- Abandon the “free will and accord” rule which has placed our Craft far above the mine run of societies, and permit outright solicitation.
- Ape the service clubs. Get busy on “projects” galore in the best Babbitt fashion.
- Go into the organized do-good business in a big way. Find an area of the human body that has not been exploited. Exploit it. Set a quota, have a kickoff dinner, ring the doorbells.
- Subsidize other organizations right and left, and, in the doing, ignore, neglect and starve the parent body.
- Feminize the Fraternity. Carry “togetherness” to even more ridiculous extremes than we have already.
- Hire press agents to tell the world, like Little Jack Horner, what great boys we are. (“Masonry is not getting its proper share of publicity,” complains one Grand Master.) Never mind actions; concentrate on words.
- Imitate Hollywood. Stage an extravaganza. Bring in all the groups that ever fancied themselves remotely related to Freemasonry. Form the parade, blow the bugle, beat the drums and cheapen the Fraternity.
- Let Freemasonry “take a position” on public issues of the day. Stand up and be counted (assuming, of course, that the position the Craft takes is in line with our own pet prejudices.)
- Go all out for materialism. Raise money; spend it. Build temples, institutions.
- Subsidize; endow. Whatever can be had by writing a check, get it.Centralize, centralize, centralize. Pattern Freemasonry after Washington bureaucracy. Let nothing be done modestly by an individual or a Lodge; do everything on the state or national level the super-duper way. Make a great to-do about local self-government, but accept no local self-responsibility.
I know this isn't the most exciting topic, but I'm going to talk about one of the best ways to maintain trust within an organization, and it's not what you think. Instead of thinking of trust as not needing accountability and oversight, why not use such things to solidify trust?
First of all, let's examine if trust is transferable. We treat it that way in Masonry in many ways. We vouch for those entering our ranks such that if a Brother trusts someone to become a Brother, we assume we can trust them as well. (We can argue over how often this is or is not true, but we pride ourselves in being able to ask for and give help based on a lapel pin.) If a member of our jurisdiction is expelled, we expect that no other jurisdiction will ignore that. In fact, my own jurisdiction is still working out recognition with another Grand Lodge over just that.
But there are limits. A Right Worshipful I know gave a petition to someone at a party who had never previously met anyone (except his girlfriend, the Eastern Star Sister he came with). Not the worst offense, but then he proceeded to ask other Brothers to be his character references. When asked what he was thinking, he defended the idea that if one Brother signs, the other Brothers should trust his judgment and be willing to follow suit. So then why bother with three references at all?
First, such trust would be misplaced. He doesn't see it this way, but he was asking them to lie -- accepting yourself to be used as a reference implies you know their character, not merely shaking their hand at a party and trying to remember their name. But he was also expecting them to defer their judgment and trust him.
There's another limit built into our officer's duties. No one person handles the money. The secretary receives it and the treasurer uses it. It passes through two hands. Their records can be checked against each other. And in many jurisdictions, the Master's signature is required, and even only then after a due vote of the Lodge (or within a voted-upon budget). Some bank accounts (and even vouchers/warrants in some jurisdictions) require two signatures.
We could say this is because of legal requirements and tax codes. After all, the Benevolent Laws of New York State were formed specifically to harmonize state law with Masonic Laws that existed even before the state was incorporated. (Eventually, these laws were applied to all fraternal organizations.) Most of it deals with Trustees but it sets an example of financial transparency for membership and even the public. And it is more honest to state that the profane followed the Masonic precedents than the other way around.
But why go to all the trouble? We trust our Secretary. We trust our Treasure. We trust our Trustees, hence the very name. It's why we elected them. I'll tell you why. It's so people who don't know them don't have to go by someone else's trust. It goes too far. Second-hand trust is a precious commodity between individuals but breaks down like a game of telephone the larger the group. It's like telling someone a secret, believing they will not tell another person, but then they tell someone they "trust" not to tell anyone else. It all goes round-robin until everyone knows and the only anger is over blaming the next person who violated secrecy exactly the way they did themselves.
