Monday, August 29, 2011

Guest Article: Jason Eddy - Charity

Jason is currently Senior Deacon at High Point Lodge #773 in Monroe, OH. He has a strong passion for Masonic Education and meeting and sharing with Brothers from all across the country.


Masonry is indeed about Charity, but what is the proper application of this virtue and are we missing the mark? As Entered Apprentice Masons, we are taught that charity “extends beyond the grave, through the boundless realms of eternity”. I agree with this, but find that the proper application of Charity is often misunderstood among Masons. I had a discussion recently with a few Brothers about how to revive Masonry in general. At some point in the discussion, Lodge finances came up and I made the statement that we, as an Order, need to learn to live within our means. This led to talk about budgeting and forecasting of Lodge expenses. During this discussion, in response to a Brother who said that we need to make sure that we keep our donations to charitable groups going, I made the statement that “Masonry is not a charity”. He was visibly taken aback and challenged my stance. “Of course we are!” he said. “Each body has a different charity. The Shrine takes care of burn victims. The York Rite helps people with vision impairments. The Scottish Rite helps children with learning disabilities. Charity is what Masonry is all about!” We are certainly charitable men, but is Charity really what Masonry is all about? Perhaps a big part of it, but I believe that our Brothers are often misguided in its application.

I digress. We are taught that the three great tenets of our profession are “Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth”. I believe that they are taught in this order (at least under the Grand Lodge of Ohio) for a reason. We are taught to first look after our fellow Mason and see that he does not find himself in distress, nor do his widow or orphans. This seems to be overlooked by a great many Masons and perhaps even the Grande Lodges under which they exist. I see Lodges that will donate several hundred dollars (perhaps even thousands) to charities like Toys-for-tots or the Salvation Army but do not have a fund set up to take care of members who are distressed. This is not Masonry. In fact, it is not even Masonic. The intent of Masonry is to “Make Good Men better”. When this is done, those men will then go out into the world and provide relief to his fellow man. Right now, Masons seem to be so intent on being seen by the public as charitable that they are ignoring the needs of their own Brothers. Masonry is a system designed to help men grow into better men and therefore better citizens. This is our primary objective. We must focus on making our Brothers into the type of men that bring about positive change in the world. When we do the work to make men better, they will in turn make society better. This may take any number of forms, but most likely will include charitable giving. Let us not lose sight of the mystic tie that binds each and every one of us. Masonry is a castle in the sand right now. We are slowly losing sight of what we came here to do… earn a Master Wages… contribute to the relief of worthy, distressed Master Masons, their widows and orphans. Once that is done, we can look to the rest of society.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Albert Pike: A Biographical Monologue by the Minneapolis Valley of AASR

The Minneapolis Valley of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite has released, on its Youtube channel, an excellent video biographical monologue of Albert Pike. This video, in two parts, has really helped me understand Albert Pike. I think all Scottish Rite Valleys should use this video to help all new members understand this very famous Mason.

The Minneapolis Valley is one of a small handful in the Southern Jurisdiction that confers all 29 Scottish Rite degrees in full form, complete with costumes and scenery. I am not a member of the Scottish Rite but I know that sometime in the future, I will be. The birth of my son and my desire to learn the three Craft degrees of the Scottish Rite are the only two obstructions at this moment.

What a wonderful video and great work brothers.

I've added the hyperlinks to the Minneapolis Valley and its YouTube channel.

It appears that the videos have now been removed by the AASR channel. I will attempt to find out what has happened.

*Updated* The video is back. This is something that all of you need to show potential candidates to the Scottish Rite. I really want to join now.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Guest Article: The Case Against Theme and “Affinity” Lodges

Brother Jack Roberts is a great thinker in Minnesota Masonry. I am ecstatic that he's agreed to write an article for this blog. Thank you Brother Jack.

