Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Exit Interviews Upon Resignation

I was reading the Q4 Communications Report of the Board of General Purposes and was struck by this passage:

"[...]London and many Provinces now operate a system of ‘exit interviews’ with the aim of ascertaining whether a resignation is owing to a general disillusionment with Freemasonry, or is related to the particular lodge of which he is a member. In the latter case it is often possible for the Metropolitan or Provincial authorities to find a more convenient or congenial lodge for the Brother to join so that his masonic career is not interrupted[...]"

 This is pretty interesting. The idea of an exit interview to ascertain why an employee is leaving a job is very common. However, I've never heard it used in a Masonic context. I think it's pretty genius.

We all know brothers that joined and left within a couple years. However, I've never seen any lodge ask why. I didn't during my year. And now that I see this, I really wished that I had.

We fail a lot on this front and blame the brother who is leaving. This is a two way street. We may be able to find something better for him. Or find out what we, in general, need to do to make Masonry relevant. And this could even be expanded from the lodge level to all Masonic organizations.

I'm going to be recommending this to the Worshipful Master of my lodge and maybe even the Grand Master. I think it's the right thing to do.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we need to conduct exit interviews for the brothers that seek to demit? Leave a comment below.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

General Grands and the KT mag December 2014

As I have in the past, I have taken to task certain thoughts expressed in the Knight Templar Magazine. The Knight Templar Magazine is the official monthly publication for the Grand Encampment of the United States of America, the national body for the Masonic Knight Templars in the US. Sadly, so many opinions expressed in the magazine are beyond the pale.

I received the December 2014 issue in the mail and was rather interested to read it. The articles on Christmas are always fun and interesting so I was looking forward to this issue. Then I arrived at John Palmer’s piece, A Chat With the Managing Editor, and was stunned, to tell the truth. The tl;dr of the letter was that we, local York Rite Masons, need to stop questioning the purpose of the national bodies. As you can imagine, I believe that's an absolutely incorrect opinion. I’m going to dig a little deeper into each of his point because I was that bothered.

The reason I mention this (the Triennial) is that the delegates to the General Grand Chapter session exhibited admirable courage and leadership by setting their dues to an amount that will sustain the organization adequately in accomplishing its mission. They are to be congratulated and hopefully emulated. I suspect that some Grand Chapters will withdraw their membership because of this action. If so, that’s sad.

As you may or may not have known, the General Grand Chapter and General Grand Council raised the per capita. The per capita has been raised by a paltry sum, but a sum nonetheless. Whether Grand Chapters and Grand Councils leave over a per capita increase is something that I can’t weigh in because those are local decisions. But the fact that there could be those that leave should give us pause and ask the question why?

I have heard the question posed more than once, “What do they do for us?” That is a nonsensical question to me and exhibits the ignorance of the questioner. 

At this point, I couldn't help but say, what?! Of course the proper question is “what do they do for us?” Every dollar that a local or state body sends to a national organization is a dollar not spent locally. That’s simple economics. So, with the lack of spending that dollar, there has to be a benefit that at least equals that dollar. So to say there is ignorance is to show ignorance. You have to provide a service to justify the per capita.

There are two things wrong with that question. First, “they” are us. The General Grand Chapter is a voluntary association of Chapter Masons who pool their resources through their Grand Chapters for the promotion of Royal Arch Masonry and its purposes. 

Let’s just call this what it is, ducking the question. There has to be a justification of existence. Just because Grand Chapters and Grand Councils voluntarily associate and pool resources doesn't mean they should if they are not gaining anything of value. If the stated purpose is to promote Royal Arch Masonry and its purposes, why can’t that be done differently than how we are doing it for the same cost? I’m quite serious on this. I see a lot of aprons and bling but is that the only way to advertise Royal Arch Masonry? Give me something I can use. Not some multistate convention, not more awards, not charity speeches. Give me something to grow my Chapter, my Council, and my Commandery.

Second, the General Grand Chapter is not supposed to do anything for us. We are supposed to work together through the General Grand Chapter to promote York Rite Masonry.

The General Grand bodies are receiving moneys to promote York Rite Masonry so that is their job. It’s really that simple. It’s not an us. Chapters, Councils, and Commanderies and their respective grand bodies are paying money to General Grand to promote York Rite Masonry on a national scale. To say that it’s an “us” operation is to mischaracterize the relationship.

The last two or three generations of members of the Masonic fraternity, including mine, I call the “moocher” generations. They inherited marvelous stately buildings and a considerable amount of cash from their predecessors and were expected to maintain the facilities, invest the assets to promote the order, to accomplish the great mission of promoting harmony and morality within our society, and to pass the assets on to today’s generation with interest. Instead, we spent the money on ourselves, let the marvelous buildings decay, bankrupted the fraternity, and left virtually no resources for subsequent generations of Freemasons.

Let’s call a spade a spade. We haven’t raised dues at the local level for a long time while also having overbuilt our infrastructure during the silver age of Freemasonry. We haven’t raised them to appease a small, now-dying, percentage of our brothers. We've created a stultified 50’s and 60’s style of Masonry that was going to be unsustainable. We overbuilt after we received a rather large glut of Masons. We've made Masonry relevant to an ever-shrinking pool of brothers and bemoan the lack of interest. We halted dues to a 50’s and 60’s era level and wonder why our money is shrinking. I mean, seriously, moochers. Come on.

Moochers is an offensive term. Masonry wasn't relevant for the Boomers when they were in their 20s. It wasn't relevant for Gen Xers in their 20s and sadly, I see us going down that same failed path again with guys my age. We talk a big game and don't deliver. We'd prefer our stale coffee, lack of education, and playing soldier.

Of course, the other more humorous point is that a letter defending General Grand Bodies, without actually providing one concrete service that any of them provide, labels those that don't think they are necessary or question a per capita increase "moochers." Hunh?

To tie this back in, every dollar sent away nationally is a dollar that won’t be spent locally. And with Masonic bodies holding down the rate of dues charged, that dollar grows ever larger so yeah, “what have you done for me lately?” I don’t fault the General Grand for raising the per capita except if there is no purpose other than to maintain status quo. If a National body can show some tangible benefit commiserate with that lost opportunity cost as well as something only it can do, it is a moocher, to use Sir Knight Palmer’s word.

