Sunday, March 10, 2019

Guest Article: "The Problem with Banning Politics and Religion" by WBro. Robert H. Johnson

I am honored to be publishing a really intriguing article touching one of the third rails of Masonry by a friend of mine, WBro. Robert H. Johnson, podcaster and wonderful all-around brother. Enjoy!

It’s one of the first things we’re told regarding the fraternity, whether due to the instruction of a new member or explaining some basics to the profane (uninitiated). “We don’t discuss politics or religion in lodge. It’s divisive.” We may also hear something along the lines of, “No two topics divide men like politics and religion.” The hope is by adhering to these “rules” a more unified organization emerges. We as members of this fraternity are intended to be brothers, not in title alone, but in the fullest import of the term. We are to cry with our brothers, rejoice with our brothers, to be intimately connected with them—to have Storge. Storge is the Grecian term for a familial love. C.S. Lewis considered it, “... responsible for 9/10ths of all solid and lasting human happiness.”

This love is of the utmost importance. It provides a basis for our relationships and gently guides us in our actions when interacting with our members. Unity is the goal. We cannot have men angry with each other and also be unified, not in the way we want. We want to promote a unified vision of making good men better, of uplifting the human condition and the conscious mind. Above all, we treat our members as family. We are a diverse collection of people, who all have different backgrounds, customs and beliefs. Just like in the profane world where we have biological families with beliefs different from our own.

In our various interactions with family, do we stray from the discussion of politics and religion? In recent times, that answer is “Yes.” According to a 2018 CBS poll the majority of Americans don’t talk politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Currently political opinions are more than divisive, they are accusatory, they are defining, they are misunderstood. Absolutely polarizing and disruptive. This is a trend that has reached fever pitch in 2019.

The apprehension, fear and trepidation we have as a society in terms of the discussion of our ideologies and other beliefs stems from some simplistic shortcomings.

When discussions of any type are taking place there is an inability of the average person to listen, think, and ask refining questions as to the ideas being proposed. We hear a few trigger words and our attention is immediately drawn to our own minds, instantly retorting, and taking a series of mental tangents. We’ve lost the ability to ask and listen, and repeat.
Once we’ve heard the position, we can then ask the person, “Can you tell me if I understand you correctly?” Wrap up the position as you understand it and get that persons approval--”Is this what you mean?”. Then, if you disagree, present your position. This is proper, polite and allows us to grow through the mutual expression of ideas.
Secondly, we have a problem with cognitive dissonance. This is the emotional aversion to learning something which may not support or which may be in complete contrast to an idea we’ve spent years believing in.
A man goes to prison for a murder ten years ago. Eyewitness testimony along with top investigative work was used in the man’s conviction. The idea that this man was guilty was something believed by the prosecution. His conviction was proof of his absolute guilt. Years later there is an appeal. DNA evidence is available and for the first time, our convicted man has a chance to prove his innocence. The case is reopened, the DNA is tested and his innocence is proven. The man is still convicted in the minds of the people who put him in prison. This is an example of cognitive dissonance. When we fail to acknowledge new information regardless of what it means for us, we fail to progress mentally and emotionally.
If we may learn to address these things as a society, then perhaps there is a chance at growth and effective compromise. This however, is only a start.

Addressing Our Vulnerabilities

We have an inability to admit vulnerability to our peers. Specifically, we won't admit when we don’t understand something. There is no shame in admitting that we don’t understand a political or religious concept to our peers.

We all have apprehension in this, because by admitting we don’t understand something, we’re egregiously labeled as something, whether that's a “bleeding heart liberal” or a “bible thumping conservative”, choose your own insult here. Instead of assisting someone to understand, we label them ignorant and a part of the problem. This is wrong.

Strengthening the Mind

We have a general illiteracy of mind which is only further weakened by an inability or a willful ignorance to try and understand better. This “try” is an action--an exercise which without its use atrophies our minds and the consequence is a blank slate by which politically charged media may imprint their own version of events.

Succinctly, this is an eisegetical subjective message which is presented on a network, whether conservative or liberal. It will promote a way of thinking or narrative which is designed to either win over a simple mind or solidify the existing belief of the observer. The only way to combat this is to practice your own critical thinking skills. It’s hard. We all know the dangers of sharing articles on social media without reading them, basing our share on a great headline. This is relevant because this is an example of not critically thinking, not reading, not absorbing the actual information for yourself.

