Friday, August 25, 2006

A Shriner speaks out

Many thanks to TubalCain420 for finding this gem of an emailed newsletter from Shriner Carl Jones of Dallas, Texas, written last winter to his Shrine brethren.

...If the founding fathers of this country, MANY of whom were Masons, took the attitude of "peace and harmony" that we take today, we'd all be sending the Queen Mum a birthday card! There are times when you MUST stand up and speak out....

February 17, 2006

Dear Friends:

I'm 99% certain that some of you won't like what I'm about to say if your Fez says "Divan" or "PP" on it.... But, as we all know, this won't be the first or last time that happens. And if you'll read this with an open mind, you'll have to agree I'm right on the points I make.

Every now and then, a fact hits you so hard and so squarely in the face and you just have to comment on it... This is one of those times.... like many before now and many in the future, I'm sure!

Anytime you have the inmates running the asylum, you have nay-sayers... so I'm ready for the typical mail I get after emails like this. I have a tee-tiny file all set up for it. And I also have a folder set up for the mail that is supportive of this position! That email ALWAYS outnumbers the naysayer's by about 25 to 1. And that is precisely why this list of mine is so widely read. It's one of the only, if not the only, voice that lays it on the line without being censored by "the powers that be" within the fraternity. Plus, I'm not now, nor ever again in the future, running for any Masonic related office and so I don't have to be p.c. just to garner and retain votes — or cower before the "movers and shakers" — or any of those other ridiculous and antiquated ways of living. I think that might be one of the reasons why so many G.L. and Imperial Officers around the country are on the list — as well as MANY readers across the pond. They read what is REALLY going on in certain areas without the information being filtered....

As you'll read below, Shrine membership is down to 411,000 from about 940,000 in 1980. I have some thoughts as to why.... However, first let me say that I tip my fez to Imperial Sir Ralph. He's doing a phenomenal job getting the information out and I consider him to be one of the greatest assets of the Shrine. Like me, he loves email and he knows it's CRITICAL to share vital information with our membership. Great job, as always, Ralph! And while I'm at it, let me say that our Imperial Officers are doing all they can do, and more, with what we — as Shriners — give them to work with. The problems, as I see them, originate at the local level and our national leaders have little, if anything, that they can really do to correct them. For the THOUSANDS of hours that our Imperial officers donate to our Fraternity over their 10 year time in the line, they should NEVER hear that they are the problem or that they should be able to solve our problems. So let me go on record as saying we should get off their backs and look to ourselves to get these problems fixed. Imperial doesn't have a magic wand. WE, as Nobles, do! IF we will use it.

411,000 Shriners left on our way to MAYBE 100,000, if we are lucky, before we either implode or turn the corner....

I don't think we can turn this battleship before then because, as I've said before, we have FAR too many "fiefdom's" which are "holy ground" to their tenant's and these guys would rather drive this fraternity into the ground, rather than give up their perks...or not have people kiss their butts at every meeting, or be revered for what they did DECADES ago....

How do I know??? Well, after 5 years as EWG Chairman at my local temple (where our EWG results were pretty darn good) I spent 2 years on the Divan before deciding to reclaim my life and not run for office again. (It turned out to be one of the best decisions I've ever made.) Plus, along the way, I was on the investment advisory committee and prepared incredibly detailed financial reports including projections for 5 years in the future -- on EVERY line item on the budget based on up to the minute, accurate financial data. (Including those line items that contained those "sensitive" expenditures.... which weren't really discussed with the Nobility that much..) There were also more than a few other stops in positions of responsibility so I'm comfortable saying that I know what's going on, generally speaking, on these matters. And, as a CFP, I understand financial statements and spreadsheets pretty well.... The numbers were frightening, to say the least. The loss of income and increased expenditures by 2006-2007 would make a grown man cry.... I know that I was shocked to see how bad the problems were, and even more shocked to find out that the guys above me on the line, at that time, wouldn't take action because it would negatively impact "their" year.... That's funny to me. "Their" year.... I thought the years in a Shrine Temple belonged to ALL of the Nobility.... didn't you?

That particular temple is lucky to have another outspoken man on the Divan now. He's a PP and is the Recorder. The first one in years to actually do anything, as far as many of us are concerned. He at least shows up, knows the rules, works, is liked by the staff and respected by the Nobility. He's a successful businessman, who is through running for office and as such, speaks his mind without fear of political fallout. He's written some great articles recently in their monthly publication which tell it like it is. BRAVO SIR! That Temple has to depend on catering and rentals to cover a huge part of their expenses because there just aren't enough Nobles to pay all of the bills any longer. Gee... I wonder why there aren't enough Nobles there any longer???? Or why the average age of their Nobility is about 68. (Nothing wrong with 68! But it's harder for a 23 year old Shriner to be "in touch" with a Noble 45 years older than him than it would be to be in touch with a Noble 10-20 years older. Birds of a feather, STILL flock together....)

