A guy stopped by my work who happens to be a brother in a small, struggling lodge. For the last two years, this brother has been a Steward, and has gone out of his way to make sure that there is dinner & refreshment for every meeting. He started small, and his efforts were rewarded by guys who started coming back to lodge to have a meal and hang out with old friends. They charged half price for the meal, making up the difference with some lodge funds in order to get the word out. The lodge looked like it was climbing out of the membership hole.
But the new WM this year decided that he didn’t want to spend more lodge money on dinners, and didn’t want the hassle of dinners at every meeting. So his “will and pleasure” was that there would only be dinners for degree nights, brothers must make reservations ahead of time, and they would be charged the full price $10 to $15.
Within 2 months, attendance had dropped off.
Now, dinners are not Masonic instruction. They aren’t even spiritual instruction. But they are a reason for members to come down: the pre-meeting dinners are a time to renew old friendships, to catch up with what old friends are doing, and to make acquaintances with the new members of the lodge.
You have new members of your lodge, don’t you?
There’s a lesson here, someplace. We need to give both the old members and the new members a reason to come down. It’s certainly not to hear the minutes, or to complain about the latest Grand Lodge requirement, or even to listen to some bit of Masonic history that they could easily have gotten from The History Channel.
What reason does your lodge have that makes it worth your time to come down?
Back in graduate school, my field of study was Organizational Behavior & Development. I was not a Mason back then, but I often wish I were because our fraternity is a very interesting organization, and I think I could have had plenty of research material for class papers.
One of the topics that management students inevitably run across is known as The Abilene Paradox. There have been papers and even books written about it, but the essentials are these: A young man an his wife were visiting her parents in Texas one summer. After several days in the Texas heat, the father-in-law made an offhand comment about how they should hop into the car and drive out to Abilene to get some pie. The man was unsure of how to take this, as Abilene was a 50 mile drive. He looked at his wife, who said that it sounded like a good idea. His mother-in-law agreed, and the next thing he knew, the four of them were seated in a car with no air conditioning on an hour long road trip. They found a diner, had something to eat, and then drove back.
After they got back to the house, someone mentioned that it really wasn’t a great idea after all, and everyone began blaming each other. “I only agreed because it was obvious that you wanted to go.” “Me? I only agreed because everyone else was on board.” The father-in-law, who had suggested it in the first place, admitted that he, himself didn’t actually want to go; he only mentioned it because he didn’t want the couple to be bored on their visit.
The Abilene Paradox is a sociological study on how things go wrong, not because people are arguing, but rather because people are agreeing on something that nobody really wants.
We even have a Masonic parallel to this. In some versions of the Hiramic Drama, a group of craftsmen get caught up in the antagonism of the Ruffians against Grand Master Hiram, and for a while seem to be in agreement with their plan to obtain the Master’s Word. Fortunately, they come to their senses and realize that it’s not a good idea after all, but fail to convince the Ruffians.
This popped into my head the other day when I was having a conversation with some people about the One Day Masonic Classes. Introduced in some US states in the late 1990s or early 2000s, the One Day Class brings a number of men to an arena or theater in which they are all Initiated, Passed, and Raised in a day-long ceremony. Generally, one person is chosen to represent the group, and the others watch the activities. At the end, they are given a dues card and become members of their respective lodges.
Now, this is not any disparagement about the brothers who have gone this route; generally several lodges that do not have the resources to put on a degree bring candidates to these One Day Classes — the candidates, themselves, don’t really have much of an option. No, the issue — and how this relates to the Abilene Paradox — is one that falls to the lodges and Grand Lodges that continue this practice.
