Masonic Random Thoughts

A place for Masonic news, thoughts, discussion and education

Welcome Kits for the Masonic-Eastern Star Home for Children

A few weeks ago, we launched the Welcome Kit project and it’s been very successful so far.  We nearly have enough stuff for 10 complete Kits!  

We need just a few more things to finish out the first 10 kits.  If you can help us out, it would greatly appreciated!

Amazon Wish List Link: or use the button:

List of final items:

  • 5 Alarm Clocks
  • 4 Journals
  • 4 Shampoo for Girls
  • 7 Towel sets
  • 4 Duffel bags

Of course anything beyond this will be used for future kits!

Midwest Conference on Masonic Education Registration Now Open!

What’s Happening with Membership?

The purpose of this post is to analyze the membership numbers for trends and to determine if any of the efforts to stem the decline in membership have had any long- term effects. Concentration was given to number of raisings and number of suspensions for non-payment of dues (SNPD) as these are the only two metrics of the Craft we can affect. The full report can be read / downloaded using the button at the end of the post.

Historical data from 1858 through 2019 were used to get the overall picture of the life of the Craft in Nebraska. The data show that the Craft peaked in 1958 (46,213 members; 293 lodges) before beginning a decline that has had only a few brief positive years of membership retention and raisings over losses.

The rate of decline over the long run is fairly consistent and much of the data shown has focused on the last 20-year period of the Craft. This choice was made to make the charts and numbers more relevant to the current makeup of the Craft and for ease of display in a document.

Currently we have roughly 8,677 members in 115 lodges. The average age of a Nebraska Mason is 65 years of age with a median of 67 and a mode of 73. We raise approximately 275 new Master Masons per year over the last 20 years but we suspend 404 members per year for non-payment of dues each year as well. It is felt that this disparity represents an opportunity for the Craft by placing some focus on cutting down the SNPD numbers.

Various things have been tried to arrest the decline in membership, including greatly reducing the requirements for proficiency. This move was made in 1987 and resulted in an upswing of number of raisings for 2 1⁄2 years and then the numbers returned to their normal negative path. Additionally, during those 2 1⁄2 years of positive raisings, the number of SNPD increased greatly and the net effect was to cancel out the gains in membership. The rate of decline has remained steady since 1990 and it’s safe to say that the 1987 experiment had no long-term effect on membership decline.

Overall, the data show that at our current rate of loss and replacement of members, mathematically, we will be down to zero members in 20 years. In reality it will be much less than 20 years as a certain minimum number of members are necessary to keep the Craft viable.

This report concludes that there are some very important questions that need to be addressed in the Craft and without sustained effort over multiple years, the Craft will disappear in Nebraska.

The Culture of Character vs. The Culture of Personality

The are many different theories on why Freemasonry has lost its appeal to men in our society and it is almost certain that there is no one singular reason but that it is a combination of things.  This paper seeks to exam the effect that a shift in society from a culture of character to a culture of personality has had on the Craft.

Freemasonry in its purest form is a methodology for developing character in a man.  Throughout the ritual, we are reminded that it is how you interact with the world that counts, not title or fame or riches.  In the Fellowcraft charge we are told that the internal and not the external qualities of a man are what Masonry regards.  The entire Hiramic legend of the Master Mason degree is, at its simplest, an example of a man of character, whose belief in being a man of character is so important, it is worth losing his life over rather than to compromise.  At every turn, we are reminded that we are here to build and improve upon our character while always remaining humble before Deity.

So how does this fit with 21st century society?  Are we still seeking superior character in our own lives and those we respect?

Sociologists have determined based on a thorough examination of media, books, news coverage and other forms of communication that our Western society has become one of a culture of personality rather than a culture of character. 

Prior to the first part of the 20th century, our heroes were more men of character.  Men such as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Grant, Lindbergh, Glenn, Mayo.  These were all men that had a certain character and set of beliefs that were their guiding light.  They were not worried about fame and fortune but about doing the “Right Thing” regardless of how it affected how people saw them.  If we look at the many Masons of the early 20thcentury and even earlier, we see this attribute even more clearly.  (Interestingly, much of our marketing of Masonry relies on touting these men of character!  And when we aren’t claiming these men as examples of Masonry, we encourage men to join because “Masonry is fun!” which is a pure appeal to the culture of personality.)

