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


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Freemasonry in the Age of Woke

There's a disappointingly superficial piece on the Washington Post website today by feature writer Sadie Dingfelder about the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. As I read it, I was immediately struck by a picture it paints of a growing number of Americans these days and how Freemasonry is seen by them. 

Here are some excerpts from Dingfelder's article, 'Unlock the secrets of the Freemasons - or at least gawk at their strange costumes':
“Is it usually pretty quiet here?” I asked the person checking me in, who later turned out to be my tour guide.

“It can get pretty busy in the summer,” he replied. In warm months, busloads of Masons visit the memorial, he said.

“I must admit, I don’t know much about Freemasons,” I said, which prompted my guide to launch into a short history of the group.

“It’s basically a fraternal organization,” he concluded. “They do a lot of service and charity work.”

“Oh, so it’s like the Rotary Club, but with costumes and secret handshakes,” I said...


The memorial also houses a museum of Masonic history, and we’d just arrived on a floor devoted to that when a muffled voice emanated from my guide’s walkie-talkie. He rushed off to fetch a late-arriving tourist, leaving me alone in a room full of creepy mannequins attired in the costumes of various Freemason subgroups and affiliated societies, including Shriners’ fezzes, Arabic-looking turbans, militaristic uniforms and one costume with a jeweled breastplate, an imitation of vestments worn by ancient Israelite priests.

I found this to be a fascinating glimpse into a less-woke era, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any explanatory text about why these groups of (I imagine) white men wore Middle Eastern-ish garb, and whether similar costumes are still used today.
Some of the Freemason costumes on display struck this reviewer as Orientalist,
militaristic or just plain strange.
Scattered around the mannequins were displays of random club ephemera — plus a few inexplicable objects, including a jaunty bobblehead doll of the controversial Christian figure Jacques de Molay, a monk who fought in the Crusades and was later sentenced to death. De Molay’s medieval order, the Knights Templar, inspired the modern-day Knights Templar — a Christian-focused subgroup of Freemasons, my guide explained after returning with a mysterious man in a trench coat...
If I’m right, he’s an increasingly rare breed. Freemason membership has been in decline since the 1960s, according to a chart on display in the museum’s basement. “Civic life declined as people spent more time alone in front of a television or computer screen,” the accompanying text explains. Fair enough, but I’m betting that the Masons’ fraught racial history and continued exclusion of women have also contributed to their diminishing relevance.

I mention this because the Masonic memorial may be on its way to becoming just that: a memorial to a bygone organization, where powerful men once gathered to socialize, plan charitable work and wear Orientalist costumes. Perhaps a lot of this is best left in the past, but it seems to me — a person who spends way too much time alone, in front of a computer — that there’s something here worth bringing into the future.

The benefit of resources like LinkedIn is that you can go and find out about the background of people whom you otherwise don't know at all, and Sadie's profile yields a few items worth noting. She's not a teenager or a college student — she graduated in 2001, so she's in her mid- or even late-30s. Sadie's a graduate of Smith College (a private liberal arts college for women only in their undergrad program), and she's been working as a writer for the Post in the Washington D.C. area in various capacities for ten years. She lives and works in the very city that a lot of Masons (and even non-Masons) regard as one heavily influenced by Freemasons from the past, and (if you believe in such things) filled with Masonic symbolism even in the street map. TV producers of programs about Freemasonry are obsessed with the idea. So it surprised me a bit to see just how little knowledge or awareness of Freemasonry she seemed to have when she walked into the Memorial — and apparently, how little she had actually learned by the time she left. After touring the place, she declared that Freemasonry is little more than a bygone organization.

This isn't a hit on Ms. Dingfelder, not at all. It's a comment on how diminished we have become in the collective American psyche. I thought we had reached rock bottom in that regard back before novelist Dan Brown put Freemasonry back on the map in the early 2000s. Since those dark days, cable television has had loads of programs about Masonry. Stacks of factual, intelligent, and truthful books (including mine and Brent Morris') got poured onto the market. Freemasonry worked its way into pop culture references like movies, music and TV shows. I had thought we had even turned a tiny corner and tipped the scales slightly back into our favor, at least as far as a basic awareness of Freemasonry was concerned.

Indeed, the Scottish Rite NMJ did a survey two years ago and discovered that a full 81% of respondents had at least heard of Freemasonry, even if they didn't know what it was. But as I think back over the last five or six years now, and reflect on my own contacts with the public about it, I fear more people are even less aware of what Freemasonry actually is than in the 1990s. In that same survey, less than 30% actually knew what the values of Freemasonry were. And the most common question I get asked by non-Masons under 35 these days once I get my basic elevator speech out of the way is, "But just what is it that you guys DO? What's the point?"