Masonry is, at its core, a local concern. We should focus on those local problems first and think smaller. Masonry is evolving into something different than in past generations. It is going to be small, lightweight, and able to change as quickly as technology. The largeness of the past will give way to the smallness of the future. This will go for all Masonic bodies. Does this mean I want to abandon national Masonic bodies? Absolutely not. But I do want justification. Visiting a Grand Session isn't going to cut it. Acting as overlord of all things uniform is not going to cut it. If we are going to survive and thrive, the national bodies need to listen to the concerns of the local bodies. They need to be responsive. If they are not, then they have no purpose or value. And being dismissive of wanting justification while castigating us for not being thankful for their very existence is tone deaf.

In sum, the national Masonic bodies work for us. So justify that dollar. Spend it wisely. Prove to me and everyone at the local level that yes, the General Grand _________ really helped out in this or that. If you can’t do that, then I’d like my dollar back.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Snoo the Freemason Pin

Snoo Pin!
As I'm sure all of you know, I'm very active on Reddit, in particular, /r/freemasonry. One project that has always seemed to fall apart because issues has been to create the one thing that Masons crave. That's right, a pin. A Mason without a pin is like a Mason without an apron  a shirt on. Well, you are in luck. /u/docere85, one of our subscribers, has put together a Snoo pin for /r/Freemasonry on a site called redditmade. redditmade is Reddit's new crowdfunding site so that subreddits can produce merchandise.

The proceeds of the moneys raised will go to the Seattle Children's Hospital. The campaign has to hit 100% for the pins to be created, so click here to get your Masonic Snoo.

What do you think? Comment below.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Solomon's Builders and Secret Messages

A redditor posted, a few days ago, that he found a secret code on the backcover of Chris Hodapp's book, Solomon's Builders (It's a great read so if you haven't read it, go to your favorite retailer and buy a copy.) When I first read this, I wasn't shocked, to be honest. Codes and secrets are our trade and we really do enjoy our esoteric play. But, when I looked at the result, I was a little thrown.

The code was formed from highlighted letters from the backcover summary of the book. All together, the result was "asondonttrusthi" which can be spaced out as "ason don't trust hi." It doesn't take a rocket scientist to extrapolate the missing Ms to fully spell out, "Mason, don't trust him."

From /u/marciothegreat
If this was intentional, then this is the strangest long play coded message in history. No idea if this was intentional or if all of us are just looking for something that really isn't there but it doesn't seem to be accidental. Sadly, I wouldn't be shocked if the graphic designer put this in intentionally but it seems odd that this would be added.

I would like to give a H/T to /u/marciothegreat for pointing this out. And, again, buy Solomon's Builders. It's an excellent read.

What do you think? Comment below.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Newest Court of the Order of Athelstan Consecrated in Minneapolis

On November 22, 2014 at 3:00pm, the newest court of the Masonic Order of Athelstan in England, Wales and its Provinces Overseas was officially consecrated in Minneapolis, MN. This new Court, Noble Stone Court No. 104, will meet at the Minneapolis Valley of Scottish Rite Temple. It's always exciting to see new Masonic bodies formed. Congrats, brothers, and I hope you all have an excellent time in a new Masonic endeavor.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Freemasonry and Pop Culture: From Hell: the FX series

According to, FX is developing a series based on Alan Moore's From Hell graphic novel. For those of you who don't know, From Hell takes the theory first presented by Stephen Knight in his book, Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution. The premise is that Prince Albert had fathered an illegitimate heir was involved in a morganatic marriage with a Roman Catholic commoner that would not have been able to claim the throne after the Act of Settlement of 1701. This would have been extremely scandalous so, it's supposed, that Jack the Ripper was a part of a cover up of that marriage and child. The Masonic aspect is that this cover up is performed by Sir William Gull, a prominent member of London society and a Freemason, who murders these women as a continuation of male dominance in society (a near religious practice to attack women) with a Masonic twist.

Although I do not believe the premise, the story itself is very well written. It appears that this new series may be based off of the 2001 film of the same name, which starred Johnny Depp, but as of yet, no word on which source material will be used. I'll hold off judgment until I see the new series.

Edit: corrected the nature of the child in relation to the story.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Children's Hospital at the University of Minnesota to be Renamed "the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital"

In recognition of the $25 million gift made by Minnesota Masonic Charities, the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital (formerly Amplatz Children’s Hospital), will now be named the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. 

From the article:

When adding the Masonic Charities’ donation to $75 million it gave to support cancer research and care since 2008 and additional gifts it made over the past six decades, the Masons’ total support of the university tops $125 million.

Great job, Minnesota Masonic Charities.

If you would like to donate, visit

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Going to My Grandpa's Home Lodge

My grandpa, my dad, and I at my dad's raising

The great thing about being in Minnesota is that sometimes, if a lodge needs a ritualist for some part, a lot of us will drop everything to help. I've been fortunate to help at a number of lodges and when I was an elected officer of my blue lodge, to have brothers come in to help us out. When I received a phone call from one of my mentors about potentially helping out with some degree work, I just got ready to suit up and head out the door. Then he mentioned the lodge: Fidelity Lodge No. 39 in Austin, MN.

"Fidelity? Really?"

Fidelity Lodge is my grandfather's mother lodge. Grandpa Dick passed away a few years back and even now, it's tough to think about his passing. Grandpa Dick was the man who got me started on my Masonic journey. He's a man I continue to respect, more so each day. When I got the call to help, I was beside myself. How could I possibly say no?

