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Friday, March 23, 2018

Turmoil In Japan

Freemasonry in Japan is quite similar to what American Masonry was back in its heyday. The fraternity there today remains small (just 1,600 members), quite exclusive, is extremely charitable and well-respected, but it is also highly scrutinized by the public. As a result, they have historically been very careful about their outward image.

Despite the fact that foreign lodges have been operating in Japan since 1862, the Grand Lodge F&AM of Japan itself is actually a fairly young one—constituted on May 1, 1957.  Far East Lodge No. 124 had been chartered originally out of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines over 150 years ago, and received their Japanese charter as Far East Lodge No. 1 when the new Grand Lodge of Japan was first established. While there are much older English, Irish, and Scottish lodges there, on paper Far East No. 1 is the oldest Masonic lodge in the country under the GLofJ's banner.

Or it used to be.

Far East's sitting Master Shunji Suzuki suddenly had his jewel yanked and was expelled late last year, and the lodge's charter was arrested with very little notice inside or outside of the country. Lodge No. 1 vanished from the rolls.

Then in November 2017, grand lodges around the world were sent the following letter from the Grand Lodge F&AM of Japan. It announced the expulsion of their Junior Grand Warden, Napoleon Abrugena Sison following a Masonic Trial. No details were given at the time, but there was little online chatter over it. The letter was signed by Grand Master Shinya Takeda.

Now this week comes yet another announcement from Japan, this time notifying the Masonic world of the suspension of Takeo Nakada for "un-Masonic conduct" by Grand Master Shinya Takeda. (The letter is erroneously dated March 21, 2017, but actually refers to a Masonic trial on March 3, 2018.)

But there's a slight problem. It seems that Takeo Nakada was not even at his Masonic trial, and was never informed of such a thing. He received an email informing him after the fact.

A second letter was sent at the same time, again with the incorrect dateline, further announcing that the Immediate Past Grand Master of Japan, Norihiro Inomata, was ALSO tried for "un-Masonic conduct" that same March 3rd, pronounced guilty, and expelled, which was affirmed by Grand Master Shinya Takeda.

Immediate Past Grand Master
Norihiro Inomata
Inomata (image at right) is well known around the Masonic world. He is on the board of the World Conference of Regular Grand Lodges, and this announcement was something of a major shock inside and outside of Japan. In fact, he was outside of the country at the time of the trial, and has denounced the charges as being "fabricated."

Past Grand Master and Grand Secretary Philip A. Ambrose signed the two recent letters.

At the Annual Communication currently going on this week, the charter for the aforementioned Far East Lodge No. 1 wasn't returned. Instead there was a motion to put it off until next year, which passed without discussion.

So what's going on in Japan?

To say that the Grand Lodge of Japan is in turmoil at the moment is an understatement, and it all centers around an entity known as the Tohidu Foundation. The outfit turned up in about 2016 hawking coffee mugs, toy bears, women's handbags, and all sorts of other tchotchkes with squares and compasses and Masonic phraseology, which seems to contravene established Grand Lodge rules (or at least customs) about such products. Tohidu Foundation is allegedly operated by the Grand Secretary Philip Ambrose, who has apparently been using his authority to sanction approved Masonic items to sell throughout Japan. The Japanese grand lodge traditionally keeps a tight grip on the public image of the fraternity there, and that includes domestic sellers of Masonic-related products. Making it even more troublesome is that none of Tohidu's profits benefitted the Grand Lodge, but only the few individuals involved in running and approving the scheme. The Grand Master at the time and several PGMs openly endorsed it.

Whether or not any of this is actually a violation of the GLofJ's rules may be subject to interpretation. The issue of monetizing anything having to do with Freemasonry has always had its share of detractors and critics. No one "owns" the words and generic symbols of the Masonic fraternity, any more than an individual can own the Christian cross, the Jewish Star of David, the No Smoking symbol, or a stop sign shape. But there has been a long history of grand lodges, even in the U.S., attempting to exercise stern control over their members who attach the word Freemasonry or the square and compass to any sort of product or publication. There is no single correct answer that can be universally applied, but an increasing number of Japanese Masons are getting angry about the practice there.

Immediate Past Grand Secretary,
Philip A. Ambrose
The end result is that those who have most loudly spoken out against the Tohidu Foundation have been punished, suspended, or expelled. The highest visibility critic has been PGM Inomata, and he's now out on the street. A growing group within the fraternity there have been questioning Grand Lodge finances in general, and Grand Secretary Ambrose's actions in particular. And whether or not other PGMs have also benefitted from the sale or approval of Tohidu Foundation's merchandise (which has been alleged), it looks to many Japanese Masons as though the expulsions are clearly being done to silence the critics.
On Friday at the Annual Communication, all visitors were cleared from the auditorium so that the membership could handle their business in private. Grand Secretary Ambrose stepped down from his position, and attempted to run for the position of Deputy Grand Master (he served as Grand Master before in 2002). A new Grand Secretary (another PGM) has been named, but he is not widely seen as a new broom by any means. Meanwhile, an unsuccessful attempt was made to try to alter their Code in order to prevent the position of DGM from being an automatic ascension to the Grand Master's office. It failed.

With a new Grand Secretary and new Grand Master taking office this week, and PGM Ambrose now out of the Grand Lodge office, Japanese Masons are hopeful that this situation can be resolved, Masonic careers restored, and reputations repaired. Tragically, this entire fraternity doesn't have the best track record when it comes to reversing expulsions, in any jurisdiction.

