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


Friday, September 20, 2019

Tractor Supply Co. Banning Gun Raffles Affects Masonic Fundraising


NOTE: THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED AT 2AM 9/20/2019 with a response from Tractor Supply Company.

Most states regard charity raffles as forms of gambling, and the U.S. has a patchwork quilt of various rules and regulations regarding their use for fund raising by churches, schools, fraternal groups and other non-profit groups. Because of Freemasonry's strong identification with the moral rectitude of is members, some grand lodges (but not all) over the years regarded raffles and gambling on par with drinking, and prohibited their lodges to engage in any of it. Such strictures were partially why the Shrine was born in the 1870s, to give Freemasons a less prudish outlet for their social activities than the lodges had become. 

Raffles have been a staple of Shriners' fundraising over the years, even though many grand lodges forbid their blue lodges to use them. My own state of Indiana is one such state, and our grand lodge only this year began permitting lodges to use raffles. In fact, we're still hammering out the final paperwork requirements and regulations to inform lodges on the nuts and bolts of running them. Raffles require all sorts of government licenses, permissions, paperwork, and tax forms, and it's not just as simple as printing up tickets, collecting piles of unreported cash, and pulling a lucky name out of a goldfish bowl.

Some of the most common items to raffled all across America by countless charities are firearms - frequently rare, historical, or otherwise collectable rifles and pistols. This is perfectly legal to do, and almost always done in conjunction with a licensed gun shop so that proper background checks are properly performed and state and federal gun laws adhered to. 

So just in time for the Grand Lodge of Indiana to approve raffles, firearms have become a politically toxic hot potato across the country. This story comes out of Texas this week, and it touches on this very topic. It seems that Tractor Supply Company, a major rural retailer of farm and sporting equipment, has made a corporate decision to ban organizations holding raffles of firearms from setting up their charity booths and selling tickets in front of their stores. The decision came from its national office, not a local manager. (See the update at the end of this story - CH)

TSC does sell guns and ammo at its stores, and is a licensed gun retailer. This makes the new policy somewhat inexplicable.


While not specifically involved in this story,
this type of rifle is not an unusual fundraising item
One of the first organizations to get the boot was the Masonic lodge in Palestine, Texas, after a single customer complained to the manager. As a result, booths raising thousands of dollars for providing scholarships to kids by multiple groups (not just the Masons) at that one single store were ordered off the property. 

From the Palestine Herald on Thursday:
Charities selling raffle tickets for a chance to win a firearm are no longer welcome in front of Tractor Supply. 
In answer to a customer complaint earlier this month, the store's corporate office banned all raffles awarding firearms as prizes. 
In the wake of several mass shootings in the past several months – two in Texas – that left dozens dead and dozens more wounded, many private businesses have restructured their firearms policies.

Most recently, Walmart, the world's largest retailer, announced they would stop carrying pistol ammunition, and certain long-barrel ammunition commonly associated with assault rifles like AK-47's and AR-15's.
 
Many Americans, fed up with seemingly constant reports of mass shootings across the country, are making themselves heard by speaking to, and perhaps pressuring, retail establishments. 
Boycotts, for instance, have been an effective tool of the public for centuries.
“The Tractor Supply manager has always been super nice,” Master Mason James Ashley told the Herald-Press Friday. “I'm sure he was caught between a rock and a hard place when corporate made their ruling.”
 
Jennifer Key, a 44-year-old customer service agent said the choice, ultimately, is up to Tractor Supply, not its customers. She said the free-market – whether customers choose to shop at the store – should speak for the public. 
“Frankly, I'm surprised Tractor Supply made that call [to ban firearm raffles],” she said. “But, they're a private company, and it's their call to make.”
Last year, three high school students – one each from Palestine, Westwood, and Neches High Schools – won $1,000 scholarships from Palestine's Masonic Temple, Lodge 31.
 
The scholarship money came from raffle tickets sold outside storefronts like Tractor Supply. This year's prize: a Henry Golden Boy .22 caliber rifle.
“It's a trophy rifle, not a so-called assault weapon,” Ashley's father, Tom Ashley, also a Master Mason told the Herald-Press. “Still, someone called in a complaint to their headquarters, and corporate disallowed it.”
 
Ashley said the lodge was hoping to increase the award to $1,500 this year. Having lost one of their ticket-selling outlets, however, might put that plan in jeopardy. 
Also on the sidewalk when the Masons were told to leave was Henry Kitchens of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Post 991. The VVA was also raffling off firearms; a .308 rifle, and a 9mm handgun. 
Kitchens, whose organization provided six $1,000 scholarships to local students last year through raffle proceeds, was also told to leave.
“I don't hold anything against Tractor Supply,” Kitchens told the Herald-Press. “They've always been good to us. It's a shame that one person's complaint can disenfranchise everyone else, however.”
 
Kitchens and Ashley, who have held similar raffles for years, said they'd feel better if Tractor Supply, like Walmart, had a policy restricting all fund-raising, rather than singling out a few. 
“When Walmart said we could no longer use their storefront, they told us it was for everybody,” Ashley said. “Even the Girl Scouts can't sell cookies there anymore. I can understand that; what's fair for one should be fair for all.”

[snip]
“I personally think that if you don't like the prize for a raffle, then don't buy the ticket,” Temple, 44, told the Herald-Press. “As far as tractor supply saying you can't sell due to the prize being a gun, then I think the rule should apply to all.”

