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


Sunday, October 13, 2019

Issue 46 of the Journal of the Masonic Society



Issue 46 of the Journal of The Masonic Society got crammed into the back of my mailbox last week by my postal carrier (who has all of the grace and caring finesse of an old Soviet Aeroflot airline hostess and with much the same looks). 

As always, the lineup for this issue is an impressive one. 

Papers include:
  • "Personal Ritual: A Contemplative Tool for Masonry Beyond the Lodge" by C.R. Dunning, Jr.
  • "Ancient Charges Scroll Case: Putting Craftsmanship Back into the Craft" by Martin Bogardus
  • "Who Are We, and Where Do We Stand?" by Robert L. Poll
  • "The Boyer Model of Scholarship: Application to the Craft" by Michael L. Moran and  Seth C. Anthony
  • "The Symbolism of Preparation" by Mark St. John
  • "Brother, Brother - Brother, Brothers" by Anthony Whitehawk Cabello
  • "Concept of Masonic Renewal: What does it mean to you now and in the future?" by Christian M. Christensen
  • "Why Freemasonry?" by Barry A. Searle
  • "Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism: Ludibrium or Logic?" by Michael E. Ludwig

The great collection of reading in this issue also includes the regular book reviews, Editor's Corner, Greg Knott's great Camera's Lens feature, John Bridegroom's Masonic Treasures and more. 

Hard to believe that we started the Masonic Society just eleven short years ago. If you are not a member or subscriber, you should be! Visit the Masonic Society's website at www.themasonicsociety.com


Thursday, October 10, 2019

Molotov Cocktail Thrown at NYC's Masonic Hall


The New York Post reports that an unidentified suspect threw a Molotov cocktail at the entrance of New York's landmark Masonic Hall on 23rd Street Wednesday night at about 11:45PM. 

According to the report, the glass incendiary device ignited and quickly burned out. Firefighters were called, but the flames had been extinguished by the time they arrived. There were no injuries and there is currently no word yet on any damage.

The suspect was seen on video surveillance cameras and was wearing a grey sweatshirt and green track pants with white stripes down the legs (click the photo above to enlarge). New York Crime Stoppers is seeking tips on this suspect at 800-577-8477.


The Masonic Hall is home to dozens of Masonic lodges and related organizations, and is the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of New York F&AM.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Video: Differences Between the Two U.S. Scottish Rite Supreme Councils



Did you ever wonder why the U.S has two different (VERY different) "mainstream" Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite Supreme Councils - one for the Northern (NMJ) and one for the Southern (SJ) jurisdictions? 

The AASR-SJ's Illus. Grand Archivist Arturo De Hoyos and the two Sovereign Grand Commanders - Jim Cole (SJ) and David Glattly (NMJ) -  spell it all out for you in this video that was recently posted by the Scottish Rite of the District of Columbia.

In the first ten minutes, Art explains where the two groups originated and why, the differences in practices and philosophies of their dramatically dissimilar degree rituals, even the "wings up/wings down" controversy. The second half of the program is a back-and-forth interview with the two SGCs.

The message this video conveys is a celebration of the differences and similarities, not a claim as to which of the two jurisdictions is "better or worse." And as Art points out, if you are truly obsessive about it, you can be a member of both jurisdictions simultaneously (although you have to decide on an official "home" valley through which you receive your honors and benefits).

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Former Aurora, Illinois Masonic Temple Destroyed By Fire



And another one gone.

The former Aurora, Illinois Masonic Temple was destroyed by fire last night. It has been empty since 2006. The cause of the fire is unknown.



From the NBC affiliate in Chicago:
Crews continued to battle the massive fire into Tuesday morning. Officials said the ceiling caved in on the five-story structure overnight and it remained unknown as of early Tuesday which portions of the building, if any, would be salvageable.
The blaze rendered the temple structurally unstable, Aurora Fire Chief Gary Krienitz said at the scene early Tuesday. Krienitz added that the temple's roof and part of the facade had already collapsed, and that the entire area was blocked off out of fear that the walls could come down as well.
He also said that debris from the blaze hit an electrical line, forcing ComEd to shut off power in the area and causing a small outage.
No injuries were reported in the fire, officials said, but five homes in the area were evacuated. Fire officials said crews will likely remain on the scene all day Tuesday, with the focus on securing the area and getting people back into their homes safely.
The cause of the blaze remains under investigation.



