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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Theatre Bizarre Returns for 2017 to Detroit Masonic Temple

Over the last six years, the incomparable Detroit Masonic Temple has welcomed a massive Halloween-inspired gala/carnival/masquerade/burlesque/art/haunted house installation called Theatre Bizarre. For the month of October, the 17th annual show takes over eight floors of the enormous Temple building, the Commandery asylum, the two giant ballrooms, and hosts thousands of people. The member lodges and Masonic organizations in the building are more than happy to cooperate by shifting their meeting schedules, rooms, and events in order to accommodate this one of a kind show, as it takes weeks (starting in September) to install all of the scenery, props, lighting, effects, and more. 

Besides, it's not like they don't have plenty of other spaces in the building they can meet in...

If you've never visited the Detroit Masonic Temple for yourself and had the COMPLETE tour, put it at the very top of your Masonic list of things to do. It is the largest Masonic building in the world, and was designed to accommodate 50 different Masonic organizations. Including its on-site hotel rooms on the former Shrine end of the building, it contains over a thousand different rooms, and no detail was left out. 

Undoubtedly the ghosts of more than a few old past masters (and probably the Dodge brothers and Henry Ford himself) are clutching their long-stopped hearts in horror, but the trustees and lodge members at the Masonic Temple roll out the welcome mat for this event every year. (As for the burlesque show, don't forget, this ginormous Temple was once home to the huge Detroit contingent of Shriners as well.)

The Detroit Free Press from Sunday has photos of this year's Theatre Bizarro program. Sit back. There are 93 of them.
The yearly fully-immersive event, centered around Halloween season, takes place over two weekends in October with a formal Preview Gala on both Fridays and a larger, main event on both Saturdays. With eight floors, 55 spaces and more than 250,000 square feet of room, it’s impossible to take everything in in just one night...

Finally acquiring full blueprints to the Masonic’s chapel room for the first time, Theatre Bizarre creator John Dunivant was able to create a new stage buildup. Flanking either side were 27-foot-tall sword-wielding devil goats, with blue stalagmites surrounding the area. It added a hellish satirical twist to the chapel room, which is entirely holy with a giant cross hanging dead-center in the middle of the space, also the exact center-point of the Masonic Temple.

Back in the early 1970s, my own Grand Lodge was erupting over the horror of the musical Hair being booked to appear at the Shrine theatre here in Indianapolis, mostly over the much-hyped and notorious first act "nude scene." As a result, the Grand Master almost immediately issued a decision that no "obscene" shows of any kind would be permitted in any Masonic-related venue whatsoever. The controversy then was front page news for months, all over the state. 

I would say that forty years later, times have indeed changed.

If we want to save these incredible landmark temples built by our forefathers, we do indeed have to think very different. They were once the very centers of our communities (Detroit's has the largest and most magnificent auditorium in that city). They can be once again, but we have to beat on the coffin lid and let the world know we're here and they are available. We want the public in them, and I suspect this event pays an awful lot of bills for Detroit's Masons. Keep that in mind.

As much as I hate to give any attention to anti-Masonic basket case websites, this one has the most detailed photos of the Temple I've found. Just ignore his text.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Happy Friday October 13th

Happy Friday, October 13th to all you friggatriskaidekaphobics!

Templar mavens all know today is the 710th anniversary of France's King Philip IV's mass arrest in 1307 of more than 600 members of the Knights Templar throughout France, leading to the eventual dissolution of the Order and the brutal torture and burning at the stake of countless Knights. 

Okay, that's not so happy, I admit.

On a brighter note, today is also the 225th anniversary of the cornerstone ceremony for the White House, known originally as the President's House in 1792. The Masonic connection between the White House, its Irish inspiration and the Freemasons is a curious one. Built in 1745, Leinster House was originally the Dublin residence of the 20th Earl of Kildare, James Fitzgerald. The earl had married well, and was rewarded for his auspicious coupling with the title of Duke of Leinster by King George III in 1766. As it turns out, the Duke was also the founding Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. Curiously, there is a legend that the Knights Templar had been asked in 1204 to organize banking houses in Dublin from their commandery at Templemore on Ireland's southern coast. They had been invited by James Fitzgerald’s ancestor, Maurice Fitz-Gerald. 

On Saturday, October 13th, 1792, a procession of Masons formed at the Fountain Inn in Georgetown and marched through the woods to the site of the excavated foundation of the new President’s House in the Federal City. It was 485 years to the day that King Phillip IV had the Knights Templar arrested simultaneously all over France, marking the beginning of the excommunication and dissolving of the Templar order.

The barest outlines of roads were still being cleared through the dense forest when the Freemasons laid the cornerstone of the first federal building in town without much public fanfare. The mansion's architect, James Hoban himself was an Irish Catholic and a member of Georgetown Lodge No. 9. He took part in the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone, and became the founding Master of Federal Lodge No. 15 the following year. 

The cornerstone of the President’s House was placed in the southwest corner of the foundation. The traditional Masonic ceremony was used, and it was presided over by Maryland Lodge No. 9’s Master, Peter Casanave. A brass plate was placed under the stone, which read,
"This first stone of the President's House was laid the 12th day of October1792, and in the 17th Year of the Independence of the United States of America."
George Washington, PresidentThomas Johnson,Doctor Stewart, Daniel Carroll, CommissionersJames Hoban, ArchitectCollen Williamson, Master MasonVivat Respublica.
Brother Chris Ruli of D.C.'s Potomac Lodge 5 has an article today about the event on the GL of DC website, and he reprints the only newspaper account of the day's doings, from the Charlestown Gazette from November 15, 1792, concentrating mostly on the various toasts given by the assembled men afterwards back at the tavern.

James Hoban would work in the Federal City for another forty years. When the British burned the President’s House in 1814, he assisted in its reconstruction. In addition, he would go on to help establish the first Catholic church in the city – St. Patrick's, in 1792 – and in 1820 served on the committee to erect St. Peter's Church on Capitol Hill. (It was a curious dichotomy, since Pope Clement XII had issued an encyclical, "In Eminenti," in 1738 threatening Catholics who became Masons with excommunication. Hoban didn't seem to be bothered by it, perhaps beginning the longstanding American tradition of what we like to call practising "cafeteria Catholicism.")

In spite of what has been claimed elsewhere, Washington himself was not present at the cornerstone ceremony, nor did he ever live in the house. John and Abigail Adams were the first “First Couple” to inhabit the President’s House. They lived there for only four months before Thomas Jefferson took office. 