In a recent post on The Millennial Freemason, W. Bro. Nick Johnson discussed whether our lodges would be more successful if they adopted a “theme model” instead of a “destination model.” He stated that “a lodge needs a hook…something that captures the attention and wonder of a man…to keep singing the song of Freemasonry in his heart.” W. Bro Nick gives the example of a lodge adopting a theme as its hook, such as using British ritual and dress, or following the principles of the Traditional Observance Lodges as outlined by the Masonic Restoration Foundation. I left a comment to W. Bro. Nick’s post, and he asked me to expound on my comment by writing a guest post for The Millennial Freemason. I appreciate this opportunity, W. Bro. Nick. You should be commended for giving someone the “floor” on your blog who does not necessarily agree with you.

In my opinion, theme lodges and affinity lodges are an unfortunate formalization of the ongoing dance we do to completely avoid the reason the Craft exists and our required work. Freemasonry already has a theme. It is identical across jurisdictions and time: to provide men with the knowledge and assistance to achieve self-enlightenment and constantly move along a road of self-improvement. At best, a theme lodge is one of many tools we use to assist each other to move along this road. At worst, it is a distraction and a sales gimmick wrapped in a fancy label.

In my 12+ years as a Master Mason, I’ve seen a growing tendency for lodges to compete with each other on a variety of selling points: convincing a Brother to join a lodge across town because it has “better” fellowship than his local lodge, or “better” ritual, or a “more traditional approach.” In our more passive-aggressive moods, we simply state “we stress fellowship at our lodge…” Theme lodges, for the most part, are just another form of self-advertising, targeting a niche audience – “we dress better than other lodges,” and “we use fancy European ritual – no Preston-Webb work here except when Grand Lodge makes us use it.”

Somewhere along the way, we sacrificed the foundation of why meet as Freemasons – our “theme” – by elevating how we achieve our goals to supreme importance. Fellowship, ritual proficiency, and unique themes have become the reason for existence for many lodges. Lodges spend their time and effort to being the best or most unique at everything except what truly matters.

We sell Masonry under the oft-quoted maxim of “making good men better.” The all-too-familiar rant against our Craft is that we consistently fail to follow through on this sales pitch. We fail to teach and encourage each other to live our principles. We fail to consistently provide our members with the intellectual support they need to improve themselves. Masonic “education” is seen merely as an elective course, to fit in the schedule if we have time, but it is never to prevent us from planning the next cook-off or cause our meeting to run too long and interfere with our post-lodge fellowship. We perpetuate the neglect of our true purpose with a smoke-and-mirrors approach, throwing ritual, fellowship, titles, charities, and – our latest fad in Minnesota – theme lodges, at Brothers, while ignoring the hard work of actually challenging men to develop spiritually. What benefit is it to us if we restrict our Masonic dealings and efforts to topics that deal with nothing more than the outer, and not the inner man?

Some Brothers may argue that they enjoy spending time with “like-minded men” who appreciate ritual like they do, or British regalia like they do, etc. etc. Brothers, every lodge is full of like-minded men. The beauty of Freemasonry, one of our hallmarks, is that it brings together men from all walks of life, where we meet upon the level and part upon the square.

Brothers, I am not arguing that theme lodges are a bad idea. If they can use their themes in a way that fulfills the ultimate purpose of Freemasonry, then they should be commended, as should any lodge that accomplishes this purpose. But a Lodge with an absence of education, a lodge that focuses on the how at the expense of the why, a lodge that does not provide the means for its Brothers to improve spiritually – this lodge is failing at its mission, no matter how formally its members dress, what form of ritual it uses, or how often its Brothers meet for dinner and call it “festive board.”

Bro. Jack P. Roberts
Nicollet Lodge No. 54, Saint Peter, MN
High Priest, Minnesota Chapter No. 1
Illustrious Master, Saint Paul Council No. 1

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Destination or Theme

So, I’ve been thinking about the way things were and the way things are now. For at least a few centuries in this country, the lodge was thought of as a destination. Rarely did lodges meet in the same building and the idea was that a lodge was recognized as successful once it could afford its own lodge building. Lodges in the country were the place where all the local businessmen, farmers, lawyers, doctors, and other well-to-do men would meet and talk shop. Lodges in the city were neighborhood lodges and functioned very much like their country cousins, living in the community.

