Friday, March 9, 2012

UGLE's "The Future of Freemasonry" Report

As noted in the BBC News' article from yesterday, the United Grand Lodge of England has released a report today concerning the state of Freemasonry and its future in the country of England. You can read the report above.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Freemasonry: the BBC News Edition

London Whites (7)

An article about Freemasonry has been published on BBC News' site and seems to once again show cracked certain members of the British public really are about our Fraternity. The article by Tom de Castella is entitled,  Would You Want to Be a Freemason?

From the article:

Dogged by conspiracy theories, Freemasons insist theirs is a modern, open organisation. But can this male-dominated body cast off its secretive image and win over a sceptical public?
They designed the pyramids, plotted the French Revolution and are keeping the flame alive for the Knights Templar. These are just some of the wilder theories about the Freemasons. Today they are associated with secret handshakes and alleged corruption in the police and judiciary.
But dogged by this "secret society" image, the Freemasons have launched a rebranding exercise. On Friday, the United Grand Lodge of England, the largest Masonic group in Britain, publishes its first independent report. The Future of Freemasonry, researched by the Social Issues Research Centre, aims to start an "open and transparent" discussion ahead of the group's tercentenary in 2017.

I'm always shocked by the glib titles in articles about Freemasonry in England."Would You Want to Be a Freemason?" The editor might as well have said, "Would You Want to Get Cancer?" The article starts at a point of distrust and surprising, ends the same way.

As an American Freemason, I have experienced some Anti-Masonic comments. Almost always they come from ultra-conservative religious types. Usually the comments say that we worship some magic deity named Baphomat or that we're agents of El Diablo. Most in the general populace say to me either, "who are you guys?" or "I didn't know a Masonic lodge was here." (these are both real responses that I receive when I'm in Farmington frequently.)

Let me put forward an argument that you can either take or leave at your discretion. I wonder if, because we are a Fraternity that teaches "a course of moral instruction, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols", we cause people to feel uneasy. It's not uneasiness because of our symbols or our allegories but because we teach morality. We live in a society of ad men who tell us that we're so bad, we need to be repaired, not improved, repaired like broken toys. We seek to feel good and make stupid choices to arrive at that "good feeling." 

Masonry doesn't make you feel bad. As you progress through the degrees, you see a support system, a structure that will help you make good choices in your life. As someone who was a goody two-shoes, I can tell you that it's hard and you need positive role models to go against the Jersey Shore mentality. (Wow, do I ever sound like Tony Robbins) Perhaps the public sees this as a problem, that we are acting "too good." If that's the case, I won't apologize. Masonry gives my life supplemental meaning and value after my true happiness of being a good father and husband. Why should we apologize for giving men a mooring against this storm of hostility? 

I think the brand consultant makes a good point and one that American Masons won't quite understand, including myself, "[p]eople join the Masons not because it is a community group raising money for charity but for its "snob factor" and history." I think he's right. There is something elite about being a Freemason. 

I'm shocked that conspiracy theorists are given an equal footing with Freemasons in any of these news articles. An article like this begs the question, what is our duty to the public concerning our internal activities? The public will believe what they want to believe and we will have to live with that like we have for hundreds of years.

Men will find our lantern hanging on the Temple's portico. They will see the light to give them the tools for self improvement and happiness. They will find us. Looking for approval or going up against conspiracy theorists only leads to wasted time and effort. We are who we are and we should be proud of that. 

Should we go up against the pressures of society? How best can our Fraternity deal with scrutiny? Leave a comment below.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Nostalgia: Is It Useful in Masonry?

I recently sat down to watch the newest film written and direct by Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris, and was struck by its theme. Why are we nostalgic and what's the use of being nostalgic?

The story follows a screenwriter, Gil, through his wanderings in the beautiful city of Paris. He's experienced a dangerous condition known as writer's block as he struggles to make himself something more than a mere screenwriter hoping to achieve the lofty title of author.

