Monday, January 26, 2015

How Awful and Repugnant it is...

I've been working in the digital quarries for a long time. It's been fun and rewarding at times and frustrating and infuriating as hell at times. We can all, each Mason from the early to mid 2000's, remember the controversies and crazy news of that era. Grand Orients being formed in the US, high profile embarrassing cases, and even crazier crazies on our Masonic forums. Then the crash hit and it was fairly obvious to me that a lot of the air was let out of the bag. Why focus on the troubles of Freemasonry when there was trouble in the home. Yet, in all difficult situations, there was a silver lining. The rancor and derision seemingly disappeared.

Well, I'm sad to report that the trolling is back. What's even stranger is that the new battleground is Facebook. I'm still not sure what to make of this. Ya see, ya young pups, back in the Masonic forum and blogging days, no one needed to have their name attached to their comments. We had more secret identities than the DC universe. People would create anonymous blogs, post their rantings, and then fly off into the night, creating nothing of any real value.

Now, we have Masonic Facebook groups, where brothers engage in discussions. Most of them are idiotic or inane: points in or out, eww... gurl Masons, why are you posting architectural pics on a Masonic Facebook group? Some get down right offensive, with racial slurs being used. And these guys are supposed to be Masons!

What shocks me even more is that these guys are using their Facebook name when making these statements. Literally, I have a face to go along with the guy complaining about having to sit in lodge with a brother who is black. 

We are supposed to be dispensers of light and truth but almost every Facebook forum, from All Things Masonic (one of the worst) to Masonic World Wide (Not as bad) has a huge number of trolls, unafraid to attach their reputation to vile statements. It's just strange to me.

Courtesy of Tom A.
Strangely enough, the best Masonic forum still remains /r/freemasonry. (Full disclosure I'm a mod there) What's strange about Reddit is that anonymity is part of the game. Reddit feels more like a community. We are there to share our lives and our interests in the Fraternity. If you want to attach where you're from, you add some flair stating that. If you have something to say that may get you in trouble but still needs to be said, create a throwaway account. Sure, things get heated at times but not really. So often, an argument will end with a bro hug and a well wish to come visit his lodge.

Tom A. makes the point that, since Reddit skews younger, we don't have the same set in cement attitudes as found in other places. I tend to agree. For young men, Masonry represents a community. It's not just a navel gazing endeavor of individual pursuit, where you get the secrets from someone else and lock them away. Masonry represents the working of everyone's stone. Reddit provides that experience.

If you haven't tried Reddit or have visited /r/freemasonry, you really ought to. And not only the main Freemasonry subreddit but also visit /r/yorkrite, /r/scottishrite, /r/afterlodge, /r/Masonicdadjokes, /r/shriners, and /r/Demolay. All of these sub offer a community with little rancor but lots of light (and a ton of memes... but only on Monday.)

What do you think? Has Facebook Masonry turned you off to e-Masonry? Leave a comment below.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Would This Pronouncement Still Be Acceptable Today?

Let me start by saying that I am not a Scottish Rite Mason. I've been interested in joining but I just have not found the time. However, I was fortunate to get my hands on a copy of the History of the Scottish Rite of Minnesota: 1856 to 2001, which can now be found on the Orient of Minnesota's website.

The History of the Scottish Rite of Minnesota has a lot of great information concerning not just Minnesota Scottish Rite but Minnesota Masonry. As I was reading the book, I arrived at this curious statement.

The Scottish Rite, between the two world wars, published the following policies of the Supreme Council (no longer in force). These were reprinted in the Oct. 1927 Scottish Rite Sun.

The Supreme Council has always favored free public education, the use of English as the language of instruction, the separation of church and state and the inculcation of patriotism in the schools. Additionally the Supreme Council favors:
  1. A federal department of education with a secretary in the President's cabinet.
  2. A national university at Washington, supported by the government.
  3. The compulsory use of English as the language of instruction in the grammar grades.
  4. Adequate provision for the education of the alien population, not only in cultural and vocational subjects, but especially in the principles of American institutions and popular sovereignty.
  5. The entire separation of church and state and opposition to every attempt to appropriate public moneys, directly or indirectly, for the support of sectarian institutions.
  6. The American public school, non-partisan, non-sectarian, efficient, democratic, for all the children of all the people; equal educational opportunities for all.
  7. The inculcation of patriotism, love of the flag, respect for law and order and underlying loyalty to constitutional government.
Obviously, this list is out of date but I find this list to be curious in our modern context. From my perspective, the list shows a desire by an organization to affect public life in a positive way. I sometimes wonder if we need a better enumerated, more concrete explanation of what we want to see in the world.

My question for all the Scottish Rite Masons, do you agree with most or all of this list? Leave a comment below.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Masonry Around the Dinner Table

I have been delving deeper into my faith lately. I have begun to attend church regularly. I've even done extensive research into the various different traditions found within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. During my meanderings online, I arrived at a very novel concept for a church, the Dinner Church. The church I am referring to is St. Lydia's in Brooklyn.