Instead we look to athletes, movie stars, Internet influencers (yes, that’s a job) most of whom are contributing nothing to the advancement of society and human development but simply want you to dress like them, eat like them, talk like them and spend your money.  A close examination of these personalities, however, will often reveal a very shallow character and a life that is often less than honorable or humble.  It’s all about the personality.

Starting in the 1920’s with the advent of mass communication in the form of radio and Hollywood movies, our society began to shift towards one of a culture of personality.  Suddenly, everyone wanted to be like the star they saw on the  movie screen or the witty host of the radio show.  Coverage of sporting events became more common resulting in athletes that could win the game and wow the crowd getting more attention than men that were toiling is some of the less flashy, more character driven aspects of life.  By the late 1950’s and the 1960’s, our society had nearly completed its shift from character to personality worship.  (A quick survey of self-help titles on Amazon shows that nearly all of these books are focused on making a person more likable, able to be more social and able to influence others to do something they want done.)

This lack of valuing character over personality has affected Masonry as well.  As a Craft, we’ve gone from being something that was often kept private, sometimes to the point where a Brother’s family may not even know he was a Mason,  and holding each other to very high moral and ethical standards, to having parades, membership drives and advertising and focusing primarily on charity work; which while it has character value is often done for the acclaim, not just the effect on society.  The proliferation of appendant bodies in the 20thcentury is another indication of the issue of personality vs. character. We create ever more impressive titles and positions to brag to our friends about and many Brothers seem to be more interested in plaques on their wall or the color of their hat or the shininess of their regalia than on things accomplished or personal growth.  We give each other awards for doing the things that should be done regardless of approbation and are our duty as a Mason.

Take a poll of Brethren in any jurisdiction and ask them who the best Grand Master was that they can remember and more often than not, their choice is not the man that made the most difference in advancing Masonry or showed the most leadership and character but the one who spent the most time shaking hands, patting backs, eating dinners at lodges and sharing a wee dram with members.  

So given that this is the condition of our society at this time and the message we receive from popular culture, does this mean that Masonry is no longer relevant and that there is little to no chance of Masonry regaining the valued position it used to enjoy in society?  Definitely not!

The current pandemic may have done Masonry a tremendous favor!  More and more of our news coverage has contained stories of people of character doing the right thing and acting selflessly during this crisis.  We are seeing stories honoring our nurses, doctors, firemen, police and the average citizen on the street.  Athletes and movie stars have become irrelevant as we begin to understand as a society what is truly important and how precious our lives are and how these people of character are the ones that are truly making a difference in the world.

So, perhaps it’s time for Masonry to go back to basics and emphasize the character-building features of the Craft when recruiting new members.  Instead of emphasizing the external nature of our members and activities, we should be touting the internal nature. We need to capitalize on the new interest of the general public in character and deeds over personality and showmanship.

Great changes are taking place in our world today due to the current pandemic and we can benefit from this as a Craft and be part of the positive changes that can come from this situation.  We have a culture of character to offer that has proven time and again to be successful in building a better man.  Let us share this culture with others and be the leaders in the area of character once again.

Masonry in the Era of Covid19

In this new normal of self-isolation, quarantines and many Grand Jurisdictions shutting down Lodge operations, it can seem like Masonry is on the back burner. However, I believe this is a tremendous opportunity for Masonry to shine!

Just because we can’t get together as a group doesn’t mean that we can’t live our Masonic values and show our support for our communities. There are many things we can do while still protecting ourselves and our families from the Covid19 virus (always follow CDC guidelines) that will benefit our communities and allow us to continue to practice the tenets of our Craft!

