Freemasonry- benign oddity or the seed of corruption?


A few years ago, some friends and I put together a festival of art and worship in and around our home town. We brought together all sorts of music, visual art, prayer rooms, poetry. The final event was a worship concert led by a worship leader/song writer from England, who shall remain nameless- suffice it to say that he is of a prophetic bent.

The final concert drew a lot of people- the festival had been rather successful in gathering together our rather disparate and sectarian denominational groups. Sadly, not many people stayed to the end. The worship leader was used to lashing up a Holy Ghost storm, and when the response was more -shall we say – West of Scotland Presbyterian, he switched into Spiritual Warfare mode. It became a train wreck, and I am still wincing as I write this.

The rights and wrongs I will not debate fully here, but one of the issues that the worship leader thundered about was Freemasonry. His declaration was that it was the work of the devil, and the reason for all the spiritual oppression that held us all back from worship, and prevented God from working in our area. I always thought this to be wrong in both theory and application, and even years and years later, there are people in my town who regard Aoradh with great suspicion because of this event.

But what of Freemasonry? I was reminded again of the weirdness of it all whilst reading this article. It is an adventure into Co-Masonry, an order that welcomes men and women alike, but points out that all forms of Freemasonry in the UK are in decline, and have an aging membership.

At its postwar peak, membership of a fraternity that began as a sort of union for medieval stonemasons was boosted by returning armed service personnel as well as some of the most powerful men in the land. George VI, who died in 1952, is the last British king to be listed on the official UGLE website, which also includes Winston Churchill, an Archbishop of Canterbury and a surprisingly long list of celebrities from Nat King Cole to Peter Sellers. The royal connection continues today with the Duke of Kent, who is the current grand master of the UGLE.

Freemasons have long denied suggestions that it is a pernicious old boys’ network, arguing that it is a sort of gentleman’s club, concerned with moral and spiritual growth. Although in the UK the sense that freemasons are no longer the force they once were has given rise to jokes about suburban middle managers prone to rolling up their trouser legs and doing funny handshakes, there are signs elsewhere that membership confers preferment. The collapse of Propaganda Due or P2, an order that linked Silvio Berlusconi to the Italian central bank and the heads of all three secret services until it was closed down in the 1980s, did little to end suspicions.

Given this double whammy of conspiracy and mockery, it is no surprise that all parts of the fraternity are looking for a rebrand. Or the fact that Co-Freemasons want to disassociate themselves from the main branch, employ a PR company and launch a “recruitment drive” specifically aimed at attracting younger women.

A quasi-religion in decline? No surprise there- after all most Christian denominations have shrunk considerably over the past few decades in the UK- we have moved into a phase of individualised fluidity, when anchoring ourselves to clubs with Victorian rituals has really gone out of fashion for all but a few weirdos (like me.)

That is without making any mention of the scandals and controversies around Freemasonry. They are at the centre of more conspiracy theories than just about any other group, and quite frankly I am not interested. Neither am I that keen on categorising a whole group of people as ‘evil’ or corrupt just because of the clubs they belong to.

I simply do not know enough about it all to label people like this. I can attest to the fact that two of the nicest blokes I know- people active in their community, people who live and work with integrity and humanity – are also masons.

I do confess however to some prejudice. This from the same article;

There has been a long and often bitter history of mistrust between organised religion and freemasonry. At its most benign it led to a spat between freemasons and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, when he suggested their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity. He then got into trouble for appointing a freemason to be bishop, thereby proving many avenues are open to freemasons but still closed to women.


The worship leader earlier mentioned was right in one sense- Argyll has long been a stronghold of Freemasonry. Each of our small towns has its own Lodge.

There is also, from local gossip, a strong link between our Council and the local lodges. Argyll has had one of the few ‘independent’ led councils- although the SNP currently lead the coalition.  There was a time when some of the senior council officers and the political leadership supposedly shared a common, yet secret brotherhood.

But of course, this is speculation- how can I know for sure? It is after all a secret organisation. If it is true, then no matter how good, how honest the people involved, then this kind of alliance has no part in a democracy. There is quite enough secret use of power even without a quasi religious overlay. We need greater openness, not a shared secret ritual for the chosen few.

