Saturday, December 30, 2006
The Masonic electronic forums have been lit up with brethren questioning whether there would be a masonic memorial service for our brother, President Gerald Ford. I have still not seen anything about such a possible service yet, in Washington or Michigan, but I did see a notice to the brethren in the Washington D.C. area.
Masons will be gathering at Naval Lodge Hall (located at 330 S. Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC), at 10:30 AM Sunday Morning, December 31st, and walk together to the Capitol Rotunda where the body is lying in state. Brethren are requested to please dress accordingly in mourning clothes, dark suits or formal attire. With the Grand Master's approval, officers should wear jewels and collars.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Ah, the old fortune cookie was correct. After five years of shooting my mouth off about what should be done with the Indianapolis Masonic Temple, I was officially elected as a voting member of the Temple Board last night. The 100th anniversary of the building is fast approaching, and much work needs to be done.
With four lodge rooms, four social rooms, two ballroom/dining rooms, plus a floor for the Knights Templar Commandery, the Royal Arch Chapter and the Cryptic Council, one full kitchen, two other food preparation areas, and a 1000 seat auditorium, the building has incredible potential.
The auditorium itself has been opened to the public for music and dramatic programs in the last two years, but is in need of major work. With luck and a lot of work, maybe that will start to happen.
The downtown Feast of St. John dinner was held last night,hosted by Wayne Guthrie Lodge. Close to 80 brethren were in attendance, and an outstanding time was had by all.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Devotion to duty.
Strength and humility.
Restored public confidence.
Rose above politics.
All seen today in the opening paragraphs of stories about President Gerald R. Ford, the last president of the United States who was a Freemason.
His column is broken. His death was untimely, and his brethren mourn.
Brother Ford once said this about his Masonic involvement:
When I took my obligation as a Master Mason—incidentally, with my three younger brothers—I recalled the value my own father attached to that order. But I had no idea that I would ever be added to the company of the Father of our Country and twelve other members of the order who also served as Presidents of the United States.
Masonic principles—internal, not external—and our order’s vision of duty to country and acceptance of God as a Supreme Being and guiding light have sustained me during my years of Government service. Today especially, the guidelines by which I strive to become an upright man in Masonry give me great personal strength.
Masonic precepts can help America retain our inspiring aspirations while adapting to a new age. It is apparent to me that the Supreme Architect has set out the duties each of us has to perform, and I have trusted in His will with the knowledge that my trust is well-founded….
Sunday, December 17, 2006
When you have a soft spot in your head for historic preservation, coupled with special interests in the structures of bygone glories like fraternal organizations and train stations - large spaces designed for hundreds of people that are now empty - you are apt to get your heart broken quite a lot. I had it happen Friday.
Our lodge had just finished a funeral service for one of our members, and so I was already in a melancholy mood. I was driving through downtown Indianapolis, when I remembered one of those errands I had meant to accomplish for the last five or six years and never got around to it. I'm not a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, but at one time in the U.S. the I.O.O.F. rivaled the Freemasons in membership. They are similar in their structure, their ceremonies and even their terminology.
16-story building at the corner of Pennsylvania and Washington Streets. For a brief two years, it was the tallest building in the city. Apart from it being a lucrative corner for office space rental income, its principal feature was its large auditorium. But unlike most groups who built their auditoriums on the ground floor, the Indianapolis Odd Fellows turned their design upside down. Their large and ornate assembly hall was located on the appropriately numbered 13th floor, with three story-high windows that overlooked the city skyline.
After the Depression, the Odd Fellows did not have the same kind of growth enjoyed by the Masons. They divested themselves of the building sometime in the 1960s or 70s, and among its tenants are the national offices of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. No outside evidence remains of the IOOF's former ownership, but I have long heard about that auditorium, tantalizingly up there on the 13th floor. So it was with a certain nervous eagerness I took the elevator up to the "Penthouse' floor of One North Pennsylvania on Friday, with the perhaps childish hope that remodelings and desecration by subsequent owners may have still preserved some of its former grandeur. Perhaps some developer with a little vision had saved the unique space.
When the doors opened, it was clear that the floor had been remodeled recently, and that more was going on. One attorney's office was there, but the rest of the floor seemed deserted. At the end of the oddly zig-zagging hall was a door for a now-defunct restaurant called "Magic Moments." The location clearly was not magic for this business, as it was long gone from the premises. Tables and chairs were tossed everywhere, light fixtures dangled from broken acoustic tiles, and there was little that seemed magical about this place, much less impressive. Just another vacant piece of unrented office space in a bland building, with little to recommend it but an incredible view from its floor to ceiling windows.
Then I looked up. Through the twisted rails of the unremarkable drop ceiling, my eyes followed the wires that they dangled from, up another twenty feet to an arching plaster ceiling. Magnificent scrollwork poked out between the ghastly tangle of flexible heating ducts, Romex and data cables. Scalloped molding in ochre, red and brown hues were hiding up there in the darkness, pockmarked by crumbling plaster and defaced by holes punched in it to make it easier for modern crews to hang their dull, lifeless, ordinary camouflage to cover it all up.
Once I knew it was there, I explored a little more to see if any remnant could be found of a proscenium or other details. Every stairwell or empty office yielded nothing but disappointment. More than a few cinder block walls have been erected across the space as firewalls or supports for the new shortened ceiling. Yet I knew another two stories of the auditorium walls were back there somewhere. Finally, I discovered the stairway leading to the roof. At the 15th floor level, I discovered literally a hole in the wall, carved into an office for the defunct restaurant. Three sides were unpainted drywall, erected as false walls for a little privacy. But the fourth wall was the top cornice of an arch, with its massive piece of scrollwork dominating the tiny office space.
One more flight up to the 16th floor revealed the attic space over the old auditorium. At last I got a sense of just how large an area the room had once occupied, stretching out under the rafters. But there was no beauty here, or forgotten magic. Only the crisscrossing supports that held the hidden plaster ceiling below, itself invisible to the unknowing, uncaring tenants below.
The Indiana Odd Fellows have mostly been forgotten, certainly here in my hometown. They faded away, and are now reduced to an office out west past the Speedway, and a small rental space in an office park not far from my house. Their once thriving fraternity has all but vanished. And their crowning achievement in our downtown is but a forgotten footnote known only to students of the obscure. In that lies a cautionary tale for my own Masonic brethren who regard their own temples with contempt as "white elephants." They are only an eyesore if we let them become so. They are only fodder for the wrecking ball if we stop caring, stop maintaining them, stop planning for the future. The builders who came before us had vision and courage and optimism. They built these places for us, their descendants, and for future generations. They built them not just as crowning achievements, but as a plateau from which we were expected to take our fraternities to the next level. Can't we have enough vision and courage and optimism to at least save and maintain them?
December is halfway over, and Hodapphaus is overwhelmed. Between some personal challenges, the wrapping up of Solomon's Builders, the first deadlines for a new book, several speeches around the midwest, along with the usual Masonic madness that comes in December, combined with the Christmas season, January can only be an improvement.
My two years as Master of Lodge Vitruvian No. 767are coming to an end, and I am proud and honored to pass the gavel to Brother Phillip A. Garver. Phillip is an endlessly fascinating gentleman with an impressive and extensive background in religion, philosophy, history and initiatic societies, and we are all looking forward to the coming year working under his leadership.
I would also like to publicly thank Wbro. Dale Adams, PM who is moving to the Senior Warden's position, and to Wbro. W. Keith Stiner, PM, our new Junior Warden. Wbro. Timothy R. Brinkmeyer, PM, will be our Chaplain. I will move to the Treasurer's chair, and Wbro. Nathan Brindle, PM, will remain in the Secretary's position. Nathan and I have been friends for nearly thirty years, and I am eternally grateful for the many unsung things he does behind the scenes at both Lodge Vitruvian and Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643.
