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Sunday, July 23, 2017

NE Conference of GMs Wrap Up, and Masonic Renewal Essay Contest

I had the opportunity yesterday to address the Northeast Conference of Grand Masters here in Indianapolis at the Columbia Club. I don't often get the opportunity to lock a whole pile of sitting GMs in the same room and hector them for 20 or 30 minutes without interruption, so it was a treat and an honor (at least from my side of the podium—I can't answer for their side). Many thanks to Indiana's own Grand Master Rodney Mann, our Deputy GM Carl Culman, Grand Secretary Rick Elman, and my friend Roger VanGorden, PGM for letting me me be a part of the day. Plus, I got to spend some time with Simon LaPlace of the Masonic Service Association, which I always enjoy, along with meeting up with some old friends I haven't seen in a while.

In the course of the morning, Roger spoke about his involvement on the Masonic Renewal Committee and a couple of programs they are working on. Roger presented a terrific Power Point program on 'Rethinking the Stated Meeting' at last year's Conference of Grand Masters in Ontario, and I'm sure he will be rolling out a touched up version at that Conference here in Indianapolis next February (frankly, it needs to be run and rerun every single year—see it HERE). So, yesterday he and PGM Gail Kemp gave overviews of some of that, as well as a discussion of the role of ritual in terms of educating members, presenting it in meetings, and how to more effectively communicate it to brethren. All of that is a work in progress, so I suspect it will have even more meat on it early next year for all of the Grands to hear.


The MRC is has also got a program to develop and promote Academic Lodges—that is to say, lodges that base their membership on the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of a given college or university. An Academic Lodge has a special relationship with the university as a part of their family, to include scholarships, lectures, and participation in school events.

The concept is very similar to the United Grand Lodge of England's "Universities Scheme," which has had good success in their jurisdiction.

From the MRC's handout:
Academic Lodges are a wonderful opportunity for young people at the University (and older ones too) to experience all Freemasonry has to offer. They can also provide a new spark of energy and enthusiasm for Masonry, introducing the Craft to the university and the broader academic community.

When starting an Academic Lodge, a Grand Lodge should keep in mind that it must provide a quality experience for the brethren first and foremost. There is a temptation to focus on membership opportunities, but a quality experience at all Masonic meetings must take precedence over quantity of membership. This quality experience includes:

1) Masonic education, to include sharp ritual and stimulating continuing education. This is a must, especially for an Academic Lodge. There are many educational resources and professors to leverage at a university, which helps to provide a truly unique experience.

2) Good fellowship, to include fun events and good food.

3) Truly taking care of the Lodge brethren, to include regular follow up. These values correspond closely to the tenets of Freemasonry and must be the foundation of an academic, or indeed any new Lodge.
There are several existing Academic Lodges throughout the United States currently chartered:
  • The Harvard Lodge, Cambridge MA
  • Boston University Lodge, Boston MA
  • The Colonial Lodge No. 1821, George Washington University, DC
  • The Patriot No. 1957, George Mason University, Virginia
  • State College Lodge 770, North Carolina State University, NC
  • Terrapin Lodge No. 241, University of Maryland
  • The Eagle Lodge 1893, American University, DC
The MRC website has a slide show that details the practices and goals of such a lodge, and provides successful examples of establishing and sustaining one for a college or university in your region. To play it, see HERE.

If you want more information to investigate the formation of an Academic Lodge (or to perhaps ally an existing local lodge with an academic institution in its community), contact RW Bro. Jon Shelton, PDDGM, Grand Lodge of Virginia at sheltonjv@aol.com




The other MRC program that was discussed is an essay contest. The Committee is trying to rejuvenate not only our lodges and the lodge meeting experience, it's also trying to rejuvenate itself as well. They have established the David Bedwell Memorial Masonic Renewal Essay Competition, and the 2017 topic has been announced.

Here are the details:
Enter the 2017 Masonic Renewal Essay Competition and share your thoughts and ideas on the theme: “Concept of Masonic Renewal – What does it mean to you now and in the future?”
“Concept of Masonic Renewal – What does it mean to you now and in the future?”