The 1921-24 neo-classical landmark in suburban Chicago was originally built by the proud members of Jerusalem Temple Lodge 90, and was designed by architect William Q. Bendus. It had two large lodge rooms that could seat 200, and an unfinished ballroom. 



But in less than 60 years the neighborhood shifted, membership dwindled, and it was fled by the Masons, like so many other giant Masonic temples in and around Chicago. The Aurora Temple became a banquet center in the 1980s, but has been totally abandoned since about 2006. Local attempts at restoration and reuse had been made over the years, but to no avail. 

Now all that remains of the once proud Masonic presence is a burned out shell.

Preserve and protect what we still have, Brethren. We will never build their equals again.

H/T Scott Dueball

UPDATE: A drone flyover video of the burned out temple has been uploaded to Youtube.


Monday, October 07, 2019

Prince Hall Recognition - Is Mississippi Next?

MW Jason A. Jefcoat, Grand Master of the
Grand Lodge of Mississippi F&AM
(UPDATE: This story was previously posted with an incorrect photo that showed Brother Maurice F. Lucas, JUNIOR instead of MW Maurice F. Lucas, SENIOR, who is the Grand Master of the Stringer Grand Lodge of Mississippi (PHA). That corrected photo has been updated below. My apologies for the error, which was mine entirely.)

The historical segregation between the predominantly white "mainstream" Masons and African-American Prince Hall grand lodges in the American South continues to mosey its way to the well-deserved tar pits. While this post is a little less timely than it probably should have been, I wanted to wait a few more days before circulating it.  


Mississippi's "mainstream" and Prince Hall Scottish Rite Masons
were represented at the Scottish Rite in Memphis last week.
The world did not stop spinning on its axis.

The news from last week about the Memphis (TN) Valley of the Scottish Rite and their Prince Hall Affiliated counterparts cooperating wasn't just confined to Tennessee's Masons. As reported, Mississippi had representatives from their own Scottish Rite bodies - "mainstream" and Prince Hall - attending as well. But there's a little more to the story out of Mississippi. 

Back on September 27th, Mississippi's Grand Master, MW Jason A. Jefcoat posted the following message on the Grand Lodge of Mississippi's official Facebook page:
Brethren,
Not long after I was installed as your Grand Master I received an invitation and a request from the Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Stringer Grand Lodge of Mississippi F&AM, Prince Hall Affiliated for a meeting to discuss the possibility of some type of mutual recognition. As your newly installed Grand Master, with what I still consider an extremely important agenda and a very full schedule, I dismissed this invitation.
Five months later while I was representing our State at the Scottish Rite Biennial Session, I was given the opportunity to meet Brothers from all over the world. In some of these conversations the topic of Prince Hall Masons was discussed. I was made aware of some future events concerning Prince Hall Masonry and our counterparts in the Southeastern Masonic Conference. I talked with Grand Masters whose States have recognized Prince Hall Masons for decades, and I talked to Grand Master whose States are voting on this topic in the very near future. There was a lot of talking, but for once in my life I kept my mouth shut and listened.
Because I know how strongly some of our Brothers feel about this topic, I took my burden to God. I considered the consequences and benefits of what some type of recognition would mean for Mississippi, and I asked Him for help.
Within 24 hours I received a phone call from Grand Master Most Worshipful Brother Maurice Lucas, Most Worshipful Stringer Grand Lodge, Prince Hall Affiliate. I immediately accepted his invitation for lunch the next week. The following is a result of our meeting. The request has been turned over to the Fraternal Relations Committee, and will be presented for a vote at our next Annual Communication.





