Sunday, June 12, 2016

Some Wisdom for a Traveler

Robert Frost (1874–1963). Mountain Interval. 1920.

1. The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Mysterious Indiana Masonic Revolution?

Page 1
There isn't a great deal to report on in this story yet, but watch for more to unfold. It sounds as if a revolution is afoot. Worshipful Masters in Indiana have been receiving a "seditious" letter in the mail, which seems to be asking them to lead some sort of insurrection against the management of the Grand Lodge. It urges Worshipful Masters to lead the lodges in taking over Freemasonry in that State.

Page 2
There seems to be no immediate information available as to who is sending these letters and no suggestion has been made thus far as to how they have the mailing addresses of the WMs of that state. The obvious conclusion is that is some sort of an inside job. Of course, who else would care if Freemasonry dies or not in these days? I can think of only two parties who would be truly motivated to see Freemasonry survive. Those are Freemasons themselves, and apart from Freemasons, David Icke. After all, David Icke stands to loose most if Freemasonry disappears.

Page 3
As far as I can see, Masons online are making fun of the effort, and it is unlikely to generate as much light as it does heat, but I suspect someone is going to take it quite seriously.

page 4
For some time I have been suggesting that change needs to come to Freemasonry if it is to survive. I have also suggested that if Freemasonry has a future, it will end up being a much slimmer model, one with either no Grand Lodges, or with Grand Lodges that have essentially been turned into the hand maidens of the local lodges, and which are lean but not mean. It would seem that such an idea has some takers.

page 5
While it may be hard for some to imagine that this effort would likely result in actual change, it is quite likely that so long as there is any sort of Freemasonry left, there will be calls to action like this one. Where ever you as an individual Mason may think the solution lies, unless one of these calls to action achieves success and a wide response, the number of people involved in Freemasonry will continue to shrink until it is zero.

page 6
Perhaps it is not considered newsworthy by some because they think it improbable that such an effort will bear fruit.

At the very least it highlights if not corruption, then a tendency for unaffordable and irresponsible oppulence, and just how out of touch with reality the Grand Lodge leadership has become. In fairness to the officials in Indiana, it is unlikely that the leadership of Indiana's GL is very much different from those of the other Grand Lodges.

Whatever you may think of this, from where I sit, it is very big news, precisely because someone actually cares enough to do it.

This should be interesting to watch.

Thanks to Colin Peterson, Adam Bauer, and Chris Hodapp

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Freemason Leads Coup d'Etat in Brazil

American "news" outlets, which most recognize are now no more than propaganda machines,  are already incapable of reporting accurately on what happens in the US. For the most part they simply do not report on what happens elsewhere in the world at all. Such was the case this past week when what amounts to a Coup d'Etat occurred in Brazil.

Dilma Rousseff, loved by some and highly criticized by many in Brazil, was none the less the legitimate and duly elected president of that nation. She is a woman, and one with strong leftest ties, in a country where an overwhelmingly non-white population and a fifty percent female demographic makes a figure with those credentials unsurprisingly quite popular.

One might wonder why her opponents had to resort to an impeachment procedure to gain power. Well, we have the answer. The "interum" president, who was obviously not elected to office, and who has alleged ties to US spy agencies, a 70 year old Brazilian Freemason, has appointed an all white, all male cabinet.

It should be noted that the last time Brazil, a nation which, if you will forgive me for repeating myself, is largely made up of people of color, indeed it has the largest black population of any nation in the world after Nigeria, had an all white, all male government was over 30 years ago, and that was a military dictatorship which, perhaps unsurprisingly, had support from the US government.

Even commentators in Brazil's center-right mainstream media, which have been extremely critical of Rousseff's administration, such as the large national O Globo, note that this government is looking like a return to the past.

A number of the members of Temer's new government have been linked to a variety of scandals. Three are under investigation by authorities, and another four have been mentioned in a wide ranging corruption investigation led by the Federal Police, popularly referred to as the "Car Wash." They may even be implicated in criminal activity. Temer is quite likely ineligible by Brazilian law to run for public office because he has recently been convicted of violating campaign finance laws

Despite Freemasonry's tendency to be supportive of its own, in this case Freemasonry in general, and Brazilian Freemasonry in particular, should be swift in condemning what is happening. It looks like the makings of an old style dictatorship. And we know the only way these men could gain control of the government in today's Brazil is by an illegal Coup d'Etat, which is precisely what they have done under the fairly transparent guise of a questionable "impeachment".

