Saturday, November 18, 2017

Was Jesus an Operative Mason?

 Coming to Nazareth during his ministry, Jesus preached just as he had been doing throughout the countryside. In other places he had drawn enthusiastic crowds. In this his hometown, however, people in the crowd became derisive. They recognized him to be one of their own, a "common" tradesman, and therefore not someone who should be taken seriously as a teacher or prophet. "Is not this," they asked, "the carpenter?"

This passage is where we learn Jesus, like his earthly father Joseph, was a carpenter, according to contemporary Bible translations. Both Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55 give an account of the incident using the Greek word "tektōn" to refer to Jesus' profession.

  • "Is not this the carpenter [ho tektōn], the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" ~Mark 6:3 (KJV)
  • "Is not this the carpenter's son [ho tou tektōnos huios]? Is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?" ~Matthew 13:55 (KJV)

The word "tekton," however, does not directly translate as "carpenter." It more accurately means "builder" or "craftsman," a designation which, in fact, leaves Jesus' true profession in doubt.

A carpenter would fit in the category of builder or craftsman, and that may well have been what Jesus did. He would not have built homes in an area where trees were scarce, but would have made furniture, doors and tools, such as plows.

However, the most dominant profession around Nazareth, where Jesus grew up and would have practiced his trade, was stone masonry. The area was rich in stone with several quarries, including one in the heart of Nazareth. Virtually all buildings were made of stone, and the demand for stone masons would have been high.

During the time Jesus would have worked as a craftsman, the Romans expanded the small town of Sepphoris into a city for Jewish aristocrats who supported Rome. True, the venture would have required carpenters, but the greatest demand would have been for masons. Sepphoris (today Zippori) was less than four miles from Jesus' home and, regardless of his craft, it is likely he worked on the project.

We’ll never know for sure since the broad definition of "tekton" could refer to a number of professions; but taken in context and in light of the more likely profession of the tradesmen in Nazareth in that era, it could be that Jesus was not a carpenter, but an operative mason.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Unsung Heroes

Publishing is hard. Just ask Robert Johnson, the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. Every week you can go there and read three new articles on Freemasonry and then go about your business. Very simple. There is a lot, however, going on behind the scenes to bring those articles to you. He faces some of the same problems publishers have had since Gutenberg's brainstorm gave us movable type. That said, Right Worshipful Brother Robert has a "leg up" on some publishers when it comes to getting those articles to you. Once he has gone through the process of reading, editing, spell-checking and making sure an article is appropriate he heads for his computer and… presto-change-o! He hands it to you on the Internet, that land of science and technology with a bit of magic thrown in.

Given that, consider the life of a Brother… say… a quarter-century ago. The Internet was there but not for him and not for his Lodge. For that Brother to get a Masonic publication at home it was going to come to him through one portal… his mailbox.

This method of delivery presented a few extra steps and challenges for publishers back then. Still, it was kind of an easy process for the Brother receiving the publication. He brought in the mail, grabbed his pipe and slippers, sat back in his easy chair and spent some quiet time reading the latest Masonic magazine or newsletter. When you think about it, given the frenetic lives people live today and the fact they always seem to be staring at some kind of screen, getting publications that way can be a nice change of pace; and some of them still come that way, don't they? Many state magazines, The Royal Arch Mason, Knight Templar magazine, The Scottish Rite Journal — are hard-copy publications. They are also larger-scale operations with budgets, and in some cases a staff, that can get the job done.

It's also likely you receive other publications like newsletters and bulletins from smaller Masonic groups. Consider the work it takes to get those to your mailbox. The people who distribute these smaller publications face the same issues as bigger publishers, but have to rely on volunteer help, a bit of creativity and hard work to get those items to your door.

Judy VanVickle edits one such publication, the High Twelve Highlights, in St. Joseph Missouri. Her sixteen-page monthly newsletter has a circulation of 260 and what she does is typical of the work other small-publication editors have to do.

"I use Microsoft Publisher for most of the work," she says. "Some of the articles come in Microsoft Word format while some are in longhand. I have to type the handwritten articles myself. I have a standard layout and Publisher usually handles the formatting. I get clip-art from lots of places and use that and cartoons to fill any empty spaces."