The White House has seen many other additions and remodelings over the last two centuries. When Thomas Jefferson moved in, he was still jealous over his own design being snubbed by the original committee, so he sent Hoban packing to another office across town, and brought in his own favored architect, Freemason Benjamin Latrobe, to make changes. Latrobe altered the interior (including the addition of a wine cellar) and planned the addition of the north and south porticos. After the building was burned by British troops in 1814, it was James Hoban who supervised its reconstruction, faithful to Jefferson’s changes (above).

And of course there was the most famous alteration of all, when Harry S Truman had the entire interior gutted and rebuilt from the inside to the outer walls starting in 1948. Today, there is not a single interior room older than that project that ended in 1952. During that enormous undertaking, Truman (Past Grand Master of Missouri, 33° Scottish Rite Mason, and the 33rd President) sent White House foundation stones discovered with "Mason's marks" to every U.S. Grand Lodge.

* * *

I'm off to the Ohio 15th Masonic District Fundraiser at Bellefontaine Lodge 209 in Bellefontaine, Ohio tonight. If you're in the neighborhood, please come out.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

MSA Short Talk Bulletin Collections: Reprint Volume 1?

The Masonic Service Association of North America is trying to determine if there is enough interest to reprint Volume I of the Complete Collection of the Short Talk Bulletins. The first printing sold out very quickly in 2013. Volume V will be arriving in coming months.

The MSA has published a Short Talk Bulletin (STBs for short) virtually every single month ever since back in 1923, and has mailed one of these articles faithfully to every lodge in each supporting jurisdiction. They were conceived of in pre-internet days as a partial answer to the howls from Masons back in the 1920s and before—right up to today—who begged for even a lousy five minutes of Masonic education at a lodge meeting. If Masons wouldn't do research themselves, and grand lodges published lousy newsletters and magazines, so the thinking went, at the very least the little STB always offered a monthly dose of ready made, discussion-provoking material.

The trouble has always been that if a lodge Secretary bothered (or bothers today) to open and read it aloud, or even just boringly announces that "the MSA bulletin is available on my desk if you're interested," it would almost instantly vanish in most cases, never to be seen or heard from again. That's a damned shame, because there has been very serious work done to create these articles, for just shy of a century now, and written by many of the greatest Masonic heavyweights of the 20th and 21st centuries. Indeed, quality authors and decent articles are still desperately needed for it today.

Starting in 2013, MSA embarked on the monumental task of assembling these gems of brief Masonic education into bound volumes, in order, freshly edited and typeset—and most of all, INDEXED. It is now possible to own complete, bound sets on subjects that range from Masonic history and symbolism, to philosophy and biographies. The books are edited and assembled by Brother S. Brent Morris, editor of the Scottish Rite Journal. I own all four volumes today, and they are indispensable at least once a week in this household. These collections should be in every lodge in the country, and they can easily serve the purpose they were designed for in the first place. Pull out a book at random, flip it open to any article, and there is a bit of Masonic education for your meeting night. Virtually every new Worshipful Master is charged either publicly or privately never to open and close his lodge "without giving a lecture, or some section or part of a lecture, for the instruction of the Lodge." to his members. That doesn't just mean to recite a memorized charge or some other mindless repetition, either.

The pre-sale pricing has just ended, but MSA is taking regular orders for Volume V of the STB series, that includes more than 700 pages of individual articles covering the years 1983-1997. With the exception of the sold-out Volume I, each massive volume in the series can be ordered online at www.msana.com. There are two different bindings available, priced at $98 or $158, and shipping is included in the United States. Out of country pricing is available from the MSA office. Anticipated shipping for Volume V is late this Fall.

The STBs are everywhere acknowledged as most widely distributed Masonic publication in the world. One copy is sent each month to every MSA member lodge and grand lodge officer free of charge. And if you're tired of never hearing them or reading them for yourself, subscriptions are available for $12 per year at www.msana.com.
If you are interested in having a copy of Volume 1 and wish to vote for its reprinting, be sure to complete the short survey at: https://goo.gl/forms/N6RbTyaT0p6k5oQt1

(And please don't just click yes, and then not bother ordering one later.)

Monday, October 09, 2017

Of Brothers, Of Obligations, and Of Sacrifice

Ask yourself a very serious question that few of us really have to answer, especially in modern times: 

Would you personally volunteer to risk your very life to save the life of a complete stranger across the country, just because he is a Brother Freemason and that's what your obligation expects of you?

Well, that's happening as I type this. "Thoughts and prayers" for a stranger in great distress take no effort. Writing a check or making an online Paypal donation takes seconds from your life and little thought. But what has happened today is truly a story of incredible self-sacrifice and indescribable generosity that is almost impossible for most people to comprehend. I'm referring to events that started in motion earlier this year with a story I shared, Help Needed! Washington D.C. Brother Seeks Kidney Donor concerning Brother Christopher Stevenson. 

He did indeed receive an answer, from across the country.

I was waiting to post about today's events until both Richard and Chris got out of surgery today and woke up tomorrow. They've been keeping me posted all along the way, and this story is just plain amazing to me. 

Brother Mark Wright just posted this story this morning on his Facebook page, so there's no reason for me to hold back until tomorrow now, as it is zooming around the web. I share it in its entirety below. Feel free to share it.

And make damn sure you take careful note of why Mark was involved, too.

Portrait of a Hero 
by Mark Wright

The photo (clockwise from upper left): Richard checking in to GWU Hospital very early this morning, Richard two weeks ago with the master of Hiram-Takoma Lodge No. 10, Chris (second row, second from right) with the class after he was raised a Master Mason in Federal Lodge No. 1 in 2012, Richard outside his lodge in Utah earlier this summer, and (center) Chris. 

Imagine traveling all the way across the country to have yourself cut open and one of your vital organs extracted, all for someone who just four months ago you didn’t even know existed.

At this very moment, my friend Richard Vier is in surgery at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., to have one of his kidneys extracted. In the very next operating room is a 26-year-old who is dying from end-stage renal disease. He is waiting to have Richard’s healthy kidney transplanted into his body. If it goes well, it will save his life.

In June, Richard read a post in Chris Hodapp’s Freemasonry blog talking about a young D.C. Mason by the name of Chris Stevenson who is in desperate need of a kidney transplant. He suffers from juvenile diabetes, complications of which caused his kidneys to fail. Chris has been undergoing lengthy kidney dialysis three days per week. GWU's Transplant Institute says at least ten people in this country die every day waiting for a new kidney to be available. That blog post struck a chord in Richard. He felt compelled to respond.