Temple, a field-service technician, said corporations should represent, and stand up for, the wants of the majority of their customers. 
“That is why our country is in the shape it's in now,” he said. “We try to please the few that are screaming loudly, but we don't listen to those who quietly like the way things are, even if they're in the majority." 
Kenneth Rollins, 62, who retired from Walmart earlier this year said, for him, the answer is simple. 
“Tractor Supply just lost a customer,” he said. 
[snip] 
Winners of either contest must pass federal background checks before prizes are awarded. In the event a winner fails the background check, another winner is chosen at random.
These types of raffles and other fundraising booths have been a staple of community life for decades. But national corporations are increasingly dictating to local stores draconian policies that frequently conflict with the values of the majority of their customer base. The globalization of instantaneous "outrages" via cell phone and overnight boycotts have all run roughshod over what used to be small town decisions by individual businesses that historically supported their local charities. The WalMart situation of banning ALL fundraising from their properties instead of dealing with the headaches stoked by the perennially indignant has robbed communities of important connections with their customers and neighbors. These corporate policies only serve to further isolate them from the very people they expect to actually spend money in their stores. That means local charitable groups like Masonic lodges are being driven farther off of the radar screens of their own neighborhoods as they fall victim to "activists" on the other side of the country.

And that can't be good.

 Read the full story HERE.





UPDATE:

I spent Friday unsuccessfully attempting to negotiate Tractor Supply Company's website and various telephone trees at their customer service center in an attempt to get official clarification from them, or an official response other than what the local newspaper in Texas reported. Fortunately, Mackenzie Goldman, a Public Relations Specialist at TSC in Brentwood, Tennessee saw this post late Friday and reached out to me with the following message: 
"I came across your blog post regarding Tractor Supply on the Freemasons for Dummies website and wanted to reach out.
"Tractor Supply strives to be active members of the communities in which we call home, and we seek to support causes that are central to the mission and purpose of our business as a rural lifestyle retailer. We respect America’s fundamental freedoms and take individual rights very seriously. Our primary focus for fundraising is for FFA and 4-H youth programs. Other fundraising decisions are made on a local store-by-store basis taking into consideration factors unique to each situation. Tractor Supply is making donations to the local Palestine, TX chapters of the referenced organizations to support their college scholarship programs.
"Thank you for the opportunity to respond."
So it sounds as though there is wiggle room for local managers at TSC stores. 


(Please don't turn the comments to this story into inflammatory pro-gun/anti-gun diatribes. This is a hot-button issue for many people on both sides - but gun sales are still quite legal in the U.S. and will be for the foreseeable future. Please keep the discussion about how these types of bans could affect Masonic lodges who have historically held these raffle charity events.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Masonic Metal Artisans

“And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre. He was a widow's son of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass: and he was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass. And he came to King Solomon, and wrought all his work. . .  In the plain of Jordan did the King cast them, in the clay ground between Succoth and Zarthan.”
This fraternity is blessed with an abundance of talented craftsmen in all sorts of creative fields. Metalwork has always fascinated me, in part because its mysteries have always eluded my own feeble attempts. In recent weeks I've encountered three beautiful examples of Masonic artists working in metal to create works for the fraternity.

On Facebook this week, Brother Robert Todd in Edmunton, Alberta posted this fascinating steel fire pit he fabricated (see photo above). It features the Masonic square and compass, the logo of Shriners International, and a Royal Arch symbol.

What makes any lodge special are the gifts its members bring and add to its many  treasures collected ever since receiving its charter 10, 50, or 150 years ago. Those gifts personalize and make every lodge unique from any other.

 

Several months ago when I visited Salem Lodge in Salem, Indiana (the Mother lodge of PGM Dwight L. Smith), I was smitten with their 
officer rod floor stands, individually designed for each station's by one of their members. If someone can let me know his name, I'll be happy to add it here. I've never seen anything like them before or since.



Last Sunday, Brother Bill Corey dropped by my table at the Indiana Masonic Home Festival and handed me this handmade square and compass (photo above). Bill is a blacksmith, and he fabricated a steel lewis several months ago, along with other Masonic-related items. I mentioned that a rough, hand-made square and compass would be appropriate for the recently opened 1860s Wild Cat Masonic Lodge Room up at Adams Mill in Cutler, Indiana. He was happy to oblige with this beautiful work. 

It started life as an old rusty nail.

Speaking of Adam's Mill...


While not crafted by a Brother Mason, I also want highlight this beautiful punched tin lantern featuring the square and compass, letter G, the 47th problem of Euclid, and more. It was made by tin craftsman Bruce Panek of Columbus, Ohio. We'll use it to illuminate the 'G' in open lodge in the historic lodge room at the Mill. Panek made a large number of these for the Grand lodge of Ohio's bicentennial celebration a few years ago, and they were used as traveling visitation trophies to encourage lodges to visit each other in their various districts there.

I met Mr. Panek at Lafayette's Feast of the Hunter's Moon a few years ago. These type of 18th century fairs and recreation events are the perfect place to connect with artisans who specifically work in historic craft designs.

Brother Lee Tweedie illuminates the G at Adam's Mill

Historic Wild Cat Lodge Room at Adam's Mill


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Wait... Wut? Scotland Social Media Is Back Up Already


Two days after the Grand Lodge of Scotland made the newspapers and lit up the Intertubz for shutting down its social media accounts comes word that it was all just a misunderstanding, and all is right again in the Masonic æther.

After all of yesterday's sturm und drang, J. Euen Edment, the Grand Secretary of the GL of Scotland, issued the following message on their Facebook page:
Brethren, it has been reported that the Grand Lodge of Scotland social media platforms had been shut down.
This was due to a misunderstanding and as soon as it was noticed the situation was rectified.
I am delighted to confirm that both our Facebook and Twitter sites are again operating normally and I hope any inconvenience has been minimal.

J. Euan EdmentGrand Secretary
Whether this was a reaction to an outpouring of yawps from their members, embarrassment over the Times article, the natural conclusion of their previously announced "reassessment" of their social media presence from three weeks ago, or just shock over the global reaction to the story among the Facebook-addicted, no one can say.