Time will tell if Japan has the fortitude to buck that unfortunate trend.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Masonic Renewal Committee Essay Winners for 2017

The Masonic Renewal Committee of Canada, the United States, and Mexico is charted by the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America, Inc. Its purpose is to facilitate innovative endeavors of Masonic Jurisdictions as they strive to move the Craft forward. To do this, the Masonic Renewal Committee draws on the expertise of a number of Past Grand Masters as well as representatives from the Northern and Southern Jurisdictions of the Scottish Rite, Shriners International, and other distinguished Freemasons.

Just before the Conference, the Masonic Renewal Committee announced the 2017 winners of the David R. Bedwell Essay Contest. The contest was named in honor of Ill. Brother Bedwell, 33°, a pillar of the Scottish Rite, NMJ, who served as an Active Member and Deputy for Michigan. He was also Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Michigan, 2002-2003. David passed to the Celestial Lodge Above in July 2016.

In the flurry of activity around here during the Conference of Grand Masters in February, I neglected to post this message in a timely manner. So my apologies to the contestants for the delay—although it's not as though no one else covered this elsewhere.

The theme of the essay contest was “Masonic Renewal – What Does it Mean to You Now and in the Future?” Prize money was awarded to the winners: first place, $1,500; second place, $1,000; third place, $500.

The 2018 winners are:

First Place:
Thomas Ubriaco III
Essex Lodge #7
Grand Lodge of New Jersey
Click here to read the essay

Second Place:
Chase William Gordon
Glendale Lodge #23
Grand Lodge of Arizona
Chase is also the International Master Councilor, Order of DeMolay
Click here to read the essay

Third Place:
John A. Staples
Morning Star Lodge, No. 17
Grand Lodge of New Hampshire
Click here to read the essay

Congratulations to all!

The Masonic Renewal Committee is sponsoring the David R. Bedwell Essay Contest again in 2018. The theme is "What is the Purpose of Freemasonry Now and in the Future?" Details will be available soon on the MRC website

In addition, the MRC is in the early phases of an exciting new program. If it goes as planned, all Masonic lodge officers and members will find it inspiring, informative, and most of all, helpful in reinvigorating lodges at the local level. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Exploring Masonic Values in Everyday Life: 'How Fraternalism Transforms Character' Livestream Event 3/21

Tomorrow night, March 21st, the Scottish Rite NMJ will present a live streaming interactive video event, "Not Just a Man. A Mason: An Educational Series Exploring Masonic Values in Everyday Life."

The inaugural livestream event is entitled "How Fraternalism Transforms Character," presented by William 'Sandy' Karstens of Vermont, and John Sullivan of Massachusetts.

This is NOT strictly a Scottish Rite event. The program is online and open to ALL Freemasons.
"Not Just a Man. A Mason:
An Educational Series Exploring Masonic Values in Everyday Life."
 What does it really mean to be a Mason?

Our core values — how can we infuse them into society as we grow on a personal level?
How can we better using our values in our daily lives?
What are the key drivers of our fraternity?
You asked for more. More Masonic education. More ways to go deeper into the degrees and teachings.
As part of The Path Forward focus on membership service, 32° Scottish Rite Freemsonry, NMJ is launching new live, interactive Masonic education programming.
Led by experienced Masonic educators and mentors (see bios below), these events will explore the impact Masonic values have in our daily lives through the teachings of the Symbolic Lodge and those of the 32° Freemasonry.

The event is scheduled from 7:00-8:00PM Wednesday, March 21st. 
To participate in this program, please register online HERE.

Brother William 'Sandy' Karstens was raised a Master Mason in Washington Lodge #3 in Williston, VT in 2004, and served as Master from 2008-2011. He currently serves as the Grand Lecturer for the Grand Lodge of Vermont. Sandy joined the Scottish Rite, Valley of Burlington, and received his 32° in April of 2004. He was coroneted with the 33° degree in 2010 in Philadelphia, PA, and has served as a Deputy’s Representative. He is presently the Membership Chair for Vermont Council of Deliberation.

In his professional life, Brother Karstens is a full professor in the Department of Physics at Saint Michael’s College, and served two terms as Chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics.

Brother John Sullivan was raised a Master Mason in Morning Star Lodge in Worcester, MA in 2007, and served as Master in 2014. He is currently a District Deputy Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. John joined the Scottish Rite, Valley of Worcester, and received his 32° in 2008. He was coroneted with the 33° degree in 2017 in Rochester, NY. He is presently the Membership Chair for Massachusetts Council of Deliberation.

In his professional life, Brother Sullivan is Principal at Thin Red Line Consulting which provides consulting and training services to fire and emergency service organizations worldwide.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Masonic Con 2018 in Massachusetts: 4/28

On Saturday April 28th 2018, Masonic Con 2018 will once again take place at Ezekiel Bates Lodge, 71 North Main Street, Attleboro, Massachusetts. This event just gets bigger and better year after year, and the organizers must be doing something right. Last year, nearly 700 attended this still-growing event.

One difference this year is that they are requesting a $5 donation to offset the costs of hosting this extravaganza. Children will be admitted free.

Attendees and speakers alike will be happy to know the Tower Lodge is now blessedly air-conditioned. There will not be a Grotto or Tall Cedar Degree this year. Instead, there will be an open festive board with speakers and a special concluding presentation by the Valley of Boston.

Featured presentations this year will include:

There will be food trucks on site for lunch, and an enormous collection of Masonic vendors as well. Free parking is located nearby.

For more information, see the website at: https://eb1870.org/masonic-con-2018/

And if you are coming to town the night before on Friday, April 27th, Ezekiel Bates Lodge and Bog Iron Brewery have teamed up to host the Masonic Con Pre-Party, complete with two specially brewed craft beers just for the occasion. See this separate page to reserve a spot: https://eb1870.org/bog-iron-night/

Sunday, March 18, 2018

PA Academy of Masonic Knowledge Presentations Online

Yesterday's live streamed event of the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge Spring Symposium has been made available online, and can be seen above. 