That shouldn't be a shock, since we are about one generation removed from the 1990s. The adults in 1990 were having children at that moment in time, and we are now encountering those former infants as adults today. Already by 1990, Freemasonry had been waning, along with a raft of other social changes taking place then. By 1990, the fraternity was already down in membership by more than 30% from its 1958 height. It was blatant that the Baby Boomers had steered clear of Freemasonry, just as they had so many other so-called "Establishment" ideals of their parents. Organized religious attendance was decreasing. Divorce rates had skyrocketed. Childbirths were down substantially, and most concerning, single parent households (usually single moms) were taking a major upswing. It was into this period that today's current Millennial adults now in their late-20s and 30s were born.

According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than half (46%) of American kids under 18 years of age are living in a home in 2018 with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage - what is quaintly called a traditional family household. This is a huge change from 1960, when 73% of children fit this description, and 1980 when 61% did. At less than 50% today, it's certainly a dwindling tradition.

One of the most enormous shifts in family structure is this one: 34% of American children today are living with an unmarried parent—up from just 9% in 1960, and 19% in 1980. In most cases, these unmarried parents are single, without a live-in partner of any kind to help raise and educate the children. And by far, the largest number are single mothers.

When I wrote Freemasons For Dummies in 2004, there was still a reasonable chance that enough grandfathers had been Freemasons in sufficient numbers that their grandchildren had at least encountered the fraternity in their lives. But that percentage has done nothing but drop since then.

Fewer children today have full-time fathers than ever before in recorded history, and even fewer of them have a grandfather to pass along older traditions like Freemasonry and numerous other important values. 

(Interestingly, 5% of children are not living with either parent at all. In most of these cases, they are living with a grandparent—a phenomenon that has become much more prevalent since the recent economic recession.)

When you take into consideration all of this stew of statistics, it's clear that Freemasonry as a subject for observation by children has a pretty paltry chance of being passed along to the current and future generations by many fathers, grandfathers, siblings, uncles or other influential men in their lives. 

In other words, there's no statistically significant reason why Sadie Dingfelder would have encountered Freemasons in her family. She doesn't mention any sort of family connection to the fraternity, so the only way she knows anything at all about us is from what she picked up by cultural references she has encountered as a teenager and adult. Like going to the Memorial, poking around on the Internet, or catching a rerun on A&E or the History Channel. I suspect she may not have a single family member, friend or acquaintance who is a Mason, or was in recent memory.

Mull that over. And if she has children of her own today, what chance will they have as adults to inherit any sort of collective, cultural knowledge of Masonry in another 20 years?

Note her comments about Masonry being from a "less-woke era" (a colossally imbecilic adjective if ever there was one) and her pronouncement that our "fraught racial history and continued exclusion of women have also contributed to their diminishing relevance." Whether you believe that or not, that is one narrative being circulated about us today in this hyper-heightened period of describing every single subject on the face of the Earth in terms of gender, race, offense, privilege  and oppression. Young people are being taught a dramatically different (and arguably damaging) version of Western and American history now than older generations, and the values, traditions and institutions of the Founders and prior important historical figures are being derided or ignored altogether. The images of George Washington and Ben Franklin as Freemasons don't carry the sort of influence and impact they had even 20 years ago – some today would even argue that they are a negative.  And let's not even venture into the demographics regarding religious beliefs among Americans in 2018, or how religious Americans are almost uniformly portrayed in a negative light by the pop culture. 

None of this is an indictment of anyone, because there's no single villain we can isolate and counter, argue with, or shoot out behind the barn. These are simply the current circumstances we find ourselves struggling in. That's what we're facing going forward as we try to craft messages for the profane world, design our museums, and sit for interviews with the press. Once again, the culture has shifted under our feet, and this time, we find ourselves potentially tap-dancing on a minefield.

As bleak as all of this may seem, at its core, Freemasonry is and will remain important and relevant and needed as time marches on, but it's up to each of us to do our part to ensure its future by not hiding what's left of our light under a bushel and permitting ourselves to be ignored to death. Remember that even Sadie recognizes this, and concluded her essay with this thought: "Perhaps a lot of this is best left in the past, but it seems to me — a person who spends way too much time alone, in front of a computer — that there’s something here worth bringing into the future."

There is indeed.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Florida Eagle Scout Restores Masonic Lodge Sign

If you think the public doesn't pay attention to how our Masonic halls look on the outside, think again. 

We read a lot about Masons helping their communities, but this is a unique story of a young man deciding his town's local lodge needed help he could provide to them. Seventeen year old Eagle Scout candidate Austin Sherwood took on a community service project in Ocala, Florida, and he noticed that the signage of his local lodge had been in in need of a facelift for several years. Their old sign wasn't an eyesore, but it was generic and not illuminated at night. So, Austin used his computer and drafting skills to help out the members of Marion-Dunn Lodge No. 19 in Ocala by crafting a more impressive public face for them.

