Monday, August 14, 2017

Don't Be a Sucker

This video, being shared all over social media in response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, VA, is an essential view for all of us who call ourselves Freemason.

Comments? Leave them below.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Guest Article: "Dues and Don’ts: Putting the Cart Before the Horse" by Bro. Josh B.

“We know the tail must wag the dog, for the horse is drawn by the cart;
But the Devil whoops, as he whooped of old: “It’s clever, but is it Art?”

From the Conundrum of the Workshops by Bro. Rudyard Kipling

Greetings Brethren.  I am Bro. Josh B., and this is my first time contributing to The Millennial Freemason.  Before I get into my purpose here, allow me to introduce myself.  I am a 36 year old husband and father of two.  I am an attorney in Columbus Ohio, and I currently serve as Worshipful Master of my local lodge.  If you frequent the /r/freemasonry Reddit board, then you know me better as “poor_yoricks_skull”.  I am honored to have been invited to blog today by Bro. Nick, who asked me to post a rebuttal to his recent blog post “The Elitist Inside,” and I thank him for the opportunity.

Let me begin by saying that I am thankful for all that Nick does on this blog, and all that he does for Freemasonry.  I appreciate that he is asking hard questions about what the younger generation wants out of the fraternity, and what we can do to guide our fraternity to a successful and vibrant future.

If you remember the previous post (or if you just skip down to read it now) you will remember that Nick had advocated for some changes in the dues structure of a lodge, which he proposes as a way of controlling the quality of our membership.  The specific proposal was to create a dues structure based on an individual brothers income, using a formula based on the “Income Based Repayment” option for student loan borrowers.

He also proposed some changes to the membership requirements, such as raising the age at which a man can first petition, and having an investigation committee make sure that a petitioner is “stable” and not “just starting out.”

While I respect the place Nick is coming from, I disagree with his approach in this instance.  In my original /r/Freemasonry criticism I accused this idea of being the tail which wagged the dog.  Asking “what should our dues be to make our lodge better?” is premature.   Instead, we should be asking “how much does the lodge need?”  It is approaching the issue form the wrong end to set a price before you have budgeted your costs.

The lodge is a business, in that it offers a value to people, and expects payment in return for that value.  It is not, however, a for-profit business.  Every lodge has expenses, and they need funds to cover those expenses, thus the need to charge membership fees.  Beyond this, some lodges hold fund-raisers to cover necessary expenses.  This shows their dues are too low.  The membership dues should be enough to cover the yearly expenses.  If there is extra, that is great, but creating extra “profit” should never be the goal of a lodge.  If a lodge is operating a large surplus, then those dues are too high.  They are unnecessary for that lodge.  The answer to “what should the dues be?” is always “how much does the lodge need?”

My lodge is fortunate in that we own our building, our building has commercial space in it, and we have luckily kept tenants in those spaces regularly for over 30 years.  This allows the lodge to keep our general overhead low, which allows us to have low dues.  I think this is a good thing for our lodge, as it creates a diverse membership base, who are free to focus on actual Freemasonry, and not burden each meeting with financial struggles.  By not wasting our energy on fundraisers for basic lodge functions, we are free to labor for the good of others.  We use our modest surplus to create a rainy-day fund, and to supplement our charitable giving when our fundraisers do not meet expectations.  We hold two charitable fundraisers a year, spring and fall, from which we take care of our community giving campaigns.  By most measures, we do all this with membership dues which are far under the norm, and certainly below the amounts commonly discussed as the “worth” of Freemasonry.

There is another local lodge which help illustrate my point as well.  This is a much younger (newer) lodge.  They meet in a more established lodge building, paying a rent to that landlord lodge.  This keeps their costs fixed.  This lodge has decided that their dues will cover their rent expenses, but nothing more, as they need nothing more.  At first, the dues were high, as membership was small, so the individual burden was higher.  As more men joined, their individual dues were slowly lowered, spreading the costs over more people.  The more successful this lodge became, the lower it cost to be a member.  This lodge is now considered a model of a quality lodge experience in Ohio, and other lodges are moving to emulate them.

