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


Saturday, March 28, 2020

Isolation Is A(nother) Good Reason For New Books

by Christopher Hodapp

UPDATE APRIL 6, 2020: 
I just received word as of today that the MSA is now officially sold out of ALL editions of these books - both the Master Mason cloth bindings and the grand Master leather ones! Richard asks that you please not try to order any more.

That said, Carl Davis' weekly devotional book also mentioned in this original post , Making Good Men Better, is NOT sold out and still very much available!


A major bargain on expensive Masonic books doesn't happen very often, but this is a real opportunity for lodges, libraries and individual Masons seeking a massive educational resource. 

As reported here several months ago, the Masonic Service Association is moving its headquarters from Maryland to Iowa. The complete six-volume set of hardbound editions of the Short Talk Bulletins starting in the 1920s is now on sale at what is almost a giveaway price. The full set of the Master Mason cloth-bound, hardback edition is just $120, and this combined set contains over 1,000 Short Talk Bulletins. 

If you are looking for the higher quality leather bound Grand Master editions, they are going for $40 apiece. All of these prices are less than a third of their original cover price.

This means you could have a complete set of these books for less than the price of two of them when they were first printed. Don't let this deal slip by. Every Masonic Lodge and Masonic research library really should have these sets.

There are hundreds of hidden gems, historical tales, ritual information, symbolism explanations and exploration, and scores of other sorts of topics to be found in these beautiful volumes. Every Single Short Talk Bulletin from 1923 through 2017 has been edited, re-typeset and blessedly indexed for these books by S. Brent Morris of the Scottish Rite Research Society. You could literally read one article every single day for almost the next three years. Never be at a loss for 'Masonic education' at you meetings ever again - you can walk into your lodge, literally open any of these books and start reading one aloud (once we can all meet again).

The sale was announced in the most recent mailing of the MSA Short Talk Bulletin and Emessay Notes. Note that the sale price is NOT reflected on the MSA's webpage, so you'll need to contact them directly. (Nothing on the MSA website seems to have been updated since Simon LaPlace left several months ago.)

Email: msaoffice@msana.com
Tel: (301) 476-7330
Toll-free: (855) 476-4010

A new book has just been released by WB Carl W. Davis, and it couldn't come at a more opportune time. Making Good Men Better: A 52 Week Personal Growth Plan Based on the Teachings of Freemasonry is designed as a weekly Masonic devotional designed to instruct and inspire the contemplative Brother with a year’s worth of lessons about our symbolism, our philosophy, and even the phrases we use. Since we are all trapped in our houses for the duration of the COVID pandemic, Carl's book gives you the chance to advance your own personal thinking about Masonic principles and concepts as the weeks go by.

The daily or weekly devotional reader was once one of those common items that almost everyone in the Western world was familiar with, at least until the last 50 years or so. Most commonly circulated in the Christian tradition, these little booklets provided short readings, Biblical quotations, homilies, stories, and other inspirational content to be used during a daily time of prayer or spiritual meditation. The brief passages were meant to inspire or prompt the reader’s own deeper thoughts and reflection throughout the course of a week, a month, or a year.

Making Good Men Better is divided into 52 chapters, intended to be read one per week, and each chapter is followed by space to record your own reflections or notes. Because Carl has traveled extensively and visited Masonic lodges in a wide variation of jurisdictions, he combines concepts from several rituals with which you may not be entirely familiar with in an effort to examine and broaden our understanding of them. Sometimes it's helpful to look at a very different expression of the same symbol or ritualistic aspect through the eyes from a different state or country. Our rituals weren't carved in stone in most cases until the late 19th century when printed ciphers began to unify the work in any given state. Up until then, jurisdictions or individual lodges often added or subtracted paragraphs or entire lectures seen or heard or invented elsewhere.

WB Davis' book covers all kinds of elements, from ritual and symbolism, to certain practices and traditions we observe in lodge every day without examining how or why we do them. And the book is designed to digest these interpretations in small chunks, with space to record your own thoughts. Put it on your bedside table, set a weekly reminder on your phone, and try to use it as it was intended. It's a worthwhile habit to take up.
Sadly, the widespread tradition of the devotional reader has fallen by the wayside among the wider population today (although ironically, in these days of self-publishing, there is no shortage of them to be found in print and online today).

