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


Friday, May 31, 2019

Female Lodge Consecrated in Washington, DC: America No. 57

Various Masonic Facebook pages have been lit up all week over an announcement that a female Masonic lodge has been chartered in Washington, D.C. by the Honorable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF) of the United Kingdom. 

The officers of the newly created America Lodge No. 57 of Women Freemasons  were installed with Mrs. Lourdes (“Lou”) P. Elias as the Lodge’s first Worshipful Master. She is the wife of Akram Elias, Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.

The Chaplain of America Lodge, CDR Lynn Chow, USN, Ret. gave the Invocation.

Chaplain Lynn Chow and WM Lou Elias at the Memorial Day event

The new lodge was officially consecrated on May 25th, Memorial Day, in honor of the women in uniform who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the United States and Freedom. It was also the Centennial of the 19th Amendment giving women in the United States the right to vote.

A gala celebration for the lodge officers, members and guests was held at the Almas Shrine Center in Washington, D.C. as an open event that included a traditional Masonic Festive Board, and was attended by the Grand Master of Free And Accepted Masons of the District of Columbia along with several former Grand Masters.

A press release widely distributed by the lodge describes it as "the first Women's Regular Masonic Lodge in the United States." Indeed, the story was circulated on the Internet by the United Grand Lodge of England, and in 1999, the UGLE stated the following about the HFAF and the Order of Women Freemasons: 
There exist in England and Wales at least two Grand Lodges solely for women. Except that these bodies admit women, they are, so far as can be ascertained, otherwise regular in their practice. There is also one which admits both men and women to membership. They are not recognised by this Grand Lodge and intervisitation may not take place. There are, however, discussions from time to time with the women’s Grand Lodges on matters of mutual concern. Brethren are therefore free to explain to non-Masons, if asked, that Freemasonry is not confined to men (even though this Grand Lodge does not itself admit women). Further information about these bodies may be obtained by writing to the Grand Secretary. 
The Board is also aware that there exist other bodies not directly imitative of pure antient Masonry, but which by implication introduce Freemasonry, such as the Order of the Eastern Star. Membership of such bodies, attendance at their meetings, or participation in their ceremonies is incompatible with membership of this Grand Lodge.

U.S. male Masons will continue to register their shock and awe over the very notion of female Master Masons, dragging out their tired gags about breasts and Senior Deacons, while loudly reciting their obligations as though they wearing garlic to ward off vampires. Many U.S. Masons will indignantly shriek, "There's no such thing as female Freemasons." 

Of course, women can be Freemasons. There have been female Masons (and not the just ones who listen at keyholes or fall out of wardrobes into meetings while spying) since the mid-1700s. 
Regular, recognized male Freemasonry doesn't recognize them, they can't attend our meetings, we can't attend theirs. But they do exist, and in decent enough numbers to be taken seriously. Between 20-25% of the Masons in France are women right now, and Belgium has a substantial number as well. I don't have figures for the HFAM in England, but the OWF was founded in 1908, and they have some 6,000 members today in over 300 Craft lodges operating in the UK and overseas. Tellingly, different grand lodges we deem irregular in the U.S. have consecrated both female and mixed lodges in this country — with several, in fact, in Washington, D.C. Others have been in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and sprinkled throughout the country.

The UGLE has long had a far more pragmatic official position concerning women and Freemasonry than our U.S. grand lodges. When women show up at Freemasons Hall in London and ask about membership, they are cheerfully directed down the street to one of these two female Grand Lodges. In UGLE's view, they ARE completely regular - apart from admitting female members. They don't condemn the practice, they simply inform disappointed women Masons that they can't officially sit in each others' open lodge meetings. And as the statement clearly says, they have never accepted the Eastern Star in England.

HFAF Grand Lodge officers and members in London
UGLE invited the female grand masters of both the HFAF and OWF to their 300th anniversary gala in London in 2017. They even cooperate with each other with their University Scheme program, which seeks to introduce Freemasonry to college students by establishing lodges connected to college and university campuses. Interestingly, UGLE and the HFAF conferred with each other when they crafted their recent transgender policies in 2017, which were forced upon them by changes in English laws.