Here is a list of just a few things that you and your Lodge could try:

  1. Masonic Delivery Service — There are many people who fall into the high risk category that are unable to leave their homes to do grocery shopping, pick up prescriptions or do other essential errands. Offer to do this for them!
  2. Donate Blood — There is an urgent need for blood in the health care system at this time. Donating blood is quick, safe and each pint of blood can save up to 3 lives! Call your local Blood Bank, Hospital or American Red Cross office and set up an appointment. Encourage your Brothers to do the same! (For those of you in the Nebraska area, stand by for more information!)
  3. Call your at-risk members — Nearly all Lodges have a fair number of members that are 60 years of age or older or have a health issue that put them in the at-risk category and restricts them from going out right now. Call them and do a welfare check, offer to run errands for them and just be a Brother! Many would probably enjoy having someone to chat with for a few minutes.  Do this on a regular basis, this crisis is likely to last for several more months.
  4. School Lunches — Many schools also provide lunches for the less fortunate and with schools being closed this has become an issue. Contact your local schools to see how you can help by delivering lunches, donating money to pay for the lunches or some other activity.
  5. Make Masks — Sounds funny but if you can sew or know someone who can sew, join the 100 Million Mask challenge. Instructions on how to make useful masks can be found on their website at 100 Million Mask Challenge.
  6. Contact your local Hospital, Police, EMS services and Fire Stations and ask if they need meals or other comfort items. These brave souls are working overtime to keep us safe in this dangerous time. Let’s show them some support!
  7. Outdoor Concert — Are you musical? Do you have a band? Contact your local rest home and offer to set up in the parking lot and play a concert. The residents can open their windows to listen or come out on their balconies. This has been successfully done in many locations.
  8. Learn a new lecture or part — You’ve got lots of time on your hands and you are staying home a lot more. Perfect time to work on improving your ritual by learning a new lecture or part. When our Lodges get back to work, this will be a very welcome bonus!
  9. Practice ritual with a Brother — You can still practice one on one with a Brother by phone, online or just sit in the yard more than 6 feet away from each other (non-esoteric work only, please). There are many ways this can be done and still maintain social distancing.
  10. READ A BOOK — Remember that stack of books you’ve been building of books recommended by the Masonic Education Committee? Now is the perfect time to pick one and start reading. When you are done, write a little report and share it with your Lodge Brothers. You might even end up learning something!

There are certainly many more things that could be done to keep you and your Lodge active in Masonry and support the community. Every effort counts no matter how big or small. The most important thing is that you take action and do something!

Step and show your community and your peers what Masonry is all about!

If you have any other ideas for things to do during this time or use any of these ideas, please share with me in the comments.

Masonry is a Progressive Science

The title of this piece is a well known and well worn line in our ritual, having existed since the earliest versions of our work.  We also often hear the line “…as you increase in knowledge, you will improve in social intercourse.”   Both of these lines speak to the idea that continual learning and adaptation is key to truly being  a Mason.

Often times in our zeal to hold on to the past and venerate the founders of Masonry, we cling to the mistaken idea that the Craft cannot change and that any idea labeled an “Ancient Landmark” cannot be changed regardless of how the world around us has changed.  This is a grave mistake.

While I deeply appreciate that much of what Masonry teaches are fundamental truths that have been held since time immemorial, the history of the Craft shows that we have often been slow to learn as a Craft what we were mistaken about and what was once acceptable can now be an embarrassing part of our history.

I was reminded of this while working on a project for the Nebraska Masonic Education web site that would honor our Past Grand Masters from our beginnings in 1857 forward.  In reading through the proceedings of these Brothers, there are often things that happened that by today’s standards would seem unthinkable.  A good example is the doctrine of the perfect youth.  According to the “Ancient Landmarks”, no man could be made a Mason who did not have all of his physical extremities and senses.  While this might have made sense in the operative days, the fact that our jurisdiction followed this discriminatory practice well into the 20th century is indeed a sad part of our history.  How many good men did we lose because they were missing a finger or hand or leg?  Or perhaps they were blind or hard of hearing?  Many of these men we rejected were in this condition because they had served our country in war.