Serving as Vitruvian's Master for two years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It is interesting to note that had it not been for my association with this lodge, the events of the last four years of my life would have been very different, and undoubtedly I would not have had the opportunity to make the very unexpected career move as an author. I value the friendships I have made in all of my lodges, and I am proud to be associated with all of my brethren. But Vitruvian will always hold a special place in my heart.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Back in 1996, Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz in Lincoln, Nebraska apparently excommunicated members of the Catholic reform group Call To Action. Call To Action understandably upsets the established hierarchy of the Church because it advocates female priests, an end to the celibacy requirements, democratic election of bishops, and a host of other reforms that are at odds with long-standing Church law.
In his letter to the Vatican for a ruling on his judgement, apparently Bruskewitz lumped Call To Action members in with Planned Parenthood, Society of St. Pius X and its St. Michael the Archangel Chapel, Hemlock Society, Catholics for a Free Choice, along with the Freemasons, Job's Daughters, DeMolay, the Order of the Eastern Star, and Rainbow Girls.
After ten years, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops, got around to responding to Bishop Bruskewitz, upholding his order of excommunication within his diocese of Call To Action members.
Now what does this have to do with the Freemasons, much less DeMolay, Job's Daughters and Rainbow Girls? Well, before my brethren get all atwitter, examine the various articles that talk about this issue:
Vatican affirms bishop's excommunication of Call to Action members
Vatican Upholds Neb. Excommunications
Vatican upholds excommunication ruling
I say read these carefully for a reason. The Vatican ONLY upheld the excommunication of Call To Action members, and did not mention Freemasons and its appendant bodies in its response. It also seems to only uphold the excommunication within Bishop Bruskewitz's diocese.
It should be of interest to Freemasons who are practicing Catholics. The new Pope takes a hard line on those who want to tinker with canon law or skirt church doctrine. In his own 1983 statement from the Office of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then Cardinal Ratzinger made it clear that there has been no change in the interpretation of the historic encyclicals.
The problem among U.S. Catholics for years has been the tendency to ignore church rules we didn't like - I count myself part of that group. The Church has a major problem with that. Catholics who don't follow the rules are trying to bend the Church into something it isn't. This Vatican isn't interested in liberalizing - and seems to feel that Catholics who want it to change can go elsewhere. And they have a side to their argument - the Church hasn't left its members, it is its members who are leaving the Church.
It's a certain similarity to folks who dislike being told their activity is a sin. We want to keep doing it, we just don't want people to tell us it's a sin. If you read the articles, they also don't go for Catholics who support abortion. They aren't saying you can't be pro-abortion rights, they just say you can't be for them and be a practicing Catholic at the same time. They are mutually exclusive, and you are free to go find another church. These aren't the Middle Ages, and there are plenty of alternatives these days.
I got a note yesterday from a former member of a Masonic Forum that I am an administrator for. He had been a Mason for 52 years, and was a Past Master four times. He is also a Catholic. Apparently, his parish priest saw his Masonic license plates in the parking lot and confronted him over it. The Brother was forced to choose between his faith and his lodge, and his faith won.
It's not a contest. For him, his choice was a simple one. His Church said Masons would be excommunicated, so he resigned from the fraternity.
As Freemasonry gains in public awareness, and potentially new growth, these conflicts will increase, and our Catholic brethren will be forced to decide. It's a shame, because Masons know that the root reasons for the Church's objections to Freemasonry are based on false premises and events from the past. And regular Freemasonry, especially in America, is also tarred by the activities of irregular Masons like the Grand Orient of France who really have - and continue to - fight against the Church and publicly support laws that restrict religious freedoms in other countries. US and UK Freemasonry does no such thing, but we suffer at the hands of others. I fear the result will be the loss of more brethren who will be forced to choose.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
From today's Prince Hall Freemasonry Research List:
I have spoken at length with a brother who is a member of the GL of Texas and was present at the GL session today. He tells me that the matter of recognition came up and the Chairman of the Fraternal Relations Committee spoke in detail length about the matter. The Chairman said that Texas had already given its opinion that the PH GL of Texas was regular several years ago. He stated the facts about the practice, nature and history of PH Masonry and recommended that recognition be given as requested by the MWPHGL of Texas. When the matter of visitation came up, the Chairman said that the GM of the PH GL of TX did not request or desire visitation. The vote was a simple majority and passed with about a 75% - 25%. I was told that if full recognition with visitation had been on the table, that would have also passed.
It would seem that the reason for non-visitation is due to the lack of desire on the part of the PH GM. I would be interested in hearing from someone from the MWPHGL of TX.
Michael Poll, PM
Germania Lodge #46
New Orleans, LA
It appears that the next move is in the hands of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas. We had a similar situation for a brief period in Indiana, several years after joint recognition was passed by both Grand Lodges. A new PH Grand Master arrived and canceled all visitation to PHA lodges from mainstream members unless he specifically reviewed and approved of such visits individually. It was a long two years. Fortunately, his successors have been far more open-minded.
Let's hope our Texas PHA brethren drop those barriers soon.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
There's a hot rumor going around that the Grand Lodge of Texas has voted to recognize the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas. Preliminary reports say the vote was approximately 70% to 30% in favor. No visitation yet, but a crucial step has been taken.
Hats off to my Texas brethren!
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Be sure to check out the latest edition (#16) of Templar History Magazine.
T.J. Miller's article on Pope Boniface VIII is worth the price of admission. Stephen Dafoe interviews Joseph Nassise, author of Heretic, part of a projected Templar trilogy. Plus articles from Spain, Austria and literally around the globe.
And Stephen even lets me editorialize and suggest a new direction for the modern Knights Templar of the York Rite of Freemasonry.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
I just received a copy of Brother Alex Lundberg and Greg Kowalski's new book, Detroit's Masonic Temple. I can't recommend this little volume strongly enough.
Eighty years ago, the Freemasons of Detroit had a vision. They dreamed big and they built bigger, erecting the largest Masonic building in the world. Today, the Masons of Detroit seem to have lost their vision, or at least their ability to afford it. The Shriners and the Scottish Rite have both fled to the suburbs, and this magnificent building is in serious danger. A few individual lodges survive there, and it's huge and lavish auditorium remains a popular venue for out of town shows. Many of the beautiful ceremonial rooms are popular for weddings as well, but the Masons are fighting a losing battle.
They aren't alone - there's no getting around the fact that the Center is in a ghetto, a neighborhood abandoned by development and businesses. Thankfully, the authors of this little volume have captured it on film before it is gone forever. The sheer scope of this 1000+ room building is incredible, and they have packed an enormous amount of history and detail into a brief telling of its glorious past.
If you are a Mason, it is worth trying to visit the Detroit Masonic Center soon. Unless a developer with as much vision as the Freemasons who first built it come to its rescue, it is in serious danger.
The preservation of our Masonic heritage and the magnificent Temples we once constructed is a subject near and dear to my heart, as I have written about on other occasions. As I said then, these are not white elephants, my brothers. These are our Temples, our heritage. They are priceless, irreplaceable treasures. And we throw them away now like they don't matter, like they are not worth fighting for. We are murdering our own posterity, as if we don't believe in ourselves and in our fraternity anymore.
The men who built these Temples only wanted us to do one thing: treat them with respect. Maintain them. Paint the walls every once in a while. Keep the light bulbs changed. Replace a carpet when it gets worn out. Reupholster a chair when it becomes torn or better yet, replace it. No one is asking us to build new Temples. The least we can do is protect them until a new generation comes along that cherishes them as our grandfathers did. But as every year ticks by and one more Temple goes away, we will never get them back.
And we certainly won't ever have the vision - or the guts - to build another.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Many thanks to everyone who turned out to help make the Prince Hall Indianapolis Thanksgiving dinner program a success this morning. Brethren from Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643, Lodge Vitruvian No. 767 and Delaware No. 46 were all represented, along with the sponsoring Prince Hall lodges : Central No. 1, Waterford No. 13, Trinity No. 18, Meridian No. 33, Southern Cross No. 39, Fidelity No. 55, Sumner A. Furness No. 61, and C.R. Richardson No. 69.
Hundreds of dinners were delivered to shut-ins, homeless shelters, plus many walk-ins from the neighborhood.
