Wednesday, December 11, 2019

An Encounter With The Fringe Element

I suppose we've all had varying degrees of experiences with someone who thinks the Freemasons are responsible for everything from running the Deep State to Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance. On a personal level, I haven't had many, but the following account is about one encounter I had years ago with what one might call the fringe element.

Back in about 2003, I was an IT consultant to a company where word had gotten around that I was one of those weird Freemasons. One day, I'm sitting in a conference room with a couple other guys working out the details of a database design. Across the room another guy, let's call him John, was sketching things on a white-board in preparation for a meeting later in the day. All was quiet and businesslike when in walks the corporate nutball – let's call him Tom.

Tom was a piece of work. The views he openly and freely expressed made the flat-earthers look like top scientists. He bought into every conspiracy theory around and some I think he made up on his own. On top of that, Tom had a temper. One day when his desk phone wasn't working he decided to express his displeasure by flinging it across the room, which left the wires behind the jack broken and dangling out of the wall while the phone just missed a plate glass window and shattered when it hit the wall. Some of his outbursts were more mild. Apparently he didn't get fired because he was a good programmer – it was almost like he was an idiot-savant… with less emphasis on the savant part. I always found it a good practice to stay away from Tom.

John, on the other hand, was a quiet guy with a good sense of humor. We worked together on a few things and I thought I got to know him pretty well. On occasion we went to lunch together. He was charming, friendly and popular. He had, as far as I could see, only one drawback. He hung around a lot with Tom.

So while I was working with my team, Tom walked up to John on the other side of the room and they started talking at a level that was inaudible to me. Suddenly, as loud as he could manage, Tom yelled a single word – something that would be familiar to us all – the password of a Master Mason, "Xxxxxxxxx!"

On the other side of the room, the three of us turned to look at the aftermath of Tom's Tourette-like outburst. The two guys with me merely saw it as another one of Tom's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments; but I knew it was directed at the weird one… the goat-riding devil-worshipper… the Illuminati… me. Oh, Tom, you clever boy, you know the password. You've broken the centuries-old Masonic code. Did you find it on one of the 10,000 websites that list it, or did God himself reveal it to you? The password's echo faded, the conference room fell silent, and we all went back to work as if nothing had happened.

Out in the bullpen, John's workstation and mine were next to each other, so we interacted, bantered, and joked back and forth a lot. I never asked him what he thought of Tom's outburst and he never mentioned it. He proved to be bright and level-headed. Then one day he shocked me when he asked for a petition. I was thrilled. This young, articulate guy was exactly the kind of man we would want in the Fraternity.

I brought him one the next day. He lived too far away to petition my Lodge, but I told him I would put him in touch with Lodges in his area. I said I could not be his first-line signer since he would not be petitioning my Lodge (a rule in Missouri that has since been rescinded), but would put him in touch with someone who could do that. I also explained the petitioning process and told him he would be meeting with an investigating committee. He took the petition and thanked me.

Later that day I walked into another area of the office. There I saw Tom and John going over the petition together. That's when I realized John never wanted to join the Freemasons. What he and Tom really wanted was to see the dastardly things a Masonic candidate had to reveal about himself and agree to, in order to join the evil empire. I'm pretty sure Tom and John didn't notice I saw them dissecting the petition. Needless to say, John never brought it back to me and I never mentioned it again.

Hey, I'm a Master Mason. It wasn't the first time I'd been hoodwinked.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Words To Ponder

In addition to a lot of the research I do for the things I write, I'm also responsible for contributing to my Lodge of Research Twitter and Facebook accounts. All that has left me with a rather extensive collection of quotes, quips and words of wisdom from a variety of Freemasons. Every day I discover more amazing facts about our Craft and the Brothers who have made it what it is. The more Masonic research I do, the more I realize what a stunning and positive impact Freemasonry has had on our country and the world. With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite quotes from our Brothers:

"I don't suppose any organization has done so much for so many with so little selfishness as the Masonic Fraternity." ~Thomas E. Dewey

"The more I come in contact with the Masonic fraternity, the more impressed I am with our great charitable work." ~Franklin Roosevelt

"A pessimist makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist makes opportunities of his difficulties." ~Harry S. Truman

"I always advise people never to give advice." ~P.G. Wodehouse

"A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education." ~Theodore Roosevelt

"My Lodge had at least 4 creeds. I was entered by a Hindu, passed by a Mohammedan and raised by an Englishman." ~Rudyard Kipling

"Don't let yesterday use up too much of today." ~Will Rogers

"If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter." ~George Washington

 "Let us not paralyze our capacity for good by brooding of man's capacity for evil." ~David Sarnoff