So- the question- benign oddity or corruption? I suppose the answer is that Freemasonry can be both, even at the same time. Charity can go hand in hand with the promotion of mutual interest. This can happen equally in churches, cricket clubs or mosques. The difference is the secrecy – can Freemasonry survive without all the ceremonial mystique?

The spiritual side of all this, unlike the worship leader, I am happy to leave to God.



Bent like a banana

On her favourite rock

Skin still slick from the sea

Bulging like some old school cook

In an over-stuffed apron

But soon the surf will return like a cast spell

And the fat old girl is an athlete again

The reeds and the wracks wave her by, and she

Sometimes a shadow

Sometimes silvered with the spherical light

Becames a sharp toothed, brown eyed assassin

Three stars!



And here they are!

Yesterday we had a ‘secret visitor’ in our B and B- from visit Scotland. We knew that we would get a visit at some point, and we had our suspicions about this particular guest (which made for some nervous moments!)

As it happens, she said lots of lovely things about our service, the rooms and the general feel of our B and B, and more crucially, awarded us three stars!

Three stars signifies a B and B of ‘a very good standard’. Realistically, we will not meet the criteria for 4 stars because of our location, the lack of lighting on the driveway and the fact that our rooms are within a family home. Overall, we are delighted with the three stars, particularly so early into our trading.

So if you would like to have a stay within our three star B and B, taking in the wonderful views, and perhaps trying out some pottery as part of your stay- take a look at our website!

family room

Make the world better- return to the hope of community…


Michaela sent me a link to a lovely site called The MOON Magazine– she had discovered it through her day job, which involves running a local community project called a ‘Time Bank’.

The ethos of time banking is to encourage people of all abilities and skills to donate time (which might range from proof reading, gardening, teaching Russian, feeding fish etc etc) in return for using the skills of someone else. Obviously there are practical benefits from this – we can get stuff done that we have not the skills to do ourselves – but the much greater benefit is found in the deep satisfaction that people get from doing something useful, and in making connections with other people. It answers some deep human need, and is the very foundation of community.

For example, we have made a ‘direct exchange’ with an accountant, who helps us with all the complex taxation stuff for our small business, in return for me cutting her grass. Not only do we get to provide one another with a service that fits our skill set, but we also get to meet interesting people, share lives and stories.

The MOON magazine is full of stories like this- things that people have done that make a difference to our relating to one another in a time when the prevailing culture would trend towards our isolation in boxes looking at screens (as you and I are doing right now!)

Check out these films for example.

The man who started Time Banks, Edgar Kahn has an article there in which he says something which chimed very much with my previous post;

It’s not that money and price aren’t useful; but we must not mistake them for the only determination of value. All of us have domains in our life that we define as priceless, where a reduction of their value to market price is unacceptable. Our relations with our loved ones, our families, our friends, for example, are not for sale. Some of us think that same principle applies to other domains: justice, democracy, spiritual realms, the planet.

We cannot let market price define value for a very simple reason. Price is determined by supply and demand. If something is scarce, its price is high. If something is abundant, its price is low. If sufficiently abundant, it has no market value; it is worthless.

Consider what that means: every quality that defines us as a human being is abundant. Every quality that enabled our species to survive and evolve is abundant. What are the qualities our species needed? Here’s a list: our ability to come to each other’s rescue, to care for each other, to work together, to come together to make decisions, to stand up for what’s right, to oppose what’s wrong. If we accept the message that money sends about value, then being admirable human beings is worthless.

Money sends another message: Your worth is determined by how much money you make. But most of the money in world markets is generated by money making money from money….

…Back in ancient Greece, Aristotle characterized such exchanges as making “barren metal breed.” Today making money takes the form of digits breeding digits in cyberspace. Now, as then, we seem to turn to oracles and soothsayers to divine a future that remains beyond our control or theirs.

Time Banks stem from an awareness that we cannot grant money an exclusive power to determine value. We need another medium of exchange that defines value differently and that sends a different message. Msg. Charles J. Fahey, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, New York, who was the director of Catholic Charities, put it this way, decades ago, when he announced: “I have good news and bad news for you,” which he summed in the words, “We have no money. All we have is each other.”


