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

Friday, May 17, 2019

Nebraska Raises the Bar, and Masons Need to Pay Attention

You know the point during the Stated Meeting when the Secretary casually waves the junk mail at his desk and offhandedly mutters, "We got a post card from the jerks at water company asking us to stop showering so long, a flier from another pest control place... Oh, and the usual Short Talk Bulletin from the Masonic Service Association is on my desk if anyone wants to read it."

Well, read it this month. Worshipful Masters need to snatch it up and read it aloud in lodge. And Grand Masters everywhere need to dig it out of the trash and look very carefully all the way through it.

The May 2019 STB is has a truly shock and awe title: Nebraska's Return To Proficiency

How can that be? These are the 2010s — what bunch of thick-headed clots actually RAISES standards, when everybody knows that "modern men" don't care about such trivial tripe, and making something harder will only keep us all from Saving Freemasonry? Why, what a bunch of stuffy Victorians those Nebraska guys must be.

Well, it seems that way back in the Devonian Epoch of 1989, like so many other U.S. jurisdictions, Nebraska's Masonic brain trust decided that the biggest impediment to "modern men" who stubbornly didn't want to become Freemasons were really put off by that relic from the Stone Age, memorization of basic proficiency. And they allegedly ran screaming from the building after joining when anyone dared to suggest actually memorizing actual ritual parts. "Drop that derned proficiency memorization requirement," the Brethren sagely intoned, "and they'll flock in like hungry mosquitoes at a blood bank.Young men will be so suffused with an incandescent glow over the prospect of just learning grips and words that they'll give us their pants and choke the sidelines and we'll have to add more folding chairs!"

It'll Save Freemasonry, went the conventional wisdom.

Well, no, it didn't. And in fact, as the Grand Lodge of Nebraska concluded after studying trends and attitudes, causes and effects since 1989, it actually gutted Freemasonry. And way too many US jurisdictions dropped it in the 90s, which ultimately had a deleterious effect on the overall strength of the fraternity.

From the STB:
"[B]etween 1992 and 2017, except for coincidental spikes, the number of men raised began a steady and drastic decline. It wasn't unusual for seasoned veterans who learned the full-form proficiency to reminise with candidates about their time spent with a mentor. That relationship, they were often told, created a strong bond between them, as well as with the lodge."
And THAT, my dear Brethren, was ALWAYS the point.  Not rote regurgitation of long passages of little or no meaning from memory that had been learned in the deadly, isolated silence of a room from a printed book, or picking it up over quick sojourns at the bathroom book stack. The whole point from the very beginning of the introduction of the ritual into Freemasonry was ALWAYS about the initial one-on-one relationship between Master and Apprentice, Candidate and Mentor. In countless lodges prior to the 1990s, the model was almost uniformly that two men sponsored your petition, introduced you to the lodge, and then at least one became your Mentor in all things Masonic. No, this is not a Memorization Club. But as you met frequently under the excuse of "learning the work," you built that personal bond with each other that could never be broken. You learned about each other's lives and family in far more detail than some superficial passing acquaintance ever could. You became more to each other than just a guy you saw once a month across the room. And, in turn, you talked about much more than just why you had to take off a shoe or what the hell a hecatomb was - even though he explained that, too, and why it is important and where it came from. Mouth to ear, full-form proficiency was only tangentially about reciting words. 

You didn't just join some club called the Freemasons. You BECAME a Freemason.

And then the wheels fell off. Nebraska was far from the only jurisdiction to dump full-form proficiency. Not by a long shot. Many states did it purely to more easily facilitate one day classes so candidates could dispense with that bothersome proving of their work between degrees in favor of"Blue Lightenings" or "Sidewalk to Shrine in a Day!". Yes, it momentarily plumped up membership tallies so a Grand Master could beam "Just LOOK how many we brought in during My Year!™" But the age-old model that strengthened friendships, built bonds, and made a new member truly a living, breathing part of his lodge was eroded and eventually broken. Today, it is soul-crushing to see the figures on how many men join Freemasonry and depart in less that two years - and frequently less.

And it has also decimated the ranks of 21st century Freemasons who actually know the ritual parts well enough to continue to confer degrees. The population of those able ritualists is aging and shrinking at an alarming speed, as Nebraska discovered to its collective horror. It's happening in your state, too. The deadly one-two punch of reduced proficiency, combined with fully written out ritual books (or the offhanded whisper to a candidate, "Just buy a Lester's and you can learn it on your own") has now delivered us to the point where increasing numbers of lodges can't confer their own degrees, and fewer are encouraged to take it on, or given a pass because it is quite absurdly accepted that "modern men" are just far busier than any other generation for three centuries and don't have any time to spend with another adult human being. There are all kinds of social ramifications wrapped up in this myth, and none of it bodes well as Americans continue to lose their basic interpersonal skills (which has been amply documented by sociologists)

And if for no other reason, Masons who travel outside of their own jurisdiction armed only with bare bones proficiency and a dues card may have an uncomfortable moment at a strange lodge that still adheres to the old, tried and true method of trying a visitor by the catechism that every Mason used to be conversant with. If you never learn it, you may be turned away by a lodge across state lines or around the world, depending on that lodge's preferences.