Your thoughts in conveying about the concept of Masonic Renewal are needed by the Masonic Renewal Committee to reunite and re-generate our efforts to revitalize Freemasonry. The MRC Committee has in the past published the following resources to assist Lodges in their efforts to revitalize Masonry in their Lodges: 101+ Ways to Improve Interest and Attendance in Your Masonic Lodge; 150+ Ways to Involve Your Lodge with the Family and in the Community; Leadership Development Program and recently a Leaders Resource Handbook. These publications are available and in use by Lodges today.
Also, in the 1990’s, the Committee was instrumental in the collection of data about Masonry and the profane. This survey was very useful by Grand Lodges and Lodges to pinpoint and concentrate efforts to expand the knowledge of the profane about Freemasonry.
This contest isn't just some idle exercise. If you think no one is listening, they are. Take note that this essay competition is offering cash awards to the top three entries. 

First Prize: $1,5002nd Place: $1,0003rd Place: $500 
To see all of the gory details, rules, and requirements, see the MRC website HERE. 

I haven't been on that Committee for many years, so I have no personal involvement with this. I do know I've been a noisy bellyacher myself for 19 years. But I've heard a whole lot more bellyachers who don't actually try to accomplish anything. If you have serious ideas about fixing what we all know is broken in so many lodges across the country, then don't just bitch about it, step up to the plate. Freemasonry doesn't need any more guys sitting on barstools or folding chairs in the basement, wagging their finger and saying, 'Ya know what's wrong with this fraternity?" Yep. We all know. We've all heard it to death. If you have a better way to do things, get to work, start typing, and maybe even get a little spending money for it. 




Speaking of essays, Simon LaPlace reminded me that the Masonic Service Association is ALWAYS in need of short, succinct Masonic papers/articles/essays for their monthly Short Talk Bulletins. These little gems of Masonic education have been published without fail since 1923, and they are sent to just about every single Masonic lodge in America, month after month. Your Secretary usually just holds it up and says "the usual MSA Bulletin came again this month, and it's in my desk if anyone wants to read it." 

Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. 

"Somebody" (that means the Master, the Secretary, the lodge 'education committee,' or just plain YOU) needs to go and pick that little folded paper up and read it out loud without fail.  If the men in your lodge carp that there's never any 'Masonic education' in your lodge meetings, it's partially because things like that monthly envelope get ignored. it's mailed right to your lodge Secretary, so do something with it besides consigning it to the trash.

And if you think the latest one you read isn't very good and that you can do better yourself, by all means do so. If you can take a Masonic work of your own and cut it down or plump it up to about 1,100 words, then send it to Simon at the MSA. You will have a captive audience in a couple of thousand lodges just sitting there hearing it.

A reminder that the MSA has recently been collecting every one of these and compiling them into beautifully printed AND INDEXED hardbound volumes. Volume V is ready for preorder right now for a substantial discount over the final price, and all of them (except for Volume 1, which is sold out) can be ordered from the website HERE.




I hope all of our out of town Masonic visitors and their ladies enjoyed your visit to our fair city. because 2018 is Indiana's 200th anniversary of the founding of the Grand Lodge of Indiana F&AM, there are going to be numerous Masonic activities and events around here kicking off in January. We're all looking forward to welcoming first timers as well as those of you who have been here before, and we have much to see and do here. Thanks to everyone who came yesterday and we hope to see you all again here soon.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Templar TV Series 'Knightfall' Releases First Preview


Knight Templars, Levant Preceptory members, DeMolay lads, medieval mavens, fans, and curiosity seekers can rejoice. A preview for the long announced History [Channel] program Knightfall has finally been released, and it looks well done, at least from the production standpoint anyway. It's been so long since development of this program was announced, a lot of folks assumed it had just fallen by the way side into typical Hollywood development limbo, but it turns out that it's going to come to screens after all. It will air sometime "later this year" on the History network is all they are saying at this point. 