If the brief episode did nothing else, it certainly sparked a huge online discussion of the pros and cons of electronic Masonry on social media, online behavior of members, social media policies, and more. But as is so often the case with online controversies, imbroglios and hullaballoos,  the "crisis" has now passed, and the global Masonic electronic equilibrium has been restored to its natural order. 

Masons everywhere can heave a sigh of relief at the momentary disruption, and go back to not attending lodge and just staring into their screens once more.

Monday, September 16, 2019

GL of Scotland Shuts Down Its Social Media


"You shall be cautious in your Words and Carriage, that the most penetrating Stranger shall not be able to discover or find out what is not proper to be intimated, and sometimes you shall divert a Discourse, and manage it prudently for the Honour of the worshipful Fraternity." 
- James Anderson's Constitutions, 1723

What is it about anti-social media that compels some Masons to take good leave of their senses?

A couple of years ago, the Grand Lodge of Scotland went all in on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, in addition to its extensive website, with frequent posts about news of the Craft, announcements, general interest articles, photos and more. Those were public pages and posts that were open for all to see. The hope was that this public campaign would help attract new members, along with engaging existing ones online.

Unfortunately, it seems that plenty of Masons couldn't make the distinction between public versus private pages, and how they were supposed to behave in public when it came to private information and their own language and behavior. Over time there was an increase in posts about what should have remained just between the walls of the lodge room, or public language and behavior that had no business being identified with Freemasons, who should know better.

So, what started as a genial attempt to have an open, public face of the fraternity has now been officially shut down by the powers that be in Edinburgh. 

The Grand Lodge of Scotland has just pulled the plug on its social media pages and accounts - although their website still is online. And the story actually made The Times yesterday. 

From Grand Lodge logs off social media after freemasons overshare secrets (it's hidden behind the Times' paywall, so this is an excerpt):
Robert Cooper, the curator of the lodge’s library and museum, who also edits its Twitter and Facebook pages, confirmed that the pages had been put on hold pending an internal review. 
“As with any organisation there are internal private discussions that shouldn’t be aired in public,” he said. “Unfortunately, some of our members are doing that. Naively, they are putting up messages on Facebook saying, ‘What do you think about what the Grand Lodge are proposing?’ Issues being discussed are not public but then, all of sudden, they are in the public domain.” 
Mr Cooper, an author and historian, said that there had been instances in which individuals had been revealed as members without their consent. “There are some people who work in sensitive occupations that don’t want their membership to be known,” he said. There also have been cases where online disputes between brothers became less than fraternal.
“People are putting things on the likes of Twitter and Facebook that are simply not appropriate,” he said. “Certainly things you would never say face to face to people. That’s causing all sorts of internal disciplinary problems.” 
Mr Cooper hoped that the pages, which made announcements, highlighted items of masonic history and addressed popular misconceptions about the organisation, could return. “We have got 25,000 people from around the world who read the posts regularly,” he said. “We have had lots of queries as to why we have stopped.” 
The article goes on to quote a couple of members about the development:
Gordon Paton, a member of the lodge, whose initiates refer to the organization as "the craft," called for the sites to be reactivated. He said: "Social media isn’t going to go away. To ignore it would be extremely introverted whereas we should be outward looking and communicating positively about the craft." 
Ian Hunter, another member, added: "I am all for making the craft more accessible to the public as most lodges are seeking to bring in new members as our numbers are dwindling. "We could have a closed group where anything goes for masons only or a public group where only the secrets and rituals are kept off." 
Many grand lodges have done just that on Facebook - created private pages to discuss matters the public doesn't need to see. In the ancient days of the early 2000s B.Z. (before Zuckerberg), private online forums hidden behind password protected sites with verified member identification accomplished all of this. It's probably rank nostalgia to pine for those halcyon days of yesteryear, but Facebook and Twitter have not been the best development for the fraternity. Only one of the laziest and most insidious, since it's everywhere.

In addition, more and more jurisdictions are establishing social media policies and guidelines for their members in a possibly forlorn effort to bring back the forgotten skills of common sense, decorum and manners to their members. Possibly because of their New England scold tradition and having way too many Harvard lawyers on hand, I know that Massachusetts has a truly enormous one they developed in an effort to think of every possible transgression. Maine, Virginia, Florida, Rhode Island, Mississippi, Minnesota, Hawaii, Texas, Illinois all have them, and I'm sure many more do, as well. Prince Hall jurisdictions have them. My own jurisdiction in Indiana is hammering one out right now, and we might actually be among the last to do so. More and more grand lodges outside of the U.S. are creating them, as well. 

What is it about the bizarre anonymity of online interaction that sends our whole notion of subduing our passions right out the 10th-story window? Far too many Masons proudly display a square and compass on their profiles, or even profile pictures and avatars, and then go right on unleashing rude, crude and reprehensible public posts and comments that would have gotten them bounced from the fraternity even a short decade ago. Political diatribes, religious rants and insults, personal arguments deliberately guaranteed to elicit rage, and regular strings of F-words, D-words, C-words, N-words, S-words, and ABEGHIJLMOPQRTUVWXYZ-words all pour out online next to a shining avatar of the fraternity. The problem is frankly worldwide, but U.S. Masons seem especially uncircumspect in their online discussions and behavior while displaying public badges of Masonry. So, in a world that has lost all manners and common sense, rules and regulations must now replace what used to be those things you "just don't do." 