MW Maurice F. Lucas, Sr.
Grand Master of Stringer GL of Mississippi (PHA)
The letter GM Jefcoat posted was an official written request by MW Maurice F. Lucas, Sr., the Grand Master of the MW Stringer Grand Lodge of Mississippi F&AM (the regular Prince Hall Affiliated grand lodge in that state - see footnote) to discuss joint recognition and arrange a treaty of amity to share concurrent jurisdiction in Mississippi:









Click image to enlarge

Part of the thing that frustrates new and old Masons alike is the glacial speed with which the fraternity operates, especially when topics like recognition arise. When annual meetings are required to make changes, and simple yes/no decisions to proceed or not are measured in years instead of days or minutes, it's easy to assume nothing is happening. 

So.


What this all means to the uninitiated or the frustrated is that Mississippi's Prince Hall (PHA) Masons will be voting on whether or not proceed with this official request at THEIR next annual communication. THEN the Grand Lodge of Mississippi F&AM will take up the question. Presuming both pass the votes, THEN the two grand lodges will officially meet to hammer out details. THEN the two grand lodges will have to both ratify the agreements. And all of this presupposes that both bodies of historically entrenched Masons even agree to undertake any of this in the first place.


All of this creaky back and forth seemed normal in the 18th and 19th centuries when these types of processes were worked out. Unfortunately, when it comes to potentially controversial topics like anything involving race and the American South, the rest of the world can't refrain from hurling accusations and insults south of the Mason-Dixon Line. This isn't an apologia for this longstanding wall between Freemasons there, but let's give fair-minded Masons the proper opportunity to finally solve it at long last. If they do, this map may be changing again sooner than later.



*Just a note for clarity: since after the Civil War, Prince Hall Freemasonry has long been most active and widespread in the American South. If you don't know the history of the National Compact era and the battles between PHA (Prince Hall Affiliated) grand lodges versus the former Compact-era PHO (Prince Hall Origin) grand lodges, this blog can't really do that justice in a short space. If you read online arguments between Masons on both sides, you might see them calling each other "three-letter" or "four-letter" Masons (F&AM vs the Compact's AF&AM). In some states, the early- to mid-20th century attempt to standardize all PHA grand lodge names by changing to "The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of [your state here], F&AM" was frustrated by legal counter-claims over corporate entity names on a state by state basis. 

Consequently, Mississippi's PHA grand lodge is officially named the "Most Worshipful Stringer Grand Lodge of Mississippi F&AM." The Compact-era's PHO grand lodge got to the courthouse first, so it snagged the simpler name .

For related reasons Florida's ungainly regular, recognized PHA name is the "Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity F&AM PHA Florida & Belize, Central America Jurisdiction, Inc."

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Simon LaPlace Departs Masonic Service Association


After three years' of serving as its Executive Secretary, Simon R. LaPlace has left the Masonic Service Association as of October 1st. He will be seriously missed by all of us who know just what he has been accomplishing during his time in the position. 

The October Emmessay Notes arrived today with the following message:
For the past three years, I have had the pleasure of working at the greatest job in the world. The friendships my wife and I have made throughout the country have been truly fulfilling. The work of the MSA Representatives and volunteers at Veterans homes and hospitals is inspiring. The dedication I have seen by Grand Secretaries and many Masons is reassuring.
When I made the commitment to serve as Executive Secretary for three years, I anticipated the position would continue for a longer period. MSA’s commissioners are working to reorganize the Association, and after 100 years, one of these changes may be the elimination of an Executive Secretary. Despite my presentation to them in February that would turn a deficit into a surplus, they have chosen a different path with an uncertain future.
I hope what has made MSA so important continues—disaster relief, education, and comforting veterans, but I am not so sure it will. But I will continue to help these programs as long as I can. - Simon R. LaPlace
The assorted past grand masters who comprise the MSA's Commissioners have decided in their infinite wisdom to eliminate the position of Executive Secretary completely - thereby robbing the internationally known organization of its public face, most visible cheerleader, and central ringleader. Apparently, the Commissioners will now divvy up the roles that Simon and his long line of high-profile, storied predecessors have fulfilled since the 1920s. 