From the Entertainment Weekly website today:




HISTORY’s new scripted series Knightfall follows the Knights Templar, a legendary organization of warrior monks, as they desperately search for the Holy Grail in France — and in an exclusive trailer, that quest gets bloody quick.
The show picks up in 1306, toward the end of the Templars’ run as one of the most powerful organizations in the Christian world. Thanks to the bloody battles of the Crusades, the Templars are losing allies at the same time they’re gaining enemies, such as the King of France. With the help of a special sword and the knowledge that the Holy Grail is somewhere in France, the Templars bet everything on this grand quest.
Knightfall was executive-produced by Jeremy Renner alongside showrunner Dominic Minghella. It stars Tom Cullen, Pádraic Delaney, Simon Merrells, Olivia Ross, Ed Stoppard, Sabrina Bartlett, Jim Carter, and Julian Ovenden. Watch the trailer above, and look for Knightfall coming soon to HISTORY.
The preview was released in time for the San Diego ComicCon weekend. According to the Inquisitr website today:
Not only has a new trailer been released, but fans attending San Diego Comic-Con can get their photo taken with a Knight Templar, have their valuables protected by a Knightfall-themed storage service, and pick up the comic which is a prequel to the television series.

Friday, July 14, 2017

PA's Thomas W. Jackson Honored on Brazilian Postage Stamp


The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's former Grand Secretary of many years, Thomas W. Jackson has received untold awards, titles and accolades over the years, but this is a first for him. He is depicted on a new official postage stamp of the nation of Brazil, and solely in his capacity as a Freemason. I'm not talking about the kind of customized stamp you can have your grand kids or pet terrier printed on for your Christmas cards. I'm talking about a real live, national bureau of engraving-style, printed by the Casa da Moeda do Brasil, no-kidding postage stamp.

I don't even remotely pretend to know the first thing about philately, much less read Portuguese, so if anyone wants to chime in with more information, feel free. I did look over their postal service website (Correios) enough to know that any social or philanthropic group is welcome to suggest a subject for depiction on a stamp.

The local newspaper in Tom's home town of Shippensburg, Pennsylvania posted a long interview with him yesterday in which he describes his many travels during his 16 years as the Executive Secretary for the World Conference of Masonic Grand Lodges. The position also gave him the opportunity to engage in his other passions of hunting and fishing in very exotic places. I recall seeing Tom get off of an elevator at Masonic Week one year and I asked him what he had coming up. He replied that he was scheduled for heart surgery in the  coming weeks and he hoped for a fast recovery, as he was planning to go big game hunting in Africa about 10 days afterwards. He's truly unstoppable.


“I've been to Brazil about 15 times,” he said. “I'm very active in Freemasonry, and that's the reason I'm generally in Brazil. Although, I do go down and fish in the Amazon once in awhile.”
The avid fisherman and hunter said he's been working for many years in trying to bring Brazilian Freemasonry together.
“There are three different Masonic groups, and although they relate to each other, they don’t acknowledge each other or recognize each other, and I’ve been working for years to get them rectified,” he said.
Jackson had attended a Freemasonry conference in Brazil last month, and on the conference’s last day, June 24, leaders presented him with the stamps as a symbol of their appreciation. On the stamp, it says in Portuguese that it is in recognition of his service in promoting universal Freemasonry.
“I had no idea they were doing this,” he said. “It really surprised me.”
Jackson is known across the globe in Freemasonry circles, a fraternal organization celebrating its 300th anniversary of its formal creation this year. Two rooms in Jackson’s home are filled with an array of medals that have been given to him over the years. Many of the items are in a room that has dozens of mounted animal heads, such as buffalo he hunted in Australia and Botswana.
[snip]
He said the position took him to many countries. He didn’t know how many countries he has visited, but his wife of more than 50 years, Linda, keeps track by placing red pins on a world map at their home. Jackson noted he has visited all 50 states in the U.S. and all Canadian provinces.
“I'm generally out of the country half the year. I've been to 10 countries so far this year, and quite a few more to go,” he said. “I’ve really been fortunate. I have traveled to much of the world. I’ve been hosted by eight presidents, (and) several prime ministers.”
Jackson added he has met the presidents of Portugal, Chile, Romania, Mozambique, Mali, Gabon, Chad, and Congo. He has also met former U.S. President George H. W. Bush.
“In eastern Europe and Africa, they want to meet with me to find out what contributions Freemasonry can make to their developing societies,” he explained. He noted the executive secretary position didn’t have a salary, but his expenses were always covered.
Jackson also said he mediated disputes over the years, such as the three Freemasonry groups in Brazil.
 “One thing you’re dealing with, and you can’t avoid it, is ego,” he said. “You get so much power in Freemasonry in the hands of one man, and it really becomes an issue once in awhile.”
He said he has been fortunate to be able to mediate, and the key to the discussions is trying to listen to reason.
Jackson stepped down from the position in 2015, but he still gets calls to travel somewhere to advise on a situation.
“I’m supposed to be retired,” he said, with a laugh. “When I stepped down as executive secretary, I thought now I’ll be able to spend time on my farm. It hasn’t happened yet.
Read the whole article HERE