All of this is a lesson U.S. grand lodges need to pay attention to as the society shifts around us. Just as American grand lodges ignored Prince Hall Freemasonry for more than two hundred years, we have done the very same with female Freemasonry in this country. The Grand Master of the HFAF said in an interview last December that they are expanding and chartering lodges in India, Spain, Gibraltar, along with the new one in Washington this year. There are numerous other female lodges already at work across the U.S. that almost none of us are even remotely aware of.

American Masons have been able to pretend that the Order of the Eastern Star was sufficient for women to join as a panacea for legitimate Freemasonry, with suitable male Masonic lifeguards on hand to make sure they weren't actually conferring Masonic degrees. The internet, combined with societal upheavals and a shifting gender role landscape, is going to make the future very different. Female and mixed Freemasonry has never been at all popular in the U.S. historically, and these groups have remained quite small here. But that may change in the next decade. 

Nothing says our male-only fraternity has to begin admitting women, or even to extend recognition to the female grand lodge jurisdictions. Nothing says we have to violate our existing obligations, or even change them in the future. But there is no reason for American Masons to stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that there is a world of women who are not satisfied by weak substitutes like the OES and are every bit as dedicated to the Craft of Freemasonry as we are. 

As the UGLE has clearly demonstrated for the last 20 years, doing so neither "breaks my leg nor picks my pocket."

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Albert Pike's Civil War Era Sword Donated to House of the Temple

Arturo De Hoyos at the Scottish Rite SJ House of the Temple in Washington, D.C. reports that an incredible artifact has just been rescued thanks to the due diligence of Louisiana Freemasons, particularly in the New Orleans area:

In August 1861, a month after the beginning of the Civil War, Albert Pike was commissioned a Brigadier General in the Confederate States of America.
M.W. Bro. Benjamin B. French, Past Grand Master of Washington DC (who also served as Commissioner of Public Buildings, under Presidents Franklin Pierce and Abraham Lincoln) presented his friend Albert Pike with this beautiful sword in commemoration. It's a testament of the powerful bonds of fraternal esteem, in spite of political differences (if only we all had that type of mutual respect today).

The sword was recently purchased at an auction by the Freemasons of Louisiana (and in particular New Orleans) and was donated to the House of the Temple on Thursday, May 23, 2019.

Albert Pike was born and raised in Boston, but he and his family were living in Arkansas before and during the Civil War. He had lived among Indian tribes in the West in prior years with whom he was sympathetic. That's why he was compelled by the Confederacy to enlist and command Indian troops. He was commissioned in November 1861, but resigned March 1862 in disgust, disgraced by their savagery in the wake of the Pea Ridge catastrophe that he had been unable to control. 

He was a Confederate officer for less than six months.

Benjamin Brown French (1800–1870) was originally born in New Hampshire, and serve in the New hampshire Legislature. Ultimately, he would relocate to D.C. for nearly 40 years, holding several appointed positions in the government. He was appointed and served as Clerk of the United States House of Representatives from 1845-1847. From 1847-1850, he served as president of Samuel B. Morse's Magnetic Telegraph Company overseeing the expansion of telegraph communications throughout the United States. And in 1853, he was appointed Commissioner of Public Buildings By President Franklin Pierce. During his time as Commissioner under both Pierce and Abraham Lincoln, he played a major role in extending the U.S. Capitol and building the Capitol Dome. He also oversaw a number of historical events including the Gettysburg Address and the funeral of Abraham Lincoln. 

Republican Lincoln and his Vice Presidential running mate, Tennessee Democrat Andrew Johnson, had hoped their combined National Unity Party would heal the divided nation as the war ended. But after Lincoln's assassination in 1867, angry Reconstruction Republicans in the Senate decided to impeach President Johnson. As a sympathetic member of both Lincoln and Johnson administration's vision for reunification, French was punished by the Republicans for standing by Johnson. They dissolved the Commissioner of Public Buildings office and created what we have today, the office of Architect of the Capitol. 