Consuming Ideas

It was not always this way. There was a time before social media, before headlines were underscored with the number of minutes it will take to read. e.g. “3 minute read.” appearing under an article posted to Facebook. In the past we would need to get the paper or book, open it and read it. Digest it, talk to our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers in order to work the information over in our minds. To swish around the wine if you will. If we travel farther back in time, you could note that the title of books came at the end of the text. e.g. At the end of gospels, it might say something like, “This is the gospel according to John.” In this way, you would read the book, and then get a title. Today, we have a title and if not enticed by it, we pass it up.

In the days of yore, pre-internet, pre twenty-four-hour news coverage, I presume, evidence lacking, that we may have been better at discussion and critical thinking. Likely, because we had to be. Now we’re too busy to do our own research, to busy to form our own opinions and rely on what we trust to be accurate and objective news and information. Like Bing Crosby said in “White Christmas”, "everyone’s got an angle." You know who doesn’t though? You. Us. The only angle we might have is that of trying to understand and by our understanding, improve the outlooks and current conditions humanity is existing within.

What this does to the Fraternity

So why have we banned the topics of religion and politics within the lodge? They are divisive, yes, but only when we decide not to practice those first three pieces of the liberal arts and sciences. Those three arts whose foundation is predicated on faith in intent, hope in understanding and love of our Brother. The trivium-- Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic, which are glossed over in lodges and emphasis is almost entirely given to the quadrivium.. But let’s be honest, how many truly study these when we’ve been told to? What I outlined above are just a few techniques on how we can begin to utilize the trivium in order to understand and hold polite discourse with an objective of finding common ground and solve our issues.

Freemasonry is said to be a Progressive Moral Science. So much of what we speak about within the craft is of a language unknown. While we maintain that we understand the words and meaning, the reality is that we do not. We infrequently look at the meaning of the words within the time the words were written. Words change over time and so do their meanings. WB Scott Dueball is well known in my home jurisdiction of Illinois of explaining this to our constituency. A wonderful example is the word “Condescension.” In current use it is something negative. When the word was written however, it meant something wholly different. It meant to meet on the level.

Where It Comes From

Let us look at the words, Progressive Moral Science in their contextual use--that is, how those words were meant when they were written. This exercise will enable us to comprehend whether or not we are truly acting according to the dictates of Freemasonry, something we often are
concerned with, in other words protecting the vision as laid out by the sacrosanct documents; The Ancient Charges and the Landmarks.

The word “Progressive” has since the 1600s, been used in the majority of the time to describe idealizm and moving it forward. While this may not be news to you, it will be news to those who say the word “Progressive” is only meant to convey that we “Progress” from degree to degree. Because it’s more likely the former, when we say a “Progressive” moral science, we are setting the tone for a purpose. That purpose is to enact a system by which we may influence an idealizm that promotes acceptance and, social reforms. This point is further supported when we look at the next word, “Moral.”  

The word “Moral” can be traced to the 1400s and its use there is one depicting the ideal of character and the ideas one displays in his day to day life. His behaviors are defined as his morality. As we progress in time, likely to about the period the language was used within our fraternity, the word changes very little. It’s now taken on not only the behaviors, but also the concept of customs. Finally in 1752 we see the use in order to describe one's principles, good conduct and confidence. Interestingly it maintains the idea of customs as well, which is very relevant when we consider that there are various customs the world over. Further, that each of these customs is of a subjective nature in the country from which they were born. E.g. Does one use the left hand for a greeting? And if so, is that “Moral” in the region in which the greeting was given?
This information supports the idea that the word “Progressive” means or is tied to “Social Reforms.”

Next we must look at the word “Science”. From the mid 1300s, we see it used to describe knowledge, the application of knowledge and learning. This has remained the case to this day.
By this exploration, one must necessarily ask ourselves how we would practice this Royal Art? Obviously we are going to run into a conundrum. Don’t see it yet? Let us continue.

The Conundrum Explained

There is a point where our governments have provided us leaders through the process of democratic means. These leaders are titans built on idealizm and funded by donations from constituents, lobbyists and by companies. These leaders give us the laws by which we are to live and yet, where do they get these laws from? Our laws stem from, in most cases, our philosophical take on life-- the majority of this is given to us through our various faiths, and at other times, it is derived from simply reflecting on the human condition.

Our political system as it exists has taken on idealizm given by our religious texts.To make matters more complicated, it’s largely based on the issue of interpretations of those texts. This is human nature, to make sense of things and to want to govern and rule with a set of ideas which one believes in, to impart the best way of living, to promote the aforementioned idea of unity.