Here is the scope of Nebraska's problem in black and blue:
"After a survey of [Deputy Grand Custodians] of Nebraska's 130+ lodges in 2017, two-thirds were found unable to confer degrees because members didn't know ritual.Many believed this was because of the then-long-standing shorter proficiency. As experienced ritualists died, there were not enough willing to memorize the parts, creating a major void in the work of lodges."
Was this dramatic shift in Nebraska's rules this year some devious change cooked up by some stern, cranky ritualaterian Grand Master as his last "Get off my lawn" croak of defiance against kids these days? Nope. It was overwhelmingly approved by a full 2/3 of Nebraska's voting members of Grand Lodge. 

Nebraska has also created schools for learning the parts, reinvigorated its statewide Deputy Grand Custodian of the work corps of teachers, offered coins and awards to new and improved ritualists, and more. Additionally, their Grand Lodge publications and other venues advanced this issue after it failed with just 62% of the vote in 2018. That had been tried cold with no real promotion, but by 2019, the state's Masons were overwhelmingly supportive in the wake of now Past Grand Master Patrick Barger's hard work and promotion of the idea.

Jerry Seinfeld was once asked why he wore a suit onstage in this casual era: "It's a signal," he answered. "I'm not loafing up here."

Years ago, one of the biggest uproars I ever received was over a simple photograph I posted of a lineup of Masons in an unidentified lodge, with their faces and identities obscured. They were all dressed like four alarm slobs to be raised as Master Masons - ripped pants, sloppy football jerseys or inappropriate tee shirts, sagging shorts. I had made no commentary save for the headline, "Standards: we used to have them." I received so much hate mail over it and shrieks from Masons horrified that I would make such a passing judgement, combined with the usual twisted false bromides about "the interior of a man is what Masonry regards!" I finally, reluctantly, took it down when the Master of the actual lodge contacted me and told me how badly it had hurt these new Brethren, who had actually been ill-served by the members of their own lodge who failed to uphold standards their lodge had formerly practiced for over a century. It hadn't been a stumble on the part of the candidates, but on the other members who decided that Freemasonry wasn't important enough anymore to ask them to even show up in presentable clothing for this once in a lifetime event, because "that stuff doesn't matter anymore.".

Similarly, when Dwight Smith wrote his booklet Whither Are We Traveling? in the 1960s, he wrote the following:
An old legend which comes to us from the Napoleonic Wars tells of a youth, too young to fight, who was permitted to carry the regimental banner. During one bitter engagement his unit was advancing on the enemy under heavy fire. In his youthful zeal the boy went so far ahead of the regiment that he was almost out of contact. The commanding officer send a runner bearing the message, “Bring the standard back to the line.”
With heroic recklessness the lad sent back the ringing reply, “Bring the line up to the standard.”
So once again, I am saying, Standards: We Used To Have Them. Nebraska has taken this bold step to draw a line in the sand, and say at last, "This is the new standard once again." Be better, not easier, or cheaper, or faster, or with less bother. This has been the standard that helped link us with three centuries of heritage and reputation as the best of the best, and everyone from garbage collectors and pipe fitters to presidents and kings have done this irritating thing you find to be a quaint annoyance. It connects you with every single Freemason in the face of the Earth in a way no dues card or golden ring ever can. It's a shared language we all have in common, even if we have nothing else. It is a tool of our Craft. It's part of the price of admission.

And it proves you're not loafing up here.

Learn it, and become part of this endless chain to pass on to those who haven't even been born yet.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

‘Indiana Freemason Magazine’ Collection Joins the State's Indiana Memory Project

The Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana, in conjunction with the Indiana State Library, is now making available the complete collection of the Indiana Freemason Magazine from 1923 – 2003 for online access, as part of the Indiana Memory Project.

This searchable online collection of more than 39,000 pages will be a treasure trove for historians, genealogists and other researchers, and includes historical articles, photographs, current events, lists of lodges, plus Masonic members and officers involved in countless activities, and even advertising of businesses of the 20th century across Indiana.

The Indiana Freemason had several editors over the decades, but was especially dominated after WWII by noted Masonic historian, author, Past Grand Master and Past Grand Secretary, Dwight L. Smith.

Also included in the collection are approximately 900 pages of a selected number of local Masonic lodge histories from across the state, which were assembled around 1968. These frequently contain historical lists of former members and officers, along with telling the stories of lodges with their communities.

At the height of its membership in the 1950s, the Grand Lodge F&AM of Indiana had some 165,000 members, and was the fifth largest Masonic jurisdiction in the world. The magazine was originally created as the official publication of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons in the State of Indiana in 1923 as a project of the in-house print shop within the Indiana Masonic Home in Franklin, now known as Compass Park. That professional printing facility was established partially as a vocational training program for some of the eventual 860 orphans of Freemasons who lived at the Home until 1975.

There are about 50,000 Freemasons in the Grand Lodge today.

The entire Grand Lodge of Indiana Collection can be accessed at the Indiana Memory Project website or by a link from the Library and Museum's website at www.mlmindiana.org 

The Masonic Library and Museum of Indiana is located on the fifth floor of Indiana Freemasons Hall at 525 North Illinois Street in Indianapolis.

