"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Alas, My Brethren! Death of Three Brothers

Alice, Wiley and I are continuing our trip across the western United States, and we've stopped for a bit in Southern California to visit my family before turning back eastward. But the last ten days have brought news of three unexpected deaths which have affected me deeply, and I wanted to take the opportunity to mark the passing of these three noteworthy brethren — Donald C. Seeley, T. Edward Page, and John Slifko. 

Ernest Hemingway wrote, "Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another." Each of these three brethren lived very different lives, achieved very different milestones, affected very different people, but they 'lived respected and die regretted'. They leave this world better than they found it, but it is nonetheless an emptier place without them today.

WB Donald C. Seeley

On August 2nd, my longtime friend Worshipful Brother Donald Crosby Seeley of Indianapolis passed away at the age of 79 of natural causes. Don was one of a tiny handful of dedicated brethren who kept my mother lodge, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643 from closing its doors during its troubled years of 1998-2001. He was our master ritualist for such a very long time. Scores of our members have Don to thank for conferring their degrees over the years, for mentoring so many of us, and for holding us all to the highest of standards. Don was that rare ritualist who truly understood the words he delivered and the messages they imparted, and his delivery was always precise and genuine.

For many of us from the north side of Indianapolis, Don will always be King Solomon.

A bit of trivia for the handful of us who fondly remember the days of pioneering Indianapolis radio station WNAP (the Wrath of the Buzzard!") with its notorious raft race. Don was the station's sales manager for many of those great years, and he also initiated our late Brother "Big John" Gillis into Broad Ripple in the 1990s.

Don's memorial service was held at our lodge last Friday, and his cremains are to be interred later this month in Michigan City, where he was born in 1939. I shall miss him, but I will always be able to close my eyes and hear his own sonorous delivery reflected back in the voices of countless of my lodge brethren in the coming years. That is a noble legacy he leaves behind which few others can ever claim.

WB T. Edward 'Tracy' Page

Yesterday, Wednesday August 15th, Worshipful Brother T. Edward 'Tracy' Page went to the door of his home to meet a longtime family friend and former client, and was apparently shot and killed by the 83 year old man. Police have arrested his attacker, but no one has yet revealed any motive in the senseless killing. Tracy was an attorney in Hobart, Indiana, and was well known in the community. This tragedy has shocked everyone in the region, and devastated the entire Indiana Masonic family. 

Tracy served both as an attorney and a part-time judge in Lake County, Indiana (he was known for wearing a red robe in court, in imitation of English judges). He was just days away from retirement this month, and he had intended to teach law in his retirement years. He was deeply respected and extremely well-liked, which makes this news so inexplicable.

He was a kind and generous gentleman and Mason. Tracy was currently serving this year as the Worshipful Master of Hobart's M. L. McClelland Lodge No. 357 and he was an enthusiastic Scottish Rite Mason and Sir Knight in Valparaiso Commandery of Knights Templar. He was also the real-life brother of famed sportscaster and Mason, Paul Page of Indianapolis. 

Visitation for Tracy will be 
Friday, August 24th at the Geisen Funeral Home 606 E 113th Ave, Crown Point, IN, from 3 to 8PM. (219) 663-2500. 

A Masonic Funeral will be held at 10AM on Saturday, August 25th at McCelland Lodge in Hobart Indiana.

John Slifko, PhD

Finally, I was just forwarded a message about the death today of John Slifko after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer. When I first joined the fraternity in the late 1990s, John's name frequently came up throughout the online Masonic community, especially in the esoteric realm. He straddled both the regular and irregular Masonic—as well as the academic—worlds, and at about that time, he and professor Margaret Jacob were organizing the Roosevelt Center for the Study of Civil Society and Freemasonry at UCLA. 

John's Masonic interests ran more in the direction of French-derived Freemasonry, and he was briefly associated with the ill-fated Grand Orient of the United States. But because he was so widely involved in the fraternity's esoteric aspects rather than personal controversies or political considerations, he was welcomed a voice of reason and civility amidst the turmoil of that experiment. John's interest was always in the intellectual pursuit of knowledge, wherever it led, regardless of whose brand name was on the letterhead. Because of his winning personality, sharp intellect, and wide interests, he made lifelong friendships around the globe in nearly every avenue of Masonic philosophy and obediences. He was truly unique in the Masonic world, and we need many more like him.

John and I corresponded off and on over the last 20 years, and we spoke by phone on several occasions. His illness was diagnosed in 2013, and worse, his wife Belinda was also diagnosed with her own cancer that very same year. John's was pernicious, and he attempted to fight it with every resource available. Sadly, he lost that battle today.

Rather than attempt to patch together his many achievements over the years, I will quote from his longtime friend Eogan Ballard's  The Hedge Mason blog entry today where I read the news of his passing:
Those who knew John knew he was no stranger to the world of Freemasonry. Those who did not know the man or his character may not have not realized that he frequently played a role behind the scenes to avoid controversy and to assure positive outcomes in any venture to which his name was attached. The path he trod was always guided by the highest ethics.

