Friday, August 29, 2008

Guard the West Gate?!

After reading through the blogs and boards, I have found one phrase that has been driving me insane. What is that phrase? "Guard the West Gate." Urgh!!! Every time I read that phrase, it makes me so mad that....

Argh, Nick Mad!!!!!
From whom are we guarding the West Gate? I continue to read many brothers who seek to restrict membership to the point of idiocy. They attack Shriners for being to big and they find One-Day Masons to be fake. If a brother does not attend every meeting, they believe the brother is somehow destroying Freemasonry. Now, I realize that most brothers who participate on message boards and write blogs are like myself, extremely passionate about Masonry.

It appears to me that if we are to guard the West Gate, then we must guard it from both sides, those men who really are problematic if they join the Lodge and those brothers that seek to prevent good men from entering into the Lodge. We already have ways to prevent men of questionable qualifications from entering our doors; it's called an investigation. These passionate brothers seek to close the door, leaving only a crack. They really are not seeking good men but men that are mirror images of themselves. But take a look in the mirror, are you the best man in Freemasonry? If you answered yes, I have some bad news for you, you're not . This excuse has been used for many evil purposes such as keeping good minority candidates from entering the Lodge. Yet it continues to pop up in people's arguments. It is a cliché, people.

Obviously, I do not seek to end the investigation of candidates but I suggest to those brothers on the other side of the door that they might look at themselves first before casting judgment on worthy candidates. Remember where you came from, stop and think. Unfortunately, I must end this article with another Masonic cliché. Our Fraternity seeks "to make good men better." We are not asking for Adonis only to enter the door but all good men who seek to be improved. Yet, we still hear brothers, on every blog and message board, use the excuse that we must "Guard the West Gate." They forget that we all enter into the Lodge as rough ashlars seeking to be improved. Masonry is about self-improvement and societal improvement and we, as a society, do a great job finding good men to improve.

Ahh, better.
Okay, that was cathartic. At least "The Incredible Hulk" is on,

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pop Culture and Freemasonry: Harvey Birdman

One of the most gripping attorney shows on TV is Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. Just kidding! One of my favorite lines (especially fitting for a law student) is: "Debbie, we're going to need some law books. With pictures this time." Enjoy!

Oops, sorry I didn't explain the clip better. "Harvey Birdman" is a cartoon on Cartoon Network that takes the characters from the Hanna-Barbara show "Birdman and the Galaxy Trio" and changes them into lawyers. Harvey Birdman defends different cartoon characters of the Hanna-Barbara universe. This clip comes from the episode, "Birdgirl of Guantanomole" in which Birdgirl and Birdman have to defend Morocco Mole who has been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

MN Kids ID at the Fair

My wife and I will be working the Kids ID booth this weekend at the Minnesota State Fair. I have worked a Kids ID booth before at the local celebratory days in Farmington but I have never worked "the Fair". For those unfamiliar with the Minnesota State Fair, it is the biggest celebration in the state; it ranks second in attendance after Texas. I, for one, am excited to eat my usual favorites: cheese curds and a rib sandwich.

Image:Friedcheesecurds.jpgBBQ Boneless Rib Sandwich by cotarr.

Here is a fun fact about the MN State Fair: On Sept. 2, 1901, Brother Teddy Roosevelt gave his famous "Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick" Speech at the MN State Fair. Days later, he became president after President and (Brother) William McKinley was assassinated.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Change…It Does a Body Good

Since participating in the "Table Talk" on Masonic Central, I have been thinking long and hard about an idea that slipped out during recording. The idea of whether the Fraternity needs to focus heavily on the past. I mentioned that we need to focus less on Ben Franklin and George Washington and more about the future. Oddly enough, last week, Brother Ed King posted an article called “The Old Webmaster and much needed change.” Let’s just say I was shocked.