Monday, May 13, 2019

North Carolina Masonic Lodge Vandalized

A Brother from North Carolina reports that Belmont Lodge 627 in the town of Belmont, located just west of Charlotte, has been severely vandalized. It doesn't seem to have been a targeted, specifically anti-Masonic attack, making it all the more senseless, because it was simply a random rampage by bored teenagers on a Saturday night. Furniture was broken, items stolen or simply smashed, walls carved into, urine on the floor, and more. 

According to the posting on Reddit yesterday:
Our lodge was broken into and vandalized this weekend, along with some significant damage to the building many of the furnishings were either stolen or damaged beyond repair. We’ll be replacing officers aprons, jewels, deacon and steward staves, and pillars.

Thankfully local law enforcement has identified those responsible and have charged a few already.

Past Master Matt Jones discovered the break-in. He reports that police were alerted about the stolen property, and the large Tyler's sword was recovered when some of the suspects were apprehended.

Sadly, the world is full of bored people with malicious tendencies, and Freemasons make high-visibility, unsuspecting targets. Once again, we should all be reminded by these incidents that every Masonic lodge needs to have a current, functioning, monitored security alarm system. If your trustees haven't addressed it, they need to, and a monitoring service is cheap compared to replacing irreplaceable treasures of historic and sentimental value that each lodge contains.

While the subject is being brought up at your next meeting, also ask for a review of the current insurance policies your lodge has in place. Review all present coverage and make sure it is up to date, including any extra recommended endorsements needed for extraordinary items they might have overlooked or felt unnecessary. Again, such additional endorsements are usually quite inexpensive in return for much greater coverage. All it takes is one ugly incident for all of your members to regret being miserly when the insurance man came to call.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Are Women Fed Up With Men Who Have No Friends?

Brother Nathan Rolofson sent me link to an article today out of - of all places - Harper's Bazaar. The title alone ought to pique the interest of any Mason with even a half-hearted interest in encouraging this fraternity: Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden, written by Melanie Hamlett, a self-described American comic currently living in Europe. As you can imagine, since it's in what is essentially a modern women's fashion magazine, it's steeped in the trendy INGSOC newspeak of the #MeToo and #TimesUp era, and peers at men as though we are all some odd sub-continental alien species that "woke womyn" are ill-prepared to deal with in any other way but being liberated from their relationships: it's riddled with anecdotes of women who got fed up with the neediness of their men, and just left or divorced them as their solution. 

Atta girl. Hear them roar.

It's almost strictly anecdotal, so take her piece for what it's worth, since she was mostly fishing in her limited circle of friends for stories about coping with men. Admittedly, sometimes you have to dig a little to strike a small nugget of gold, and that's what is buried in this. In keeping with the current zeitgeist brought on by the non-stop, gloomy weltschmerz (for you fans of German pop-psychology nomenclature), the bulk of this piece is full of the trendy blather over "toxic masculinity" as filtered through the eyes of exasperated wives, girlfriends and exes, who are complaining that men just don't seem to have anyone other than their bedmates to talk to about their deepest feelings and emotions. Some women have taken to calling men "emotional gold-diggers." And they're frankly sick of it. "Get out of the house and make a damn friend!" seems to be the overriding plea of a growing number of women everywhere. "Go bother someone else with your personal struggles, I'm tired."

To wit:
“Men drain the emotional life out of women,” says the 41-year-old, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. “I love ‘em, but good lord, they’ve become the bane of my existence.” Johnson admits she enables her brothers by saying yes all the time—partly out of guilt, but also partly because she loves being needed—“to feel important,” Johnson explains. “It’s a catch 22, eventually it becomes too much and I end up exhausted and resentful.”
Like Johnson, most of the women I spoke to for this piece believe that their ego and self-worth are often wrapped up in being a man’s crutch. But the older women get, the less willing they seem to be a man’s everything—not only because we become more confident, wise, and, well, tired with age, but because our responsibilities pile up with each passing year. All the retired women I know are busier than ever, taking care of spouses, ailing friends, grandchildren, and parents, then doing some volunteering on the side. Meanwhile, things only get worse for women’s aging partners.
“Men don’t usually put the effort into maintaining friendships once they’re married,” Johnson says. “The guys at work are the only people other than me that my husband even talks to, so when some of these men retire, they expect their wives to be their source of entertainment and even get jealous that they have a life.” Johnson jokes that women her mom’s age seem to be waiting for their husbands to die so they can finally start their life. “I’ll get a call saying so-and-so kicked the bucket and sure enough, his widow is on a cruise around the world a week later with her girlfriends.”

But unlike women in our mothers’ generation, Gen X’ers and millennials are starting to hold their partners accountable—or they’re simply leaving...
The problem no one faces anymore is that, as single parent (usually mothers only) households and families with only one single child in them, become the majority of family units, children are losing the simple skills of the most basic inter-personal relationships that families and especially siblings used to teach and pass on. Research shows that current teenagers have even lost the ability to read facial expressions accurately, much less deal rationally with the basics of face to face communication. The suicide rate among teens today is up a terrifying 70% just since 2007 when the first iPhone hit the market.