Richard is a 32-year-old from Ogden, Utah, where he is the junior deacon of Golden Spike Lodge No. 6, and the father of two little girls. He contacted Chris and the GWU Transplant Institute, then began the lengthy and exhaustive transplant screening process. Transplant Institute staff told me the blog post had generated a lot of inquiries about Chris’s case, but many people who are interested and start the process are not a good match or not medically cleared. Richard, who had never been to the District of Columbia before, came from Utah to D.C. three times for testing and evaluation, before flying in from Los Angeles last night to have today’s surgery.

We Masons give a lot of lip service to the concepts of brotherhood, fraternity, and looking out after the needs of one another. We couch lofty ideals in honorable language. We say, oh, yes, if you are in dire need, if the likelihood of saving your life is greater than the chance of losing our own life, we will immediately spring to your assistance and help you. Yay, team! Brothers!

But in the real world, do we really do that?

Then here comes Chris Stevenson, a young, ambitious, worthy Mason with a terminal condition. We can’t just send our “thoughts and prayers” and save him. Our lodges can write checks for millions of dollars, but that money isn’t going to keep Chris alive. He is dying. What he needs is a mere one-third pound of living flesh from another person, a healthy, functioning kidney.

Richard Vier heard the call. He volunteered to come to the aid of a man he had never seen, never known, never met. There is sacrifice. There is risk. There is pain. There is blood. There will be scars. This is major surgery; there is the very real chance Richard could die.

Yet, Richard decided that the chance of saving his brother Chris’s life is greater than all the risk and sacrifice to himself. He’s giving Chris one of his kidneys.

I met Richard at the airport two weeks ago when he came to D.C. for his last round of testing and screening. I wanted to make sure he was healthy and happy, because if something goes wrong or his health or condition doesn’t permit him to actually donate, I’m his back-up (those of you who’ve been worried about me and why I’ve been going to so many doctor appointments and tests lately, now you know, so you can stop worrying). Chris was in class that night, so I took Richard to a lodge where my friend Doug is master, and we all broke bread together and sat in lodge together as brothers. It was a meaningful experience. Richard is an honorable man. He has an amazingly pure and humble heart. I asked him why he was doing this. He said when he read about him, aside from Chris being a brother in need, what struck him most was that Chris was just so young. Truly, Richard knows what it means to be a brother.

I’ve known Chris since 2012, when my lodge had the honor of conferring his third Masonic degree on him as a courtesy to his own lodge, and I served as senior warden on the team. Since then, I’d see Chris now and then at various functions around town. He’s quiet and studious. He’s a good guy. He has potential. I’m pleased he’s started graduate school this fall working on a J.D./M.P.A. program, and it worried me that he was going to try to start law school while undergoing dialysis. Dialysis is time-consuming and exhausting, with side-effects that would distract from the focus required for law classes, especially at a viciously competitive law school like GWU. He needs this transplant.

So, right now, my two friends should both be in surgery. Richard’s will take about three hours. Chris’s will take about seven hours. And then we wait.

Thus, to all my Masonic brothers, I hold Brother Richard Vier up to you as a hero and a selfless role model. When next you hear of a brother in need, even if you don't even know him, how will you respond? Would you shed your blood? Would you risk your life for a worthy, distressed brother? Would you emulate the example of Richard Vier?

Think about it.

UPDATE 10/9/2017, 2:30: 

As of 2:30, Brother Mark Wright reports that Richard is out of surgery. The doctors say his procedure went well. Chris will still be in surgery for several hours.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of the Brothers from this morning in pre-op sent by Richard.

Indiana's Historic Adam's Mill and its Masonic Connection

Indiana Brethren, here's a possible Masonic project worth pursuing, especially for lodges that are clustered between Lafayette and Kokomo, Frankfort, Delphi, Camden, and Logansport. In 1973, the Grand Lodge erected an historic marker at Adam's Mill, near the tiny village called Cutler, along Wildcat Creek. It reads:

Wild Cat Lodge No. 311 F.& A.M.
 Organized June 25, 1864, the Lodge used the third floor of the Adams Mill as meeting place until autumn 1867, one of two known Masonic Lodges in Indiana to have started in a flour mill.
The picturesque old mill on Wildcat Creek in southern Carroll County wrote a brief but sentimental chapter in the story of Freemasonry in Indiana. Erected in 1845 by John Adams, the Adams Mill replaced an earlier saw and flour mill complex built possibly as early as 1832. Later it became the property of Warren Adams, a Freemason. When the brethren in and near Cutler organized Wild Cat Lodge No. 311, Brother Adams became a charter member and provided quarters for the lodge in a 17 x 24 room on the third floor of his mill.

The Adams Mill was a busy place for about three years in the 1860s. In addition to its regular business of grinding feed and making flour, it housed the Masonic lodge and the post office. Wild Cat Lodge moved their meetings across the road to a new general store three years later in 1867 (which no longer stands), then finally into little nearby Cutler where the railroad passed through a few decades later. When a generator was installed at the mill in 1913, it powered the streetlights in Cutler a mile and a half down the road.

Lodge room once used by Wild Cat Lodge 311 from 1864-67

The Mill was restored by Brother and Mrs. Claude W. Sheets in 1940 and opened in 1951 as a museum for displays illustrating the kind of farming tools and transportation facilities used in Indiana in the late 19th Century. It continues to fulfill this purpose today, and the third floor is set aside as the Masonic lodge appeared in the 1860s, though all that's left today is a lonely Master's podium, an American flag, and a few photos from the 1973 plaque unveiling. Adams Mill was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 as a significant and well-preserved example of a very early gristmill.

Lodges in the tiniest of places often struggle, and the lodges in this region reflect the enormous changes in both Indiana communities and the fraternity. On May 1, 1987, Wild Cat Lodge No. 311 consolidated with Flora Lodge No. 605; then in 2004, Flora Lodge consequently merged with Mt. Zion Lodge No. 211 in Camden. Over the years, Masons from former lodges in both Deer Creek and Delphi also merged into Mt. Zion Lodge.

The Masonic marker remains in place today as you approach the historic, restored Adams Mill, and it even looks brand new. Adam’s Mill has been turned into a museum, campground, and a popular wedding venue, and it even has vacation cabins today. Only Millersville Lodge in Indianapolis shares this unique type of early meeting location in a mill during their histories in Indiana.

The nearby covered bridge over Wild Cat Creek was nearly destroyed in the 1970s, just after the marker was erected at the Mill by the Masons. However, it was restored in the late 1990s, and this very tucked away location is a uniquely Indiana attraction to seek out and visit.