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Connecticut Lodge to Confer MM Degree in Operative Quarry 8/19/2017


Events like this used to be more common than they are these days, so I wanted to call attention to it.

Moosup Lodge 113 (one of my favorite town names) in Moosup, Connecticut is conferring a Master Mason degree in an operative stone quarry on Saturday, August 19th, 2017. The lodge will be officially opened in their Temple's lodge room shortly before 4:00PM, and immediately called to refreshment. A picnic will then start at 4:00PM at the nearby Moosup Little League Complex and playground on Lions Drive.

At 5:15, the brethren will caravan to the quarry and the lodge will reconvene there for the degree. Labor will resume at 6:00PM for the first section. At its conclusion, the lodge will pause at refreshment and torches will be lit for the second section, which will commence at 7:45. Five brethren are expected to be raised during the evening, and the lodge is expected to be closed around 10:30.

Attendees are cautioned to wear appropriate clothing and especially rugged footwear—there is no dress code for the evening, as long as you're comfortable. You are also advised to bring a lawn chair or cushion for the evening, mosquito repellant, and any cooler you might wish to have on hand, as there will be no services available at the site. The lodge will have 100 aprons on hand for the use of members and visitors. You are welcome to bring your own in case there is a shortage, but caution is urged if your apron is especially fragile, decorative, or sentimental, because of the rough, outdoor conditions. 

Take note: there is NO rain date! Updates will be posted on the lodge's Facebook page HERE.


Click image to enlarge.

The picnic itself is by reservation only and will be limited to just 100 attendees. You must contact the lodge Secretary, WB Brian Keith, at 860-564-8807 or by email at moosup113@yahoo.com for reservations and for more detailed information and instructions.

Moosup Lodge 113 is located at 69 Prospect St, Moosup, CT 06354. The community is actually a borough in the town of Plainfield, CT. For those coming from out of town, there are close hotels in Killingly, Danielson, and Griswold, and it is 20 minutes from both the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos in case your spouse or partner wants to play while you are busy Masoning.

(Top image from 2009's event. H/T Jim Verge)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Statement by Andrew Hammer

The currently ambiguous status of Virginia's Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22 and its now former Secretary, WB Andrew Hammer has gained some new clarification. There has been much speculation and concern in the Masonic world regarding the situation, as all of those involved have been unable to comment publicly. Finally at about 10:30PM Tuesday evening, WB Hammer publicly posted the following message on his Facebook page:
Brethren,
I have demitted from the lodge in Virginia of which I have been a member, in good standing, and possess documentation from the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, A.F. & A.M. to that effect. I am not under charges, and I am not suspended. I am no longer a Mason under the Grand Lodge of Virginia, A.F. & A.M.
I am proud to be a Mason in good standing under the following grand jurisdictions:
- The Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, F.A.A.M.
- The Grand Lodge of North Carolina, A.F.& A.M.
- The Grand Lodge of Ireland
- The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of New York, F.&A.M. (Honorary)

One chapter ends. A new one begins.