Each Sunday, at dinnertime, the congregants of St. Lydia's come together around a dinner table as the participate in a religious observance from the earliest days of Christianity, the agape feast. They sing songs and participate in Holy Communion as well as to share blessings and joy with each other. It is worship around the table.

Alright, usual disclaimer, Masonry is not a religion. Now that that is out of the way, I was thinking about this idea, Masonry around the dinner table. This isn't new. In fact, Masonry was performed in conjunction with food. We can read in old exposes the brothers rearranging the floor for degree work by moving tables out of the way, points in the expose when the stewards would refill tankards and places where the meal would be served. The first Grand Lodge was founded so that the Masons of London could get together to eat, drink, and be merry. Masonry and conviviality were nearly synonymous terms.

St. Lydia's approach, of sharing a meal and worshiping, is really intriguing to me, both as a Lutheran and as a Mason. My lodge, during my year, had two table lodge/Entered Apprentice degrees. It was incredible. The tl;dr, if you don't want to reread that post, was that we held a meal during the degree work. Here, in Minnesota, we have a program that allows for this. But why does it only need to be for degrees? Why can't we have a dinner in conjunction with every lodge meeting? Why do we separate the two?

Think about it for a second. Instead of stations and places, instead of a huge open space where everyone is a yards away from each other, we sit shoulder to shoulder, passing around food and drink, sharing in fraternalism in close proximity. The ritual can be done in this manner, was done in this manner, and, I'm gonna say it, should be done in this manner.

Too often, we see Masonry as this experience that is dry and boring. Minutes are read and business done. We may have a paper and we may even have a guest speaker. But all of these, every single one, is passive. We listen, we sit, we listen again, we close. We may as well have the lodge arranged as a high school classroom and issue hall passes. It doesn't have to be this way.

Imagine instead a lodge room, tables set out with food and refreshments. The officers arranged as we do now but at a table, on the same level. We open, we dine, we discuss, we close. Two hours of food and fun, enlightened discussions and fond farewells, as the Tyler's Toast is delivered and we all sing Auld Lang Syne. You like that, don't you? So do I.

We don't need to separate dining and lodge. We can do both simultaneously. This can be all one experience. Masonry is designed to bring us together. That's its stated purpose. We can bring our Craft back to its roots in a meaningful way, seeing each other as brothers, sharing our food, and sharing our time. Let's shake off the mundane and bring on the new; lodge as an experience instead of a lodge as drudgery. This can happen. This is possible. And this can be fun. Let's continue to build Masonry up, and have fun along the way. Let's eat, drink, and be merry, just like our speculative brothers did more than 300 years ago.

What do you think? Should the meal and the meeting be combined? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Exit Interviews Upon Resignation

I was reading the Q4 Communications Report of the Board of General Purposes and was struck by this passage:

"[...]London and many Provinces now operate a system of ‘exit interviews’ with the aim of ascertaining whether a resignation is owing to a general disillusionment with Freemasonry, or is related to the particular lodge of which he is a member. In the latter case it is often possible for the Metropolitan or Provincial authorities to find a more convenient or congenial lodge for the Brother to join so that his masonic career is not interrupted[...]"

 This is pretty interesting. The idea of an exit interview to ascertain why an employee is leaving a job is very common. However, I've never heard it used in a Masonic context. I think it's pretty genius.

We all know brothers that joined and left within a couple years. However, I've never seen any lodge ask why. I didn't during my year. And now that I see this, I really wished that I had.

We fail a lot on this front and blame the brother who is leaving. This is a two way street. We may be able to find something better for him. Or find out what we, in general, need to do to make Masonry relevant. And this could even be expanded from the lodge level to all Masonic organizations.

I'm going to be recommending this to the Worshipful Master of my lodge and maybe even the Grand Master. I think it's the right thing to do.

What are your thoughts? Do you think we need to conduct exit interviews for the brothers that seek to demit? Leave a comment below.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

General Grands and the KT mag December 2014

As I have in the past, I have taken to task certain thoughts expressed in the Knight Templar Magazine. The Knight Templar Magazine is the official monthly publication for the Grand Encampment of the United States of America, the national body for the Masonic Knight Templars in the US. Sadly, so many opinions expressed in the magazine are beyond the pale.

I received the December 2014 issue in the mail and was rather interested to read it. The articles on Christmas are always fun and interesting so I was looking forward to this issue. Then I arrived at John Palmer’s piece, A Chat With the Managing Editor, and was stunned, to tell the truth. The tl;dr of the letter was that we, local York Rite Masons, need to stop questioning the purpose of the national bodies. As you can imagine, I believe that's an absolutely incorrect opinion. I’m going to dig a little deeper into each of his point because I was that bothered.

The reason I mention this (the Triennial) is that the delegates to the General Grand Chapter session exhibited admirable courage and leadership by setting their dues to an amount that will sustain the organization adequately in accomplishing its mission. They are to be congratulated and hopefully emulated. I suspect that some Grand Chapters will withdraw their membership because of this action. If so, that’s sad.