Society could use more quiet contemplation these days. 
The current enforced isolation gives us all a new opportunity to pick up new habits. This is a good one.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Mississippi Lodge Partners With Local Developer To Save Historic Hall

A month can't go by without a story appearing about the loss of another significant Masonic hall or temple. But every once in a while, I get positive messages like this one. WB Matthew Farmer, Worshipful Master of Abert Lodge 89 in Starkville, Mississippi writes, "To all those whose historic Lodges are being sold or mismanaged, the potential is there, expand your minds and look at all opportunities..."

Our lodge has partnered with a local historic developer to completely renovate our lodge to it's historic glory. It will be a $1.2 million renovation to keep and improve our historical status in this city. Our lodge hosted the Rex Theater downstairs in the '20s. The Rex Theater was the first building in Starkville to receive air-conditioning.

This project will not cost the lodge a dime. (besides increased insurance and tax of course), but it otherwise ensures that the entire building will be around and in "lodge" hands for a while. We have signed a 55-year lease with the developer ensuring income for the lodge, more than accounting for inflation.

From a February 25th story on the WTVA website:

Mark Castleberry, a property developer in the Golden Triangle and owner of Castle Properties, partnered with local business, Glo, and the Masonic Lodge to restore the Rex Theater. The building is located on West Main Street.
He plans to transform the former theater into an office space for Glo. Glo sells liquid-activated, light-up cubes that are designed to be placed into drinks for a colorful sip.
The redevelopment of Rex Theater will provide a larger space for the business to operate.

The Starkville Masonic Lodge has occupied the property for more than 100 years. A fire destroyed the first building in 1929. When it was rebuilt in 1931, the theater was constructed on the first floor.
Castleberry plans to work with the National Parks Service and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History to maintain the property’s historic integrity.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Scottish Rite NMJ Presents "Unpanic the Pandemic" with Surgeon General Thursday

by Christopher Hodapp

This Thursday, March 26th, the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction will present a live-stream information session with the Surgeon General of the United States, Jerome Adams, MD, entitled, "Un-Panic the Pandemic: Our Community Partnership on the 2019 Coronavirus ."

New York's Junior Grand Warden, Worshipful Brother E. Oscar Alleyne, 33°, DrPH, MPH, has arranged this program and he will be presenting along with with the Surgeon General. Illustrious Brother Alleyne, 33° is a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of the Hudson.

While Oscar is known far and wide within the fraternity as one of the most active and well-traveled Masons you'll ever encounter anywhere, many may not know that he is a Doctor of Public Health and the Chief Programs and Services Officer at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) in Washington, DC. That's a long way of saying he's on the front lines of this pandemic right now, and has been working with the CDC and the Surgeon General to help stem the spread. 

The goal of the broadcast is to provide clear, truthful information to Brethren and their families as we all confront the challenges posed by the virus in our homes and communities. Sovereign Grand Commander Glattly will also field a few questions on how Brothers can continue to connect with Brothers in their lodges and Valleys. 

The program will be presented live on  on Facebook this Thursday, March 26 at 7:00 pm (ET)

The schedule is as follows:

  • 7pm (ET) Introductions
  • Dr. Jerome Adams, Surgeon General provides the latest updates
  • Brother Oscar Alleyne on the impact on our communities and what we can do to stay healthy and well
  • Michael C. Russell, Scottish Rite Executive Director, moderates questions
  • David A. Glattly, Sovereign Grand Commander addresses the Brethren
  • 7:30-7:45 Program Ends
To Join the Broadcast on Facebook, simply go to the Scottish Rite NMJ page at that 7PM. You can find the page here

If you are not on Facebook the program will be recorded.
The link will also be posted in the "What's Happening" section on the home page of the NMJ website.

Dr. Jerome Adams is an American anesthesiologist and a vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps who currently serves as the 20th Surgeon General of the United States. Prior to becoming Surgeon General, he served as the Indiana State Health Commissioner, from 2014–2017.

Dr. Adams attended medical school at Indiana University School of Medicine as an Eli Lilly and Company Scholar. He also received a Master of Public Health degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 2000, with a focus on chronic disease prevention. He is board certified in anesthesiology.

Illus. Dr. Oscar Alleyne, 33°, is the Chief Programs and Services Officer at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) in Washington, DC. He has wide ranging experience in local and national public health sectors. He is skilled in in Epidemiology, Health Communication, Population Health Planning and Assessment, Government, Emergency Preparedness, Informatics, Biosurveillance, and Environmental Health.

He holds a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) focused in Health Policy and Management from New York Medical College and a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Environmental Health and Epidemiology.