The Executive Secretary has played a vital role in being the personal contact between grand lodge officers who know little or nothing about it and the range of services MSA provides. I know just from my own observation that Simon has overseen major updating and streamlining of the MSA since he arrived three years ago. 

Under his leadership the MSA cooperated with the Amity software folks to integrate information and Short Talk Bulletins with their phone app, making it more useful to all Masons. The entire library of over 1,000 previous STBs were indexed, reformatted, and republished in easily referenced hardback editions, making almost a full century of collected wisdom accessible once again to a whole new audience of Masons and researchers. MSA finally began accepting online credit card donations, which dramatically increased the Disaster Appeal fundraising efforts. Even the most recent dead tree version of the STB arriving in the mail today represents a major change in the printing format and vendor. To say nothing of his work for the many Disaster Relief Appeals he has shepherded and the ongoing Veteran's visitation programs that make up the backbone of MSA's services since before World War II. 

Simon's nearly non-stop travel to grand lodges throughout North America have kept the story of the MSA in front of Masons everywhere, just as his predecessors did over the years. Apparently, it's been decided that's no longer needed. 

The old advertising man in me is screaming that this is a terrible idea.

In addition, the central office for MSA will soon be moving from Maryland to the bustling community of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  By my own dull-witted 30 second calculation, the current office sits less than a six hour drive from at least fourteen different US grand lodges, and even closer to at least five major international hub airports with easy, direct flights to quite literally anywhere commercial aircraft fly today. This isn't a hit on Iowa, but let's just say Cedar Rapids does not.

I don't believe that any of this is a good development for the MSA, and I hope the Commissioners take big deep breath before they jump off this cliff.

Many thanks to Simon and his lovely bride Deborah for their hard work, leadership and devotion. They will both be sorely missed as the MSA's most visible ambassadors.



Monday, September 30, 2019

Fire Destroys New Hampshire's Morrison Lodge 90


The historic 1885 temple of New Hampshire's Morrison Lodge 90 in Northwood was completely destroyed by fire on Saturday night. By Sunday morning, the entire 134 year old wooden structure and all of its contents has been reduced to nothing but smoldering rubble.



According to multiple news reports, fighting the fire was hampered the lack of fire hydrants in the surrounding streets. Cause of the four-alarm blaze is not known and is being investigated by fire officials. 


Morrison Lodge in better days
Chris Busby, chairman of the communications committee with the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, released the following statement:
“Last night, our beloved Brethren from Morrison Lodge No. 90 and Sisters from Crescent Chapter No. 45, Order of the Eastern Star lost their Masonic Temple in Northwood to a devastating fire. While the building and its precious contents are gone, the generations of memories made and the spirit of those that have occupied it will always endure...
“The Grand Lodge and the Brethren of New Hampshire offer our deep and sincere sympathy to our Northwood Masonic family for this tragic event. Even more, we extend our assistance and love to our brothers and sisters to assure that Masonry and star in Northwood will arise from this adversity stronger than ever."
Both Morrison Lodge No. 90 and Crescent Chapter No. 45, Order of the Eastern Star met in the building that was destroyed. According to Chris, the lodge was chartered as Northwood Lodge in 1874. The lodge’s current Master, Anthony Tuttle, is the fourth generation of his family to serve as Master of this lodge. 


All of the lodge's historic records and objects perished. Everything was destroyed by the fire, including paintings of Revolutionary War scenes. “Things you can’t replace, all things that were hand painted back in the 1800s. It was horse hair plaster walls, an old building that has a lot of character,” WBro. Tuttle said.


At the time the fire broke out, no one was in the building. Morrison Lodge and Crescent OES members were busy working at the Deerfield Fair. The lodge was to be one of more than 30 lodges taking part in an October 19th open house across the state.

Nine fire departments responded to the blaze. One firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion, but no other injuries were reported.