The morning speaker was 2016 Prestonian Lecturer Ric Berman - "Foundations: New Light on the Formation and Early Years of the Grand Lodge of England." 
His presentation begins at about 2:30:00.

The afternoon session featured Adam Kendall - "The Geometry of Mystery: Ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, and Secret Societies." 
Adam's presentation begins at around 6:30:00.

Anniversary of the Death of Jacque DeMolay

Today, March 18th marks the 704th anniversary of the death of Jacques de Molay,  the last Grand Master of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ, the Knights Templar. (Some accounts say March 11th. Even the two commemorative plaques at the execution site in Paris have conflicting dates.)

He was born in the eastern French village of Molay in 1244 or 45. Almost nothing is known of his early life, but he joined the Templars at the age of 21, and served 42 years as a warrior monk.

In 1291, the Holy Land fell back into the hands of the infidel, and would never fully return to Christian rule. The Templars and the Knights Hospitallers fell back to the coastal city of Acre, which was quickly lost. Both orders subsequently went to the island of Cyprus. The Templars remained here, while the Hospitallers later took the island of Rhodes. That too would be lost eventually, and the Hospitallers eventually settled in Malta, where they became known as the Knights of Malta. In spite of the modern Masonic orders that unite these two orders of knights, they were bitter rivals for the wealth and favor of Europe and the Church.

Jacques de Molay was elected Grand Master in 1293 at the age of 47. Immediately he set off to England, France, Aragon and Italy to drum up support for a new crusade to the Holy Land, as well as to fend off a growing call for merging the two orders of warrior monks. Politiucally, the Templars were regarded as the men who lost the Holy Land, and monarchies were becoming distrustful of them. France in particular was feeling overrun with returning, aging knights, who still were free from any kind of taxation or even civil laws, by virtue of Papal bulls that held the Order above anyone but the Pope.

King Phillip IV of France and his personal henchman Guillaume de Nogaret had been in severe conflict with the then-reigning pope, Boniface VIII. The pope had declared that the king of France had no right to tax Church property, and the king had, obviously, disagreed. De Nogaret kidnapped an important French bishop, and the pope had come out swinging over it. He issued a papal bull proclaiming that kings must be subordinate to the Church, and that popes held ultimate authority over both spiritual and temporal matters on Earth. To make sure they got the message, Boniface excommunicated Phillip and de Nogaret. Phillip answered his challenge by sending the brutal, devious and bad-tempered de Nogaret at the head of an army to meet up with Italian allies and capture the pope. Boniface was indeed kidnapped and held for three days. After literally being beaten to a pulp, he was released and died a month later. The French king had proved just who was subordinate to whom, and he didn’t mind a little papal blood on his hands. Pope Boniface’s successor, Pope Benedict XI, lasted only a year in office, poisoned, it was said, by de Nogaret.

But there had been diplomatic difficulties to suffer for killing two popes. Consequently, King Phillip decided it would be easier to just buy himself one. He began procuring cardinals, pulling strings behind the scenes until the number of French cardinals in the Vatican’s College of Cardinals was equal to the Italian ones. They then obligingly elected his handpicked candidate, Bertrand de Goth, making him Pope Clement V. The city of Rome was in turmoil, and the safety of the Vatican was in question. So, it didn’t take much to convince the new French pope that his life would be in serious danger by living there. Clement obliged by staying in France, having his ceremony of investiture in Lyons. He remained in France, eventually moving the Holy See to the city of Avignon (which was actually owned by the King of Sicily at the time) in 1309, right on Phillip’s back door step, where he built a new papal palace. Catholics often refer to it as the “Babylonian Captivity.” Nowadays it’s usually called the Avignon Papacy or the Great Schism.

Clement had everything Phillip wanted in a pope: he was puny, weak, new in the job, and owed everything to his French king. Now was the time for the boldest move of Phillip’s reign – the arrest of the Knights Templar.

Jacques de Molay left Cyprus to head straight for a meeting with the new Pope, and he had high hopes for success, especially since they were countrymen. He couldn’t at this point have known of the dark forces that were assembling against him behind the scenes. In June of 1307, de Molay rode into Paris at the head of a column of his knights, with a dozen horses laden with gold and silver, to begin the financing the new Crusade. For the next several months, Phillip treated the aging Grand Master with interest and diplomacy, and de Molay believed he and the Order were at a new turning point.

The circumstances of the arrests on October 13th, 1307, and the next seven years of torture and trials of the Templars are well known to most of us, but we are most concerned with the last Grand Master today. By 1314, both the Pope and public opinion had completely abandoned the Knights Templar. The four senior Templar officers in Phillip’s custody had been waiting in prison for seven grim years. All of them were old, the youngest being Geoffroi de Charney, who was almost 60. Jacques de Molay was in his 70s, and had spent four years in solitary confinement.

On March 18th, 1314, the four men were finally led onto a platform in front of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral to hear the charges and make their public confessions. The charges were read, and two of the men accepted their fate of perpetual imprisonment. They were led away.

But Jacques de Molay and his trusted friend Geoffroi de Charney did not follow suit. Weakened with age and imprisonment, de Molay shouted in a voice that startled the assembly that he and the Templars were innocent of all the charges. They were returned to their cells at once, while Phillip called together his council and quickly pronounced sentence, using the insane logic of the Inquisition; if they had recanted their confessions, then they were considered “relapsed heretics,” and the penalty was the stake.