Once the layout is complete she sends the file to a professional printer who prints and collates the pages. "Then," says Judy, "we have a 'stuffing party.' We fold, staple, crease and stuff the envelopes and get everything ready for bulk mailing." She says she serves donuts at the party, which seems to be as much fun as work. Judy always includes the names of her helpers in the newsletter.

The Highlights newsletter is ad-supported. This helps defray the cost of the printing and mailing but adds more work to the process. Individual members divide up the work of selling the ads then the group's Treasurer, Brother Al Patterson, sends the artwork to Judy, ready to insert in the newsletter.

Judy realizes the newsletter would be less work and expense online, "but," she says, "so many of our readers just don't make use of the Internet."

So the next time you go to your mailbox and find one of these small publications, remember the men and women getting the newsletters and bulletins out are some of the unsung heroes of our craft. Then, with or without pipe and slippers, enjoy the product from these small but important Masonic quarries.


Recently Brother Greg Knott wrote an article for the Midnight Freemasons blog about a Medal of Honor. He described the respect he had for the man who earned it and, in fact, for the medal itself. It brought to mind something I saw years ago which has stayed with me and been a reminder that such items should be handled with the care and respect they demand:

I was working on installing a system in a large metropolitan bank's safekeeping department. The executive offices there were glass-walled and I saw a group inside one standing around something a customer had brought in for storage. I went over for a closer look and saw they were inspecting a violin — a Stradivarius violin. To date myself, this was back when employees could smoke in offices; and there stood one of the execs leaning over the priceless instrument with a lit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Not only that, the butt had a long trail of ashes on the front which, predictably, dropped onto the violin. He brushed the ashes off and the gang continued gawking. I was stunned they could treat such an incredible piece so carelessly.

Over the years I've had occasion to see some pretty significant Masonic memorabilia. Many times when I've had "hands-on" access I think of that little scenario in the bank and remind myself to take the utmost care with the item.

I've seen many such items at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. The staff there "bends over backwards" to dig out documents and artifacts for researchers. White gloves are the order of the day as researchers go through the precious treasure trove of Brother Truman's life.

On one occasion I was there researching the well-documented account of the President's visit to Beech Grove Lodge in Indiana. While on his Whistle-Stop tour in 1948, Truman evaded the press and much of his traveling party to attend a meeting at that Lodge and raise a Brother who worked for him. At the close of the meeting he asked if he could keep the apron he had worn as a souvenir.

As the staff at the Truman Library gathered items relating to that visit, one of the artifacts turned out to be that apron. I was mesmerized as I looked at it. I felt as if I was in the presence of the President himself. Unable to resist, I broke one of the Library's rules. I slipped off my glove and…

I touched it.

I probably shouldn't have done it, but something inside me just wanted that connection with the historic apron. I don't think I hurt it at all. It didn't seem the same as dumping a pile of cremated tobacco onto a Stradivarius. What's more, I'm not sorry. I would do it again — guilty as charged. I didn't do it maliciously.

I did it out of respect.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Occult Forces

When the Nazi's occupied France during World War II, their ferocious propaganda machine worked to indoctrinate citizens into their warped value system — including an intense disdain for Freemasonry.

One of their tools was the 1943 movie Occult Forces. Ignoring the fact the film is grainy with poor sound quality, factually inaccurate and uses sinister props that conjure up visions of Plan Nine From Outer Space, it provides some insight into what may be a contributing factor to any anti-Masonic sentiment in France — or elsewhere — today.

Maurice Rémy plays Pierre Avenel, the film's protagonist. Rémy was a "B-List" French actor who had even played in anti-Nazi films. However, he had a quick, if not predictable, change of heart once the Gestapo took charge. Regardless of whether his conversion to Nazi sympathies was genuine, his role in the movie earned him a hasty one-way ticket to Argentina after the war.

Director Jean Charles Mamy and screenwriter Jean Marquès-Rivière were Freemasons who "saw the light" and renounced their memberships. After the war, France sentenced both to death, specifically for the roles they played in producing the film. Marquès-Rivière fled to Argentina. Mamy faced a firing squad on March 29, 1949.