That's why these safeguards are in place. If people are held strictly to certain administrative processes and are regularly audited for errors and other issues, there is no question of trust because there is no question. You cannot trust every other person's personal judgment, but you can trust the proof within a process. And this isn't just about members -- even if we could infallibly trust our officers to not only be honest but error-free in their records, that isn't good enough for the public or the State. We need to be able to prove we are impeccably trustworthy and impeccably competent. The only way to do that is impeccable accountability.
We see what happens when we have trust without accountability. It could be priests or politicians or officers of the law. Some of these we are taught since childhood to explicitly trust on sight. The problem isn't that we can't trust any particular one. It may be reasonable to extend some level of trust to anyone with a collar or office or badge. Even when trust is broken by one or more human beings in those roles, we (or rather most of us) don't easily condemn all of them. But what if there aren't safeguards against misconduct, and instead there are policies, indemnity laws, or even unions that shield them from a level of accountability expected of other important professions like doctors and teachers? In other words, what level of trust can we expect of society for a profession, no matter how noble, when it is even perceived that wrongs go too often unaddressed or are buried? It's hard not to see where this leads, and those in the professions themselves, regardless of any individual virtue and blamelessness, can fall under wholesale persecution.
Heck, it happened to us. In 1826, a printing house in Upstate New York that was going to publish a Masonic exposé was burned down. The author, William Morgan, was harassed with questionable civil suit charges and incarcerated for them. Bail was paid by Masons, who took him away by force and basically made him disappear. There was no body. Even today, some believe he was taken to Canada as some sort of extrajudicial exile. The county sheriff lost his job for his involvement, and even a postmaster was involved, whose descendant, a Mason that I know personally, brags about his ancestor being the boatman that took Morgan across the Niagara River (at least partway).
This was the spark that ignited a powderkeg of anti-Masonic sentiment that had been growing for at least a generation. Masons occupied prominent political and civic posts and it is reasonable to assume from the aforementioned incidents that a "good-ole-boy" network was in force. As in the United Kindom today, there was a public fear that Masons can get away with anything because their members fill the ranks of bobbies and judges. Masonic privilege, however real or imagined, created the sentiment of oligarchy with non-Masons as second-class citizens. In due course, the Anti-Masonic Party was founded and became the largest political third-party in American History. After that subsided and paused during the Civil War, Evangelical elements took over, and Morgan was metaphorically their patron saint and martyr. There's even a monument to him.
But it was much worse.
Masons were killed. Temples were burned. Lodges closed or stopped their work for decades, and on a vast scale. In my area, not far from where the Morgan Affair took place, not a single Lodge survived and it wasn't until 1854 that another Lodge was chartered.
So what does this have to do with trust? Distrust grows in the soil of opacity. The profane world interprets our secrecy as a sociopolitical tactic rather than a moral discipline. And they can only see how we act in the World. Even in living memory, there have been businesses and municipal departments and so forth that de fact required membership in the fraternity. I suggest we ought to consciously avoid exercising this human trait of fraternal nepotism. We ought to have our books externally audited, and use non-Mason building inspectors to make sure we aren't endangering anyone. Doing so is NOT about mistrusting ourselves, but making it crystal clear to anyone within or without that we are above board without question.
In our personal practice, we may do deals with a handshake. But sometimes we may want to consider contracts, not with the expectation we will need them for accountability, but for clarity of each party's responsibilities. Consider the Old Charges which established (among other things) the relationship between masters and apprentices. It could be referred to at any time. It was likely committed to memory. And they were placed on a pedestal in front of the Master's station before we later resorted to a Volume of Sacred Law on an Altar. Would a simple handshake have sufficed? Or does a rule and guide help keep harmony?
Perhaps we should care enough about our promises to write them down and hand them to someone -- and expect them to do the same. This isn't distrust. It's a covenant that removes fear of distrust. That is the whole point. But we are wrongheaded about it. We shy from formal agreements because having them feels like an accusation that without one, our word will not be kept. It's more natural to breed distrust rather than trust, even if subconsciously, from insistence you don't need one.
But nothing is more important in applying this principle than guarding the West Gate. We must wonder how fewer Masonic charges would be thrown around (both frivolous and egregious) far less if we had more properly investigated candidates instead of trusting the judgment of their beloved Past Master relative, or their devoted first-line signer. Many a scandal could have been avoided.
