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Sunday, September 24, 2017

"Brother to a Prince and Fellow to a Beggar, if he be found worthy."


In 1926, Rudyard Kipling published a collection of short stories called Debits and Credits. In it there are four Masonically inspired tales, all centered around an imaginary London Masonic lodge called 'Faith and Works No. 5837, E.C.' The stories are In the Interests of the Brethren, The Janeites, A Madonna of the Trenches, and A Friend of the Family.

Earlier in the month while I was away from home and a real keyboard, I received the following message from a brother in Portland, Maine. If you are up in his corner of the country on November 13th, he and five other brethren will be presenting an original dramatic production based upon Brother Kipling's Masonic-themed short story, In the Interests of the BrethrenKipling’s original takes place in 1917 during WWI, but unlike the other three, this one revolves entirely around the lodge and a visitor during sessions of their Lodge for Instruction. 

Despite its older inspiration from the period of the First World War, this dramatic version will be a modern-day variation written by Brother Aaron Joy, the webmaster for the Maine Lodge of Research, and a seasoned and talented actor and director:
On November 13 Deering Lodge #83 AF&AM in Portland, under the Grand Lodge of Maine, will bring a unique event to Maine's Masonic community. The Lodge will host the debut of the one act Masonic themed play, "In The Interests Of The Brethren", written and directed by Brother Aaron Joy of Portland, with a six man cast drawn from across the district's nine lodges.
Calling this is a 'unique event' is meant quite literally. This will be the first time a play combines all the variables of being explictly about the Masonic experience, taking place present day and not historically themed or a dramatization of a historic event, written by a Maine brother and not a former Scottish Rite degree or Brother Carl Claudy play, and performed for the public with no cover charge. All those variables make for a unique moment in Maine Masonry and the Portland theater scene as no previous Masonically sponsored show has brought all these variables together.
The show is open to the public and all are invited, whether Masonic brother or curious about Freemasonry or just a theater attendee looking for a new experience, men and women, though the show is not thematically relevant for youth. This is not semi-public nor in open lodge, but a fully public informal event. Optional dinner at 6:30, show at 7:30, normally scheduled Stated to follow for attending brothers. Guests are invited to stay after the show to discover more about Masonry. No tickets or entry cost, but those who come for dinner are asked to give a small donation to cover food costs and RSVP for a head count. Other attendees, in lieu of tickets, are invited to instead contribute to the Lodge's annual collection of personal items that are boxed together for the homeless. A donation can be something like a wool hat or a toothbrush.
The play, written 2016, was loosely inspired by the Rudyard Kipling short story of the same name, which is about a soldier discovering how a lodge transcends world problems and turns enemies into friends on the level. The play is about a man that left Masonry after the first degree on the eve of his father not being voted in as Master, and who would also leave the Craft to soon die heart-broken. Years later, when Masonry is a forgotten bitter taste, the man finds himself unexpectantly attending Lodge. Here he discovers what Masonry really means, comes to terms with his father's death, and understands why even in the face of disappointment his father still encouraged him to stay with Masonry.
The play will be presented as a reading. This is not to be confused with poetry readings but is a performance without formal set or costumes and with script in hand. While eliciting interest in staging future or more eleaborate productions is welcomed, the goals of this reading is to share a local brother's creative work, get writing feedback for further development, introduce a new social activity into Lodge culture, open the lodge to visitors and remind brethren that Masonry isn't just about memorizing ritual but it can go wherever one wants to take it.
Its author/director has over 200 theater shows under his belt, ranging from community theater acting to historical re-enactments to technical work to directing Off-Broadway to writing an award-winning musical. Currently, he can seen acting lead in Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction degrees and in 2016 was in a largely improvised 2 act gangster themed show for DeMolay and Rainbow. To direct his own show is a lifelong dream and Masonry provided the much needed source of inspiration while seemingly aligning the stars. Brother Joy is a member of Portland's Triangle Lodge #1, Gorham's Harmony Lodge #38, Scottish Rite NMJ and is the webmaster for the Maine Lodge of Research.
Contact playwright/director Brother Aaron Joy at aronmatyas@hotmail.com or call/text 646-597-1583 (leave a message) for more information, questions, and to RSVP for dinner.
Deering Lodge #83 AF&AM is located at 102 Bishop Street, Portland, Maine. 

Rudyard Kipling was scarcely a famous Freemason in name only. He was active and enthusiastic at two distinct periods of his life, and believed strongly in the precepts of the fraternity. When he was 20, he was initiated, passed and raised in 1886 into Hope and Perseverance Lodge 782, an English Constitution lodge in Lahore, Punjab, in what is now Pakistan. Indeed true: he was immediately made the lodge Secretary before his MM degree night even ended, and entered his own degree record in the Minutes. In the same region, he also was a regular visitor to Lodge of St John the Evangelist No. 1483, a military lodge at the time in Lahore. He took the Mark Degree in Fidelity Mark Lodge on April 12, 1887 and was elevated in Mt. Ararat Mark Mariners Lodge at Lahore on the same day. After being transferred to a newspaper in Allahabad, Bengal, he joined the Lodge of Independence With Philanthropy 391 there. 