French was an incredibly enthusiastic Freemason. He joined the fraternity in New Hampshire in 1826, serving three years as Master of his lodge. He then affiliated in National Lodge 12 in D.C. in 1846. In that same year, he was elected as Grand Master of the Grand lodge of the District of Columbia, a position he would hold for seven years. As Grand Master, French laid cornerstones of the Smithsonian Institution, the Washington Monument, the U.S. Capitol extension, and countless churches and other public buildings. 

He also served as the Grand Recorder for the Grand Encampment of the Knights Templar. Brother French became a Scottish Rite Mason and on September 15, 1859 he became the first 33rd Degree Mason from the District of Columbia. He was elected Grand Chancellor of the Supreme Council for the Southern Jurisdiction.

Benjamin B. French Lodge No. 15 of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia was chartered in 1852, and is thought to be the only U.S. Masonic lodge named after a sitting Grand Master. Benjamin Brown French, Grand Master of the District of Columbia from 1846 to 1853, reluctantly signed the charter establishing his namesake lodge in late 1852.

Pike's VERY brief time in the CSA frequently gets trotted out by anti-Masons in an effort to gin up controversy over him. And the ebb and flow of political fashion usually erupts every two decades or so over his statue in Washington D.C. For much, much more than you'll ever want to know about Albert Pike, his statue in Judiciary Square, his time in the Confederate Army, and of course, his views on slavery and its related topics, see Albert Pike, Statues, History and Hysteria from 2017.

But what makes the story of Benjamin B. French's gift of the sword to Pike so poignant is that it was such a deliberate act of Masonic Brotherhood and honor. Here was a Yankee Republican, from an anti-slavery party and part of the country, giving his Masonic Brother a sword as he went off to battle against his own nation for a cause both men knew to be wrong. And the sword was Masonically decorated with the All Seeing Eye of the Grand Architect, and the 'Lion of the Tribe of Judah.' Both men were following the code of defending their homes and the honor of their respective sides in the conflict that was tearing the country in two. 

And then, when the war ended and Pike was found to be a traitor against the Union for his six months as a brigadier general, Benjamin B. French himself, the man who gave him that sword, would draft an appeal in July of 1865 for acquittal from President Andrew Johnson. Numerous other Brethren across the country did the same, and Albert Pike was granted a presidential pardon on April 23, 1866.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

"In My Mother Lodge Out There..."

My Mother Lodge, Broad Ripple Lodge 643 in Indianapolis was chartered on this date 117 years ago in 1902. 

A lot has changed over the years, and we're in our third official location (fourth, if you count the organizational UD meetings in 1901 in the old Broad Ripple school building that's long gone). 

The first was in what was then called 'Light's Eldorado Hall,' where the Broad Ripple Starbucks resides today in that same old building.

The next was stalwart Mustard Hall, built and furnished entirely by the generosity of Brother Mustard and his wife. Upon his death, he willed property to be sold to raise money to erect a permanent home for his lodge, and his wife Cassandra added to the bequest. 
Who within the ranks of our fraternity today thinks enough of it to bequeath a substantial portion of their estate solely for the purpose of erecting a grand home for his lodge?

Mustard Hall still stands in the middle of broad Ripple Village today, still towering over everything on the Boulevard. Plenty of folks still call it the Masonic Hall, but few know why anymore. The lodge stayed there until 1993, but in an act of sheer negligence and short-sightedness, the Trustees sold the temple while the lodge was dark over the summer, and the members were suddenly informed and given 30 days to leave and find a new home. Which is how we ended up with our present, unassuming, 1960s former real estate office building at 1716 Broad Ripple Avenue at the top of this post. 

