomb load, he swung low over the trees. Then instead of returning to base, he made a turn toward the anti-aircraft guns that had fired at him. Flying low and fast, he drew down on the emplacement. Firing his four twenty-millimeter cannons, he watched as the shells ripped the enemy emplacement apart.

He had only a brief moment of satisfaction as he pulled up to fly over the emplacement he’d just destroyed. Suddenly, some-thing struck the plane. He started to roll over and down toward the rice paddy. He was unable to climb to altitude, and it took tremendous strength to control the badly damaged aircraft. Being so close to the ground, his first problem was to keep from crashing; his second was to avoid more anti-aircraft fire coming from the hilltops.

He was able to wrestle the plane back to base. After he landed safely, he was surprised to find one hole in the Panther’s tail “big enough to put my head and shoulders through,” along with another 250 smaller shrapnel holes. That evening, he wrote a poem that, in part, went:

Then off to one side of the tail 
A tracer stream did pass. 
A thought ran flashing through my mind: 
“They’re shooting at my ass.”

Unbelievably, the tail of the Panther was replaced. She flew again like new—and so would he. A week later, he was hit again during a napalm run. As he was gliding to the target at about 8,000 feet, he felt a tremendous explosion. His plane tipped over ninety-degrees to the left. The other pilots radioed him, telling him he’d been hit, “something I was already keenly aware of,” he recalled. He was able to control the plane and returned to base where he was shocked to discover a two-foot hole in the wing from a large anti-aircraft shell. In addition to that hole, the ground crew count-ed another three hundred holes from shrapnel, but the pilot had escaped without a scratch. Because of his gift for attracting so much flack from anti-aircraft fire, his squadron began calling him “Old Magnet Ass.”

He flew sixty-three combat missions during his first tour in Korea. He would go on to fly twenty-seven more in an F-86 Sabre during his second tour. In the last nine days of the Korean War, he shot down three MiG-15s.

But it was a flight years later—a flight that lasted four hours, fifty-five minutes, and twenty-three seconds—that made this man famous. It was a flight even more dangerous than any mission he’d flown over Korea, a historic flight that was not even in a plane.

On February 20, 1962, at 9:47 A.M., the roar of a 125-ton Atlas rocket broke the silence of Cape Canaveral and signaled the launch of a mission that would demonstrate to the world that America was still in the space race. At a top speed of 17,545 miles per hour, one man was rocketed into the history books. As the rocket roared toward space, Scott Carpenter put into words from mission control what most people were feeling as they watched the historic moment on televisions all over the world: “Godspeed, John Glenn.” Aboard the Friendship 7, John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., was born on July 18, 1921, in Cambridge, Ohio. His father was a railroad conductor who became proprietor of a plumbing and heating business. John Glenn and his sister, Jean, grew up in New Concord, Ohio, a small college town a few miles from the larger city of Zanesville. As a teenager, Glenn was active in sports, winning letters in basketball, football, and tennis at New Concord High School. He earned high grades, served as president of his junior class, and played the lead role in his senior class play. After graduating in the spring of 1939, he enrolled at Muskingum College, a Presbyterian liberal arts college in New Concord.

Glenn played football at Muskingum College and continued to perform well in the classroom, majoring in chemistry. In 1941, he received his private pilot’s license to earn course credit in phys-ics. When the United Stated entered World War II after the attack at Pearl Harbor, Glenn enlisted in the United States Army Air Corp, but when the Army did not call him up, he enlisted in the United States Navy as an aviation cadet. He was trained at Naval Air Station Olathe, where he made his first solo flight in a military aircraft. While receiving advanced training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in 1943, he was reassigned to the United States Marine Corps. On March 31, 1943, he became a commissioned officer in the U.S. Marine Corps and was promoted to first lieutenant six months later. Lieutenant Glenn married Anna Castor in April 1943. Later, they had two children, Carolyn and David.

In February 1944, Glenn received orders to go to the Pacific as part of the Marine Fighter Squadron 155. During the next year, he flew fifty-nine missions in the Marshall Islands campaign, attacking anti-aircraft emplacements and making bombing runs in his F4U Corsair. Glenn was transferred back to the States in July 1945, where he became a captain at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

Glenn remained in the Marines after the war ended, serving as a member of VMF-218. He flew patrol missions in North Korea until his unit was relocated to Guam. He became a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1948 and later attended amphibious warfare school. After he was promoted to major, he received the assignment to Korea.