My point is that the current owners are well aware of its former heritage, and took the time, effort and money to recently make the Masonic plaque look brand new. The old lodge room is described on tours as such, and I spoke with the owners casually last week. Adam's Mill is a non-profit 501(c)3 charity and can issue tax deductions for donations. And they would be very interested in discussing a deeper historical tie in to the Masonic Lodge that once occupied it so long ago.

This would make a great place to do an annual degree for lodges anywhere nearby for a truly unique experience that doesn't exist anywhere else in the state. On major holiday events, you could also demonstrate an officer's installation or a non-tyled recreation of a Masonic meeting for tour groups, dressed in clothes of the period. You'd have to seek out more furniture as was done for Schofield House in Madison, but it would be a place much easier to get to for Masons in the more northern reaches of the state. All it would take are some dedicated volunteers with dogged determnation to find or create the furniture and decor. Area lodges could pool their resources and make this a joint project.

I don't believe any of the Museum's leaders, investors, or officers are Masons, but the owners are eager to do anything to that brings more attention to their attraction, and Freemasonry could use all of the public exposure it can get right now. The contact name is Al Auffart at amauffart@gmail.com and the website includes their phone number as well.


They're having a Halloween "Haunted Mill" tie in later this month, and it would be the perfect time for some brethren to at least go have a look.

If you're not in Indiana, look around your state for opportunities like this. There are unique, historic locations all over the country where early Masonic lodges used to meet, and these types of tiny museums are always looking for ways to connect with their communities and their states. Freemasonry has played an historic role in every state, so why not find a unique way to call attention to it, rekindle it, and to remind people how important this fraternity has been—and still is today!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Speaking: Friday October 13th, Bellefontaine, Ohio

On the evening of next Friday, October 13th, I will be speaking at the Ohio 15th Masonic District fundraiser at Bellefontaine Lodge 209 in Bellefontaine, Ohio. 

WB Marty Rizor and I have been wrestling since almost a year ago to make this happen, and I was unexpectedly forced to cancel back in May this year at almost the very last minute. So, I hope the area brethren give them a decent turnout for the evening, because Marty's really been indefatigable about organizing this. 

Nothing will go wrong this time, even if it is Friday the 13th...

Dinner will be at the lodge at 6:30PM, and I'll start yammering afterwards. Everyone is welcome to attend—Masons, guests, wives—and I'll promise to try not to bore the non-members. 

Dinner is $8 in advance, or $10 at the door (and I know they'd really appreciate advance reservations, if only to plan the dinner supplies). Contact George at 614-581-8666.

Bellefontaine Lodge 209 is located at 600 N Main Street, Bellefontaine, Ohio. The town is roughly 60 miles from both Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, and about 100 miles southeast of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, too.

The District has a private Facebook group page HERE.

For more information, click the flyer below to enlarge.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Threatening Mail?

The tragedy from Las Vegas last night doubtless has concerns raised all over the country today. I have not heard any news from friends out of that city as of yet, but I send a special prayer to the many Brethren I met there last year. The nation and the world mourn, and words cannot in any way comfort this horrific and senseless loss of lives.

Unfortunately, the timing couldn't have been worse for a piece of mail that came out of Arizona and arrived on Friday. At least one Brother in an eastern state has sent me images of a threatening piece of mail he received that features a cartoonish, flaming, crying "all-seeing eye" and headlined as an "Anonymous [blank] Punisher." 

The sender had an odd way of being an "anonymous" anything, since it was rubber stamped with a name of a "ministry" and a Tuscon, AZ return address. That said, the sender has a criminal record of violently attacking an abortion clinic in 1996, attacking a federal law enforcement official this year, and mailing threats to police officers and to a gay, Jewish legislator in New York, which was followed up by vandalism to his home. With all of that in mind, the Brother has reported this piece of mail to the police. 

I'm the last guy in the world who wants to sound like an hysteric. I would not call attention to this if it was an isolated incident and if not from someone with a proven track record of actually committing violent actions. If you have recently received any sort of threatening mail or messages and you believe it has anything to do with your membership as a Freemason, this person may be involved. Sadly, given the age in which we find ourselves, I urge you to report anything like this that comes your way to authorities. 

(NOTE: Do NOT misunderstand: I am NOT claiming or implying in any way this was mailed by the Las Vegas murderer. The sender's name is known and he has a long documented history of mailings like this.)

If you want to compare something you have received with this particular mailing, contact me at hodapp@aol.com and I will either forward you the pertinent images, or I will place you in touch with the Brother involved.

MSA Issues Disaster Relief Appeal for Puerto Rico; Joins Florida and Texas

The Masonic Service Association of North America has just issued an official Disaster Relief Appeal for Puerto Rico:

The devastation that two hurricanes caused in Puerto Rico, particularly Hurricane Maria, is by now well known. With 95% of the island without electricity or communication, and 50% without drinking water, it will take months to recover, but they are in need of help now.
Grand Master Raúl Rodríguez Quiles has contacted the Masonic Service Association of North America asking for help for the brethren of his jurisdiction by issuing a Disaster Relief Appeal.
As Masons across the country have contributed so much to MSA for Texas and Florida, we must again ask the greater Masonic community to try their best to do more. Every dollar sent to MSA will go the affected jurisdiction. Nothing will be deducted for administration, bookkeeping, thank you letters, or PayPal expenses. As with the two previous ongoing appeals, this third appeal for the Grand Lodge of Puerto Rico will help them aid and assist their distressed brothers, families, and lodges.
All current MSA Hurricane Appeals can be seen HERE. There are also still ongoing appeals for Florida and Texas from earlier in September. There are separate Paypal pushbuttons there for all three of these funds. 

The delay in this case was caused by the widespread destruction that wiped out the island's infrastructure. You have doubtless heard by now that electricity remains a scarce commodity currently, so as you can imagine, any communications were challenging in the immediate aftermath. The MSA's Simon LaPlace was finally able to somehow contact the Junior Grand Warden via Facebook. However, the Brother is a paramedic and was more than just a little busy for the first several days. He was eventually able to make his way to the Grand Master's home to speak with him. 

If you or your lodge prefers donating by check, please make checks payable to "MSA Disaster Relief Fund" and send them to: 

Masonic Service Association
3905 National Drive, Suite 280
Burtonsville, MD 20866

Be sure on the memo line of your check and on the envelope that you notate if it is for Texas, Florida, or Puerto Rico.

The Masonic Service Association is arguably the best and most effective way to provide financial assistance to Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas Masons (or to any other jurisdictions that may also request these official Disaster Relief Appeals through MSA). MSA is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. That is important to remember, especially if you, your company, or foundation are making a large donation and are in need of a tax deduction in return. 