Late that afternoon, de Molay and de Charney were led to the place of execution, which was a tiny isolated island in the Seine adjacent to the Isle de la Citè, called the Ile aux Juifs, the “Island of the Jews.” The condemned men could see Notre Dame Cathedral in the east, but the site was not chosen for their view. Rather, it was chosen so that King Phillip could enjoy the entertainment without leaving his palace just across the river.

Each man was stripped down to his shirt and tied to the stake. Jacques de Molay, with unbelievable courage, asked not only that he be turned to face the Cathedral, but that his hands be freed, so that he could die at prayer. His request was granted. The two men were then roasted alive by the Inquisitional method that began slowly with hot coals, so that their agony could be prolonged as long as possible.

When the Pont Neuf was built, the Île aux Juifs was joined to the rest of the Île de la Cité, and today there are not one, but two plaques near the bridge to commemorate this event. According to legend, Jacques de Molay did not go to his God in silence. Instead, he died defiantly shouting his innocence and that of the Templars, calling on King Phillip and Pope Clement to both meet him before the throne of God in one year’s time, where they would all be judged together. Both men, relatively young, would indeed be dead within the year. One month after the death of de Molay, Pope Clement V, age 54, died, it was said, of cancer. Phillip the Fair, age 46, would die in a hunting accident probably brought on by a stroke. He died on November 29th.

A non-Masonic order of modern Knights Templar claim deMolay appointed a successor to himself secretly, and the order survived the centuries. Masonic Templars make no such claim, but the Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem tells the tale that DeMolay’s skull and leg bones were pulled from the ashes and secretly buried with the document of succession, called the Larmenius Charter

Others claim that during the French Revolution, as King Louis XVI’s head was chopped off by the guillotine, someone rushed up from the crowd and proclaimed, “Jacques De Molay, Thou art avenged!”

The gruesome death of Jacques de Molay is the last act of the Templar story. At least, the last act of the accepted, scholarly story of the medieval Knights Templar that is told in names and dates between the covers of the history books. But in reality, his death is only the beginning. It’s the beginning of the myth of the Knights Templar, which is the maelstrom around which an endless stream of fact blended with speculation swirls, unabated.

In 2001, a document was found in the Vatican archives called the Chinon Parchment, and was later released to the public. The folio had been misfiled and had been lost to scholars for centuries. In it, it was revealed that a private team of Papal investigators had looked into the charges against the Templars, and on August 20, 1308, Pope Clement V had secretly absolved the Order of all charges of heresy. It had been Clement's intention to save DeMolay and the Templars from death at the hands of the French king. But in retaliation, Phillip threatened the weak Pope with military action if he did not dissolve the Order, which was done at the Council of Vienne in 1312.

(Adapted from The Templar Code For Dummies)

BBC/Scotland To Air Freemasonry Program Monday Night

The BBC will air a special program about the Freemasons on Monday on the network in the Scotland (not on BBC/America, I'm afraid), and they sent a crew to visit with Grand Master Charles Iain Robert Wolrige Gordon, Brother Bob Cooper and several grand officers at the Grand Lodge of Scotland to talk about the Craft's Scottish origins. 

At least BBC decided to go to the source, to their credit.

Bob is the longtime curator for the Grand Lodge, and as such, he is the official overseer of some of the most prized documentation of early Scottish Masonry during the transition from an operative to a speculative organization. 

As a prequel to it, BBC/Scotland ran an article online today that includes some of the information from the show, including a short clip with Brother Cooper. The show itself may be a perfectly well done, well researched, and evenhanded presentation. Hard to say beforehand. 

Ah, but the UK press... 

Just when you think they'll disappoint you, they never fail to live down to your expectations.

What's the headline of the article?

A full FIVE references to The Handshake. THREE mentions of Rolled Up Trouser Legs. And throw in a random swipe about police officers who were Freemasons and an inkling that they let off Brethren from speeding tickets.

Straight out of the Superficial Reporter's Handbook.

The Daily Record did some fishing in the same waters (Scores: 2 Handshakes; 1 Trouser; Extra point for use of the word "nefarious"), along with tossing in needless Illuminati and occult references ("Secrets of Freemasons revealed as Grand Lodge lets in TV cameras and deny Illuminati and occult links").

Let's hope the actual BBC/Scotland program on Monday sticks to facts and not hyperventilated fiction and hyperbole.

I know. "Hope is the thing with feathers."


Friday, March 16, 2018

GL of Kansas Suspends Recognition of Arkansas and Cuba

The following message just came early this afternoon from the annual communication of the Grand Lodge of Kansas AF&AM meeting today in Topeka:
"During the Committee on Foreign Relations report, it was recommended that fraternal relations be suspended or withdrawn from two Grand Jurisdictions.
"With no discussion, the Craft of Kansas voted almost unanimously to suspended recognition with the Grand Lodge of Cuba.
After minimal discussion, the Craft of Kansas voted overwhelmingly to withdraw recognition of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas."
Without further details, I presume the action taken over Cuba stems from ongoing disagreements over Florida. In February 2017, the Grand Lodge of Florida F&AM's Grand Master Stanley Hudson withdrew recognition from the Gran Logia de Cuba for their failure to "renounce the clandestine lodges operating" in Florida's jurisdiction. Their brief period of recognition by Florida had lasted just three months.

That controversy stems from lodges operated within Florida made up of exiled Cuban Masons who are not affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Florida F&AM. They obviously see this as an invasion of their territory by Cuba, and this discussion apparently has gone on for a while. Florida largely looked the other way at the operation of the exile lodges with an understanding that they would cease once relations between the island nation and the US were normalized and the two Grand Lodges reconciled. That apparently did not happen, at least as quickly as the GL of Florida wanted it to. Here is a link to a letter regarding the matter from 2014 and to the story from February 2017. Now it seems that Kansas has decided to weigh in on the matter, as well.