The film telegraphs its anti-Masonic theme from the opening credits where a shadowy blob descends before the viewer's eyes and comes into focus as an ugly spider with a square and compasses on its back. Subtle, eh?

Rémy's character, Pierre Avenel, is a high-ranking French official whom the Masons feel they need to control in order to accomplish their evil purposes. (I might add, the film's Freemasons are members of the Grand Orient of France, one of the groups considered clandestine in the US). Their solution is to initiate and indoctrinate him. His initiation is a combination of the familiar and bizarre, and once a member, he falls into the abyss of clandestine alliances and corrupt deals.

Over time, Avenel becomes disillusioned as the Masons plot to put their plan for world domination into practice. He attempts to demit, but the Grand Master encourages him to remain a member with a combination of threats and promises to promote him to "superior levels."

Finally, the Masons can no longer tolerate Avenel's insolence. The Grand Master expels him and sends men to attack him. As Avenel recuperates the Masons rise up against Germany and drag it and the rest of the world into the flames of war.

There is no telling what influence this film had on audiences at its release. It certainly had enough impact to have Rémy, Mamy and Marquès-Rivière convicted of collaborating with the enemy. Some of the accusations and myths about Freemasonry it brought into focus were the following:

Conspiracy theorists today claim there is a top tier of Masons, run behind the scenes by powerful individuals, who hold the real authority. Outside that elite tier, "average" Masons don't know what is going on. "In Masonry," the Grand Master tells Avenel, "we hide everything from the little people."

Claims abound that there are "higher degrees" in the craft, whose recipients learn the real secrets and gain the real benefits and power of the fraternity. The film reinforces this when the Grand Master dangles membership in the "superior levels" of Freemasonry in front of Avenel, in an attempt to get him to cooperate.

The film depicts Masonry's perceived anti-Catholic stance by the fact that Avenel is himself a member of the Catholic church. In the investigation scene, one member of the committee literally gasps upon learning Avenel is Catholic. It takes fancy footwork to convince the committee members Avenel is "spiritual, but non-practicing." Even at that, his election to receive the degrees is not unanimous.

The audience is made to see Brothers as social-climbers who seek and grant favors among themselves. Government officials hand out jobs and judges acquit the guilty because of the bond of fraternity.

In one telling scene the Grand Master reveals absolutely no one is in charge of Freemasonry; that it moves as a ubiquitous force. Even the Grand Master just receives and passes orders. He describes a nebulous structure that leaves the door open for conspiracy theorists to fill in the blanks and make of Freemasonry practically anything they want.

With these and other examples Occult Forces is a film full of stereotypes, myths and deceptions about Freemasonry. These misrepresentations so parallel some of the outrageous claims of anti-Masons today one wonders if this single piece of Nazi propaganda merely included existing fabrications or was, in fact, the origin of prevailing myths about the fraternity.

The Pony Express

A few years ago, while visiting the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri, I thought it would be a great project to research the riders, find out which ones were Masons and write a little piece on each of them. Without going into great detail let's just say that history is lost, not to mention the fact that most of the riders were too young to be Masons in the first place. I gave up on the article until I found out the two major founders of the Pony Express, William Russell and Alexander Majors, were, in fact, Freemasons.

A third founder, William Waddell served mainly as the financier while Brothers Russell and Majors were the hands-on forces driving the company. As such they demanded high standards of conduct from the riders which reflected their Masonic values.

Prior to joining the company, each rider had to repeat the following obligation with its obvious Masonic undertones:

"You will raise your arm to a level square and repeat after me. I... do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God, that during my engagement... I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will drink no intoxicating liquors, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers, so help me God."

Beginning April 3, 1860, the riders relayed mail on horseback from St. Joseph to Sacramento. The trip took about ten days and, at the time, it was the fastest way to communicate with settlers on the west coast. The Pony Express has become an iconic part of American history, even though it only operated less than 19 months until October 24, 1861, when the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line put it out of business.

Although many of the riders' histories have been lost, there was one who, after riding for the Pony Express at age 14, became world famous later in life. His name was William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, who, a decade later became a member of Platte Valley Lodge #32 in Nebraska. His legendary exploits began as a rider, where he was said to have completed the longest ride ever, going over 300 miles in a single day.