If you want to change the world, if you want to make life deeper, more fulfilling, more satisfying, then build community. Find friends you can laugh and share with, hold things in common. Stop thinking that money is going to help with any of this- beyond a certain level, money just enslaves both those that have it and those that want it.

(By the way, those last things were not original ideas, they should rightly be attributed to Jesus.)

Neoliberalism- what comes next?


Regular readers of this blog will know that I have written a lot about the political-economic status quo- if indeed there is such a thing in these times of economic turmoil. Some of this has been about challenging some of the ‘common sense’ truisms that we have become so used to that we hardly question. Some of too has been my way of expressing frustration and protest in the face of manifest injustice – a system in which the rich get richer, live longer, are better educated etc etc, whilst the poor are blamed as feckless and ‘skyvers’.

Throughout I have also felt this constant desire to see an alternative- a better way to organise our commercial fiscal and tax system. I can catch glimpses of this, in small things between individuals and groups, but the system will tell us that what we have, beyond a bit of tweaking, is as good as it can get.

It is this kind of thinking that allows those of us that call ourselves followers of Jesus to also accept greed, avarice, unjust economic relationships and exploitation as somehow morally justifiable, even necessary components of our society.

Egalitarianism, redistributive taxation and collectivised centrally controlled economies- these have been proved to be bankrupt ideas (we are told) which stultify and stagnate entrepreneurialism and innovation. We only have to look at the failure of communism, and the spectre of British industry circa 1976.

I came across an article in a journal called Soundings, which is a left wing journal interested in a new kind of politics. They are publishing a book online, a chapter a month, called After Neoliberalism? The Kelburn Manifesto.

The first chapter is available here– and sets the scene with some analysis of where we are now. It makes as much sense as anything I have read for some time. Here are a few extracts;

Every social settlement, in order to establish itself, is crucially founded on embedding as common sense a whole bundle of beliefs – ideas beyond question, assumptions so deep that the very fact that they are assumptions is only rarely brought to light. In the case of neoliberalism this bundle of ideas revolves around the supposed naturalness of ‘the market’, the primacy of the competitive individual, the superiority of the private over the public. It is as a result of the hegemony of this bundle of ideas – their being the ruling common sense – that the settlement as a whole is commonly called ‘neoliberal’…

Ideology plays a key role in disseminating, legitimising and re-invigorating a regime
of power, profit and privilege. Neoliberal ideas seem to have sedimented into the
western imaginary and become embedded in popular ‘common sense’. They set the
parameters – provide the ‘taken-for-granteds’ – of public discussion, media debate
and popular calculation.

One key strand in neoliberalism’s ideological armoury is neoliberal economic
theory itself. So ‘naturalised’ have its nostrums become that policies can claim
to be implemented with popular consent, though they are manifestly partial and
limited. Opening public areas for potential profit-making is accepted because it
appears to be ‘just economic common sense’. The ethos of the ‘free market’ is taken
to licence an increasing disregard for moral standards, and even for the law itself.
Commercialisation has cultivated an ethos of corruption and evasiveness. Banks,
once beacons of probity, rig interest rates, mis-sell products, launder drug money,
flout international embargoes, hide away fortunes in safe havens. They settle their
‘misdemeanours’ for huge sums that hardly dent their balance sheets. Similarly,
when private firms that have been publicly contracted fail to meet targets they are
allowed to continue. Graduates stacking supermarket shelves are told they don’t
need to be paid because they are ‘getting work experience’. Commercialisation
permeates everywhere, trumps everything. Once the imperatives of a ‘market
culture’ become entrenched, anything goes. Such is the power of the hegemonic
common sense.

All this strikes me as a good analysis of the heart of our culture- one that has been shaped by the ‘common sense’ that we have been given. It is really hard to challenge this kind of hegemony – even in our selves, our own understanding, our own lifestyle, let alone that of other people.

What is needed is a new kind of ‘common sense’. A new kind of way of understanding the world that we live in, and the economic relationships we have with one another.