UGLE Leads Nightly Nine O'Clock Toasts To Absent Friends

by Christopher Hodapp

"If at nine o'clock you listen
when around this festive board,
If you listen very closely,
with your hearts tuned in accord,
You'll hear, when in the West and South,
you're charged in fullest measure,
Some distant voices calling,
"Brother may we have the pleasure?"

For at nine o'clock we Toast you,
wherever you may stand,
At home, or maybe out of town,
or in some far-off land;
With cheerful hearts and distant thoughts,
we steal a moment's leisure;
To call our ancient challenge;
"Brother may we have the pleasure?"

For we are bound together
by a universal link;
We drink from that Masonic Cup
from which we all may drink;
To our far-flung Brotherhood,
whose fellowship we treasure,
The old Masonic greeting,
"Brother may we have the pleasure?"
Brethren the Toast is "TO OUR ABSENT BRETHREN""!

Last Saturday night at 9:00PM GMT, the United Grand Lodge of England encouraged Freemasons everywhere to raise their glasses simultaneously, wherever they were, and toast the time-honored toast "To our absent brethren." 

The worldwide event was promoted on Twitter with the hashtag #TimetoToast. 

UGLE's Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes posted a Twitter photo of himself leading the toast at 9PM in London. Here in the US, it was 5PM in New York, 4PM in Chicago, and 2PM in Los Angeles. All over the world, individual Masons everywhere joined in, raised a glass in the lonesome quiet of their own homes, and sipped "from that Masonic cup from which we all may drink." And for that moment, we shared in this brotherhood that is so important to us all.

The solitude of the enforced COVID-19 virus isolation only made it more poignant.

Great Queen Street quickly widened the scope of the nightly tradition, and now hopes the entire world - whether Mason or not - will pause at 9PM every single night, wherever they are, raise a glass, and think of absent friends. 

Indeed, on Sunday night, UGLE Grand Secretary, Dr. David Staples did likewise at the stroke of nine. 

The nightly toast and the hashtag quickly circulated the Intertubz and social media over the weekend, and by Monday, both Newsweek and UK's The Week ran the story.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, however, Britain's Freemasons are breaking with convention to invite the general public to take part in a centuries-old tradition to remind people that they are "not alone."
The "Nine O'Clock Toast" is "a tradition within Freemasonry that has been observed for many hundreds of years," Dr. David Staples, the CEO and Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) told Newsweek on Monday.
From modern-day meetings at the pub to gatherings convened at the height of two world wars, the tradition, he said, sees members raise a glass during dinner at 9 p.m. each evening to honor their "Absent Brethren" or their fellow Freemasons who cannot be there with them.

"Our members know that wherever they are in the world and whatever they are doing at 9 o'clock, somebody will be raising a glass to them and remembering them," Staples said.
In the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has forced friends and family around the world to remain apart in order to avoid catching and spreading the virus, such a message could likely not be more welcome.

"This is a tradition that we have had for 300 years and it's something that we think helps people to not feel quite so lonely and isolated," Staples said.
With the COVID-19 outbreak forcing people to stay apart, whether they are living under lockdown policies, are in quarantine, or are choosing to self-isolate, Staples said he hoped that participating in the Freemason tradition might help them feel less alone.
Using the hashtag #TimetoToast, Freemasons and members of the public are being asked to participate in a nightly "virtual" toast.
"This is about sharing one of our traditions which we think will help people to feel a little less lonely, a little less isolated," he said. "If they can do that every night, to raise a glass to the people they're missing."
By Monday, even England's female Masons were on board with the idea. Grand Master Christine Chapman of the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons (HFAF), one of two English grand lodges of Freemasonry for women, issued her own statement in accord with David Staples: 

"We must combat loneliness by ensuring that, even if we are all in our own homes, we are still connecting across the country."
"Dr Staples and I urge everyone to charge their glass at 9pm and say a toast to absent friends, and those working on the frontline," Chapman said.

Why at 9:00 PM, you ask? It is at nine o'clock that the hands of a clock form the fourth part of a circle, an angle of ninety degrees, which is celebrated and described in Masonic ritual. 

In some traditions, the nine o'clock toast is explained by saying that our Mystic Circle is not complete because of absent brethren, represented by that missing fourth part. 

Of course, that is in places that wisely never followed the American dabbling in Prohibition taken up so enthusiastically by some U.S. Masonic jurisdictions and which continues today. The rest of the world didn't fall for such tommyrot.

One caution that Grand Secretary Staples did mention, even in the press, was for Masons not to post online videos or images of Masonic toasting "choreography." Toasting in Freemasonry is as just steeped in symbolism and tradition as everything else we do.