By nature, a government is to address the issues of the people. Our United States constitution gives us the right to “[...] life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” A sentiment similar in nature comes from Thomas Paine, in his book, The Rights of Man, in which he lists the role of government. In his case the British monarchy and parliament. “Government's sole purpose is safeguarding the individual and his/her inherent, inalienable rights; each societal institution that does not benefit the nation is illegitimate—especially monarchy and aristocracy.”

In order to assist the nation, a government takes it upon itself to address it’s social reforms, the “Progressive moral science.” Not surprising considering the Masonic connection to our country’s founding philosophy.

The Rub

So then, the eventual outcome is that religion has infiltrated the politics and has made the two inseparable. In addition the political system has taken on what the Masonic fraternity is charged to do. And, because these are now inseparable, we many not discuss the “Progressive Moral Science” in its proper context without violating our stand against the discussion of politics or religion in our lodges.

Today, if you tell me something you believe in, I can drop you into a bucket which would be labeled a broad definition of a political camp. Republican, Democrat but more likely, Liberal or Conservative, due to the extremism in America at the present. Alternatively, you could tell me which political party to which you are a member and I will guess your Religious alignment.

The Pew Research Center published a poll which gives us the data on this topic. Party affiliation has almost become the new religion due to the moral values which have been absorbed into the institution. A simple idea like assisting those less fortunate through a tax is Democratic and to support the those same people via voluntary donation is seen as Republican. The outcome is similar but the way we get there is different. The contention that exists is largely driven by the understanding of human rights as it pertains to our own property and its ability to be taxed or not, and a slew of other various philosophical minutia.

Returning to the beginning of this paper, I outlined a set of practices in which people could begin to hold social discourse and to work to understand each other. If we did this, could we then begin to talk about issues affecting society and raise more awareness than our tempers? I wonder if it’s okay to discuss in a tiled lodge, the safety of a group of local workers constructing a building? Could I do this in such a way, and organize a social program or even introduce a bill into local government to assist these workers? Could you use the Masonic lodge to speak to our benevolent minded brothers regarding a social injustice that’s happened in the community?

The answer is a resounding, “No.” There is a great confounding of politics and moral values. How do I know this? Because I have seen it shot down in lodge. Because I have seen men brought up on Masonic charges for attempting to practice the “Progressive Moral Science.” A simple idea to assist and organize something for the community, due to the local governments intellectual jurisdiction over all things relating to the welfare of her constituents is by nature political and as such, is banned from the local lodge. We’re left to donating money to benign causes. Donating money to organizations that do the work for us, and who likely contribute to the very politicians who promise to help. Have we abandoned Freemasonry’s original intent? Have we negated it completely? Or perhaps, is what we’ve been doing simply the best we can do since we’ve bound ourselves up?

A Charge

It’s my contention to assert a very real revelation. Directly, that by the exercise of removing our right to discuss politics or religion within a lodge, we have effectively neutered our ability to practice the Royal Art within the context of our original stated purpose. Abandoning our tradition, without ever even realizing it. On one hand we vehemently oppose changes to anything, on the other, we stand ignorant of what’s changed already and accepting of the limitations we put on ourselves.

If we are to take control and practice Freemasonry, then we ought to learn how to effectively communicate, listen, digest, ask further questions, listen again and comprehend. By this action, we may be able to have these discussions within a lodge and hence affect our local communities, truly working for the betterment of the human condition. Maybe even leaving the world a better version of what it was before we came into it. Perhaps instead of banning talk of a religious or political nature, we should instead train how to hold proper discourse?

Undoubtedly there is no recourse in separating political ideology from religious ideology. The bond is indissoluble. Perhaps rightly so. There are throughout the ages, philosophical discussions about whether humanity can have a set of morals without having a codified religious dogma from which it would be bourn. Again, two sides, who ardently disagree over the revelation of human rights, and morality.