Something obviously disgruntled Kipling about the fraternity while still in India, because he abruptly resigned from all of his Masonic Craft lodges in 1889. But after he relocated eventually to Britain, in 1909 he joined the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (what we in the US call the MSRICF). On top of several honorary memberships bestowed on him in England, he became a member of the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle in 1818 after his son's heartbreaking death in the war. In 1921 he would be a founding member of the Imperial War Graves Commission lodge, The Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge 12 in St Omer, France under the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise in the Province of Neustrie, the ancient French name of the region between Normandy and Flanders. Its poetic name in memorial to the graves of the dead is commonly attributed to him, and he would remain a paying member of it until his own death. London's Freemasons' Hall itself was built by the UGLE as a memorial to those Brethren who lost their lives in the First World War. In 1924, Kipling visited Rosemary Lodge 2851 in England, giving his lodge affiliation to the Secretary and brethren as London's Motherland Lodge 3861, of which he was actually an honorary member.

In 1925, Kipling wrote in the London Times
"I was Secretary for some years of Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782, E.C. Lahore which included Brethren of at least four creeds. I was entered by a member of Bramo Somaj, a Hindu; passed by a Mohammedan, and raised by an Englishman. Our Tyler was an Indian Jew. We met, of course, on level, and the only difference anyone would notice was that at our banquets, some of the Brethren, who were debarred by caste from eating food not ceremonially prepared, sat over empty plates."
If you want to know much more about this deeply thoughtful and fascinating gentleman and brother, author Richard Jaffa has written an excellent Masonic biography called Man and Mason—Rudyard Kipling. Jaffa goes into great detail about him and into the Masonic influences that shaped both his life and his writings. 

In the original story that this dramatic updating in Maine will be based upon in November, the lodge's visitor who is quite likely echoing the thoughts of Kipling so many years after almost completely severing his memberships, says to a Brother next to him,
"It’s Heaven to me, sittin' in Lodge again. It’s all coming back now, watching their mistakes. I haven't much religion, but all I had I learnt in Lodge.' 
Recognising me, he flushed a little as one does when one says a thing twice over in another’s hearing. "Yes, 'veiled in all'gory and illustrated in symbols' the Fatherhood of God, an' the Brotherhood of Man; an' what more in Hell do you want?"
What indeed.

3 comments:

  1. Kipling's Masonic interests are explored in a book edited by Professors Marie Roberts and Hugh Ormsby-Lennon. See Paul Rich, "Kim and the Magic House: Freemasonry and Kipling," in Secret Texts: The Literature of Secret Societies, eds. Marie M. Roberts and Hugh Ormsby-Lennon (New York: AMS Press, 1995), 322 - 338.

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  2. Brother, thanks for sharing about my play. It's actually an honor to be written about on a blog I've read so many times and is a valuable contribution to the greater Masonic community.

    Since you mention Kipling, I'd like to add a little bit on that line. We all know 'The Man Who Would Be King', the book and movie (we've even shown it in lodge around here), but I have wondered if there was more Masonic writings by Bro. Kipling that aimed more for a Masonic audience. I'm not so good with plot, so my original thought was to find a Kipling Masonic story and adapt it to the stage, or maybe adapt it via modernizing it. I found 4 short stories by him, but felt that Masonry was just a background plot device. The Lodge was a WWI locale in which he could place people together who might be able to be together elsewhere and write a short story that also related to current events. I was disappointed.

    But, I thought that maybe I could do something with the stories just the same. I adapted the first scene with the canaries as read in the namesake story of my play and I took the plot movement that brings the story into the lodge.

    Then I hit a wall. I felt Bro. Kipling was writing bland characters with no personality. While the other stories had personalities, but the conflicts weren't Masonic. I also really wanted to write something modern and a plot hook based on WWI wasn't workable, unless I wanted to update it to Desert Storm or something. But, I wanted a timeless appeal and that would be taking one historical event and replacing it with another.

    I started creating characters based on guys I knew and dialogue began to naturally flow based on frustrations I had personally experience, which started to develop a plot on its own terms. We all know those frustrations: declining membership, retention, old vs new, personality conflicts, etc. Some of these frustrations - with personalities not Masonry - had actually caused me to leave some Masonic activities.

    The play soon moved far from Kipling and now at nearly 50 pages it retains nothing of him except for the canaries. Even the lines of dialogue I took from the book are long gone. But, because it moved far from Kipling and into my own Masonic experience it became a personal catharsis. I won't say I worked through my frustrations and nothing really changed, but I was able to write down the conversations I wanted to have with some people.

    The end result is that I took my interests - writing and theater - and brought it to Masonry. It ended up making my writing better and I've since returned to most of the Masonic activities I was involved with. I give credit to Kipling because I believe in giving credit to those who help us out. I thus now finding myself encouraging other brothers who find themselves hitting walls to find creative ways to work around or through those walls by bringing together whatever they love into Masonry. We don't do that enough. I was frustrated with things, but now am doing a play that is not just a personal highlight but also something unique for the lodge. I took something bad and have turned it into something positive for everyone and I hope inspirational to others. We don't fuse our interests with Masonry enough. We should. Bro. Kipling showed me that.

    Much light.

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  3. And, for the record, "I haven't much religion, but all I had I learnt in Lodge" from Kipling is one of the few lines that remains in my play, though in my words. That's just too good a line for a writer not to want to play with. Ironically, you didn't know this when you cited that paragraph.

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