If your own Grand Lodge is conducting official fund raising, it is more than likely being done to forward it to the MSA fund for distribution. The charitable arm of the Masonic Service Association was specifically established by the North American grand lodges in the 1920s for the purpose of raising tax deductible donations, and to effectively distribute and account for the funds provided to Masons who receive assistance. Your entire donation will be sent to the affected jurisdiction. MSA deducts nothing for administrative expenses or expenses of any kind. Meaning if you donate $100.00, all $100.00 gets to Puerto Rico, Florida, or Texas Masons. 

Below is the press release from today. Click to enlarge, and please circulate.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

DC's Naval Lodge 4 on Capitol Hill

I always find these things out late. Back in July, a bit of Masonic history was made in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC. Each year, the members of the District's historic Naval Lodge 4 hold a meeting inside the Capitol building. Their lodge, originally chartered as a Maryland lodge in 1805 (Washington Naval Lodge 41), has a longstanding historic tie to the building itself, and their magnificent lodge room features an altar made of scraps of marble from an 1858 expansion of the landmark. Because of their physical location, it has long been nicknamed "the lodge on Capitol Hill."

Click to enlarge

This year was a little different, and they held more than just a meeting. On July 6th, 2017, four candidates of Naval Lodge were initiated as Entered Apprentices in a special room just steps from the Capitol Rotunda. This is believed to be the first EA degree performed in the U.S. Capitol building.

In the early years of the republic, there were occasional meetings of Masons in the Capitol, including at least one unsuccessful effort to start a movement to form a national Grand Lodge. In more recent years, there have been a number of lodges that have held meetings in the various congressional office buildings near the Capitol, and ceremonies and processions in the Capitol itself.

If you visit Washington DC, you owe it to yourself to visit Naval Lodge 4's unique lodge room, featuring its strong Egyptian motifs. Their distinctive building on Pennsylvania Avenue SE was erected in 1894, and still features its manually operated antique elevator (tip your driver). If the Library of Congress wasn't plopped in the way, you could see the Capitol from their doorstep. The lodge's members took part in hauling the foundation stone of the Washington Monument from the Washington Navy Yard all the way to the site where the Monument would slowly rise over the decades. Consequently, when they designed their lodge room's decor, they took the Egyptian-styled obelisk's theme of the Monument as their inspiration. It's well worth your visit, and there are more than a few unique dining and drinking establishments in the surrounding neighborhood to sample while there.

(All photos from Voice of Freemasonry, courtesy Naval Lodge 4.)

H/T: Paul Rich

"Brother to a Prince and Fellow to a Beggar, if he be found worthy."

In 1926, Rudyard Kipling published a collection of short stories called Debits and Credits. In it there are four Masonically inspired tales, all centered around an imaginary London Masonic lodge called 'Faith and Works No. 5837, E.C.' The stories are In the Interests of the Brethren, The Janeites, A Madonna of the Trenches, and A Friend of the Family.

Earlier in the month while I was away from home and a real keyboard, I received the following message from a brother in Portland, Maine. If you are up in his corner of the country on November 13th, he and five other brethren will be presenting an original dramatic production based upon Brother Kipling's Masonic-themed short story, In the Interests of the BrethrenKipling’s original takes place in 1917 during WWI, but unlike the other three, this one revolves entirely around the lodge and a visitor during sessions of their Lodge for Instruction. 

Despite its older inspiration from the period of the First World War, this dramatic version will be a modern-day variation written by Brother Aaron Joy, the webmaster for the Maine Lodge of Research, and a seasoned and talented actor and director:
On November 13 Deering Lodge #83 AF&AM in Portland, under the Grand Lodge of Maine, will bring a unique event to Maine's Masonic community. The Lodge will host the debut of the one act Masonic themed play, "In The Interests Of The Brethren", written and directed by Brother Aaron Joy of Portland, with a six man cast drawn from across the district's nine lodges.
Calling this is a 'unique event' is meant quite literally. This will be the first time a play combines all the variables of being explictly about the Masonic experience, taking place present day and not historically themed or a dramatization of a historic event, written by a Maine brother and not a former Scottish Rite degree or Brother Carl Claudy play, and performed for the public with no cover charge. All those variables make for a unique moment in Maine Masonry and the Portland theater scene as no previous Masonically sponsored show has brought all these variables together.
The show is open to the public and all are invited, whether Masonic brother or curious about Freemasonry or just a theater attendee looking for a new experience, men and women, though the show is not thematically relevant for youth. This is not semi-public nor in open lodge, but a fully public informal event. Optional dinner at 6:30, show at 7:30, normally scheduled Stated to follow for attending brothers. Guests are invited to stay after the show to discover more about Masonry. No tickets or entry cost, but those who come for dinner are asked to give a small donation to cover food costs and RSVP for a head count. Other attendees, in lieu of tickets, are invited to instead contribute to the Lodge's annual collection of personal items that are boxed together for the homeless. A donation can be something like a wool hat or a toothbrush.
The play, written 2016, was loosely inspired by the Rudyard Kipling short story of the same name, which is about a soldier discovering how a lodge transcends world problems and turns enemies into friends on the level. The play is about a man that left Masonry after the first degree on the eve of his father not being voted in as Master, and who would also leave the Craft to soon die heart-broken. Years later, when Masonry is a forgotten bitter taste, the man finds himself unexpectantly attending Lodge. Here he discovers what Masonry really means, comes to terms with his father's death, and understands why even in the face of disappointment his father still encouraged him to stay with Masonry.
The play will be presented as a reading. This is not to be confused with poetry readings but is a performance without formal set or costumes and with script in hand. While eliciting interest in staging future or more eleaborate productions is welcomed, the goals of this reading is to share a local brother's creative work, get writing feedback for further development, introduce a new social activity into Lodge culture, open the lodge to visitors and remind brethren that Masonry isn't just about memorizing ritual but it can go wherever one wants to take it.
Its author/director has over 200 theater shows under his belt, ranging from community theater acting to historical re-enactments to technical work to directing Off-Broadway to writing an award-winning musical. Currently, he can seen acting lead in Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction degrees and in 2016 was in a largely improvised 2 act gangster themed show for DeMolay and Rainbow. To direct his own show is a lifelong dream and Masonry provided the much needed source of inspiration while seemingly aligning the stars. Brother Joy is a member of Portland's Triangle Lodge #1, Gorham's Harmony Lodge #38, Scottish Rite NMJ and is the webmaster for the Maine Lodge of Research.
Contact playwright/director Brother Aaron Joy at aronmatyas@hotmail.com or call/text 646-597-1583 (leave a message) for more information, questions, and to RSVP for dinner.
Deering Lodge #83 AF&AM is located at 102 Bishop Street, Portland, Maine. 