I have always had a major regret. It still eats at me every time I think of it. My grandpa was one of those Masons that joined at a very young age, around the same age that I did, and after a long life, he finally arrived at his 60th year as a Mason. The ceremony for his 60 year pin presentation was scheduled on the same night as a lodge meeting when I was still a Warden for my lodge. Sadly, what I now describe as the rather useless, kinda dumb, pre-meeting program was set for the same evening. Me being a young, dumb officer, I believed that I couldn't miss the rather useless, kinda dumb pre-meeting program so I skipped his 60th year award. He passed a couple years later so I missed all further anniversary celebrations; all potential trips to his lodge to sit in lodge with the man that made me a Mason were never, ever going to happen. I was devastated. When I received the phone call to help, I felt that redemption was possible.

Austin is a little bit of a drive from my house, but I was fortunate to have my mentor drive. We talked and shared stories and just had a real good time. I've visited Austin my whole life but I had never seen the lodge, not even the exterior of the building. This was all new to me. I can honestly say I was nervous. Like teeth chattering nervous.

We got to the door and I started thinking about what went through my grandpa's head when he opened this exact same door the first time he visited the lodge before he even became a Mason. I looked up the long flight of stairs, the really long flight of stairs and I paused.

"This is it," I thought. "This is grandpa's Masonic home."

I got to the top of the stairs and everyone saw us and started shaking our hands. It was as if I had known these men my whole life. One of the first men I met was Otto. Otto is very important to my Masonic story. When I was considering petitioning, my grandpa asked Otto if he knew a local lodge where I could join. He got in contact with my mentor and I was off to the races. I had never met Otto and had only spoken to him once over the phone. Otto is a great man and I had a lot of fun talking to him about my grandpa and the lodge.

I also met Bill who is also a great Mason and was very kind in showing me around the lodge. I was fortunate to have eaten with him and chatted about all things Masonic. And it was great to see Dean again. Dean and I have seen and chatted at Southeast Area events often, for almost a decade now. For the longest time, he was the only Austin Mason I knew and he was always happy to tell me about my grandpa.

Finally, the meal was over and I needed to focus. Ritual is very important to me and whenever I'm the Senior Deacon on this particular degree, I have to get my game face on. Masons in Preston-Webb states know why I'm saying this. Considering where I was, though, it was even more important to me. We had three candidates that night and I wanted to do a great, scratch that, stellar job for them.

Me next to the charter for Fidelity Lodge

As I began my ritual work, I started to look at the benches, at the officers' chairs, the altar, and the large lodge room. In my mind, I saw my grandpa. He was there. He was there listening to me deliver the ritual. He was there smiling with an encouraging glance. He was there as the candidate, experiencing the ritual for the first time. He was there as a long time member, listening again to the important lessons conveyed. He was there with me.

As we finished up the ritual work for the night, I finally sat down in the chair. I was emotionally drained but happy. I looked around. They were smiling. It was as if everyone in the room was saying, "you made your grandpa proud." It was tough not to tear up at that moment.

During the comment section, when everyone in the lodge was asked if they had something to say, I paused to let everyone speak. Finally, I stood up. I told everyone who I was and what the lodge meant to me.

"A lot of you knew my grandfather. My grandfather was a man of few words. I just want to say, 'thank you.'"

I said a few other things but really, I just remember the thank you. We closed the lodge and I went out to chat with everyone. A number of the brothers came up to me and told me little stories about my grandpa. One brother told me that he worked with him on the railroad starting the fire in the engine (and he even said to me that I would never remember his name which turned out to be true.). Another told me about bowling with him. It was great. I was starting to fill in the blanks of his life, a life I had never known.

Bill pulled out a book of members and there was my grandpa's page, right there, open on the counter. I stared at the page a long time. This was his record. This was the record of my grandfather. He had a memorial laid up in this very lodge's records for eternity. As I was leaving, the brothers handed me a mug and pen from their sesquicentennial (and later, they even sent me a thank you card).

As we drove away, the night sky filled with low clouds, I looked out the window at a view that I had seen countless times but one I best remembered as a child. The cornstalks swayed as a late August rain was slowly rolling in and my mind wandered back to that cold and crisp Thanksgiving day in 2005; my family and I entering my grandparents' door, greetings exchanged, and coats doffed and hung. I remember seeing the letter on the counter, a letter from a knightly order, and the long conversation I had with a man I admired then and continue to admire now.

Now that I have my own kids and my dad is a grandpa, I often think about the time when my own kids are grown. What will life be like then? But I try not to tarry too long on that question. I start to play with them and wish they'd stop growing. I wish those little moments could slow down. That I could have just one more hour at the playground, just one more day before he has to start preschool, just one more year before he's getting on a schoolbus. That's the funny thing. When you want time to stop, it speeds up. As one brother told me, "raising children is like this: the days are long and the years are short." The best we can do is try our best to remember and store away those memories in our heart.

I'm going to say something that we never said while you were alive but, Grandpa, I love you, I miss you, your great-grandchildren are doing great, and I look forward to seeing you again.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Royal Order of Scotland and Me

Me with the freakin' huge claymore
On Saturday, I was fortunate to be one of the candidates for the Royal Order of Scotland, an invitational body of Freemasonry. It's a high honor and one I am unsure to be completely worthy of. But I know the brothers have confidence in me so there is that.

To explain, the Royal Order of Scotland is a national body that meets on the national level. What this means is that the body travels to a few locations each year and confers the degrees after which a very nice dinner is served. The work is done stupendously and by some very top figures on the national Masonic scene.

The Royal Order of Scotland is one of the oldest of so-called high grade degrees. It was developed during the early era of degree creation.

From the website:

There are no reliable records tracing the history of the Order from its alleged revival in 1314 to the middle of the eighteenth century, when it appears to have flourished in France about the year 1735-40 under the adherents of the Jacobite Cause, who being refugees from Scotland practiced these Degrees no doubt for the purpose of maintaining a common bond of union among them in a foreign land. It is stated that in 1747 in a Charter which was in existence in 1840, granted by Prince Charles Edward Stuart to the Masonic Lodge at Arras, he described himself as Sovereign Grand Master of the Order of "Rose Croix de Herodim de Kilwinning".
I was impressed by everything I saw and I can't wait to get another chance to see the degrees again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Guest Article: John Helcl, II, "Within the Gates"

Sir Knight John Helcl, II
The original Order of the Templars met their demise by the suppression, a foul action by outside forces
beyond their control. Sir Knights, are we are under the looming shadow of a modern suppression of our order, a suppression that is not from some nefarious source hiding in the dark corners; but within our own ranks? This is not to say there are dastardly actors or forces at work, but to ask are we the victims of our own actions or inactions? To you, Sir Knights, I propose this critique- not in opposition of our Order and its principles, but as a call to action to revisit the pillars of our past and perhaps, to engage in some organizational introspection.