In his career he brushed shoulders and maintained relationships with some significant figures in American Cultural life. He maintained a communication with and interviewed Burl Ives, and was the personal secretary to Manly P. Hall for some time. He maintained close ties with people and organizations involved with Freemasonry and esoteric studies in Europe, North America, and Latin America.

John Slifko was an expert in urban planning and Freemasonry. He graduated from San Francisco State University in 1987 with a Bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies and Geography. In 1989, John Slifko received his Master’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles, and more recently received a Doctorate in Geography from the same institution. He served with Councilwoman Ruth Galanter from 1988 to 1989 as a Planning Deputy for Los Angeles International Airport. John also worked as a Legislative Aide and a Field Representative in Congress for eight years.

As Founder and Co-Director of the Roosevelt Center for the study of Civil Society and Freemasonry, John Slifko raised funds to support scholars and gave lectures, and tirelessly promoted the academic study of the fraternal organization of Freemasonry. He was a member of the Association of American Geographers, the American Historical Association, The John Dewey Society, and the Academic Society for Research into Freemasonry and Fraternalism. John Slifko volunteered for The Midnight Mission, which takes the homeless off of Skid Row and rehabilitates them into self-sufficient members of society. He contributed to the UCLA Foundation’s endowment, supporting the educational endeavors of the university. John Slifko was an active stock trader from 2000 to 2006, investing in green technologies.
In his spare time, he pursued the study of geographical mapping and exploration, as well as archeaoastronomy, the study of how past cultures understood the sky. He also participated in Healthy City, a California information portal that helps residents connect to health and social services and community data.

He was active in the quest to bring the Modern or French Rite to North America in recent years and instrumental in the work to bring about the foundation of the Higher Orders of Wisdom in North America and the Caribbean. It was in fact at his prompting that I chose to create the Hedge Mason Blog. He was active in the foundation of and the promotion of Project Awe, (Aesthetics of Western Esotericism) - Where Art meets Magic...

I will update this message with funeral service information when I receive it. John's family urges those who wish to do something in his memory to make donations to The Hirsberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

My heart goes out to all of the family and friends of these three outstanding brethren, and all I can offer in return for their contributions to my Masonic life are my fervent prayers and deepest condolences.

Their columns have been broken, and their Brethren mourn.

Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Camp Masonry in Ohio This Weekend, Aug 9-12

Just a reminder that if you are in or near Ohio this weekend, the annual Camp Masonry retreat is going on near Toledo. Early bird events start tonight, Thursday August 9th and events run through Sunday August 12th.

They will be conferring the Master Mason and Mark Master degrees, along with a DeMolay initiation before dinner on Friday evening. The MM degree will be conferred Saturday night, open-air by torchlight within the closed and tyled on-site fort.

Speakers will include Robert Johnson, Jason Bryce, Al McClelland, Dan Hrinko, Dave Bacon, Harry Weaver, and Chad Simpson. Speakers and presentations are open to Masons only.

For a complete list of events and speakers, consult the schedule HERE.

All activities take place at:
Camp Miakonda (DeVilbiss Scout Reservation)
5600 W. Sylvania Avenue
Toledo, Ohio

This is an outdoor location, and campsites are still available (primitive only - no campers or RVs on site). I believe there are also indoor cabins there, as well. Please check the website for details.

Questions, contact WB Jason Shamy

From a description of Camp Masonry by Nick Thompson:
In 2016, four lodges from the 11th Masonic District of Ohio planned the first Camp Masonry, an outdoor Masonic event held at the historic 160 wooded acre scouting reservation Camp Miakonda. Originally planned as an outdoor MM degree to be held in the frontier style fort, it quickly evolved into a weekend full of events and fellowship drawing participants from all over the district. Each of the four host lodges camped in one of the four bunk houses located in the fort’s corners and the fire-side fellowship that ensued will be remembered forever. The indoor council lodge made a perfect rainy day backup plan, and hosted an excellent BBQ dinner held in traditional festive board manner, completing the experience with an excellent guest speaker. As the sun set the Brethren processioned back to the fort by torch light and concluded a beautiful MM allegory. With the first year’s success, the four lodges decided to turn the weekend into a district sponsored event, inviting Master Masons from across Ohio and our neighboring states.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

UGLE Issues Transgender Policy

The English and international press finally found a reason to publish positive articles about Freemasonry this week, but I suspect few Masons will find cause for celebration. Societal attitudes and a rapidly shifting legal landscape in Western countries over the last few years have thrust the overwhelmingly male-only Masonic fraternity into a potential cultural and litigious minefield. In the wake of increased legal protections for those who alter their gender, our 300 year old institution is being forced reluctantly into the spotlight.

Two weeks ago on July 17th, the United Grand Lodge of England unveiled its official policy concerning Freemasons under their jurisdiction and the thorny topic of gender reassignment, i.e. transgenderism. In the last three days, articles began appearing in the press:
There are many, many more, all saying essentially the same thing.

Edward Lord

So what set this off?