In the article, he states that a young Junior Warden (not to be egotistical but me, maybe?) wants to change the way in which the Lodge is run, such as raising dues, making men wait longer for degrees, and focusing on making the ritual great. The Old Webmaster states that maybe there is something wrong at home. What, what, what, what?! Attempting to change how the Lodge is run, but it is the individual brother's problems at home?!

There is no lying that Freemasonry is in trouble; our numbers are declining and we have tried different programs to bring brothers into the Fraternity. Grand Lodges are attempting to bring us back to glory with some succeeding well while some are failing miserably. Yet, the problem has nothing to do with the Lodge, but an individual brother and his problems at home?

I would like to focus on what we, as Freemasons, must do in these trying times. During the Golden Age of Fraternity, our numbers swelled, we built Lodges and massive buildings and charities galore. It is no accident that the tallest building in Chicago from 1890 to 1895 was a Masonic building. After World War II, membership in civic organizations boomed as they had during the Golden Age. These were times of great building.

During these crests in membership, we built huge institutions and great projects. Then, the Fraternity would hit a trough and it was by maintenance that we stayed together just as any great structure but lately, there has been little preservation paid to these great buildings, both as institutions and as actual physical presences. We have entered a rut, but the dream is not lost.

Even in talking of gloom and doom, there are flickers of hope. In my Grand Lodge, we are seeing a resurgence of Masonic interest. My Grand Lodge has donated $65 million dollars to the University of Minnesota for the Masonic Cancer Center, the largest gift ever for the University. Grand Lodges, such as my own, are discovering the power of the Internet yet we continue to hear that the old ways are the best ways.

We do need to make changes, nevertheless. Many Lodges are still dying throughout the country and their buildings are being sold off without a second thought. Many Lodges continue upon old worn-out programs without understanding the expectations of new brothers. Instead of covering our eyes and saying that everything is okay, we need the facts brought to light. Freemasonry is an ancient organization yet it has been so successful because it is able to morph and change with the times while maintaining its basic components. When the Masonic Lodges began to meet, they met in taverns. Afterward, in the United States, the rise of the temperance movement made what was once a normal part of Lodge life, alcohol, completely banned in many Grand Lodge jurisdictions. Even today, these temperance laws are still on the books in some Grand Lodge constitutions.

It is time to get our heads out of the sand and assume that Freemasonry will weather the newest storm as it has before. Unlike what happened during other low periods, the maintenance to our great creations has not been kept up; if we aren’t careful, we are doomed to fail.

The brothers of my Lodge and I developed some suggestions we want to see in Lodge. These suggestions to maintain and continue the greatness of our Fraternity are:

1. More Masonic Education
2. Strong Ritual
3. Meals before Lodge
4. Mentoring of New Brothers

I have only listed four proposals that my brothers and I thought of but we have many more. Honestly though, the desire to change things does not mean problems at home or that it is a substitute for something missing in life, brothers seek change to make the Fraternity their own, to make Freemasonry better and to maintain what we have already built. Masonry is a progressive science and if we are to survive, we must adapt. If we don't invite young brothers into the fold, they will be "Waiting on the World to Change".

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pop Culture and Freemasonry: The Daily Show

There was a dangerous chemical being sold in towns throughout the United States. Its name: Silly String. Steve Carrell gave his report in 1999 of what was a hazardous trend affecting Shriners and children alike.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What Not to Wear… To the Lodge

A question that seems incredibly easy yet inherently difficult is what to wear during a Lodge meeting. The differences of opinion concerning dress in the Lodge range from wearing full tuxedo with white gloves to khakis and a sweater and even further, a t-shirt and jeans. I will attempt to give what I wear for a Lodge meeting and considerations that should be made for the candidate.