The problem is that non-Masons regard every single Mason as a freestanding example of the fraternity. In other words, to echo the hairy old bromide, "You are someone's idea of Freemasonry." That's triply true among anti-Masons, or just those who are on the fence about us. In a culture that questions and sneers at nearly all religious and non-activist organizations, and declares hypocrisy to be the most egregious transgression on the planet, Masons who don't publicly live up to our own standards and expectations do us more harm than any anti-Masonic fanatic ever could.

So Scotland has just decided to solve their situation by closing down their social media altogether, at least for now. Hopefully they will come back with private pages, because Bob Cooper was posting fascinating and informative stories online for several years. 

Unfortunately, Times reporter Marc Horne loses ten points from his fair reporting scorecard for his concluding paragraph that resorts to the requisite (you guessed it) 'handshake and trouser leg'  reference:
Last year Scotland’s freemasons allowed cameras into their lodges for the first time for a BBC documentary, Secrets of the Masons. The lodge refused, however, to reveal the details of its handshakes — or grips — or to allow its initiation ceremonies, which are said to involve blindfolds and raised trouser legs, to be filmed.
I'm now convinced that all reporters in the UK have a keyboard shortcut that just inserts this same reference into every single news story by hitting Cmd+33. Odd that they wouldn't dare insist inserting a reference to Catholics 'genuflecting and bead jiggling,' or Muslims 'banging their foreheads on the floor,' or Jews 'wearing their funny little skullcaps' whenever their traditions are reported upon. Because I guess that would be rude and insensitive.

Whereas we Freemasons must just be silly old farts of no real consequence, unworthy of any respect, but always worthy of a parting sneer.


H/T to R. J. Johnson

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

MSA Issues Disaster Appeal For Bahamas

Photo: Loren Elliott/Reuters
In the wake of Hurricane Dorian last week, the Masonic Service Association of North America has announced an official Disaster Appeal for the Bahamas.

The hurricane made landfall on September 1st and stalled over the Bahamas for two days. The Category 5 storm had gusts of more than 200mph with a storm surge of close to 24ft, flattening homes and destroying infrastructure of the islands. Destruction was widespread on Grand Bahama, Abaco, and Eleuthera. 

As of today, at least 2,500 people are listed as missing in the Bahamas, and UN officials estimate 76,000 are homeless. The official death toll there is 50 people so far, and continues to rise.

The storm also hit the Virgin Islands, North Carolina’s Outer Banks and near Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is believed to have killed seven others in the southeastern US and Puerto Rico.

APPEAL FOR RELIEF – BAHAMAS

The Bahamas have experienced an unprecedented amount of damage and destruction due to the two days that Hurricane Dorian battered the islands. While food, drinking water, and supplies are needed, the best way to assist them now is through your monetary donation.
The Bahamian Masonic leaders under the jurisdictions of the United Grand Lodge of England, the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and the Grand Lodge of Ireland have combined their efforts and requested the Masonic Service Association of North America (MSA) to issue this Disaster Relief Appeal.
Donations can be made online at www.msana.com. When remitting by check, please clearly mark that you wish the funds to go to the Bahamas Disaster Relief Appeal.
Please forward any donations you feel appropriate to help our devastated Brothers and their families in this stricken jurisdiction to MSA. Please make checks payable to MSA Disaster Relief Fund and send to 3905 National Drive, STE 280, Burtonsville, MD 20866.
Please remember, MSA deducts no part of your contribution for administrative expenses including charges by PayPal, bookkeeping, and cost of acknowledgment letters. Your entire gross donation will be sent to the affected jurisdiction.
MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

To donate to this appeal online via Paypal, CLICK HERE. 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Seniors, Loneliness and the Lodge

(Getty Images)
A study was just done in the United Kingdom that brings up a sobering problem, and Masonic lodges in particular need to take notice of it.  Grand lodges are single-mindedly obsessing about the Millennial generation, but the truth is that, right this moment, the biggest growth cohort for new Masons is currently the Baby Boomers - men over about 55 years of age.


If you read the Path Forward survey done by the Scottish Rite NMJ three years ago, you'll discover that our current TARGET now should be the Baby Boomers, aged 55-75. They are settled, with time and money, stable, more likely to be married and with older kids and grandkids, frequently bored now that their careers are slowing (or ended), and most important, still have a grounding in the virtues and morals from the remnants of any shred of religious traditions or connections from their own upbringing. Sadly, more Millennials don’t have that and are rudderless, which means more heavy lifting on our part to teach what they don’t have just to reach and retain them. That’s all why the Boomers are currently our growth target right now.

We already have a major percentage of Brethren over the age of 65, and more are joining every day. Moreover, if you look at the precipitous decline in the birthrates in the U.S. and most European countries over the last 40 years, the simple law of supply, demand and aging are all combining to further skew our demographics to the older range. As fewer of our own members have children and even get married less, by their retirement years they will have even less of a close support network than seniors have today.

Which brings me back to the study in Old Blighty. A group called AgeUK partnered up with Cadbury Dairy Milk for a study on aging in the U.K. They surveyed 1,896 seniors over age 65, and they veered into a situation that is alarming, depressing, or just plain sad, depending on how you look at it. 

And our lodges can actually do something about it, if only among our own members.

According to their survey, about 22% of seniors over 65 (around one in every five) will speak to no more than three fellow human beings in an average week. In the U.K. that translates into about 2.5 million seniors who don't have any human contact on a daily basis. Bore into it a little deeper and you'll see they found that 225,000 seniors there will go a whole week without talking to anyone face-to-face. And one out of eight seniors say they don't leave their homes at all because of loneliness.

So, sure. That 225,000 sounds like a lot until you step back and see that the UK has 67 million people. In that light, a quarter million is a rounding error statistic. But it isn't.

