[White] Gloves

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
WB:. Brendan Hickey, PhD 

When Masons wear white gloves, we do it to symbolize our desire that our actions be as pure and spotless as our gloves. That’s according to The Exemplar: A guide to a Mason’s actions by Stanley F. Maxwell (1985).

I have about three months left in the East, so I have been wearing gloves to meetings for most of the last 7 years or so. I keep them in the console of my car because they are easy to forget when heading out to a meeting. I have found that I typically get about a year out of one pair and then I toss them because they are too dirty to keep. I also like the connection between new gloves and a new job.

When we returned to labor after the summer, I looked at my gloves for this year. They are dirtier than I expected, dirtier than usual for a whole year in other offices. I’m happy about this.

I know that the black stains on the fingertips are a combination of sweat and ink. I run warm anyway, and in my lodge, the East is in the west, so the setting sun heats up that end of the lodge. The thermostats are on the Western wall. Combine all of that with a tux and a top hat and the extra lights and the exertion of meeting, and I’m dripping before I get the lodge open. My gloves help with the sweat and that helps to move pages around so it all works out.

There are other stains on my gloves that make no sense to me, that I can’t identify at all. I’m good with this, too. I came by those marks honestly, whatever they are.

I’m a big fan of this quote from Brother Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I like where Maxwell was going with his interpretation of the symbolism of our white gloves. It’s not enough to simply talk a good game or intend good things. Part of the good and hard work of Freemasonry is converting those words and intentions into clear and meaningful action.

At the same time, though, I don’t want clean hands or clean gloves. I want the dirt and cuts and callouses that result from work. I want my actions to be good but I don’t want to be pure because I work in a world that isn’t, and I want to be useful in that world.

I like the ideals and I like the reality and I like this uncomfortable, challenging place between them. I’m looking at these dirty gloves from my time in the East and starting to think that I will keep them, that they may become my favorite reminders of this year. 

~BH

Worshipful Brendan Hickey is the Worshipful Master of Thomson Lodge No. 340 in Paoli, PA. 


Source

Maxwell, S. F. (1985). The Exemplar: A guide to a Mason’s actions. Philadelphia, PA: The Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania.


Where are we headed?

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
Gregory J. Knott 33° 

More than one article on this blog site has been written about our concerns about social media and the impact on society it is having today. For myself, these concerns have only deepened over time as I see what is happening on sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and the contribution to what I consider a sharp moral decline in our communities. The nearly unfiltered comments from people are continually full of vitriol and other demeaning comments to others.

A recent 60 minutes program featured Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who disclosed damning evidence that FB is fully aware, because of their own research, of the damage being done to society, especially to our young people.

I recently had a conversation with a college student and we spoke about social media and the negative impacts it is having. I observed to her that at her age (21), social media has essentially been in existence her entire life and that is all her generation had known. We discussed her grandparents who in their 80s are still very active, interacting with friends, attending card club, church, etc. as part of their social routine, but for friends her age that are becoming increasingly rare types of activities. These types of changes and numerous others that I could list collectively contribute to the loss of social capital in our communities.

In the small rural communities that I am a part of. the loss of social capital is especially true. The service clubs such as the Lions and Kiwanis, the bowling alley that hosted the weekly bowling leagues, declining church attendance, volunteer fire departments that are struggling to fill their ranks, the closure of the local newspapers, and numerous other examples I could give, all have contributed to a decline in social capital.

I clearly understand that things change over time, people's priorities change, new technologies come into being that change our lifestyles, but I am absolutely convinced that social media has accelerated these changes faster than we could have ever anticipated. Is FB solely to blame for the loss of social capital? Of course not, but FB has grown to such a size that it has become a monopoly for people’s time and attention that has been monetized through the vast advertising network FB has created.

Anxiety and mental health issues are on the rise. Conversations I have had with educators clearly point to social media as one of the primary causes in their opinion, for the increased stress that young people are under. Again these types of concerns are at the center of the FB whistleblower accusations.

I am hopeful though that people are beginning to realize what we have been doing to ourselves. Numerous people I speak with are oftentimes close to shutting FB off and deleting their accounts. FB and Instagram both were offline for part of a day recently and news accounts spoke about how people were talking face to face again, albeit for a short time. I haven’t walked away from FB yet, as it is how I communicate with so many friends across the country, and especially my Masonic brethren.