Rudyard Kipling was scarcely a famous Freemason in name only. He was active and enthusiastic at two distinct periods of his life, and believed strongly in the precepts of the fraternity. When he was 20, he was initiated, passed and raised in 1886 into Hope and Perseverance Lodge 782, an English Constitution lodge in Lahore, Punjab, in what is now Pakistan. Indeed true: he was immediately made the lodge Secretary before his MM degree night even ended, and entered his own degree record in the Minutes. In the same region, he also was a regular visitor to Lodge of St John the Evangelist No. 1483, a military lodge at the time in Lahore. He took the Mark Degree in Fidelity Mark Lodge on April 12, 1887 and was elevated in Mt. Ararat Mark Mariners Lodge at Lahore on the same day. After being transferred to a newspaper in Allahabad, Bengal, he joined the Lodge of Independence With Philanthropy 391 there. 

Something obviously disgruntled Kipling about the fraternity while still in India, because he abruptly resigned from all of his Masonic Craft lodges in 1889. But after he relocated eventually to Britain, in 1909 he joined the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (what we in the US call the MSRICF). On top of several honorary memberships bestowed on him in England, he became a member of the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle in 1818 after his son's heartbreaking death in the war. In 1921 he would be a founding member of the Imperial War Graves Commission lodge, The Builders of the Silent Cities Lodge 12 in St Omer, France under the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise in the Province of Neustrie, the ancient French name of the region between Normandy and Flanders. Its poetic name in memorial to the graves of the dead is commonly attributed to him, and he would remain a paying member of it until his own death. London's Freemasons' Hall itself was built by the UGLE as a memorial to those Brethren who lost their lives in the First World War. In 1924, Kipling visited Rosemary Lodge 2851 in England, giving his lodge affiliation to the Secretary and brethren as London's Motherland Lodge 3861, of which he was actually an honorary member.

In 1925, Kipling wrote in the London Times
"I was Secretary for some years of Hope and Perseverance Lodge No. 782, E.C. Lahore which included Brethren of at least four creeds. I was entered by a member of Bramo Somaj, a Hindu; passed by a Mohammedan, and raised by an Englishman. Our Tyler was an Indian Jew. We met, of course, on level, and the only difference anyone would notice was that at our banquets, some of the Brethren, who were debarred by caste from eating food not ceremonially prepared, sat over empty plates."
If you want to know much more about this deeply thoughtful and fascinating gentleman and brother, author Richard Jaffa has written an excellent Masonic biography called Man and Mason—Rudyard Kipling. Jaffa goes into great detail about him and into the Masonic influences that shaped both his life and his writings. 

In the original story that this dramatic updating in Maine will be based upon in November, the lodge's visitor who is quite likely echoing the thoughts of Kipling so many years after almost completely severing his memberships, says to a Brother next to him,
"It’s Heaven to me, sittin' in Lodge again. It’s all coming back now, watching their mistakes. I haven't much religion, but all I had I learnt in Lodge.' 
Recognising me, he flushed a little as one does when one says a thing twice over in another’s hearing. "Yes, 'veiled in all'gory and illustrated in symbols' the Fatherhood of God, an' the Brotherhood of Man; an' what more in Hell do you want?"
What indeed.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Freemasonry as Wallpaper

Add another stick onto the pile of why we get petitioners who knock on our lodge doors with a bizarre misconception of just what it is they think they're joining.

I figured out decades ago that it is the God-given mission of every new generation to make their parents cry. And as a result, each succeeding generation of parents requires a higher and higher threshold of shock applied to them in order to make their collective tears flow because of the ratcheted-up levels perpetrated during their own youths themselves. 

"Smoking behind the corn-crib?" Don't burn it down.

"LSD?" The flashbacks aren't what they tell you they are.
"I'm pregnant?" Great, a grandkid.

"Flame red mohawk?"  Look at my high school graduation portrait.
"Body piercings?" I'll show ya mine in the men's room.

"Flaming skull with snake and swastika tattoos?" Pass the salt...
On my forehead??!! How does this new damn TV box work?
As a partial result of that escalating Mutually Assured Distress campaign over the last 75 years or so, the "Is nothing sacred?" question got laughed right out of the auditorium with the NEA and Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ." Hell, the 1920s beat the pants off of the 2010s. 

Doing irreligious or deliberately provoking things inside of churches was already past its sell date after Anton Levay got into Time magazine in 1966. So, I'm really only posting this here as my own placeholder to mark the point in time that Freemasonry became not even a punchline or a cheap fashion accessory from the Gap anymore, but just pop culture wallpaper. 

Some "boundary-pushing fashion designer" from Turkey named Dilara Findikoglu, whose press releases describe herself as "an up-and-coming rebel in the fashion industry," figured out she wasn't getting any attention from any actual talent or product she produced. So she scheduled her "London Fashion Week" parade of what are ostensibly "clothing designs" for her "Spring/Summer 2018 Collection" to take place in London's St. Andrew's Church in Holborn. And just to make sure everybody looked, she filled it with imagery of symbols like inverted pentagrams, demonically-horned models, skeletons, all-seeing eyes, and the whole standard melange of pseudo-occult-Satanic-Illuminati-Masonic appropriation. And to make sure everybody got just how "edgy" she was, she covered up the church altar and erected a backdrop of an enormous square and compasses with a Jachin and Boaz for good measure, and made certain the term "Black Mass" got wedged into the tabloids along with it all. 

All that was missing was the Aleister Crowley photo in the middle of it all so everybody could  really "get it." But then, I guess that'd be like a comedian admitting he stole stale jokes from an old Henny Youngman act.

That was Monday. By Tuesday, the Church was already issuing their official apology:
The parish of St Andrew's has always supported London Fashion Week. We took this booking in good faith and were not aware of the content or design before the show took place.
This was obviously a mistake, and the content of this show does not reflect the Christian faith of the Church. We will be looking at our booking processes going forward to ensure this does not happen again.
As for Ms. Findikoglu's future career successes, it is apparently assured. Stories about her seem to be rife with precious gems like this:
Findikoglu is considered an up-and-comer in the fashion industry, and as a result is alleged to have been substantially influenced by the Illuminati. Among her biggest fans are musicians and other artists who also reportedly have Illuminati connections.
Pull the other one... 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Wrap Up: Masonic Society's 2017 Conference, Lexington, KY

This is really lengthy, but I've been working on it for 10 days.