From the article Lonely Lives: Alarming Number Of Seniors Go Entire Week Without Talking To Anyone:
“Loneliness is a huge problem because retirement, bereavement and ill health mean many older people find they are spending a lot less time enjoying the company of others than they’d like,” says [Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK]. “Loneliness can affect your health, your wellbeing and the way you see yourself – it can make you feel invisible and forgotten.”
About 40% of seniors say they’d feel more confident to head out each day if they knew their neighbors. Just the thought of someone stopping to chat with them brightens their outlook: 54% of respondents agree that even a short conversation with a neighbor or acquaintance would greatly improve their day overall. And a quarter of older adults say it makes them feel good when someone smiles or acknowledges them while waiting in line at places like the bank or grocery store. One in five would be thrilled if someone stopped to ask them how their day had gone.
Meanwhile, another survey of 2,000 people ages 16-45 in the UK shows that 55% of younger folks admit to worrying about being lonely in their elder years. With that in mind, two-thirds of this segment say they’re willing to do something to help boost the confidence of a lonely senior, but 37% worry that such a gesture wouldn’t be well-received. Another 30% feel too shy to spark up a conversation with seniors, 27% admit they aren’t sure how to help, and a quarter say they’re simply too busy themselves.
As you age, your connections with the past are more important than at any other period in your lifetime, and yet they get yanked away at an ever increasing rate. Talk to literally anyone over about 70 and you'll begin to hear the same thing over and over. "All my friends I've known are dead, dying, or moved far away to retire or be with their grandkids" (if they have any). It's highly probable that they've lost their spouse, all their contemporary friends, and even the house they lived in and treasured for 30 years gets replaced by a 8x10 room in a retirement community. That's where the loneliness sets in described in the study.

How many times have we all contacted a Brother whom no one in lodge ever heard of to pin a 50-year (or 75-year!) pin on their lapel, and heard him say,"Gee, I haven't been in a lodge in 45 years?" As a lodge Secretary, I heard variations time and again. "I still proudly keep my card in my wallet. But I couldn't work my way in, I've forgotten everything. And besides, I don't know anybody there. All the guys I joined with, and my mentor, the officers - all gone now. It's not even the same building I was raised in. Why don't you just mail me that pin?" 

You hear it over and over.



Freemasonry's core principles are Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. If your lodge has a group of aged members you've never seen or heard from, make it a point to call them all. Visit them. Sit in their living room, hear their old stories, learn their histories, and invite to drive them to lodge events. Become their new mentor to bring them back to their lodge again. Ask them to just come and describe the old lodge to your members as your education for a night. Tell then they are the connection with the lodge's past that the rest of you need. Make them a star for the evening. 

Within reason, be a pest in the most fraternal way possible, because what you're really fighting against is his firmly held desire not to be a burden to anyone. Just like your old physics teacher said, objects at rest require far more energy to get moving. It goes for people, too.

Do the very same thing for your lodge widows, because those ladies may be every bit as lonely and bereft of human contact as your senior Masons. 

And don't just do it once, keep it up. Because in addition to actually engaging in Brotherly Love and Relief, you're also setting an example to your fellow lodge brothers to follow when the day comes that it's YOU sitting alone in a retirement home.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Ex-NFL Player Larry Johnson's Anti-Masonic Musings

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
I'll probably regret posting this because I have given up believing that Masons bother to subdue their passions when it comes to anti-social media these days. Plus, reporting on anyone's Twitter ramblings is almost always a spectacularly bad idea. More so when it ventures into pseudo-political-cultural territory. But here goes.

Mr. Larry Johnson, former NFL running back for the Kansas City Chiefs (2003-2009), burbled out onto his Twitter feed a couple of twisted anti-Masonic insults last week. The most egregious being a suggestion that, while Christian churches and Muslim mosques have seen mass shootings, Masonic temples (and Satanic churches which are somehow associated in his mind) have remained unscathed. 

His obvious inference being that something out to be done about that. Or something.




And then Johnson decided to veer into loopy paranoia territory with this little bit of prose poetry:



If you seriously have some morbid desire to read the totality of his public drivel for yourself, you'll find the whole silly saga string HERE, reported on the TheComeback.com website by Andrew Bucholtz.

But it's odd that most of the media seems to want to only highlight the "Masonic Effeminate strategy" post, while ignoring what is the more alarming one of suggesting that something maybe outta be done to a Masonic temple and the Masons inside.

For all I know, Mr. Johnson could be deemed an Einstein of the field, or football's mental equivalent of Lenny in Of Mice and Men. I make no judgement either way in the vacuum of my own ignorance. Bear in mind that I am not a past or current football fan. I have never endured an entire football game on television or in person. In 60 years, I have only been compelled to hold a football in my hand three times, and I immediately divested myself of it before coming to any personal danger. Nor do I pretend to keep up with the comings and goings of past athletic has-beens of any variety. But I don't have to be a football fan to spot a stupifyingly irresponsible and unquestionably daffy pair of remarks better left unexpressed, at least in public. Even in an age when making you look is the point of self-gratifying clickbait.

In the article that reported this, author Andrew Bucholtz explained,
It should be noted that Johnson himself told Kent Babb of The Washington Post in 2017 that he believes he has brain disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), that he has anxiety, paranoia, and occasional self-destructive impulses, that he’s considered violence towards himself and others, and that he has growing gaps in his memory. So there’s maybe more going on here than just Johnson saying ridiculous things...
Reportedly, Johnson has posted no shortage of ridiculous and irresponsible things to his 15,000 Twitter followers ever since leaving the NFL in 2009 and discovering the joys of electronic self-expression. His risible conspiracy theories and rantings are apparently something of a legend among those who get their comedy from this sort of thing. If he's truly got an authentic brain disorder, perhaps someone should wrest the phone from his grip before he makes any more allusions to attacking anyone. That's not an idle concern. 