In closing out this dialogue I wish to leave you all with an ask, and that is to be mindful. To listen before formulating a response and to attempt, however uncomfortable it may be, to see things from your fellow’s point of view. Walk a mile in their shoes, truly. Only through attempting this exercise in perception can we see the foundation of an idea all the same foreign to us, and from there, where we can align our values and endeavor to embody Unity. Then, we can practice Freemasonry’s Royal Art, the Progressive Moral Science.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Guest Post: WBro. Jimmy Harris - Football, Flags, and Protest

WBro. Jimmy Harris, Past Master of Faribault Lodge No. 9
I was born an addict. My mother and father both used drugs and suffered all the consequences associated with that. My father left when I was five and went on to become a very low bottom drunk/addict. He was a hobo and worked as a carnie with several amusement companies before his addictions finally made him unsuitable for even that. Although he did eventually gain ten years of sobriety, he threw that away and died a drunk at the age of fifty-two. My mother, sometime after my father left us, turned to prostitution to support her heroin habit. After several moves, we found ourselves in Homestead, Florida. My two brothers and I (all under 8 years of age) were left alone for long periods of time to fend for ourselves. One day a neighbor noticed some bruises on my youngest brother’s back and legs left on all of us from my mother’s Marine Corps lover/supplier. That night we were removed from my mother’s care and spent the next two years in various foster homes in Dade County. (This was more than a decade before the name change to Miami-Dade in 1997.) Following much effort on the part of my maternal grandparents, we were adopted by them in August of 1984. We moved to a very small farming community called Beaumont, Kansas where I had a troubled youth and young adulthood. I found myself making many mistakes and having to come to terms with my own addictions. I completed my last in-patient treatment on December 13, 2004 and was raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason that night in Star of the East Lodge #33 Owatonna, Minnesota.

I give this very brief history to say this: I have found help in my struggles throughout my life. Although I have not had it easy, I have had it easier than many. In Masonry especially I have found many friends as well as Brothers; the closest of which is Worshipful Brother Nick Johnson. He originally invited me to write about another completely unrelated topic, but I found I could not focus on that with the matters of free speech, respect for country, and protest consuming so much of our collective attention.

Today, as I sit in my suite on Waikiki Beach and enjoy the wonders our Great Architect has wrought in this paradise, I recognize I sit here largely as a function of my birth. Although I was not given much, I was afforded many advantages men born into different circumstances do not enjoy. The first of which is the fact that I am an American. I have never had to seek refuge from a warlord or been afraid to speak my mind. But even in America that is also a function of the color of my skin. I remember vividly standing alongside the family during their interview on CNN regarding Philando Castile who was gunned down in Minneapolis. I have never had to fear a uniformed police officer or had to ask why I was stopped. Other advantage I had due largely to my skin color includes a good education. With that education, I completed an apprenticeship and became a Journeyman Lineman. I enjoy the benefits of being in the top 5% of income earners with very little encumbrance upon my advancement. During my career, I have worked in many distressed areas throughout this country. I have befriended people in the Southside of Chicago, Kansas City Kansas, South Central LA, Detroit, North Minneapolis, and many other cities. I have seen firsthand there is no such thing today as liberty and justice for all.

Receiving most of my education in a small 3A school in rural Kansas, I was able to participate in several sports. Taking a knee was never a sign of disrespect. It was quite the opposite. We took a knee to get instruction from our coaches. We also took a knee to give solemn respect to any injured player, friend or adversary.

I say all of that to say this: as men and Masons we owe it to our nation to be honest and forthright in our deliberations. Let us not confuse the separate issues of protest with patriotism. Let us not forget why these men kneel in respect. Let us always be mindful of that time we ourselves stood blind and penniless at the Altar of Masonry.

I was moved by seeing the players, coaches, and owners standing together in a chain of unity. Would that Masons also stood united in support of every American regardless of their circumstance remembering we regard the inward characteristics that elevate us! Let us stand together, even with those who kneel to do it.

I am fortunate to have many close friends in Masonry, very especially, my good friend WBro. Jimmy Harris. He has been gracious in writing this paper on things that have weighed on his mind, just as they have on the mind of many. Thank you, brother. You're a gift in my life.

Have an opinion? Leave a comment below.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Commentary: Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 (with some Job)

In my final commentary concerning the scriptural reference found in our degrees, I have seen a change. I've changed after rereading this closing poem to Ecclesiastes. Because I think context is key, I have posted the full poem while highlighting what we recognize.

Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8

Truly the light is sweet, 
and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: 
But if a man live many years, 
and rejoice in them all; 
yet let him remember the days of darkness; 
for they shall be many. 
All that cometh is vanity.

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; 
and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, 
and walk in the ways of thine heart, 
and in the sight of thine eyes: 
but know thou, that for all these things 
God will bring thee into judgment.
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, 
and put away evil from thy flesh: 
for childhood and youth are vanity.