Many Brazilians lost their lives in the past opposing precisely this sort of governance. It is to be hoped that Brazilian Freemasons will not willingly play a role in bringing it back.  We will be watching to see how Brazilians and especially Brazilian Freemasons will respond to this assault of democratic principles.

NB: This addendum is essential, since perhaps unsurprisingly, a few have already attempted to critique this post suggesting that I am blinded by leftest thinking and writing in support of a political figure they abhor and consider guilty of all evil in the world. Personally, I have no allegiance to Dilma. I am not allied to any Brazilian political institution nor to any international political movements. If she is corrupt, she should be voted out of office, and if her opponents have enough support, they should push for earlier elections. However, the only reason this impeachment has been pushed through is to aid a blatant attempt to steal the control of government away from the people, and to effect a Coup d'Etat. I am less concerned with who is in office than I am with how they get there. This is no way to do it, and if Dilma was perceived as corrupt, then replacing her with yet more corrupt individuals does not serve the public good.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Eternal East in the Magic City

Recently I supervised a class of students on a visit to the Historic Miami City Cemetery. This was the first municipal cemetery in Miami, Florida founded in 1897, on ten acres of "rocky wasteland" about a half mile to the north of what was then a fledgling city, sold by Mrs. Mary Brickell to the city for $750. That would be worth nearly $22,000 today.  To put that in some perspective, a 1.25 acre parcel of land near where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay sold for approximately $100 million in 2014.

While it is a modest cemetery, spanning only 10 acres, and for someone like myself who spent his childhood in places of greater age, such as Philadelphia, and much greater age still, such as Ireland, it seems new, it is none the less a fascinating place to visit, filled with a great deal of local history. I will not delve into the history which would only interest those who are from Miami. However, for a small graveyard, it contains a significant number of grave stones which demonstrate that for a city boasting a mere 120 years, it has a strong history of connection with fraternal orders of every sort.

In the few short hours I spent in this site, I counted no less that 30 stones which belonged to either Freemasons or "Woodsmen of the World" and at least a handful that from their iconography were also Odd Fellows. Beyond that, there were Women who were members of the Order of the Eastern Star, and at least one grave bearing a woman's name which also bore the Masonic Square and Compass. Since I know there are several feminine lodges in the Miami area, it is likely she was a Freemason.

It should be noted here, that as with most cemeteries in Southern US cities, this one is segregated by race and religion, containing Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and Black sections. While these areas predominate, there are a few exceptions to the segregation. One of Miami's Prominent early citizens and his family are buried in the Catholic section, although his wife was understood to have been of mixed race, a couple of the cities earliest black residents were also buried in what became identified as a "protestant" (white) section before segregation was established more formally, as was at least one famous Miccusukee Indian, Jack Tigertail, whose image graces the seal of the City of Hialeah, a few miles north of this graveyard. As an aside, Jack Tigertail was murdered, apparently the victim of a business deal gone bad, meeting his maker due to a dispute over the price of egret plumes. He left behind a wife and three daughters. He was buried in an unmarked grave. Being Native American he didn't have the resources to pay for a stone, and nobody else felt it necessary.

The first Jewish (Kosher) Butcher to live in Miami, Phillip Ullendorff, who passed away in 1923 is buried in the walled Jewish section of the cemetery, and his headstone proudly proclaims his masonic status.

One place, interestingly enough, where race or religion did not seem to exert any influence were in the military graves. There, blacks, whites, jews, and gentiles might be buried in common. This of course is ironic since it was not until after WWII that the military ceased to be segregated itself.

However, as suggested by the existence of a woman's grave bearing the Square and Compass, "mainstream" Freemasonry is far from being the only, or perhaps even the predominant form of Freemasonry represented in this cemetery. Quite a few headstones found in the Black section of the cemetery proclaim the active presence of Prince Hall Freemasonry in Miami. These stones, in fact none of the stones I saw, give any indication of what the mason's affiliation was, so while it is easy to assume that in most cases, they would represent what is popularly considered "regular" Freemasonry, there is no way without doing some extensive research, to determine what their obediences or jurisdictions were. In the case of the Black Freemasons (and I choose to use the term black in preference to African American because much of the early population of Miami of African ancestry were from the Caribbean rather than North American in origin) there were many jurisdictions to choose from and not all would have been what is described today as "regular" Prince Hall.

One of the graves of Freemasons in the Black section which is in the worst condition of any of the Masonic graces, is that of Fred Dean, who lived from 1894 to 1924, a mere 30 years, proudly proclaims his status as a 32° Mason.