This is a huge operation every year, and we are proud and honored to have played a part in making it happen.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
My October edition of the Philalethes Magazine arrived yesterday, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover Part One of a two part reprint of "Laudable Pursuit." As the editor and one of the original Knights of the North who helped pen this paper, I was flattered and even a little astonished when both Nelson King of the Philalethes Society, as well as S. Brent Morris of the Scottish Rite Research Society BOTH wanted to print this paper. (Had to give it to Nelson - he asked first.)
What has been gratifying has been the incredible response this paper has seemed to stir all across the country, as a point of discussion for lodges and Masonic education groups. For those who have asked, the Knights of the North website is being redesigned, and we are pursuing other projects as well. In the meantime, you will find many of the Knights writing for Wbro. Stephen Dafoe's outstanding Masonic Magazine.
On a related topic, bravo to MWbro. Roger S. VanGorden, Past Grand master of Indiana, as the new author of the "Through Masonic Windows" back page column of the Philalethes magazine. We Indiana Masons seem to be everywhere these days...
Last year's event was an incredible collaboration of the Indianapolis area Prince Hall lodges, a program that began back in 1983, and Broad Ripple #643 is honored to again be a part of it.
To my Indianapolis brethren, if you find yourself with a little bit of extra time that you can spare away from your family on Thanksgiving morning between about 7 AM and 11 AM, stop in at the lodge at 22nd and Central Avenue, and just pick up one sack of dinners to deliver. You'll find appreciative brethren there, and a cheerful chaos of cooks, servers, drivers and interested bystanders.
And you'll find a grateful stranger on the other side of a door, truly thankful for your brief effort. And believe me, it will give you much to thank the GAOTU for when you sit down at your own table that afternoon.
Many thanks to Wbro. Michael Ricketts and the brethren of Fidelity Lodge No. 55 for their invitation to us again this year.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
On November 1st, producer Jerry Bruckheimer told MTV that the highly-anticipated sequel to National Treasure will begin filming in January.
Discussing the National Treasure 2 script, Bruckheimer revealed: "It's another little treasure hunt, and this time it involves [Abe] Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth and 18 pages which are actually missing from [Booth's] diary."
"What was in those 18 pages?" he asked.
Director John Turteltaub told the LA Daily news that there will be "exciting destinations within America as well as around the world. As we were shooting the first one, it kept changing, so I'm scared to commit to anything, but I wouldn't be surprised if Mount Rushmore made an appearance."
No mention made anywhere of any Masonic connection. Probably a case of "been there' showed that." Might be a nice touch if Ben suddenly was sporting a Masonic ring...
Release date is anticipated to be December 21st, 2007.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Many thanks to the brethren of the Toledo Valley of the Scottish Rite for their warm reception and hospitality at their Fall Reunion on Saturday. Twenty-six brethren were elevated to the 32°, but it looked to me that closer to 200 or so brethren were in attendance.
Many thanks to Doug King for his kind invitation, and to the brethren who attended my talk. It was great to meet all of you, and I look forward to coming back.
Toledo's Masonic Center is an outstanding facility, by the way. It is a relatively new complex that includes a very large public auditorium for shows and concerts, a small AASR auditorium for presentation of Rite degrees, three lodge rooms, facilities for the York Rite, a large OES meeting room, plus offices, conference rooms, a kitchen and a large dining area that can be divided into two sections. It is a beautiful, well designed Masonic center, and one the Masons of Toledo can be proud of.
I was reminded today that it is the birthday to one of my favorite authors, P. J. O'Rourke, and that he is, in fact, from Toledo, Ohio. This excuse allows me to post some of my favorite PJ quotes.
* Something is happening to America, not something dangerous but something all too safe. I see it in my lifelong friends. I am a child of the "baby boom", a generation not known for its sane or cautious approach to things. Yet suddenly my peers are giving up drinking, giving up smoking, cutting down on coffee, sugar, and salt. They will not eat red meat and go now to restaurants whose menus have caused me to stand on a chair yelling, "Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, dinner is served!" This from the generation of LSD, Weather Underground, and Altamont Rock Festival! And all in the name of safety! Our nation has withstood many divisions— North and South, black and white, labor and management— but I do not know if the country can survive division into smoking and non-smoking sections.
* The forces of safety are afoot in the land. I, for one, believe it is a conspiracy— a conspiracy of Safety Nazis shouting "Sieg Health" and seeking to trammel freedom, liberty, and large noisy parties. The Safety Nazis advocate gun control, vigorous exercise, and health foods. The result can only be a disarmed, exhausted, and half-starved population ready to acquiesce to dictatorship of some kind.
* Racism is very lower-class. Upper-class people are never racists; they're anti-Semites.
* I can understand why mankind hasn't given up war. During a war you get to drive tanks through the sides of buildings and shoot foreigners— two things that are usually frowned on during peacetime.
* One nice thing about the Third World, you don't have to fasten your seat belt. (Or stop smoking. Or cut down on saturated fats.) It takes a lot off your mind when average life expectancy is forty-five minutes.
* The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work and then get elected and prove it.
* True, you can sit outside in Paris and drink little cups of coffee, but why this is more stylish than sitting inside and drinking large glasses of whiskey I don't know.
* The interesting thing about staring down a gun barrel is how small the hole is where the bullet comes out, yet what a big difference it would make in your social schedule.
* To grasp the true meaning of socialism, imagine a world where everything is designed by the post office, even the sleaze.
* Anyone who thinks he has a better idea of what's good for people than people do is a swine.
* If we want something, we should pay for it, with our labor or our cash. We shouldn't beg it, steal it, sit around wishing for it, or euchre the government into taking it by force.
* Fretting about overpopulation, is a perfect guilt-free— indeed, sanctimonious— way for "progressives" to be racists.
* Even the bad things are better than they used to be. Bad music, for instance, has gotten much briefer. Wagner's Ring Cycle takes four days to perform while "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by the Crash Test Dummies lasts little more than three minutes.
* Government subsidies can be critically analyzed according to a simple principle: You are smarter than the government, so when the government pays you to do something you wouldn't do on your own, it is almost always paying you to do something stupid.
* Idealism is based on big ideas. And, as anybody who has ever been asked "What's the big idea?" knows, most big ideas are bad ones.
* Imagine a weight-loss program at the end of which, instead of better health, good looks, and hot romantic prospects, you die. Somalia had become just this kind of spa.
* Mankind is supposed to have evolved in the treetops. But I have examined my sense of balance, the prehensility of my various appendages, and my attitude toward standing on anything higher than, say, political principles, and I have concluded that, personally, I evolved in the backseat of a car.
* Politicians are always interested in people. Not that this is always a virtue. Fleas are interested in dogs.
* People with a mission to save the earth want the earth to seem worse than it is so their mission will look more important.
* Traffic was like a bad dog. It wasn't important to look both ways when crossing the street; it was important to not show fear.
* Violence is interesting. This is a great obstacle to world peace and also to more thoughtful television programming.
* If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it's free.
* People ask me if I've ever been called a Nazi. I answer that no one has ever had dreams of being tied down and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal.
* Distracting a politician from governing is like distracting a bear from eating your baby.
* There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as caring and sensitive because he wants to expand the government's charitable programs is merely saying that he is willing to do good with other people's money. Well, who isn't? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he will do good with his own money— if a gun is held to his head.
* What used to be called shame and humiliation is now called publicity.
* You can't get good chinese takeout in China and cuban cigars are rationed in Cuba. That's all you need to know about communism.
* Your money does not cause my poverty. Refusal to believe this is at the bottom of most bad economic thinking.
* Giving money and power to Government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
World War I ended on November 11th, 1918 with a cease-fire signed with Germany at Rethondes in France. Between the two world wars it was celebrated as Armistice Day in the United States, France and Great Britain. After World War II, the holiday was recognized as a day of tribute to veterans of both world wars. Beginning in 1954, the United States designated November 11 as Veterans Day to honor veterans of all U.S. wars.
