The Rough Ashlar

Thoughts from a Traveling Man

The Rough Ashlar - Thoughts from a Traveling Man

Why I Demitted from the Shriners

I requested a demit from the Shriners at the end of last year. I had waited until it was time for dues payments to be sent in because it was not an easy decision for me to make.

I loved being a Shriner. I was first sold by the mission of helping children in need. It does not get much better than that. Then the excitement of getting my fez made me feel like a real members of the organization. It was pricey, but it was worth it. Then I started a homebrewing club and felt good about growing the body of my Shriners temple.

Then something happened. I won’t go into specifics because I have already discussed this with the temple administration and they indicated that they did not want to change their tack on a few issues that I thought were important – things that would encourage membership growth and retention. They weren’t interested. Fair enough, I guess. That is their choice, I suppose.
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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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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.

Kena Shriners Homebrew Club: Can Beer Save Lives?

Homebrew - CA CommonI am working on starting a homebrew club at Kena Shriners in Fairfax, VA. You guessed it – a group for Shriners who like to make their own beer and wine or are interested in learning how. Because the Shriners need another club, obviously. Just kidding. The number of clubs is not an issue. We have many, and each is geared toward a specific type of activity or interest. It’s at the club and unit level that people get the most out of the Shrine, where they are in small groups, participating in something they enjoy with good friends.

Beer and wine aside, the purpose of the clubs at Kena or any other Shriners temple is to have an active membership. Active members are more likely to pay their dues and less likely to demit from the organization. The happier and more active they are, the more they will talk about the organization, and the Shriners Hospitals for Children, and generally raise awareness for the good works we do. The more people know about the hospitals, the more kids we can reach out to and help.

So can beer save lives? I say yes, and I am doing my best to raise awareness in a responsible way as the airlocks bubble, and one sip at a time.

Just got my Fez – Check it out!

Yes, this is me showing off about my new Fez and the photography work I do. I had everything set up in the studio and had the Fez there, so I figured why not photograph it?

The Shriners are a great part of my Masonic experience. I just learned tonight that a friend of mine was treated by Shriners Hospitals for Children. She was a young girl in Kazakhstan and had some problems. Somebody traveling through the area thought she could benefit from the free medical help our organization provides and brought her to the U.S. for a consultation. She and her mother lived here for a year while she had surgeries and treatment. They stayed in the Ronald McDonald House during their stay, so it was all at no expense.

To me that’s very moving. I don’t think anyone can convince me that there is a higher good than helping children through medical care or education. So yes, I was just fooling around in the studio when I made this photo, but what it means to me is being able to hold my head high when I don it, proud to be a part of such a fine institution that does such important and lifesaving work. To me, that means a lot.

Kena Shriners Fez IMGP7515 copy

Use H&R Block and They Will Donate to Shriners Hospitals for Children

Folks, if you are going to use a tax preparation service this year, please print out this flyer (pdf) and bring it with you to H&R Block. They will donate $25 to the Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Shriners Hospitals for Children® is a health care system of 22 hospitals dedicated to improving the lives of children by providing specialty pediatric care, innovative research and outstanding teaching programs. Children up to the age of 18 with orthopaedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate are eligible for admission and receive all care in a family-centered environment with no financial obligation to patients or families.

That’s right – free medical care for kids and it doesn’t cost you a nickel to help out.

Why I Became a Shriner

ShrinerI just walked across the cold sands a few weeks ago, which is code for going through a five-minute obligation in the conference room of the Shrine center. I had a suit on and everything but it was more of something we did right before a meeting the Divan met to discuss some Shrine business. If you have ever heard legendary stories of initiation into the Shrine, this wasn’t it. That’s called the hot sands and will happen in November, at least for me.

The potentate of Kena Shriners lowered the initiation fees significantly, so that even a former English student like me could afford to join. I was at my first Shriners meeting last week and was reminded why I joined. The first part of the meeting was set aside to discuss the recent expenses for taking kids from here in northern Virginia to various Shriners hospitals.

The Shriners are known to be a fun-loving group and are sometimes called the playground of Freemasonry. That will be a nice thing to explore. However, the reason I joined was to support the good works the Shriners do – running a network of more than 20 hospitals that offer special treatment for children at no cost. Seriously. No cost. What can be more worthwhile than that?

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