There are a number of tomb stones, as well as mausoleums which are the worse for wear. Some mausoleums have over the years replaced their original fancy bronze or ironwork gates with cement, due to repeated vandalism. Of course, tombs also suffered from the effects of several serious hurricanes over the past century. As a result, it is difficult to determine at times whether a stone was the victim of weather or the callousness of humanity.

Among the most interesting stones are those associated with the Woodsmen of the World. This fraternal organization was founded in 1890 in Omaha, Nebraska, by Joseph Cullen Root. Root, who was a member of several other fraternal organizations including the Freemasons, founded Modern Woodmen of America (MWA) in Lyons, Iowa, in 1883, after hearing a sermon about "pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families". Taking his own surname to heart, he wanted to start a society that "would clear away problems of financial security for its members.”
It was responsible for the erection of numerous distinctive tombstones depicting tree stumps across the country before 1930. Since 2015, it has been known by the name WoodmenLife. There are easily a dozen or more Woodsmen of the World stones in the Miami City Cemetery, including one which is included in the old walled Jewish Segment of the graveyard.

A few stones sported the three rings which signify membership in the Odd Fellows, and others have symbols which appear to be related to the Order of Knights of Pythias.

Whatever their affiliations, they have all gone to the eternal east, and it would appear that any petty, dogmatic, or sectarian biases relating to their membership in fraternal orders expired with them. Now that is something we shouldn't need to die to experience.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Rough Ashlar No. 23: A Rhetorical Question

Allow me to offer an initial warning: if you haven't figured it out already, if you are a bit stuffy, or adverse to the idea that Freemasonry should be open to critique, then you probably want to give the Hedge Mason a pass. Also note, perhaps more than usual, this post is somewhat rhetorical in tone. I have a very simple intention here. I wish to ask Freemasons in the United States, although the question is a relevant one for Freemasons anywhere, but this is directed specifically at Freemasons in the United States, as the details should make clear, to consider something carefully.

Every so often, Freemasons rouse themselves from their slumber long enough to contemplate if only for a moment, why their membership numbers are in the toilet. Usually, the responses, when there are any voiced, take the form of either the observation that after 1960, society somehow changed and young men stopped joining fraternal organizations, or something akin to that. Seldom does anyone address why that is so, but when they do the usual response is a more detailed and vaguely sociological explanation that leaves nobody any wiser. Another response is to offer an historical analysis of the decline, again offering no real explanation. The next stage of the response, much like the traditional stages of denial, offers a list of methodologies for correcting the problem. It seems the common wisdom that we need to advertise, we need to not advertise, we need to hold massive group initiation days (sort of like President Day car sales) or we don't because they never work. In fact, we need to do everything we can to repackage and remarket our "product" without actually making any adjustment to the product itself. After all, we are perfect. Younger generations just need to realize that.

Folks, did it ever occur to anyone, that people don't buy products that are past their expiration dates? People do not look at the most bruised, wormy apple on the fruit counter and say, "how cute! I think I'll take this one." They just don't. 

Let's have a look. Two Grand Lodges currently are coming out of their hate closets and banning gays. Two Grand Lodges out of the entire country have seen fit to make public declarations condemning this and taking action against it. Two. One more rather cautiously suggested to their membership that it should know what they will want to do. Of the rest, one can feel the pressure of the inflated lungs collectively holding their breaths. 

But that's not all. Today, I read about a law case against the Florida Grand Lodge for maintaining a Jim Crow statute on its books. Really folks? 

So, let me get around to asking that question. If you don't offer equal access to the public, we can't share our masonic experience with our friends of different races, different gender preferences (much less different genders) and in many places, Florida included, of different religions, or no religions, and we get to spend most of our time attending financial meetings because we don't really approve of esoteric freemasonry, or metaphysics, and we can't really explore a variety of rituals, or discuss politics, or discuss religion, or pretty much any other current event, and we can't really deal with the issue of personal improvement unless it conforms to the official GL scripts whether they serve the intended purpose effectively anymore or not, then what is it within Freemasonry that is supposed to attract new members? 

While this question may have the appearance of a rhetorical one, and on the surface, it is just that, it also is meant as a serious question. No, it is not my intention to simply speak ill of Freemasonry. Lately, it doesn't need my help to do that. Nor am I looking to have any of you send me your responses. Although you are more than welcome to do so, it's not that sort of question. It is a question that I think each mason, especially now, needs to be asking themselves. The individual to whom the answer to this question should be directed is the reader; each and every one of you. If you don't like the answers, what are you going to do about it?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The World is Taking Notice

Lest we think we are living in the same old world, here's an important reminder that we are not. The rest of the world is taking notice of what is going on vis-a-vis Tennessee and Georgia. How the rest of US Freemasonry responds will be very significant indeed.