Once you get past all of the cheerleading for psychiatrists and therapy sessions, the author manages to eventually veer into the real truth about men and friendships and places in which they don't have to be on their guard over every peep out of their mouths: getting together in small, private groups of men.
So what, then, is a man to do when he needs honest, unbiased support from someone other than his partner, but is unwilling or unable to try therapy? Some American men have found a powerful solution: men’s support groups.
After several failed relationships, Scott Shepherd realized that despite being an empathetic, self-aware guy, he was still missing a key element to his emotional health: a few good (woke-ish) men. 
Previously, Shepherd leaned heavily on women for emotional intimacy because—shocker—that’s who he felt safest with. The problem was, he became dependent on the women he opened up to and kept repeating the cycle. “I saw it really was me that’s the problem. It didn't matter who the girl was, the same issues just kept coming up,” admits the Portland, Oregon-based outdoor adventure leader. “These old patterns are pretty deep. I needed support and intimacy that wasn’t tied up into one relationship.” So Shepherd turned to the internet, downloaded a men’s group manual, and invited a few guy friends who he knew would be receptive. He capped the membership at eight and set up a structure with very clear boundaries; the most important being what’s talked about in men’s group stays in men’s group. 
Each meeting starts with a five-minute meditation, followed by discussions on everything from how to deal with difficulties in romantic relationships to talking through problems at work. Shepherd describes it as “pretty powerful” to sit in a group of men as one or more of them breaks down crying. “It’s healthy not only for the men being so vulnerable, but for the ones sitting there bearing witness to it—holding this safe space for him to cry in,” he explains. “As a man, you’re not taught to listen, just get busy trying to fix things; you can’t cry, only get mad. This group changed that. They’re starting to see that embracing these things we’ve rejected out of fear of being called ‘gay’ or ‘a pussy’ are actually huge acts of courage.” 
Ol' Shepherd could have saved himself a whole lot of time, effort and trouble in his attempt to reinvent something that's been around for a couple of centuries: a fraternal lodge, like the Freemasons.
At first, Shepherd thought his men’s group would be a place to unload on someone other than a woman, but it’s become more than that—something he believes all men truly want and need, but can’t admit it. “In our culture, men have always found ways to be near each other, but it’s never been centered around feelings,” he explains. “Men are taught the remedy to heartbreak is to get drunk with your buddies, objectify women, and go out and get laid; to basically distance yourself from your feelings and channel them into an aggressive outlet. We use sports as an excuse to bump up against each other, so desperate we are for human touch and intimacy. But this kind of closeness is based in camaraderie and aggression, not vulnerability and trust. The former is very surface level and not nearly as satisfying as the latter.” 
And guess what? Hanging out with his men's group - you know, like Brother Masons - made him a better husband, partner, father.
Shepherd has learned there’s some things you process with a partner, but other things that are much healthier to process outside the relationship. Instead of running away, or making extreme statements like, “I’m afraid this isn’t working,” he’s learned it’s best to first talk with healthy, honest men to get clarity, and then come back and say, Here’s what I’m struggling with.
My friend Stephen, who asked me to omit his last name to protect the privacy of his family, actually credits joining a men’s group with helping him find the necessary tools to ensure a healthy marriage. “It’s changed my life and secured the stability of my family,” he admits. Stephen’s men’s group, which focuses on everything from setting and achieving goals to redefining masculinity itself, is a larger, more organized version of Shepherd’s, with self-governed chapters all over the world. But like Shepherd’s, it prides itself on privacy—the group doesn’t have a website and ushers in new members by word of mouth. “I can take down my façade and get real about what I’m scared of, or what I’m sad, self-conscious or mad about, all without judgement or fear that it will get out of our confidential circle,” says Stephen of his group. “We deliver the truth and difficult feedback even if it might not be well-received.”
In other words, it's private. You have to ask to join. You can be yourself and no one will hate you for it, or get their feelings hurt. You find out most everybody else in the room shares your thoughts. You learn from each other, things like manners and emulating other men you come to admire. You feel needed, but not crushed by that responsibility. You feel better after the meeting. You want to go back again. You look forward to it. 
Not only has the group taught him alternative ways to be a man, husband, and father, it has given Stephen a space to think about what kind of man he wants to be. “Until I did this work, I didn’t know there was anything but the singular default definition of manhood,” he explains, adding that he’s now a better listener, is more generous with his affections, and has realized the importance of “being present.” Stephen checks in with his group weekly, sometimes even daily over text, depending on how much support he needs to stay on track with his goals. “We’re actually strongest when we lean on each other and do it together,” Stephen says. Knowing that other men have problems, no matter how it looks on the outside, makes him feel less alone, he says, and less ashamed.

Shame, Brené Brown found in her years of research, is the single biggest cause of toxic masculinity. Whereas women experience shame when they fail to meet unrealistic, conflicting expectations, men become consumed with shame for showing signs of weakness. Since vulnerability is, unfortunately, still perceived as a weakness instead of a strength, having hard conversations that involve vulnerability is something men often try to avoid. It’s for this reason that to yield positive results from men’s support groups, men must enter such groups with that very intention—not just to find buddies.
Something else these men discovered: bigger isn't better when it comes to a fraternal experience. Meaning, a place like a Masonic lodge loses its appeal when it gets too big and the individual members who attend regularly feel as though they are becoming more anonymous and less central to the group. And it's more than just some noisy backslapping drinking session talking about superficial stuff. It's about things that matter. 