UGLE Mason Edward Lord has been overseeing a gender identity drive as part of his role as chair of the City of London’s establishment committee. Lord identifies as non-binary and asks to be described by the pronoun "they.” His London committee was investigating ending sex segregation in women-only spaces like public bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms at well-known public landmarks. But in the midst of contentious online discussions over the matter it was revealed that Edward Lord is a Freemason, and his participation in the world's oldest and best known male fraternal group suddenly turned into a noisy public row. (See The Telegraph - "Gender equality campaigner defends Freemason membership".) He was branded as a hypocrite.

This has come to the forefront now because earlier this year the UGLE sought legal advice to establish its new official policy regarding gender. Their policy was actually announced about three months ago, but it was not yet formalized. The new policy and guidance was just released to their 7,000 constituent lodges on July 17th, so the press is only now just picking up the story.
According to several news sources, the UGLE is protected under English and European Union laws from legal accusations of gender discrimination because of Freemasonry's longstanding male-only admissions criteria. They are recognized in England and Wales under the law as a single-sex association.

The problem arose, however, when existing UGLE Masons chose to undergo gender reassignment, which is when English law kicked in. The UGLE's male-only status does not protect them from accusations of discrimination against current members. According to the Huffington Post article, under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 a man who has joined the Freemasons cannot be excluded after transitioning because gender reassignment is a protected right under the law.

The UGLE's full policy can be found on the UGLE website HERE.

Highlights of the new gender policy include:

A candidate for admission to Freemasonry under the jurisdiction of UGLE must be a man.

Should a person who has undergone gender reassignment and has become a man apply to become a Freemason then his application must be processed in the same way as for any other male candidate.

A Freemason who after initiation ceases to be a man does not cease to be a Freemason.

A Freemason who becomes a woman is not required to resign from the Craft.
If a person resigns from the Craft then they and their dependants might no longer be eligible for some of the benefits provided by the Masonic charities now or in the future.

A Lodge may vote to exclude any member for sufficient cause. The following grounds would constitute unlawful discrimination and so could never constitute sufficient cause:
  • The fact that a member has legally become a woman;
  • A mistaken belief that a member has legally become a woman;
  • The fact that a member is in the process of transition from male to female; or
  • A mistaken belief that a member is in the process of transitioning from male to female.
  • Similarly a Lodge must not attempt to persuade a member to resign from the Lodge or discriminate against a member based on any of these grounds. A Lodge must not at any time require a member to prove that they are legally a man.
Female members should still be greeted with the prefix “brother”. Alternatives to the formal suit and tie have been allowed, including a “smart dark skirt and top.”

The question now is how will the rest of the Masonic world react to UGLE's policy. For those readers who are NOT Freemasons, UGLE is sovereign only amongst its chartered lodges. There is no worldwide governing body for the fraternity, and UGLE is just one of hundreds of jurisdictions. So saying "The Freemasons Have Changed Their Policy" applies only in English chartered lodges. 

To my knowledge, I believe there is only one single U.S. grand lodge that has spelled out in its rules that a petitioner promises he is a naturally born man and will remain so (or words to that effect). I do know it was a hot topic two years ago at the COGMMNA and that other jurisdictions were considering adding such wording to their petitions. How many have actually done so is currently unknown.

Certainly there will be U.S., African and Asian grand lodges that will agitate for yanking recognition of England now. There's no way to argue that their policy doesn't transgress the obligation most commonly sworn by Master Masons the world over. Admitting women into the fraternity under any circumstances will be widely seen as a violation of the ancient landmarks, even if it is England doing it. UGLE's historical status as the premiere grand lodge won't shield them in this situation, even if they insist that they are only following the law of their country. In reality, UGLE was between a rock and a hard place.

From a purely pragmatic and crassly economic standpoint, resignations by angry existing members as a result of this change will no doubt far outnumber any initiations by trans-men and sympathetic-minded new petitioners. And there is a massive undercounted number of conservative and religious objectors who will doubtless become quite vocal as this proceeds. The arrival of a Brother in “smart dark skirt and top” at the Tyler's door in the U.S. will probably not go well. Bear in mind that all regulations are still in place regarding anonymous 'ball and cube' voting for candidates, and objections to visitors.

On the other hand, many younger Freemasons have expressed the opinion online that this is merely a natural progression of society. In my own informal look at online discussions over the last few days I have noticed the sentiment that trans-men (women who have become men) are far more likely to be accepted and welcomed as Masons than existing male members who have become trans-women.  It appears that even the most open-minded and sympathetic Masons almost completely draw the line at permitting trans-women to remain in the fraternity, since the admission of women is vastly regarded as irregular, regardless of how the degrees were conferred originally. However, whether this sentiment translates into votes within grand lodges around the world when it comes time to alter rules in each jurisdiction is a very different question. 

And then, of course, there is the law which must either be complied with, or fought out in the courts and the halls of governments.

Voluntary associations are a tricky business these days when they clash with "social justice warriors" and government bureaucracies. Laws passed to stamp out "discrimination" can often lead to the death of an organization when forced to give up its longstanding foundational precepts. Moreover, laws can't force people to accept or socialize with others they don't like, don't agree with, or feel uncomfortable around, no matter how pure-hearted the intent. 

Regardless of what occurs going forward, UGLE has thrown down the gauntlet now. I suspect phones are ringing and heads are exploding in grand lodge offices all over the globe.