Nevertheless, we've been there 25 years now, and despite its many shortcomings, our brethren have made lemonade out of lemons with our present Temple. Once inside, it is every bit as special as the old Mustard Hall. And better, in many ways. Today, it is home to both Broad Ripple 643 and Lodge Vitruvian 767.

Curiously, an ad appeared today on Ebay selling the first of three commemorative pins I designed back in 2000 running up to our 100th anniversary that depicted our first meeting spaces. They're asking a whopping 8 smackers for this bit of Chinese pot metal, which they are describing as "vintage." 

I'd like to go on record as saying I resent anything I've created in my lifetime as being "vintage." 
It's far too close to the word "antique."

Which is only a stone's throw from "relic."

Issue 45 of the Journal of the Masonic Society

"The ultimate success of Masonry depends on the intelligence of her disciples." - Albert Mackey

Hard to believe The Masonic Society turned eleven years old last month.

Editor Michael Poll reports that Issue 45 of the Journal of The Masonic Society is in production and will soon go to press. Before long it will be showing up in the mailboxes of members and subscribers. This issue has 40 pages of true reading enjoyment and Masonic education. 

Papers in this issue include:
  • Charity and Philanthropy: The Masonic Role from its European Roots to the Americas By Michael C. Sachs
  • Are you an Educated Man by Francis R. Fritz
  • Tales of Tam o’Shanter by Martin Bogardus
  • The Potential Contribution of Freemasonry to Global Dialogue: International Theosophy Conference (2008) By Tom Jackson
  • Tyled Lodge By James F. Stephens
  • What do Tarot Cards have to do with Freemasonry? By Jaime Paul Lamb 
  • National Security and Freemasonry: Extrapolating Concepts to Prevent the Death of the Fraternity By Mason Shuya 
  • The Foundation of Happiness By David A. McCuistion 
The great collection of reading in this issue will also include the regular book reviews, Editor's Corner, Greg Knott's Camera's Lens feature and John Bridegroom's Masonic Treasures. 

If you are not a member or subscriber, you should be! 

To join online, visit the Masonic Society website at www.themasonicsociety.com

Monday, May 27, 2019

New Video Ads from Scottish Rite NMJ's "Not Just A Man" Campaign

The Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's comprehensive "Not Just A Man. A Mason." advertising campaign for Craft Freemasonry has been enthusiastically adopted all across the U.S. by grateful grand lodges and individual lodges alike. 

The most recent video, "Nice Guys," (above) is now available in both :30 and :60 second lengths. 

I believe I heard last week that the print and video campaigns are now being used far beyond the borders of the NMJ, and are appearing in some 44 states and six countries. That is how starved this fraternity has been for a quality and effective message, and well produced material.

This professional campaign can be customized to a certain extent for any lodge or grand lodge, provided certain guidelines are followed and the material is not substantially altered. The Scottish Rite is making all of this material available at no cost to the entire fraternity, and the overall message and the approach is based on extensive market and demographic research done two years ago. Results of those surveys and a wealth of data can be found in Reclaiming The Soul of Freemasonry by John William McNaughton.

The complete set of campaign materials can be found at the www.notjustaman.org website.

Memorial Day and the Mason Who Started It

The Indiana War Memorial in Indianapolis
Don't forget why you have today off.

Undoubtedly, what little is left of the local newspaper in your town today has a story of one or two area service members who survived a war, or didn't. They do it every year on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, half the time not knowing the difference between the two. And if you look a little deeper, you will find comments posted from family members who just want more than anything else for their loved one to simply be remembered, if only for one day of the year.

Please remember all of those thousands upon thousands of men and women whose names never got in the paper, except perhaps for a brief obituary, who have given so much for all of us.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Monument Circle
My hometown of Indianapolis is a unique place in America when it comes to remembering the human toll of armed conflict and the men and women who have, and continue, to serve all of the rest of us. Back in the early 1970s when the mere mention of Jane Fonda's name could incite full blown bar fights over her gallivanting across Vietnam and venting her naïve spleen over American soldiers, the actress and anti-war activist once sneered that Indianapolis was a city of little more than monuments to war. (Little wonder that the Indiana General Assembly in 1973 officially censured Fonda for her incendiary claims that former American POWs had lied about their torture while captives of the North Vietnamese). 