Anyone who has ever attended a true Masonic Festive Board replete with the ceremonial seven toasts can tell you it is a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and harkens back to our early 1700's tavern origins. It is noisy, occasionally athletic, and deliberately complicated - particularly by the shank of the evening and after imbibing five or six previous toasts. We Masons even have our own specialized glassware for the occasion, known as 'cannons.'

But the one thing it was never, ever meant to be was solitary. Isolation is the very antithesis of our Masonic fraternity, and the toast to absent Brethren reflects that lament.

The Atlantic just posted an article on Monday about the corrosive and lingering damage that further breakdown in communal life and activities will have on society as a whole. The Western world was already suffering from the destruction of communal life and institutions before the COVID pandemic hit. When it finally passes, let us all seriously pray that civilization doesn't suffer a social recession to go with the doubtless economic one that will come in its wake.

By Tuesday this week, Masons all over the world were either joining in at 9PM London time, or alternately, individual lodges and some grand lodges were encouraging their members to meet online at 9PM in their local time zone and remember their own absent brethren. 

Personally, I think that UGLE has the right idea. Let's encourage everyone, Mason or not, to pause at the very same moment and remember absent friends.

Traditionally, the final toast of the evening is commonly called the Tyler's Toast, and in my own Lodge Vitruvan 767 here in my home town, our Festive Board's 7th toast ends with these words:
Dear brethren of the mystic tie, the night is waning fast,
Our work is done, our feast is o'er, this toast must be the last.
Good night to all, once more good night,
again that farewell strain,
"Happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again."

Brethren, I give you the Tyler's Toast:
To all poor and distressed brethren,
Wheresoe'er they may be, on the land, the sea or in the air.
Wishing them a speedy relief from their suffering,
And a safe return to their native land, If they so desire.
Let's extend that same sentiment to everyone the world over.

A speedy relief to your suffering, and a safe return to your home. 

And normalcy once again. 


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

New Facebook Group for Masonic Building Administrators

by Christopher Hodapp

The COVID shutdown has brought its own fresh set of issues for all building managers, but for Masonic buildings that struggle, it may affect some of us more than average buildings, depending on the ways yours is used. Many of our Masonic halls and temples are over a hundred years old, and those older buildings come with their own sets of expensive, unique and hard to solve problems. 

Brother Ernesto Fernando in Cambridge, Massachusetts has just started a new private Facebook page specifically for Masonic Building Presidents, Chairmen, Trustees, Directors, Masters of single-lodge buildings, or other principal administrators of Masonic buildings to share ideas, solutions, hunt advice, or just commiserate. 

If you are such a person, or know one, or are connected to a group who may have one in it, please join or share. The hope is to reach a critical enough mass of participants that the page becomes a working asset to all Masonic building administrators everywhere.



Historic Building Maintenance Online Resource

by Christopher Hodapp

About a dozen years ago, I encountered an incredible online resource with advice for the care and feeding of historic old buildings. Building preservation and restoration is not confined to any single type of structure.

The website was actually part of the People of Scotland Churches Trust, and the Maintain Your Church section was packed with articles, online toolkits, tutorials, glossaries and more, covering everything from retrofitting stone buildings for HVAC systems to repairing copper gutters. Very little of this knowledge is church-specific and can be applied to our older Masonic temples and halls, all over the world.

The shame is that the original website's Maintenance section got mangled and became almost impossible to negotiate about six years ago. But thanks to the Internet Archive, most of the original version lives on here:


Monday, March 23, 2020

Manitoba's Castle Island Virtual Lodge Hosts Open Meeting 3/25

by Christopher Hodapp

Until the last few weeks, most Masons gave the idea of an online "virtual" tyled lodge meeting little more than the hairy eyeball. The notion of "social distancing" is about as far away from the philosophy and practice of Freemasonry as it's possible to get. But now that we're all being isolated to one extent or another by the Coronavirus pandemic restrictions that prevent us meeting in person, desperate times call for desperate measures.

As we used to say in advertising, "Where do good ideas come from? Somebody else!" Fortunately, someone else has spent several years perfecting the actual practice of holding a tyled Masonic lodge meeting using Internet teleconferencing software. And if you're looking for a 'proof of concept' example to show to your grand master in order to suggest a similar approach right now, there's one coming up this week.

Castle Island Virtual Lodge 190 (CIVL for short) is a regular, recognized Masonic lodge chartered in Canada by the Grand Lodge of Manitoba. They have met online almost exclusively since the day it was chartered, so this social distancing and Internet meeting concept is nothing new for them. The lodge normally holds its stated meetings in any month that has a "fifth Wednesday." But since March is not such a month, they are hosting something special this week.