And what of background checks? It is not legal to require it of some candidates and not others, but one of the objections for requiring them at all is because some Brothers feel offended their own grandson has to go through ANY process of examination. They feel it is owed to their progeny. However, there are too many instances, Masonic or otherwise, where genetics do not determine character. Likewise, personal feelings do not correlate with trustworthiness.
You see, when you make a decision that impacts others, you are deciding for them. You are expecting them to accept your own judgment, which is why there ought to be at least three on any investigative committee and you still require a vote of the Lodge. It's why we blackball. It's why we can stop a degree with a single objection. We ought to trust as we may, but trust for ourselves, not for the whole Fraternity.
And when we can say all our members undergo a background check and are held accountable if they grievously err, the World cannot question what it otherwise could not directly know. THAT builds trust, rather than an unverified and unrealistic belief that we are all beyond sin.
A virtue is a mean between extremes. If trust is a virtue, then what are the extremes? Surely we should not be untrusting in general, nor live such that we cannot be trusted. But surely we should not demand people to trust us unreasonably without safeguards, nor eschew requiring accountability in the duties and obligations of others toward you or the Craft. All this comes down to a seemingly contradictory axiom -- blind trust jeopardizes trust. In contrapositive fashion, safeguards and proofs establish it.
The larger lesson? Accountability is the collective practice of responsibility. Let's not use trust as an excuse to forget this in how we deal with our Brethren and how we run our quarries.
Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski is a member of West Seneca Lodge No.1111 and recently served as Master of Ken-Ton Lodge No.1186. As webmaster for NYMasons.Org he is on the Communications and Technology Committees for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. He is also a Royal Arch Mason and 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, serving his second term as Sovereign Prince of Palmoni Council in the Valley of Buffalo, NMJ. He also coordinates a Downtown Square Club monthly lunch in Buffalo, NY. He and his wife served as Patron and Matron of Pond Chapter No.853 Order of the Eastern Star and considered himself a “Masonic Feminist”.
Occasionally I find myself occasionally jaded or even burned out by disappointment. This might be disappointment in others’ actions or maybe lack of actions I expected. Sometimes I just get overextended and have to refocus on why I decided that sleep and health were more important than getting that last email or spreadsheet completed before bedtime. This leads me to a sometimes rather negative perspective of questioning myself as to why the responsibility lies with me? Why can’t others just simply do what’s expected of them?
Disappointment can be a downward spiral, and I am blessed to have had good role models and mentors that took time to demonstrate both responsibility and how to adjust our outlook when negative events occur. I like to think of it as childlike wonder mixed with gratitude. The childlike wonder comes and goes, and gratitude simply takes practice to change into habit. Doing things for others simply because you see the need, being the responsible adult without asking for recognition, that is the lesson of building internal character.
The wonder of the world through the new eyes of a child never ceases to be amazed. Discovery of new things, learning something fun and making a game of it, finding ways to play, to create, to become whimsical may seem far away or not. I remember my childhood playtime and reading time, not so much the individual events but more the general feelings of happiness and contentedness, simply escaping in my own mind with fantasies of driving fast with model cars or reading books until my eyes were filled with sleep. I remember the feeling of internal happiness and pride I felt when I was recognized by my parents or friends as being helpful and appreciated.
We learn gratitude in many different ways. We often learn of it in church reciting or listening to prayers of gratitude to Deity. We learn to say please and thank you with intent and meaning, not just for polite society. Gratitude extends inwardly with lessons of turning pride into gratitude as can be examined through the Masonic lessons of Charity/Love. That in itself could be a paper or even a book topic for those studying psychology. I learned the lesson of gratitude from a dear friend and mentor through of all things, just a simple passing comment. He simply said, paraphrased, we need to remain grateful for all things, and that gratitude leads to love and wisdom.
Wow! That struck me like a lightning bolt. Gratitude leads to love and wisdom. The simplest of phrases, yet the impact was felt at my core as I realized the connection between my own humility, gratitude, and the paths that open with remaining humble. I reflected in childlike wonder at that powerful message, and I still use gratitude and humility as a base for my meditations. Am I worthy to even be writing this to you? No, but maybe not for any expected reasons. I can only open the veil into my own life or experiences and humbly offer my thoughts and expressions. I can only do so with the hope, the childlike wonder, the gratitude felt, while connecting and maybe helping others on different places we share as we climb the mountain together. My own honest reflection into my experience connects with some, connects with different people differently, and so will your own experiences connect with others. I learn far more from reaction and interaction after I write these than what went into the writing.