As to the continuing saga with the Grand Lodge of Arkansas F&AM, it is too complex to explain simply here. The Grand Lodge of Oklahoma VERY briefly withdrew recognition of Arkansas in 2016 by an edict of their then-grand master, but that quickly lapsed and amity was restored. Now, Kansas has suspended recognition officially by the vote of the Grand Lodge.

I did not have the opportunity to speak with Arkansas' newly elected (in February) Grand Master Brad Phillips when he was in Indiana for the Conference of Grand Masters, but things have been remarkably quiet out of Little Rock in recent months. Nevertheless, this action just taken in Topeka seems to confirm that Arkansas continues its policies of preventing their own members from receiving letters of good standing when attempting to demit and affiliate in adjoining states. Arkansas has been chaining the exit doors closed for several years now. But recently, Arkansas lodges have also been pointedly refusing to permit sojourning Kansas Masons from visiting meetings. The Grand Lodge of Arkansas has a past history of denying Masonic visitations from jurisdictions that have recognized their Prince Hall counterparts, and both Oklahoma and Kansas have been on the receiving end of this action. Apparently, Kansas has finally had enough of it.

Pertinent updates and links to past stories concerning Arkansas can be traced starting HERE or HERE

Meanwhile, here's a curious oddity on the GL of Arkansas website. Many grand lodge sites have a FAQ section to answer the most commonly asked questions. usually, they are questions that the public would be likely to want an answer to. 

Not so with Arkansas. Their FAQ page has just six questions (and answers) on it.

One of the six concerns the differences between withdrawing and demitting (or dimitting) from the GL of Arkansas. The other explains the difference between someone who lives in Arkansas who is willingly not a member of their grand lodge, versus a Mason who unwillingly is not a member.

I couldn't make this up:

They might consider addressing why those two questions in particular deserve such a prominent public answer, and why so many Arkansas Masons have been asking...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

2018 Midwest Conference on Masonic Education in Rapid City, SD: April 20-22

The Midwest Conference on Masonic Education was formed in 1949 at a gathering of interested Masons from Illinois (including Alphonse Cerza) and Iowa. Since then, the Conference has provided a forum for sharing best practices in Masonic Education with each of its member jurisdictions.

The outcome was to continue getting together by establishing its first Annual Meeting which was held in December 1950 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The organization is comprised of a loose and ever-changing collection of Masonic educators from Grand Lodge jurisdictions located in twelve north central states and the Canadian Province of Manitoba. Other participants frequently include chairs of Masonic Education as well as Grand Lodge officers.

The aim of the Conference is to promote Masonic Education, in part by providing a forum for educators to gather, freely discuss Masonic issues, socialize, and learn from sharing experiences while building beneficial relationships. In addition, the Conference initiates special projects such as collecting data on educational practices across all North American jurisdictions, as well as encouraging Masonic research and writing by individual educators.

The Conference meets once a year, usually in late April or early May, in one of the member jurisdictions. Responsibility for conducting the Annual Meeting rotates each year, eventually being hosted by all member jurisdictions before repeating.

A typical program schedule includes presentations by well-known Masonic speakers, experiential as well as scholarly participant presentations, roundtable discussions, and jurisdiction reports. Sufficient time is also arranged to provide informal chats among attendees.

The 2018 conference will be held in Rapid City, South Dakota on April 20 - 22, 2018. This promises to be another outstanding program of speakers and great hospitality by the Grand Lodge of South Dakota. Speakers this year include Jim Savaloja, and keynote speaker, Mark A. Tabbert, Director of Collections for the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. More speakers are expected to be added as the date approaches. If you have an interest in presenting, please contact Yancey Smith at GM@mygrandlodge.org.

Registration is $160.00 for both Masons and Ladies. The cost includes Conference materials, social time with hors d’ oeuvres Friday night, Breakfast and Dinner Saturday and Continental breakfast Sunday. Hospitality room will be open Friday and Saturday nights after the events.

Men’s registration also includes lunch on Saturday at the Ramkota. Ladies registration includes a Saturday trip to the Journey museum, a private tour of the StavKirke Chapel in the Hills, lunch at the Firehouse Brewing Company, and shopping at Prairie Edge Trading Post.

Registration for the Conference closes April 13, 2018, so don’t delay; register today.

A block of rooms has been reserved at the Ramkota Hotel, 2111 Lacrosse Street, Rapid City at $92.99 plus tax per night. Reservations can be made by calling the hotel at 605-343-8550 (mention the Masonic Education Conference to get this rate). The Ramkota will hold this block of rooms until March 20th.

For registration and complete information, visit the MCME2018 website at http://www.mcme1949.org

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Decline of Men, and What Freemasons Need To Do About it

On Wednesday of last week, United States Marine Corps Commandant General Robert B. Neller told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense: "It's a strategic issue that less than 30 percent of the young men and women of our nation are qualified just to join the military, either because of physical, mental or moral issues."

Think about that for a minute. 

It means that  7 out of 10 young Americans between roughly 17 and say 30 are NOT qualified to serve in the military for "physical, mental or moral issues."

It's part of a much, much larger matter, particularly involving men in America. I despise people that hang "crisis" around the neck of the topic de jour, but when looked at in the aggregate, the statistics involving American men by almost every measure are alarming, and have been for quite some time. Economics, crime, job losses and wage stagnation, drug use, suicide, illiteracy and education failures, illegitimacy rates, government dependence, homelessness — pick any of them, or pick your own.