Living in an age of traveling entertainment, Cody assembled his own entourage, commonly known as "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show. The production staged reenactments of Custer's Last Stand, robberies and, of course, Pony Express rides. Over time, the show made Cody famous and wealthy by the standards of his day.

After the collapse of the Pony Express, the founders lost their fortunes and never really recovered. Brother Majors was especially hard-hit, winding up penniless and living in a shack. It was in that condition that Brother Cody found him twenty years after the organization had folded.

Cody not only furnished the assistance necessary for Majors to get back on his feet, but also provided him with a contact to help finish his memoirs. Employing those Masonic tenets of Brotherly love and relief, Buffalo Bill repaid his former employer, a Brother, who had given him his start many years prior. As Freemasons, that's the kind of thing we do.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Man's Best Friend

Although a crime of passion, by now it would have faded forgotten into history but for the impassioned and eloquent words of a Freemason. The facts of the case were never in doubt. The killer admitted firing his gun in anger and leaving the body where it fell. The morning after the crime, the killer's neighbor, Charles Burden, found the body. Enraged, he began a year-long battle to bring Leonidas Hornsby to justice for killing Old Drum, Burden's hunting dog.

Leonidas Hornsby was an angry man. Something was killing his sheep and he wanted it stopped. Any of the predatory wildlife in the area around his Kingsville, Missouri farm could have killed the sheep but for some reason, Hornsby was certain dogs were responsible. "I've had it," Hornsby told a neighbor, "I'm going to kill the next dog I see on my property." Then, on the evening of October 28, 1869, Hornsby found Old Drum wandering on his farm and made good on his promise.

Hornsby's brother-in-law, Charles Burden, lived on the adjoining farm. On occasion, Burden and Hornsby had gone hunting together with Old Drum and Hornsby had even called him, "one of the best hunting dogs I have ever seen."

That October evening all of Burden's dogs came home except one, Old Drum. The next morning Burden went in search of his favorite hunting dog and discovered the body. Hornsby never denied shooting the dog and Burden did the only thing he could in order to gain some degree of justice: He sued Hornsby for damages.

The trial turned into one of the most convoluted circuses in Missouri legal history. Through the original trial and three appeals, the dispute finally reached the Missouri Supreme Court on September 23, 1870. Along the way, the case attracted a bevy of high-profile lawyers including David Nation, husband of temperance zealot Carrie Nation, and Brother Thomas Crittenden, a future Missouri Governor whose "dead-or-alive" reward led to the killing of Jesse James.

Burden's attorney throughout was Brother George Graham Vest, member of a Lodge in Frankfort, Kentucky and also a member of the York Rite in Sedalia, Missouri. Vest, a future US Senator from Missouri, easily got Hornsby to admit he did not see Old Drum doing any harm to his property, nor was he certain it was dogs that were killing his sheep.

Although the crime was vicious, it was nonetheless a misdemeanor. Its record was destined to fade unnoticed into history until Brother Vest stood for his closing argument. His inspired words now stand as legendary to dog lovers and have been cast in bronze on monuments to those faithful companions. What he said was so powerful that acclaimed author William Safire said it was one of the greatest speeches of the millennium, "[Vest's oratory] ranks with that of Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln and, maybe, God. "

Laying the facts and arguments of the case aside, Vest addressed the jury:

"The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have... the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.... He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert he remains.... and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death."

History records that when Brother Vest returned to his seat "there was not a dry eye in the courtroom." The Supreme Court of Missouri later upheld the jury's verdict: Leonidas Hornsby was guilty of the killing of Old Drum, and was to pay Charles Burden damages amounting to the sum of $50, the maximum amount allowable.

In 1958, the area Chamber of Commerce, with backing from dog lovers across the country, erected a monument to Old Drum on the Johnson County Courthouse lawn in Warrensburg, Missouri, near the site of the crime. It pays tribute to Old Drum and George Graham Vest, a backwoods Missouri lawyer and Freemason who was the first ever to call a dog "man's best friend."


