The Rough Ashlar

Thoughts from a Traveling Man

The Rough Ashlar - Thoughts from a Traveling Man

Past High Priest – Finally!

Past High Priest JewelIt was a long year at Arlington Royal Arch but we did some good work. We lost a few members to death or suspension, and gained quite a number as well. Overall, we had a net loss of one, which in my book is a success. We also became more ritually proficient as a chapter and had some great programs.

All in all, I am happy.

The year was fun. We did some things we had not done in a while and maybe a few things we had not done before at all. As much fun as it was, though, and as happy as I am with the year, I am glad to have given the task to a very competent successor. The new high priest is smart and capable and I get the feeling that he likes to build on the success of his predecessors, so I feel great about the coming year and look forward in anticipation to where he will lead the chapter.

One of the things I have always felt about leadership in the lodge – or in any group or job – is that when you take on a position, you want to approach it with the mindset of being a steward for that position. Being a good steward means building in the right way and leaving it in a better state than it was when you got there. It is good to serve and then sit back so someone else can take the reins and make even more improvements. Another part of being a good steward is knowing that your duties do not end when you vacate a position. Numerous opportunities for mentorship and assistance will always be there.

Good luck and congratulations, Ex. Comp. Velena!

Prince Hall Scottish Rite Recognized by SJ and NJ

Masonic Regalia for Red Tower RegaliaAt the recent session of the Supreme Council Southern Jurisdiction, Sovereign Grand Commander Ill. Ronald Seale, 33°, announced that the Southern Jurisdiction would recognize the Prince Hall Scottish Rite. At the announcement of the step, the SGC for the Northern Jurisdiction jumped on the bandwagon, agreeing to do the same.

The bottom line is that Masonry just got better. The invisible lines that separate Prince Hall Masonry from what many call “mainstream” Masonry are slowly getting erased. Now all we need is a better term than “mainstream” or “traditional” to describe what has traditionally been white Masonry. I guess we will get there. For now, I will be happy with this development.

This has actually motivated me to consider rejoining the Scottish Rite. This is a huge development and worthy of support.

Funny Hats, Masons, and More Funny Hats

Freemasonry is rife with groups that wear funny hats. One of the things people say when they learn that I am a Shriner is that it must be cool to drive one of those little cars. Must be, I say. I don’t get to drive them myself. Then they comment on the funny hats Shriners are known for. I have to agree that the fez is a funny hat if ever there was one. This constant conversation about fancy headwear made me want to look closer at Masonic groups that have hats as part of their regalia. However, we are more than lovers of the festive chapeau. We are involved in various groups because of the fraternal connections we develop and the unique flavor of each organization. In addition, all these groups have charitable arms, and the funny hats give the groups recognition, which leads to more donations for charity.

Kena Shriners Fez IMGP7515 copyShriners

The fez is one symbol of the Shriners, and a continuation of its Near East theme. It is named after the city of Fez, Morocco, where the style of hat first became popular. The Shriners do not use an authentic style of fez, but one that has become popular among Shriners. It is not a required piece of headgear but having one means that you can properly represent the fraternity during public ceremonies, such as parades. This is a photo of my fez, emblazoned with my Shrine temple’s name. I am proud to have it. Probably about half the guys who come to Kena Shriners’ regular meetings wear a fez. The Shriners Hospitals for Children, the charitable arm of the organization, spends more than $2 million per day on critical specialty care for children, without regard for the patients’ ability to pay. This is why I love being a Shriner.
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This Post is not about the Shriners in Arkansas

Ceci n'est pas un fez.The Imperial Potentate sent an email on July 2 about the vote to lift the requirement that Shriners in Arkansas only be Master Masons. There has been mixed reaction to this decision. I am tired of talking about it. Many people think this will lead to the whole of Shrinedom slipping away from any sort of Masonic connection. Some think this has been the plan all along. Others think it is the worst thing that could happen to the Shrinedom and Freemasonry, and even others think it is high time the split occurred.

Whatever.