From the Ocala Star Banner website today:

The project was a renovation of portions of the outdoor sign and decorative mount, including surrounding landscape, at the Marion-Dunn Masonic Lodge No. 19 on Southeast 36th Avenue.
Austin, 17, an Ocala native, got a tip from his math teacher about the sign and decided to take on the repairs for his community project, one of the requirements to reach Eagle rank.
He finished repairs and upgrades to the sign backboards and stone column supports and planted landscaping last week.The mount holds LED lighted components, which were upgraded and fastened to each side of the backboards by a lodge member. The sign now gives off a soft blue glow at night and announces the lodge to passing motorists 24 hours a day.
The old sign Austin's has replaced had been inoperative for seven years.
Randy Strong, secretary for the 205-member lodge, said the sign has been inoperative for about seven years. The lighted sign portion is a large Masonic symbol with a “G” in the center, which represents God. A blue “G” on one side of the sign and purple “G” on the other side pertain to aspects of the lodge and leadership, he said.
“This is a big deal for us. Austin worked hard in this,” Strong said.
Lodge member Norman Getchell called the completed project “beautiful.”
Austin’s project included pre-treating and pressure cleaning, and adding stucco and special reflective paint on both sides of the backboard, which measures 9 feet tall by 9 feet wide.
The Eagle candidate wrote a letter and made personal visits to a number of local businesses to solicit donations for the project. He logged 72 hours on the project and enlisted aid from his father, Doug Sherwood Jr. and his grandfather Doug Sherwood Sr., who is an adult Scout leader.

Doug Sherwood Jr. said striving for Eagle had a positive effect on his son’s “maturity and leadership” and set a good lesson in “seeing a project through from start to finish.”
Austin deserves every possible accolade and reward that the lodge is able to provide for him for stepping up and accomplishing what their own members hadn't over the years. 

By the way, Austin has earned 43 merit badges. So far.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Saving the Temples

How I hit on two Atlantic articles in a week, I have no idea. On Sunday afternoon, author Johnathan Merritt posted an article on The Atlantic website that directly relates to my ongoing obsession to save our most important Masonic temples. 

America’s Epidemic of Empty Churches is about large churches across the U.S. that have ginormous and significant buildings, often in downtown areas, and what happens when congregations can no longer afford to keep them. 

Just like our major Masonic temples, their congregations are substantially smaller today than when these buildings were first erected. Just like our Temples, they are infused with enormous sentimental value and neighborhood importance. Just like our Temples, they present peculiar challenges for adaptive reuse, taxes, zoning, infrastructure, parking, and more. Merritt's article talks specifically about what has been done with older church buildings in several cases, and not all of them result in selling off the building to outsiders and vacating the premisses.

Simply replace "church" with "lodge" as you read, and you'll find some useful information and inspiration. Here is a large excerpt:

Closure and adaptive reuse often seems like the simplest and most responsible path. Many houses of worship sit on prime real estate, often in the center of towns or cities where inventory is low. Selling the property to the highest bidder is a quick and effective way to cut losses and settle debts. But repurposing a sacred space for secular use has a number of drawbacks. There are zoning issues, price negotiations, and sometimes fierce pushback from the surrounding community and the parish’s former members.

A church building is more than just walls and windows; it is also a sacred vessel that stores generations of religious memories. Even for those who do not regularly practice a religion, sacred images and structures operate as powerful community symbols. When a hallowed building is resurrected as something else, those who feel a connection to that symbol may experience a sense of loss or even righteous anger.

Calling it quits isn’t the only option for dwindling congregations in possession of expansive, expensive buildings. Some are moving upstream of the crisis, opting to repurpose their buildings before they go under.

Larry Duggins left a successful career in investment banking a decade ago to attend seminary at Southern Methodist University. There he met a professor of evangelism named Elaine Heath with whom he brainstormed ways to help dying churches who maintain a will to live. The pair eventually found the Missional Wisdom Foundation, a 501c(3) that functions as a kind of think tank for “alternative forms of Christian community that makes sense for traditional churches that may be declining.”
“Years ago, the neighborhood church was the place many in America got together and, along with local schools, was where they got to know their neighbors,” Duggins told me. “But this model is no longer relevant for many people, so churches have to think creatively about how to help people encounter others and God in their everyday lives.”
In order to test their idea, Duggins and Heath approached the pastor of White Rock United Methodist in Dallas about collaborating. Half a century ago, it was a massive congregation with robust weekly programming, a strong reputation in the community, and a 60,000 square foot building. But the neighborhood’s demographics shifted in recent years and church membership waned. Its combination of sprawling space and shrinking attendance made White Rock the perfect guinea pig for Duggins and Heath’s experiments.