Now, I have not added charity work (the donation of monetary funds to people or organizations in need) to the costs of a lodge.  I think it is appropriate for a lodge to hold fundraisers to benefit their charitable work, because those fundraisers create an opportunity for a number of things. It creates the opportunity for the men of the lodge to work together toward a common cause, thus strengthening their bonds among themselves. It creates the opportunity for the lodge to increase their visibility and profile in the community, thus tying the lodge closer to the community in the minds of others, and making the lodge a valuable community member. And, it creates the opportunity for the lodge to have a recruitment event, showing their community value to men who might not have known what we do, and how to join.  These non-altruistic benefits of fundraising are invaluable to a lodge, and thus not all the lodge’s charity needs to come from a dues surplus.

There are challenges facing our fraternity now, and in the future.  Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all, magic bullet solutions to overcome those challenges.  Each lodge is a unique entity, and not every lodge faces the same troubles, or is in need of the same solutions.  It is natural to want to increase the quality of the product we are offering men, and I applaud those efforts, but we will not increase product quality by increasing what we charge for the product.  We increase the quality of our lodges by offering a quality product, regardless of price.  That product must add value to the lives of the men who join: the value of fraternal bonding, community works, and exploration of the mystic truths contained in our various lessons and rituals.

I will end with one of my favorite anecdotes of Freemasonry, taken from Bro. Christopher Hodapp’s book “Freemasons for Dummies:”

“While he was President, Teddy Roosevelt visited his home lodge, Matinecock #806 in New York, in September 1908.  Afterward, he spoke of the experience of seeing his own gardener serving as Master of the Lodge that evening while he sat on the sidelines.  ‘Clearly I could not cal upon him when I came home.  It would have embarrassed him.  Neither could he, without embarrassment, call on me.  In the lodge it was different.  He was over me, though I was president, and it was good for him, and good for me.”

Brother Roosevelt recognized the fraternal benefit of men of different stations and classes casting off those monetary distinctions to mix together, and I think we would be better doing the same.

I would like to thank Bro. Josh for writing this very thoughtful article. 

What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Elitist Inside

What's wrong with being elitist if you are trying to encourage people to join the elite rather than being exclusive?
 —Richard Dawkins
Show me an elitist, and I'll show you a loser.
—Tom Clancy
I was on the /r/AfterLodge subreddit the other day as I like to interact with the hosts of that show. (If you aren't listening to it, do so. It's great.) One thread focused on the theme of cost as many Masonic discussion forums do. Masons and Money is a perennial topic but thinking about what was being said, I started to think, maybe it's not the cost that matters. Maybe cost is a reflective quality of whom we have in the Fraternity.

At the outset of speculative Craft in England, brothers joined for its networking potential. Looking at the names of past grand masters in both English Grand Lodges, you can see that the men were either in the mercantile class (new money) or in the aristocratic class (old money). Both of these classes found a very advantageous symbiotic relationship. The aristocrats, with money tied to land and title, had to make connections with new capital. The merchants, with all this new found wealth, wanted societal status. The networking potentials were boundless.

I will posit something that may not be true but it feels true. If you look at the buildings, the costuming, the beautiful medals and jewels, it is obvious that the membership drew from a wealthier strata. We had access to capital then that we don't have access to now. I think it's directly tied to who is now joining. Perhaps the breakdown in our membership numbers and our chasing positive lodge growth is just as the cliche says, it is the quality and not the quantity. But I would go further, it's not just the quality, it's that our lodges currently lack the quality of elitism.

I didn't join Masonry to be an elitist. My grandfather was a Mason (in fact, both of them were) and after I discovered he was, I wanted to be one too. As I've aged into this thing that has used up more than a decade of my life, I sometimes wonder if what I get out of it isn't what I'm putting into it. Sometimes I wonder if I am at the top of the pyramid and it's giving without receiving anything. It's not a level playing field as it was when the old money and new money needed each other.