Sound familiar (and if not, why not)? :
Whether they’re members of small groups like Shepherd’s or more mainstream groups like Stephen’s, the men I spoke to all agreed on one thing: that these groups made them better partners to the women in their lives. And it’s not just men saying this. I witnessed my friend Liz’s marriage strengthen after her husband, Randy, co-founded a men’s group with his best friend three years ago that offers a confidential, neutral space for men in their isolated New England town to share their fears without judgment.
“This isn’t him going to grab a beer with guys. He’s going to find psychological and emotional support from men who understand his problems,” Liz explains. “They’re not just getting together to have a bitch fest, gossip, or complain about their lives. They’re super intentional about what they’re talking about, why, and what’s important to them.”
Randy’s group, which caps membership to six people at any given time to build trust with each member, also adheres to strict confidentiality rules. “Whenever it’s time for the men’s group to meet at one of our houses, the wives clear out, toting their kids and babies behind so the guys can have a private space to do this important work,” says Liz, clarifying that her husband equally shares the burden of work at home—as do most the men in the group. The meetings are often held later in the evenings so that the men can first feed their children and put them to bed, and if Liz is busy on men’s group night, Randy will hire a babysitter. “He would never assume I’m free to take over and he never asks me to cancel my plans so he can go to men’s group.”

A group text chain enables the men to check in with other members between meetings, and for some of these men, this is their first truly authentic relationship with a peer. “It’s super liberating to make yourself vulnerable to a group like this,” says Randy, adding that he doesn’t need Liz to be his one and only anymore.

This is why I keep saying that Freemasonry and other fraternal group organizations and experiences are more needed right now, and into the foreseeable future than they've been in a century or more. Society needs us, whether they know it or not. We just need to remind them - and each other - why we're still so important.

After World War I when millions of Americans uprooted themselves and moved out of little towns and into huge, anonymous, faceless, industrialized cities, Freemasonry and the other groups like the Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias and others swelled in size. Men were away from their extended families - sometimes VERY far away, and before instant communication far from home was possible. Their friends weren't there, either. Work in a factory or huge office (made possible for the first time by new high-rise construction techniques and artificial interior lighting) had little chance to make strong friendships. So the fraternal groups thrived - that's when we built our most enormous and significant Temple buildings all over the country. It was partially to advertise to the outside world, "We're right here for you. Come inside. This is your personal clubhouse. It's special. We're strong, we're a fortress and a sanctuary just for you. We'll be here when nothing else remains."

That same kind of anonymity is occurring all over again as we don't have big families to support us anymore, and fewer stable relationships with women have become the new normal. Just look at all of Ms. Hamlett's circle of acquaintances who all left their husbands or partners, just for what they said was exasperation and emotional exhaustion. Not child rearing or holding down multiple jobs or violence or abuse, just "I got tired of the neediness."

Watching new membership statistics is absolutely the wrong way to look at things, and the sooner our Masonic leaders understand that, the better they will be at leading us to tomorrow. KEEPING existing members enthusiastic and coming back and happy and satisfied with their local lodges is the number one priority we all need to have, because we are all salesmen for or against Freemasonry. And almost as important, in a really successful Masonic lodge, our wives and girlfriends see the changes in us and are happy and grateful, as long as we keep it all in perspective and don't get so carried away with our Masonry that we forget all else. That's when those messages about prudence and temperance become essential to take to heart.

If I'm reading all of these tea leaves correctly, you need to tell your circle of non-Masonic friends just how Freemasonry has changed your life. Not proselytizing about it - nobody likes a zealot hell-bent on selling them something them don't want. But when someone asks 'Just what do Masons do, anyway?' don't tell them what a Shriner is, or that 'We make good men better"™. Tell them what Freemasonry has done for you, your life, your family. And why you can't wait to come back.

Their wife might just thank you for it.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

It's Official Now: Florida Joint Recognition

It's official now. 

As reported here on April 22nd, the assembled members of the Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons, Florida, Belize, Central America & Jurisdiction, Incorporated, Prince Hall Affiliated voted at their annual communication to accept terms of mutual recognition with the mainstream Grand Lodge of F&AM of Florida. That acceptance was transmitted officially by their Grand Master, MW Walter Gulley, Jr..

Now, Grand Master John E. Karroum of the GL of Florida has issued an official notice to his own members announcing a treaty of mutual recognition between the two grand lodges, which is to be read at all stated meetings in the state. (Click the image below to enlarge.)

The terms of the treaty are as follows:
"1. It is agreed by both parties that the Amity/Recognition Agreement shall never constitute future merger, consolidation, and/or amalgamation of our Grand Lodges;

"2. It is agreed by both parties that there shall be no transferring of membership from one Grand Jurisdiction to the other;

"3. It is agreed by both parties that visitation shall only occur at the Grand Lodge level with visitation of the Grand Master’s Official Delegation during the Grand Lodge Session of either Grand Jurisdiction and the Grand Secretary of the visiting Grand Lodge shall communicate in advance a list of the Grand Master’s Official Delegation to his counterpart Grand Secretary; further, it is agreed that the Grand Master of either Grand Jurisdiction may set a limit to the number of the proposed delegation should he deem it necessary;

"4. Lastly, it is agreed by both parties that there shall be no visitation at the Subordinate Lodge level of either Grand Jurisdiction."
None of these conditions should be considered particularly unusual or onerous in this case, as such initial baby steps have been pretty common in states like Texas, Alabama and elsewhere in recent years. Essentially, the goal is a transition period during which members in both jurisdictions have time to get used to the idea of sharing Masonic territory in their state, while respecting each other's sovereignty over their own members and lodges. 

