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.

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.