Sunday, June 29, 2008

Alcohol and the Lodge: Do They Mix?

Club Milton, a small bar that is run by Pioneer Lodge #1, Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Minnesota, has recently been closed down after a fatal shooting. The shooting was not the only violent crime that has occurred at the bar; in 2005, a man was in a fight while in the bar, went outside where he was shot and killed. In 2006, a man was discovered in a burning car but it was determined that he had been killed elsewhere. Club Milton is licensed as a private social club that is run by Pioneer Lodge. Currently, the City of St. Paul is holding hearings concerning these crimes.

Before I continue, I have to admit that the neighborhood that surrounds the club is not the safest as I have seen in my own experience, which makes this story an extreme example of this issue. However, I think this story does raise an interesting point, should Lodges be in the business of serving alcohol or more broadly, does alcohol have a place in the Lodge? My opinion is that liquor and Masonry can mix in moderation. The history of alcohol and Freemasonry can be seen from the early beginnings as coexisting peacefully. When the United Grand Lodge of England was formed in 1717, it was formed at Goose and Gridiron Ale House. The early Lodges met in taverns including those Lodges that ultimately formed the UGLE.

American Lodges continued the tradition of meeting in taverns including the first lodge in the new world in Boston meeting at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern. Many Lodges participated in table lodges or festive boards (and many still continue the practice, including my Lodge) which involve many toasts.

However, the American way of life changed as a new wave of immigration hit the shores. Many reformers began to view alcohol as an evil that contributed to the problems in society. The Temperance Movement began around the 1840’s to limit the amount of alcohol that people could consume. Later, the state of Maine created a ban on all liquor and was joined by other “dry” states. The Movement caused a ground swell and many fraternal organizations, including many state Grand Lodges, began to outlaw those who could join including saloon owners. The movement came to a head when the 18th Amendment was ratified to the Constitution which prohibited, “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States … for beverage

After a decade of bootlegging and the rest, the 21st Amendment was ratified which essential repealed the 18th Amendment although states were still given the right to restrict the transportation of liquor if they chose. (The case of Granholm v. Heald has effectively restricted states from granting in-state direct shipments of liquor preference over out-state direct shipments through the prohibition of out-state direct sales though states may still restrict all direct shipments of alcohol.) In the United States, there still exist many dry counties and municipalities, including 46 completely dry counties in Texas.

There are also modern examples of the Temperance including Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and International Organisation of Good Templars. Alcohol is still highly regulated and modern state statutes define a DWI, DUI, etc. at .08 BAL through the efforts of MADD.

It appears to me that Freemasonry clings to many of the old adages found in the Temperance Movement. I took a look at Paul Bessel’s great website for all things Masonic and found that in his survey of Grand Lodges that as of 2007, at least three Grand Lodges prohibit the conferring of degrees to bar owners. Many Grand Lodges, including my own, consider drunkenness a matter of unmasonic behavior with the possibility of reprimand. (This provision I agree with as intoxication is a problem) Many Grand Lodges also exclude alcohol from being served within the Lodge or by the Lodge, e.g. Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, etc., or Lodge Room, e.g. California, DC, etc.

I believe that there is nothing wrong with alcohol being served by Lodges, as long as the conduct does not lead to excessive drunkenness. We are not the Eagles or the Elks but seek a higher moral order but we must remember our past, a past that included meeting in taverns. As the outside of the Temple that housed Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, stated μηδὲν ἄγαν, “nothing in excess” and γνῶθι σεαυτόν, “know thyself”. We must remember both as we determine where alcohol fits in our practice of the Gentle Craft.

I do believe that the Lodge Room themselves should be considered sacred space. Unless there is a ceremonial reason for serving alcohol, I believe that Lodge Rooms are completely off-limits.

The shooting outside of Club Milton is truly tragic but I do not believe that serving alcohol should automatically deemed an unmasonic behavior. It is by the frailty of men in knowing their limits that leads alcohol being a problem.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

First Big Committee Meeting

It can be very difficult to know if you can come up for air when the weight of monotonous business meetings drags you to the bottom of the pool. For a while in my Lodge, we were working through upwards of three hours of business with brothers all giving their opinion in a desired outcome. After months of seeing the slow crawl of business, I began to formulate a plan. My Lodge needed well-defined committees. I know that most people associate committees with someone like Angela from “The Office” (think party planning committee) but frankly, they can serve many functions. A membership committee can help think up social and recruiting events for new brothers, a charity committee can decide how best to divvy up the charity dollars to a worthy cause, etc. My Lodge had the committees but frankly there was no true definition when it came to who composed the membership or what they would do.

On the 28th, I will have my first committee meeting with the Membership Committee that I have spearheaded, my first defined committee in the Lodge. We will work on plans for a friendship (sometimes called a fellowship) night with potential candidates, fun activities for the already present members and hopefully many more ideas. If you have any ideas or suggestions for my first big committee meeting, just drop me a comment. I will also have a report of the interesting ideas the brothers of my Lodge come up with during the meeting.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

One Brother's Goal to Create Peace

Brother Patrick Swift, an NYU Medical Center clinical psychologist, has recently published a book entitled "One Mountain, Many Paths" using the teachings of Masonry to encourage better understanding amongst the Earth's different religions. The best part is that Dr. Swift is making his book free in an electronic format for the Fourth of July weekend. It appears that you can sign up now on the website to be notified when it becomes available. 