Historically, it has taken a year or more before lodge visitations are finally permitted, and then only with advance permission from each other's Grand Masters or Grand Secretaries, at least at first. Technically, that is expected - if not required - when visiting ANY foreign lodge. Impatient brethren should bear in mind how long it took just to get to this point in the first place, and simply be supportive and encouraging of their grand officers for the eventual lifting of restrictions. It will come.

There will always be occasional flareups of contention. A group in Texas currently wants to shut down all Prince Hall recognition because the GL of Texas' Masonic Constitution has, for reasons fathomable only to them, a 'no Communists' provision, and they claim PHA grand lodges may have card carrying Communists lurking in their ranks. They go on to cite a list of politicians they dislike with historic PHA membership whom they allege are all clearly red diaper babies and agents of the Kremlin. Why this group wouldn't also agitate to de-recognize grand lodges in Russia, Romania, France, Italy, Spain and elsewhere for the very same reason, I can't imagine. (But then, isn't the GL of Texas Constitution thereby violating the no politics so-called 'landmark' of Freemasonry that is one of the major cornerstones of the entire fraternity?) Fortunately for rational Freemasons everywhere, Jurisprudence Committees usually regard such nakedly transparent, albeit spectacularly inventive, attempts to scuttle these agreements with the contempt they so richly deserve.

In the meantime, congratulations to all of the brethren in Florida, and especially to the grand officers in both jurisdictions who worked so hard behind the scenes to finally achieve this.

In related news, at South Carolina's 2019 annual communication last month, their Jurisprudence Committee refused to permit a mutual PHA recognition resolution to be introduced for a vote, gravely saying with absolutely zero sense of the absurd, "It's not yet time..." After all, it's just been a piddling three decades since Connecticut first recognized their PHA counterpart in 1989, setting this whole trend in motion in the U.S. And it's only been a mere 65 years since Brown v. Board of Education ended segregation. They might muss their hair with lightening speed like this. So, why the rush? 

I've been told there followed a great gnashing of teeth in the auditorium.

So now there remain just seven — Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and West Virginia. 

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Indiana Freemasonry Unity Day 5/11

Ah, the ways of Masonic recognition are arcane and steeped in qualifiers...

IF you are an Indiana Master Mason, OR are from a jurisdiction that recognizes BOTH the Grand Lodge F&AM of Indiana AND the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Indiana (ask your Grand Secretary), AND you are in the Indianapolis area this weekend, here is a unique opportunity.

Join us this Saturday May 11th for the Grand Lodge F&AM of Indiana and MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Indiana Unity Day at Murat Shrine in Indianapolis. Brethren of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge will exemplify the Master Mason degree with our own Grand Master Carl Culmann as exemplar.

Location is Murat Shrine - Arabian Room, 510 North New Jersey Street, Indianapolis, Indiana.  Doors open at 3:00PM; degree begins at 4:30PM.

This event is OPEN TO MASTER MASONS ONLY - you must bring a valid dues card for admission!
Following the event there will be an afterglow in the Murat Oasis Lounge. Each attendee will receive a free drink ticket and hors d'ouevres.

QUESTIONS? CONTACT: Dirk Rader 812-350-7313 or email at unityday@ingrandlodge.org 

Masonic Con and the Power of Great Ideas

After three and a half weeks on the road, the Hodapp traveling circus finally dragged into Indianapolis late Saturday night, and I'm trying to slowly get through nearly a month of mail, emails, bills, irate HOA violation letters, and other assorted detritus and ephemera. Plus, I have that muddy trench to flatten out that I managed to dig through the yard by steering wide in the rain. After 2,500 miles without mishaps, I made the last 15 feet look like it had been attacked by a mad farmer with his Massey-Ferguson disker...

We visited Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and a minuscule sliver of New Jersey just wide enough for six gas stations. Never again in April — way too many closed campgrounds and Old Testament levels of non-stop rainfall.

The last big Masonic event I was able to attend while in New England in April was Masonic Con 2019 at Ezekiel Bates Lodge in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Once again, close to 500 brethren and non-Masons attended this amazing event that has been a complete grassroots effort by the entire Masonic family at Ezekiel Bates Lodge. The place was packed with vendors, speakers, podcast hosts, food, and most of all, excited Freemasons and their families.

I had anticipated just going as an attendee and book huckster. However, at the last minute, presenter William Kulisansky had to cancel, and I was asked by Brother Bryan Simmons, Masonic Con's chief organizer, to step in and speak.

A link to see videos of the day's presentations can be seen on Facebook HERE. As much as I realize that video recordings of anyone's speeches immediately render them spoiled and force us all to write new ones as soon as they appear online, to have an video record of all of these terrific presentations from the day is a treasure trove of Masonic education:
  • John Michael Greer - Masonry and the Secret Societies 
  • Walter Hunt - Merging Grand Lodges 
  • Shai Afsai - Benjamin Franklin's Virtues, Freemasonry and Judaism: the Sage, the Prince and the Rabbi 
  • Chris Douglas - Tombstone Territorial Lodge No. 5 
  • Ryan Flynn - The Divine Master 
  • Ben Wallace - The Middle Chamber - GL of North Carolina's program to explain the Philosophical Aspects of the FC Degree 
  • Dr. Craig Williams - Metaphysics of Kshatriya and the Spiritual Warrior of Contemporary Times 
  • Christopher L. Hodapp - How Dare We Be Masons? 
  • Nicholas Harvey and David Riley - A Better Masonic Education 

I deeply appreciated the opportunity to play my own tiny part in the day’s events. But far more important, I count myself extremely lucky to see firsthand just what true Masonic leadership, brotherhood, and love for both the fraternity and each other was able to accomplish over the last few years. 