Many factors are at work in this suppression, but I will skip what members think of first- money. Hopefully, I’ll be given the opportunity to write further upon that subject. The membership effects caused by being a cost-prohibitive, uniformed organization deserve its own notation (and let’s be honest, Commandery isn’t for the light of purse).

I have read in this very magazine submissions to the national editor that have been, to put it mildly,
religiously divisive (and often completely incorrect). Thankfully all the voices have been from outside our noble State, but it brings light to a pressing issue. Is Templary is drifting apart from Craft Masonry? From local units up to the Grand Encampment, are we fissuring our collective ashlar? And if so, why has this happened? Within the Commanderies throughout our country, why are there are Knights that take off their apron (literally, and in spirit) who then don the Templar uniform and become some strange hybrid of Patton and Torquemada? The inclusiveness, tolerance, and Brotherly unity that we are all obligated to practice gets left in the sock drawer alongside the Lambskin of these members. Conversely, among us there are members of our Order that are the embodiment of Knighthood whether in or out of uniform, but when it comes to inclusion and the policies of the Grand Encampment, they are the voices in the desert. These Knights remember, and live, each and every obligation from Entered Apprentice to Sir Knight. We should all be so lucky to act like these men- or at least to know them among our ranks (and in Minnesota, there are many).

The original Order gained the ire of their crusading peers for their open acceptance and working dynamic
between themselves and the Jewish, Druze, and other communities in Jerusalem- even the Muslims of the realm (provided they met off the battlefield, of course). Sir Knights, the iron-clad edicts of the Grand Encampment have left Commanderies no choice but to continue an institutional disservice to our Brothers by engaging in the exclusion of a Brother based solely upon his specific faith or belief in a higher power that is outside of Christianity; thereby violating one of the cornerstone tenets of Freemasonry. This is not only contradictory to our obligations as Craft Masons, but is an equal and opposite deviation from the practices of the original Order whom we seek to emulate. Perhaps it is an organizational mindset that can’t be hurdled. Or perhaps it’s as simple as bringing back the triangle apron as a uniform requirement- both to function as a physical manifestation of our unbreakable connection to the Craft, and as a constant reminder of the binding tie of our obligations as Master Masons.

We can, and should, remain a Knighthood of Christian values and principles, assembled humbly in the
name of Christ while still welcoming our brothers of all noble faiths to join us. We should never forget to love all of our Brothers and welcome them as both Jesus and the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon would.

We can defend the travelling pilgrims of all faiths, defend the faithful of all flocks, their widows, and
orphans as the original Order did. In doing so not only can we continue to remain in accord with the spirit of
Templary and the teachings of Christ, but become better Knights, Commanderies, and Brothers because of it.

Every Mason of profound faith, from every faith, that seeks to make their world better should be a Knights
Templar, and join us in the noble crusade of defending the widow, orphan, and the peaceful pilgrims of all faiths.

Semper Servitus,
S.K. John E. Helcl, II (O.Cist.Tertiari)
Eminent Grand Standard Bearer, Grand Commandery of Minnesota

Monday, August 11, 2014

Toward a Stronger, More Vibrant Freemasonry (Guest Post on the Burning Taper, October 2008)

Well, dear readers,

I started to get a little nostalgic. Okay, I was full on nostalgic and I started to look through old papers of mine and came across this one. The Widow's Son, who ran a very controversial but often great blog, the Burning Taper, asked me, back in late '08, to write a guest piece for a series on Masonic harmony, unity, and discord. I've decided to repost it on my blog because I still think it has value. Enjoy!

The Judgment of Paris, Capodimonte porcelain 

All nature is but art unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, whatever is, is right.
Alexander Pope

Before I begin with my analysis of the theme, Masonic harmony, unity and discord, I would like to thank the Widow's Son for giving me this opportunity to take part in this wonderful and insightful series of essays. 

Let us begin, what's the problem with discord? It is my simple belief that although conflict may promote the problems of Freemasonry, it can also carry the hope of our Fraternity's future. In fact, through the promotion of both discord and harmony, in equal measures, we, as a Fraternity, can grow stronger and more vibrant. While studying conflict and human societies (particularly Freemasonry), it is essential that we look to history and the modern research in Conflict Studies to fully understand this subject.

The word “Discord” originates from the Roman goddess Discordia who had a counterpart in Greece named Eris. In Greek, the name Eris means “strife.” Strife was commonly regarded in Greece to have two different personas. The first was equally abhorred and praised, as she caused harm but also strengthened the constitution of men. The second was feared and involved the murderous killings of war and was the sister of Ares. The most famous incident involving Eris was when she threw the Apple of Discord amongst the three major goddesses in the Pantheon, Aphrodite, Athena or Hera, when she was uninvited to a banquet for Peleus and Thetis’ wedding. Inscribed on the Apple was the phrase, “καλλιστι” or transliterated, “Kallisti” meaning “for the Fairest.” As Zeus did not want to get involved, he gave the choice to Paris. As we all know, this choice eventually led to the Trojan War. This little trinket, a single apple, led many men to suffer and die.

As is always the case in the pantheon of Greek Gods, Eris had an opposite named Harmonia; in Rome, she was Concordia. As her name implied, she was the goddess of Harmony and represented a love for civic order and unity. And as always seems the case in Greek mythology, she was to be cursed. As a wedding gift, she was given a necklace, a necklace which brought misfortune to all who wore it.