First and foremost, I have to give my bias. I hate suits. I hate the feel, look and weight of a suit. Ahhh, that was cathartic. Now that I have aired my prejudice towards suits, we can begin.
When I enter the Lodge, I wear different clothes for different events. I will first describe what I would wear for a normal business meeting. When I was not an elected officer, I would wear nice khakis or black dress pants and a tucked-in polo shirt. Now, as an elected officer, I wear a sport coat, a button up shirt and nice khakis. (When I am wearing my sport coat and khakis, I look like most of the professors I had in college.) The main reason for different attire between being an elected officer and as a brother is that in my Lodge, there is a custom that officers should wear suit coats.

During degree work, I put on a suit with a tie. For me, degree work and business meetings are two different engagements with different expectations. When I am in degree work, the ritual work should be treated with a certain amount of respect. Business meetings involve us doing the work of the Lodge and I dress for them accordingly. Wearing khakis and a button-up shirt with no tie does not degrade the work we are doing but makes men more relaxed to discuss the business of the Lodge without a filter. I have heard some brothers voice the evils of business casual as being the downfall of productivity in America, but I consider that argument to be a straw man. In Lodge, I believe we get just as much work done in a suit as we do in a tucked-in polo and khakis.

Another consideration for degree work is: do the brothers wear costumes? In my Lodge, we do wear costumes and for me, I find that I need to wear light clothes so I don’t sweat to death. For me, the degree work is built upon creating a good experience. If I am going to put on a good show, I should be comfortable. I want what I am saying to appear natural and not forced.

Lodges are built on the idea that when men meet together in Lodge, they are entering a sacred space. For some, the sacredness of the Lodge requires matching dress. For them, dressing to the nines is important including a black tuxedo, white gloves and shiny shoes. In fact, when I am installed as Master, I intend on renting a tuxedo during the installation.

Other men find Lodge to be a Fraternity that allows all men to enter regardless of station. I am a member of the second camp. For me, the most important article of clothing that a Mason wears is his apron. I think that the phrase “the clothes make the man” is entirely incorrect. Although I disagree with brothers that dress up for Lodge, I admit that I merely have a different opinion concerning taste.

For a candidate, my advice is this: ask a man from the Lodge what the appropriate dress is. One of the worst feelings in the world is going to what you think is a costume party and you get the picture.

Flixster - Share Movies

In the end, all matters of dress should be made by consensus of the Lodge. If brothers want to dress up, then they should dress up. If the brothers prefer to dress in business casual, then that norm should be followed. There is no right answer. Well, maybe one or two…

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pop Culture and Freemasonry: The Architect Sketch

Do you know the secret handshake? The comedy troupe, Monty Python, sure does. I want to thank Steve, the Senior Deacon of my Lodge for pointing me to this hilarious sketch. And now, "The Architect Sketch!"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Masonic Central Table Talk

I want to thank Bros. Greg Stewart and Dean Kennedy for hosting a Table Talk discussion on their podcast, Masonic Central of which I took part. I have been listening from day one and It was a great discussion of what challenges Lodges have and the solutions that we can put forth. I am very appreciative of the time and energy these brothers put into a great podcast. I also want to thank the other brothers that were involved during the discussion, including Tim Bryce, Palmetto Bug, Jeff and Fred and any other brothers listening. Also, I want to add that yes, I did pronounce MWB Neddermeyer's name wrong. I am taking a course in how not to talk like a Minnesotan. The show is wonderful and I hope Greg and Dean great success in the future.

If you want to listen online, visit Masonic Central at Talkshoe. Also, if you want to subscribe to the show to listen on a portable music device, just enter into your podcatching client.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Minnesota Masonic Home host of Bloomington 150th Celebration

Minnesota Masonic Home Care Center will be serving as one of the site for Bloomington's sesquicentennial celebration. The Minnesota Masonic Home was once the summer estate for M.W. Savage, owner of the famous racehorse Dan Patch. Dan Patch was the fastest racehorse of his day, having never lost a race. He also broke the two minute mark 35 times, more than any other horse. He was the Black Beauty of his day. There is still a Dan Patch Historical Society continuing the memory of the famous horse. Even at the Minnesota State Fair, there is a street named Dan Patch Avenue. (In fact, the best cheese curds can be found on Dan Patch). Savage also hosts the annual Dan Patch Days including a parade. (Youtube has a great video of the Shriners at the parade.)