My work in the quarries has been valued by a number of Grand Lodges. My book, Observing the Craft, has even been bought by Grand Lodges to distribute to their lodges, officers, or members in general. I have been honoured by two Grand Lodges who invited me to serve as a Grand Lodge officer.

I am very fortunate to count among my closest friends in the Craft past, present, and future Grand Masters who are intimately familiar with my work and understand my points of view on Freemasonry in general.

The object of the observant Mason is to remain focused on positive action and to put forth positive energy as much as possible in all situations. The good of Freemasonry itself is what we must have in view.

That does not mean that one is never to express criticisms or to speak honestly to errors; we are charged to do exactly that on our Masonic path, and indeed our most esteemed thinkers throughout history have been those brothers who spoke uncomfortable truths in interesting times.

But the far greater object is to create happiness, both spiritual and temporal. We must never lose sight of that. Otherwise the task will not be worth doing.
Onward.
As reported here on June 28th, members of AW22 lodge received a letter dated June 19th explaining that the lodge's charter had been removed and announcing the replacement of the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden and Secretary by the Grand Master of Virginia, Vernon S. Cook. An upcoming meeting was announced for the members for this coming Thursday, July 13th. It is hoped that the charter will be returned at that time.

I have not chatted with Andrew yet, but he is still scheduled to speak at several Masonic events throughout the year. Thankfully, this resolution to the AW22 situation and any issues that may have existed between him and the Grand Lodge of Virginia means that his status as a regularly affiliated Mason in good standing will not pose any problems anywhere he is scheduled to appear. That is ultimately good news.

As for the lodge, it will be up to the new officers of AW22 and their active members to decide how they proceed in the coming months. Hopefully, this unfortunate episode will not result in them entirely turning their back on the initiatives they have undertaken in the last few years. They have been an outstanding example of 'observant' styled practices and a national leader in demonstrating what can be done within the limitations of existing rules to create a different lodge experience that appeals to a growing number of American Masons. It would be a tragedy for them to discard that in order to return to a cookie cutter style of lodge meeting that so many Masons have found so uninspiring for so long. 

Grand lodges lose more members from non-payment of dues than any other reason. Those are overwhelmingly men who were underwhelmed by what they found in their own lodges. Our jurisdictions have hundreds of lodge laboratories in which to experiment to find better ways to appeal to their own brethren. We squelch those experiments at our own peril.

The very best wishes to everyone going forward. And onward.

(Andrew Hammer is the author of Observing the Craft.)

Saturday, July 08, 2017

VIDEO: 'The Masonic Pub Crawl' by Robert Johnson


Many years ago when the Grand Lodge of Indiana was debating a resolution (which failed) to permit our lodges to allow alcohol in our buildings, accompanied by a raft of restrictions, limitations, qualifiers and requirements, all of the usual anti-hooch bromides poured forth from the floor of agitated delegates. One elderly brother angrily rose to his feet, wagged his finger in the air, and burst out, "If the founders of this fraternity ever discovered that this grand lodge is actually considering permitting alcohol anywhere near the inside of our Masonic lodges, they'd roll over in their graves!"

You know, the fraternity that started in taverns.

At the 2017 Masonic Con in April, RW Robert Johnson of the 'Whence Came you?' and the 'Masonic Roundtable' podcasts presented a talk that is a sort of introductory thumbnail sketch about three early, notable Colonial taverns in New England connected to American Freemasonry: the Tun Tavern, the Bunch of Grapes, and the Green Dragon. He was kind enough to permit it to be videotaped, so I share it here for the benefit of that elderly brother if he is still out there somewhere.

Charge your cannons.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Milwaukee Masonic Terror Suspect Claims Entrapment


The defense attorneys for a man arrested for conspiring to commit a mass shooting at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Milwaukee last year are claiming entrapment by the FBI informants in the case. Samy Hamzeh was nabbed in January 2016 after discussing the terrorist plot with what turned out to be undercover FBI agents and receiving a machine gun and silencer from them. Now his lawyers are seeking his release, alleging he was conned into it by the agents.