According to Chris Busby's statement, officials with Morrison Lodge No. 90 are working through the process of a claim with their insurance company. While countless Masons have already reached out to help, they are not asking for monetary donations at this time:

“We would ask the public and our Masonic family to withhold any financial donations at this time. We will keep everyone apprised of the process of rebuilding but rest assured that the spirit of Freemasonry is alive and well in Northwood.”
Read the complete statement HERE. 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Tennessee Scottish Rite Masons Host 18° Friendship Night with Prince Hall Counterparts


(Note: This story has been updated. It mistakenly mis-identified the location as being the Valley of Nashville instead of Memphis.)

Something of a major milestone was just crossed in Tennessee Freemasonry over the weekend.  On Saturday, the Scottish Rite (SJ) Valley of Memphis welcomed Tennessee's Prince Hall Scottish Rite Masons to participate in the exemplification of the Southern Jurisdiction's 18th degree, followed by a Friendship Dinner. 

Tennessee remains one of just seven U.S. jurisdictions that has not yet adopted mutual recognition between the predominantly white "mainstream" grand lodge and its principally African-American Prince Hall Affiliated counterpart.




A delegation of members from both the Grand Lodge of Mississippi and the
MW Stringer Grand Lodge of Mississippi (PHA) happened to be in attendance -
An interesting development...

Members in attendance began circulating images almost immediately, and no one was attempting to sneak this under anyone's radar. The event had the official blessing of both the Grand Lodge of Tennessee F&AM and the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Tennessee, as well as the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite-Southern Jurisdiction leadership.

Congratulations to both MW Robert Reed and MW Lamont Banks, the Grand Masters of the two jurisdictions, for working to make this happen.


The AASR-SJ's 18th degree as authored by Albert Pike is an important one. It is specifically designed, in part, to teach that Masonry isn’t designed for one creed, nationality, or religion. 'The Knight of the Rose Cross' demonstrates that life and its strengths come from God, and to be tolerant of others' errors and faults. Consequently, its presentation at this joint gathering was considered appropriate and especially poignant. Prince Hall Past Grand Master, MWB Arvin Glass was the exemplar candidate.

Tennessee's Prince Hall Grand Lodge formally requested recognition by the Grand Lodge of Tennessee several months ago, and their request will be presented at the 2020 annual communication next spring. Grand Lodge officers have been discussing the request at District meetings throughout the state and answering questions. If joint recognition is achieved next year it will make a fitting birthday present for the Prince Hall Masons of Tennessee, who will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of their formal founding in 1870 after the end of the Civil War.



Alabama (2017) and Florida (2019) have been the two most recent states to adopt joint recognition between their mainstream and Prince Hall Affiliated grand lodges. As of today only Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia remain officially separated.





What Is Prince Hall Freemasonry?

Prince Hall Freemasonry is named after its founding Master, a manumitted slave and influential early civil rights leader named Prince Hall (d. 1807). A lodge was established in Boston, Massachusetts in 1784 by fifteen free blacks who were granted an English charter as African Lodge 459 by the Premiere Grand Lodge of England (Moderns). Prior to its chartering, Freemasonry had been practiced almost exclusively by white members of America's colonial society.  

'Colored' Freemasonry among blacks spread very slowly throughout the growing nation after African Lodge declared itself to be a grand lodge in 1808, and independent of all other grand lodges after 1827. Following the Civil War, black Masonic lodges and grand lodges expanded dramatically. As with nearly every other social and cultural association in the country, the historical result was that two racially segregated threads of American Freemasonry coexisted without cooperation or recognition until joint amity was first adopted in Connecticut in 1989, setting off a national trend in the 1990s.  


These threads of American Freemasonry have not officially been segregated  since Brown v. Board of Education and the end of Jim Crow-era laws and practices in America by the early 1960s. However, Prince Hall Freemasonry has remained predominantly popular and influential in the African-American community to this day.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

California Freemason Magazine Highlights Their Masonic Artists


If your grand lodge magazine continues to be dominated by creaky stories about George Washington and dead Masonic baseball players, have a look at the latest issue of California Freemason magazine.

They have been going out of their way in recent years to highlight current active Masons from all walks of life today, along with their talents and accomplishments. I've always been a sucker for stories and images of the endless variety of material art and culture created by fellow Freemasons. This most recent issue (September/October 2019) takes full advantage of the many talented Masons involved in the arts across California, and the magazine is dedicated to the general subject of Masonic folk art, both antique and modern.