Now, it is a constant tug of war to keep dues low, to defer maintenance, and to value "labor" over money by hosting pancake breakfasts to pay for our own fraternal activities. Yet, we are still shocked by the surprise of our candidates that the "initiation fee is so much lower than I expected" or that men pick up and walk away within a few years of joining. In a phrase, Freemasonry is a pedestrian affair.

Freemasonry is devalued so the common man can take a part and this is to our detriment. We don't have doctors, lawyers, and businessmen joining. And because they are not joining today, we have to pull out old lists of dead brothers of quality to appease our sense of greatness. If we want to rub shoulders with the elite, we must be elite. We cannot be pedestrian. We cannot be common. We cannot keep dues and expectations so low so as to not scare away the curious passerby.

Jason Mitchell of the Ars Latomorum blog has an interesting theory on this. To paraphrase, Freemasonry doesn't want or need you until you have established yourself in your career and in your family. To put another way, we want the living stone to be cut from the quarry first before we work on it. So often, the powers-that-be want to capture brothers young when they are most vulnerable to the distractions of life. The young members usually have little money and little time to dedicate. And those that do dedicate themselves to Freemasonry miss out on opportunities they could have pursued to make themselves better in life/career/family.

"But, but mercenary motives!!!"

I guarantee that a fair share of the readers of this article have been saying this. Mercenary motives is like internal not external, a cliche we can throw at celebrating the culture of banausic work of the common man. That culture which abhors networking as mercenary and yet, is more than happy to watch pin cushions collect title after meaningless title. Why? Why have we done this to ourselves?

And no, I don't want blue collar workers booted or barred from Freemasonry. But if you are too busy thinking about paying bills, or raising small children, or looking to be promoted, then any time outside of those life goals will allow you, future Freemason, to falter and those goals will go unmet. Again, we don't want you until you are ready.

Now that my rant is over, here's my list of solutions:

  1. Increase the minimum age to petition.
  2. Increase dues to a percentage related to "disposable income." 15% of 1.5 times the poverty line is a good start. Correction: 15% of (Adjusted Gross Income minus 1.5 times the poverty line.) Ultimately, you will want dues to price out all but those who have their acts together.
  3. Examine a petitioner for fitness by asking him where he is in life. If he is just starting out, he is not ready. We are the shapers of stone, not the miners.
  4. Expect more from our members. Each person should be "buddied" with another and both should ask how the other brother is doing financially or occupationally.
  5. Don't call networking a mercenary motive. Masonry is the OG social network. 
  6. Encourage Masons to think of leaving a legacy to the lodge. Freemasonry is a family. But even more so, it requires the brothers to think of their future. You can't leave a legacy if you don't have one.
This is just a small list of changes. What we need to consider is that just as men expect, before they join, a great organization, we as an organization must expect greatness from our future members. We are frustrating the purpose of Freemasonry when we race to the bottom, grabbing men who aren't ready just for the accountant friendly "number of Masons raised for year xxxx." We do a disservice to Freemasonry but we also do a disservice to these men. We throw them into a situation they are not ready to handle and wringing our hands when they leave. Break the cycle.

Stop being cheap. Let me repeat, STOP being cheap. Stop rushing guys to join. Stop devaluing the Fraternity and frustrating the networking advantages which come with Fraternal bonding. This is a privilege bought and paid for by men of quality, old money and new money coming together. We need to look up and build higher than them, not look down and moan about the crumbling footings that we have allowed to crumble under the weight of mediocrity. Make them proud and add your name to the list of famous Freemasons instead of sharing it.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

CORRECTION: A very smart redditor pointed out my crazy math formula. I was attempting to use the formula for student loans payments for a Income Based Repayment plan, which is what is seen above. And yes, this would be a sliding scale which is currently disallowed in a number of jurisdictions.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Minnesota Masonic Unity Dinner - June 10th 2017

Minnesota will be hosting a very special event that unites the hearts of both regular grand lodges of Minnesota. Both Grand Masters will be present to give their remarks at the beautiful new Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.

You can find the details below:

The Eventbrite link is here:

Please join us for this incredible event.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Flat Earth and Freemason... Thanks JP

I have really enjoyed Ultra Spiritual with JP Sears for awhile and when this video was sent to me, I just had to share.