Now, on a general level and not specific to any particular Temple — WHY do MANY (not all) Temples have such massive losses in the Nobility? Let me think... How about these for starters:

1. Incompetent Divan Officers.

2. Fiscal foolishness.

3. Fiscal improprieties.... (oh yes)

4. People in positions of leadership who should have been run out of the Fraternity on a rail, YEARS ago.

My personal opinion, and my personal research CLEARLY suggests to me that younger, professional, intelligent men — especially those with families — have NO interest in being part of ANY group that is run by people decades older than them who are primarily interested in getting free clothes (Divan uniforms) purchased for them by the dues of their members, or getting free "adult beverages" purchased for them from the dues of the many, or having MANY trips and dinners paid for them by the Temple. The "old ways" created the image of "old white men who are often drunkards". (I told you that some of you wouldn't like this email...) But friends, the truth is that description is the EXACT description used by people as they answered this question that I asked them — "What comes to your mind when you think of a Shriner?" I assure you — I was speechless when I kept hearing those words, or similar (and worse) words used to describe our Fraternity.... That's what they thought... and MANY people said the same thing.... Sure, there were some good comments too. But there were FAR too many negative comments for my tastes...

Let me offer some thoughts on each of the 4 items above. I'm sure that most of this won't come as a surprise to many of you, but then again, it might. And if nothing else, I hope it will cause you to stand up in the next Stated Meeting and ask some HARD questions of the sitting Divan Officers — and then have the guts to not let them off the hook until they answer. They know the answers... believe me. They just don't want to give you those answers... not then and not in a public forum! You'll see the sweat on their brow and you'll see 'em squirm when you start to ask these... trust me....

1. Incompetent Divan Officers. We've all seen them. They are often identified by the fact they love to say, "I just want to be a PAST Potentate." Where DO we find some of these people? I know! We find them with the help of some of the very people that should have been run out of the Fraternity years ago. These aren't leaders. They are minions. They are "yes men"... or I should say, "yes boys".... Brothers, if you keep electing incompetence to the Divan's of North America, we'll be LUCKY if we have 100,000 Shriners before we turn off the lights....

2. Fiscal foolishness... Wow... SO many things, so little time. Let's start with temples who are begging for funds for the building campaign in their monthly newsletters while at the same time they are out buying potentate pins, potentate cups, sending divan members on expense paid trips (check your Temple budget under "fraternal relations") and more.... If you'll look at the FINE PRINT in some of the budgets being passed en masse, you'll see what I mean. Just keep looking... and digging!

3. Fiscal Improprieties. In my opinion, buying clothes for the Divan, buying liquor for only the Divan and their selected few, and worse isn't foolish. It's WRONG. Dead wrong. And when that same Temple is begging for funds for the building fund, at the same time they are blowing money on these "perks"... it's more than wrong — it's an impeachable offense. I guess it's okay for the cooks to put food from the Temple kitchen in the car of the Chief Rabban... but if it's okay, why would they have to whisper?? To me, that just looks like "something is fishy." Look at Units too! I know of one Unit that wanted to use BUILDING FUNDS to send select few of their members to Imperial! They thought they were pretty funny guys by hiding the funds of the unit in an account controlled by 2 of their wives and not giving a financial report when Divan officers would visit at their Stated Meetings.... The potentate at the time got wind of it, (gee... how did that happen?) and read them the riot act! He required the funds to be put back into the unit account at once! And of course, they weren't the only ones doing it, just the only ones that got caught....

4. People in positions of leadership who should have been run out of the Fraternity, YEARS ago.... We all know them... they pretend to be our buddy when in reality they are the kind of blight on the Fraternity that runs good men off and keeps quality men from inviting their friends to join. You tell me... when you have an Imperial Potentate visit your Temple and attend a dinner with the leaders of the Temple and their wives, do you think it's appropriate for one of the more notorious wives to holler out at the Imperial Potentate like she's at a junior high school football game? Sure, she did it, not the Shriner, but she barely beat him to the punch. And when you have these kind of people in your midst, do you tolerate them or set them straight? I bet you do what most people do... you tolerate them — at the cost of losing good men, while taking in more 3rd rate men. Why??? Because we value FAR TO HIGHLY "peace and harmony". Brothers, listen up — if the founding fathers of this country, MANY of whom were Masons, took the attitude of "peace and harmony" that we take today, we'd all be sending the Queen Mum a birthday card! There are times when you MUST stand up and speak out....