Godspeed and a safe return to all of our veterans, wherever so dispersed throughout the world.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
And, okay, so there's this cool sculpture that has flummoxed the most dedicated code breakers for years. It's called Kryptos, and it's a piece of ostensibly public sculpture, paid for at no doubt lavish taxpayer expense, sitting on government property. As a taxpayer, interested citizen and curious boob, I wanted to see it in person. After all, people the world over have been trying to decipher its curious message since it was erected in 1988.
And, okay, so it's at CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia. So, I'm driving along the George Washington Parkway this morning, and I see the turnoff clearly marked "CIA." And you thought it was a big secret. In I turn, and roll right past the little brown Park Service sign that says "Private Government Installation. No Photography" and other such boilerplate jazz. Humph. I'm a famous big deal writer, a Freemason and a taxpayer. I just want a shot of the sculpture, and I'll leave. Hell, I'll bet guys like Tom Clancy have a parking pass for this joint. Surely they'll be flattered by my simple request.
Now, I remember touring the FBI HQ in Washington when I was a kid. They showed it off big time to anyone who wanted a look. Tommy guns fired off for school kids. Books of fingerprints being microfilmed. Pinups of Dillinger's bullet-ridden corpse and J. Edgar Hoover beauty shots in the gift shop. I figure the CIA's the same way. Just let me see the pretty sculpture, maybe buy a miniature of it and a "spook" hat in the gift shop, and I'll be on my way.
I drive up to the entrance gate, and ask the stern looking man in the flak jacket if there is a visitor's center. "You have no official business here sir?" Well, no, sez I. Just taking pictures for my book.
BLAM! Up pops a mechanical roadblock from its buried slot in the roadway. Suddenly, I am surrounded by guards, and am ordered into a holding area. I am now a "person of interest." For ten minutes, I am questioned, all details of my driving record, vehicle ownership and undoubtedly checkered credit history are poured over in the guard shack, while other guards surround my van, peering into the windows and looking both nervous and annoyed. There's more than enough firepower in sight to stop a whole bus of Indiana dumbasses with Masonic plates, so I am assuredly not going anywhere. It suddenly begins to dawn on me that I could quite possibly be arrested and tossed into Gitmo for driving thirty feet beyond that little brown sign and asking my stupid question.
An efficient and unamused officer at last returns my driver's license to me, and informs me that I could be heavily fined and arrested for my behavior, something that will certainly happen if I am ever caught on the property again in my natural life.
We live in nervous times, and with good reason. CIA nervousness predated 9/11. In 1993, a Pakistani named Mir Aimal Kansi got out of his car not far from this very same gate and opened fire with an AK47, killing two CIA employees and seriously injuring three other people. Incredibly, he managed to escape and flee the country. It took the FBI four years to track him down in Pakistan and extradite him.
So, I don't blame the officers of the CIA for doing their jobs, and doing them very efficiently. Maybe more prominent signage would save other dopes who show up like I did from making them so nervous. On the other hand, I honestly don't know how many signs I drove past. I don't know what I expected - after all, the damned place is supposed to be a bloody secret!
Yes, go ahead. Say it.
Even the FBI won't let you in anymore.
*sigh* I wonder if the NSA has a gift shop.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Saturday, October 21, 2006
I was sorry to see that the Masonic Light Yahoo Group has been abruptly shut down. That is a shame, as it was one of the few shining areas where Masons from every obedience could chat freely, and often explored esoteric ares of discussion. The management of a list or forum can be a monstrous headache for its moderators, and Brother Josh Heller deserves major kudos for the fine work he has done over the years. Josh is the co-author of The Temple That Never Sleeps, a work specifically about the use of the internet as a way for Masons to communicate and share ideas.
I'm sure all of us hope that this is a temporary situation, and that Josh is simply taking a rest.
Fans of aliens, Area 51, Studebakers and Freemasonry all have reason to
rejoice. Brother Ted Bastien has returned at last with a new Bugsport entry. We hope all has been well for him.
EDIT: Ted has a new home for Bugsport. Obviously, we members of Lodge Vitruvian approve.
Thanks to an anonymous tip!
Tuxedo, Regalia and White Gloves for Members, Tuxedo or Business Attire for Visitors.
Our guest speaker will be Worshipful Brother Jon M. B. Porter, PhD and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries - Scotland. WBro. Porter is a Lecturer for the Change and Tradition Program at Butler University, and he is a Past Master of Mystic Tie Lodge No. 398 in Indianapolis. He will be presenting what promises to be a fascinating a paper on Masonic Neo-Templarism.
The Festive Board will follow the meeting in the private dining room of the Capri Restaurant, 2602 Ruth Drive, Indianapolis, Indiana (Keystone Avenue between 71st and 75th Streets).
Each attendee will be responsible to the Lodge for the cost of his meal. The cost for the Festive Board is $20 per person, exclusive of alcoholic beverages, payable to the Secretary. Gratuity will be paid by the Lodge.
Brethren wishing to imbibe are responsible for the price of their drinks. Please consume responsibly.
For reservations, please contact our Secretary Nathan C. Brindle, PM at secretary(at)vitruvian.org
This will be my last meeting as Master of Lodge Vitruvian, a position in which I have been proud and honored to serve for two years. My deepest and sincerest thanks to the many brethren I have met and served with during that time. Lodge Vitruvian is a unique institution in Indiana Freemasonry, and is the only European Concept lodge in the state. I am honored to have been allowed to help lead this small group of visionary Masons one or two steps into the future, and I have great hope for their destiny in the coming years.
Monday, October 16, 2006
To the brethren in the Louisville/Southeastern Indiana area, I'll be appearing on WFPL-89.3 FM this Thursday, October 19th on "State of Affairs" with Julie Kredens between 11AM and noon.
From their website:
At one time or another we've all heard of the organization called the Freemasons. Maybe your grandfather or uncle is one, or a neighbor or friend; but have they ever told you what the Freemasons stand for, what their purpose is, or what goes on in their meetings? The history of Freemasonry begins in London, in June 1717, with the formation of the Grand Lodge of England. Freemasonry in America was established in the 1740's and the first Grand Lodge of Kentucky was formed in 1788 in Lexington, four years before Kentucky was admitted into the Union. So, what is a Mason? How does one become a Mason? What's with all the rituals and symbols? Why does Masonry seem so secretive? Join us Thursday, as we learn more about the Freemason from Chris Hodapp author of Freemasons for Dummies.
The show archive is available in mp3 format here.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
God love the Masonic youth groups.
I was asked to speak to the Job's Daughters this evening in Franklin, Indiana. The girls had a progressive dinner, starting at Englewood Lodge, moving to Hamilton Lodge in Fishers, then to Oriental and Speedway lodges for their various courses. By the time they got to Franklin, there were more than 75 people there, mostly the Job's girls. Dessert was served, and the girls sacked in for a movie and a lodge slumber party. National Treasure was on the bill, a picture that almost all of them had seen before, and all of them loved enough to watch over and over. Sir Knight George Ingles, Grand Inspector General for the Grand Commandery of Indiana spoke to the girls about the history of the Knights Templar, and I gave them a high-speed crash course in Masonic symbolism as it is used and abused in the movie. The young ladies were most kind to a certain Dummy - it's been a very long time since anyone referred to me as "awesome" - and I can't thank everyone enough for inviting me.
Shout out to Becca, Jacie, Tara, the "Candy Corn Girls" and all the Job's Daughters who came out tonight. And to Gina Hodges, Grand Bethel Honored Queen, and her husband, Bro. Travis Hodges of Broad Ripple Lodge. Thanks for asking me. I had a fantastic time.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
LtoR: Knights of the North Michael Bayrak, R. John Hayes, Stephen Dafoe, Jelle Spiker, and a Dummy
I'm home and have now successfully caught back up to some semblance consciousness. What a fantastic experience the last few days have been. I don't how to adequately thank the brethren of Highlands-Unity Lodge No. 168 for inviting me to Edmonton, Alberta to speak to their lodge's festive board.
A very special note of thanks goes to RJ, Linda and Kaitlyn Hayes for their incredible hospitality.
I've not been to Canada before. It's remarkably home-like, apart from their spineless knuckling under to the metric system, rabbits the size of push-mowers, better beer and a peculiar fascination with hockey. They HAVE to have socialized medicine there. They all have puck injuries.