There are also too many examples of other kinds of discrimination based on skin color, ethnicity, being an immigrant and so on.  It makes one question how on the one hand we could make claims to being a universal system of morality for all men while still exhibiting the common biases of the general public.

But the good news is that Masonry as a practice did change and often time in advance of the general society!  We see a shift in thinking about many of the discriminatory practices of the late 19th and early 20th century brand of Masonry.  Often these practices were challenged again and again until the Craft “came to Light” and made the needed changes. If we take the long view of history we see that Masonry has been and still is constantly changing, improving and tossing off mistaken beliefs of the past.  It is in this sense that Masonry is still a living practice today for many men.  This also teaches us the important lesson that we should ever be cognizant of our own biases and mistaken beliefs, and be ready to “learn” what is being taught to us every day by life.

Masonry is a progressive science…are you progressing daily?

Video Tour of the Nebraska Masonic Foundation Museum & Library

Tour the Museum and Research Library in a video on the Grand Lodge Facebook site.

The Nebraska Masonic Foundation has made great progress the past couple years cataloging more than 2,000 books, and is about ready to begin the same process with the artifacts in the Museum. You can also learn how to find online the books that are in the Library. The Foundation continues its efforts to preserve and protect valuable Masonic books dating back 150 years to more than 200 years ago.

Go to the Museum & Library database page to search the book collection or to make an appointment to tour the museum or do research in the library.

Masonry Vindicated

From the very beginning of speculative Masonry, the stated aim of the Craft has been to improve lives and to promote moral progress.  The lives of its members, the community they live in and even the country in which they live and work.  The values imbedded in Masonry closely follow the values of the period of time we refer to as the Enlightenment.  In fact, reading a list of values and goals from both, they are nearly identical.

Masonry attempts to promote these values by encouraging learning and education, equality of people, reason over superstition, being a participant in the welfare of others and many other ideas that for their time were quite revolutionary.  Many of these values seem to be commonplace in our time and sociologists even have a term for these values.  They are referred to as emancipative values or liberal values (liberal being used in the original sense of liberty or freedom; not in the political sense we often use it today.)

Emancipative values are those values that can aid a society and a person in flourishing.  Emancipative values can break down the oppressive hierarchies that can build up in governments and societies and level the playing field for all members of a given society. Emancipative values help a country grow and be successful in the world. 

So how can we tell which countries have these emancipative values and how are they affecting the success of that country?  The World Bank did years of research into this idea and discovered that the more a country has these emancipative values the more successful they are.  This has resulted in the World Bank Knowledge Index, which has proven to be the best predictor of emancipative values in a country.

The index is made up of many measurements, each of which measures a different aspect of a country’s citizens’ access to certain knowledge or knowledge resources.  The higher a country ranks in each category, the better off they seem to be as a society.  In fact, this Index has proven even more accurate at predicting a country’s success than measuring GDP.

The Index categories are (per capita measures from the World Bank Report):

  • Economic and institutional regime
    • The country’s economic and institutional regime must provide incentives for the efficient use of existing and new knowledge and the flourishing of entrepreneurship.
  • Education and Skills
    • The country’s people need education and skills that enable them to create and share, and to use it well.
  • Information and communication infrastructure
    • A dynamic information infrastructure is needed to facilitate the effective communication, dissemination and processing of information.
  • Innovation system
    • The country’s innovation system – firms, research centers, universities, think tanks, consultants and other organizations – must be capable of tapping the growing stock of global knowledge, assimilating and adapting it to local need, and creating new technology.

Each of these four pillars are then mapped onto the Knowledge Economy by measuring such things as:

  • Tariff and non-tariff barriers
  • Regulatory quality
  • Rule of law
  • Adult literacy, high school and college enrollment
  • Access to telephone, computer and the Internet
  • Researchers, patents granted, technical journal articles, royalty payments

(There are 83 structural and qualitative variables that serve as proxies for the four pillars above.)

Using this Index, the World Bank discovered that the values rated by the Index account for seventy percent of the variation in the emancipative values across different countries!