We, as Freemasons, seek to receive the Golden Apple only to find it is out of our reach or in the hands of someone else. We become jealous with our neighbor, and find faults to take away from him what we believe rightfully belongs to us. Yet, this will to strive for what is better or what we deserve is not, in and of itself, an evil characteristic. Also, at times when we are given gifts, we become complacent which attracts misfortune. In fact, conflict occurs everyday and it is how it is dealt with which determines if it is constructive or destructive. Conflict is actively explored in academic circles to understand its origins and quell its harmful effects.

While attending law school, I participated in the Dispute Resolution Institute's certificate program. One of the required classes was Theories of Conflict. Theories of Conflict explores these themes of harmony and discord, separate struggles and unifying causes. The underlying theme in the course was not if conflict was inherently bad; it was the exploration of controlling conflict, especially when conflict becomes escalated. 

According to Pruitt and Kim, authors of the book, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate, and Settlement, conflict is a “perceived divergence of interest.” Conflict is not merely a battle between parties, with winner takes all as the goal, but what we perceive as a divergence that leads to a zero sum game. This divergence gives parties the impression that there is only one solution, “mine not yours”.

Sometimes conflict is very constructive. The best, current example is the presidential election. Both candidates disagree on certain issues and we, as citizens, must decide who we believe will do the best job as president. We may yell at the TV during the debates and chastise the attack ads, but we all agree that a President must be chosen and our emotions must be in check once the election is over.

Conflict involves both physical and psychological aspects. So if, as a Freemason, we find a policy unacceptable, for example, PHA recognition, we perceive a divergence of interest with the brother on the other side. We become physiologically shaken and psychological shocked by what our brothers say, but we may still live in relative peace. It is when a conflict is escalated, that it can become more destructive and lead to acrimony among the parties, and can quickly get out of control.

Escalation is the concept whereby one party begins to use stronger tactics to put increased tension on the other party. During a conflict, parties regularly use tactics to “win” a conflict. However, as these tactics become more and more contentious, the parties will increase the type of tactic used to match or beat the other's tactic. This trading of barbs slowly turns into a spiral of escalation until the conflict reaches violence or another factor has begun to slow the climb and halt its progress.

Escalation is incredibly common in Freemasonry. Every person, from regular Mason, irregular Mason, and anti-Mason, uses power and stronger tactics to attempt to win a Masonic argument. We may attempt to ingratiate a person to come to “our” side. We may attempt to belittle the other side. However, it is often the case that these arguments begin up the spiral of escalation. I, myself, have been wrapped up in these fiery debates throwing words as darts instead using them as tools. As the Masonic conflict continues, we become less concerned with the disagreement and more concerned with “winning”. It is at this time, that we become entrenched and it is only by deescalating the situation that we can keep Masonic harmony. But how do we deescalate this contentious situation?

We can deescalate it by remembering the precepts of our Fraternity: Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth. When we get into an aggressive argument, we lose our fraternal bond, we become less concerned about relieving his suffering and we lose sight of what the truth is. So, what can we, as Masons, do about all this discord? Here is my advice: to those that believe that discord only brings destruction and suffering, remember that it is only through chiseling into a block and destroying its original character that we create something beautiful. And to those that believe that harmony must always be continued, at all costs, why is your gavel and chisel laying on the ground? The work is not over and you are behind schedule. We may have a disagreement with how we are working but we all agree that we are building a better society. Only by understanding both discord and harmony can we appreciate the unity that Freemasonry gives to all of its members.

Our life is full of discord; but by forbearance and virtue this same discord can be turned to harmony.
James Ellis

If you liked to read the full series of paper, click here.

What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Masonic Roundtable Discusses CIVL #190 with Special Guest, Nick Laine

As many of you have seen over the years on this space and on others, I am a CIVL evangelist. CIVL, or Castle Island Virtual Lodge, is the world's first lodge to meet online. (You could read more about my first visit here.)

I was fortunate to invite my friends, the knights of the Masonic Roundtable, to attend a meeting. I think each of them experienced a profound re-imagining of what Masonry is. We were also very blessed to have CIVL's current Lodge Education Officer in attendance to explain the specifics of the lodge for our viewers. You can get the full scoop, including their thoughts, by watching the video below.

You can read the show notes here.

I really love each visit to CIVL. I love it so much that I think I will seek plural membership in the future.

What do you think of CIVL? Do you love it? Hate it? Are somehow indifferent? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

KT mag Limits Letters to the Editor

The Seal of the Templars
I just received my newest issue of the Knight Templar magazine. I do enjoy a number of topics that the magazine touches upon and I'm quite happy when I see it arrive in my mailbox.

I begin reading through the magazine and came upon this statement from the managing editor:

I am informed that the content of the letters to the editors is beginning to reflect badly upon our institution and have been prevailed upon to limit these letters accordingly. Therefore, I am changing the editorial policy for letters to the editor as follows: Beginning with this issue, I will only publish letters to the editor which I am absolutely certain will not offend anyone.

For a long while, I would skip through the letters, skimming as quickly as possible because of a few very uncomfortable letters. Some of the opinions expressed I would consider not in keeping with the Masonic ideals and teachings all of us receive. But I'm also a little sad as I think there was some meaningful dialogue.

It's hard for a number of us. There are as many Christian denominations as there are zip codes. And most of the time, we can be very provincial in our way of thinking, especially when we forget that each denomination, and each Christian, believes in a different way the Law and Gospel and how they apply to us.

Masonic Templary bridges the gap not because of its sectarianism but its lack of sectarianism. There's no talk of justification, no encouragement to ask for intercession, no prohibitions against it. It is just a place to avoid that sectarianism.