Remember now thy Creator 
in the days of thy youth, 
while the evil days come not, 
nor the years draw nigh, 
when thou shalt say, 
I have no pleasure in them;
While the sun, or the light, 
or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, 
nor the clouds return after the rain:

In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, 
and the strong men shall bow themselves, 
and the grinders cease because they are few, 
and those that look out of the windows be darkened,
And the doors shall be shut in the streets, 
when the sound of the grinding is low, 
and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, 
and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low;

Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, 
and fears shall be in the way, 
and the almond tree shall flourish, 
and the grasshopper shall be a burden, 
and desire shall fail: 
because man goeth to his long home, 
and the mourners go about the streets:

Or ever the silver cord be loosed, 
or the golden bowl be broken, 
or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, 
or the wheel broken at the cistern.
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: 
and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; 
all is vanity.

I find our use of this particular passage fascinating. We discuss in our lectures the subject of death and mortality. In fact, of all the subjects in all the degrees, mortality seems to get the most ink. It's a focus of the Royal Master, Select Master, Order of the Temple. The symbols of death, the coffin, the shovel, and the grave are highlighted. But, have we thought of the square?

As I mentioned in the previous two entries to this series, I think that matching the movable jewel to the Biblical passage is a good exercise for us. In this degree, we see the joining of the two previous tools, the plumb and the level. Through the working of time (the level) and the rectitude of our character (the plumb), we square ourselves for the day when the silver cord is loosed, when the golden bowl be broken. This is the final measurement.

All these things we do, these things we concern ourselves with, are vanity of vanities, in the words of the preacher. They are vain attempts at perpetuity. Then the physical self returns to the earth and the soul departs to Heaven. These words are not intended to be hopeful, this is a lamentation after all. It's the judgement of the Grand Master of Heaven and Earth, wearing the symbol of life, the square, that determines what's next. And that's the rub. We don't have a single passage to work through. We lament but then we find hope.

At Masonic funerals, the words found in Job 14 are spoken (with additions from the Latin Vulgate of collection of Psalm verses). Job is a beautiful and difficult book. It lyrically laments on the absolute power contained within God and the minuscule contribution a single man will have, no matter how successful. The specific words we use are meant to give us some sense of completion, that what we work for and strive for has purpose. And it is explained thusly:

Mortals, born of woman,
    are of few days and full of trouble.
They spring up like flowers and wither away;
    like fleeting shadows, they do not endure.
Do you fix your eye on them?
    Will you bring them before you for judgment?
Who can bring what is pure from the impure?
    No one!
A person’s days are determined;
    you have decreed the number of his months
    and have set limits he cannot exceed.
So look away from him and let him alone,
    till he has put in his time like a hired laborer.
“At least there is hope for a tree:
    If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
    and its new shoots will not fail.
Its roots may grow old in the ground
    and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
    and put forth shoots like a plant.
But a man dies and is laid low;
    he breathes his last and is no more.
As the water of a lake dries up
    or a riverbed becomes parched and dry,
so he lies down and does not rise;
    till the heavens are no more, people will not awake
    or be roused from their sleep.
“If only you would hide me in the grave
    and conceal me till your anger has passed!
If only you would set me a time
    and then remember me!
If someone dies, will they live again?
    All the days of my hard service
    I will wait for my renewal to come.
You will call and I will answer you;
    you will long for the creature your hands have made.
Surely then you will count my steps
    but not keep track of my sin.
My offenses will be sealed up in a bag;
    you will cover over my sin.
“But as a mountain erodes and crumbles
    and as a rock is moved from its place,
as water wears away stones
    and torrents wash away the soil,
    so you destroy a person’s hope.
You overpower them once for all, and they are gone;
    you change their countenance and send them away.
If their children are honored, they do not know it;
    if their offspring are brought low, they do not see it.
They feel but the pain of their own bodies
    and mourn only for themselves.”

Boy, that's depressing. So, what do we do? How do we take this set of verses and apply them to the hopeful nature of Freemasonry? 

For me, reading through this, with the idea of vale of tears clearly in mind, I think it's the author's way of telling us to stop worrying about death and instead to focus on life. We will experience death, we will leave sad and despondent people behind just as some before us have left us behind. Our work may be forgotten but ultimately, the Great Artificer is design plans upon some celestial work. 

We are living stones but just one. Nothing more, nothing less. All things are vanity, meaningless, when we reside on the quarry floor. We can't see what might be constructed from our efforts so we exert because it is good.