So where are we headed as a society? I am not looking to go back in time and hope for the return of the “good ole days”. What I am hoping for is a great awakening again to the importance of community and the rebuilding of the social capital that strengthens humanity.

Given this is a Masonic blog, I of course see where the local Masonic lodge can play a key part in the rebuilding of social capital. It can’t be done overnight and may be done differently than in past generations. What we have is a set of values that build the character of the individual Mason. The Mason then goes back into the community and helps build it to be a better place for everyone.

Society needs us. Society needs Freemasonry.

~GJK

Gregory J. Knott, 33° is a founding member and Senior Contributor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No. 970 in St. Joseph (IL) and a plural member of Ogden Lodge No. 754 (IL), Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL) and Naval Lodge No. 4 in Washington, DC. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite, the York Rite, Eastern Star and is the Charter Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign-Urbana. He is also a member of ANSAR Shrine (IL) and the Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees. Greg serves on the Board of Directors of The Masonic Society and is a member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and The Philathes Society. He is a charter member of a new Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter U.D. and serves as its Secretary. Greg is very involved in Boy Scouts—an Eagle Scout himself, he is a member of the National Association of Masonic Scouters. You can contact him at gknott63@gmail.com

Missing Commas

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Randy Sanders

As Masons, we may know a phrase much like this one:  To learn to subdue my passions and to improve myself in Freemasonry.  Some lodges use very similar words in various parts of the ritual, and it is a beautiful phrase.  I heard a very similar phrase myself, and it left an impression on me even to this day.  I might have said these words, or again, very similar, myself. 

Why so vague?  The exact phrase and words are meaningless without context, denotation, and connotation combined.  In fact, they take on different meanings with the placement of commas.  George Steinmetz rightfully points out in his book “The Lost Word: Its Hidden Meaning” that commas weren’t used as much in older writing styles, and this tells me we should study the rituals and older poems with a bit of openness.  Let’s separate out some of the phrases by deconstructing sentences or chopping up long, wordy passages such as written by Albert Pike or other authors of the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Steinmetz goes on to examine this particular phrase of interest, and he applies an interesting logic.  Freemasonry is a trinary system, so this phrase in context doesn’t make sense.  The question being essentially: "Why are you here?"  The logical response would be either one single answer, or three.  If we look at the phrase as written, we see two:  Learn to subdue passions, and, improve myself.  Here we see Steinmetz at his best, taking a look at what we’ve seen or experienced for years and giving a different perspective in that we don’t know how they phrased this mouth-to-ear a couple of hundred years ago. 

With the addition of two commas, this phrase now makes more sense:  To learn, to subdue my passions, and to improve myself in Freemasonry.  There it is.  There is the trinary system in action, and looking a bit more deeply, we see the first phrase might apply to the EA, the second to the FC, and the third section to MM.  That is, to learn is the summation of the intent of the Entered Apprentice, to subdue passions is necessary for climbing the winding stairs, and improving your SELF in Freemasonry is synonymous with the lessons of the Third.  The phrase also applies to each degree as a complete answer.  The lessons of the EA also are to learn, subdue passions, and improve, while the FC lessons are to expand upon the lessons of the EA.  Becoming a MM doesn’t mean you are no longer EA or FC, and another excellent lesson is the realization that as a MM, the lessons of the EA and FC continue to be an integral part of your being an MM. 

We often hear the same ritual spoken the same way, the same inflections, the same phrasing.  Let us challenge that approach.  Why not start and stop in different places?  Turn words into phrases?  Change the inflection on words and syllables to test for different meanings? 

This isn’t a cited paper so much as an opinion piece, but I pulled the original concept from pp 28-29 “The Lost Word: Its Hidden Meaning” by George Steinmetz.  Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Richmond, VA., 1953.

~RS

Bro. Randy and his wife Elyana live near St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Randy earned a Bachelors's Degree in Chemistry with an emphasis in Biochemistry, and he works in Telecom IT management. He volunteers as a professional and personal mentor, NRA certified Chief Range Safety Officer and enjoys competitive tactical pistol, rifle, and shotgun. He has 30 plus years teaching Wing Chun Kung Fu, Chi Kung, and healing arts. Randy served as a Logistics Section Chief on two different United States federal Disaster Medical Assistance Teams over a 12-year span. Randy's Masonic bio includes past Lodge Education Officer for two Symbolic Lodges, Founder of the Wentzville Lodge Book Club, member of the Grand Lodge of Missouri Education Committee, Sovereign Master of the E. F. Coonrod AMD Council No. 493, Co-Librarian of the Scottish Rite Valley of St. Louis, Clerk for the Academy of Reflection through the Valley of Guthrie, and a Facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society. Randy is a founding administrator for Refracted Light, a full contributor to Midnight Freemasons, and an international presenter on esoteric topics. Randy hosts an ongoing weekly Masonic virtual Happy Hour on Friday evenings. Randy is an accomplished home chef, a certified barbecue judge, raises Great Pyrenees dogs, and enjoys travel and philosophy.