American Legion Mall
But the truth is that we are second only to Washington D.C. when it comes to the sheer number of our monuments and memorials to fallen warriors. Just in our downtown area, we have the Indiana War Memorial and Museum; the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the middle of our Circle; the USS Indianapolis Memorial; the American Legion Mall with its Sunken Garden and Cenotaph, World War II, Korean and Vietnam Memorials; Veteran's Memorial Plaza; and the 9/11 Memorial.

Our downtown Military Park was originally the official Military Ground in which our militias would train and drill, and where the City held its first Independence day celebrations. It''s the oldest park in town. 

Crown Hill National Cemetery for Union Soldiers
Garfield Park on the South Side has a monument to Confederate soldiers who died in our Union POW Camp Morton here during the Civil War. Meanwhile, Crown Hill Cemetery has within it the Crown Hill National Cemetery in which fallen Union soldiers are interred. It's not far from the official Masonic burial section. And their veterans' Field of Honor with its Eternal Flame is in the northern section of the property, if you go under the 38th Street tunnel. 

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Even our internationally renowned annual Indianapolis 500 Indycar race is held on the Sunday before Memorial Day, and heavily tied to its commemoration.

Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial
If by chance you do ever come to Indianapolis, give yourself an hour or so to visit the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial along the banks of the canal downtown. There you will find all of the names and a few stories of the 3,506 recipients (with 3525 awarded, some multiples) since the Medal's creation in 1861.

But as amazing and heroic and tragic and heartbreaking as those histories are, soldiers, sailors, and airmen don't always receive big impressive medals before or after they don't make it home. Most of them don't, and their stories don't always get memorialized. For every one we hear about are hundreds we never do. They have families and histories that need to be remembered too, beyond just a name on a forgotten stone in a grassy field somewhere nobody visits very often. Even on a special holiday just for them.

A famous Freemason thought that very same thing.

Major General John A. Logan
Logan Lodge No. 575 here in Indianapolis was chartered in 1888, and is named after Major General John A. Logan, one of the most famous and popular Union Army generals of the Civil War. Because he was born and raised by settlers who (like Abraham Lincoln himself) had come to Illinois out of Kentucky, Logan's sympathies were torn by both sides in the conflict. His own brother-in-law, Hilbert A. Cunningham, joined the Confederate Army for two years as head of the South's only Northern-born group, Company G of the 15th Tennessee, before deserting in 1863 to join the Union side, where he became a captain on John Logan's staff.

After the war, John Logan became a fierce Republican, an Illinois congressman and senator, a vice-presidential candidate, and was one of seven managers of the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson. He was a staunch supporter for the cause of Veterans, and was one of the primary advocates of creating what eventually came to be called Memorial Day as a national holiday – a day that is important all across America, but especially here in Indianapolis.

Brother Logan was raised as a Master Mason in Mitchell Lodge No. 85 in Pinckneyville, Illinois. He was a York Rite Mason and Templar in Chicago. He was also a member of the Scottish Rite there, and was elected to be coroneted a 33° in 1886, but died before it could be conferred.

Memorial Day (originally known as Decoration Day) was officially declared on May 5th, 1868 by General Logan, in his role as national commander of a relatively new fraternal group, the Grand Army of the Republic. It was first observed on May 30th of that year when flowers were placed on the graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. As a result of his own personal circumstances and his experience during the war, as well as his wide popularity throughout the reunited nation, he was uniquely qualified to establish this healing annual day for observance and memory.


General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, "of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion." What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from hishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation's gratitude, the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan.