Castle Island Virtual Lodge will be hosting an Open Meeting and Education Night on Wednesday night, March 25th, at 8PM, EST (7PM CST). The Grand Master of Manitoba has granted the lodge's request that it be permitted to continue meeting, unlike the rest of the physical lodges in their jurisdiction. NOTE: This will not be a tyled lodge meeting, but an open education night. All Masons may 'attend' (but please, no non-Masonic visitors, cowans or eavesdroppers). 

In order to participate, FIRST please contact the Lodge Secretary at: civLodge190@gmail.com

Castle Island uses Zoom conferencing software to hold its meetings (photo above from their officer's installation in 2018), and it can be "attended" with a smartphone, tablet, desktop or laptop computer equipped with headphone, a webcam, and a microphone. Even though visitors' microphones will be muted, please situate yourself in a private, quiet room.

For more information about CIVL, visit their website at: https://civlodge190.ca
By the way, Masons are not the only group suddenly interested in virtual meetings these days. Not by a long shot. Seven out of the top 50 most downloaded free Apple iOS apps this week are communications apps: Zoom is No. 1, followed by Google's Hangouts Meet (No. 9), Microsoft Teams (No. 12), Google Hangouts (No. 29), Messenger (No. 30) Google Duo (No. 36) and WhatsApp (No. 38).

PLEASE NOTE THIS IMPORTANT BUZZKILL: If you're relatively new to Freemasonry but you're suddenly all hot to start holding meetings online, you cannot just leap online and fire up a virtual Masonic lodge meeting. Castle Island Virtual Lodge is unique in its ability to hold regular tyled meetings online, and I can promise without even looking that your own grand lodge likely forbids such things. 

The only other regular, recognized online lodge I am aware of is Endeavor Virtual Lodge 944 in Victoria, Australia, chartered in 2018 by the Grand Lodge of Victoria.

Some lodges of research have worked out the ability to hold their meetings and present papers and speakers online, but that is NOT the same as a tyled Masonic lodge business meeting or degree conferral.

CIVL jumped through enormous hoops to get to do what they do several years ago, and there are few grand masters in the world who will suddenly decide they're all in for approving online stated meetings, much less degree nights. Do NOT attempt to do this without going through proper channels and securing proper permission within your own jurisdiction. If your grand lodge has a technology committee, I'd strongly suggest getting them involved right up front. 

With all of those qualifiers aside, before you set forth on any exploration of this, I urge you to start by seeing how Castle Island does it first.

Can We Quit With the Requiems for Freemasonry?

by Christopher Hodapp

As we all sit barricaded in our private COVID dens of ill health, there's no time like the present to go through the rubble on our deskstops - real or virtual - to see what's been buried over the last few years. I myself haven't seen the flat, uncovered surface of my desk since before the first Clinton administration, and the very prospect terrifies me. So instead, I'm going through some old unposted and unfinished blog entries and came across this one.

Back in 2018, Lance Kennedy over at the FreemasonInformation.com website posted two thought-provoking articles about the future trajectory of American Freemasonry, and I can summarize them for you pretty easily: Freemasonry, as a large, institutional fraternal organization, is rapidly marching towards the tar pits. Of course, making that claim is something akin to shooting a school of carp trapped in your bathtub with a 12 gauge shotgun.

Brother Kennedy chose the subtle approach by entitling his requiem: Freemasonry Is Dying. 

Click that link and give it a read. Also read Lance's companion piece, Two Trajectories For American Freemasonry: Consolidation Or Implosion. 

After having spent more than twenty years worrying about this and doing what I can to halt this trajectory almost every day of my life, I freely admit that I had frustration with reading more of these obituaries of the fraternity. I've been reading them since before I was raised, and there's nothing new about staring at the undeniably alarming historic membership statistics from the Masonic Service Association and considering an aborted suicide attempt. Figuratively, of course. 

I even wrote a swollen chapter in Heritage Endures about the steady 60-year erosion of Masonic membership and what grand lodges have attempted to do to halt it over the last three decades: 

  • advertising
  • dropping petitioning age to 18
  • reduced proficiency and near elimination of memorization
  • open solicitation
  • one-day classes
  • lifetime memberships
  • easier to read ciphers
  • and even fully-written ritual books

None of it has had a substantive effect on attracting and retaining enough new members to reverse, or even slow, the trend.