In Defense of the Hot Sands (Among other things)

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

Newly Initiated Noble Darin Lahners 

I recently joined the Shriners (aka Shriners International formally known as the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.  In all honesty, up until about a month ago, joining the Shrine was the furthest thing from my mind.  This changed when I took a trip with my mentor, friend, and fellow Midnight Freemasons Contributor, Greg Knott to his lake home on the shores of Lake Barkley in Kentucky.  It was at this time I learned that Greg was working on starting a Shrine Club, Salt Fork Shrine Club (named after the Salt Fork River that runs through several of the towns in Eastern Champaign County into Vermillion County).  The club would focus on membership primarily from the lodges located in St. Joseph, Ogden, Homer, and Sidney, however, it would welcome members from other lodges as well.  The idea of the club was twofold: 
1. Support the Shriners Children's Hospitals 
2. Use the club as a vessel to grow Blue Lodge membership in our area (especially in Saint Joseph).  

If you are a long-time reader of my articles, then you can recall my articles about our struggles with getting new membership at St. Joseph #970.  In any case, Greg pleaded his case and I decided that I would become a Shriner.  Initially, I was going to join in December at the Ansar Temple in Springfield, Illinois via the "Hot Sands" ceremony.  However, I was informed by Greg that the "Hot Sands" ceremony was retired, and therefore I would be going: "Cold Sands".    
Editors Note:  I am unable to verify if this is the case or not for all Shrine Temples or only for Ansar. I have heard rumors that it is an edict from the International body regarding retiring the "Hot Sands" ceremony.                                                             

Fellow Nobles of Salt Fork Shrine Club From L to R: Illus. Bro. Greg Knott, WB Mark Catron, WB Darin Lahners,Bro. Brian Clark

On September 25, I joined the Shrine in a quick ceremonial after the Grand Masters Festival in Champaign to become the first "official" new member of Salt Fork Shrine Club.  I was left wanting.  You see, I had gotten my hopes up for something more, and it was just alright.  I want to be clear I am really excited to join The Shrine, and I'm looking forward to uncovering some of the deeper aspects of its ceremonies and ritual, I just wish I would have experienced them first hand.  I wish I would have been given a choice regarding going through the "Hot Sands".

I am the first person to admit that this view is personally somewhat hypocritical regarding some of my other views regarding taboo topics that go against Masonic Tradition that I've written about ad nauseam here.  So what I am about to say will probably surprise you.  There are some traditions that we need to keep in place.   I believe the "Hot Sands" is one of these.  Yes... I'll allow you to pick your jaw up off of the floor, the same guy that is okay with allowing Women to have their own lodges is arguing for keeping tradition. The difference in my mind is that Women having their own lodges and doing their own thing doesn't really impact me personally.  However, if you want to call me a hypocrite, knock yourself out. 

I don't know what was behind the decision to retire the "Hot Sands" ceremony.  Maybe it was concern over potential lawsuits.   If there was a fear of lawsuits, I would have signed a waiver. Maybe it was due to some references to the Islamic faith in the Shrine ritual, and that was a bridge too far for some Freemasons, and it was felt that the ceremony needed to become more "user friendly".  Maybe it just takes too many brethren to put on the ceremony and with dwindling numbers, it just became infeasible to continue them in many areas, so it was easiest just to retire it.  At this point, anything I write here would be hearsay.  What I do know is that I was ready to embrace the Islamic themes of the ritual, walk the "Hot Sands" and encounter whatever else was thrown at me during them knowing that I was in the hands of true and trustworthy brothers.  I wasn't given the choice or the opportunity and I am disappointed to not have that.