Missional Wisdom moved into the bottom 15,000 square feet of White Rock’s building and got to work. It converted the fellowship hall into a coworking space and transformed Sunday School rooms into a workshop for local artisans, including a florist and a stained glass window artists. It formed an economic empowerment center where the group teaches a local population of African refugees language and business skills. And it finished out the space with a yoga studio and a community dance studio. Today, the church building is bustling most days and the congregation is both covering expenses and generating revenue from its profit-sharing agreement with Missional Wisdom.
Next, the Missional Wisdom team partnered with Bethesda United Methodist Church in Asheville, North Carolina—a congregation with challenges similar to White Rock’s. Together, they created a community center called Haw Creek Commons. In addition to coworking space, they retrofitted the building with a textile and wood-working shop, meeting rooms that are used by local business and AA groups, a retreat space that can sleep up to nine, and a commercial kitchen in the basement for local bakers and chefs. Outside, Missional Wisdom constructed a community garden, food forest, beehives for the Haw Creek Bee Club, a greenhouse, and a playground for the children who attend the school next door.

Duggins says that the goal of these two experiments was simply to create opportunities and space for the community to gather and connect with each other. But as with White Rock, Haw Creek Commons has had residual positive effects on its host congregation.
“We wanted to transform the church into a place that would draw people who might not otherwise come, and in Asheville, we’ve seen it break down stereotypes of what the church is,” says Duggins. “At Bethesda, there were less than 10 people in the church on a given Sunday, but now there are more than 50.” Multi-purpose spaces lower the barriers to entry. When someone using a co-working space experiences a personal crisis, they have a comfortable place to turn...
See the whole article HERE.

There is zero reason why very similar uses cannot be found for Masonic temples, especially larger ones. And the ownership can remain in the hands of the fraternity on into the future.  All that's seriously missing in most cases is creative thinking, visionary leadership, and a common goal to keep what is ours in the most responsible manner possible.

See also: What's In A Building?

Meanwhile, this story appeared this morning. The beautiful Masonic Temple in Chester, Pennsylvania will soon be lost. Chester Lodge 235 is moving out and merging with another one in Concord. The building is to be sold.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Foreign Language Lodges in America

Brethren of Esperenze Lodge 317 receiving their New Jersey charter on June 27, 2018.
The lodge has actually been in existence for more than 40 years.

If you look through the archives of your own grand lodge, you will likely find a handful of lodges chartered by your jurisdiction way back when that worked in different languages, especially in the 1800s and early 1900s. While they were technically following your state's approved ritual, these lodges performed theirs in the native language their members were most comfortable with. German was by far the most common, but there were noteworthy Italian- and French-speaking U.S. lodges as well. Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington D.C. still have several of these today. D.C. especially has quite a number of chartered 'cosmopolitan lodges' that often serve foreign-born Masons temporarily living in that city in connection with government, lobbying or embassy jobs. Many others like Massachusetts, Florida, and California also have foreign language lodges. 

Those are properly chartered lodges under those mainstream jurisdictions. But there's a relatively recent and growing wrinkle in the realm of 'clandestine' lodges and Masons. With the influx of more foreign born immigrants into America's large urban centers, there are a growing number of independent lodges made up of Cuban, Central and South American, Filipino, or other foreign-born Masons who have been ignored (or even shunned) by mainstream Masonry in this country. To answer their desire to become Masons — or to attend lodges that work in their native languages from back home —  more 'clandestine' lodges spring up every day that cater to them specifically. Some have been connected with legitimate foreign grand lodges which have invaded U.S. jurisdictional claims by chartering lodges here. But a large number of them are independent, self-created lodges. And more than a few have been around for a very long time, operating off of the radar screens of our grand lodges.

MW Roger Quintana, the current Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Jersey seems to have taken the bull by the horns in his jurisdiction. New Jersey being a densely populated state and just across the border from New York, there are scores of clandestine Masonic lodges sprinkled throughout that jurisdiction. Instead of going on the attack against them, or ignoring them altogether, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey is trying a different approach. Portuguese-speaking Brazilian Masons in New Jersey have been hunting a legitimate lodge to join, and so the Grand Lodge is reaching out to find new ways to bring them under the umbrella of proper recognition and regularity. In 2018, the Grand Lodge of New Jersey has announced the transformations of formerly clandestine Esperanza Lodge 317 in Union City and Perucho Figueredo Lodge 370 in Elizabeth into fully chartered and regular, recognized ones under the Grand Lodge of New Jersey. 

First regular meeting of Perucho Figueredo Lodge 370
under its charter from the GL of New Jersey
Further, New Jersey has just received applications to do this from another independent clandestine lodge, Solomon Lodge. According to MW Quintana's letter (see below), their members will be re-obligated at a special One Day Class, and the formerly clandestine lodge will be consecrated with a proper charter from the GL of New Jersey. 