Coincidentally to the General's statement Wednesday, last Thursday Tucker Carlson on Fox News began a month-long series of reports on the decline of men in America. The video of his long introduction can be seen above. I recommend a viewing of it.

This blog site is a deliberately myopic one. I focus on Freemasonry and topics and events in the world that affect the fraternity going forward. That's why I feel so strongly that this report from Carlson is an important one that brings up issues that are having profound effects upon American society at this very moment. And because they specifically revolve around men, they are vital to understand for the leaders of the Masonic fraternity, too. Because we have a job to do, and we're failing at it.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the show:
"The signs are everywhere. If you’re a middle aged man, you probably know a peer who has killed himself in recent years. At least one. If you’re a parent, you may have noticed that your daughter’s friends seem a little more on the ball than your son’s. They get better grades. They smoke less weed. They go to more prestigious colleges. If you’re an employer, you may have noticed that your female employees show up on time, whereas the young men often don’t. And of course if you live in this country, you’ve just seen a horrifying series of mass shootings, far more than we’ve ever had. Women didn’t do that. In every case, the shooter was a man...
"The average American man will die five years before the average American woman. One of the reasons for this is addiction. Men are more than twice as likely as women to become alcoholics. They’re also twice as likely to die of a drug OD. In New Hampshire, one of the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis, 73 percent of overdose deaths were men.

"But the saddest reason for shortened life spans is suicide. Seventy-seven percent of all suicides are committed by men. The overall rate is increasing at a dramatic pace. Between 1997 and 2014, there was a 43 percent rise in suicide deaths among middle aged American men. The rates are highest among American Indian and white men, who kill themselves at about ten times the rate of Hispanic and black women.

"You often hear of America’s incarceration crisis. That’s almost exclusively a male problem too. Over 90 percent of inmates are male.

"These problems are complex, and they start young. Relative to girls, boys are failing in school. More girls than boys graduate high school. Considerably more go to and graduate from college. Boys account for the overwhelming majority of school discipline cases. One study found that fully one in five high school boys had been diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, compared with just one in 11 girls. Many were medicated for it. The long term health effects of those medications aren’t fully understood, but they appear to include depression in later life...
"For men, the consequences of failing in school are profound. Between 1979-2010, working age men with only high school degrees saw their real hourly wages drop about 20 percent. Over the same period, high school educated women saw their wages rise. The decline of the industrial economy disproportionately hurt men.

"There are now seven million working age American men who are no longer in the labor force. They’ve dropped out. Nearly half of them take pain medication on any given day. That’s the highest rate in the world.
"Far fewer young men get married than did just a few decades ago, and fewer stay married. About one in five American children live with only their mothers. That’s double the rate in 1970. Millions more boys are growing up without fathers. Young adult men are now more likely to live with a parent than with a spouse or partner. That is not the case for young women. Single women buy their own homes at more than twice the rate of single men. More women than men now have drivers licenses.

"One study using census data found that single women in their 20s living in metropolitan areas now earn eight percent more on average than their male counterparts. By the way, the majority of managers are now women. Women on average are scoring higher on IQ tests than men are.

"Men are even falling behind physically. A recent study found that almost half of young men failed the Army's entry-level physical fitness test during basic training. Fully seventy percent of American men are overweight or obese, as compared to 59 percent of American women.
"Perhaps most terrifyingly, men seem to be becoming less male. Sperm counts across the west have plummeted, down almost 60 percent since the early 1970s. Scientists don’t know why. Testosterone levels in men have also fallen precipitously. One study found that the average levels of male testosterone dropped by one percent every year after 1987. This is unrelated to age. The average 40-year-old-man in 2017 would have testosterone levels 30 percent lower than the average 40-year-old man in 1987.
"There is no upside to this. Lower testosterone levels in men are associated with depression, lethargy, weight gain and decreased cognitive ability. Nothing like this has ever happened. You’d think we’d want to know what exactly is going on and how to fix it. But the media ignore the story. It’s considered a fringe topic..."
Pick it apart, take issue with this stat or that one, obsess over some point where you think Carlson overstated all you like. If you don't like him or you don't like Fox News, then pretend it's Rachel Maddow or Edward R. Murrow if you like. The point is, something grim is happening to the American man in society today at almost every sociio-economic and racial level, and it bodes ill for all of us. 

This is far from a whole new controversy or topic, and Carlson is by no means alone in sounding this alarm bell. He's just the latest to highlight it, and he's got a big platform from which to spread the word. After the clip above ended, he interviewed Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Peterson is hated in many circles for bringing issues like this up at all, but he's one voice among many now. It's been going on for quite some time.

Recall the specifically Christian-centric "Promise Keepers" movement in the 1990s, which was partially organized to attempt to halt the decline of masculine character in America. It too was publicly excoriated at the time in some quarters for fighting against the accepted cultural norms, and for celebrating what were seen as old fashioned, pseudo-Neanderthal morals and attitudes about men and women, and the very real, very serious, very honest, biological, physical, and mental differences between the sexes. But Promise Keepers, as large and as successful as they were at the time, was just a drop in the bucket, and they have largely faded from the landscape today.

Freemasonry has been around for at least three centuries, and we long ago adopted the catch phrase that we "make good men better." So, do we? Do we really? Maybe the bigger point is that there seem to be less and less good men out there to start with, however you define "good." That's because the society and the culture aren't even preparing them for the future anymore. While Freemasonry is not, and never has been, a home for wayward boys or a rehabilitation program, it has always been a philosophy and institution to encourage self-improvement through association with other men who are worth emulating. We are needed now more than ever before in a society that has left vast swaths of men unprepared to deal with life, men who are simply giving up. We can and must fill a void that exists by doing our part in helping to fix society at this critical moment in time. But we must also come to grips with the fact that the men who are joining the fraternity today (and who are already members) are NOT the men who joined 50 or 100 years ago, by any measure you may choose: in temperament, stability, knowledge, motivation, competence, competitiveness, faith, morality, education, and personal responsibility. 