As he wanders through Paris, he is picked up, at the strike of midnight, by revelers in 20's garb. He's let out into the world of Paris in the 20's and he meets all the famous ex-pats that made the City of Lights their home during that period of intense creativity. Illuminaries like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Picasso are all there to welcome him to this world of the past. Of course, through reflection and a trip to the Belle Époque, Gil makes a startling realization when the film's love interest tells Gil to stay with her in that time.

"Adriana, if you stay here though, and this becomes your present then pretty soon you'll start imagining another time was really your... You know, was really the golden time. Yeah, that's what the present is. It's a little unsatisfying because life's a little unsatisfying."

I started to look back at my own Masonic journey. I started in Boy Scouts, learning self improvement through personal growth goals via merit badges and the Eagle Scout award. Later, I became interested in Masonry without any real, good information during the bad old days of the Internet. Finally, I found my Abe Simpson, my paternal grandfather, right there, a longtime member of his lodge wondering why it took so long for me to put two and two together that he was a Mason and that I could ask him to join. As I've grown into this Masonic life, I've found the good and the bad of nostalgic thinking. 

I have found the most satisfying parts of this journey in my own family history. Finding out that my grandpa was a Mason was amazing but then I found out that both my grandpas were Masons and one was a Sir Knight and the other a Shriner, I was wistfully content. Masonry was in my blood, in my heart. As I looked through more of my family records, I was finding great, great-greats, and possibly great-great-greats who were also Masons.

I imagined the Masonry of their era, a time of suits, pocketwatches, elegant dinners, and a sense of greatness. I wanted to be a part of that time and some days, I still do. It wasn't just Masonry, I was mournfully longing for the past. The present is tough. Things move fast, family and work lead to stress, and the modern age just feels generally busy. Yet, I knew that the past was never meant for me. My time is now, my understandings and existence depend upon this era. Hell, I wouldn't even be writing this article if I lived back then. But that elegiac feeling still exists, or maybe even persists, in me.

We hear in Masonry phrases like, "wasn't that way in my year", "that's not how we do that" and other cliche statements made by brothers not seeking to change things. There are certain things in Masonry that must remain as they are. These are our landmarks, our guideposts to the past. Yet, I fear we sweep many non-Masonic innovations in with our landmarks.

Our Order is built from stones hewed during the past. Temples have been built, physically and spiritually, to stand as testaments of our tenets and we are the fortunate recipients of that time and effort. Yet, at times, I feel the temples we live in now have become dilapidated. We allow the drapes to yellow, the stonework to weather, and the foundation to crack for fear of destroying that past, of insulting that memory if any of our efforts cause more harm. We feel the history and tread softly.

Nostalgia serves to mask recent innovations in the cloak of tradition. Many lodges run on a progressive line even when our ancient brothers did not. Our lodges have long-winded discussions on business, the minutes, and the Treasurer's report because it has been done that way for many decades. Many lodges don't have meals together. We see changes to the Fraternity of the recent past that choke out the changes needed for the future.

I would argue that we must take it upon ourselves to stop being excessively nostalgic, seeing its most destructive tendencies, and pushing to define the new century of Freemasonry. Just as the light bulb replaced the gaslight, we should find those things in our Craft that are inefficient and dangerous to renewal and replace them.

Here's a list from the top of my head. We need to have quality programs focused on modernity. Focus on modern philosophic study, on new scientific advances, or on ways to better ourselves as men and Masons. We should eat together even if it's at a restaurant, off the menu. Our lodges should resemble something more than service clubs.

I wonder, outside of a clear intent, if the Traditional Observance model focuses too much on the nostalgic when its greatest strength is its call to focused Masonry. I think most of the traditional observance model ideas are novel and perhaps the moniker of 'traditional' somehow creates a wrong impression of what the movement can do. Again, is nostalgia good, worthwhile or even correct?

Should we seek out the past to prepare for the future? Should we assess what we have now? We have the tools to make Masonry relevant. Instead of spending time on selling a product only to leave the new Mason with a sense of blah, we need to renovate our physical and spiritual Temples, honoring our ancient brethren, and worry more about protecting the memories. It is our time to lay and hew stones, to build our own temples; it's our time to make Masonry.