Already, there has been a protest outside an academic conference on Freemasonry at UCLA It has also been noted in the US press, including NPR. In the European Masonic blogosphere what is happening here has been noted and critiqued. Several online organizations have formed attacking the position of Tennessee and Georgia already and a Facebook group dedicated to addressing the issue in Pennsylvania has been created as well.  Whatever one thinks of their approach or their position, allow me to remind everyone that what we as masons think about such responses doesn't matter here. What matters is what the public will think.

Freemasonry, especially North American Freemasonry, has historically been slow to react and less than accurate in divining which way the winds are blowing. With that in mind, it is extremely important that the rest of the US Jurisdictions do some serious communications at the top end and actually come up with, for once, a uniform strategy for dealing with this matter. It will not just go away, no matter how much we wish it would. I do hope they are listening.

In addition to these public notices I have become aware of various groups which are actively voicing their views on the matter. We are as someone remarked seeing only the tip of the iceberg thus far. Or are we sitting on the rim of a volcano?

I have no desire to stir any cauldrons. I am not trying to suggest what form any organized response might take. I am simply noting that it is needed. However, it seems to me that the big boys will need to finally earn their keep, if they wish to influence the outcome of this matter and lead us all to a happy end. Old biases will rip us asunder otherwise. .

Friday, March 25, 2016

Blinded By the Light: Resolving Freemasonry's Problems

Freemasonry is gradually wasting away. Only those masons who make the Ostrich Pose part of their Yoga regimen do not recognize this fact. There is a division between  those who see this as inevitable and those who think otherwise. I do not pretend to know what the final outcome will be, although, being the eternal optimist that I am, I do not think the end need be at hand.

And lest these words be misconstrued, I do not intend to criticize anyone for addressing the issue the way they have. Everyone has their own skills and perspectives, and these are not always going to agree with those of other people. Far be it from me to claim that my views are superior or that other masons are benighted. However, without being egotistical about it, I do think that my musings may be of use in debating and searching through the issues. These thoughts include some that are critical of the process and conclusions drawn by others, but not of the people who have offered them, nor of their intentions.

This needs to be a debate filled with passion, but not emotion. That means a passionate discussion, filled with challenging ideas, but not the heat of personal animosity.

 I watched an interesting presentation on YouTube this morning of a mason indulging in the most popular martial art of modern American - statistics. (Jon T Ruark whose presentation for the Pennsylvania Academy of Masonic Knowledge I located from a post on Brother Hodapp's website). He produced an excellent presentation, and if not the most artistic and entertaining of speakers (he was after all speaking on statistics), he acquitted himself quite admirably. If he could get me to follow his statistical analysis to the end he did a truly miraculous thing.

However, Bro. Ruark's presentation made me think of a few expressions, such as that which I used to head this post - blinded by the light, or that other which comments about the all too human foible of not seeing the forest for the trees. Again, I am not being uncharitable. I enjoyed Bro Ruark's presentation, noting as a total non-sequitur that he possesses a very Donegal surname, and am grateful because he inspired some interesting observations for me. Now, in fairness, I hate statistics, I truly believe that they represent, if not lies, mostly useless information. I think that explains in a nutshell everything that's wrong with our approach to problem solving today.

Forgive me for thinking that this presentation began with a conclusion and was constructed to support that conclusion. I think that in part because I know how many masons, both rank and file and the intellectuals, passionately disapprove of the "Made in a day" approach to resolving the Masonic numbers problem. I will note here also, that I do not disapprove of the "Mason in a Day" approach. the failure of "Masons in a day" events to resolve the problem of attrition demonstrates the need for an approach which consists of multiple responses.

There are a host of reasons why once made a "Mason in a day" those newly minted masons do not stay, none of which have anything to do with how they were initiated. They have everything to do with their experience within Masonry from that day on. All too often, I suspect masons have come to experience a freemasonry which is mediocre. That is most likely one of the big reasons why masonry has problems keeping members. To an extent Br. Ruark recognizes this in his comments concerning Traditional Observation Lodges as one possible solution. Indeed, T.O. lodges are likely to be one solution. Although I think they are perhaps to structuralist in their resolution of challenges, they have often met with good results.

