"To preserve the reputation of the fraternity unsullied must be your constant care..."

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Repaying a Very Old Debt

Alice's brother Bobby passed away in Texas in November just before Thanksgiving Day, and we were finally able to settle his estate a couple of weeks ago. It was a complete shock to us, but he and his wife Karen who preceded him in death in August lived a somewhat hermit-like life in recent years. They both died without a will, and so we had to deal with probate court and other messes via long distance before we were able to do anything with his property. 

We had to drive back to Texas a few weeks ago once we were at last permitted by the court to dispose of their belongings. It's a gruesome task for anyone to pick though literally everything in someone else's home. Clearing out their house, we had to separate all of the collected clutter and detritus of everyday life from the things that meant something, and bring home all of their important papers and anything of sentimental value. Buried in the piles I discovered the funeral guestbook from the service from Bobby and Alice's father, Robert L. Funcannon, Sr. back in 1998 in Garland, Texas. I hadn't seen it before. It was at that service that Bobby, Alice, and I witnessed the first Masonic funeral service any of us had ever seen. Those ten Masons, their ceremony, and their kindness to us all influenced both Bobby and I to become Freemasons ourselves. 

I have recounted the story of that day probably hundreds of times all over the country and the world for the last 18 years, and in Freemasons For Dummies as well. Of how I called every Dallas area lodge on a Sunday night before the Monday funeral to ask if anyone could perform a service; how a lodge Secretary working late that night said he'd do what he could to help; how ten Masons showed up the next day who didn't know Robert but nevertheless put on a service far more moving than anything the rented minister said who kept mispronouncing his name; and how on the flight home the next day I told Alice I had to become one of them. Until this evening, I had never known just who those Brethren were all those years ago. But now I do.

So, I am proud and honored to finally properly thank in public the Brethren of James Ladd Burgess Lodge No. 1305 in Dallas, Texas, and Past Master Guadalupe Moreno of Duck Creek Lodge No. 1419 in Garland. Sadly, it appears from my Internet search that WB Moreno himself passed away in 2005, just before my book was published, so he had no way of knowing the lives he and his Brethren touched that day, and how many other men the story of that brief event might go on to influence to knock on a lodge door somewhere in the world. 

As Masons, we may never know the lives we touch in countless ways we may never give a second thought to. But that's why we all need to make sure we answer every phone call, every email, every question from a curious elevator companion or stranger at the next gas pump who asks about our jacket emblem or ring or Masonic license plate. 

I have up at the top of this blog one of the first admonitions each of us receives: "To preserve the reputation of the fraternity unsullied must be your constant care..." That's our job - yours and mine - every day. And those Texas Brethren certainly went above and beyond to do that for our little family 17 years ago. 

Thank you, my Brothers. You changed my life. I hope that, in some small way since then, I have honorably paid forward that debt I have owed each of you for a long time.

Scottish Rite Research Society Announces Writing Contest

My apologies to all for being a bit late in spotting this, as our entire household was unavoidably detained earlier this month. The Scottish Rite Research Society is celebrating its 25th year and has announced a very special and noteworthy competition for Masonic scholars. They are holding a contest to reward the best articles to be published in their special 25th anniversary volume of Heredom, their annual collection of papers. 

Prizes, you ask? They are offering cold hard cash for your original work. Yes, really.

1st place: $10002nd place: $5003rd place: $250

The rules are brief and simple:

(1) Articles must written by members of the Scottish Rite Research Society.(2) Articles must written by a single author. No co-authored articles are eligible.(3) Articles must be original to Heredom. No reprints are eligible.(4) Authors release publishing rights of their articles to the SRRS.

If have a manuscript that you would like considered, contact editor S. Brent Morris at bmorris@scottishrite.org

(NOTE: So far, I have been unable to find a mention anywhere of the deadline. Once I do, I will update this posting.)

Membership in the SRRS is $55, and you need not be a Scottish Rite Mason (or a Mason at all) to join. SEE HERE for information.