I don’t really mean to be dismissive. I care a lot about this issue. Those of us who care are upset and want to see resolution. I have a preference for how I want this situation to end, but really what is most important is having some sort of sensible resolution so we can all just get on with figuring out what it all means. Presently we are at an impasse. Let’s just figure it out and move on.
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Tensions in Arkansas with The Shriners

Smiling Shriner Nodder Ascending To HeavenI just got an email from the potentate at Kena Shriners with a message from the potentate of Scimitar Shriners in Arkansas:

Imperial Sirs, Illustrious Sirs, Nobles all:

It is with great sadness I report that the persecution of Shrine Masons continues in Arkansas. We have no way to bring in new members without threat of Masonic Expulsion. This is a death grip the Arkansas Grand Lodge and its Grand Line will have on Shrine Masons for years to come. It could indeed be the downfall of both organizations.

Despite the deplorable actions of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, both Divans of each Temple in Arkansas have maintained the care of their members. Both Temples have also continued to do what is most dear to our hearts – transporting and supporting the Arkansas Children that benefit from “The World’s Greatest Philanthropy” Shriners Hospitals for Children. Attached is a list of Arkansas Shrine Masons that were expelled for doing nothing but being Shriners and helping children.
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When to Join an Appendant Body

 

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I am a big fan of the appendant and concordant bodies, as you can tell if you have been reading along thus far. However, they are not for everyone and often not appropriate for the new members. Too often the night a brother becomes a Master Mason he is encouraged to join an appendant organization. Somebody approaches him with a petition with the promise of even more light as a Mason, and the new brother signs up. in my opinion, this is bad for all three parties – the new brother, the symbolic lodge, and the appendant body.

The brother loses because now he has another organization to compete for his time, as well as another to pay dues to. He is inexperienced as a craftsman and thus does not yet have a clear idea what Masonry is about. the best place for him is his lodge, not another organization.

The symbolic lodge loses because it has just spent its valuable resources bringing a brother to the highest degree and is now at risk of losing his attention, even if it gets his dues. Dues are important but more important is a brother's involvement. Without the brothers' involvement, even if that means just attending meetings, the lodge will wither and die.

The appendant bodies lose because they are recruiting someone who is inexperienced and perhaps does not know what groups he will want to join. This can be a great way to boost membership rolls but is not a great way to get brothers who will be lifelong members.

When I joined my lodge, my brother, who is a Mason in North Carolina, advised me to not join any appendant body until I had been going to regular meetings for at least one year. It was great advice. Having a good foundation of how a lodge works and what it means to be a Mason is crucial in deciding what one's Masonic future might be. In other words, before you can build the temple, you first need a solid foundation.

I remember a few guys who joined my lodge around the time I did wanted to join the Scottish Rite together. They were more interested in the outward appearance of the organization, though, rather than through any investigation of its substance. One of the guys said a few times, "You get a ring when you join."

Great, I thought. I can buy a ring on my own, and likely for less money. What more do I get for my dues and initiation fee? I did not feel the need to join something whose main draw was a ring and a funny hat. I mean no disrespect here. They are funny hats if you know nothing about the order. What I wanted was something meaningful, not a ring and a hat. Unfortunately, none of my cohort at the time could tell me more about it, so I did not join for a few years.

The bottom line is that if you want to be able to find meaning in Masonry, your best bet is to wait a while and learn more about what you joined before taking the next step and seeking out another organization to write a check to.

Allied Masonic Degrees

Allied Masonic DegreesI was recently asked to join a local Allied Masonic Degrees council and was excited to do so. I had never before been invited to an invitational body, so I see this as quite an honor. The AMD is a group I am still trying to get my head around a little. The basis of the organization, it seems, is something very much like a research lodge. Members are encouraged to write research papers on various Masonic topics and present them in the meetings. I am involved in a research lodge here in northern Virginia, and this sort of thing was what excited me early on in my Masonic career, so I look forward to getting more involved in the AMD as well.

The part that is confusing is that the AMD is also the owner or caretaker of several side degrees that used to be conferred under craft warrants in regular lodges, mainly in England, as I understand. However, even though I have not had any of those other degrees conferred on me, I am still a full member of the Council. It appears that the AMD perpetuates these degrees so that they do not simply disappear due to an aging membership and lack of new conferrals. I think this is wonderful, keeping these traditions alive so people like me can almost fall backward into them and hopefully gain some insight from them.