That's just a plain fact. And it's not a pretty one.

Civilization is a long game, not easily analyzed in ten year spurts, much less in five minute news reports. But these stats have been trending this way since as far back as the 1970s, as traditional male roles have been made more and more diminished, and even obsolete, by almost everything, everywhere you look. On the family side of the equation, there was Dr. Pincus' invention of the birth control pill, followed by the legalization of abortion on demand, no-fault divorce, combined with the huge expansion of the social safety net that encouraged the destruction of the extended family. On the morality and virtue side of the equation, there has been the complete dismantling of any and all religious considerations, or even gentle guidance, in the public square, along with the plummeting rates of those who will even acknowledge a belief in a Higher Power, however that power may be conceived. Laws and regulations have completely replaced what people used to do or not do because it just wasn't right before, or the neighbors would talk. Now, the neighbors don't know who you are, don't care, and they don't dare talk about you anyway. Judges and legislators used to discuss crimes that were "an affront to God and Man." Now, neither can even be mentioned, if only as an abstract construct, in a public policy statement or ruling, or much of anywhere else outside of a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque. 

Meanwhile, consider the huge shift in attitudes about adolescence and adulthood itself. As recently as World War II, it was not an uncommon story to hear about men lying about their age to join the military as young as 16 or 17. In the 1960s, there was an insistent clamor to reduce the age of consent lower, and the drinking and voting ages were dropped from 21 down to 18 to coincide with the draft age (and in time for the 1972 presidential election) — the 26th Amendment giving 18 year olds the vote was passed by the states faster than any other Constitutional amendment in history. But in the last decade, something quite bizarre has happened. Smoking ages and drinking ages have been almost uniformly increased by state laws back UP to 21, and now states are attempting to raise the age of various gun purchases to that higher age, as well. It seems that 18 year olds are deemed less trustworthy or less responsible than they were in 1970 in the public perception. Likewise, when the Obamacare laws were enacted, the age of child dependents permitted to stay on their parents' insurance plans rose all the way up to age 26 — further reinforcing the social acceptance that the age of childhood could now be prolonged beyond a quarter of a century — nearly a full third of the average lifespan today. Indeed, more 25 year olds today are still living with — and off the labors of — their parents (or even grandparents) than at any time in recorded history. And a substantially higher percentage of these 25 year old, at-home children are men than women. 


Then there is the matter of men in the workforce. Automation has rendered the natural physical strength advantage of men over women unimportant now. Jobs once reserved exclusively for men that were considered too strenuous or too dangerous for women are overwhelmingly being replaced by machinery or technologically advanced tools. Wage stagnation has driven far more women out of domestic life and into the workplace than any sense of 'liberation' or 'empowerment' has. Until the 1980s, it was absolutely possible and probable that a mature, responsible man could support a wife and two or more children on his salary alone. Two-income households have become a basic necessity now, regardless of family size, and not just a decision based on some sense of personal fulfillment. But automation is not just robbing men of jobs anymore. Women are being supplanted too, putting even further downward strain on households and on earnings. Tens of thousands of formerly middle class Americans are now living in second hand trailers and motor homes, traveling the countryside like nomads, chasing low-paying, seasonal jobs just to survive. Amazon even has a program for these people, calling them their CamperForce. We seem to be living through a modern-day Grapes Of Wrath period. But these aren't just Okies fleeing the Dustbowl anymore. They used to be our neighbors, and they're from everywhere.

Stir all of that soup together, and the result has been an almost complete transformation in five decades of men from the supporters and protectors of their families and society into what is today obsolescence. In a world where all gender roles (and even genders themselves) are interchangeable, men have been rendered, as the British so chillingly refer to it, "redundant." This hasn't been a gradual evolution over centuries or epochs, but of just a few recent decades or less. What was most admirable and successful about men vs. women for tens of thousands of years that enabled the human species to endure and flourish has been pushed overboard in less than half a century by America and much of Western civilization. To quote Ned Beatty in the movie Network, we have "meddled with the primal forces of Nature."

Good, bad, or something in between, it doesn't matter. This is where we are right at this moment in time.

We're fifty years away from the pivotal year of 1968 (the "Summer of Love") that became 1969 (the "Summer of Regret"), and that gives enough distance to compare what we were before with what we are now. In the world of Freemasonry, grand masters everywhere are currently obsessing single-mindedly on how to appeal to "the Millenials," and starting to sniff around about the generation coming after them, too. The reason young men are coming to us is because they are searching for something. They want to fill an emptiness at the center of their lives. 

Often, these young men have been raised without moral or religious instruction, or any sort of fraternal bonding at all. In that regard, an increasing number of them equate Bible passages that make up the very foundation of Masonic rituals as being no more or less significant than both ancient and new age mystical manifestations or charlatanism; who learn their own moral code because nobody from their mom to their schoolteachers to the cop on the corner wants to impose upon their own sense of self-discovery and self-esteem. They are seeking something that the culture used to provide but lost the keys to the car for a couple of decades ago. Often, they don't know WHY they want to join the fraternity themselves, they just know that SOMETHING IS MISSING FROM THEIR LIVES. And distracted parents, shrinking families, unstable jobs, nonexistent friendships, and churches they've never been in haven't provided that 'something' to them.