"Anti-Semitism is a noxious weed that should be cut out. It has no place in America." William Howard Taft

"Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared." ~Eddie Rickenbacker

"Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one." ~Sam Rayburn

"I'm proud to pay taxes in the United States; the only thing is, I could be just as proud for half the money." ~Arthur Godfrey

"Knowledge is ecstatic in enjoyment, perennial in frame, unlimited in space and indefinite in duration." ~DeWitt Clinton

"The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." ~Mark Twain

"If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes." ~Charles Lindbergh

"I am a Mason because care for those who cannot care for themselves." ~Danny Thomas

"We were put here for a purpose—to build not to destroy. If I can make people smile, I've served my purpose for God." ~Red Skelton

"A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small bundle." ~Benjamin Franklin

"The liberties of none are safe unless the liberties of all are protected." ~William O. Douglas

"Our world has nuclear giants & ethical infants. We know more about war than peace, more about killing than living." ~Omar Bradley

"The measure of life is not its duration, but its donation." ~Peter Marshall

"Fear... is something you learn how to deal with and set aside. You want to be alert as you possibly can." ~Buzz Aldrin

"There's no education in the second kick of a mule." ~Fritz Hollings

"Be sincere; be brief; be seated. " ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

"Life is tough. It's tougher when you're stupid." ~John Wayne

Perhaps fitting for the final quote, and one of my favorites, are the last words, as reported from his wife, of the founder of the Order of DeMolay:

"It is the beginning." ~Frank S. Land

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Be A Warm Body

Attendance… just like the Old Gray Mare, it ain't what it used to be.

As much as ever, maybe more, family and job pressures continue to demand the part of our time we might otherwise be able to devote to outside activities like going to Lodge. Even more than that, we have become a society of non-participators. It's easier to stay at home and watch the latest on Netflix than to go out; and drooling into cell phones on anti-social media has replaced real group interaction. This phenomenon isn't limited just to the Freemasons. Nearly all fraternal organizations, churches, clubs, even once-popular sporting events are seeing an attendance decline. Organizations like these now lack something they used to have plenty of… warm bodies.

There's not much I can do to change society's juggernaut of non-participation. But I've decided to do what little I can. I've declared myself to be a warm body.  I'm making every effort to show up where I can, when I can. That's my warm body motto: "… where I can, when I can."

Of course, being a warm body carries with it certain responsibilities. You show up at a meeting these days, you're probably going to be asked to do more. That's OK. I have no intention of going through the officer's line again, but you need a Marshal… I'll be your Marshal. And that's exactly what I am in my Lodge this year. In my Commandery, I've been Junior Warden seven years in a row. I've taken on other similar roles in other groups for one simple reason: so the head of that group has one less officer's chair to worry about filling.  Still, the word "no" hasn't left my vocabulary. It doesn't have to for me to be a responsible warm body. You know… "where I can, when I can."

I'm pretty comfortable in my role as a warm body. It gets me out the door and to some meetings where I have a great time, learn something and would be sorry to have missed.

Just showing up is a prerequisite to active participation. Looking at it in that light, we really do need more warm bodies. Try it. Next time you just don't feel like going to a Lodge meeting, put down the TV remote, silence your cell phone and head out. The guys you see there will be glad you did and I'm betting so will you. Be a warm body. It sounds trivial, but it's one of the most important things you can do for the fraternity.

Thursday, October 31, 2019


I've been doing these Masonic minutes for several years now, since 2015, to be exact. So, just this once, allow me the indulgence of telling a personal story. My dad, Robert, Was a member of Noblesville Lodge 57 in Indiana. The Indianapolis Scottish Rite and Murat Shrine, where he was a fixture at lunch for many years. In the early 50s he took a job in Indianapolis as a purchasing agent for a large tool and die company. That company, Wallace Tool and Die, invented a metal expansion process that revolutionized the industry. By the mid-1960s the company was using that process to manufacture all the car doors for Ford Motor Company, all washing machine, dryer, and dishwasher casings for Westinghouse and Kenmore, most Ford car consoles and many other such parts. In other words, the company hit the big-time and incorporated as Wallace Expanding Machines, making Dad its secretary-treasurer.

One evening in the fall of 1975, Dad came home to find two men in suits standing on his front porch. One of the men had just taped a note to his front door and they had turned to leave. The note said simply, "Please call Bob Sabol, FBI," and gave a phone number.  Dad stopped the car halfway down the drive, got out and greeted the men. Sabol introduced himself as an agent with the Indianapolis office of the FBI. Then he asked, "Mr. Harrison, what do you know about Lynette Fromme?"