Ostensibly for the purpose of allowing traveling businessmen or over-scheduled fathers to have the opportunity to become Freemasons, the One Day affairs seemed to grow in popularity all over the US. I was a new Mason in the early 2000s, and I remember hearing the stories about the hundreds, if not thousands of men raised in this fashion, as various GLs sponsored festival days. Larger states, like Ohio, had One Day events in a number of different lodges at once, while smaller states like Connecticut held one in a larger auditorium venues. And it seemed that every year the states tried to outdo each other. Connecticut had three sets of these, if memory serves correctly. My own lodge, Friendship No. 33 was asked to have its officers do the Fellowcraft degree at one of them, and several of the officers participated in other events.
But here’s the point that shows that the idea might have been a Masonic version of Abilene, which I’m going to call The Craftsmen Paradox:
I’ve had a number of brothers in different states claim that Grand Lodge officers or District officers have pushed them to find candidates to bring to these classes. That is, if a lodge had planned to put on a conventional degree, they were asked to bring the candidate to the One Day event instead. I’ve even heard from brothers who have brought conventionally made EAs or FCs to a One Day event to have the brother finish out his degrees at those venues, because they were asked to do so.
Even further, on the various web forums and discussion groups that I’ve seen in the last 15 years, and in the handful of in-person discussions I’ve had on this topic, the general — and by that I mean “overwhelming” — consensus is that this is a Very Bad Idea. Except for a few members who took the One Day option because of impending military deployment or medical reasons, I’ve yet to encounter anyone who would not have preferred to take the degrees the conventional way.
Even the brothers who act out the parts in the degrees, while they enjoy performing the ritual, have told me that they were glad that they were able to take their degrees the conventional way: in the lodge with their brothers, where it become more of a personal affair, instead of a larger “event.”
So here’s the Craftsmen Paradox: The majority of candidates would have preferred to take the degrees the conventional way, and the brothers and officers all agree that the conventional degrees are better. Yet some Grand Lodges still insist on doing the One Day Classes, and the lodges are cooperating. Why is it that most of us can take a step back and see what is wrong with this picture, but we continue to
drive to Abilene hold these events?
Does anyone have a good explanation for this?
I’ve listened to Bro. Eric Diamond’s podcast X-Oriente in the past, and like many of you, was disappointed when he took a break from from his insightful ramblings. Eric is one of those guys who started back in the Golden Age of Masonic Blogging, and always put some thought into his topics. Well, I’m happy to say that he’s had a little rest and is back rocking the mic. Inspired by Nick Johnson’s post on the old Scottish Rite political agenda, he spent some time bouncing ideas off of both Nick and I one evening on the topic of Freemasonry and Social Awareness.
You’ll have to wait for Eric’s podcast to hear any more details, but I wanted to bring up a tangent point, because it happened to be in interesting co-incidence between the Scottish Rite post and the one from a little while ago about the closing of yet another one of our large
Eric brings up the point that Freemasonry no longer seems to bring in “the movers and shakers,” at least, not in the way that it did a century ago. Why is that? Certainly, if in the 1920s, the members of the Scottish Rite — one of the more influential branches of the society — could manage to take the time to formulate a concrete social policy that cut across party lines, there must have been men in the organization who could make such things happen. Where are those men now — the political thinkers, the statesmen, the philosophers, and the men who know how to set those wheels in motion?
My own response is that, while some of those men may have been attracted to the fraternity, chances are they aren’t staying because the real movers and shakers aren’t wasting time sitting in lodges in which the important issues are things like how to come up with the money to replace the coffee maker, or to fix the roof. The successful people are already busy. If you have a lodge meeting on Wednesday evening in which someone says “I need a few brothers to come down to pain the kitchen,” those guys probably won’t be there; not because they’re too elite to paint the kitchen, but because their weekend has already been booked for the last month — the way their evenings are already taken up by work, networking meetings, family time, children’s homework, PTA, and several business association meetings. These movers and shakers want to see things done, and the last thing they want is to be held up by an hour discussion on picking a contractor to fix the potholes in the driveway.