Brother Kennedy is approaching this as a numerical or statistical issue, and it's almost impossible to argue with his conclusions, which grand secretaries have been telling us all for several decades now. As the numbers in Masonry continue to decline, more of these sentiments are being expressed nationwide, especially by the younger Masons who see a bleak future. There's zero comfort in knowing that these "If We Don't Do Something Immediately To Fix This..." articles have been rephrasing the same ideas for at least a quarter century. Then the traditional/observant/European concept/best practices Masons roar up and declare "Good! Smaller is better, Masonry is elite, and we're supposed to be no bigger than a group of Japanese tea cozy collectors!" 

Lance's contention is:
"[I]t is necessary for every Mason to come to terms with our present state. This awareness was the goal of this article and I hope you will take a moment to soberly ponder the very real possibility that Freemasonry in the US will go the way of the Elks or Odd Fellows, that is into the fraternal graveyard."
The problem with these dirge-like examinations of Masonry's decline is that everyone wants to dance around the societal issues involved that are much larger than "what are we doing wrong?" We're NOT doing anything overwhelmingly wrong per se (although every jurisdiction has its own Big Issues to deal with). 

Sociologists and demographers have been exhaustively studying the steady erosion of local community adhesion for more than 30 years, and time and again the smarter brainboxes in the room zero in on the closures of churches, local committees, and civic and social groups like fraternal lodges that were the hallmark of America for more than two centuries. How and why that happens is a long and twisting lineup of falling dominoes, and because history is fluid, you can't pinpoint the very first domino that tipped over to smack down all the rest. (I explored some of these factors in previous posts, like How the 1960s Really Killed American Freemasonry's Future.) You CAN pinpoint a raft of contributory factors after 1959 that snowball into a veritable avalanche of destructive forces and influences that led to isolation and tribal atomization we have now that caused the destruction of local middle class communities. An excellent starting place if you're new to the subject is Charles Murray's seminal work, Coming Apart.

Roger Van Gorden has been quoting an old Allen E. Roberts saying since the day I met him: "All Freemasonry is local." Roberts was actually paraphrasing the long-gone Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill who always said, "All politics is local." O'Neill said it in the 1980s, and he was absolutely right then. Yet, paradoxically, it's not quite right anymore, and hasn't been ever since we all put smartphones in our pockets. Suddenly in the last dozen years, Americans don't know or seem to care what goes on in their towns, cities or states anymore. The only politics we know about are national ones now, and I'll bet fifty quatloos that 95% of American citizens can't name their own mayors anymore. 

Local businesses and business owners are gone, in favor of massive chains and franchises that are faceless. Newspapers? What's that? No one knows or cares what the city council or the state legislature does anymore, what legislation they pass, or what bureaucratic annoyances they suddenly baked up. Nobody knows their local banker through whom you always got your loans - now you apply over your phone to a faceless corp in another state, and never once speak to a human being. Human beings? What are those? Ditto with your old, friendly insurance agent or investment broker or furnace repair guy or dog groomer or the kid who cut your grass. There are now apps for all of that, and if you play your cards right, you will never have to actually see any of those people again. How often has someone told you, "Don't bother to call me, I never talk on the phone. Text me." Use the self-check at the grocery and you don't even have to chat with the girl in line behind you or be forced to mumble an answer to the cashier when he asks, "Did you find everything today?" 

In short, what's gone is the one-on-one human interaction between physical neighbors that must exist if any community is to thrive. And THAT, my Brethren, is why Freemasonry is headed to the boneyard to be buried with a sprig of acacia through its heart. It's because our communities died first, or at least at the same time. The isolating development of suburbia in the 1950s that let more people get away from each other began the slow dismantling of the close-knit communities that used to result in a Masonic lodge every five miles in America. And after multiple generations of increasingly acquired numbness to that indifference to the people next door and down the block, this is where we are today. 

My friend Ed Sebring once suggested that the real murderer of widespread fraternalism was, of all things, the credit card. And he's not wrong.
About 1900, business was conducted with a handshake. There were no credit bureaus. A merchant extended credit based only on his view of the customer's character -- and a lapel button or ring instantly vouched for a man's character. Remember how Rose Hovik, Gypsy Rose Lee's mother, in the musical "Gypsy" had a piece of silk in her purse with dozens of different lodge buttons to claim assistance from men when her family was in financial difficulties. That is my point. My dad was born in 1889. I remember hearing a tone of pride in his voice when someone's name came up in conversation, and Pop would say about him, "He's a Mason," or "He goes to our church." Today, anybody can whip out a piece of plastic. Where is the honor, pride and character in business today?
*(To explore some more of this in depth, read From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State by David Bieto. And have a look at Brother Stanley Bransgrove's essay about fraternal groups on the now-defunct Mill Valley Freemasonry website, that fortunately still exists on the Internet Archive.)