Dad knew exactly who she was. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme was all over the news. Earlier that week she had aimed a gun at President Gerald Ford and was apprehend without firing it.  Other than that, Dad knew nothing of her.

Agent Sabol asked Dad a few other questions wanting to know where he worked and what his position was with the company.  Dad told him about his position at Wallace.

It turned out, Dad's position at Wallace, now an important player in the manufacturing industry, had earned him a listing in Standard and Poor's Directory of Corporate Executives, national edition.

Sabol went on to explain that in searching Squeaky's apartment after the incident, they found a mass mailing she was preparing and all of the envelopes used Dad's home address as the mailing's return address. The mailing also listed Dad's title as "President, US Natural Resources." Dad told them he had never heard of that company.  Sabol informed him their investigation had determined the Standard and Poor's directory had shown Dad as its president. It didn't take much in the discussion that followed to determine Dad had no relationship with either Squeaky or US Natural Resources. S&P affiliating him with the USNR was, in fact, a clerical error.

Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, aside from being a kooky follower of Charles Manson, was a rabid environmentalist. In fact, she had gone to the Ford rally where she was arrested to try to plead with him to stop harvesting redwoods. Apparently, she thought US Natural Resources had something to do with the environment, had looked it up in the S&P directory and that is how she got Dad's name.

The conversation with the FBI sent Dad to his office where he had filed the proof copy of his S&P listing without paying much attention to it. Sure enough, right there under "Other Current Affiliations" he found himself listed as the Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of US Natural resources. He filed the note from the FBI with it as a souvenir.

Courts found Squeaky guilty of the attempted assassination of the President of the United States and sentenced her to life. She was paroled in 2009. The great irony for her is US Natural Resources is a company that deals in sawmills and equipment to harvest trees, not save them, as the Squeakster must have assumed. The FBI was easily convinced Dad had nothing to do with Squeaky Fromme and her misguided antics and never bothered him again about it… but the affair always made a good story at cocktail parties… and podcasts.

For the Whence Came You podcast, this is Steve Harrison with the Masonic Minute.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

When Brothers Disappoint

There are, they say, two types of motorcyclists: those who have been down and those who are going down.  In the same vein, there are two types of Freemasons: Those who have been disappointed by a Brother and those who will be disappointed by a Brother.

It happens.  We're not perfect.  We're human.  Those aren't exactly earthshaking revelations are they?  When the anti-Masonic party courted him as a potential presidential candidate, Most Worshipful Brother Henry Clay acknowledged the imperfections of the craft, "It does not practically effect all that it theoretically promises."  However, he added, "But it must not be said that I concur in the denunciation of Masonry...  I would not denounce and formally renounce it to be made President of the United States."

Still, when we feel a Brother does not live up to Freemasonry's standards, we're surprised and hurt.  When it happens it's best to think it through in light of those theoretical promises Brother Clay mentioned.

A ray of hope is there in such situations in that within the fraternity, we are always dealing with the issue on a higher level.  That is, the Brother whom we perceive to have wronged us has knelt at an altar, his hands on his Volume of Sacred Law and sworn before God Almighty that he will not cheat, wrong or defraud another Brother. 
There is also another side to the coin.  It bears asking, "Does that Brother think I have disappointed him? Am I doing everything I can to 'subdue my passions and improve myself in Freemasonry?'"  And remember, that other Brother should be asking the same.

There are no easy answers and never will be; but we should have a leg up on solving our differences because we are, in fact, Brothers.

As far as that motorcycle thing goes, I happen to be a biker who has been down.  I have the crushed leg to prove it.  In my own particular case, I upgraded my ride to a Harley Trike.  That third wheel helps to keep me a bit more stable. It would be great to have a third wheel to help steady our Masonic relationships, too, wouldn't it? 

Come to think of it, we do.  We call it an obligation. What, my Brothers, come you here to do?

Friday, October 18, 2019

Roy Clark

Last November, we all lost a man who had become an active, dedicated, true and faithful brother among us.  Roy Linwood Clark, a talented, acclaimed musician, former Entertainer of the Year, Grammy winner, singer and virtuoso guitarist, passed at the age of 85 to that Lodge not made with hands.

Clark was a perpetual member of Jenks Lodge 497 in Oklahoma. He was made a Mason at sight in 1987 and quickly became a leader in the fraternity. A Shriner and member of the York Rite, he also joined the Valley of Tulsa Scottish Rite, which coroneted him a 33ยช Inspector General Honorary in 2001.