Other blogs, notably Midnight Freemasons, have leapt into the arena with more references to statistics, and pie charts galore. They're all good. We need as much discussion as possible, and even discussion that reviews what has been discussed before can shed new light on old subjects.

However, there is an elephant in the room in the entire presentation which has not been addressed. Indeed, it has been noted, and joked about, but clearly the subject itself appears to be one which is off limits to a mainstream mason who with reason might fear negative reactions from on high to any such discussion. Well, I fortunately, have nothing to fear in speaking up. I am beyond the bureaucratic reach of any US Grandmaster, and to paraphrase a famous Freemason, Clark Gable, "Frankly, my dear brothers, I don't give a damn."

The elephant in the room was eloquently described by Br. Ruark, although I hasten to note, he said not one word against any Grand Lodge in his presentation. He described, by simply recounting the challenges he faced in engaging in a research project, the intent of which was to assist in strengthening Freemasonry, everything that is wrong with mainstream Freemasonry in the US today. In fact, although the problem is most egregious here in the US, it is a problem in most parts of the Masonic universe to one degree or another. The fatal element in Masonic culture, that aspect of Freemasonry which will ultimately destroy Freemasonry as an institution if it isn't stopped, is none other than the Grand Lodge system itself.

Whatever it once may have been, and I would argue that it probably was never a healthy influence on Freemasonry, it has grown to become an impervious, petulant bureaucracy that serves only to sustain its self importance. It is totally possible, although I doubt it, that it is manned by a large number of well intentioned individuals. Even if that were true,and I see no evidence to support that notion, those good men do not seem capable of making their bureaucracy beneficial in even small ways in encouraging masonry's survival.

The fact that a Freemason attempting to do a statistical analysis that might shed light on ways to grow the institution can get little response to his inquiries beyond being told that he had ignored protocol in asking, and then receive even less response when he subsequently followed the recommended protocol, should be enough to damn the Grand Lodge as a system. It is a head which has ceased to care about its body. If our individual brains were to refuse to consider or respond to the messages our internal organs or other body parts gave it, we would be dead in short order. That is the big take away for me from this report.

Freemasonry is dying folks. It will, by best reckoning, be dead in as little as 10 years, and at the most 25 years. The Grand Lodges are killing it off. It is true that Freemasonry needs to be more responsive to modern society and adapt to change. Failure to adapt will kill it in short order. A lot of that resistance is coming from on high. Of course, the blame does go back to the local lodge. Inevitably, all the members of the GL originated as members of a local lodge, no matter how many centuries ago they were entered and raised.

The best case scenario, I believe, will result in a much thinner and smaller institution. Freemasonry will not look like it does today if it survives at all. But, if it is to survive at all, it has to get out of its own way and stop being its own worst enemy.

How can Freemasonry address the problem that the GL has become? There are two solutions. The first and most radical, might also be the most traumatic. While it in some ways appeals to me more, and I have mentioned it here before, the idea of North American Freemasonry without Grand Lodges seems too dramatic a change to be accomplished, however beneficial it might be. The second is one which, although it would not be possible to accomplish without some, hopefully only metaphorical "blood letting", is one which could result in a dramatically revived fraternity. I am suggesting an inversion of power.

As Robert Cooper of the Grand Lodge of Scotland noted during a public speech given to Freemasons in the United States ( ) The Grand Lodge in Scotland has no power to order any constituent lodge to do anything at all. All individual lodges in Scotland jealously guard their power. As a result, the Grand Lodge may humbly and very diplomatically suggest that its member lodges might (or might not) wish to consider a recommendation that they would like to recommend. It is a refreshing idea, and one which I believe might go a long way to resolving the problems within US Freemasonry. Imagine a Freemasonry where the Grand Lodge served its member lodges instead of dominating them.

Shortly after posting this blog, I became aware of the GL of Mass. response to the current unfortunate situation in Tennessee and Georgia. Thanks to John S. Nagy for that information. While my initial reaction was to think that Massachusetts was trying to sit on the fence by not taking any action, my second thought was that they were providing an example of exactly what this practice of informing and advising rather than dictating might look like.

I have no illusions that my own thoughts on such matters might ever rule the day, but all sorts of ideas need to be considered, and I keep hearing the same ones repeated. So, in the hopes of broadening the discussion, I will continue to throw ideas into the ring from time to time. It is for other people to decide what works best in their situations and how to implement their decisions. All the same, in the current climate, it seems healthy to keep all options on the table.