(Similarly, numerous Prince Hall grand lodges in the US have special 'healing' ceremonies in order to re-obligate Masons who joined 'clandestine' lodges first, and then later wished to become PHA Masons. NJ's actions seem to be a lodge-wide extension of that sort of thing.)
Click image to enlarge

While other states have not talked much about this in public, his letter says that the Grand Lodges of New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania have also been doing similar lodge conversions in this manner. (If I'm not mistaken, this has also taken place in Florida with former Cuban lodges – please correct me if I'm wrong. And I'm guessing California has done something similar over the years.) 

I'm told that the Grand Lodge of Arizona has a standard ritual in Spanish, and a handful of other states may also have their own in various languages as well. This is no longer a situation peculiar to just the coastal states and cities, or to southern border states. For the rest of us across the U.S. who find ourselves with growing foreign-born populations and communities in our various states, it is downright foolish and short-sighted to ignore this vast and growing population. And this is not even remotely just a big city issue. Look at these startling statistics. 

According to a 2017 study by the Center for Immigration Studies,
Newly released Census Bureau data for 2017 shows nearly half (48.2 percent) of residents in America's five largest cities now speak a language other than English at home. Overall, the number of U.S. residents speaking a foreign language at home reached a record of nearly 67 million. The total number is up seven million since 2010 and has increased by nearly 35 million since 1990.
Among the findings:
  • In 2017, a record 66.6 million U.S. residents (native-born, legal immigrants, and illegal immigrants) ages five and older spoke a language other than English at home. The number has more than doubled since 1990, and almost tripled since 1980.
  • As a share of the population, 21.8 percent of U.S. residents speak a foreign language at home — roughly double the 11 percent in 1980.
  • In America's five largest cities, 48 percent of residents now speak a language other than English at home. In New York City and Houston it is 49 percent; in Los Angeles it is 59 percent; in Chicago it is 36 percent; and in Phoenix it is 38 percent.
  • In 2017, there were 85 cities and Census Designated Places (CDP) in which a majority of residents spoke a foreign language at home. These include Hialeah, Fla. (95 percent); Laredo, Texas (92 percent); and East Los Angeles, Calif. (90 percent). Perhaps more surprisingly, it also includes places like Elizabeth, N.J. (76 percent); Skokie, Ill. (56 percent); and Germantown, Md., and Bridgeport, Conn. (each 51 percent).
  • Nearly one in five U.S. residents now lives in a city or CDP in which one-third of the population speaks a foreign language at home. This includes Dale City, Va. (43 percent); Norwalk, Conn., and New Rochelle, N.Y. (each 42 percent); and Aurora, Colo., and Troy, Mich. (each 35 percent).
  • In contrast to many of the nation's cities, in rural areas outside of metropolitan areas just 8 percent speak a language other than English at home
Consider that there are sixteen lodges today in New York's 10th Manhattan District, and they grew out of the enormous immigrant populations that came to America and settled in the New York City area. The Tenth Manhattan is home to lodges permitted to work Craft degrees in French, Italian, and Spanish, and more, which differ—often substantially—from the traditional Preston-Webb rituals you find in almost every other state in the U.S. (with the notable exception of Pennsylvania's). It's not for nothing that this group of lodges refers to themselves as the 'Cosmopolitan Tenth,' which is how you'll find them on Facebook these days. Now, New Jersey has just established its own similar 6th District specifically geared to working with their newly christened foreign language and 'cosmopolitan' lodges in order to conform their sometimes very different rituals with current New Jersey practices.

This is a not a new idea, and by no means is it any sort of Earth-shattering innovation. A French-speaking New York lodge was asked to be the first lodge leading George Washington's funeral procession at Mount Vernon in 1799. Foreign language lodges were common a century and a half ago throughout America, and there's no reason why they shouldn't be again. 

Think of it a different way: Freemasonry is actually growing and thriving in Central and South American nations, where the bulk of our current immigration wave originates. Untold numbers of men join Masonic lodges in these Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking nations, only to find no lodges in which they feel comfortable or at home once in the U.S. Their only recourse is to establish or join a clandestine lodge, knuckle under and become proficient in English, or not attend at all. In other words, these are existing Freemasons living in our midst whom we are simply ignoring. It's long past time to be chartering new lodges in our jurisdictions that are permitted to work our official rituals (or at least close to them), just in a different language. 

Almost twenty years ago when faced with Masonic temples that were searching for rental possibilities, I suggested that lodges should be offering their dining room facilities for use by language tutors and schools to teach immigrants English, and/or Americans Spanish. It was clear then that there was already a growing need for such classes, and I suggested it as a new way to highlight the importance of Masonic halls in our communities once again. At that time, immigration wasn't really on many people's radar, and no one took it seriously. As the statistics above show, it's long past time to take it seriously now. 