Roy Clark was always a talented spokesman for the Craft and avidly promoted its tenets and values. A few years ago, speaking from the heart, he told this story at one of his concerts:

"The importance of Masonic Brotherhood was brought home to our band last month when we were on tour in Regina, Saskatchewan. Our guitar player, Frank Sandusky, had a blood vessel suddenly rupture in his neck, was rushed to the hospital, and the doctor's report was grave. When local brethren found out that he was a Mason they sent for his wife. They took her in, saw that she got back and forth to the hospital, and saw to her needs. It didn't cost her anything, and made an unpleasant situation more bearable — and that is what Masonry is all about. Frank is with us today, as my 'right arm' in the band and plays a lot of the beautiful harmony you'll hear."

"I know of no other organization," said Clark, "where you have a friend all over the world. It gives you peace of mind, especially traveling as much as we do."

We have all had that experience, haven't we, where you can walk into a room full of men you have never met, but they are brothers and they are immediately your friends. When you are a Freemason among Brothers, there are no strangers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Freemason of the Century

Let's travel back in time for a few minutes. Let's set the wayback machine for 20 years and go back to the halcyon days of the turn of the century. Millennium fever was at its peak and Y2K was about to destroy us all, or so we heard from a panicked news media. We anticipated the heralding of the new century and mathematicians argued over whether it started in 2000 or 2001. Time magazine named Albert Einstein the Person of the Century. Baseball named a Team of the Century. Other groups had their picks; but as far as I know, Freemasonry remained silent on the subject. Many lodges name a Mason of the year, but how about a Mason of the Century? Well, I have a nomination: that prolific Masonic author and leader, Ray Vaughn Denslow.

When Denslow died unexpectedly in 1960, waves of shock reverberated through the Masonic world. While no single individual could ever be the glue that holds Freemasonry together, Ray Denslow was certainly a catalyst for that process. Denslow discovered Freemasonry through his father and grandfather, who were both members and Masters of their Lodges. He was fascinated with the Craft to the point that he was initiated at midnight on his 21st birthday. From there, he went from being the youngest Freemason in the world to likely being the most well-known, holding a myriad of offices along the way. Grand Master of Missouri in 1931-32, he went on to lead other organizations, most notably serving as General Grand High Priest of the General Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons from 1942-1946. His list of organizations, offices, and honors covers six pages of small print in his memoirs. As one of his colleagues put it, "Ray Denslow is a promiscuous joiner."

Most Worshipful Brother Denslow was also a prolific writer; perhaps the most productive Masonic author of his time. With no computers in his day, he was glued to his manual Underwood typewriter. Denslow's compulsion for writing left the Fraternity with 22 books, 75 pamphlets, and dozens of magazine articles.

Beyond that, for 28 years, from 1932 until his death, he compiled an annual book-length report on the state of Freemasonry in the world. Masonic leaders worldwide anticipated its release each year. This communique, The Masonic World, became critically important in the years leading up to World War II as the only source of information on the state of the Craft in countries where ruthless dictators were shutting down Freemasonry. After the war, it provided valuable information about the efforts to reconstruct what nearly had been lost. Denslow didn't just write about the situation. He personally visited those countries to observe conditions first-hand. Those efforts gained him a worldwide fame which hardly another of our Brothers has known to this day. His passing created a void which in many ways has yet to be filled – The Masonic World died with Ray Denslow.

All that activity did not include what Denslow regarded as his crowning achievement. In 1943, he founded the Royal Arch Mason magazine, a periodical which became the largest Masonic publication in the world and which today almost every York Rite Mason reads. MWB Denslow edited and published the magazine from its inception until his death. When he passed away, his son William, best known as the author of 10,000 Famous Freemasons, took over.

Denslow knew Masonic and political leaders all over the world. He dined with kings, prime ministers and presidents. Harry Truman considered him one of his best friends. They discussed Masonic matters frequently and he considered Denslow's writings so important that he ordered paper be made available to him on a priority basis, even when paper was in short supply during World War II. When his train came through Trenton, Missouri, Denslow's home town, on his “Whistle Stop” tour in 1948, Truman, a Democrat, pulled Denslow up onto his car and introduced him to the crowd as, “my damned Republican friend.”

When Denslow was not off traveling the world on behalf of Freemasonry or working on another book or article, he was in front of his typewriter recording his Masonic activities on a daily basis. There was no aspect of Freemasonry Denslow considered unimportant. In those memoirs he chronicled "mundane" Masonic meetings as if they were ceremonies for kings; and those ceremonies for kings… he was a part of them as well.

The man was nothing less than a Masonic icon. His writings made him famous. His efforts on behalf of Freemasonry earned him respect. In 1933, he wrote an allegorical piece which, in poetic terms, described the workings, symbolism, beauty and principles of the Craft. It was entitled, "I Am Freemasonry." That he was.