Members of fraternal groups like the Masons were deemed admirable because admittance into a lodge meant other important people in your community decided you were worthy of their trust and respect, too. Your membership signaled to the outside world that you were honest, trustworthy, a good risk, and that you had been vetted by other equally trustworthy men. That was back when it still mattered that "the neighbors might talk" and a man's reputation was paramount. Now, a person can obtain a home mortgage for hundreds of thousands of dollars entirely through an online application and automatic approval without ever seeing or speaking to a human being. Trust, honor and respect never enter into the equation anymore. Much less, reputation. In fact, such judgements are now considered illegal in most transactions in 21st Century America.

This is usually when the traditional/observant Masons leap up and declare that the fraternity must again become tiny, rare, more urbane, more scholarly, and - face it - more impressive. That train of thought is that we must "again" become the premiere society of gentlemen and be more like the lodges that attracted the men of the Royal Society, royalty itself, scientists, diplomats, composers, and the like. 

The Masons (and grand lodges) who recoil from this vision deride these Masons and their lodges as a collection of overdressed snobs. Two centuries ago, the sneer against them was that they were 'silk stocking lodges,' (or 'blue stocking lodges') suitable only for rich, college educated men and other highfalutin' riff-raff. 

Both sides declare the other guys are doing it all wrong.

In short, we're living through a modern day Moderns vs. Ancients fight. The English Moderns wanted to attract the cream of English society, while the Ancients sought to improve the common working man through their Freemasonry. The Ancients' side largely won the argument after the American Revolution. That brand of Freemasonry was sent westward into the wilderness to help educate and civilize a rough and rugged frontier collection of mostly uneducated pioneer settlers. And the rest, as they say, is history.

If you've only hung out in shrinking city lodges or struggling suburban ones, take a drive to the country. To this day, some of the most successful, most active, most close-knit and happiest Masonic lodges you will visit are in tiny, usual rural, communities. It's not a rule, but fewer city and suburban lodges anymore have the kind of total involvement and cheerfulness you'll find in a lodge that exists in a smaller town where everybody cheers on the local high school teams, and everybody knows everybody else. People there don't move in, move out, or move away all that often. Most work at local businesses, and the big box stores and franchises are rarely seen unless it's out on the highway. You'll still find the yard sales, the bake-offs, the local fund raising, the family nights and picnics, the pitching-in to help the guy whose house burned down or crops needed harvesting while he was hospitalized, and the pride in their lodges. Coming to lodge isn't a chore, frequently their ritual work is exemplary, and their wives and children are often hanging out in the dining room during meetings. Those lodges are an extended family for their members, which is ehat was always intended.

It is in those places that Freemasonry is not dying, and never will. And they won't take too kindly to being told they're doing it wrong, because they aren't.
In short, all Freemasonry is local. 

Lodges should always have the latitude to adapt to the needs, desires and preferences of their own members. 

At this precise moment in history, consider the global experiment we are living through, as the Coronavirus has quite literally shut down the entire world. Nothing has ever accomplished that before in all of human history. Suddenly, people everywhere are deprived of most in-person, human contact on a wide scale. And more than a few are suddenly reaching out and discovering (or rediscovering) their neighbors, and gaining heightened awareness of their local governments - maybe for the first time in their adult lives. Only time will tell if a sea change happens and communities rediscover themselves again, or if everyone goes back to staring into their phones and remaining isolated again once the bread and toilet paper shipments return to normal. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

The COVID Lull: What Is Your Lodge Doing?

by Christopher Hodapp

How is your Masonic lodge responding to the almost nationwide shutdown of group activities as the coronavirus restrictions roll along?

Here in my own jurisdiction, my Mother lodge wasted no time in organizing a "virtual refreshment" Thursday night. Brethren connected via the Jitsu.org internet platform with their webcams and smartphones because Broad Ripple Lodge wouldn't be complete without a Thursday night meetup. I'm sure countless other Masonic lodges around the world are attempting something similar using Zoom, Skype, Teams, or other group video chatting and meeting solutions. If you are new to the idea, here's a list of some of the more common systems available.

Masonic education committees and just individual brethren everywhere are busily working on creating online video, audio or PowerPoint programs. Meanwhile, vast numbers of brethren are taking this golden opportunity to learn new parts of their ritual, or reacquaint themselves with old ones. 