While Masons haven't been paying attention, America has changed dramatically. Instead of decrying it or hiding from it as our membership continues to plummet, we need to see it as an opportunity to once again adapt to serve the society in which we reside - just as Freemasonry has always done in the past. Improving the world one Mason at a time is still our mission, no matter how our communities may change around us. Let's find a way to accommodate this upheaval in demographics instead of burying our collective heads in the sand. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789

General Thanksgiving

By the PRESIDENT of the United States Of America

WHEREAS it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me "to recommend to the people of the United States a DAY OF PUBLICK THANSGIVING and PRAYER, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;-- for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;-- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;-- and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in moft humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;-- to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by conftantly being a Government of wife, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

GIVEN under my hand, at the city of New-York, the third day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-nine.

(signed) G. Washington

The first official presidential proclamation issued in the United States. Published in the The Massachusetts Centinel, Wednesday, October 14, 1789.

NSW Australia Increases Among Younger Masons

An article about Freemasonry in New South Wales, Australia appeared Tuesday on the ABC website highlighting their recent increases in new members between 18-30. The article says that some local lodges are seeing recent gains among younger men as high as 10-15% over previous years.

See 'Freemasons are attracting younger members thanks to less secrecy and tapping into social media' by Sowaibah Hanifie:
Freemason Alec Ayling, in South Australia's Riverland, said it had been daunting attending his first meeting.
"If you were to join, you were blindfolded before you came in and you're conducted around certain areas and had things explained, and then you're sort of brought to light," he said.
Since declining membership has led to fraternities closing, rules around membership have evolved from being secret and at times discriminatory to being advertised as welcoming people from all walks of life.

Grand lodges in Victoria and New South Wales have pointed to social media campaigns as the success behind recruiting new members.
Several have reported a 10–15 per cent increase in young people aged between 18-30 joining their group.
In the Grand Lodge of South Australia and the Northern Territory, 75 per cent of its 115 new members over the past year were in the 20–30-year-old age bracket.
Port Adelaide Freemason Cooper Andrew Allan, 22, said young people were finding a sense of purpose with the group.

"Inside that lodge room there's no phone, there's no iPad. It's very much like an enlightenment society. It's a time for peace, tranquillity and learning."

(Ah, would that the same were true in every Masonic lodge everywhere. The sight of brethren constantly checking their phones and even texting each other during meetings is not exactly conducive to contemplative solemnity or even good manners.)

Freemason Ryan Mann was 32 when he joined and feels since then he has become a better person and found a sense of brotherhood.

"There was this vibe, a warm feeling in the [lodge] room, a feeling I hadn't felt in long time. There was just a bunch of good men in the room," he said.

"With a tried and tested system, [it was about] making a good man better."

Mr Mann admitted his initial contact with Freemasonry had involved looking at conspiracy videos on the internet.

See the complete article HERE. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Tiny Solomon's Temple Artifact Discovered

A 3,000 year old stone weight called a 'beka' – mentioned in the Bible and dating from the time of King Solomon's Temple – has recently been discovered from the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The tiny round stone was used as a half-shekel weight to calculate the visitor's tax for pilgrims coming to the Temple around 1000 BC. It was discovered by a volunteer in the City of David’s sifting project in Jerusalem’s Emek Tzurim National Park, which carefully attempts to examine every bit of dirt and rubble excavated around the Mount's base.

The word “beka” appears twice in the Torah: first as the weight of gold in a nose ring given to matriarch Rebecca in the Book of Genesis, and later in the Book of Exodus as a weight for the donation brought by the Jewish people for the maintenance of the Temple and the census, as recorded in Exodus 38, Verse 26: “One beka per head; [that is,] half a shekel, according to the holy shekel, for each one who goes through the counting, from 20 years old and upward, for 603,550 [people].”
Curiously, the Hebrew letter bet is inscribed in reverse from its usual appearance, leading archeologists to believe it was pressed into wet clay from a seal that had not been created in a proper mirror image. 
During this era, there was no half-shekel coin. Pilgrims brought the equivalent weight, a beka, in silver to pay their tax, which would have been measured out on scales in the very spot under the Temple Mount where the tiny stone weight was unearthed.
The ‘beka’ biblical weight stone was discovered in earth taken from a 2013
archaeological excavation at the foundations of the Western Wall in a
drainage ditch directly under the Robinson’s Arch. The sifting of that same dirt
continues today in search of more artifacts from the period of the First Temple.
 Archaeologist Eli Shukron directed the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He told The Times of Israel that no other similar weights had previously been found with this exact inscription. 
Shukron said in a press release, “When the half-shekel tax was brought to the Temple during the First Temple period, there were no coins, so they used silver ingots. In order to calculate the weight of these silver pieces they would put them on one side of the scales and on the other side they placed the Beka weight. The Beka was equivalent to the half-shekel, which every person from the age of 20 years and up was required to bring to the Temple.”
The entire article can be read HERE. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Fraternalism and Civics

Several weeks back, Alice and I made our monthly stop at the local bookstore (remember those things?), and I was taken in by the headline on the cover of the October edition of Atlantic Monthly: 'Is Democracy Dying?'