In 1917, the Minnesota Masons bought the 250 acre estate from Savage. Today, the Minnesota Masons continue to run the Masonic Home for the Elderly regardless of Masonic affiliation.

The Masonic Home will serve as host for these festivities. The celebration will run from 1-4 pm and is open to the public. Also , don't miss the Masonic Historical Society and Museum. For more information, click here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Nascar's Ragin Names Shriners Hospital as Official Charity

David Ragan, a driver for Nascar, has named Shriners' Hospital as the official charity for his car, number 6. According to the press release on the Shriners' website, he will be making contributions to the Shriners' hospitals. I am not very adapt at understanding Nascar as I really only pay attention to baseball, but I would assume that this is a very important endorsement for the Shrine. It is also interesting to note:

(Ragan) plans to pursue membership with the Shriners fraternity.

I really think what the Shriners' goals are laudable. I know that there has been the New York Times article concerning some improper dealings in the Shrine and I really think that it has been adequately discussed at length at both the Freemasons for Dummies and the Burning Taper blogs. I would rather go another way, to describe what Shrine does to help people, specifically children. To explain where I am coming from, I am not a Shriner and do not plan on petition anytime soon. However, I really think what they do at the hospitals is very commendable.

According to the Shriners' Hospital website,

Shriners Hospitals for Children is a one-of-a-kind international health care system of 22 hospitals dedicated to improving the lives of children by providing specialty pediatric care, innovative research and outstanding teaching programs.

Children up to the age of 18 with orthopaedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft lip and palate are eligible for admission and receive all care in a family-centered environment at no charge – regardless of financial need.

Unfortunately, in the hemisphere of Masonic Information on the Internet, Shriners seem to be attacked at many turns. Whether it be because they are too large, lack of oversight or the current bookkeeping problems, the message of the Shrine is being lost. Shrine was and is the reason why many become Masons. Some might have had a kid in the hospital or were in the hospital themselves. Remember, just because someone is a Shriner does not mean that they are in charge. Many Shriners just go about their business having fun and helping kids. With this endorsement, many more brothers may join the Lodge which is just fine by me as we still share the desire to help people.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Pop Culture and Freemasonry: Ray Stevens

Ray Stevens originally produced "The Shriners' Convention" in 1999 1979. According to Wikipedia, Stevens wrote the song after being in a motel during a Shriners' convention. The song involves the belief that although Shriners are to act as upright "pillars of the community", the wild times that Shriners appear to enjoy is completely opposite that concept. In the song, the Potentate named Bubba is on the phone with Coy, the life of the party, who continually admonishes Coy's behavior at the convention. The song is an obvious lampoon of the Shriners' love of fun.

The major reason for the Shrine's existence is to balance the solemnity that occurs in a Lodge with the convival nature of a Fraternity. During the 1870's, many Lodges became dry and the temperance movement began to become a major factor in American life. Many Lodges became obsessed with ritual to the loss of brotherhood. Shriners represented the joie de vivre that some Masons felt the Fraternity was lacking. Today, the spirit of fun still exists in the Shrine with Shrine Circuses, Shrine Parades and other activities still being held to this day.

Shrine Conventions can have as many as 20,000 conventioneers showing up to the host city which boosts the local economy. Shriners are also, most importantly, the administrators of 22 hospitals for children free of charge. The Shriners have fun for a reason and this song shows their bonhomie. Even in the mocking nature of the song, the Shrine still is represented as having a sense of humor. Hey, at least they aren't the Hell's Angels.

If you would like to see the lyrics, please visit the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon's website.

Stevens, Ray. "Shriners’ Convention."Greatest Hits [MCA] 1999. Video used for Illustration Purposes Only.