Now, many lodges in America can no longer afford the upkeep of a building as they struggle to be relevant in the modern age. The car has made traveling much faster and easier thus increasing the distance a brother can go to his home lodge. Is there a panacea to solve the loss of membership and the lack of interest within our own lodges? My thought is that we need to get away from the destination model and enter into the theme model.

The theme model already exists in many jurisdictions under the term “Affinity lodge.” Of course, I think using the term Affinity really limits what a theme lodge could be. It’s not merely providing one single common interest to mix the cement that a brother needs to stay in the house not made with hands.

Historically, lodges were a destination, a place to be and the relationships between brothers came from that geographical locale. Now, brothers join lodges that are not necessarily near their homes. They join where their friends are, an affinity lodge, or a lodge with a great presence, either on the Web or through some other public relations manner.

We don’t have a raising problem, we have a retention problem. So what do we do? Like any great song, a lodge needs a hook. It needs something that captures the attention and wonder of a man. But it’s not just about capturing his attention for the short term; he needs to stay engaged for the rest of his life. He needs a hook to keep singing the song of Freemasonry in his heart. I have been thinking about concrete, real world examples that will really help lodges.

One idea is to hold a degree or a mini school of instruction once a month, regardless of whether a lodge has candidates or not. Invite other lodges that have candidates to come down and confer the degrees as a courtesy. Let them watch what part of the degree is the main focus for your lodge. At the end of the degree, invite the brothers to give their impressions of the ritual, not just critiques of what needs to be improved but really delve deep into what the degree means. Young men, like myself, crave the ritual, and have a desire for learning. Encourage some friendly disagreement on what the symbolism means or allow a brother to voice his opinion on a Masonic subject. Lodges can be a place of different thinkers, all searching for common truth, even when we see it from a different perspective. Making the lodge a veritable School of Athens will encourage retention.

Another thought would be to create a distinct theme. In Minnesota, as I mentioned above, we have four lodges that are built around a single theme. Two examples are Sir Winston Churchill Lodge No. 351 and Saint Paul Lodge No. 3. Churchill Lodge bills itself as a British theme lodge (if there are any Scottish Masons out there, I think they use British as a term because we, in America, don’t see a distinction with being English or Scottish and being British). They wear English regalia and have lodge officers that would correspond to those in England. Saint Paul Lodge No. 3 is a Traditional Observance Lodge. It follows the rubric set out by the Masonic Restoration Foundation. These include a festive board, a chain of union, and a focused look at the performing the ritual and presenting scholarly papers. Both lodges have found success through finding a niche.

Lodges in the city should share space. This helps defray the cost of housing the lodge but also gives it the ability to share Fraternal bonds with the other lodges. We can't afford the one body, one building model anymore. Sharing the load can really help and also makes the building a place of gathering.

Finally, all lodges should be using social media and the Internet to connect with their members. Nearly every lodge brother has an email account. This means that sending an email to a lodge is easy and can get the word out quickly. And since lodges are drawing so many young people, lodges should have at a minimum, a lodge Facebook page (you can find Corinthian Lodge and Braden Lodge by clicking the hyperlinks). A Facebook page is free and can easily connect a new brother to his lodge. From there, lodges can and should create a true web presence, a website, to become the Internet front door for your lodge. My lodge, Corinthian Lodge No. 67, saw a huge increase in the number of interested men and members of the community wanting to talk with us because we had a website with a contact field. For more insights, please read Bro. Matt Gallagher’s article on using the Internet to improve your Lodge.

Lodges need to be different. We need to try new things to find our niche. Men are looking for different things from the Fraternity and lodges will need to adapt to survive and more importantly, to thrive. After the theme takes hold, your lodge will once again become a destination.

Do you have any thoughts about this article? What have you found to be successful in your lodge? Please post a comment below.