The magazine is freighted too heavily with politically partisan sniping for my tastes. and too many of the writers want to use their own visceral biases to twist their theses. But if you can you get past that, the issue explores a basic societal problem we currently face in America. Mainly, Americans don't know — or care to know — how their own communities, states and nation are supposed to work anymore. We've lost the keys to the Republic, and there it sits in the driveway, up on blocks, rusting away, while the neighborhood kids bust out the windows and steal the tires.

If you think I exaggerate, go to the website of what passes for your local newspaper these days and try to find a daily or even weekly summary of actions at your statehouse or city council meeting. Such news used to be a staple of basic local reporting, but no more.

In particular, take note of the article, Americans Aren’t Practicing Democracy Anymore by Yoni Applebaum. The author makes the strong connection between the Golden Age of Fraternalism and the greatest level of civic engagement in American history. Whether we all knew it or not, the Freemasons, the Knights of Pythias, the Odd fellows - we were all teaching Americans how to govern the Republic. And we're now living out what happens when democratic people all decide "I'm not much of a joiner."

Or as Ben Franklin told the lady who asked him what the Continental Congress had given America in 1787, a republic or a monarchy, "A republic, if you can keep it."

I don't want to paste the whole article here, but let me put a major excerpt up just in case Atlantic's website vanishes in the night:
Like most habits, democratic behavior develops slowly over time, through constant repetition. For two centuries, the United States was distinguished by its mania for democracy: From early childhood, Americans learned to be citizens by creating, joining, and participating in democratic organizations. But in recent decades, Americans have fallen out of practice, or even failed to acquire the habit of democracy in the first place. The results have been catastrophic. As the procedures that once conferred legitimacy on organizations have grown alien to many Americans, contempt for democratic institutions has risen...

in the early years of the United States, Europeans made pilgrimages to the young republic to study its success. How could such a diverse and sprawling nation flourish under a system of government that originated in small, homogeneous city-states?

One after another, they seized upon the most unfamiliar aspect of American culture: its obsession with associations. To almost every challenge in their lives, Americans applied a common solution. They voluntarily bound themselves together, adopting written rules, electing officers, and making decisions by majority vote. This way of life started early. “Children in their games are wont to submit to rules which they have themselves established, and to punish misdemeanors which they have themselves defined,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. “The same spirit pervades every act of social life.”

By the latter half of the 19th century, more and more of these associations mirrored the federal government in form: Local chapters elected representatives to state-level gatherings, which sent delegates to national assemblies. “Associations are created, extended, and worked in the United States more quickly and effectively than in any other country,” marveled the British statesman James Bryce in 1888. These groups had their own systems of checks and balances. Executive officers were accountable to legislative assemblies; independent judiciaries ensured that both complied with the rules. One typical 19th-century legal guide, published by the Knights of Pythias, a fraternal order, compiled 2,827 binding precedents for use in its tribunals.

The model proved remarkably adaptable. In business, shareholders elected boards of directors in accordance with corporate charters, while trade associations bound together independent firms. Labor unions chartered locals that elected officers and dispatched delegates to national gatherings. From churches to mutual insurers to fraternities to volunteer fire companies, America’s civic institutions were run not by aristocratic elites who inherited their offices, nor by centrally appointed administrators, but by democratically elected representatives.

Civic participation was thus the norm, not the exception. In 1892, the University of Georgia’s president, Walter B. Hill, reported (with perhaps only slight exaggeration) that he’d made a test case of a small town “and found that every man, woman, and child (above ten years of age) in the place held an office—with the exception of a few scores of flabby, jellyfish characters.” America, he concluded, is “a nation of presidents.”

This nation of presidents—and judges, representatives, and recording secretaries—obsessed over rules and procedures. Offices turned over at the end of fixed terms; new organizations were constantly formed. Ordinary Americans could expect to find themselves suddenly asked to join a committee or chair a meeting...

Democracy had become the shared civic religion of a people who otherwise had little in common. Its rituals conferred legitimacy regardless of ideology; they could as readily be used to monopolize markets or advance the cause of nativism as to aid laborers or defend the rights of minorities. The Ku Klux Klan and the NAACP relied on similar organizational forms.