The final commentary by God to Job has always been distressing to me but also heartening. Boiled down, God is chastising Job for thinking he can know the great multitudes present in creation. Job has tested God into explaining what everything means. And God rebukes him.

Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?" (Job 38:2)

And then, God uses building metaphors to describe the creation of the universe:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4-7)

Again, a request for trust, for faith. That sometimes, when we think that we are not receiving the fairest possible shake from God, perhaps it's only that at our ground level view, that we don't actually see where we fit, how we fit. And that is absolutely frustrating.

My take away is that sometimes, in our darkest fears, that death will cut short our contributions, that life is too short, that everything is meaningless, that our lack of contributions are just us lacking perspective. We just need to keep shaping our living stone, keep working, and know that God will ultimately fit us once we cross the vale of tears. Meaningless might be what we think we do but meaningless is not what we are. That's what sayeth this preacher.

Thoughts? Leave your comments below.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Guest Post: "If Your Lodge Were to Close Tomorrow[...]" by Keith Martinson

If your lodge were to close tomorrow, would your community notice?

This question was asked on a social media site, and the answers might, or might not surprise you.

The overwhelming majority of respondents said that no, their lodge would not be missed in the community at all. The question then becomes, why? Why would a lodge that has been there, in some cases for over a century, suddenly not be missed? There are a myriad of answers, the lodge isn’t involved in the community, there aren’t enough active members to put on community events, there are barely enough members to hold stated meetings, and the list goes on. We now have a good idea of why, but before I get into the possible solutions to this problem, I’d like to delve deeper into the underlying reasons that there are fewer members at lodge.

I will begin by saying that Masonry is not a charity, nor is it a service organization, it never has been, let that sink in for a minute. The purpose of masonry is to make its members better than they were, not to act as a charity or as a community service organization. In fact, our rituals are pretty specific in what we as masons are obligated to do. Help, aid and assist poor distressed worthy brothers, their widows and orphans, treat others as you would want to be treated, etc.... But wait, what about that faith hope and charity thing? If you go back to the origins of the word charity, you will find that is is derived from a Latin word meaning generous love. So, masonic charity is to promote love, to all mankind, but more especially a brother mason. Charitable giving, is important, and we as masons should give as much as we are able, but, and this is important, charity is not the purpose of masonry, charity is the result of masonry. The teachings of masonry and the type of men it attracts, make charitable giving a natural extension of our fraternity.

To keep attracting the type of men that have a predisposition to giving, we as existing members, and officers must make the lodge a place where people want to go. If we can’t take care of ourselves, we certainly can’t take care of our communities. I believe this is where masonry seems to get it backwards, we must look to our brethren first, because that is our job, the welfare and care of our existing members. If we solve that issue, the others will fall into place without much effort.

So how do we make the lodge a place where our members want to go? Honestly, I believe the answer is, ANYTHING! Do something that entices the members to show up. Hold a lodge BBQ during the warmer months, have a movie night, or hold card tournaments. If your lodge doesn't have a building, plan a golf outing,  go to a local park and have a BBQ with brothers and their families. Obviously there are as many ideas out there as there are masons. The point is, do something, do it now, and do it often. Change begins with you, and once it starts, it can't be stopped. The brothers are our most important resource, we must treat it with care.

Thanks to my friend, Bro. Keith, for providing a great piece. He is the sitting Senior Warden of Tusler-Summit Lodge No. 263 of Roseville MN.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Market Based Freemasonry and the Propagation of Lodges: Part 1

"Freemasonry is dying."
-That brother you chat with after lodge

How often do you hear that phrase? If you've been in Freemasonry for even a short time, I guarantee you've heard this. For whatever reason, a society built on traditions always seems to obsess with traditions, to the detriment of all other things. Freemasonry is no different.

I've been thinking about the various Masonic projects I've worked on, all those things that have increased or decreased my satisfaction in the Craft, and the one thing I always come back to is the thrill of the try. I love planning these things. I love seeing them happen, even when they don't work. And this brought me to something even more general, what I like most is making a market of ideas and events to bolster our underlying mission, to bring good men together of divergent backgrounds into a chain of union. We are, at our best, market based.

A friend and brother have been looking at ways of bringing market based solutions to improve Freemasonry. Here is our list.

1) Allow lodges to die quickly and easily. 