The following is the surviving text of Brother Vest's closing arguments. The final half of his speech has been lost to history. The same words are inscribed on the monument to Old Drum in Warrensburg, Missouri:

Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us — those whom we trust with our happiness and good name — may become traitors in their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world — the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous — is his dog.

"Gentlemen of the jury, a man's dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow, and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even to death.


Denslow, William R. 10,000 Famous Freemasons. Vol. 1. Richmond, VA: Macoy & Masonic Supply, 1957. Print.

"Cedarcroft Farm Area Guide: The Story of Old Drum - A Man's Best Friend Is His Dog." Cedarcroft History Guide. Web. 26 Jan. 2012..

Safire, William. "Faithful, Even in Death." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. <>.

Old Drum. Television documentary. Distributed by KSHB-TV, Kansas City, ~1985.
A court case in Johnson County Missouri brought us the phrase “Man’s best friend” to describe our canine companions.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Absolute Power

Power corrupts. Absolute power, they say, corrupts absolutely. We in Freemasonry, however, elect men to whom we then hand absolute… well, nearly absolute power. Apparently, that's the way we like it.

Not long ago I had dinner with a Brother who was indignant at the fact a Grand Master had expelled an officer out of the Grand Line, "He can't do that!"

What do you mean he can't do that? He's the Grand Master. I'm not bylaws expert but I believe he was well within his rights to do it. The expelled member, in fact, was appointed, not elected. I then gave the Brother a couple examples I've seen where a Grand Master and a Master of the Lodge of Research each had expelled elected line officers. We actually had one Grand Master who said no Lodge could have its own website and ordered all of them taken down. Can't do that? Of course they can. And do.

Absolute power — it's practically an aphrodisiac. You've been Master of your Lodge? You've had it, felt it, embraced it. Some use it wisely; some abuse it. Still, face the facts, we as Freemasons elect a benevolent (we hope) dictator.

When I was Master of my Lodge I tried to be reasonable as I swam in the seductive waters of absolute power. Oh, I made an "executive decision" now and then but all-in-all I think I controlled myself. Well, I controlled myself until…

...Monday, September 20, 2004. It was a week before Grand Lodge and three weeks before my final meeting as Master. I had practically the entire year behind me. I had wielded absolute power with a gentle hand but its siren song now called louder and louder. I was Clark Kent wanting to jump into a phone booth and become Superman. I was Thor unable to resist the pent-up urge to hurl thunderbolts. I was me, crazed, wide-eyed and drooling, ready to unleash my venom on the innocent, unsuspecting world of my Brothers.

"I'm going to do it," I told myself, resigned to the criticism that would surely follow. Who cares… I'm the Master, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, the Hulk, all rolled into one. I can do what I want. Damn the torpedoes, full-speed-ahead.

The unremarkable meeting neared its end. Business over, the Brothers sat on the sidelines ready for the standard closing. My next line, "Brother Senior Warden," which would set things in motion, never came.

Instead, I stood and rapped my gavel on the podium three times. The Brothers rose from their seats. I turned to my left, "Brother Chaplain, you will lead us in prayer."

The Chaplain was a little rattled. "What prayer," he whispered.

"The closing prayer."

"Supreme Architect of the Universe," he began and then ended with his usual flourish.

Then, awash in the intoxicating flood of absolute power, completely within my rights to do so, I skipped all other closing ceremonies, "Brethren, by the power vested in me as its Worshipful Master, I declare Liberty Lodge number 31 duly closed!" By God, I'm the Master. I have the authority. I can do it that way, and I did it. Live with it.

I gave a single rap of the gavel and waited for the onslaught of criticism that was about to come. I was ready. Give me your best shot.

Sometimes, in the ebb and flow of events, things don't happen exactly as we expect. Some call this "the law of unintended consequences." The thing is we usually think of that law implying a negative outcome where a positive outcome is expected.

Well, something unexpected happened here, but it was the opposite. I truly had expected a negative outcome. Instead, the entire Lodge erupted in cheers. Although the Brothers were already standing, I think it counted as a standing ovation.

Who knew giving in to the allure of absolute power could make a guy so popular? Or maybe they were just happy they could get to that second helping of dessert a little sooner. So mote it be.