I am still learning but look forward to a long ride with the AMD. I guess I better start cracking the books open so I can present a paper when called upon.

Shriners, Recognition, and the Grand Lodges

Smiling Shriner Nodder Ascending To HeavenI have had a few people ask me what was going on with the Shrine and a few grand lodges. In the interest of full disclosure, there are lots of details I am leaving out and this post will likely seem biased. However, I do not think many Shriners or Masons who are not Shriners, will see it very differently. This is not hard to parse, at least from where I stand.

The issue revolves around an incident in which a couple Shriners have been expelled from Masonry but retained their membership as Shriners. For those of you who are new to this, you have to be a Mason to be a Shriner. It used to be said that all Shriners were Masons but not all Masons were Shriners. Now it comes out that the Imperial body is allowing those who are expelled to retain their statuses.

The Imperial Potentate has refused to expel the offending members, saying that it is beyond his powers. It makes me wonder what kind of organization can have a chief executive who cannot fire someone working under him. It is either not true or this is a very weak organization. However, that is beside the point.

To further complicate the matter, one of the Masons who was expelled, at the time the potentate of a Shrine temple, had pled no contest to a felony. Here in Virginia, and in most, if not all, grand jurisdictions, a felony conviction or confession will necessarily result in a member being expelled from Masonry. This makes sense. We say we are moral men who are trying to become better. We do not want to associate with felons in this organization. We do offer the opportunity for suspended and expelled members to reapply for membership and sometimes that happens. It all has to do with the individual situation. So an expulsion is not a life-long curse by any means.

The problem is multifaceted:

  • The Grand Lodge of Arkansas suggested that Shriners International is making clandestine Masons. It is hard to argue against that. If you follow the logic (if Shriner, then Mason), and then see that these people are Shriners but not Masons in a recognized grand lodge, then that is effectively what the Shrine is doing.
  • The grand lodges, as owners and caretakers of Freemasonry in their respective jurisdictions, have always had the power to dictate what was and was not Masonic. They have decided, right or wrong, that the Shrine is not doing things the right way.
  • Shriners International has declared itself wholly sovereign and free from the jurisdiction of any grand lodge, holden only to itself, and not bound by rules or constraints imposed by any grand lodge. It insists the it is not an appendant body and thus not subject to rules for appendant bodies.
  • The Grand Lodge of South Carolina has given specific orders to the Shriners temples in that state to check the lodge dues cards of people entering the temple, in addition to checking their Shriners dues cards. Shriners dues cards are all the Shriners International requires to be checked, and I would not be surprised if it sent its own edict forbidding the checking of lodge dues cards. That is speculation but I have no doubt this will happen.
  • Shriners International apparently is okay with having felons in its ranks. More than that, it wants felons to run the Shriners temples. This troubles me most of all.

What this all amounts to is a legitimate battle of jurisdictions. It looks to me like Shriners International should just say what it is driving toward – removing Masonry as a prerequisite to become a Shriner. I honestly think that is where this is going. They seem to want to be a Masonic organization but do not want to do the things all Masonic organizations need to do, which is to follow a handful of basic rules. It is not hard. You just have to do it.

If that is where the Shrine is headed, that is fine. There are many other civic groups doing good work for society, and the Shriners can be among them. They will be just like the Elks, Moose, Eagles, Owls, Rotary, Optimist, and other good, wholesome clubs.

The egos in this battle are huge on both sides, it seems, but that is not the issue. I do not care about egos. I became a Shriner to help support the hospitals and help the kids we care for. This foolishness of going against what the grand lodges want is going to seriously affect the membership of the Shriners temples. This will lead to temple closures and ultimately affect donations to the hospitals.

If Shriners International and the Imperial Potentate do not check their egos on this issue, they are going to ensure that the members, state by state, make a choice between being Masons and being Shriners. I have yet to speak to anyone who would choose to be a Shriner over being a Freemason. This will not be a hard decision to make for most of us, although I doubt anyone looks forward to it going that far. However, in a few grand jurisdictions it has already happened.