H/T Arturo de Hoyos/Facebook

The Changing U.S. Demographics of Young Adulthood

Those of us with even a passing interest in the next cohort of potential Freemasons knocking on our doors should take a look at the results of the most recent U.S. Census, and especially one particular summary report issued this month about it by the Census Bureau:

The Changing Economics and Demographics of Young Adulthood: 1975–2016

The report specifically examines changes in social, economic and demographic trends among young American adults between 18 and 34 (commonly branded as 'Millennials') over the last 40 years. It tracked four "common milestones of adulthood:" getting married, having children, getting a job, and living on one's own. The percentage of Americans achieving all four of those "adult milestones" by age 34 went from 45% in 1975 down to just 24% in 2016.

Here are a few takeaways:

  1. Most of today’s Americans believe that educational and economic accomplishments are extremely important milestones of adulthood. In contrast, marriage and parenthood rank low: over half of Americans believe that marrying and having children are not very important in order to become an adult. 
  2. Young people are delaying marriage, but most still eventually tie the knot. In the 1970s, 8 in 10 people married by the time they turned 30. Today, not until the age of 45 have 8 in 10 people married. 
  3. More young people today live in their parents’ home than in any other arrangement: 1 in 3 young people, or about 24 million 18- to 34-year-olds, lived in their parents’ home in 2015. 
  4. In 2005, the majority of young adults lived independently in their own household, which was the predominant living arrange- ment in 35 states. A decade later, by 2015, the number of states where the majority of young people lived indepen- dently fell to just six. 
  5. More young men are falling to the bottom of the income ladder. In 1975, only 25 percent of men, aged 25 to 34, had incomes of less than $30,000 per year. By 2016, that share rose to 41 per- cent of young men. (Incomes for both years are in 2015 dollars.) 
  6. Between 1975 and 2016, the share of young women who were homemakers fell from 43 percent to 14 percent of all women aged 25 to 34. 
  7. Of young people living in their parents’ home, 1 in 4 are idle, that is they neither go to school nor work. This figure represents about 2.2 million 25- to 34-year-olds. 
Of course, generalizations are always imprecise measurements, especially with something as nebulous as a generation's perceived "attitude." But when we as a fraternity have our tin can of institutional destiny tied to the tail of the next generation or two immediately following us, we need to at least keep an eye on these kinds of major shifts that affect our own present and future membership. Despite all of our solemn cant about making no innovations, Freemasonry has always adapted to suit and serve the society in which it resides. It is a constant evolutionary process, and those who fail to evolve will find themselves reaping the whirlwind.

The current U.S. population today is 324,911,917. The latest available figures on regular, recognized U.S. Masonic membership from the Masonic Service Association are for 2015: 1,161,253. That is just 0.36% of Americans who are currently Freemasons – which makes us either very elite or very precarious, depending on your point of view. (Just by way of comparison, the worldwide estimate of Freemasons currently being floated by the press in its coverage of the United Grand Lodge of England's 300th anniversary is 6 million. Since everybody's best guess in 2005 was around 3 million, one wonders who's doing the counting, and just how they calculated that.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Robin Hood and the Masons

Between 1955 and 1959, England's ATV channel featured a 30 minute television drama, The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene as the famed Robin of Locksley, the outlaw with a heart o' gold. Each week, Robin and his band of Merry Men would do battle in and around Sherwood Forest with the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and keep England safe for the eventual return of Richard the Lionheart (who was off on Crusade, or swanning about in France, or getting his royal keister tossed in an Austrian jail and ransomed). The show was quite popular, eventually generating 143 episodes, and it was exported to air in the U.S. market on CBS. 

The famous story takes place in the late 1100s, which makes the video above all the more interesting as a cultural artifact. It is an excerpt of the Season 3 episode, The Mark, and opens with a small gathering of Masons. An Apprentice explains the Operative Masons to Robin, and then an older Brother (Walter) wanders over and casually offers to make him a Speculative Mason, with a very abbreviated bit of business that should seem a bit familiar.