After the Korean War ended, Glenn worked as a test pilot, serving as an armament officer. He flew high altitude weapons tests of machine guns and cannons, but his most remarkable accomplishment came on July 16, 1957, when he became the first pilot to complete a supersonic transcontinental flight. He flew a Vought F8U-1 Crusader plane from Los Angeles to Floyd Bennett Field in New York in three hours, twenty-three minutes, and eight seconds. One story is that as Glenn flew over his hometown of New Concord, Ohio, the tremendous sonic boom that followed his jet shook the town. A neighborhood child ran to the Glenn house shouting, “Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb! Johnny dropped a bomb!” The achievement not only set a new record but also earned Glenn his fifth Distinguished Flying Cross. Later, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

In April 1959, John Glenn received word that he had been selected for training as one of the original group of Mercury astronauts in the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In May 1959, seven astronauts began training at Langley Research Center. In May and July 1961, Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom respectively became the first and second astronauts actually launched into space. John Glenn’s mission, however, was not only to escape Earth’s atmosphere and return but also to orbit the Earth. On February 20, 1962, Friendship 7 was launched into orbit with Glenn at the controls.

The many Americans and others around the world who watched the launch didn’t know there was a very serious problem. NASA officials feared that the heat shield on Friendship 7 had been damaged during the launch, but there was nothing that could be done to inspect or repair it. There was only hope and prayer that the damage was not so severe as to cause Glenn to burn up during re-entry.

To the relief of NASA, John Glenn splashed down safely. Celebrated as a national hero, he received a ticker tape parade reminiscent of Charles A. Lindbergh’s after his completion of the first transcontinental flight thirty-five years before.

Despite Glenn’s success and celebrity, he didn’t go into space again, although he wanted to. It has been long believed that John F. Kennedy himself may have blocked Glenn from flying future missions—most notably the Gemini and Apollo missions—because the loss of a national hero of John Glenn’s stature could have seriously harmed the fledgling NASA space program or even ended the manned space program altogether.

Glenn remained close friends with the Kennedy family, but two years after his historic flight, he left the space program and retired from the Marine Corps. After considering a career in politics, he opted instead to accept a corporate position as vice-president of Royal Crown Cola International Ltd. Still interested in politics, he supported Robert Kennedy's 1968 Presidential run. In fact, he was with Robert Kennedy when he was assassinated.

Finally, in 1974, John Glenn entered politics. He ran in a bitterly-fought election for Ohio senator and won. It was the beginning of Glenn’s career as Ohio State senator that would last twenty-four years.

Glenn made a bid to be vice president with Jimmy Carter in 1976, but Carter selected Walter Mondale as his running mate. Glenn ran in the 1984 Presidential election. He polled well in the beginning, running a close second to Walter Mondale, but because he was hesitant to use his fame as an astronaut and an American hero, his candidacy fizzled. The failed Presidential bid left Glenn with a substantial campaign debt that took him years to pay off.

In 1998, John Glenn decided to retire, declining to run for re-election to the United States Senate. At age seventy-seven, John Glenn deserved the rest, but he wasn’t quite ready to be put out to pasture.

On October 29, 1998, the roar of rocket engines broke the silence of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as the space shuttle Discovery lifted off for a historic mission. The seven-man crew included the first Spanish astronaut, Pedro Duque. It also included a seventy-seven-year-old payload specialist—and recently retired senator from Ohio—who had been, incidentally, the first American to orbit the Earth. Thirty-six years after his first flight aboard Friendship 7, John Glenn returned to space for a nine-day mission for which he’d trained hard, both physically and mentally. Glenn was a member of the crew, as well as one of the experiments, which tested the effects of space flight on the aging. He was a perfect subject since his extensive medical records from his days during the early years of NASA provided a baseline for the testing.

Upon returning from his Discovery mission, John Glenn received the same national attention and praise he’d received after his historic flight aboard Friendship 7. He is the only man to receive two ticker tape parades in his lifetime. Even so, he remained humbled by the experience, stating, “You know, old folks can have dreams, too, as well as young folks, and then work toward them. And to have a dream like this come true for me is just a terrific experience.”