Friday, June 20, 2008

Freemasonry, Web 2.0

Well brothers, it is official. Brethren have been using Facebook or Myspace to connect, but there had never been a Masonic social network, until now. According to a blog on Wired, a new web 2.0 site known as has established itself as a way for Brethren, members of the appendant bodies, etc. to meet up and friend and everything else a social network is capable of doing. Although the site seems to need a bit more polish, it is exciting to know that somebody took the initiative to create a social network for the Masonic family. (From my short exploration of the site, it appears to be based on the same code base as the social network, Blackplanet.) Millennials are already use sites like this to connect for music, like or to talk about books on and hopefully, this site will make Gen Y brothers to feel included and to see the global reach of Masonry.Also, it may help to facilitate times for meetings, etc. for Lodges across the Globe.
UPDATE: If you would like to talk with me on Masonic Planet, my name is millennialmason.

100th Anniversary of Cornerstone laying at South Dakota Capitol

After one hundred years, the Grand Lodge of South Dakota has rededicated the cornerstone at the State Capitol building. According to the story, the time capsule was from 1907 and was opened to the public.

I was lucky enough after only being in my Lodge for a few months to participate in a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new hospital wing in Winona. It is one of the most amazing ceremonies I have seen. The spectacle displayed is truly amazing. If any of the younger brothers have an opportunity to attend a cornerstone laying, attend it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Italian Masonic Mafia

In a story that needs to be mentioned, apparently, Italian police forces have raided the homes and businesses of prominent Mafia types in Trapani and Agrigento. According to the article, a member of the "Gran Serenissima", a Lodge in Italy was arrested for ties to the Italian Mob. According to another article, the name of the multiple arrests was called "Operation Hiram." It appears to be oversensationalized Anti-Masonic fearmongering saying that all of us are mobsters. Our European brothers must have higher constitutions than us in the States for stomaching the wide brush strokes cast on all of us. I have also posted the Italian article translated here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Golf Event

Well Brothers and other readers, until yesterday, I had not golfed in 2 years, and it showed. It was the first of three golf events for our Lodge and apparently Wii Golf is not the same as really golf. I had so many slices, I was surprised to even find my ball half the time. When I was golfing, I thought of how great our Fraternity is. One of the major tenets of our organization is brotherly love and I believe that all my brothers were able to come together (my real brother was able to come along as well with slightly better results than my own). It is important that Lodges remember these kinds of activities. We do not just exist in this esoteric sphere of mystery but truly have laudable goals that we perform. When brothers are able to get together and have fun, our Lodges will be strengthened by a sense of collegiality. 
Hopefully, next month, I will at least keep the ball on the course.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

West Virginia: Grand Lodge in Crisis?

I am sure that many brothers and fellows have seen the articles concerning M.W. Bro. Haas’ lawsuit against the Grand Lodge of West Virginia. I have taken a different tact while examining the "crisis" in West Virginia. I took a look at the listing of Lodges in West Virginia on the Grand Lodge website and began to look at how many Lodges are being led by Past Masters. The numbers are surprising: according to the website, out of the 140 Lodges in West Virginia, only 47 of the Lodges are being led by Masters who have not served before. That means that only 33.57% of Lodges have first time Masters. It is my opinion that the Grand Lodge officers and Past Grand Masters, including M.W. Bro. Haas, are missing the fact that their Grand Lodge appears to be stagnating. If the brothers on both sides of this top level strife would take off their blinders, they might realize what is happening to their local Lodges. Perhaps they would think about fixing the bigger problems in West Virginia, such as being marginalized as an organization.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Party On, Masons?!

A story that ran in the Boston Herald today described another group that has found Masonry, rockers. I have to say this is great. I really admire a statement made by one of the brothers in the article:
“Some people just aren’t ready for it,” Norton said. “Any man can join. You just have to have the right reasons for it.”
The changes felt in Masonry are just a further example that we, brothers, are merely opening up to a new generation.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Creation of the Membership Committee

It is my pleasure to have started a membership committee at my Lodge. I saw it as way to improve our social and fraternal events at the Lodge. The way I have set up the committee is that the LEO, Junior Warden and Senior and Junior Deacons and all the brothers that have been raised in the last two years. I hope that this committee will be able to provide the ability to get some good ideas from the brothers on what they would like to see in the Lodge, from stated meetings, LEO programs and social events like Friendship Nights. I also have invited the newest brothers to give me some new ideas as they will be in the committee as well. I am planning an agenda but would like to hear some ideas in the blogosphere of your Lodge's fraternal programs. I have already received some really good ideas from a brother in Michigan and have used them in planning but I could really use some more.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Vetting a new candidate

On my Lodge's webpage, we have a contact form in which a potential candidate can send us a request for more information or becoming a member. An important piece of information that is missing is that we do not have a petition anywhere on the page. Instead, we contact those new brothers from the contact information that they provide to us. We set up a time to meet to talk to them about what being a Mason is all about. It is essential that a Lodge create a level of trust between both our own members but also the new potential candidate. The new candidate doesn't normally know what Masonry means until he enters the Lodge for the first time. With face to face, both the candidate and the Lodge can create that level of trust, especially that now Lodges are not the place of social climbers but every good moral man. I have also heard that other lodges have similar procedures but have the candidate go to the Lodge building to pick up a petition and go home for a number of days. It is essential that a Society built on making Good Men Better find only Good men. With these procedures in place, vetting can be more effectively done for all involved.