The Conference of Grand Masters is coming up in February, so I guess we will see then what consensus they will come to. In the end, short of agreement to reconcile, nobody will win. Some Shriners will choose to leave Masonry and many Masons will choose to leave the Shriners. Everyone will lose in this scenario, but more so the Shriners.

Why I Demitted from the Scottish Rite

I joined the Alexandria, VA Scottish Rite about two years ago at the suggestion of a few people I have a lot of respect for. The degrees were impressive and the educational program – the Master Craftsman – is in-depth and helped me get a better handle on the teachings of the degrees. The Rite has 29 degrees, and each offers enough learning to keep a guy busy for quite a long time. However, I decided to demit last year and wanted to discuss some of the reasons.

My problems with the Scottish Rite are as follows:

  • The meetings are on Friday nights, a time I prefer to spend with my family. When I chose to join, Friday nights would have been fine because I did not have anything better to do on those evenings.
  • The format is not one I find lends itself to productivity or efficiency. I dragged myself to the last meeting to support some brothers who had just joined and then remembered the score. We had three bodies meet that night. Open, close, open, close, open, close. Stand up, sit down – over and over again. It seems excessively repetitive and inefficient. A body would open, do introductions, and close, conducting a minimum of business. It seemed very self-congratulatory.
  • I don’t live or work anywhere near Alexandria anymore, so getting out there is tough.
  • I have other issues with this particular valley that I do not care to discuss here, but definitely led me to not be terribly upset saying goodbye.

For a number of reasons I simply was not getting my money’s worth out of my $69 dues.

I received my demit paper shortly after making my request and have mixed feelings about it. I was looking forward to the Master Craftsman II course and learning more about these rich degrees. I also feel like I am letting my brothers down a bit by not keeping my membership. I do plan to join again, maybe next year. The DC Scottish Rite has meetings the first four Tuesdays of each month, each body meeting on a different evening. They also have interesting programs, some of them looking deeply at the metaphysical aspects of our profession. I understand they always have a good dinner before the meetings too, which doesn’t hurt.

What would have been nice is if there were more valleys in the area, thus allowing me to easily choose one that fit my needs and desires, the way you can with lodges. For now I remain unaffiliated as a Scottish Rite Mason but look forward to joining a valley again as soon as it becomes feasible.

How I Came to be a Royal Arch Mason

A few years ago I decided to pursue the Royal Arch but I came to the group in a strange way. My lodge rents the facility to a RAM chapter, so I was familiar with the image of the triple tau but knew little about the group.

One night a meeting was called among some of the more active brethren of my lodge but when we got there we found that the building was already occupied by the Royal Arch members. We went elsewhere for our brief meeting but not before I caught a glimpse of some of the men who were there. They were guys I already knew and looked up to and many of the ones I did not know personally I knew by reputation. I decided then that this was a group I wanted to be part of.

Since joining, I have learned quite a bit about the order and am enjoying this pursuit. Getting to know the officers and members in my own chapter as well as the area chapters has been interesting because most of them were people I already knew to be masters of the Masonic ritual. Now it turns out that they are also masters of the Royal Arch ritual. Later I learned that they are almost all active in the Scottish Rite as well. Having a grasp on the operations of any one body is impressive enough, but many of the guys I know are experts on more than one level. It is very impressive and humbling. I am barely a master of anything, and I get to sit with these fine gentlemen who are more knowledgeable than I am ever likely to be.

So much of Masonry has been like this for me – following people whom I considered mentors, whether they knew it or not, and finding myself part of something surprisingly interesting and worthwhile. My brother (biological brother, that is) had advised me not to join any appendant bodies for at least one year and to spend that time in my mother lodge, learning and getting active. I followed his sage advice but knew early on that I would join the Royal Arch Chapter.

This year I am the king of my chapter. It’s different from being Elvis, at least so far, and I am excited about being the high priest next year. That’s when it will really feel like being Elvis!

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