Year one of Masonic Con demonstrated that it was an idea whose time had come. Then, over the next three years, they proved it wasn’t just once, but was reproducible year after year. For all that and more, Bryan and the brethren and family members of Ezekiel Bates Lodge have my eternal admiration.

I even got to finally meet up with famed artist, Brother Travis Simpkins
and his equally talented wife Janet.
When I first concocted attending Masonic Con about six weeks ago in conjunction with a pair of other speaking requests, I had it in my mind to pick their brains to determine what magical formula they had stumbled upon to make this event such an ongoing success. I see now what a foolish waste of time that would have been. It is clear that the biggest bit of magic was the passion that Bryan Simmons in particular brought to the concept to begin with, and the infectious nature of that passion he inspired in his fellow members at the lodge. 

Like most of us, they knew that other groups had their own conventions that were actually just plain fun to attend, that their wife or partner hadn't been bored at, and that they had left feeling those non-Masonic events feeling just plain better than when they arrived. They saw a need that wasn't being fulfilled in their part of the Masonic world - a FREE event with education and enjoyable presentations, a suitable location, piles of Masonic merchandise, family involvement, appendant groups all pulling on the same oars, food all day and night, and plenty of opportunities for Masons to just simply chat and meet and remind ourselves what this is all supposed to be about. There’s no plan or roadmap to achieve that. But one Brother, or one small group of Brothers, who have a vision and determination and won't take no for an answer, can change their lodge, change a state, change the fraternity. 

And more, sometimes.

It starts with one. Maybe you.

Already there are, or have been, Masonic Con copycats (or more correctly homages) sprouting up across the U.S. - last year in New Mexico; Texas MasoniCon in Ft. Worth, Texas in July; in Ventura, California in August; Esotericon in Virginia in June; and more are undoubtedly coming. That's a damn good development. If their brand of excitement and shared Masonic community spreads to other jurisdictions and invigorates more legions of Masons, that's a pretty gratifying legacy.

At the Festive Board attended by over a hundred Saturday night, it was announced that the 2020 Masonic Con would be the fifth and final one, in conjunction with celebrating the 150th anniversary of Ezekiel Bates Lodge next year. Their question is what to do next - shut it down, or transform it into something different. And sometimes, even boundlessly enthusiastic brethren want to sit on the sidelines and see what others can do. Maybe that's what's happening here.

The stars of some of your favorite Masonic podcasts gathered under one roof!

Meanwhile, have a look at Brother Robert Johnson's blog entry on the Midnight Freemasons website for a recap of the weekend and his own personal thoughts about this event: A Masonic Revolution - Education and the Front Lines of a War to Save Freemasonry

MRF 2019 Symposium in Lexington, KY 8/16-18

The Masonic Restoration Foundation has announced its 10th Annual Symposium will be held this year in Lexington, Kentucky from August 16-18, 2019. This year's event will be hosted by Lexington Lodge No. 1 at the historic Spindletop Mansion. 

Founded in 2001, the Masonic Restoration Foundation is an educational organization that provides news, research, and analysis relating to the rich heritage in Freemasonry and current trends in the North American Masonic experience.
"We believe the focus on a quality fraternal, educational and social experience for each individual Mason determines the uniqueness and effectiveness of the lodge. And its potential power rests in this—such a place does not exist anywhere else in the world.
"To assist in creating such a culture, and to experience it in lodge after lodge, within Grand Jurisdiction after Grand Jurisdiction, is the mission of the Masonic Restoration Foundation." - MRF Statement of Purposes
The MRF was organized to identify and distribute, through its research, the time-tested cultural and fraternal Masonic practices that have proven successful in the historical repertoire of Masonic experience. The focus of the MRF is to promote the characteristics which form the best lodge meetings, fraternal and social practices across the Masonic landscape, while preserving Freemasonry’s landmarks and upholding its identity as a transformative art. 

If you've never visited John Bizzack, Cameron Poe and the other brethren of Lexington Lodge before, aren't aware of their lodge's historic significance in the expansion of American Freemasonry into the West, or just have never seen the sort of programming they consistently provide for their members, this would be an outstanding opportunity to come to this beautiful part of the country for the weekend.