I'm saddened that the letters will be fluff, devoid of all controversy. But, let's face, far too many fraters were just not getting it into their heads that Christendom is not united in all believes. Yet, there are things that can unite us. Perhaps this is just a cooling off period. If that's the case, I hope all Sir Knights can begin looking outside their province and reach their hand of friendship across the sectarian fence for just a moment. Let us remember the seal of the Templars, riding together on the back of one horse.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Continuum of Freemasonry

I've been in Freemasonry for nearly a decade now. Since my first day as a Mason on a cold day in early February, I have been learning and growing, talking with other Masons online and in person to get a sense of what Masonry is. What I have learned from all these years is that Masonry is not one thing but many things.
I was feeling a little nostalgic so I started looking at old blogs that I used to frequent during my own early years as a blogger and arrived at Thomas Munkholt’s excellent Grail Quest site. I have been reading a lot about the Swedish Rite lately because 1) I really like it and 2) because I wish I could bring it to my jurisdiction. (That’s a subject for another day) I started reading comments and ran into this one by Chad Simpson:

“I read your comments regarding the concern of some Freemasons for the exclusively Christian nature of the Swedish Rite.
Having shared that concern at one time, I can only say that Freemasons at their best are traditionalists and at their worst are provincial.
Because of the emphasis that Freemasonry places on tradition, it is very easy for the untraveled or unread Freemason to believe that every Lodge is just like his own.
In fact, it is often a shock for a Brother when he finally realizes that Freemasonry is as diverse as are Freemasons themselves.
Though universality is an essential element of Freemasonry under most Grand Lodges, it is understandable why the Swedish Rite has developed as it has.
Though I enjoy studying the various forms of Freemasonry–variety being the spice of life after all–I must confess that I enjoy most a familiar dish.”

I think the commenter is onto something. I think we, as Masons, even with our ability to travel, like to stay within the familiar. I find this most especially on sites like the Freemasonry subreddit. Nearly every day, brothers will tell other brothers that what they are doing, whether it be mouth to ear ritual education or some other subject that is different from their own jurisdiction, is wrong. That’s right, just plain wrong.
It makes sense why these feelings exist. We are usually laboring in the quarries in our own jurisdiction. Sure, the random business trip may take us to a place where a lodge is actually meeting that night and that we have the good fortune to have remembered a business suit to be able to attend but, for the most part, we stay within the walls of our own Masonic experience.

I think the most common topic, the one that generates the most heat on nearly every forum I’ve ever been a member, is how religion, in particular, how Christianity, should fit within the Masonic system. Because of our history, the nature of religion (especially Christianity) and the Craft is very important to understanding development of the Craft degrees, the various side degrees, side orders, rites, and even the youth groups. It is very misunderstood as it varies among all the jurisdictions.

I think the best way to think about the varying viewpoints is to place them on a continuum. I choose a continuum because, it is most basic, using a continuum presupposes that all data in the set share some common theme, in this case, the fact that all of them are Masonic. On the left most side, we will place the Swedish Rite. On the far right side, we will place so-called “Adogmatic Freemasonry”, of which the Grand Orient of France would be an example. Between these two points, we can arrange the various rituals. Preston-Webb would be near the center as would Emulation and its many variants. In fact, most, including the Swedish Rite, would be clustered near each other.

My supposition is that wherever you are on the continuum, both based on your own experiences in Masonry as well as in which jurisdiction you were raised, will affect how you view other practices of Freemasonry. If you believe that God (or a Supreme Being) is an essential aspect of Freemasonry, any practice that does not recognize His importance in the work will not be considered regular in practice. And depending on how far you are away from another practice will likewise determine how uncomfortable you are with a Masonic practice. That’s why, at least in my opinion, many brothers within Preston-Webb will denounce Swedish Rite as unMasonic. And this is even more pronounced if that brother is not Christian. Of course, this always means that compared to Swedish Rite, some brothers may feel more comfortable with “Adogmatic Freemasonry” than to any practice that restricts membership to Christians. You’ll find statements like, “why can’t we use a blank book?” to be common with the compelling argument of having it represent all VSLs.

I point out this continuum because I think we, especially we Americans, get lost in the world. Most of us, including myself, have never traveled to a foreign location in our lives. It’s sad but true. Because of that, we become, just as the comment states above, provincial in our way of thinking and we shut ourselves off from the wider Masonic world. Universality within Freemasonry was not a given and even Anderson backed away from perfect universality when he released his revised 1738 Constitution. It’s difficult. Universality is just one of the goals of Freemasonry and it wasn’t, and has never been, universally accepted.

The Antients disdained the Moderns and that grand body’s rejection of nearly all Christian allusions. Even at the merger, the Antients felt it important to insert language acknowledging the chivalric degrees practiced by so many Antient lodges and chapters; "[t]his article is not intended to prevent any Lodge or Chapter from holding meetings in any of the degrees of Chivalry, according to the Constitution of said Order." It’s a tug of war match between those that seek to acknowledge the Christian origins of the degrees and those that would like to remove them for a new universal philosophy. And that tug of war continues.

These feelings manifest themselves within a jurisdiction. The most apparent example in my jurisdiction is Commandery. Commandery is decidedly Christian and has a long history. Yet, many brothers will denounce it as unMasonic, placing it somewhere between Freemasonry that allows women in and whatever Leo Taxil had in mind when he wrote his hoax. It’s one of the few bodies that I've seen actively derided. I used to be bothered by this but then I thought of the continuum.

I don’t find the Commandery or Swedish Rite or Rectified Scottish Rite as offensive because I am a Christian. Yet, I can also understand why some Masons may have a problem with it. It’s restrictive by its very content. The Crusades were a destructive series of events in the Levant. Yet, the chivalric degrees are also very much Masonic. They are both historically and traditionally relevant within the body of Masonry.

Masonry is vast. If our lodges symbolically extend into the deepest core of the Earth all the way into the Heavens, then it will most assuredly pick up all those practices and styles. Knowing where you are on the continuum is the first step in seeing the wider world, understanding which practices make you comfortable, which practices or styles make you uncomfortable and ultimately understanding why. For me, I cannot accept Adogmatic Freemasonry as regular because I feel that Masonry is a Deity adoration society. By first knowing where I am on the continuum, I am forced to articulate reasons for why I don’t like a practice, in this case, the removal of God from our ceremonies. It also gives perspective as to why another person may accept some practice with which I don’t agree.

I don't think we need to accept every practice in Masonry but we should at least know why a practice, qualification, or some other Masonic tic that differs from our own may not be totally unMasonic. The Commandery exists, it has Masonic roots, and even though it restricts membership to only those adhering to the Christian religion, I would consider it Masonic. The Rose Croix, as it’s called in England, only accepts Trinitarian Christians, unlike its counterparts in the United States; I would also call it Masonic. The Grand Orient de France removed mention of the Great Architect of the Universe from its constitution; I would consider that practice to be irregular but I think analyzing the reason why Frédéric Desmons, a Calvinist Priest, instigated its removal is important.