This statistical data vindicates a key point of Freemasonry: knowledge and sound institutions lead to moral progress.  In other words…the desired outcome of Masonry!

Knowledge Economy Index Top 10

  1. Denmark
  2. Sweden
  3. Finland
  4. Netherlands
  5. Norway
  6. Canada
  7. Switzerland
  8. United States
  9. Australia
  10. Germany

Irreligious Libertine

The Masonic ritual was devised in the early 18thcentury and underwent refinement into the ritual we now use during the first half of the 19thcentury. While there have been some minor changes, on the whole, it remains written in the language and style of the early 17thcentury.  We often joke about how hard it is to get the rhythm and meaning of English from this time period but we resist the urge to update the wording and syntax to 21stcentury standards.  It is felt that changing that language would risk losing some or all of the original intent of the authors.  And this is true, particularly when we look at word definitions.

An often forgotten or ignored fact about the English language is that it is very fluid and constantly evolving.  From a little used “commoner” language it has spread worldwide and dominates many areas of business and everyday life in many different countries.  The challenge with English is that often the definition of a word and its use can and does change depending on the period of history in which it was used.  An obvious example of this is the word “Charity” which now a day is mostly connoted to mean giving of money or support but in the 17thand 18thcentury had a much different meaning.  Examples of words changing their meanings based on societal changes abound both in our ritual and in everyday life.

In the obligation of the Master Mason’s degree, one of the landmarks stated is that there is a certain class of people that cannot be made a Mason.  The list is very specific and for the most part, pretty common sense if you understand the history and intent of Masonry.  But there is one class of person that most people are likely misinterpreting and that is the irreligious libertine.  When most of us hear or read that phrase, we think of a person of questionable morals, a party animal, or a low class person and on top of that behavior they seem to have no faith in Deity.  And in fact, if you look up the two words irreligious and libertine, that impression of this person would be confirmed.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines these two words as follows:


1neglectful of religionlacking religious emotions, doctrines, or practices

2indicating lack of religion


1disparaginga freethinker especially in religious matters

2a person who is unrestrained by convention or morality specificallyone leading a dissolute life

So as people that were born in the 20th or 21st century, we feel well grounded in our opinion that an irreligious libertine is a pretty poor character to associate with and it makes sense we would not want to make them a Mason.

But is a morally questionable, dissolute, faithless man really what the authors of ritual were describing?  A closer look at the history and use of the word libertine will reveal that there may have been a much different reason for including such a person in the list of non-acceptable candidates.

The hunt for what might be the original intent begins in the 17thcentury.  This was a time of much upheaval in Europe and England. The Reformation and the resulting religious wars, especially the 30 years war, were quickly breaking the hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church over thought, philosophy and science.  Great minds such as Newton, Huygens, Descartes and Pascal were openly proposing ideas, asking questions and conducting experiments that less than a century before would have gotten them burned at the stake by the Church.  The adoption of the scientific method, the weakening of the Church’s ability to suppress thought and investigation and the efforts of these new pioneers in thought to share and distribute this information despite the constant upheaval of war lead to the development of a new term to describe these men.  Liberty of the mind was now a recognized shift in society and these men were described as having a “free mind”.  This meant that they were thinking outside of and often rejecting the dogmatic ideas of the Church including taking a view of the Bible as being more allegory than literal fact.

The word libertine is borrowed from the Latin libertinus,which meant freedman and was used to denote a freed slave or the son of a freed slave.  In the case of the men of the 17thcentury that were expanding the boundaries, the “liberty” in libertine referred to freedom from two very important constraints: the constraint of religious orthodoxy and the constraint imposed by the authority of the ancients (e.g. Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo).

Soon the term libertine came into use to describe these freethinkers and natural philosophers (the term scientist didn’t come into use until 1833) and it was a generally positive term! Times were changing and the people of Europe and England were shaking off the chains of intellectual bondage imposed by the Church and the men doing so were seen as leaders into a brave new world by many.