Freemasonry teaches the lessons of humility, gratitude, love, and wisdom. These lessons repeat in the degrees, lectures, and charges. The opening and closing of the lodge reminds us of gratitude and focus on internal reflection, and we are repeatedly reminded that we are all on the way toward perfecting our ashlar, not that we have perfected it.
We as Freemasons use the symbols and working tools for a mental focus toward perfection, and we must be vigilant that we don’t hold ourselves on any pedestal for others to emulate; we must keep our egos in check. We must not fall into the trap of grandstanding our views to others while we still have much work to do internally. That trap starts with: “Why am I having to do this?”
Take a moment to stop, look someone in the eye, and say please or thank you, or you’re welcome, with focus and intent. Let’s break that down into actionable pieces. Maybe we go through a door at a local business, and we hold the door open for the next person behind us. Maybe we catch the door that was held by the person ahead. Expressing gratitude takes no real effort, but maybe it changes someone’s day. Maybe that person ahead of you or behind you is having a rough time, and simply taking a second to look them in the eye and thank them lifts their spirits. Maybe you’re opening the car door for your wife. It doesn’t matter if the other person even acknowledges your action because you don’t do it for their reaction. Do it. Say it. Mean it. Put focus behind it. Walk the walk of gratitude, humility, and find ways to help others even through simple intent of please, thank you, and you are welcome. Reflect upon your actions while never losing that childlike wonder of discovery.
Randy and his wife Elyana live near St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Randy earned a Bachelors 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 is a 32nd degree KCCH and Knight Templar. His 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, full contributor to Midnight Freemasons, and an international presenter on esoteric topics. Randy hosts an open 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.
Think back to that day you became an Entered Apprentice. You had waited with patience – perhaps for months, perhaps not exactly so patient – for this big moment. You knew you had a long way to go in your journey, but you, the man they finally addressed as Brother, were now a Freemason. You stood before the Master of the Lodge among your Brothers, knowing you were a part of things… accepted… perhaps you even had a small sense of accomplishment.
Then, it all momentarily fell apart. You were asked for something you could not produce, and all of those warm, positive thoughts evaporated into a hopeless, empty feeling. You were the new guy. You wanted nothing more than to please your new Brothers. You saw an empty hand stretched out. You wanted to comply. You couldn't. Now what? Were they going to expel you for this? As your mind reeled, the Master explained what this was all about. You just received, in a graphic way, one of your first Masonic lessons.
Every Freemason, even if financially well-off, has for at least one fleeting moment known the despair of not having enough. That little object lesson, sometimes called the Rite of Destitution, certainly cannot compare to the reality of a life of grinding poverty, but the hope is it will teach you, the new Brother, that it is your duty – not your option, but your duty – to treat those in that condition fairly, to be able to empathize with them and, if at all possible, contribute to the relief of any such person "so far as his necessities may require and your ability will permit."
Freemasonry being, as we are instructed, a progressive science, this is not the end of your lesson in charity. Elsewhere in our Masonic journey, we learn Relief is one of the great tenets of our craft. We in the United States and even the Western world are privileged in most cases to have the means to support ourselves and our families, but even here there are those who cannot do so. So we, as Freemasons, do what we can, both as Lodges and individuals.
It is a never-ending task. Jesus himself admonished us that, "the poor will always be with you." So undiscouraged, we remain aware that every little bit helps, and we never give up. Lodges, institutions, and persons of great means can – and do – make a significant difference with their contributions. The Shriners Hospitals, for example, have an immense impact on humanity with their charities and, with support, have the means to do it. We, as individuals and smaller Lodges, do not operate on the same level, but the spirit of our contributions is no less significant.
Most of our Brothers are individuals who would be generous to those less fortunate anyway, but it does not hurt to have that Rite of Destitution gnaw at us as a reminder that practicing the great tenet of Relief is the duty of every Freemason.
|Apron belonging to Alf T. Ringling|
The night of January 21, 1891 in Baraboo, Wisconsin was a special night for many of the men of Baraboo, and it has a direct connection to a special happening, some 111 years later. The story includes six soon-to-be-famous brothers and involves the ceremonial regalia they wore on that special evening.