If you're a lodge Master, consider this little addition. Earlier this week I mentioned a Closing Charge for Master Mason lodges that many jurisdictions require, but others don't. Some states, like my own, permit this to be done by the Master as an option, and print it in their Monitor. It's been around for over 200 years in the U.S. The Brethren of Waco Lodge No. 92 in Texas posted this image from Jeremy Cross' True Masonic Chart in 1819. All of our brethren should take it to heart, and it's an important reminder to our members worth repeating after every meeting. 

No time like the present to learn it, if it's not required in your neck of the Masonic woods.

Many grand masters have encouraged their area Masons to reach out and connect with their fellow brethren to be sure anyone needing assistance can get it, especially during this extraordinary and bizarre moment in time when enforced physical isolation is the rule almost everywhere. We should all be doing that without being reminded. If you have a lodge Brother who is currently bedridden at home or in the hospital, see if he has a smartphone, tablet or laptop and maybe include him in your virtual meetups. Or just check on his condition and cheer him up by utilizing Facetime or other video application.

Don't forget your lodge's widows at this time, too. Pay special attention to members and widows who are living alone right now. Everybody is using food delivery services to pick up dinner from their favorite local restaurants. Nothing prevents any of us from doing just that ourselves and delivering dinner occasionally to our shut-in members, as long as you wear gloves and use recommended hygiene practices.

But what about the wider communities in which we reside? What can Masons do to help our neighborhoods?

Masons in Belfast, Northern Ireland are delivering 300 'Rescue Packs' to the elderly that include eight rolls of toilet paper. Hard to believe that toilet paper would become such a vital and weak link in this crazy situation, but it has. Brethren at Belfast's Crumlin Masonic Hall have taken on the problem.

Brethren of Iowa's Mahaska lodge in pre-COVID days
Brethren of Mahaska Lodge 644 in Oskaloosa, Iowa made their offer to the community a simple one: the lodge announced that Freemasonry is filled with young, healthy men that are ready and willing to assist with running general errands, like picking up groceries or prescriptions. All anyone needs to do is contact the lodge and they'll come running. 

This Alameda, California food bank normally needs a hundred
volunteers a day to operate under normal circumstances
While most cities and states are requesting or demanding groups avoid social gathering, that hasn't negated the need for warm bodies to volunteer to distribute supplies all over the country. Many church congregations have stepped up in some cases, and there's no reason why Masons cannot or should not be doing it, too. 

Case in point: stories are appearing all across the country that food banks are being especially hard hit because their normal volunteer partner groups are staying home. In many populated areas, the bigger food pantries require a hundred or more volunteers every day just to deal with the demands of sorting, packing and stocking food and supplies. But volunteers (who are traditionally retirees and now the most at-risk members of the population) are staying home, and donations of both money and food are drying up.

A story from San Francisco reported Thursday that nineteen food pantries in the Silicon Valley which normally serve 2,400 households or more a week in usual circumstances have already shut down, with more expected to close by this weekend. In San Francisco, the number of pantries that had closed jumped from thirteen on Wednesday to nearly thirty on Thursday, out of a total of about 200. (Colorado had a similar story on Wednesday So did Iowa and countless others - it's the same all over the country.)

Drive-thru food bank at a church in Oregon
It's harder now than ever for families and individuals who rely on food pantries, as hoarding, panic buying, and distribution chain disruptions have decimated grocery stores and old reliables like Walmart and Sam's Club. In response to the volunteer shortages, some food banks have started pop-up, drive-thru food pantries in parking lots in areas where central distribution sites have closed. In areas with fewer services than urban areas, families may have nowhere else to turn. Churches have been stepping in at many locations. Masonic lodges might consider this, as well.

The largest food bank in Indiana, Gleanor's in Indianapolis, was just supported with a major donation by Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay. He announced via the local newspaper that he would kick in a million dollars to Gleanor's if citizens first raised $200,000. Donations poured in and hit over $300,000 in less than a day. Not every city or town has a local millionaire to do this sort of thing. Perhaps grand lodges or Scottish Rite valleys might consider a similar kind of challenge grant to help their communities and to remind citizens that we are still alive and well and vital to them.

It's the sort of thing we Masons used to do in an earlier time.

Has your lodge, chapter, valley or grand lodge come up with its own unique program to help your town or city during the COVID pandemic? Share your ideas with me and I'll be happy to pass along what you're doing here. Send me your stories at hodapp@aol.com or comment at the link below.