Which brings us back around to the topic of a couple of weeks ago: maybe those Masonic Temples dotting our landscape are dragging us down. Without the resources to support them (i.e., members and assets), they are cutting into not only our capital, but our time — time that could be better spent on Masonic education, or in having a nice dinner, or in friendly fellowship, or in inspiring (or being inspired by) the movers and shakers of our communities.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we need not have any buildings, or that we should not spend time discussing maintenance on the ones that we do have. But maybe we — that is, the members of each lodge — need to take a step back and look at those buildings with a different perspective, and ask whether we may not actually be better off without them.
Do you think that our temples and buildings are actually dragging us down?
In case anyone failed to recognize the picture from my last post, that was from the wryly amusing comic Bugsport, drawn by Bro. Ted Bastien. Bugsport lampoons the conspiracy theories about aliens, Bigfoon, mind control, Illuminati, and how all those and other things are connected with Freemasons. Ted, himself, is a 33º Scottish Rite Mason, so he should certainly be aware of all of those secret goings-on.
But that cartoon panel brings up an interesting discussion point: If (presumably friendly) aliens should land and set up some kind of bases where they could live among us, would they be eligible to become Freemasons? Most places would have a residency requirement, but some jurisdictions make allowances for sojourners, so that might be acceptable. But it might be difficult to get guys to vouch for them, and a home visit investigation might be out of the question.
Of course, that brings up the question of whether they might start some of their own lodges, and if we’d have the Prince Hall issues all over again…
My blogging counterpart in the colder hinterlands had a post on the policies of the Scottish Rite that generated some discussion on various forums. To save you a little bit of button clicking, let me reprint the part that I found interesting:
The Scottish Rite, between the two world wars, published the following policies of the Supreme Council (no longer in force). These were reprinted in the Oct. 1927 Scottish Rite Sun.
The Supreme Council has always favored free public education, the use of English as the language of instruction, the separation of church and state and the inculcation of patriotism in the schools. Additionally the Supreme Council favors:
- A federal department of education with a secretary in the President’s cabinet.
- A national university at Washington, supported by the government.
- The compulsory use of English as the language of instruction in the grammar grades.
- Adequate provision for the education of the alien population, not only in cultural and vocational subjects, but especially in the principles of American institutions and popular sovereignty.
- The entire separation of church and state and opposition to every attempt to appropriate public moneys, directly or indirectly, for the support of sectarian institutions.
- The American public school, non-partisan, non-sectarian, efficient, democratic, for all the children of all the people; equal educational opportunities for all.
- The inculcation of patriotism, love of the flag, respect for law and order and underlying loyalty to constitutional government.
Before I joined, I remember several people telling me that Masons were for things like public education, or the separation of church and state. Having spent some time in the Blue Lodge, and more recently, having gone through the York Rite degrees, I hadn’t run across any position papers to that effect, so now I can at least see where the conceptions came from.
And what of these ideals? Considering that this was written almost a century ago, it certainly seems on point, doesn’t it? Every national election cycle seems to see several of these points discussed very publicly.
- English-only instruction? Check.
- Educating immigrants into the American way of life? Check.
- Patriotism and rule of law? Check.
- Separation of church and state? Check.
These are all worthy of discussion, and indeed, I certainly can’t see anything wrong with having a group lobby to keep such standards in the minds of our elected politicians, who often seem to pander to any group that offers to support them with money and votes. I think that perhaps our Scottish Rite brothers were either prescient, or at least, rational and conservative thinkers who deserve some credit for their efforts into introducing some direction into American politics. It’s no wonder that they are so often lauded as the “College of Freemasonry.”
Now, could somebody please explain why we love the Scottish Rite, but complain that French Freemasonry is “irregular” in part because they too often dabble in politics?
I have mixed feelings whenever
Gloomy Gus Chris Hodapp writes “another building lost” post – which, to be fair, almost seems to be every other month.
On one hand, it’s always sad to see a nice older Masonic Temples — or any well designed and decorated building, for that matter — falling into disrepair because the upkeep is too expensive for the membership. The period from the early to mid 1900s that saw so many fine temples erected didn’t have the expensive issues of heating and air conditioning costs, specialized maintenance, accessibility upgrades, or power needs that we now think of as essential, and even just maintaining those buildings, let alone improving them, is a huge drain on the resources of the members.