Sixteen months after the FBI announced it had thwarted a planned mass shooting in downtown Milwaukee, lawyers for the man charged in the plot say he adamantly refused to participate when pressed by informants they say had been goading their client for months.
The claim comes in a new court motion that Samy Mohamed Hamzeh, 25, should be released on bail pending his trial, now set for February.
The motion reveals new details about the defense's claim of entrapment, gleaned from hours of now-translated Arabic conversations the informants recorded.
His family says Hamzeh, who was born in the U.S. but lived much of his childhood in Jordan before moving to Milwaukee at age 19, was set up by the FBI.
The request for Hamzeh's release says he is a U.S. citizen with no criminal record, a solid work history and a job waiting for him, and a family who supports him. They argue Hamzeh should be released on GPS monitoring and give up his passport.
While the news of Hamzeh's arrest in early 2016 carried overtones of terrorism — federal prosecutors said he was planning to kill at least 30 people to "defend Islam" — the resulting charges were two counts of possessing a machine gun and one count of possessing a silencer, all of which he bought for $570 from undercover FBI agents. Each count carries up to 10 years in prison.
Hamzeh's attorneys, federal public defenders Craig Albee and Joseph Bugni, note that the criminal complaint against their client fails to mention that despite the hours of recorded Arabic conversations with the informants, he ultimately "rejected their overtures and lectured his informant friends about why such a plan would be wrong."

[snip]
The motion says the complaint also doesn't describe everything that led up to Hamzeh briefly possessing the machine guns and silencer in January 2016, when he was arrested. The informants, the motion states, "frequently lobbied Hamzeh to get a machine gun despite his repeated protests that all he wanted was a legal handgun to protect himself."
[snip]
According to the defense motion, discussion of the Masons first came in January 2016.The informants told Hamzeh the Masons were affiliated with the Islamic State and the enemy of Islam, and that three men had watched YouTube videos purportedly showing Masons eating hearts.
Hamzeh later told others about how Mike had begun constantly denigrating Masons and first floated the idea of attacking the Milwaukee center.
The Scottish Rite group was actually a fraternal organization whose membership had declined from 6,000 in 1985 to about 700 today. The center was mostly rented out for weddings and other events and is now planned for sale and conversion into a hotel.
A psychiatrist who evaluated Hamzeh in jail concluded he does not fit a profile of someone who would kill strangers and "has a strong moral code with a very prominent conscience and empathy."
His attorneys note that by the time Hamzeh's trial would start in February, he will have been in jail 25 months, and that even if convicted, the guideline range sentence for the crimes is 24 to 30 months.

The defense characterizes much of the recorded talk as mere bravado by Hamzeh and obvious attempts by Steve and Mike to steer him toward discussion of jihad and machine guns.
"There is also no evidence that Hamzeh ever made any plans or was doing anything other than making empty boasts to express his resentment about Israel or to gain attention," reads their brief in support of the bond motion.
"That’s not to say the conversations aren’t unsettling, but there is nothing to show an intent to take the leap from pontificating within the comfort of Milwaukee’s coffee shops about Palestine and the treatment of Muslims to Hamzeh risking his life in Gaza."

For the background on this story, see these previous stories:

1/27/2016: FBI Stops Plan For Mass Shooting At Milwaukee Masonic Temple

 2/1/2016: Masonic Plot Suspect May Escape Terror Charges

2/10/2016: Milwaukee Man Indicted in Plan to Attack Masonic Center

8/29/2016: January Milwaukee Masonic Terror Plotter Update

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Somewhere, Somebody's Laughing



The annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was held this past week, and nothing especially unusual happened. Just the quiet, annual changing of the guard. But buried deep in the copy of the Advance Proceedings in the report on foreign correspondence was a small paragraph noting that a small, new Arkansas grand lodge was requesting recognition from Louisiana.

The Regular Wheaton Grand Lodge of Arkansas.


I am NOT making this up. I'll post an image when I can get one.

I'm assured that neither Louisiana's Grand Secretary and the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Recognition are the type who engage in pranks. It did actually make it into print.

The request was not brought to the floor for a vote...





UPDATE: 7/4/2017


Click to enlarge.