As you may or may not have known, the General Grand Chapter and General Grand Council raised the per capita. The per capita has been raised by a paltry sum, but a sum nonetheless. Whether Grand Chapters and Grand Councils leave over a per capita increase is something that I can’t weigh in because those are local decisions. But the fact that there could be those that leave should give us pause and ask the question why?

I have heard the question posed more than once, “What do they do for us?” That is a nonsensical question to me and exhibits the ignorance of the questioner. 

At this point, I couldn't help but say, what?! Of course the proper question is “what do they do for us?” Every dollar that a local or state body sends to a national organization is a dollar not spent locally. That’s simple economics. So, with the lack of spending that dollar, there has to be a benefit that at least equals that dollar. So to say there is ignorance is to show ignorance. You have to provide a service to justify the per capita.

There are two things wrong with that question. First, “they” are us. The General Grand Chapter is a voluntary association of Chapter Masons who pool their resources through their Grand Chapters for the promotion of Royal Arch Masonry and its purposes. 

Let’s just call this what it is, ducking the question. There has to be a justification of existence. Just because Grand Chapters and Grand Councils voluntarily associate and pool resources doesn't mean they should if they are not gaining anything of value. If the stated purpose is to promote Royal Arch Masonry and its purposes, why can’t that be done differently than how we are doing it for the same cost? I’m quite serious on this. I see a lot of aprons and bling but is that the only way to advertise Royal Arch Masonry? Give me something I can use. Not some multistate convention, not more awards, not charity speeches. Give me something to grow my Chapter, my Council, and my Commandery.

Second, the General Grand Chapter is not supposed to do anything for us. We are supposed to work together through the General Grand Chapter to promote York Rite Masonry.

The General Grand bodies are receiving moneys to promote York Rite Masonry so that is their job. It’s really that simple. It’s not an us. Chapters, Councils, and Commanderies and their respective grand bodies are paying money to General Grand to promote York Rite Masonry on a national scale. To say that it’s an “us” operation is to mischaracterize the relationship.

The last two or three generations of members of the Masonic fraternity, including mine, I call the “moocher” generations. They inherited marvelous stately buildings and a considerable amount of cash from their predecessors and were expected to maintain the facilities, invest the assets to promote the order, to accomplish the great mission of promoting harmony and morality within our society, and to pass the assets on to today’s generation with interest. Instead, we spent the money on ourselves, let the marvelous buildings decay, bankrupted the fraternity, and left virtually no resources for subsequent generations of Freemasons.

Let’s call a spade a spade. We haven’t raised dues at the local level for a long time while also having overbuilt our infrastructure during the silver age of Freemasonry. We haven’t raised them to appease a small, now-dying, percentage of our brothers. We've created a stultified 50’s and 60’s style of Masonry that was going to be unsustainable. We overbuilt after we received a rather large glut of Masons. We've made Masonry relevant to an ever-shrinking pool of brothers and bemoan the lack of interest. We halted dues to a 50’s and 60’s era level and wonder why our money is shrinking. I mean, seriously, moochers. Come on.

Moochers is an offensive term. Masonry wasn't relevant for the Boomers when they were in their 20s. It wasn't relevant for Gen Xers in their 20s and sadly, I see us going down that same failed path again with guys my age. We talk a big game and don't deliver. We'd prefer our stale coffee, lack of education, and playing soldier.

Of course, the other more humorous point is that a letter defending General Grand Bodies, without actually providing one concrete service that any of them provide, labels those that don't think they are necessary or question a per capita increase "moochers." Hunh?

To tie this back in, every dollar sent away nationally is a dollar that won’t be spent locally. And with Masonic bodies holding down the rate of dues charged, that dollar grows ever larger so yeah, “what have you done for me lately?” I don’t fault the General Grand for raising the per capita except if there is no purpose other than to maintain status quo. If a National body can show some tangible benefit commiserate with that lost opportunity cost as well as something only it can do, it is a moocher, to use Sir Knight Palmer’s word.

Masonry is, at its core, a local concern. We should focus on those local problems first and think smaller. Masonry is evolving into something different than in past generations. It is going to be small, lightweight, and able to change as quickly as technology. The largeness of the past will give way to the smallness of the future. This will go for all Masonic bodies. Does this mean I want to abandon national Masonic bodies? Absolutely not. But I do want justification. Visiting a Grand Session isn't going to cut it. Acting as overlord of all things uniform is not going to cut it. If we are going to survive and thrive, the national bodies need to listen to the concerns of the local bodies. They need to be responsive. If they are not, then they have no purpose or value. And being dismissive of wanting justification while castigating us for not being thankful for their very existence is tone deaf.

In sum, the national Masonic bodies work for us. So justify that dollar. Spend it wisely. Prove to me and everyone at the local level that yes, the General Grand _________ really helped out in this or that. If you can’t do that, then I’d like my dollar back.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.