Another hypocritical stance I have is this.  As a member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, I have been able to watch and experience many degrees during the pandemic due to the NMJ's documenting many of the degrees on video.  I know that there are a lot of detractors of the NMJ due to this.  However, given the way that AASR degrees are presented, I don't see any difference, and honestly, the production value of the videos is usually greater than anything I see in person.  This isn't meant to besmirch any of my Valley of Danville brethren, as they do fantastic degrees. As I am to understand, there are many Valleys that are smaller and don't have the ability to put on every degree, so the DVD/Video degrees fill an important role for these valleys.   So you'd think that I'd be okay with some rumors I have heard regarding the Grand Lodge of Illinois recording the Blue Lodge Degree Lectures and having the candidates watch a video presentation of them instead of having them recited to them from memory. In fact, the opposite is true.  

The difference to me is that in the case of the NMJ video degrees, the choice is optional.  A Valley can use them, however, they still have the option to present the degrees in a live format.  In the case of the "Hot Sands" or the Blue Lodge Degree Lectures, removing ritual or replacing it with a Video is different in my mind.  First of all, I think that we lose knowledge whenever a ritual is removed from circulation.  As the members that are familiar with how to perform the ritual die off, we are only left with the words.  I'd equate this with a non-Freemason going online and reading our various ritual that has leaked and telling themselves and others that they now know the "Secrets of Freemasonry".  The idea is absurd.  What they are missing is that there is something that happens during the initiation process, a transformation that takes place, and certain mannerisms, cadence, pronunciations given by those performing the degrees are a major part of that process.  When that part of the knowledge of the initiatory process is lost, then we are in effect no better off than the person in my example above.

As for the videos of the Blue Lodge Lectures, I'm sure you will be keen to point out, doesn't your argument hold true for the AASR videos?  Aren't we missing something by not having them done in person?  I would say no.  The nature of those degrees is such that they do not require any candidate participation.  The AASR degrees that do to my understanding will never be shown on Video.  So in watching them, the candidate(s) do not lose anything in their experience.  In my opinion, the lectures serve an important role in the initiatory process.

First and foremost, I think that moving the lectures to a video format completely contradicts everything that has happened up to that point in the degree.  If we look at the above example, if the point of the degree is to be a transformative process, then are we not countering that work by having everything done in a personal matter only to then say... to quote Monty Python: "And now for something completely different!"  Not only are we sending a mixed message to the candidate, but we are also laying the groundwork for more of our ritual to be delivered in this fashion.  In order for the initiatory experience to be transformative, it requires both those that are performing the work and the candidate to be engaged.  Think about the information that the lectures of each degree convey.  Especially in the Fellowcraft degree where there is more participation of the candidate.  Are you telling me that we aren't going to lose some meaning to our degrees if we go to a DVD format for the lectures?  It's preposterous to think that.  Not only that, but one of the beautiful hidden meanings of the lectures is the idea that our knowledge is conveyed mouth to ear in an intimate sacred setting. 

Everything has been in person so far... now you will watch a DVD.

The argument that I have heard for the reasoning for going to this format is that there are just not enough guys to perform the work.  That's absurd.  In Illinois, we have 46,711 Master Masons (according to the Grand Masters Report for 2021) currently.  In the next 10 years, we'll lose more due to attrition.  However, there are enough guys to perform the work.  The problem is that you have in every district a small clique of brothers that are doing the work, and they aren't doing a good job of succession planning.  In my case, there's never been any challenge to me personally to learn the lectures verbatim because, to be honest, I haven't seen the need.  All of the brothers outside of the clique have relied solely on the members of that clique to perform all of the degree work.  I've raised this point to members of the clique, essentially telling them to take others under their wing so they're ready in the case of the Grand Leveler coming to claim them.  Once again, once that knowledge is lost, then it's lost.  But don't give me the... "we don't have the manpower"excuse. Empower your members and hold them accountable, and encourage those in the clique to teach those members outside of the clique.  

The questions we need to ask ourselves are:
What do we want the initiatory experience to be?  Do we want it to be transformative or do we just want to "make" a Mason, Shriner, etc?
Are we willing to settle for less?

In my case, I want the initiatory experience to continue to be transformative. I am not willing to settle for less.  So, I know what I need to do.  First and foremost, I need to learn the lectures and other rituals that I am ignorant of and volunteer to perform them at degrees in my area.  I need to encourage others to do the same.  I also need to learn other rituals (like the Hot Sands) and have others entrusted with it so that if it is needed someday, it can be performed.  If anyone has a copy of the Hot Sands ritual that they'd be willing to share, email me at the address below.  We need to keep our rituals alive for future generations.  

~DAL

WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, and a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at darin.lahners@gmail.com.