Christians already have this of course- what I would term the common sense of the New Kingdom. This kind of common sense values people before profit, seeks to form relationships of love and service. Quite how Christianity became so intertwined with Capitalist Colonialism I have no idea. Other than at some point we decided that being like Jesus was simply impracticable- against common sense.

It will be interesting to watch the unfolding to the Kelburn Manifesto to see if the left might yet have something to teach Christians…

Imagining a poetry of Christian spirituality…

broken statue

I am still gathering poetry submissions for inclusion in an up and coming poetry collection to be published by Proost– please keep them coming in!

Proost is a company set up by Christians to gather together lots of the creativity coming out of the left field ragged edge of the church here in the UK. In doing this they have been incredibly encouraging to people (like me) whose output is unlikely to find other commercial outlets. The poetry collection was an attempt to broaden out this ethos still further.

In the process of looking at this, I have been forced once again to consider what I might understand as ‘Christian’ poetry, or even ‘spiritual’ poetry.

The tradition of church that I grew up has little time for poetry. The nearest we got to it were the lyrics of songs and hymns- with people like Matt Redman or Graham Kendrick as the most widely known contributors. The subject matter and style chosen for these songs is very limited, and goes something like this;

  • Substitutionary atonement
  • Over use of obvious rhyme structures- face/grace love/above died/justified
  • Over identification with love songs- ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ kind of stuff
  • Substitutionary atonement
  • Lack of room for questions, for uncertainty, for doubt
  • Lack of room for lament
  • Often driven by commercialism- what sells in the American mid west.
  • Substitutionary atonement

These songs became the cultural carriers of our faith- they gave us a proscribed language to describe our understanding of God but this left us only with a set of rather clichéd phrases that we rehashed over and over again- usually strapped to a good tune to make them more palatable.

Hardly surprisingly, those people that wrote poems at all in the churches I went to tended to write poems along these lines too, although this was a marginal practice, as the feeling was that the main forms of expression of faith were preaching the word, evangelising the lost and worshipping through singing.

There is of course a rich tradition of writing poetry in other Christian traditions- Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Asisi, Teresa of Avila, John Donne, Christina Rossetti, Gerard Manley Hopkins, R.S. Thomas, Thomas Merton to name but a few. However, most of us do not know the work of these wonderful poets well, if at all. Some of them we know as people of faith, but the relationship that poetry has to the development of their spiritual understanding is far less clear. It is not something that we are schooled to even ask.

Eastern traditions are much clearer about this relationship. The Sufi tradition of poets like Rumi, Sanai and Attar are all famous because they were poets. The words they made arose from their spiritual journey- they were the very process of engagement with the divine, not an accidental by product. Here is a bit of Rumi to make the point, written around 800 years ago;

Say who I am

I am dust particles in sunlight
I am the round sun.

To the bits of dust I say, stay.
To the sun, keep moving.

I am morning mist,
And the breathing of evening.

I amwind in the top of a grove
and surf on the cliff.

Mast, rudder, helmsman and keel.
I am also the coral reef they founder on.

I am a tree with a trained parot in its branches.
Silence, thought and voice.

The musical air coming through a flute
A spark off a stone, a flickering
in metal. Both candle
and the moth crazy around it.

Rose and the nightingale
lost in the fragrance.

I am all orders of being, the circling galaxy,
the evolutionary intelligence, the lift
and the falling away. What is
and what isn’t.

What makes this poetry so wonderful to us is the freedom that exists in the middle of it- the sense of generosity, wonder and beauty. It opens something up- a window into something deeper. It seems to arise as much from personal experience- revelation even- as from a desire to proselytise or sell a particular idea to us. This is not Christian poetry- but then again, perhaps it is the poetry that we Christians need to be reading.

We often forget that the Bible is a product too of middle eastern mystics, prophets and nomads in their search for God. We forget that around a third of the Bible is written as poetry- not just the obvious bits (Psalms) but we also have searing prophetic rants, apocalyptic weirdness  raunchy love poems, even St Paul seemed to be sneaking lyrics from hymns into his letters.