I haven't found any references anywhere that Richard Greene was a Mason himself - it would have been a nice touch if he had been. 

One unrelated but interesting trivia highlight: several writers on the British show were some heavy-hitting American scriveners like Ring Lardner and Howard Koch who had been blacklisted during the HUAC hearings. In fact, Koch served as the script editor for the series. They all worked under pen names.

(This video was posted originally on the Masonic Studies MS Facebook page from which it is shamelessly cribbed, for which I thank the page's owner.)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22 Charter Yanked

Word is trickling out this morning that Virginia's famed Alexandria-Washington Lodge 22, located in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, had its warrant arrested last night - April 13th. It seems that Grand Master Vernon S. Cook and several members of the Grand Officers' line arrived and seized their charter.

I have heard more information as to why, but it being a matter specifically of lodge business, I hesitate to post it. However, as one observer quipped to me, it's "like sucker punching a FBI agent. The whole bureau will come after you hard." This seems to be more of a private squabble between the Grand Lodge of Virginia and the lodge, and not a particularly tyrannical move. More like an administrative punch in the nose for a what looked like a deliberate slight.

More if anything escalates. In the meantime, if you're planning on visiting the lodge for a meeting in an upcoming trip to the DC area, you might check with them before getting all dressed up...


I was misinformed and have edited the above story to clarify that WB Andrew Hammer did NOT have any charges preferred against him. The lodge charter has been arrested, period. I sincerely apologize for the error to all parties involved.

BTW, all Virginia members are duly admonished to be aware of, and fully comply with, the Grand Lodge of Virginia's extraordinarily restrictive rules regarding online communications. Obviously some committee there had way too much time on their hands, and this tome was the result. Take notice and govern yourselves accordingly.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Brother Don Rickles - RIP

Another of my boyhood icons has passed to the Celestial Lodge, which is one of the saddest and most unstoppable side effects of aging, I'm afraid. Nevertheless, it's always a pleasant discovery when one of them turns out to have been a Freemason. 

Brother Donald Jay Rickles passed away today at the age of 90. He died in his Los Angeles home of kidney failure. He is survived by Barbara, his loving wife of 52 years.

Brother Rickles was raised on June 6, 1953 and remained a member of what is today Service City Geba Lodge 1009, which meets in the Anchor Astoria Temple on 30th Avenue in Astoria, New York (the lodge has been through several consolidations, and I haven't been able to find out which of them was his original one). My understanding is that he hadn't attended his Mother Lodge for almost three decades, but still faithfully mailed in his dues check each year.

To mark his passing, I include a Youtube link above to his 1968 album, "Hello,  Dummy," which I feel is only appropriate for my site. For those who live their lives in a perennial state of indignance and offense, I suspect his brand of comedy will be positively horrific in this day and age. That's too bad, because he packed audiences full of folks of every race, creed, ethnicity, and persuasion who were only too delighted to be on the receiving end of his "insults" for over half a century. He spared no one, and by doing so, made us all laugh at each other and ourselves as a result. Meanwhile, offstage, he was known as one of the kindest and most generous people in show business. Not a bad legacy, that.

His column is broken and his brethren mourn.

UPDATE 4/14/17:

Brother Bil Vassily in New York got curious about Brother Don's original lodge, and passed along the following bit of detective work:
Doing some research I find the following.
Don Rickles was born and brought up in Jackson Heights, Queens.Geba Lodge #954 was located in Elmhurst which is just north of Jackson Heights.
I lived in Rego Park during the early 60s that was just south of both.
Service Lodge #1009 was located in Flushing, Queens which was quite a distance east of that area of Queens.
Going by a Grand Lodge Proceedings dated 1954 lists the two lodges as separate. Geba #954 and Service #1009.
My bet is on Geba #954.
Bil was ultimately correct: their Secretary confirmed it was indeed Geba Lodge 954.