With those few topics addressed and a few thoughts on each one laid before you, let me end by saying the ACTIONS STILL SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS. What actions am I proposing? Glad you asked! First — ONLY actions that are in keeping with our Masonic laws, codes, rules and regulations. ONLY those. Period. NO exceptions. There is plenty that all of us can do while remaining FAR inside the "acceptable" boundaries of conduct.

Next, stand up and speak out! ASK QUESTIONS DURING STATED MEETINGS!! (without tipping off the Divan you'll be asking them....) You have a RIGHT to know the answers to questions like:

1. Are ANY of the Divan uniforms paid for by Temple funds, and if so, how much did they cost US, the Nobility. Don't accept the pat answer, "Nobles, you approved the budget for that...." Wanna know when you approved the budget for that? I'll tell you when... when you let them read a 2-3 minute version of your budget that night instead of the ENTIRE budget.... Why would you do that? I'll tell you that too.... You let them do that because they ALWAYS do it "that way" and you were in a hurry to go home and "get that borin' meetin' stuff over...."

2. Are ANY funds of this Temple used to buy liquor for the Divan and if so, how much did it cost US, the Nobility. Don't accept the pat answer, "Nobles, you approved the budget for that...." Wanna know when you approved the budget for that? I'll tell you when... when you let them read a 2-3 minute version of your budget that night instead of the ENTIRE budget.... Why would you do that? I'll tell you that too.... You let them do that because they ALWAYS do it "that way" and you were in a hurry to go home and "get that borin' meetin' stuff over...."

3. Are ANY of the trips being taken this year, by the Divan and their select few, being paid for by the Temple and if so, how much did it cost US, the Nobility. Don't accept the pat answer, "Nobles, you approved the budget for that...." Wanna know when you approved the budget for that? I'll tell you when... when you let them read a 2-3 minute version of your budget that night instead of the ENTIRE budget.... Why would you do that? I'll tell you that too.... You let them do that because they ALWAYS do it "that way" and you were in a hurry to go home and "get that borin' meetin' stuff over...."

4. Are any of our elected or appointed divan officers, men who are, or have been in the last few years, the subject of written complaints by other Temples for their public conduct, drunkenness and aggressive behavior. Remember, Brothers, if these people continue on the path they have been on, YOUR Temple may well find itself on the 6 pm news when, and if, these people "act up" again.... We aren't talking about good natured kidding here. We're talking about public displays of disrespect brought about because the person was, again, drunk. And if there ARE any people like that on the Divan, ask the Potentate right then and there why he would appoint someone like that to a position when there are hundreds of other men who wouldn't be such a liability to the Temple and ultimately to the Kids in the Hospital. We do what we do to help the kids, right? That's why I became and remain a Shriner. I thought that was "reason #1" why ALL of us became Shriners. To help the kids... isn't it?

My suggestion is that you, as the person asking the question, ask the other Nobles who would like an answer to these questions, stand up with you. The sight of a roomful of people standing, expecting an answer, will be rather hard (impossible) to ignore without sending another clear message.

You might be asking, "what torqued Carl so hard that he'd take the time to send this out?" The answer is simple — our Fraternity and it's ability to help kids in our hospitals is fading before our eyes! We MUST DO SOMETHING, NOW!!! Read what Imperial Sir Ralph says. It's what I quoted at the top of this note... 411,000 men! Down from 940,000 only a few short years ago! The Shrine is down over 50% in membership during the time I've been a second generation Noble. I deeply believe the 4 points I made above are CLEARLY a HUGE part of the reason. I know of more than a few Temples who have ALL 4 of these issues in place. And you know of them too.. But what are we going to do about it? (talk is cheap!) I've started this ball rolling. What will YOU do?

Will you stand up at the next Stated Meeting and ask these questions? Will you stay the course and get the answers then and there, or will you vacillate and let them stall the Nobility again and again....

Or...

Will you as a Divan member, stand up FIRST and address these questions? There are Nobles from almost every Temple in Shrinedom on this list reading this along with you. Can you imagine how impressed they'd be if you took the high-ground and brought these issues to light before they bring them to light?

I'd be impressed to have the divan at my temple do it. But I won't hold my breath....

What you do is up to you. But if some folks don't have the backbone to stand up and stay the course, we're going to need somebody to turn off the lights as they exit the building... and soon.

Do something productive at the NEXT Stated Meeting and EVERY stated meeting after that until membership is turned around!

And congratulations to those Temples who have long ago addressed these issues and ARE showing an increase in membership! We tip our fez to you!

Best Wishes,
Carl E. Jones, CFP
Topper the Magic Clown
Past Master, Knox Corinthian Lodge #851
Past President, MWSA, 14th Masonic Districts, Dallas, Texas

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