In those days the Baraboo Masonic Lodge No. 34, Free and Accepted Masons, still met, as did all other fraternal organizations, in rented upstairs halls in downtown.
The Lodge at this time, however, was strong enough that a building of their own was being considered. Members had arrived on horseback, by carriage or on foot, for the decisive evening, and the Temple was full.
Also, in Baraboo of that day, the spectacular seven-year rise to national prominence of the Ringling Brothers Circus had brought not only respect but also good fortune to many of the brothers. Their father, August, had been a struggling harness maker.
Special Aprons Made
On this particular night in 1891, with such famous brothers occupying the chairs, some very special aprons had been ordered as gifts. Made of the finest blue velvet instead of the plain white linen usually worn, each apron was embroidered with silver thread and tassels.
Central to the blue border was white lambskin, with the symbols of the office or chair being occupied embroidered thereupon. There is some speculation that the aprons were designed and produced by the Ringling Brother's Circus wardrobe department in Baraboo.
On the back of each apron is the name of the Ringling brother and the chair he occupied: Alf T., Worshipful Master; August, Senior Warden; Al., Junior Warden; Charles, Senior Steward; Henry, Junior Steward; and Otto, Tiler.
Religiously speaking, the Ringlings were members of St. John's Lutheran Church, but nearly every church in Baraboo was represented among the other brothers present that night.
What happened over the years to the blue velvet and white lambskin aprons, with their silver embroidery, is of some interest.
It is known that Mrs. Ida (Henry) Ringling, not to be confused with Ida (Ringling) North, gave the aprons nearly 50 years ago to one Richard (Joe) Bennett, boyhood chum of Ida's grandson, Henry Ringling III. Henry III died in an auto accident near Baraboo in 1961, and Bennett had become a friend and frequent visitor to Ida, Henry's grandmother.
Among the gifts she gave to Joe were the aprons. It is presumed that they had been in the possession of Ida's husband, Henry Sr., and later with his wife Ida, since 1891.
Recently, an alert brother of Baraboo Lodge noted an apron listed for auction on E-bay.
Upon investigation, it was determined that not only was this an authentic original apron, but that all six were available!
Moreover, thanks to some caring people during the last 111 years, the aprons were in mint condition and were still kept in the original boxes. In some cases the original protective tissue paper was still present.
Significant financial outlays were promptly made by five Baraboo Masonic Brothers-Lee Hoppe, Merlin Zitzner, Dave Deppe, Skip Blake and Rick Lewison. Others have made contributions for preservation of the aprons. This made it possible for the aprons to be returned to Baraboo, and they are now in possession of the Lodge.
Plans for the Ringling aprons are incomplete, but because of their historic importance, they may be offered for display at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo. A similar display may appear on occasion at the Al Ringling Theatre, not even a dream for Al Ringling when his apron was presented to him in 1891.
It would be 24 years before Al would build, in Baraboo, what the Theatre Historical Society of America calls the very first of the theatre movie palaces, which became so popular throughout the country. It still operates today, in its entire pre-revolutionary French architectural splendor, as perhaps the longest-operating motion picture theater in the county. The stage is used some 60 times each year for live performances as well.
Baraboo Lodge No. 34 observed its 150th year in 2002. The anniversary booklet published to commemorate the event reports that eight Ringlings were raised in Baraboo.
Alfred T. (Alf) Ringling was raised on January 22, 1890; John was raised on March 1; Albert was raised on March 29; and Otto on April 9.
Eleven months later, on February 4, 1891, August G. Ringling was raised. Henry came next on March 18; and August, father Ringling himself, joined the Craft on August 19, 1891.
The city of Baraboo has a heritage of two communities: the circus and the Masonic community. On the surface they may appear completely different-the Circus being an entertainment form for "children of all ages," and the Masonic Lodge being a fraternal organization created to help men better themselves and their community.
The formation in the early 1870s of the Shrine helped create the bonds that grew between the Circus and Masonry. The circus is one of the largest fund raising events for Shrine clubs. It is also a major source of income for circus performers.
Todd E. Creason is the author of Famous American Freemasons: Volumes I & II where you'll find many other great stories about famous Freemasons.