To wit: Logos Lodge No. 861 in San Francisco is top heavy with artistic members, and this relatively new lodge encourages them to channel their abilities to adorn its meeting space. 
Affinity lodges made up of artists, writers, musicians, actors and others were common in the US and Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Logos Lodge is continuing that tradition today. They have specifically declared the lodge to be a center of creativity. 

From The Do It Yourself Lodge by Ian Stewart:
James Tucker is describing the new aprons that members of his lodge, Logos Lodge No. 861 in San Francisco, have designed. They’re an attractive green, gold, and white on the outside—a square-and-compass logo shrouded in Acacia leaves beneath a triangle-within-a-circle design on the flap. On the reverse side, they’re black leather with a white, hand-painted skull design. Each one is hand-painted and unique to the wearer; a symbol of their higher existence is included on each apron. Tucker himself has painted several such designs for members, but, he confesses, “I’d rather they do it themselves.”
That’s become something of a mantra for Logos Lodge, the two-year-old group that may well be the most artistically inclined bunch in the state. Since their founding in 2018, members of Logos Lodge have taken it upon themselves to design and create just about every piece of Masonic regalia they own, among them the hand-painted aprons; gavels; a lodge banner; and their lodge identification jewels, which feature a spherical checkerboard floor beneath a radiating star-within-a-triangle design, itself inside an ornate square-and-compass. “Creativity is so special to a lodge,” Tucker says. “We’re founded on that.”
Logos’ handmade artistic sensibility has permeated other facets of lodge business, as well: As candidates complete their degrees, their accompanying work pieces have begun tending toward mixed media. Patrick Clos, raised in 2018, wrote and performed songs for each of his degree conferrals. (In his spare time, Clos is the frontman of the rock group Cocktails.) Another member, Kevin Jones, is a videographer by day and has been planning a video piece for his degree.
But perhaps the piéce de resistance for Logos is the 20-foot-long floor cloth that members of the lodge designed and hand-painted. The carpet, which candidates are guided along during their Entered Apprentice degree, alludes to King Solomon’s temple as an allegory for the soul’s journey. Lodge Chaplain Robert Haines helped design the piece, with an assist from Tucker, who hand-painted it with a wax-based crayon of sorts...
Read the whole article HERE


There are also articles about the artwork of floor cloths and Masonic carpets of the 1800s; a Masonic board game; Masonic lapel pins; a presentation of folk art examples currently displayed at their Museum; and modern craftsmen creating new treasures for the fraternity. Even an interview with Brother Bryan Godwin, a modern day artist working in Visual Effects creation (VFX) for some of the top blockbuster movies and TV shows dazzling audiences these days (Joker, Westworld, Dawn of Justice, and lots and lots more).
I'm sure your own jurisdiction has its share of equally talented artists and craftsmen creating their own Masonic works of art. Such brethren deserve recognition and to have their work seen by a wider audience besides their own lodge members. Your state magazine is the perfect venue, and such stories and images are far more interesting to your Masons than tiny photos of men shaking hands, or sticking lapel pins or medals on each other in photos taken from across the room. Why not use those full color pages every month or two to highlight the beauty created by our own inspired brethren?

Hats off to Alan Casalou, California's Grand Secretary and Editor in Chief, and the entire crew of the California Freemason magazine for putting together what is consistently one of the top Grand lodge-sponsored magazines in the world.



Friday, September 20, 2019

Tractor Supply Co. Banning Gun Raffles Affects Masonic Fundraising


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

And that can't be good.

 Read the full story HERE.





UPDATE:

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


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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Masonic Metal Artisans

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

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

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

 

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



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

It started life as an old rusty nail.

Speaking of Adam's Mill...


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

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

Brother Lee Tweedie illuminates the G at Adam's Mill

Historic Wild Cat Lodge Room at Adam's Mill


Tuesday, September 17, 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 16, 2019

GL of Scotland Shuts Down Its Social Media


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


H/T to R. J. Johnson