We needed the Bible to be a legal document, a constitional, foundational tool for life that we could mine for concrete instructional truth- what we got was lots of poetry- although we rarely see it as such. It is an interesting question as to whether reading the Bible as poetry changes how we engage with it.

But back to the point of this piece- which is a search for a new kind of Christian poetry- using language set free from the narrow cliches. An honest kind of poetry- that arises from a deep well of the Spirit within us. Poetry that does not shrink from pain, form ugliness, from doubt, from anger at God even. Poetry that asks questions as much as it answers them. Poetry that holds us to account for our actions- particularly those of us in power. Poetry that is skewed towards the weak, the broken, the poor (as these are the last made first.)

Poetry that can become the songs of the Kingdom of God that is woven into the fabric of our world- in each leaf, each ripple, each stratum, each child, each crack addict.

If you should come across poetry like this, you will recognise it for what it is, even if it disturbs you, discomforts you.

And if you do- send it my way!

Creativity and failure…

Workshop bench

I spent most of today sorting out my workshop. I began making things out of wood a few years ago as some kind of therapy to assist with the stresses and strains of my day job. There is something about using your hands to create something that is really special- you begin with chaos, work through an idea, and then for good or ill, it is finished.

Well, not always to be honest as I was discovering today. It was like idea archaeology- each layer held evidence of a project, most of them unfinished rejects, bits of carving that went wrong, sometimes hours in the making, now gathered for the fire.

Some of the work could be recycled- bits were still usable. However, the idea, the moment of creativity had gone. All that hope and optimism and quiet excitement had gone from the object- it was just wood again.

As I rebuilt shelves and sorted piles of carefully collected driftwood into some kind of order, it occurred to me that all creativity is like this. It is necessary to immerse ourselves in the dust and dirt of what we a trying to create- but there are no guarantees of the final outcome. Failure is part of the process.

My workshop is still not sorted out- it needs another day of cleaning and tidying, ready for a season of creativity again. I find that I have to have a blank space- so I can stop worrying about what I used to do and get on with something new.

The other reason for having a really good sort out is that this year we are taking part in an event called Cowal Open Studios

Here is the link to our page on the website.

If you are here or here abouts in September, you can take a look into my cave, or have a go at some pottery…

Here is the photography I did for the website;

cowal arts 2

Our cricket season begins…

Cricket, Kilmartin glen

First game of the season for Will and I today- always a day to celebrate in our house. (Although the photo above is an old one from last year taken at Dunadd in Mid Argyll.) People who do not understand the noble game may stop reading now!

Today we played for the Greenock 2nd 11 in a cup match round in Helensburgh- against their 1st 11. Actually we only had 8 players in the end- so it was a bit of an uphill battle!

The pitch was, well, moist. The balls from the fast bowlers broke through the turf and either sat up to be smacked, or beetled along the ground. There was some turn, but slow slow turn. I did not bowl today but Will sent down a few overs- he got a googly back through the gate to bowl one of their openers. He also bowled the last over.

I dropped two catches- one should have been taken, the other whilst running in from the boundary- just managed to get a painful finger on it a deep mid on.

I batted at number 3, but by this time the wind had dried out the pitch a little and the ball was spinning and kicking up- I hit a couple of boundaries and then edged one to first slip- out for 11. Grrrr. William did really well too- he made 8 in a last wicket stand of 30 odd, looking comfortable for about 5 overs before a loose defensive shot was taken at silly point.

All out for about a hundred in reply to their 250.

But we both had a great day!

Visiting grand houses…

unfinished carving, mount stuart


National Trust


The door opened and the guide whispered us in

So as not to wake these pampered stones from sleeping

We complied –

Cowed by brass lions

Overcome by intricately carved columns

Hardly daring to step from our shadow

Into gilded light


‘Take no photographs’

I wondered why?

Might each impudent proletarian pixel

Pick away the privilege from these old walls?

Might the old masters be blinded in a flash?


So we shuffled like deep sea divers

Following monotone stories of accumulation


Despite my love of the shape of things, I found myself repelled

This was never a home

It was a machine that enslaved people

Every stone was stolen