I’ve been unconscionably remiss in not following up after the the Masonic Society's 2017 Conference, "Centuries of American Freemasonry" in Lexington, Kentucky September 8-10. Dr. John Bizzack (right), the members of Lexington Lodge 1, and the Kentucky’s Rubicon Masonic Society along with the other organizers did an incredible job at arranging what was one of the very best and most useful Masonic symposiums I’ve attended in a long time. Even the graphics and other printed materials were all beautiful and top flight. And the Festive Board they hosted at the nearby Spindletop Hall is something I wish I could pick up and transplant into at least one location in every jurisdiction of America to show others how to do it at least once. There were at least 85 attendees from 13 states and Canada, and if you weren’t there, you should have been. 

The overall theme to the whole event was to look forward to the future by using our past as a vast history lesson.

Thomas W. Jackson led off on Friday with his keynote, The History of the Future of Freemasonry. At 83, Tom’s been a Freemason for 54 years now, and during that time he’s seen some of its greatest successes. Anyone who’s spent time with him knows he’s well traveled, experienced, respected, and loves this fraternity. He’s also, on occasion, given to a pessimistic outlook about it in the US. I’m not hurting his feelings to type that out loud, as he freely admits it himself. But he's experienced so much that it becomes a bitter comparison sometimes to come back to US shores.

Tom didn’t quote this, but Isaac Disraeli once wrote, "It is a wretched taste to be gratified with mediocrity when the excellent lies before us." Tom’s speech asserted that external threats have always endangered us, but we are facing our greatest failure today, and the threat this time is internal, not external. This is no Morgan, no Holocaust, no conspiracy theory this time. And it has nothing to do with numbers of members. If Masons have lost our influence on society, it’s because we became something we were never intended to be in the first place. Our influence going forward needs grow out of respect for Freemasons, not how many members we have. 

Mark Tabbert followed Tom, and I'll explain later why I'm saving Mark for the end.

California’s Jordan Yelinek gave his presentation, Developing Lodges in the 21st Century, on starting a new lodge from scratch. He has been giving this Grand Lodge program all over his state, and there have been 14 new lodges chartered there in the last year alone. Starting a new lodge is not difficult as a process, although it certainly is in practice. It takes dedication and a common goal from at least the minimum number required. California held leadership retreats and surveyed 5,000 Masters and Wardens to identify what THEY want for the fraternity. ALL men want real true friends, to learn, and to make a difference in the world around them, whatever that may mean to them individually. If we can’t (or AREN’T) fulfilling that, or helping them to fulfill it, we are failing at what we do.

Consolidations don’t work, especially when two weak lodges form. They create a bigger weak lodge, never a better one. California found that while 70% of all of their members considered themselves to be “very engaged” Freemasons, they never attend lodge. If a lodge looks like crap, people are repelled. This is all common sense, brethren. If a Mason has no reason to come back to lodge, he won’t. And if you can’t convince your lodge to fix itself even with your help (and don’t just bitch, get in there and shovel coal, too), then stick a flag in the ground and start a new one. If it succeeds, encourage imitators, not bigger membership. If it fails, go out in a blaze of glory by showing what you were attempting to do.

Friday night’s Festive Board at the Lexington's Spindletop Hall was, as said above, tremendous in every way. 

The surroundings were ideal, the food excellent, the program just about perfect, and the conversation was hearty and positive. I urge any lodge to find the local historic mansion or library or catering site or other exquisite location and hold at least one event like this a year. Or six. Or twelve.

Andrew Hammer's speech that evening, The Heart, Mind and Soul of Freemasonry, only reaffirmed what I have known about him since he first began writing and speaking: that all he and the thousands of Masons who have bought and read his little volume Observing the Craft have wanted all along is the opportunity and the freedom to established regular, recognized American lodges that demand higher standards of behavior, manners, and what used to be called the "gentlemanliness" that most men once voluntarily sought to attain for themselves. Many still do want it. If Masons today want to be an organization non-Masons admire and seek to emulate and even perhaps join, why can't a handful of Masons at least be permitted enough flexibility to create such a lodge? 

Andrew didn't say it, but elitism is what Freemasonry was always intended to be from the start, and it's not he same thing as "snobbery," not at all. An ashlar cannot by definition polish itself. It needs patterns to model itself after at least, with the help of likeminded craftsmen. And hundreds of cookie-cutter lodges across a state do not provide the sort of encouragement and standards countless disappointed men seek. The truth is that variety and affinity lodges of all types are the only future our wider American Masonic fraternity has if it is to be anything but a tiny, boutique clutch of practitioners, no more significant than a monthly gathering of Japanese tea ceremony enthusiasts.

Anyway, I can't compliment everyone enough for the entire evening.

On Saturday, Alan Casalou’s presentation looked at the damaging effects that 20th century bigness have had upon American Freemasonry. Once we moved out of 18th century taverns, and then out of our 19th century town centers, we settled into our bigger and bigger “cathedrals” built in the last century. As much as I personally love them architecturally and historically, our grandest temples represent almost all that has subverted and eroded us as a fraternity. Throughout the 20th century, the vast and overwhelming majority of men felt that receiving the Master Mason degree was the ultimate experience the fraternity offered, and then never went back again. Attending lodge didn’t mean you were a Mason—a dues card did. Yet my own recent research has shown me, here in Indiana, we had several lodges with well over 1,000 members and even more than 2,000 in the 1920s. Nobody had to attend to be a Mason—we even tell them that in the EA degree today. Alan pointed out the avalanche of sheer idiocy (my term, not his) that got enforced by grand lodges, in part because of the human sea of members who knew nothing about the fraternity they joined. California forbade publishing Masonic papers in the 1920s, and banned tracing boards in the 1950s. Lodges of Research were specifically created in the US to control what was written about the fraternity at the GL level. It would take the anonymity of the Internet to finally upturn that grip on information nationwide (or almost, anyway). 

And even today, there is a US grand lodge that still enforces a recently enacted rule that doesn't even permit the open discussion of any Masonic ritual besides their own, much less a demonstration of one—even if it's from a jurisdiction THEY recognize as regular! 

As our membership skyrocketed and more and arguably “rougher” men poured in unchecked and unbalanced by more refined or educated or successful ones, the mania of obsessive rule making only exploded and GL rule books became thicker and thicker, as GLs stopped relying (or were able to rely on) the judgement and common sense of their own members. Alan didn’t say it, but when “Did his check clear?” and “Does he have a pulse?” replaced “How long have you been friends with him?” and “What does the community think of him?” GLs couldn’t rely on members to be the best and do the best anymore. And then the “best” of men in communities saw no reason to join anymore. And the cycle only perpetuated itself. 