Masonry is vast. Yet, within its vastness, it’s still held to the aforementioned continuum. Try for yourself. I've found that by arranging Masonic rituals in this way, I've learned tolerance for all of Masonry’s windings.

What do you think? Where are you on the continuum? Where is your Grand Lodge on the continuum? Does the continuum help you? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Shriners Are In Town!

I've seen a lot of fezzes downtown. I hope to make it out to the Convention Center tomorrow for the shop.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Check

As has been published through the Masonic world, there is an edict in a Masonic jurisdiction stating that only men born and remaining male can apply for membership in a lodge That got me thinking on how one would implement such an edict.

Well, I got lucky, fellas. I've been watching the Borgias, an excellent Showtime TV series which has since been cancelled. (Thank you, Netflix, for still having it available) The Borgias examines the life and times of Pope Alexander and his five children and long time mistress. It's a great show that I recommend.

Anyway, on the show, the Pope-elect undergoes a traditional examination to determine his masculinity called the "testes and pendentes" test. What happens is that a large chair with a hole in the seat is brought into the conclave and the Pope-elect, in a ceremonial white gown, is seated. Then, the Chamberlain checks to see that he has one penis and two testes.

I would like to propose that we adopt a similar tradition. My proposal is that we have a chair with a hole placed within the preparation room. The seat would need to be on stilts with a ladder on one side. The candidate would be asked to sit, at which point, the Junior Steward would go under the chair and do the Masonic version of the "testes and pendentes" examination. He would then report that news to the lodge in a ritualistic way.

The one fear I have is that the Junior Steward will conduct this examination before he has made the meal so this would also necessitate that no EA degree may begin without the meal being served first.

Brothers, I really hope we can work this into Masonry somehow. As you know, the population that is transgender is, in one calculation, slightly below one percent. That means that out of every petition we receive, one of those petitioners could maybe, possibly, sorta, kinda, be transgender.

Guard the West Gate, my brothers. Install a "Testes and Pendentes" chair in your lodge hall today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Ascension Day Success

Jesus' Ascension into Heaven by John Singleton Copley
As many of you know, I've, for better or worse, become heavily involved in the York Rite. I love it. The Chapter holds a lot of wonderfully symbolic and historical elements for my understanding of the preceding degrees and really adds to my lodge experience while the Council explores my spiritual side, in particular, the Royal Master degree. Further still, Commandery has rekindled my exploration of Christianity.

To be honest, I never really got much from attending church services when I was growing up. Rock bands are nice, modern hymns have as much meaning as the older ones, and I could feel that there was a desire to worship God but I just didn't get much out of it. As I stated in another blog post, I really find my place within the Christian community at "high church" style services. I feel like they call to my soul, the ritualistic aspects especially.

Commandery provides yet another framework to understand Christ. It is not a replacement for Christianity, just a helpful place for further study. Obviously, Sir Knights come from many different sects within the Templary community so the symbols mean something different to each Sir Knight. Understanding them takes time and knowledge of one's faith tradition.

Within Commandery, we honor the various important events within Christ's life on Earth, his birth, his ministry, his betrayal and death, his resurrection, and his ultimate ascension into Heaven. Many Commanderies will host a Christmas observance, an Easter observance, and even attend Good Friday services together but it is a rare thing indeed to host an ascension day event. A pity really but completely understandable as not every Christian Church recognizes that date as significant. In fact, most Christian Churches that do venerate the Feast of Ascension do nothing on that day. It's seemingly being lost to time.

With all that being said, my Commandery decided to try an Ascension Day feast and it went extremely well. For those who are unfamiliar, the Feast of the Ascension occurs 40 days after Easter, and always on Thursday. It is said that after Christ was resurrected, he returned to Earth to further explain and clarify his ministry. Remember that the resurrection was an extremely important but also completely disorienting experience for the apostles. Jesus returned and, depending on which denomination you are, he spent sometime with the apostles, working with them to understand what they need to do to spread the good news or gospel. After this period was over, Christ then ascended into Heaven to be on the right hand of God, the father.

(Alright, Bible lesson is over, you still here?)

My Commandery is just coming back from a lull that nearly killed it, less Odinsleep and more life-threatening coma. With that in mind, and as Generalissimo, the Commander and I thought it would be cool to try an Ascension Day feast. Through two months of long and somewhat laborious research and work to make it a workable program, we got something that looked and felt very cool. Since it was our first time out, we really had no expectations, not high, not low, just none. We followed a liturgical program from an old Templar monitor and went to work. Our Prelate did a masterful job leading the whole program. He did a great job. We had Jobies in attendance to form the cross and our headlining speaker was the Very Eminent Deputy Grand Commander, who gave us his thoughts on what he would like to see from his year as Grand Commander, should he be elected into that esteemed station. We sang hymns, we had delicious food, and we honored, in our way, God.

Ascension Day, unlike almost any of the other feasts, is joyous. Christmas is a time of giving and sharing but the message is that the Savior has arrived. Good Friday is a day of great tragedy, and Easter is a message of rebirth as the bonds of death are broken. Only Ascension Day contains both the message and ministry of Jesus as well as the joyfulness and promise of Heaven in the same feast. It's about the time to come and the message here on Earth.

I hope more Commanderies attempt Ascension Day events in the future. It is a time of great hope and joy and it's wonderful that that time can be shared with fellow Sir Knights and their families.
Non nobis, non nobis, Domine
Sed nomini tuo da gloriam.
What do you think? Does your Commandery host an Ascension Day? Leave a comment below.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cool Washington Monument Easter Egg on Google Maps

It's been confirmed on Gizmodo that throughout the day, the shadow from the obelisk that is the Washington Monument moves in relation to the sun's position on Google Maps. No word if this will aid our marking of the secret Templar treasure, :cough:, I mean, there is no secret Templar treasure.