(n.b. This term was also used to describe various Protestant sects in France that believed that under the gospel dispensation of grace, moral law was of no use or obligation, that faith alone is all that is necessary for salvation and nothing is sinful.  This is known as antinomianism.  The followers of this theology fully lived this idea to the disapproval of everyone else and were associated with debauchery, sensuality and depravity.  Thus, the term libertine began to take on its negative definition.)

The Church however, did not see these new freethinkers in such a positive light.  In addition, many of the new natural philosophers had talked themselves out of their faith and so after some years, nearly all freethinkers were assumed to be atheist or labeled as atheist by the Church.  While this was true for some, it was certainly not the norm of men working in these fields at that time.  It was felt (and still is by many scientist today) that you could question the theology of the Church but still have a faith in a Deity.

Nonetheless, as time went by the term libertine became more and more derogatory and associated with atheism, debauchery, sensuality and depravity which led to rumors and gossip about the morals of a libertine or freethinker, and the word became synonymous with a person of low morals and few limits as we use it today.  By the middle of the 19thcentury, libertine was no longer a sought after or welcomed sobriquet.

However, at the time our ritual was being authored, the word libertine would still have been a positive moniker and as much of Masonic ritual is about learning (the Fellowcraft degree especially) and what are often seen as Enlightenment ideas such as religious tolerance, charity towards all mankind, and associated liberal ideas. Why wouldn’t you want to make a libertine a Mason?  It would seem like a libertine as defined at that time would be a natural for inclusion in the Craft.

The answer lies in the word irreligious.  If the phrase irreligious libertine were dissected using modern definitions, then it would seem to be a redundant phrase.  It would hard to be “religious” if you were a man of compromised morals as the modern definition of libertine states, so adding the word irreligious doesn’t give a better or sharper definition of the person you want to exclude.

Now look at that phrase and the word libertine from the understanding of its definition in the 17thand 18thcentury.  This is a completely different story!  The problem isn’t that the person is a libertine. In fact it would seem to be an advantage. Being a freethinker and seeker of knowledge is part of the Masonic fabric.  The problem is having no faith…being irreligious.

While thematically, Masonry promotes learning, self-reasoning and innovation, it is always with an eye to remembering that everything is owed to Deity in whatever form you wish to perceive it.  Atheism is an anathema to the Masonic philosophy!  The authors of ritual appear to have been trying to make sure that the concept of debt to Deity was not lost as men moved forward with the new and exciting quest for knowledge that was taking place at that time. We are first introduced to this idea of faith plus reason in the Entered Apprentice charge where we are told:

There are three great duties, which as a Mason, you are charged to inculcate – to God, your neighbor and yourself.  To God, in never mentioning His name but with that reverential awe which is due from a creature to his Creator…

This is merely one place that this obligation to Deity is taught.  Ritual is full of overt and covert examples of this important basic tenet. So it wasn’t that Masonry didn’t want intelligent, inquisitive, self-reasoning men, it was that Masonry didn’t want men with those characteristics that had no faith!  This phrase was a safety stop to separate out the growing number of philosophers and scientists that had abjured or lost their faith in the face of the new knowledge.  It preserved one of the basic concepts of Masonry that man can think and grow and learn but still have a foundation in faith.

Nebraska Masonic Relief Historic Flooding and Storm Activity, March 2019

Nebraska has experienced historic flooding in the eastern part of the state and devastating blizzards in central and western Nebraska with major loss of farm and ranching assets and income in the month of March 2019. Many of our Nebraska Masonic family members have no doubt been affected by these catastrophic events and will need assistance to get back on their feet. Here’s how you can help.



The Nebraska Masonic Relief Fund is collecting monetary donations that will be dispersed to Masonic family members affected by the floods and storms through an application process. If the donations exceed the needs of our Masonic family, the funds will be donated to other flood and storm relief efforts. Those interested in making a financial donation to support relief efforts can do so by clicking the Donate button below.


Donations can also be mailed to Grand Lodge of Nebraska, 301 N Cotner Blvd., Lincoln, NE 68505. Checks should be made payable to Grand Lodge Relief Fund, with flood/storm relief in the memo field.

Thank you so much for your support of this relief effort.