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.