Featured speakers and panelists in August will include:

  • John W. Bizzack, author of Island Freemasonry, WM Lexington Lodge 1
  • Douglas L. Caudle, PGM Grand Lodge of North Carolina
  • John D. Cissell, GJD Grand Lodge of Kentucky
  • Patrick Craddock, Craftsman's Apron and current president of the Masonic Society
  • Andrew Hammer, author of Observing the Craft and MRF President
  • Dan Kemble, WM William O. Ware Lodge of Research, Covington, KY
  • Chris Murphy, PM, Fibonacci Lodge No. 112, South Royalton, VT
  • Cameron Poe, SW Lexington Lodge 1
  • Robert Pollock, JW Harmony Lodge No. 8, Urbana, Ohio
  • Mikel Stoops, GSW Grand Lodge of Kansas

The event will begin with a Harmony [Festive Board] held in the Elizabethan Room at Spindletop on Friday evening, conducted by Lexington Lodge, and featuring comments from Keynote Speaker, MW Mikel Stoops, Grand Senior Warden of the Grand Lodge of Kansas. Brothers will have the opportunity to attend a special exemplification of the English Master Mason degree (Emulation ritual) on Saturday afternoon, performed by Fiat Lux Lodge No. 1717, of Washington, DC. Registration for the Symposium is $125.00 USD, and $75.00 USD for the Saturday session only. Brothers who wish to attend only the Friday night Harmony will pay $50 USD.

For the complete program, lodging information, registration and more, visit the MRF Symposium website HERE.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Samuel Lawson's 'Songs From the Lodge'

Music was an intrinsic part of Masonic lodge meetings at least since the transformation to speculative Masonry in the 1600s. Anderson's Constitutions in 1723 includes a number of songs that were commonly sung during those lodge gatherings at the formation of the premiere grand lodge in London - and undoubtedly from before that. 

Over the next centuries, music in lodge waxed and waned depending upon the traditions of a particular lodge or the talents of its members. By the turn of the 19th into the 20th century, pipe organs were commonplace in well to do lodges, and Shrines and Templar Commanderies tried to outdo each other with their own special theme music and marches composed by their own Masonic musicians. By the 1950s, the electric Wurlitzer console organ was becoming a regular sight in countless lodges, which frequently had their own harp-shaped collar jewel specifically for the lodge musician. 

Sadly today, most of those mighty Wurlitzers sit broken or dust covered in an unused corner of lodge rooms, or consigned to the basement by Masons too sheepish to simply have them hauled away, but too talentless or unmotivated to take up the instrument themselves and lead their brethren in song once again.

My friend and Lodge Vitruvian Brother Samuel Lawson is an extraordinarily talented musician. He is a music teacher, classical guitarist, singer, and serves as director of the Chorus of the Indianapolis Valley of the Scottish Rite. Through the intersection of his interests in music, Freemasonry and all things Scottish, he continues to make an ongoing study of Masonic music and its forms and influences in the fraternity. Some of you may have seen some of his Masonic presentations around Indiana and the midwest, while others have heard him play at various non-Masonic venues, fairs, and festivals as a solo, or with his wife Rebekah and Celtic Rain.

Samuel recently recorded an entire album of Masonic-related music called Songs From The Lodge, available on the Reverbnation.com website HERE. (You can listen to each song, save songs or the whole album in an online library, or pay to download them into iTunes if you sign up on the site). 

Some of the songs may be familiar to Masons, depending on your lodge or location in the world — The Entered Apprentice Song, the Master's Song, Pleyel's Hymn. Others are less famous, but nevertheless authentically Masonic.

If you're looking for appropriate music to accompany your lodge meetings or festive boards, give it a listen. Even if it's only a recording, let Brother Samuel lead your brethren in song again, as the founders of our fraternity intended.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Alabama Community and Masons Restore Historic Temple

Crawford, Alabama was originally named Crockettsville after Davy Crockett, and it served as the seat of Russell County from 1833 to 1868. In 1848, the Freemasons of Alabama's Tuckabatchee Lodge No. 96 in Russell County proudly erected their two-story clapboard Greek Revival Masonic Temple. Their historic hall survived the lapse of time, the ruthless hands of ignorance, and even the devastations of war - it was famously passed by when Union Army troops set fire to other buildings in the town of Crawford during the Civil War, legendarily because their commander was himself a Freemason.

Eventually, Tuckabatchee Lodge merged or consolidated to become Crawford Lodge 863. But just short of the building's 150th anniversary, the lodge decided to move out in 1995 and erect a newer temple on the same property. The decision was then made to allow a local landowner to purchase and move the old lodge building about 100 feet to the east where it still sits today. 

The original lodge hall was the sole remaining building from Crawford's county seat days. In addition to its purpose as a Masonic temple, it also hosted local church services and a school room, as so many other lodges did in our communities over the years. This historic building was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on September 6, 1978. 

Local preservationists and community leaders finally saw the historic significance of the Masonic temple and decided to save the empty hall instead of letting it be consumed by the elements. In 2012, newly elected Russell County Commissioner, Chance Corbett, proposed creating a committee of the community in an effort to lead a restoration effort. The Tuckabatchee Masonic Lodge was officially listed on the Alabama Historic Commission’s Places in Peril. 

The restoration project began in late 2013. Spearheaded by the Russell County Commission, a committee of local citizens and the members of the Crawford Lodge 863, many volunteers and local contractors also helped in the restoration project. 

Donations were made by the community to aid in the restoration efforts and brick pavers were purchased and placed on the front walkway to show the community's dedication and support for the project. In 2015, prior to opening the doors to the public, the downstairs was restored for use as a community center and the upstairs was restored and designated as a museum to pay tribute to the original intended use as a Masonic Lodge. Additionally, a playground was added to the property through a state grant and matching vendors' grant.

Crawford Lodge sits just next door in a new, steel building.

A video of the dedication event can be seen on YouTube below: