Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ballot Reform

Masons treat balloting as something holy and sacrosanct. Any suggestion that perhaps another way of voting might be preferable is met with shock and derision. “Mess with balloting? We have always done it this way (sputter, sputter). Why that’s downright unMasonic!”

Thinking about the reason we use a little box with white balls and black cubes in a secret ballot where all members of the Lodge must vote, you have to go way back to the 1700s. Masonry grew up with the United States growing into a nation. It became customary for each hamlet to have its own Masonic Lodge rather than one Lodge drawing from many different communities. As such the local town Lodge was in a village where everybody knew everybody else. Outside of the few big cities of that time like Boston, New York and Philadelphia, Americans lived in communities small enough in size for an individual to know every single person in that town. Therefore everybody needed to vote on a petition in Lodge because everybody knew the applicant. And everybody also knew what everybody else was doing. Private lives were not so private. If you did something you shouldn’t or acted in a manner that drew attention you can be sure that everybody else in town knew about it. Therefore it became necessary to shield those voting in Lodge from having their decision spread all over town. Rejecting an applicant could have serious repercussions especially if you were the only one to drop the black ball. Without a secret ballot any vote could be held up to ridicule thus putting undue pressure on the voter to go along with the crowd. To make a truly independent decision away from pressure and to avoid the mess of paper and pencil the present system was devised.

And for its day that system worked very well. But today is quite different or as they used to say, “This is not your grandfather’s Chevrolet.” Today we are much more mobile than our ancestors. I live in a suburb of Dallas 20 miles outside the core city. The population of my town was 28,000 in 2004 when I moved here. It is today over 50,000. Two hundred years ago in this population I would be living in one of the largest cities in the United States. The Dallas/Ft. Worth population today is 6.1 million.

I know about 15 people in my town and I would dare say everybody else is in a similar situation as I am. Casting a mandatory vote on somebody I have never heard of is not only silly it is downright dangerous. Yes we all rely on the Investigating Committee to do their job and inform us, but that committee in many jurisdictions is not a standing committee but one appointed as the need arises. Those who serve on the Investigating committee are far from professional investigators and the job they do is often very amateurish. If the investigation is superficial and only the sponsor knows the applicant then we often times are at the mercy of he who recommended the applicant.

And thus has risen abuses in this system. First we are blackballing men who should be Masons. But because they are the wrong skin color, speak with a foreign accent, are not Christian or happen to be a person we have had a run in with, well then a little black cube takes care of that! After all we must remember that Masonry in the USA is a WASP society. Since he who rejects does not have to answer to anybody then he can black ball for no good reason and there is no way to stop him. One Mason in a Lodge can and has black balled good and worthy applicants over and over again, voting his prejudices, and the system has no way to prohibit this abuse.

Conversely we are admitting men who should have been blackballed. Because nobody knows the applicant besides his sponsor and the investigation is far from thorough many a man slides in that should have been kept out. I am sure many of you who are reading this have served on an Investigating Committee. Let me then ask you, the reader, if you have ever asked an applicant if he should become a member and he would be voting on a petition would he hesitate to vote for acceptance of a black man? I’ll bet that one in a hundred would ask a question like that. That’s because we don’t screen personal beliefs, outside of a belief in Deity, just actions.

If we are relying so heavily on our Investigating Committee to properly inform us, the vast majority knowing nothing whatsoever about the applicant, why don’t we make the Investigating Committee the decision maker? We have a three member committee, majority rules. All that would be needed for acceptance or rejection then would be a minimum of two votes. No balloting, no white balls, no black cubes, just a vote of three members who have done a good investigation. The Investigation Committee then would decide who is accepted and who is rejected.

Before investing them with this power we would have to do few things. First let’s make them a standing committee each member serving three years. And let’s make the first committee consist of a one year term, a two year term and a three year term. Thereafter every election or appointment would be for a three year term. This way one of the three comes up for replacement every year.

Second let’s send any Investigating Committee members to school to learn how to do an investigation the right way. This could be a course offered by an outside agency or school or Grand Lodge. Perhaps part of the investigation process now might be an FBI check and a credit check.

Lastly let’s invest each member with the inability to say anything about their investigation or the person they are looking into. This would be just like the silence of the lawyer/client relationship or the Priest in the Confessional. So it's still a secret ballot, but now a secret among three. Not even the Worshipful Master should know what went on in the decision making process.

Now any member of the Lodge who has reason to reject an applicant can present whatever evidence they have to the Investigating Committee. But what has to happen here that heretofore has not is that the objecting Brother has to have a good reason. No longer will a man be able to be kept out of Masonry for no good reason like prejudice. Conversely those that should not be accepted have a far better chance of being caught with a permanent, professional Investigating Committee performing an in depth investigation.

What we will have succeeded in doing then is to remove this process from amateurs, from guess work and from a method of total permissiveness void of enforceable voting guidelines. That ensures better protection of the Lodge and an increase in fairness.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pride of Mt. Pisgah #135 Installation

Tuesday night 4/22/08 The officers for Pride of Mt. Pisgah were installed in a closed session by District Deputy Gary Connor after he had completed his official District Deputy's visit and yearly review of the Lodge (see pictures below). Yours truly is back as Chaplain. Worshipful Master Kazar LaGrone then laid out an entire years lesson program, outlining all the topics we would be covering each meeting. He told us that he would assign some topics but for many others he would welcome volunteers to present a lessson. Deputy Grand Master Michael Anderson, a member of Pride of Mt. Pisgah #135, presented a lesson on the Masonic apron. Every Prince Hall Communication has a Masonic presentation or lesson of education. Afterwards the Officers and members of Mt.Pisgah enjoyed a time of fraternal fellowship.

The program for the ensuing year Worhipful LaGrone outlined in a letter sent to all Brethren prior to the Installation. A look at the coming years activities yields this list:

Running the Grand Lodge Golf Tournament
Family Bowling Night
Back To School Supply Drive
Thanksgiving Baskets For Needy Families
Participation In The Keep Dallas Beautiful Project
133rd Grand Communication
Blanket Give Away To The Homeless
Christmas Baskets For Needy Families
Prince Hall Day

Two other events that the Lodge took part in last year will probably also be on this years docket. The first was a beautiful Jazz Gala Black Tie event of dinner and dancing to some melodious live jazz, raising money for Mt. Pisgah charities. The other was our particiaption in the King of the Court Baskeball Tournmanet benefitting youth scholarships.

In adition District wide events were announced by District Deputy Connor.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Ultimate Masonic Gift

Every man ought to be a macho macho man,
To live a life of freedom, machos make a stand,
Have their own life style and ideals,
Possess the strength and confidence, life's a steal,
You can best believe that he's a macho man
He's a special person in anybody's land.

Hey! Hey! Hey, hey, hey!
Macho, macho man (macho man)
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho! (dig the hair on my chest)

Macho, macho man (see my big thick mustache)
I've got to be, a macho man
Macho, macho man
I've got to be a macho! (Dig broad shoulders)

Three years ago I wrote a paper titled “World Peace Through Brotherhood” which can be read at www.phoenixmasonry.org. This paper, among other things, dealt with peace among nations of the world. There is another kind of Masonic peace, that of the individual Lodge. Every Lodge is a house of peace, a no war zone. There are no worldly differences or contentious issues that plague the Lodge room, no warring camps over religion, political affiliation or culture, no prejudices because of race or economic circumstances. We leave all these biases and differences at the Lodge door and enter as one, on the level, nobody better than another. The peace of the Lodge makes the Ultimate Masonic Gift possible.

Many outside Freemasonry do not understand what a Brotherhood is all about. To them I say if you have ever been a Marine, a Navy Seal, a Green Beret, a policeman, a fireman or a lineman on a football team you instantly know what a Brotherhood is all about. But if you haven’t then you often times don’t realize what you are missing not belonging to one as you take this journey of life.

The values of American society today seem to revolve around goals of power, recognition and possessions. Men think first of having a high profile, high paying career. Then what follows of course is a car worthy of one’s station in life, a mansion for a house and vacations abroad. Those that have all that may have friends but seldom ones that are blood brothers. If a man is lucky he learns early in life that his journey on earth is about relationships. Still he has a hard time getting close to the same sex.

Women on the other hand are good at relationships. From childhood women share inner thoughts and desires with their close friends. They let their emotions come out. Women keep diaries men do not (Anne Frank). Women share secrets with each other, men wouldn’t be caught dead doing that. Women trust, men distrust. Women are open, men are reserved. Men are taught to keep their emotions and their true feelings hidden. They are taught to be MACHO MEN, to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to keep a stiff upper lip, eh wot?

Quite frankly men are not good at relationships. They keep their feelings and emotions bottled up inside. This can lead to problems. Look at the instances of someone “going postal”, bringing a gun into work and blowing away as many employees as possible. How many women have you heard doing this? Look at a group therapy session and around the circle you will see that 75% are men. Men have to be taught human interaction. Being vulnerable, letting it all hang out, having a confidant, male bonding that is The Ultimate Gift Of Freemasonry.

Awhile back in another time a wise Brother said to the Lodge’s newly raised Master Masons, “Lean on your Lodge. Your Lodge loves you.” My Prince Hall Lodge does a very good job of this. Next time you Mainstream Masons are looking to make your Lodge a better Lodge, instead of always jumping to the conclusion that it is lack of Masonic education and knowledge which is holding your Lodge back, think also about male bonding and how to make that better. You see men really do need to be close to other men, they just don’t know how to do it. The tenets of my profession as a Mason are Brotherly Love, Relief & Truth. We as Masons teach much about Relief and we provide many lessons for making a quest for Truth, but we do little to teach Brotherly Love & Affection and how to become blood brothers. But in essence that is what a Brotherhood is most about.

Everyone needs someone to confide in, someone to unburden on, even men. Everyone needs a cheer leading section to affirm their worth and reinforce their path towards understanding, even men. My rooting section is my Prince Hall Lodge. There is nothing I can’t share with them, nobody I cannot unburden my soul to. And that is The Ultimate Masonic Gift. That’s male bonding. That’s what a Brotherhood is all about. And that is something if done well makes Masonry very unique.

Friday, April 4, 2008

American Mainstream Masonry: A Study In Isolationism, Parochialism & States Rights

American Masonry (and by that I mean USA Masonry) grew up and matured mimicking our civil, political formations and process and mirroring the same thought and state of mind. George Washington both a civil political leader and a Freemason warned us to “Beware of Foreign Entanglements” and throughout the 19th century, even though the USA might have been a bully in its Manifest Destiny march to the Pacific, it stayed pretty much to itself not getting involved in European or Asian piques and quarrels. The mindset of America was very parochial – mind your own business, keep everything local, don’t concern yourself with other nations, other peoples, other American states. Community was the focal point of life and community meant the local village and town where you lived and worked just as your father had before you and his father likewise.

American Masonry grew up then as a Lodge in every village and town which enlisted the leaders, the shakers and makers of society in that community. Thus you had “Moon Lodges” which met on the night of the full moon so that men walking to Lodge had a lighted path to the Masonic Temple. American Masonry never met with 20 Lodges all sharing the same Masonic Building as British Masonry evolved into. Each Lodge had to have its own building. Each Lodge had to remain separate – “Beware Foreign Entanglements”. Yes the local Brothers all knew they were chartered and owed homage to the greater Masonic community – their state Grand Lodge. Few, however, ever set foot inside Grand Lodge. Masonry was the local community Lodge and that was everything. No Masons ever thought of themselves as American Masons. There was no National Grand Lodge. There was no inter- cooperation among state Grand Lodges and little fraternization on a national scale. Isolationism and parochialism ruled the day.

Civilly the doctrine of “States Rights’ was preached, which remained strong in the South and West right up through the 1960s when efforts of Integration were met with – “it’s none of the federal government’s business, it’s up to the states – States Rights.” The federal government was a power over national concerns only and the power of states in regional or state only affairs remained supreme and within states the city, town and village remained as powerful as the state itself. America was a bottom up society not a top down one. American Masonry was a bottom up Fraternity not a top down one. And as a bottom up Fraternity Grand Lodge was stocked with Officers the bottom put there to continue the division of power and responsibility on the level it had evolved into. That is Grand Lodge sat at the pleasure of its local Lodges and not the other way around. This was all to change, however as the future will show us.

To match this mindset American Mainstream Masonry adopted The Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction to keep out foreign entanglements, to keep Masonry in a region free from competition, to maintain “States Rights” but above all to lock out Black Masonry. American Masonry was thus enabled to be isolationist and parochial, a fraternity free from outside interference, from others meddling in the affairs of what was established or from anyone providing an avenue where anybody with “fancy ideas” could gravitate to. When Blacks sought admission into Mainstream White Masonry they were told to apply to their own “Colored Lodges”. When Black Lodges applied for inclusion into Mainstream Grand Lodges they were told to form their own Grand Lodge. When charges of racism were made Mainstream Masonry said – “Oh no, we are only enforcing the Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction. We are not racist.” And they would add – “If Black Masonry had not formed its own Grand Lodge we would gladly admit them. But since they are a separate Grand Lodge the Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction permits only one Grand Lodge per state.” This was both a civil and a fraternal way of thinking, namely that - we govern ourselves, we take care of our own, we do not need anyone from outside our community telling us what to do, we run our own affairs. This was the parochial mindset of Isolationism and States Rights. And the same reasoning was used as to why the local lunch counter and the public school were not integrated. It was never about color, it was just about States Rights.

Now some saw a need for some sort of cooperation and commonality between Grand Lodges as early as 1840. They saw the need because a catalyst propelled them to think about all of American Masonry not just their own little self absorbed Masonry. That catalyst was the Morgan Affair. Masonic leaders from various regions realized that what one Grand Lodge did or one group of Masonry did affected all of Masonry. The Morgan affair was not just a concern of the Grand Lodge of New York. It propelled into all of America an anti Masonic sentiment and an Anti Mason political party. Thus was born The Baltimore Conventions of the 1840s, a response to a national Masonic crisis.

But it took a crisis for American Mainstream Masonry to think of itself as one, as the same fraternity throughout all the states, as something that was bigger than state lines and in need of protection and guidance from more than just one state Grand Lodge. Masonry needed to speak as American Masonry in response to those who were trying to outlaw it and banish it from their midst. AMERICAN MASONRY NEEDED AN AMERICAN IDENTITY. And for awhile it had one. But the wedding was short lived and soon after The Morgan affair had blown over and the Civil War became our civil focus Masonry went back to its parochial ways and of course States Rights was the cry of the South for its right to secede from the Union.

Now much of Masonry (but not all) has remained with this mindset which has translated in the way it looks at life and the way it sees Masonry in the grand scheme of things. American Masonry has remained stuck in the 19th Century in its mindset, it has not changed. BUT EVERYTHIG ELSE AND EVERYONE ELSE HAS.

The 20th Century changed the political, civil landscape drastically. WWI was followed by WWII, the Cold War, Korean War and Vietnam. America no longer was heeding the advice of George Washington. The USA was now and still is the policeman of the world. That’s why we are in Iraq. We no longer just take care of ourselves. Isolationism went out the window with the attack on Pearl Harbor and it has not reappeared. Nebraska farmers who had never been outside their state were now fighting on Pacific Islands or battlefields of Europe. And when they came back home, if they made it, their parochial, isolationist States Rights way of thinking was no more. On the home front the role of the federal government had drastically expanded with the advent of the New Deal. States Rights were left to the Old Confederacy who was once again to use them to block Black Integration.

The 21st Century changed the societal landscape drastically. The rise of “The Information Age” has changed our everyday world in myriad different ways. Instant communication is available around the world at the touch of a finger. Book keeping, accounting, record keeping are just a few of the areas that underwent complete makeovers, areas in which Masonry is for the most part still doing things the old way. Freemasons from different jurisdictions and Grand Lodges not only in America but all over the world are able to easily communicate and share ideas instantly. We as a fraternity all now know what the other guy is doing.

And the individual citizen of the United States? He no longer thinks of himself as a Californian or a Virginian or a Wisconsinite or a Texan. He first thinks of himself as an American. And he no longer is born into a community, goes to school there, works there and dies there. He could be raised in Kentucky, go to school in California, get his first job in Massachusetts, transfer to Texas and retire in Florida. The civil, political and societal changes have transformed America and its citizens into Americans first. You can get into a jet plane and be anywhere in the USA in four hours or less (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). And we do.

Back in the Craft we still think like pre World War One Isolationists and States Righters. We, as 50 Grand Lodges, refuse to cooperate with each other. We refuse to criticize each other. We cannot police ourselves because we cannot get out of the Isolationist, parochial, States Rights mindset. The sad part is that most individual Masons could care less about the petty, nit picking, oftentimes silly rules and regulations from one Jurisdiction to another. Masons do not want to get involved in Jurisdictional squabbles. They don’t really want to operate with one set of values in one region and another set of values in another region. They don’t care about all the petty bullsh*t. They just want to be Masons, American Masons. But Masonry in the USA does not want Masons to be American Masons. They want them to be Californian Masons or Floridian Masons or Texan Masons. But American Masonry has forgotten the lesson of history, that what one Jurisdiction does affects every other Jurisdiction and what one Mason does affects a great many others.

There has been one big change in the way American Masonry governs itself. It no longer is a bottom up fraternity; it is a top down one – but 50 different top downs. The parochialism has advanced to the state level and the community and the local Lodge have very little power left. A good portion of this was the result of the post Vietnam decline in Masonry and the failure of local Lodges to satisfy Grand Lodge fears of poverty and extinction. So just as civilly in wartime we give government and the President more power to deal with an external threat we gave Grand Lodge and Grand Masters more power to solve problems they saw as a threat to the Craft. Now Grand Masters have taken that power and expanded upon it to the extent that in some cases it is capricious and arbitrary. This has resulted in ill will and hard feelings and open battles.

Recently in our lifetime we have seen two new great catalysts. On the civil, political front we have suffered the first attack against America on American soil since colonial days with the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. America, as a nation, is responding to this attack and has taken steps to insure the safety of all Americans and to fight the War On Terror. On the Masonic front we have seen the first Grand Master to expel another Grand Master and without a Masonic Trial. American Mainstream Masonry is not responding to this crisis and it will not and cannot until it decides it is way past time for the Craft to have an American Identity.