The late 1800s to early 1900s saw a different model: have a large building in which several different lodges could meet on different nights, so it wouldn’t sit unused. All the different lodges would pay a little rent to the building association (and this raises the question if Masons “invented” the co-op), and the steady influx of members would assure that the capital reserve funds would be adequate to repair the boiler or to shovel more ice onto the roof, whitewash the picket fence, or do whatever the heck was normal repairs back in those days. And I’m sure that many of the brothers at the time were proud to belong to a lodge that emulated – to some degree – the Temple of King Solomon. Many of the older buildings were richly appointed, and had massive columns, arches, and other fine details.So, yes, it’s disappointing to see those old temples fading, or being sold off so that they can be turned into office condos or meeting centers. As the membership declined, there was simply no way to keep them forever.
But on another level, maybe we need to ask ourselves: is a lodge the building or the members?
Back in the 1700s to 1800s, when many lodges were essentially a few dozen guys meeting in a pub, they probably didn’t worry about that kind of thing; if the pub closed, they found another one. Having a building was a bit extravagant for guys who might only meet once a week, and certainly ridiculous for a group that would only meet once a month. Some found a home, literally, in the older home donated or sold off from a member’s estate. New England is full of lodges that meet in these small buildings, and almost every other town seemed to have one during the boom years. But even that becomes expensive as turn or the century houses need to be upgraded with better electric and plumbing service, new stairs, fire exits, better insulation, and other upgrades to make them more accessible for our older members.
Nick Johnson recently posed the idea of a “dinner lodge,” a return to the older days when brothers met to discuss some bit of education, and enjoy some friendly association. Maybe the next few decades will see more large temples being sold off, but — hopefully — more active members meeting to enjoy fellowship, without worrying about fixing the potholes, repairing the roof, or wondering how they are going to pay for the upkeep on a mausoleum that only gets used once a week by a dozen guys.
After all, is your lodge the building, or is it the members?
We Freemasons love our flair.
Come on, admit it. You’ve run across some antique Knights Templar pin and think “Man, I gotta have that.” Or you see a shiny, metal car badge, and wonder if you should drill a hole into your hatchback for one of your own. You’ve got a little ‘Two ball cane” lapel pin, which makes you feel just the tiniest bit smug at knowing the pun. And then you go to a degree, and the guy sitting across from you has a pin from every single order he’s ever joined. Yes, that lapel looks like a cheese grater ran over it, but he doesn’t care.
Personally, I only wear one thing at a time, perhaps reflecting my sartorially parsimonious New England background. Usually I have one small S&C lapel pin on my jacket, occasionally accompanied by a Grand Master’s pin (which I usually end up giving away to somebody). More recently I’ve replaced the S&C with a similar Past Master’s pin. But as I went to check, it looks like I have several of those pins so I can keep one on each jacket. Oh, plus an antique trowel pin. Umm, and some old S&C cufflinks. Oh, and a circumpunct pin. And an antique S&C with enameled colors.
Okay, so I have a small box of the damned things. Like you don’t.
So, for those of you who love your flair and who also love your internet, here’s a new piece to pin onto your suit:
Introducing the /r/freemasonry lapel pin
This is Snoo, the mascot of the web community known as Reddit. Many of you know that I’m one of the mods on the Freemasonry subgroup, found at:
We’ve been talking about making up a Masonic Snoo pin for a few years, and Reddit has finally come up with a way for us to make that happen. One of our brothers put this together, and the /r/freemasonry lapel pin is now a thing that you can buy. And wear.
Even better, proceeds from Brother Snoo will benefit the Seattle Children’s Hospital, so not only would would you be stylish, but you would be supporting a great cause.
So be one up on your lodge brothers next year. Swing by Redditmade and order your Brother Snoo flair today.