Forget gun confiscation - phone confiscation is really what needs to become mandatory.

According to the font of all wisdom and knowledge, his Wikipedia entry says that Johnson has been arrested at least six times since 2003. Five involved various physical assault charges against women. In 2014, he was arrested for the sixth time after punching a man in a Miami Beach club and allegedly cutting him with a broken bottle. So it isn't especially comical for him to muse on the lack of terrorist attacks on Masons.

None of this would even raise an eyebrow except that NFL news sites and mainstream news sites are picking up the story (albeit concentrating on stirring up "outrage" over Johnson's LQBTQ comments, and soft-pedaling the Masonic stuff).

And if comments get out of hand, I'll just block them.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Man Busted In Georgia For Impersonating a Shriner


Sometimes there are just those run of the mill freelance freeloaders who do stupidly despicable things at the lowest possible level that leave rational people speechless. 

Meet Mr. Tommy Walker, (alleged) panhandler and moron. Walker was busted last week in Cleveland, Georgia by the local constabulary for plopping a fez on his head and claiming he was raising money for the Shriners Hospitals on a street corner.

Really.

This reptile is currently residing in the local calaboose for his caddish attempt to defraud unsuspecting passersby and motorists alike from their spare change by slithering under the fraternity and quite literally robbing from crippled children. 

That's pathetically the sort of thing that can happen when a non-Mason can so easily get hold of Masonic-related regalia these days. You'll note in his mug shot above that his sunburned chrome dome clearly betrays his guilt all over the pate with a definite fez line. 

From the AccessWDUN website:
A Baldwin [Georgia] man has been arrested after impersonating a Shriner and collecting money on the street, according to authorities in White County [Georgia].

Capt. Rick Kelley with the White County Sheriff’s Office said deputies received a call Wednesday, August 28 about a man collecting money at the intersection of Highway 254 and Duncan Bridge Road. Callers said they suspected the man was posing as a Shriner.

In an email statement, Kelley said he and deputies responded to the location and found the suspect, identified as Tommy Walker, 48, wearing a Fez and collecting money in a bucket. According to Kelley, Walker was unable to produce a dues card from the Yaarab Shrine Temple.
"I contacted the Temple and they confirmed that Tommy Walker was not Shriner," Kelley said.

Walker was arrested and charged with theft by deception.

Kelley said Walker had collected just over $62 in his bucket. The money will be turned over to the Alpine Shrine Club in Cleveland.

For those who REALLY want to donate to support the fine work and facilities of Shriners Hospitals, you can do so online HERE

And for Georgia men interested in the local Yaarab Shriners, read about them HERE.


THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED. AN EARLIER VERSION MIS-IDENTIFIED WALKER AND THESE EVENTS AS OCCURRING IN OHIO INSTEAD OF GEORGIA.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Volume 26 of SRRS 'Heredom' Arriving Now


All week long, two-pound boxes of Masonic knowledge have been thumping onto front porches everywhere. Volume 26 of Heredom, the annual collection of papers from the Scottish Rite Research Society (SRRS), is now arriving for their members. 

Heredom is always one of the most eagerly anticipated Masonic publications every year, and this one is particularly packed with a fascinating lineup of research papers by some of the world's best brainboxes writing about the fraternity: Robert L.D. Cooper, David Stephenson, Ric Berman, Leif Endre Gutle, Pierre Mollier, Jeff Croteau and Marsha Keith Schuchard have all contributed to this latest volume. 

A special shoutout goes to Josef Wäges who, between his own article - Etienne Morin and the Santo-Domingo Manuscript - and others in the volume, wrote, edited, or translated nearly half of the book. I can barely write and understand plain English, so Joe is truly astonishing in his foreign language and translation prowess.



Heredom's indefatigable editor, S. Brent Morris, even let in an article by a Dummy this time. Brent gave me the opportunity to slightly enlarge the Indiana Freemasonry and the Ku Klux Klan chapter from my book Heritage Endures, and to illustrate it with photos, which I couldn't really do in my volume. The Grand Lodge of Indiana bicentennial deadline in 2018 couldn't move and I had to stop wherever I was in time for it to be ready that January. So I was grateful that my Heredom article could be slightly expanded.

Members of the SRRS recently received a complete bound index of all Heredom articles from the first twenty-five existing volumes. The challenge has always been that to reference prior papers you had to rely on your own fading memory of reading one in the past, then painstakingly opening every book and scanning the table of contents for it. Brent solved that with a comprehensive index, and he updates it annually.


I was extremely disappointed that he didn't include the entry "Dummy - see Hodapp, Christopher," but to quote the great philosopher Doris Day, "Que sera sera." Wisdom indeed.

Just as an aside, Brent has taken on huge indexing jobs for the fraternity. The most ambitious was his work to fully index almost a full century of Short Talk Bulletins for the Masonic Service Association when he edited the hard-bound collections of them. He also put together a bound edition of all issues of the SRRS' The Plumbline, also fully indexed. These are all goldmines for Masonic researchers, thanks to Brent's tackling this tedious and meticulous job.

Indexers are a special breed of person and get almost no recognition from anyone besides grateful authors of major reference works. It is a very specialized skill, and you never notice it unless you pick up a book that has no index at all. This is sadly all too common in self-published books that are all the rage now. Authors are usually too daunted (or exhausted and sick of their own manuscript) to do the task themselves, and too strapped for cash to be willing to pay someone else to do it. The consequence is a book that is far less useful to future readers and scholars. If you're writing a non-fiction book of any kind, set aside the money to pay a truly decent indexer. 