It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.
By order of


Adjutant General


The Grand Army of the Republic was made up of veterans of the Union Army who had served in the Civil War. By 1890, the GAR had 490,000 members, and held an annual National Encampment every year from 1866 until its final encampment right here in Indianapolis in 1949. Seven years later, its last member, Albert Woolson, died, and the GAR formally folded its last flag and vanished. But Memorial Day outlived its creators, and continues to be celebrated to this day.

Don't simply treat the day as part of a warm three day weekend. Take a moment to reflect upon those men and women who have given the "last full measure of devotion" for their country. Start by asking the Brethren in your lodge about themselves, their families, or your own former and fallen members from earlier times. Perhaps even the namesake of your lodge, like John Logan. Decorate their graves. Visit their memorials. Tell their stories. Raise the flag in their honor. Lift up their widows and orphans. 

And remember.

Friday, May 24, 2019

President Awards Medal of Valor Posthumously To Fallen Dallas Mason

Photo by NBC
President Donald Trump has awarded the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor posthumously to fallen Brother Brent Alan Thompson, 43, Master Mason of Corsicana Lodge No. 174, and a member of the Black Gold Chapter of DeMolay, Corsicana, Texas. He was a former Marine, and nearly a seven-year veteran of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit agency (D.A.R.T.). Brother Thompson was called to the celestial lodge above after his heroic actions during the Dallas ambush shooting on July 7, 2016. 

He was killed just two weeks after his wedding to his new wife Emily, and about two weeks short of his 44th birthday.

The sniper attack resulted in the shooting of twelve police officers at what had been a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. Micah Xavier Johnson (25) of Mesquite, TX fired the shots that killed five officers including Brother Thompson, and wounded seven others. Two civilians were also injured in the shootings. It was the deadliest event for police officers in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001. 

Johnson, who was black, had deliberately targeted white police officers as "revenge" over police shootings and alleged "profiling" of black suspects that had dominated the national news that year. He was killed after a long, defiant standoff with police that night, during which he claimed he had planted explosives throughout the city. Following the incident, police discovered bomb making materials and Johnson's plans for even more and larger mass attacks, had he escaped.

Brother Thompson was survived by his wife Emily, and six children. Emily Thompson is also a DART police officer. Emily, Brent's parents, and DART Police Sargent Richard Tear attended the ceremony in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to accept Thompson's award.

He was the first DART officer killed in the line of duty in the department's history and died just two weeks before his 44th birthday in the ambush shootings. “He gave his life while engaging a mass shooter and saving the lives of countless civilians and fellow officers during a protest march in Dallas on July 7, 2016,” DART said in a statement.

In his remarks at the ceremony, President Trump described Brother Thompson's final acts of courage on that day two summers ago:
On July 7, 2016, Dallas Police Officer Brent Thompson was on duty during a large protest against law enforcement that soon turned violent when a gunman opened fire on the police. Brent charged across the three-lane road and fired on the shooter. Brent was killed instantly in the firefight, but his act of courage saved many lives. Many, many lives...
"Every officer, firefighter and first responder who receives this award embodies the highest ideals of service and sacrifice, character and courage."
Congress passed the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor Act in 2001, which created the Public Safety Officer Medal of Valor, the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer.

There is another tragic footnote to this story. Brent's son William, who had also been an active member of the Black Gold DeMolay Chapter, passed away just a year and a half later, on November 20, 2017. He was just 19. 

According to police, William had shot himself.

Brother Brent Alan Thompson was laid in his final resting place on July 12, 2016 in a private cemetery on his family's farm in Corsicana, Texas. His son now rests beside him.

His brethren mourn.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Nebraska Raises the Bar, and Masons Need to Pay Attention

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

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

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

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

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

It'll Save Freemasonry, went the conventional wisdom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it proves you're not loafing up here.

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

UPDATE 5/23/2019

Because of the immediate popularity of this particular Short Talk Bulletin in the wake of this discussion, the MSA has made it available in its entirety online as a pdf. See it HERE.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 13, 2019

North Carolina Masonic Lodge Vandalized

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

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

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

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

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

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