The Illustrious John Glenn 33° originally petitioned his hometown lodge, Concord Lodge No. 688 of New Concord, Ohio, in 1964. He was elected to receive the Degrees of Masonry; however, his increasingly busy life made it impossible for him to receive those degrees at the time. Even so, he continued to desire admission in Concord Lodge. Fourteen years later, on August 19, 1978, John Glenn was finally able to finish what he had begun in 1964. At the Chillicothe High School gymnasium with hundreds of Master Masons present, John Glenn received the Master Mason degree in a special meeting. After the Master of Scioto Lodge No. 6 opened the lodge, he turned the meeting over to Grand Master of Ohio, Jerry C. Rasor, who in turn opened the Grand Lodge of Ohio, and who conferred the degrees.

On April 11, 1997, Brother Glenn received further light in Masonry in the Valley of Cincinnati when he received the Scottish Rite Degrees. He later received the highest Scottish Rite honor on September 10, 1998, when he was conferred with the 33° of Masonry. Several of his friends from Washington, D.C., attended the event. Senate colleagues, Brothers Charles Grassley and Conrad Burns, were present as was a former Ohio congressman Brother Clarence Brown, Jr. of the Valley of Dayton. It might be interesting to note that there are two topics deemed inappropriate to discuss in a lodge of Freemasons because they are topics that divide men instead of uniting them—religion and politics. This ideal is obviously something John Glenn very much believes in. The three friends that joined Brother Glenn at the conferral of his 33° were Republicans. John Glenn has been a lifelong Democrat.

The Scottish Rite again honored Brother Glenn in 2007 in Washington, D.C., when they awarded him the prestigious Gorgas Medal.

~TEC,33

Todd E. Creason, 33°, FMLR is the Founder of the Midnight Freemasons blog and is a regular contributor.  He is the award winning author of several books and novels, including the Famous American Freemasons series. He is the author of the From Labor to Refreshment blog.  He is the Worshipful Master of Homer Lodge No. 199 and a Past Master of Ogden Lodge No. 754, where is currently serves as Secretary.  He is the Sovereign Master of the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees.  He is a Fellow at the Missouri Lodge of Research. (FMLR) and a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D.  You can contact him at: webmaster@toddcreason.org

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Do You Have A "Glaring Story Problem"?

“Indiana Jones plays no role in the outcome of the story. If he weren’t in the film, it would turn out exactly the same… If he weren’t in the movie, the Nazis would still have found the Ark, taken it to the island, opened it up, and all died, just like they did.”

~Amy Farrah Fowler (Big Bang Theory)

I'm a big Indiana Jones fan, and I'm also a huge Big Bang Theory fan.  I think one of the funniest episodes is the one where Amy Farrah Fowler ruins Indiana Jones for Sheldon by pointing out what she described as "a glaring story problem."  Indiana Jones didn't really do anything in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  If Indiana Jones hadn't been in the movie at all, nothing would have changed--the movie would have ended exactly the same way.  It's a crushing realization to Sheldon and his friends.

Now a lot of Indiana Jones fans didn't find that humorous, but I did.  I've come to realize since, there's a lot of people like that in the real world. Sometimes you have to take a step back and really look at what you're doing.  Are you actually contributing anything, or are you just busy all the time?  Are the things you're doing having the desired outcome, or in the end are you just wasting your time and energy needlessly and never getting any closer to your goal?  Like Indiana Jones, we often spend an awful lot of time reacting without thinking.  We go through life chasing after the things we want without a clear plan, and as a result we wind up spending all of our time reacting to the obstacles we find in our way.  And like Indiana Jones, if we do manage to catch up to our goal eventually, we find out it wasn't what we thought it was going to be at all, and that big pay-off we thought we were going to get in the end remains just out of reach.

There's probably no better habit you can get into than making a list of goals, then creating a plan to achieve them, and sitting down periodically to review how it's going and make modifications to the plan as needed.  That's something I've usually been very consistent about, but as this year comes to a close, I realize I've had one of my least productive years in a decade.  There was no book this year.  I did some writing, but nothing memorable or groundbreaking.  I realized I was Indiana Jones.  I spent an exhausting and busy year chasing around in a dozen different directions and accomplished very little in the end.  Because there was no plan, I spent a year reacting instead of acting.

So it's back to the drawing board for me.  So remember.  It's difficult to find a destination without a map, and it's impossible to reach a goal without a plan.

~Todd E. Creason
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