This is not mere evolution going on today. Evolution takes time. But we are experiencing a terrible rending of society itself right now, a society that no longer trains the very people who will soon inherit it, run our governments and our corporations, and decide whether to shut off your life support machine on some not too distant morning. A society that DEPENDS on the passing of knowledge and culture and ideas and history and moral and spiritual values, or it will implode when its own people who have the control panel in their hands don’t know how or why the damn thing doesn’t work anymore. Wikipedia has become our national memory and replaced the need for anyone to have one of their own anymore, and the collective consciousness of internet groupthink, of Facebook likes or Reddit upvotes, has replaced our own conscience and moral compass. As Masons, self-improvement has always been a cornerstone of improving the society around us. That’s supposed to be our mission. But we can’t improve the world if we can’t even improve our own members, or keep them long enough to even try. Or just simply attract those men "who can best work and best agree" that we are all supposed to be emulating in the first place. Society isn't like a faulty iPhone that can be fixed by just tossing it out and getting a new one.

We once either attracted men who were the pillars of the communities, or we taught the ones who would become those leaders. Masons didn’t need to beg those men to join, or provide one day classes or reduced proficiency, or form study groups to “peer into their mindset.” They were attracted to us because of our reputation — a reputation we’ve been living off of for well over half a century now, that we don’t earn or even deserve any more. Where are our Masonic mayors and councilmen and school principals, and sheriffs and judges and business leaders and shop owners and congressmen and presidents today? Much less, our philosophers who debated the issues of the Enlightenment that we were living out within the walls of our lodge meetings before any nation put them into practice? Not many of them can be found in our lodges now. 

The Lodge of the Nine Muses that Benjamin Franklin shared with Rousseau in Paris was studied by an academic historian in the 1960s, and he called it the United Nations of its era. Do we have any lodges like it anywhere the U.S. today? The truth is that when we circulate lists of famous Freemasons now, we’re lying. Those lists are like a phantom limb that our brain remembers from before it got blown off in our more recent past.

We once demanded the very best in our membership, but we also CREATED the very best, too. The most admired men in any society don't often start out that way. But they became the best over time, in their family, their little towns, their states, their fraternity. Masons didn’t hunt for them, they hunted out Masonry.

Of course we are all on the level. But there’s a flip side to that, of our responsibility to lead and improve society around us every day, in ways large and small, regardless of how we start out. That’s what George Washington meant when as a teenager he wrote down the aphorism in his copybook, “Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”

Children in single-parent families now make up 40% of the kids born in the U.S. today, and in the African American community, that percentage soars to 67%. They have been raised by daycare centers, drugged to be calmer and more manageable, staring into TV sets and smartphones, isolated behind backyard privacy fences or closed up in apartment cubicles, and never even knowing their who next door neighbors are (even the ones who don't move away after a year's lease expires). A growing handful are now home schooled, and never physically interact with other students until they reach high school, or even college. They have more virtual friends online than real, flesh and blood ones. Teenagers have lost the desire to learn to drive a car or be independent of their parents. They're even giving up the most basic concept of the mating ritual: dating.

And yet, young men today are looking for a mystic tie to other men. They are looking for enlightenment. And undeniably, they are looking for a connection to the past that maybe their parents, friends or other institutions were never able to give them. Most of all, they are seeking a connection to something larger than themselves. They come looking for the Masonic lodges of Washington and Franklin and Hancock, of Mozart and Goethe, of Thurgood Marshall and Rudyard Kipling. Of festive boards and philosophical discussions and toasting to the King, the Queen, or the President. Lodges of the world's oldest, largest and most legendary gentleman's fraternity the world has ever known. They’ve read all about it. But if what they find instead is peeling plaster, foul smelling furniture from the Coolidge Administration that should be cleaned and then burned, suspicious meat sandwiches, generic pop, and three hour business meetings about when to hold the fish fry or bitching about who's going to fix the toilet, followed by a bunch of guys stabbing each other in the back out in the parking lot, they won’t be back.

Like it or not, we’ve suddenly had a big fat awesome responsibility shoved onto our shoulders as Masons, and especially as Masonic leaders, that have never existed before. That’s now on your head and mine, because we’re still here and we keep coming back every week as these men cycle through our lodges. You can bitch about “kids these days” like your own parents used to, but like it or not, they are ours to raise now. We’re stuck with the job because society won’t do it anymore. Countless of them are moral and spiritual ciphers, hunting something they can sink their teeth into that reaches into their heads and hearts, without understanding why they need it. They just know that they do. But they won’t find what they need and we won’t have the opportunity to help them find it if they flee the building before anybody has the chance to help them discover that ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ vacuum they recognize they lack.

The current wave in sociology, in education, and even in government is to attempt to completely deny basic human nature, and basic biological wants and desires that are baked into our cakes since childhood, and to instead alter them by fiat and by passing laws and constantly repeating theoretical utopianism that is just not true. The current state of the American Man and society at large shows that these attempts have taken a horrible toll. When human beings no longer have anything to strive for, no greater purpose to live up to, no horizon to conquer, no common belief or shared sense of mission, no sense of duty for even the children they give birth to, nothing to defend or protect or provide for, and no worth of any kind because they have no responsibility to succeed at anything anymore, they are capable of doing tragic and even horrible things, if only for revenge or out of despair. Or that most horrible of all dragons: sheer boredom.

History is something that happens when you aren’t paying attention. But we ignore this growing crisis of the decline of men in society at our peril, and at the peril of our communities and nation as well. As Masons, as citizens, as fellow creatures, it's long past time that we rolled up our sleeves and start fixing each other before there's nothing left to fix.