This is the hardest principle for our older members to accept. It makes sense, in a way. When you exert years of energy into a project, the mere thought that it could be discarded is a almost distasteful. But that's the problem. 

We have all been to a zombie lodge. Oftentimes, they continue to run into a wall. When new energy shows up, they gobble it up and that new brain goes away, either by leaving, or worse, becoming a part of it. A lodge like this should die. This lodge drags down Masonry by lessening the experience. And it's not just localized. Masonry, being a node based interconnected system, depends on the other nodes to pass information. If one node becomes slow, or weaker, more energy is applied with far worse results.

2)  Allow lodges to be born easily, with few restrictions.

On the flip side, we need to encourage new lodges. Lots of them. A market based system based on protectionism just increases inefficiency. Inefficiency is not a good thing. Progress is slowed. Innovation (the good kind) is stunted. We lose eager brothers behind red tape. 

Here are some examples I've seen in various Codes. Don't worry, I'll unpackage all of these.

a) New lodge must get permission from existing lodges.

b) New lodges cannot be within a set distance of another lodge.

c) Number of Master Masons signing exceeds, and in some cases, far exceeds the quorum requirements of existing lodges.

d) Restrictions on who can be the signer if the petition for dispensation, i.e. no elected officer in another lodge.

e) Subjective ritual standards that require near perfection of work by lodges UD inconsistent with existing chartered lodges.

f) Required to work in only Masonic buildings and with all paraphernalia at dispensation.

Before I get started, the funny thing is oftentimes, the fee itself to petition for a dispensation to form a lodge is almost a pittance, indicating to me that this economic protectionism in American Freemasonry was never originally intended.

a) New lodge must get permission from existing lodges and b) new lodges cannot be within a set distance of another lodge.

This boggles my mind. Why on earth would you give the organization most in need of competition rights over their competitor? If there is a subset of brothers so set on starting a lodge in the vicinity of another lodge, the likelihood is that there is either a) plenty of room for the both of them or b) a defect in the existing lodge. 

I get that. In how we are designed organizationally, we are a franchisee/franchisor arrangement. Restricting where a lodge can form creates huge sections of area that become unserviced by a Masonic lodge. That's economically wasteful. If a market exists and there is interest, we should be there. Instead, we'll have brothers driving 30 minutes, 40 minutes, only to sit bored. Time is value and lack of availability will immediately butt into that.

c) Number of Master Masons signing exceeds, and in some cases, far exceeds the quorum requirements of existing lodges and d) restrictions on who can be the signer if the petition for dispensation, i.e. no elected officer in another lodge.

These restrictions are often aimed at who can sign the petition for dispensation. And as you can see, these can get ridiculous fairly quickly. We already have a ritualistic/legal/traditional number of Master Masons necessary to form a lodge. It's seven. Seven. So, when you see 12.... 15.... 25!, even 50!, ask yourself, why?

The only reason I can think of is that, just like most protectionist laws, it starts with good intentions. Maybe the Grand Lodge brothers were worried about quality or sustainability. But now, these two become something far worse. Try starting a lodge that needs 25 Master Masons who are not elected officers. As someone who did, it's near impossible. If you can find one active Mason, he will, more likely than not, be one of those five things.

Even worse is that you also try to grab brothers who are MINOs, Members in Name Only. Getting across the finish line requires just getting names on a sheet of paper. That's no way to build excitement while the lodge project is under dispensation. And worse, it's a fiction as well as to encourage potential bad faith attempts to start a lodge.

e) Subjective ritual standards that require near perfection of work by lodges UD inconsistent with existing chartered lodges.

I am a ritualist and I absolutely believe we should demand high quality work. But, since this is a franchise relationship, the base standards should be the same across all locations. Basing the base performance of a new lodge at the desired standard while allowing other lodges to essentially skate is patently unfair and a barrier to growth.

To fix this, the standards should be clearly defined. It should be an objective standard or at least one reduced to the ability to open and close the lodge.

f) Required to be in Lodge buildings with paraphernalia

Hold on while I hold my head.

"Hi, I'm a new lodge. I have a building agreement in place with a Masonic building with all the paraphernalia in place."

Really? We have hundreds of buildings that can be rented so why do we need to be trapped in a Masonic™ building? Private rooms should suffice. More protectionism to prevent flexibility.

We can do better in that regard. We can make lodges vibrant by accepting the market.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I lay out the ideal market based lodge creation which I call the Flexible Lodge

Comments? Leave a comment below.