See for yourself below:

(And I have noticed that this does not work in lite mode for Google Maps.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

One Book to Bind Them

The Altar at my Lodge
I have been giving thought to religious tests. The United States Constitution forbids the use of religious tests to be an elected official for federal office. Sadly though, we may not allow them de jure, I have sensed that the public demands a de facto religious test, at least for the office of president but I digress.

Our own Masonic Fraternity turned away from a religious test, at least through the Moderns, when the first edition of Anderson's Constitutions of 1723 were approved by the Premier Grand Lodge of England. The very first charge reads:
  • A Mason is obliged by his Tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be of the religion of that country or nation, whatever it was, yet it is now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves: that is, to be Good men and True, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasion they may be distinguished; whereby Masonry becomes the Centre of Union and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among persons that must have remained at a perpetual distance.
This was a fascinating addition to Masonry. It also began a strongly heated battle for supremacy in English Masonry. The Antients took great offense over the removal of Christian symbols in favor of a religion in which all men agree. In fact, the Antients were appalled that the Moderns allowed non-Christians to become Masons at all. The religious nature of Freemasonry was a major bone of contention which led to the disagreement.

I have wondered if we, even now, carry on this strange Antient versus Moderns fight, of where religion may exist, of whom may or may not be a brother. I think it is safe to assume, particularly after reading a few letters to the editor in the KT Magazine, that some brothers would rather see Masonry be a single, homogeneous group, dedicated to the worship of Christ alone and not to that religion that all men agree.

Is there a solution? I was noodling this idea. In using a VSL for our brothers to swear an oath on, we allow whatever holy book would bind him to his oath. Instead of focusing on the exact nature of what he is swearing on, what if we standardized one book to be used in all obligations? All lodges would be required to swear candidates only on the King James Version of the Bible.

Whoa?! Didn't he just say that we shouldn't Christianize the Craft?

Now stick with me. The thing is that when we ask a candidate what book he would like to be sworn on, it immediately calls the question of what religion he is. The Volume of Sacred Law is a symbol just like everything else. By viewing the KJV Bible as just a symbol in the Work, we remove the religious distinction from the candidate.

Furthermore, those candidates that profess a belief in God but remain unaffiliated to any particular religion will not be required to then declare one. It also increases the anonymity of faith, allowing all brothers to meet on the level, without distinction as to politics and religion.

On the other hand, by restricting candidates to one VSL, he may feel that his oath is not legitimate because he is not swearing on the book he holds dear. It also may lead to the same belief that I see in the Knight Templar magazine, that Masonry is a Christian organization that was kind enough to allow other men. Personally, I prefer the idea of the cultural mosaic over the melting pot. When we place different VSLs on the altar, we are making a quilt of connection, sewn together as much by our differences as our similarities.

It's difficult to weigh both the desire for inclusiveness without distinction. I'm not sure what the answer is but I fear the Antients and the Moderns are still fighting to this day. Perhaps the future will be different.

What do you think? Should we use only one VSL or should each candidate be allowed to choose based on his religious belief?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Masonic Roundtable: Episode 8 - Fundraising

Last night's Roundtable I had to miss because of my lodge's third degree (which was spectacular, BTW). Thankfully, we had a proper host show up, Tom Accuosti from the Tao of Masonry. Tom and I go way back.

Last night's episode was on fundraising. It's an interesting discussion. Personally, I feel that lodges should only fundraise for external causes. Fundraising and dues as an interlocking discussion. Obviously, we must cover shortcomings in our budgets but frankly, those shortcomings should come from dues and banked money from dues over the years.

My usual statement is that the public should not be paying for Masonry. Masonry isn't public. Most of our activities are for the individual brothers. By having the public pay for us, we admit that 1) we don't value the Fraternity enough to cover our own expenses and 2) we expect others to pay for it.

This doesn't mean that we can't fundraise. My own lodge hosts a yearly waffle breakfast where all the proceeds go to high school scholarships. I think this is good and it also gets the public in to support their local students. It's a great feeling knowing that the community is coming together to help out our students. But, again, this is for an external cause, not keeping the water bill paid and lights on.

Great show, guys! I really enjoyed it. I'll see you next week. And Jason, glad to see you have a blog going. Visit the 2 Foot Ruler blog here.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

York Rite Sovereign College

I am proud to say that I am now a member of Minnesota College No. 39, under the jurisdiction of York Rite Sovereign College of North America. It's a high honor but even even more so, it's a high responsibility.

The York Rite Sovereign College "exists primarily to be of service to the York Rite of Freemasonry." Its membership consists of the most active and most dedicated of York Rite Masons. 

When I was reading about the College, I started to see a parallel with that and Order of the Arrow. The Order of the Arrow is a brotherhood within the Boy Scouts of America. It recognizes those dedicated Scouts and Scoutmasters that have given much to Scouting and their troops. When you become a OA member, you pledge that you will continue to serve Scouting. It's both an honor and a responsibility. 

I am excited to be a member of this body and I can't wait to stay involved.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Masonic Meme Monday 2/17/2014

As some of you know, I'm on Reddit a lot. I'm actually a mod on the Freemasonry subreddit.

Well, we arrived at a point that we wanted to try something new. That something new is Masonic Meme Mondays, where the sub is opened to memes about the Craft. I will post a few of my favorites each week.

The Masonic Roundtable: Episode 2

I wasn't able to attend but a great discussion about Traditional Observance.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Masonic Roundtable: Episode One

I've been asked to be a regular contributor on the Masonic Roundtable, a new YouTube show about Masonry, and I have totally jumped on board. Here's the first episode. I hope you guys like it.

You can find the show on Facebook.

What did you think? Leave a comment below.

Monday, January 13, 2014

New Masonic Podcast: The After Lodge

Finally, a podcast has shown up that may replace the Setting Maul podcast that has experienced radio silence for two years now. Check out The After Lodge podcast from some secret location. I really enjoyed the first episode and I can't wait to hear more.

(Wistfully thinks, "Maybe I should start a podcast... Hmmm...)