The Scottish Rite Research Society is an offshoot of the AASR-Southern Jurisdiction, but do not let that dissuade you from becoming a member if you are out of their territory. The articles in Heredom tend to favor the AASR-SJ's evolution and history, Pike-centric rituals, and culture, but not exclusively. Every volume always contains well-written and well-documented papers of interest to any Freemason, even if you aren't interested in the Scottish Rite. Along with a lineup of papers about the Scottish Rite and its precursors, the latest volume has Bob Cooper's history of Robert Burns; Ric Berman's telling of Masonry and the Portuguese Inquisition that lasted all the way up through the late 1700s (in case you thought it was just a medieval aberration); Marsha Keith Schuchard's search for ancient origins of "Antient" Masonry; plus my own article on Masons and the KKK. 

Plus, the SRRS has an extremely aggressive publication strategy with its bonus book program. You don't even need to be a Mason to join. 

Annual SRRS membership is $55 and includes the annual Heredom, the quarterly Plumbline, a bonus book or other item every year (!), plus a discount on books and items from their shop at the House of the Temple (also available online). To join, CLICK HERE.

Friday, August 30, 2019

GM Edict Bans 'Exterior' Slovenliness: 'Interior' Masons Go Berserk


The comedian Jerry Seinfeld was once asked by a reporter why he wears a suit onstage every time he performs, since the whole world has decided that dressing down is the normal way to live these days. "It's a signal," he replied. "I'm not loafing up here."

I posted what became a notorious picture on this blog about six or seven years back. In it, a handful of brand new Master Masons were posing for a group photo after having all been raised to the Sublime Degree on the same day. A Grand Master from another state sent it to me to express his dismay over the lack of any sense of decorum in the unnamed lodge. All of the new Brethren were dressed in rumpled or torn tee shirts with a variety of logos and sayings on them. Some wore jeans, but others had baggy cargo shorts and sandals, while one prominent Brother in the front row sported ripped up pants with both knees torn apart. Aside from wearing white aprons, they might have been inducted into a local motorcycle club or posing for a group photo before getting to work laying floor tile. They certainly didn't look like anything special had gone on that day.

By the time the photo was sent to me, it had been fashioned into an early Internet meme style called a "de-motivator," which was a parody of the brief fad of motivational posters at the time. The headline read, "Standards. It's nice being reminded that you still have them." The goal was not to shame the new Brethren in the photo who had obviously just taken their degrees. It was really to call into question just what kind of standards the more seasoned members of their lodge were teaching them and to express a desire for higher expectations. That's what a mentor is partially supposed to be teaching new members - to remind new Masons who don't know any better that yes, we do indeed have standards in this fraternity. We're not loafing in here.

I blocked out the lads' faces, thinking I was being appropriately circumspect, while still making the point. And I can honestly say that less than 24 hours after I hit the send key, all hell broke loose.

The two angry groups of commentators immediately divided into their separate camps: those horrified over their slovenly appearance at such a solemn, once-in-a-lifetime event, versus those horrified that any Mason could under any circumstances possibly object to the way any other Mason would dress. The battle was waged with the sort of religious vehemence usually found only in Middle Eastern geopolitics or NFL playoffs. The aged canard was fully stuffed, inflated and flapped about like a sputtering zeppelin: "It is the INTERNAL, not the EXTERNAL qualifications that Masonry regards!" That wretched misapplication of a perfectly fine philosophical lesson got belabored, flogged, and dragged across the aether so many times that I was convinced hundreds of angry Masons had a speed key set to punch out the phrase with a single keystroke. Right next to the 'Fixed income!' key.

After three days, a member of the unidentified lodge in the photo contacted me and was dutifully apoplectic. That photo had pierced these new Brothers straight through the heart, he said. At least they had showed up, he said. And now they'd probably never be seen again, thanks to my cruel and un-Masonic post, he said. I should be ashamed of myself, he said. Someone should have me up on charges, he said. Plus, I didn't have anyone's permission to post the photo, so I was violating copyright laws, a Constitutional Amendment or three, and probably International Maritime Law. He said. 

Finally, like the compassionately craven milksop I was at the time, I licked my surgical scars and removed the post.

I was admittedly biased against slovenly appearance in lodge myself. I recalled in my first go round as a Master of a lodge we were called to perform a funeral service for a fallen Brother and pay our final respects to his family and friends. All of my officers and regular attendees arrived at the funeral home appropriately dressed in black or dark suits and ties, without being asked. But at the last minute, in loped a member none of us had ever seen or met before (or since), gave a grudging nod to the rest of us, and signed in to the minute book. He was dressed in sweat-stained yellow golf shirt and cargo shorts, a Nike swoosh cap, and his sock-less feet sported a ragged pair of Sperry topsiders. It appeared as though we had interrupted a hot afternoon of polishing his boat. I thanked him for coming, but told him he wasn't properly clothed for a Masonic funeral service. He immediately lunged for a white apron, but I told him that wasn't what I meant. His angry parting shot as he stormed out of the room was, "At least I showed up."

Well, just like everything else in life, there's more to Masonry than merely showing up. If there isn't, we're doing it wrong.

Grand Master Michael H. Wilson
Now it seems that someone else - no less than a grand master - has also lamented the plunging level of standards of decorum in Masonic lodges in his own jurisdiction, and he's decided to do something drastic about it. MW Michael H. Wilson, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Georgia F&AM, has just issued an edict, and it's a beaut. In it, he says that Brethren have been attending meetings, degrees and events "wearing attire much too informal to maintain the decorum of a Masonic Lodge." 





Click image to enlarge

His order is scarcely draconian or out of the realm of practicality. It's not some outlandish demand for sartorial extravagance. It's not even what any rational human being with any common sense (or standard upbringing in any other decade) would regard as remotely "snooty." Per his edict, henceforth all Georgia Masons of any degree are expected to be "properly attired" at all meetings and events, including cornerstone ceremonies and funerals. And then he lays out exactly what he means: No shorts, no un-collared shirts (i.e. tee shirts or sleeveless 'wife-beater' undershirts), no exercise clothes, open-toed shoes, sandals, or flip-flops (unless necessary for medical reasons). And don't even think of putting on an apron or an officer's collar if you show up that way.