Time and again, groups excluded from democratic government turned to democratic governance to practice and press for equal citizenship. In the 1790s, a group of New Yorkers locked in debtors’ jail adopted their own version of the new Constitution, governing themselves with dignity despite their imprisonment.


But the United States is no longer a nation of joiners. As the political scientist Robert Putnam famously demonstrated in Bowling Alone, participation in civic groups and organizations of all kinds declined precipitously in the last decades of the 20th century. The trend has, if anything, accelerated since then; one study found that from 1994 to 2004, membership in such groups fell by 21 percent. And even that likely understates the real decline, as a slight uptick in passive memberships has masked a steeper fall in attendance and participation. The United States is no longer a nation of presidents, either. In a 2010 census survey, just 11 percent of respondents said that they had served as an officer or been on a committee of any group or organization in the previous year...

Volunteerism, church attendance, and social-media participation are not schools for self-government; they do not inculcate the habits and rituals of democracy. And as young people participate less in democratically run organizations, they show less faith in democracy itself. In 2011, about a quarter of American Millennials said that democracy was a “bad” or “very bad” way to run a country, and that it was “unimportant” to choose leaders in free and fair elections. By the time Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign, Gallup polling showed that Americans’ faith in most of the nation’s major institutions—the criminal-justice system, the press, public schools, all three branches of government—was below the historical average...

Read the entire article HERE. 

Who Wants Books About the Masons Anyway?

Tired of sourpuss stories that talk about how Freemasonry isn't of interest to modern society anymore? 

Just a quick follow up after the 'Masonic Salon of the Book' in Paris (Salon Maçonnique du Livre de Parislast weekend. They had a few people show up for this, the 16th annual book fair dedicated strictly to Freemasonry. 

More than sixty Masonic authors were on hand for the event's ten roundtable discussions, three conferences, thirty publishers, and seventeen of France's various Masonic obediences (regular, recognized, irregular, male, female and mixed). 

The two day program was open to the public.

Here's the punchline.

The Masonic Institute of Paris (Institut Maçonnique de France) reports that some 4,600 visitors attended this event on November 17-18 at La Bellevilloise. Sure looks like somebody's interested in this creaky old fraternity.

You'd think some sharp U.S. Freemasons would be interested in organizing something similar in a large city somewhere and actively promoting it to the public and the fraternity alike.

Where in the World?

This photo has been making the rounds of Masonic media for a couple of weeks, but no one seems to know where it is. It certainly has the look of a tiny lodge. 

If I am reading it correctly, the abbreviation stands for 'Alla Gloria del Grande Architetto dell'Universo,' Italian for 'To the Glory of the Grand Architect of the Universe.' I believe that at least the Grand Orient of Italy commonly uses the abbreviation. On the other hand, I can barely make out the words "Maconerie Gloria Ancien" which would be French. Feel free to disabuse me of any misconceptions. In any case, I'd love to see the interior.

Any informed guesses as to where this is? The front yard certainly looks like it could be Venice...

UPDATE: 11/20/2018 1:50AM

Brother Jose Ruah wins the Internet.

He sent a blog entry that identifies this interesting little lodge in the Grand Orient of the West Amazon of Brazil (Glória do Ocidente do Brasil No Amazonas). Here's an older picture with different signage, and an interior photo of the East.

According to the blog, the water flooded in about 2013, and it received a different exterior treatment then. Here's a clearer photo of its most recent entry which renders the words easier to read.  It's not Italian or French. It's Portuguese.

Watch out about stepping off that porch with one regular step...

Monday, November 19, 2018

Some Unique Masonic Happenings

Since 2015, the Grand Lodge F&AM of Indiana has organized an annual event with the National Football League and the Indianapolis Colts. This year we are celebrating our bicentennial year of Freemasonry in the state.

On Sunday, November 18th, over 400 Indiana Freemasons carried out an enormous American flag onto the field and unfurled it prior to the opening kick off against the Tennessee Titans. 

Our participants each receive a special Colts jersey emblazoned with a square and compass, and our families and friends are welcomed and encouraged to participate with us.

A video from our first year can be seen on the Grand Lodge Facebook page HERE.

And a more recent video from the 2017 flag ceremony is HERE.

Over the weekend, the the 20th and 19th Masonic districts of Florida hosted an outdoor degree conferral at the Masonic Park and Youth Camp in Wimauma. Two brethren were raised in this beautiful setting.

Florida's Masonic Park and Youth Camp is one of a handful of special recreational parks created by Freemasons throughout the United States. Opened in 1969, it has camping facilities, trails, cabins, stables, and recreational vehicle parking. Use of the outdoor Lodge can be requested by Masonic or fraternal organizations, subject to the MPYC Board approval and availability. 

While created by and for Masons, the park is open to the public. Their website is HERE.