Here in the States, Monday was Columbus Day, most renown for the inconvenience of closed banks, shuttered post offices, vacationing government squints and the occasional Indian (feather, not dot) protest over celebrating the discovery of a place that already had people all over it. But in Canada, it was Thanksgiving, and I was given the opportunity to share the holiday with RJ's family. I'm sure that's just what they needed - another mouth to feed and some stranger underfoot while orchestrating the traditional madness of a dozen relatives, three cats and a dog around a five-person table, plus a 35 lb. turkey, five pies, three kinds of potatoes, four kinds of vegetables, and the inevitable, how the hell do you make gravy crisis. Worse, I was completely useless in holding up my end of the hockey discussions.
The brethren of Highlands-Unity Lodge and their many visitors were exceedingly gracious and welcoming on Tuesday evening. The dinner at the posh Indian (dot, not feather) restaurant Haweli was wonderful, although a boy embarking on an all-day airplane ride should partake of incendiary-spiced beef and chicken with a little more temperance the night before - or so my fellow passengers told me. The restaurant was beautiful, and the food was outstanding.
It appeared that somewhere between 40 and 45 brethren were in attendance to suffer through my remarks - fortunately for RJ, they bought the books before the speech. I have no idea if I said anything that sounded new to them - they seem to be a sophisticated lot who are already practicing their Freemasonry pretty successfully.
It was great to have the opportunity of meeting brethren from so many lodges who came out for the evening, along with the Deputy Grand Master and Grand Secretary of the GL of Alberta. I love visiting different lodge buildings, so getting to see both Highlands-Unity (love the moose in the West) as well as Edmonton's beautiful Freemason's Hall was a treat. The presence of liquor in both Masonic halls was combined with the inexplicable phenomenon that the earth did not stop spinning on its axis. Amazing. I just don't understand how that could be. I thought a lodge building with liquor in it would burst into flames spontaneously.
Spending time with fellow Knights of the North RJ Hayes, Jelle Spiker, Mike Bayrock, Stephen Dafoe, along with RJ's brother Peter and other brethren, was great, one of those strange "we only know each other from the Internet" gatherings that is getting to be a regular occurrence with me these days.
Us Broad Ripple Lodge guys can sleep anywhere, but I regard the geniuses at Motorola as empyrean cherubim for having the divine wisdom to put alarm clocks in their cell phones so that largish, snoring, and slightly crapulous layabouts don't sleep through their final boarding calls.
Thanks again to everyone who made the last few days truly an experience I will always remember. And most especially, I want to thank the Worshipful Master and officers of Highlands-Unity Lodge for their invitation and their warm welcome.
So many times in the past ten years, we have maybe rushed a little too quickly to make changes in the fraternity because we say that's what young men want. That they don't have time to join or learn the old fashioned ways, or that proficiency requirements are too difficult for modern men. We've made these assumptions without asking them. They are coming looking for the very traditions that we sometimes want to wipe out, because we think that's what they want.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
Permit me a moment to brag on one of my lodges. Lodge Vitruvian No. 767 raised our newest Master Mason today, Brother Kenneth Davis.
Our philosophy at Vitruvian is to bring a man through the degrees slowly, and it took Ken a year to do so. He knew this from the start, and I remember a year ago that he said something that made what we do seem worthwhile. He said that he had looked around the internet at other lodges, and if he hadn't seen ours and read about our philosophy, he probably wouldn't have petitioned the Masons.
Vitruvian is Indiana's only European Concept lodge. When we started the lodge back in 2002, we were top-heavy with Past Masters, and frankly, past everybodys - brethren who were involved in everything in the state, the compulsive joiners of the Craft who were looking for something different. That was a tremendous help to get us started and up and running.
But as the years began to pass, the truth was that we still had things we had to do that were part of the day-to-day job of running a lodge, those mundane, boring tasks that aren't new and exciting. As a result, we lost many of those early joiners and had to survive on our own merits.
We have short business meetings, outstanding feasts, the best in Masonic education and speakers. We believe in formal dress, because while it is the internal and not the external parts of Man that Masonry regards, the external is a reflection of what a man is like on the inside. Dressing in tuxedo and gloves is actually the great leveler in a lodge - who can then say who is the banker, the bricklayer, the Ph.D. professor or the plumber? Which was the whole point when our English brethren adopted this custom centuries ago...
Best of all, we have many visitors who come and see what we do and take our ideas home to their own lodges.
A case in point was our degree today. We had visitors who drove all the way from Nashville, Tennessee to see what we were up to. We had brethren from all over the state. We were short some members for parts, so brethren stepped up to help. Because of our unique membership from across Indiana, we chose to go on the road and confer the degree at Delaware Lodge No. 46 in Muncie. Theirs is one of the most magnificent Masonic facilities anywhere in the country, and it was an honor to perform the work in this beautiful lodge.
Wbro. Eric Schmitz composed an outstanding new Volume of Sacred Law presentation and delivered it for the first time today.
And in keeping with the uniqueness of our lodge and its members, after Brother Davis was presented with several gifts from the lodge, in return he distributed a gift to the brethren present - a medallion depicting the symbol of our lodge, Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man. It was the first time I had ever seen such a thing done, and I will cherish it forever. Ken is the second member we have initiated at Vitruvian, and the first while I have been Master.
The design of Vitruvian has always been to remain small - no more than 36 members. The reason is to strengthen the personal bond between its members. I can't get to know 200 members of a lodge. But I can know and care about fifteen or twenty. As a result, the events of today will stay with me always. Bringing a new brother into our small family means so much to us all.
My personal thanks go out to Wbro. Jim Dillman, without whom we would have been lost; Wbro. Tim Brinkmeyer, Master of Delaware No. 46, whose tireless work allowed the day to be a great one; Wbro. Dale Adams, for his strength and assistance; Wbro. Fred Dusel and Brother Jay from Nashville, for their kindness and their interest in what we're doing; to the many members of Delaware No. 46, and the other brethren from all over who stepped in to help; and of course to my friend, brother and evil twin, Wbro. Nathan Brindle, for all that he does.
And congratulations to Brother Ken Davis, our newest Master Mason.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
A Secret Society, Spilling a Few Secrets
By JAMES BARRON
Published: October 4, 2006
For more than two centuries, the Freemasons and their grandiose rituals have played a secretive, mysterious role in American life. One of the Masons' symbols looks a lot like the all-seeing eye on the back of every $1 bill. And look whose picture is on the other side.
George Washington was not the first Mason, and not the only famous one. Mozart worked thinly disguised touches of Masonry into operas. Fourteen presidents and everyone from the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale to the comedian Red Skelton belonged. Masons presided when the cornerstone was laid at the Statue of Liberty.
But the Masons' numbers have been steadily dwindling — whatever their secrets are, they apparently do not have one for avoiding death — and their ranks have been graying. So the New York State Masons have followed other state Masonic societies in doing something that they would have once considered heretical: they are actively reaching out for new members. And, in the process, a famously reticent fraternal organization that now puts a premium on its community service has lifted its veil of secrecy just a bit.
The Masons are not giving out the secret words that members are supposed to say to get into meetings (although these days, simply showing a dues card might do). But the Masons are giving public tours of the New York Grand Lodge Headquarters.
So people can see the gilded ceiling, the marble walls, the benches along the sides for the rank and file and, at either end, the thronelike chairs for high-ranking Masons. And, in a conference room next door, there is more gold, though it is only paint on a copy of a larger-than-life statue of George Washington.
The lodge also hired a public relations firm to spread the word about its 225th anniversary, which was last month. And the Masons have run advertisements in movie theaters and run one-day classes to award the first three Masonic degrees in a single session. Until then, would-be Masons had to spend months learning what they needed to know to rise from Entered Apprentice to Fellowcraft to Master Mason.
"We're still not thinking of it as recruiting or trying to amass people,” said Thomas M. Savini, the director of the library at the New York Grand Lodge Headquarters, on West 23rd Street and the Avenue of the Americas, “but I think we’ve reached a point where we realized that not saying anything isn’t making it any easier."
They had also reached a point where they could not ignore what others were saying about them in 'The Da Vinci Code' and other bestsellers like 'The Book of Fate' by Brad Meltzer.
"What 'The Da Vinci Code' gave us was an opportunity to say, 'Here’s what we are,'" Mr. Savini said.
What there is, inside the grand lodge headquarters, are a dozen ornate rooms where some 60 lodges still hold meetings regularly.
Those dozen rooms have no windows. Leading the way into one of them, the Grand Master, or leader of all Masons in New York State, Neal I. Bidnick, said the layout was no different from any other lodge room in the world, with an altar and candles in the center. At the one end are two pieces of stone, each about the size of a cinder block — one uncut, the other finished.
"We take a good man and polish the rough edges," Mr. Bidnick said. (The Masons do not admit women.)
In the hallways of the grand lodge headquarters, the walls are crowded with framed photographs of Masons past and present, but mostly past: Hubert H. Humphrey, the former vice president; and William J. Bratton, the former police commissioner who is now the chief of police in Los Angeles.
But there are fewer names on the membership rolls than there once were: 54,000 in New York, down from a high of 346,413 in 1929. Membership rose again after World War II, rising to 307,323 in 1957 before beginning a long slide.
As Mr. Bidnick explains it, New York’s Masons are heavily involved in community service, underwriting medical research and supplying 29,000 American flags, one for every public school classroom in the city. But still there are the secret rooms where Masons gather.
"Why do we bring them into a room like this?" Mr. Bidnick asked. "Basically, all our rituals are designed to be educational. All these things they show you on TV, the assumptions are wrong."
He described an encounter with a cable television reporter. "The woman from CNN read some passages about a rope and a hood and asked, 'Is that what you do?'" he recalled. "It's not."
He has heard the conspiracy theories. "We’re often asked why we have a G" as a symbol, Mr. Bidnick said. "We had a person in here from CNN before 'The Da Vinci Code.' She pointed out that only in English and German does the word for God begin with a G. But masonry is an educational institution, so that G stands for geometry."
And, on one wall, is a stained-glass panel with a G in a square and compasses.
Geometry is but one of the seven liberal arts. A Mason who could not remember the other six would need only to look up, for they are written on the ceiling: arithmetic, rhetoric, logic, grammar, music and astronomy. The four cardinal virtues — fortitude, prudence, temperance and justice — are written there, too.
And Mr. Bidnick said when Masons refer to God, they refer to the great architect of the universe. To hear him and Mr. Savini tell it, there is nothing theological in the reference. Mr. Savini said that Masonry was dogma-free. "It doesn’t tell a man how to interpret a symbol, which leaves it open to people outside to misinterpret it," he said.
They would not describe in detail what happens in the room when members are present for a lodge meeting. Mr. Savini did dispel what he said were misconceptions — that there are secret tattoos, for example. "Masonry has nothing to do with tattoos," he said. "You don’t get a tattoo when you become a Mason."
Still, he himself has a tattoo, though not a Masonic tattoo.
And Mr. Savini points out that the eye on the dollar bill is not really a Masonic symbol. “We use the eye,” he said, “but opticians use the eye. It makes us look ridiculous if we say it links into some Masonic connection that was not there."
I guess I don't understand reporters. Tattoos?
Friday, September 29, 2006
The Visalia Times-Delta reports:
The reason for ceremony's postponement was an e-mail sent by a concerned citizen to the district, Superintendent Stan Carrizosa said. The e-mail's sender, who the district would not identify, said among other things, that the Masons were a cult.
The e-mail, which included references to the Web site www.freemasonrywatch.org as the source of that claim, also said: "My primary concern is that this ritual Friday will give Satan grounds to oppress or harass the administration, teachers and the students — even if ever so subtly."
The e-mail went on to ask the district to have "mercy on the administration and children of Cottonwood Creek and cancel the ritual or at least postpone it until you are clear in your mind, after due diligence and study, that the ritual is just a dedication or indeed is an avenue of evil to exploit."
One e-mail from a crank stops a centuries-old ceremony that George Washington himself took part in at the founding of our nation's capital.
After considering the concern, Carrizosa said the district plans to reschedule the dedication to take place in the evening, sometime this month so students and parents who choose not to participate won't have to.
The Mother Lodge by Rudyard Kipling
There was Rundle, Station Master,
An' Beazely of the Rail'
An' Ackerman, Commissariat,
An' Donkin o' the Jail;
An' Blake, Conductor-Sergent,
Our Master twice was 'e,
With 'im that kept the Europe-shop'
Old Framjee Fduljee.
Outside -- "Sergent! Sir! Salute! Salaam!"
Inside -- "Brother," an' it doesn't do no 'arm
We met upon the level an' we parted on the square,
An' I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!
We'd Bola Nath, Accountant,
An' Saul the Aden Jew,
An' Din Mohammed, draughtsman
Of the Survey Office too;
There was Babu Chuckerbutty,
An' Amir Singh the Sikh,
An' Castro from the fittin'-sheds,
The Roman Catholick!
We 'adn't good regalia,
An' our Lodge was old an' bare
But we knew the Ancient Landmarks
An' we kep' 'em to a hair;
An' lookin' on it backwards
It often strikes me thus,
There ain't such things as infidels,
Excep', per'aps, it's us.
For monthly, after Labour
We'd all sit down and smoke
(We dursn't give no banquets
Lest a Brother's caste were broke),
An' man on man got talkin'
Religion an' the rest,
An' every man comparin'
Of the God 'e knew the best.
So man on man got talkin',
An' not a Brother stirred
Till mornin' waked the parrots
An' that dam' brain-fever-bird;
We'd say 'twas 'ighly curious,
An' we'd all ride 'ome to bed,
With Mo'ammed, God, an' Shiva
Changin' pickets in our 'ead.
Full oft on Guv'ment service
This rovin' foot 'ath pressed,
An' bore fraternal greetin's
To the Lodges east an' west,
Accordin' as commanded
From Kohat to Singapore,
But I wish that I might see them
In my Mother-Lodge once more!
I wish that I might see them,
My Brethren black an' brown,
With the trichies smellin' pleasant
An' the hog-darn passin' down;
An' the old khansamah snorin'
On the bottle-khana floor,
Like a Master in good standing
With my Mother-Lodge once more.
Outside -- "Sergent! Sir! Salute! Salaam!"
Inside -- "Brother," an' it doesn't do no 'arm
We met upon the level an' we parted on the square,
An' I was Junior Deacon in my Mother-Lodge out there!
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Gov. Bob Riley is defending his membership in a Masonic organization that critics say excludes blacks.
Riley, a Republican who is running for re-election against Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley, is a member of a Masonic lodge in his east Alabama hometown of Ashland that is affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Alabama, a statewide group with no known blacks among more than 30,000 members.
Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Riley said he did not know whether his lodge had any black members. But Riley denied that the Masonic group is racist, as did two leaders of the organization in interviews Friday.
Riley's membership in the Masons has been mentioned on Internet blogs and was a hot topic on a Birmingham-based talk show hosted by Russ and Dee Fine, Baxley supporters who claim they were fired earlier this week partly for pointing out Riley's membership in the Masons.
In an interview, Dee Fine said a governor shouldn't be a member of an all-white group, particularly since Grand Lodge documents dating to 1876 show it bars blacks as members.
The Governor went on to say,
Riley said the comments about his ties to Masonry are "bordering on ridiculous." He said that he knows some black Masons.
"Both Shriners and Masons do a lot of good."
Yes, he may very well know some black Masons. They are Prince Hall Masons, and he is prohibbited by his Grand Lodge from communicating Masonically with them. They certainly aren't members of the Grand Lodge of Alabama, at least not according to the Grand Master.
The head of the Grand Lodge of Alabama, Grand Master Frank W. Little, said he knows of no blacks among the 32,000 members of the state organization, which has 318 lodges and accepts new members by applications and referrals from other members.
But Little denied that there is anything in the organization's current constitution or edicts to prevent a black from joining.
"To my knowledge I don't know of any black who's ever applied for membership in the Grand Lodge," he said. "Is there anything that would prevent them? No. As the grand master, if I heard of any lodge that denied a man membership because of his race they wouldn't be a lodge for long."
But since Masonic law says that no Mason can be asked whether he voted against a petitioner or not, or why he would have voted against a petitioner, and that to ask about such things is a violation of Masonic laws, the Grand Master couldn't possibly hear of such things.
Another state Masonic official, Grand Secretary Jerry M. Underwood, said the group has an ethnically diverse membership even though critics say it has no blacks.
"We have Hispanics and Indians," he said. "In fact, we brought in an Iranian here in Montgomery a few weeks ago."
Why does this sound like a Lenny Bruce routine? Or a scene from Blazing Saddles?
I don't for one second believe that Brother Riley is a bigot. It's also likely that he doesn't know the first thing about Prince Hall Masonry - I suspect the subject doesn't come up very often in lodges there. But I absolutely believe that the press will seize on this as an October Surprise during the last six weeks before the election in the Governor's race in Alabama. Undoubtedly the Democratic challenger will make some dramatic statement over the weekend denouncing the Masons as a bunch of old racists. I wouldn't even be surprised if the Governor demitted from his lodge on live television by Monday morning. In fact, I'll bet it pops up somewhere on a Sunday Morning pundit show. All about how the Freemasons are a bunch of racists.
My Brothers, de jure (maybe even de facto, in some states) segregation continues to exist in Freemasonry in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana and West Virginia. In Canada, Prince Hall recognition has not been extended in Ontario. Certainly, some few lodges in these states may very well have black members, but those Grand Lodges that have failed to recognize their Prince Hall counterparts will besmirch the rest of us by their passive silence or their attempts to construct legalistic barriers to recognition.
People are funny social animals. We all tend to associate with people we feel comfortable with. In states where Grand Lodges have extended joint recognition with their Prince Hall brethren, the Prince Hall lodges have not ceased to be. And there are plenty of Prince Hall Masons who want nothing to do with their white counterparts, either. There has been no talk of mergers, and probably never will. Prince Hall Masonry has a 225 year heritage, older than many other US Grand Lodges, and they are not going away anytime soon. Visitation between lodges has been by mutual agreement, and no Mason has given up his right to object to the visit of a stranger. Lodges that have no problem with joint meetings and degree work have engaged in these events happily, but no one has forced anyone to do so.
Unfortunately, now that this story has hit the fan, the rest of us will have to answer the criticism. "Gee, I read that Freemasonry is made up of a bunch of racists."
It was never meant to be.
It only is in a small, isolated part of the world. And the rest of us are ashamed. "Separate but equal" died in this country with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, my Brothers.
The time has come to put this shameful issue to rest once and for all. A fraternity that espouses universal brotherhood either means it or it doesn't. The time has come to put aside the fear, put aside the rhetoric and extend the hand of brotherly love and friendship on both sides of the color barrier.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
"Allow me to ask," he said, "are you a Mason?"
"Yes, I belong to the Brotherhood of the Freemasons," said the stranger, looking deeper and deeper into Pierre's eyes. "And in their name and my own I hold out a brotherly hand to you."
"I am afraid," said Pierre, smiling, and wavering between the confidence the personality of the Freemason inspired in him and his own habit of ridiculing the Masonic beliefs- "I am afraid I am very far from understanding- how am I to put it?- I am afraid my way of looking at the world is so opposed to yours that we shall not understand one another."
"I know your outlook," said the Mason, "and the view of life you mention, and which you think is the result of your own mental efforts, is the one held by the majority of people, and is the invariable fruit of pride, indolence, and ignorance. Forgive me, my dear sir, but if I had not known it I should not have addressed you. Your view of life is a regrettable delusion."
"Just as I may suppose you to be deluded," said Pierre, with a faint smile.
"I should never dare to say that I know the truth," said the Mason, whose words struck Pierre more and more by their precision and firmness. "No one can attain to truth by himself. Only by laying stone on stone with the cooperation of all, by the millions of generations from our forefather Adam to our own times, is that temple reared which is to be a worthy dwelling place of the Great God," he added, and closed his eyes.
"I ought to tell you that I do not believe... do not believe in God, said Pierre, regretfully and with an effort, feeling it essential to speak the whole truth.
The Mason looked intently at Pierre and smiled as a rich man with millions in hand might smile at a poor fellow who told him that he, poor man, had not the five rubles that would make him happy.
"Yes, you do not know Him, my dear sir," said the Mason. "You cannot know Him. You do not know Him and that is why you are unhappy."
"Yes, yes, I am unhappy," assented Pierre. "But what am I to do?"
"You know Him not, my dear sir, and so you are very unhappy. You do not know Him, but He is here, He is in me, He is in my words, He is in thee, and even in those blasphemous words thou hast just uttered!" pronounced the Mason in a stern and tremulous voice.
He paused and sighed, evidently trying to calm himself.
"If He were not," he said quietly, "you and I would not be speaking of Him, my dear sir. Of what, of whom, are we speaking? Whom hast thou denied?" he suddenly asked with exulting austerity and authority in his voice. "Who invented Him, if He did not exist? Whence came thy conception of the existence of such an incomprehensible Being? Didst thou, and why did the whole world, conceive the idea of the existence of such an incomprehensible Being, a Being all-powerful, eternal, and infinite in all His attributes?..."
He stopped and remained silent for a long time.
Pierre could not and did not wish to break this silence.
"He exists, but to understand Him is hard," the Mason began again, looking not at Pierre but straight before him, and turning the leaves of his book with his old hands which from excitement he could not keep still. "If it were a man whose existence thou didst doubt I could bring him to thee, could take him by the hand and show him to thee. But how can I, an insignificant mortal, show His omnipotence, His infinity, and all His mercy to one who is blind, or who shuts his eyes that he may not see or understand Him and may not see or understand his own vileness and sinfulness?" He paused again. "Who art thou? Thou dreamest that thou art wise because thou couldst utter those blasphemous words," he went on, with a somber and scornful smile. "And thou art more foolish and unreasonable than a little child, who, playing with the parts of a skillfully made watch, dares to say that, as he does not understand its use, he does not believe in the master who made it. To know Him is hard.... For ages, from our forefather Adam to our own day, we labor to attain that knowledge and are still infinitely far from our aim; but in our lack of understanding we see only our weakness and His greatness...."
Pierre listened with swelling heart, gazing into the Mason's face with shining eyes, not interrupting or questioning him, but believing with his whole soul what the stranger said. Whether he accepted the wise reasoning contained in the Mason's words, or believed as a child believes, in the speaker's tone of conviction and earnestness, or the tremor of the speaker's voice- which sometimes almost broke- or those brilliant aged eyes grown old in this conviction, or the calm firmness and certainty of his vocation, which radiated from his whole being (and which struck Pierre especially by contrast with his own dejection and hopelessness)- at any rate, Pierre longed with his whole soul to believe and he did believe, and felt a joyful sense of comfort, regeneration, and return to life.
"He is not to be apprehended by reason, but by life," said the Mason.
"I do not understand," said Pierre, feeling with dismay doubts reawakening. He was afraid of any want of clearness, any weakness, in the Mason's arguments; he dreaded not to be able to believe in him. "I don't understand," he said, "how it is that the mind of man cannot attain the knowledge of which you speak."
The Mason smiled with his gentle fatherly smile.
"The highest wisdom and truth are like the purest liquid we may wish to imbibe," he said. "Can I receive that pure liquid into an impure vessel and judge of its purity? Only by the inner purification of myself can I retain in some degree of purity the liquid I receive."
"Yes, yes, that is so," said Pierre joyfully.
"The highest wisdom is not founded on reason alone, not on those worldly sciences of physics, history, chemistry, and the like, into which intellectual knowledge is divided. The highest wisdom is one. The highest wisdom has but one science- the science of the whole- the science explaining the whole creation and man's place in it. To receive that science it is necessary to purify and renew one's inner self, and so before one can know, it is necessary to believe and to perfect one's self. And to attain this end, we have the light called conscience that God has implanted in our souls."
"Yes, yes," assented Pierre.
"Look then at thy inner self with the eyes of the spirit, and ask thyself whether thou art content with thyself. What hast thou attained relying on reason only? What art thou? You are young, you are rich, you are clever, you are well educated. And what have you done with all these good gifts? Are you content with yourself and with your life?"
"No, I hate my life," Pierre muttered, wincing.
"Thou hatest it. Then change it, purify thyself; and as thou art purified, thou wilt gain wisdom. Look at your life, my dear sir. How have you spent it? In riotous orgies and debauchery, receiving everything from society and giving nothing in return. You have become the possessor of wealth. How have you used it? What have you done for your neighbor? Have you ever thought of your tens of thousands of slaves? Have you helped them physically and morally? No! You have profited by their toil to lead a profligate life. That is what you have done. Have you chosen a post in which you might be of service to your neighbor? No! You have spent your life in idleness. Then you married, my dear sir- took on yourself responsibility for the guidance of a young woman; and what have you done? You have not helped her to find the way of truth, my dear sir, but have thrust her into an abyss of deceit and misery. A man offended you and you shot him, and you say you do not know God and hate your life. There is nothing strange in that, my dear sir!"
Saturday, September 23, 2006
Until just a few short years ago, North Carolina only required a simple majority vote to change legislation. When the vote got closer to passing the recognition of Prince Hall resolution, the assembled voting members passed a new rule that now requires a 2/3 majority to recognize another Grand Lodge in its jurisdiction. An attempt this year to return to the old simple majority vote failed as well, as did a resolution to end voting rights of Past Grand Masters.
Larry Thompson is reporting on the Philalethes List the following vote count:
1085 votes cast
681 pro recognition
404 against recognition
Passage failed by 43 votes.
There are many men who have worked very hard from within to change this situation, and they deserve our thanks and our admiration in the face of adversity. The institutional racism embedded in Freemasonry in the Old South is appalling to the rest of us. There is no place in the fraternity for it. The question is will the mainstream GLs in the South continue to ignore the problem as young professional men say no thanks and move on? There used to be no alternative. There is now. Actions like this give new groups like the UGLA more momentum, and the internet has made it impossible to hide these actions behind the formerly imperceptible facade of Grand Lodge proceedings.
The real question is, when will COGMNA stand up and finally call them on it? When will the rest of the North American Grand Lodges realize the international embarrassment this causes and treat the Southern GLs with half as much indignation as they treated the Grand Lodge of Minnesota when it strayed off the plantation and recognized the Grand Lodge of France? They certainly didn't mind yanking recognition of Minnesota.
"give the right hand of affection and fellowship
to whom it justly belongs, let their color and
complexion be what it will, let their nation be
what it may, for they are your Brethren, and it
is your indispensable duty so to do; let them as
Masons deny this, and we & the world know what
to think of them, be they ever so grand"
-- From Prince Hall's Charge to African Lodge,
June 24, 1797
Friday, September 22, 2006
Wish I'd been a Mason 28 years ago when I lived in Studio City. Strange, when I think of it. My first attempt to find out who the Freemasons were came after I had seen Murder By Decree back in 1978, in the UA theaters in North Hollywood.
It took me a while to find out.
"I want President Chavez to please understand that even though many people in the United States are critical of our president that we resent the fact that he would come to the United States and criticize President Bush... you don't come into my country, you don't come into my congressional district and you don't condemn my president."
I'm not attempting to interject partisan politics into this blog - that wouldn't be Masonic. Nevertheless, I'm no fan of Charlie Rangel, and find myself opposed to almost every position he takes. But Rangel is a patriot, regardless of what you may think of his politics. He served for four years in the Army during the Korean War, and was awarded both the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Agree with him or not, he fights for what he believes.
It shouldn't be a big surprise.
Brother Charles Rangel is a member of Joppa Lodge No. 55 in Harlem.
Just take the A Train...
Monday, September 18, 2006
Many, many thanks to Brother Peter Renzland of Toronto for providing this information on the Philalethes Society mailing list:
The following are the only US States with no recognition between their two Grand Lodges of any kind: Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. All are former states of the Confederacy.
In June of 2002, the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Georgia unanimously voted to recognize the mainstream Grand Lodge of Georgia. The GLGA has never considered the question to reciprocate.
In September 2004, the mainstream Grand Lodge of North Carolina voted 520 to 459 (53%) in favour of recognition of their Prince Hall counterpart. This did not meet the newly required 2/3 majority to pass. In October 2004, the MWPHGL of NC unanimously voted to recognize the mainstream GL of NC.
In October 2005, the Grand Master of the mainstream Grand Lodge of Texas reported that the MWPHGL of TX had offered recognition. The next Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Texas is in December.
Lest anyone get smug, this is not just an issue confined to the former territory of the Confederacy. In Canada in 1991, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Ontario & Jurisdiction offered intervisitation recognition to all mainstream Canadian Grand Lodges. Their invitation has never been reciprocated. The mainstream Grand Lodge of Canada/Province Of Ontario meets again next July. It is not known at this time whether the question will be called.
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Many thanks to Immediate Past Grand Master Charles Brinkerhoff and Grand Secretary William Crawford for their kindness, their hospitality and their graciousness in giving me an opportunity to address their Grand Lodge.
It was a great opportunity to see Wbro. Timothy Bonney for the first time since he left Indiana. Tim was one of the co-authors of Laudable Pursuit, and remains a good friend.
A surprise attendee for me was Mark Tabbert, author of American Freemasons: Three Centuries of Building Communities. In spite of his former position at the AASR-NMJ's museum in Massachusetts, and his current one at the George Washington Masonic National memorial (did anyone mention that George Washington was a Mason?), Mark is actually an Iowa Mason.
Thursday evening, Alice and I were honored to be seated at the Grand Master's table for dinner and had the pleasure of dining with the Grand Master of Prince Hall Masons in Iowa, MWBro. Donald W. Austin, and with Davenport Mayor Ed Winborn and his wife Sandy. I also had an opportunity to meet MWBro. Scott J. Krieger, Grand Master of Nebraska. His Grand Lodge has invited me to speak to them next February - although now that he's heard my presentation he might reconsider!
And it was great to finally meet Phil Enabnit, publisher of the Philalethes Magazine. Phil and I got to talk a lot with each other sitting side by side in the vendor's room. He is also the Secretary of the respected Iowa Research Lodge No. 2.
In addition to addressing the Grand Lodge session, I was also asked to speak to the ladies on Friday morning. They were great fun, but I refuse to join the OES. White dresses make my hips look fat.
Again, my thanks to everyone who made Alice, Wiley and myself so welcome. I cannot express how gratified I am to the many brothers who stopped and bought a book and were so kind to a dummy fro Indiana. They are too numerous to mention, but I am humbled by your many kind words.
One event cast a terrible pall over the gathering. On Thursday night, a tragic accident killed Past Grand Master and former Grand Treasurer Allen Heaton and hospitalized his wife Beverly. The hotel sits between two very busy one-way streets, and they were walking across the road to get ice cream from McDonald's. Apparently, they were unaware of an oncoming pickup truck and stepped right in front of it. MWbro. Heaton was also a trustee of Iowa's Masonic Home. He died at the scene while the EMS team tried in vain to save him, but his wife survived. The last update I heard was Friday, and Mrs. Heaton was scheduled for surgery. I fear she will have a long hard road ahead.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to their family, and to the Masons of Iowa for their tragic loss of their dear friend and brother.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Thanks to Wbro. Tim Brinkmeyer and all of the brethren at Delaware Lodge.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Alice, Wiley and I are hopping in the shuttlecraft and headed for Davenport and the Grand Lodge of Iowa's Annual Communication in the morning. I'm looking forward to this trip. The greatest thing about writing Freemasons For Dummies has been the chance to travel the country and meet Masons from literally everywhere.
I've also been asked to speak to the ladies in the morning on Thursday. This is a first for me. The Iowa Masonic magazine said I would have some "entertaining remarks." DOH!