What's astonishing is that this had to appear in print.

Here's what the edict DOESN'T demand. GM Wilson doesn't say Masons can't show up at lodge in jeans, or even overalls, in collared golf-shirts, or wearing a medically required piece of clothing. He doesn't say anywhere that Masons must wear a jacket, tie, and buttoned-down shirt. You'd never know it from the splenetic reactions online, but he also doesn't demand that they wear gloves, an Armani suit, a tailored tuxedo, a hand-tied bow tie, an English morning suit with striped pants and tails, Gucci alligator wingtips, spats, or anything else even remotely "formal." He leaves that entirely to the discretion of each Master over his own lodge and the taste and desires of the members. But he DOES demand that Masons come to lodge and events looking better than a day of spraying Roundup on the kudzu or skimming the leaves out of the pool.

It's interesting to note this development because it's related in a way to Nebraska raising its proficiency standards earlier this year. Dwight L. Smith wrote back in the early 1960s that he feared that the "era of the common man" in Freemasonry may have become too common. After almost 60 years of what really has been the "common era," perhaps some of our leaders are finally agreeing with Dwight after all.

So naturally the online shriekists are already blanketing Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and everywhere else electronic Masons lurk. According to the loudest howlers, Grand Master Wright is being elitist, dontcha know. I'm considering putting that 'controversial' lodge photo back up again. And the first joker who burbles out and misconstrues that "INTERNAL not EXTERNAL!" twaddle again will get a face full of overcooked green beans. Because it's bollocks.

If you travel outside of the U.S., or even just spend a little time looking at online photos of Masons in other countries, you'll quickly discover that Americans are just about the only Freemasons in the world who don't generally demand a dress code in lodge. Some are stricter than others, but it is only the U.S. and perhaps some Canadians who don't uniformly expect their Masons to show enough respect for each other and the higher standards of the institution to show up appropriately dressed for an important occasion. There's a whole raft of reasons why that has been so for three centuries just about everywhere but here. The most basic reason is exactly opposite what you might think it is. And it's not empty high-falootinism.

English Masons have had standards of dress all along.
Masons in the United Grand Lodge of England are required to wear a black suit or black jacket with grey trousers, a white shirt, and either a black or an officially approved Grand Lodge tie. In the U.S., most Prince Hall lodges demand the same sort of uniform look. Both do it for the same reason, and elitism has nothing to do with it. If twenty Masons show up dressed exactly alike, there's no outward way to determine whether the Mason next to you is a bank president, a surgeon, a lawyer, a transcendental odontologist, an expressway toll booth attendant, or a garbage collector. Some jurisdictions also require identical white gloves to hide the hands of everyone so you can't tell at a glance who's a rugged steelworker, a plump-fisted tax accountant, or a dilettante who never hit a lick in his entire pampered lifetime. Every last bit of it comes down to making sure that all Masons meet on the same level in the lodge. Uniformity of dress in lodge is done for the very same reason Catholic grade schools have demanded it for centuries. It actually STOPS the unintended envy of the well to do or scorn of the less advantaged. And in an age when you can pick up a suit at Kohl's for $69 or order a tuxedo online for $79 versus paying half that for a new pair of jeans and twice that for a new pair of cross-trainer shoes, the old caterwaul about extravagance just doesn't carry much weight anymore.

No, everybody doesn't have to look like Oklahoma's Lodge Veritas 556.
But more Masons around the world do than those who don't.
Lots of the bellyachers are comparing lodge to their very informal churches. Even if your church welcomes everyone on a come-as-you-are basis because God doesn't care how you look when you pester him over your lost car keys, that sentiment doesn't apply in a Masonic lodge. We're not God, we're men. And our stated purpose for being in lodge is to be BETTER men. And you don't become a BETTER man unless you have a certain level of expectation to live up to that's higher than what you're finding outside the lodge room doors. The lodge room itself is supposed to be a sanctuary from the outside world, and we do things differently in there on purpose. A BETTER man is a whole package - honor, behavior, manners, civility, deportment, language, temperament, and - yes - appearance. Because, while Masonry regards what's in a man's heart as far more important than how he looks, the rest of the world doesn't spin that way. The rest of the world cares very much how you look, and judges you accordingly - just as the world judges the craftsmanship of an operative Mason by the finished quality and appearance of his work. So there's no place better to start picking up better habits than right in lodge. Masonry is supposed to influence society by example, not be dragged down by ever-lowering societal expectations.

Unlike operative Brethren, we don't carve ashlars or statues. We chip away at our own personal ashlar and endeavor to achieve perfection in all ways. If we never achieve it, it's still a standard to reach for, and it's a higher standard than the run of the mill profane members of society live up or down to. We're supposed to be the whole package. If you look like an uncaring slob, that's an image you'll have to overcome in the eyes of most people. And if you're wearing a hat with a square and compass on it, do you really want to be seen in public wearing a tee shirt that says, "I really don't give a f—!" as I saw last month in a Hardees? Really?

There has always been an added side effect of uniformity and formality of dress that Masons have enjoyed when we are seen clustered together in a large clot out in public. It still happens today. When crowds of people are in a restaurant enjoying their dinner and in walk 25 Masons all dressed in black suits or tuxes who stroll through and close themselves up in the back room for their festive board, heads turn, people look, and they ask the waiters, "Who are those guys?"

"It's the Freemasons," comes the answer. And you can tell just by looking at us, we're not loafing in there.