Dr. Oscar Alleyne gave his presentation about Clandestine Freemasonry the US, and I have written a quite long entry about it before HERE. I earnestly recommend every jurisdiction to consider inviting Oscar to give this same talk to their own members, and as much as I don’t like to pick on anyone, I especially encourage Prince Hall grand lodges to do so. It should be given at both the Conference of Grand Masters and the Prince Hall Conference of Grand Masters, because this is a problem that continues to grow because of the Internet. Bogus “leg o' mutton" degree peddlers are at least as old a phenomenon as 1752, and they’ll never go away. But American Masons need to get ahead of this ongoing problem, and Oscar does it better than anyone. New “masonic” or “Illuminati” bogus groups pop up on a weekly basis in my email inbox alone, and they are damaging to the entire fraternity.

Patrick Craddock’s many years of research and work at creating bespoke Masonic aprons that harken to an earlier age has permitted him to spread that knowledge and interest to Freemasons all over the country. If you have seen his high quality, handcrafted aprons at The Craftsman's Apron based on historic, symbolic designs, you know the detail he puts into each one. The result has been his program, “Admit Him if Properly Clothed: Three Centuries of American Masonic Regalia.” Patrick’s presentation is an excellent one, and like Oscar’s, I encourage you and your lodge, district, or grand lodge to invite him to give it in person. 

In 2016, Jon T. Ruark sent out an appeal for responses to what he called the “Ultimate Freemasonry Survey,” and on Saturday, he gave his most extensive presentation of his results and analysis to date (he did do a much shortened version earlier this year at Pennsylvania's Academy of Masonic Knowledge, but he wasn’t quite finished with all of his collating and dot-connecting yet). Jon received 2,300 responses to his survey, and given the inherent bias in an internet-circulated poll taken this way that had zero support or assistance from a single grand lodge anywhere, certainly it has built-in lopsided results. But if you are the person who counts Masonic success by numbers and believes in analysis projections, things don’t look at all good as soon as 2027, and they look like an institutional gravesite no later than 2040. By then, we’ll all be able to meet in a phone booth. If anyone can find an antique phone booth on Ebay by then.

But those “numbers” didn’t really interest most of the Masons in that room, because we don’t count Masonry’s success or death by dropping beans in a jar. Jon will be making his results (and I believe a follow up that is planned) in a later publication. As a result, I’m not going to blurt them out here. He did the work, the results are his to share or hold back as he sees fit. But there were several figures I found just interesting enough that I WILL drop here. Just to set the stage:
  • All 2,300 of his results were from self-declared Masons (no real way to verify, but he didn’t include anyone who didn't say they were). 
  • The average age of his respondents was 45. 
  • 72.8% were married, 69.5 have kids, with an average income of $25-75,000 (just 12% made $100-250K)
(Jon also asked if his respondents had a declared religious preference, just out of curiosity, since we require a faith in a Supreme Being. It was a major issue for a very long time in the fraternity, both inside and outside of the US, so this is just an interesting observation: out of all of his respondents, 17.5% were Catholic. I have long suspected this, being raised as a Catholic and educated by Jesuits—though I attributed it to post-1966 Vatican II longing for the old Latin Mass and love of ritual and ceremony. But we're far enough away from those years that it's probably not the reason these days.)

But for our symposium, here were the money figures: 90% said that “Masonic Education” was “very important” or “important.” The vast majority of them specifically noted they wanted “esoteric” education. Out of those members who described themselves as being “disengaged” with the fraternity, 56% received NO education in their lodge. Pay attention to this.
  • 92% WANT “brotherhood.”
  • 80% liked ritual
  • 83% want “history”
  • And less than half want “higher degrees” 
I shared these numbers with a friend over the weekend who said they are almost identical with the results found in a recent survey by a large appendant body in the US.

Of course, all of these numbers are nice to have, and reaffirm what scores of us have yammered about for decades. But no one has ever figured out the role of the individual Freemason in all of this “wanting” and “preferring” and “very important-ing.” Masonic “education” (whatever that is) can’t be spoon-fed to our members. It can’t be shined in their eyes by some app on their phones. It can’t be found in a single article or book, or even a whole shelf of books. It has as much to do with improving ourselves and real human interaction as it does with some external person or force improving us—arguably more, MUCH more. 

So, John Bizzack, Cameron C. Poe, Richard A. Graeter and I took part in a panel discussion and audience back-and-forth about the future of the fraternity. As the ostensible moderator, I insisted that we NOT engage in any barstool air-bending about “Ya know what’s wrong with this fraternity…” Yes, we know. We ALL know. The conversation was a nuts and bolts, nitty gritty one about what does a single lodge do to either remake itself, fix itself, or give up and start again from scratch. The resulting discussion was constructive and worthwhile, hopefully for everyone. I hope somebody was taking notes, as I was busy.

To sum up, the overall thread that ran all throughout this event by accident or design was a very basic one: Excellence. Quality. Freemasonry is shrinking, but that’s probably all for the best. And history tells us, it is inevitable. Alan Casalou’s presentation centered around the phrase we have all heard countless time, “That the tender branch thereof will not cease.” (Job 14:1-12). On the eve of its first Revolution, France had a thousand lodges. Just seventy-five throughout that entire country survived the Terror. There's a big, fat lesson in there for all Freemasons going forward as each year's statistics roll in and long faces get longer.

Mark Tabbert’s talk on Friday morning brought up events and periods and developments from US Masonry’s history that few may have been aware of before. Mark has studied fraternalism on a much wider scale than just Freemasonry, and he can often see insights that Masons may not, and may never have. 

He mentioned a scandalous event in Vermont that predated the Morgan Affair in the 1820s, and despite all the press Morgan received nationwide, it was the earlier incident that nearly wiped out Freemasonry in that tiny and still young state. If we as modern Freemasons believe that we are living through rough times and woe is us that we have a budget shortfall this year over our state’s industrial-sized charities, consider this. The Grand Lodge of Vermont was saved by just two individuals and preserved by those two men for 20 years. Their entire state membership plunged to a mere 30 Masons at its worst. 

Yet, what was said by a Vermont Mason in the very darkest moments of their history? 
“Better we turn away unworthy men than to accept them just to survive.”
How about proposing that for your Grand Lodge’s motto next year? I'll second it.