The Grand Lodge Annual Communication is coming up shortly — a little late this year, and hopefully not as contentious as the Semi-Annual session back in October. I expect to be attending the parties and gatherings the previous night, and I’m hoping that I can get enough time from work to attend to actual meeting the next day.
One of the items that has been overlooked in last year has been the quiet success of the first internet-only lodge in Connecticut, and quite possibly in the entire US. Similar to Castle Island Virtual Lodge, our new lodge has no physical presence, which means that it embodies one of the other connotations of the word “lodge:” not the building, but the membership.
While you might think that the lack of need for a building would make it pretty easy to set up an internet lodge, it has, in fact, taken well over a year of planning, researching, and developing by a small group of some of the more progressive members of our fraternity. One of the issues was finding a secure network platform that would allow more than two dozen visitors. While several of the Grand Lodge committees meet online, they usually do so via Google Hangouts, which is limited in the number of video connections.
The most difficult part of the process was not the website, but convincing other Freemasons that not only is an internet lodge more than just a novelty, but that it can be a good alternative to the conventional lodges. CIVL has long since proved that the security of such a lodge is viable, but there were several other issues that needed to be resolved. Not surprisingly, most of those were the non-technical issues.
By far, the most contentious issue was that of degree work. Lodge members, not being able to be in the same room together for degree work, recorded some of the best ritualists in the state performing all three degrees, plus the various lectures and charges. Those videos are stored on a secure server, with DVD copies. Candidates, after having paid their degree fees, will then receive a pass code to download each degree, or, if desired, to have a DVD delivered in Netflix style. They can then watch the degree ceremony, after which they will have the opportunity to prove themselves before going on to the next degree.
Those opposed to such an arrangement insist that video degrees will lack the personal touch that helps conventional lodge members to bond. Another point is that having a candidate simply sit through a screening would take away from the initiatory experience, and leave the candidate with little reason to return.
On the other hand, proponents of virtual degrees point out that the videos are much better quality than the work seen in most lodges, and that if a candidate has a large screen TV with a home theater setup, the experience might well be superior to the conventional way. Another point is that the One Day Classes have already removed the participatory nature of the degrees by presenting them as a spectacle; if one can become a Mason by watching others on a stage, then why can’t one become a Mason by watching others on a video screen?
Scottish Rite officials have declined to comment, but have been rumored to be watching the situation closely. Likewise, the Grand Lodges of several states have quietly contacted the officers of our new lodge with questions about scripting and producing similar videos for use at their One Day degree festivals.
Fortunately, the progressive minded thinking for which our Grand Lodge has been known prevailed. Connecticut has two research lodges, a European Concept lodge, and now, an internet lodge, which will (hopefully!) be announced at the upcoming Grand Lodge session.
For those interested in what our modern and forward-thinking brothers have been working on:
Network Lodge No. 502 AF&AM
Welcome to the Freemasonry of the Future!
My post on the Masonic version of the Abilene Paradox — which I named the Craftsmen’s Paradox, since I’m the guy writing about it — generated a not-unsurprising amount of feedback on Facebook, Reddit, and in various PMs and emails. I was surprised at first, but I’ve come to realize that (in conformance with the sociological aspects of this flavor of groupthink) the One Day Classes have been around for going on twenty years now, so the big conversations are long since over; we don’t realize that there is a new generation of Masons coming in this way, and the lodges have a new generation of officers who apparently aren’t questioning their own Grand Lodges.
While not every state still uses the ODCs, it’s interesting to see the justifications are almost always the same: it makes it easier for busy men, younger men with families, or men about to be deployed in the military service. Likewise, the handful of statistical surveys always present the same conclusion, i.e., that the men raised in the ODCs are retained or active in the Society at about the same rate as those who come in the conventional way.
So, there are a small class of candidates who would find this helpful, and they tend to be just as active (or alternately, tend to drop out with the same frequency) as the members coming in with the regular degree system. Yet, there are obviously quite a few men who are being dragged into the ODCs — quite possibly more than those for whom it would be desirable. This again raises the question: Are ODCs a solution in search of a problem?
Some of the responses were from Masons who have seen or acted in the ODCs, and their comments tended to be along the lines of “follow the money.” That is, while they or their lodge had an opportunity to showcase some fine work, they came away with the attitude that it was a way for Grand Lodges to fast-track the dues into the lodge and Grand Lodge accounts.
Interestingly, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts just had one last week. From their website:
[…] Lodges will be invoiced $100.00 per candidate registered. That will include the cost of meals for the candidate and mentor along with the candidate kit for the candidate. Anything lodges collect over and above that from their application fee they keep.
In the US, Masons do not become full members until they are raised as Master Masons; Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts typically do not pay dues (although they also are not allowed a vote in lodge business). In many states, there are always a percentage of candidates who, for reasons unknown, never progress past the first or second degree. Many of the responses gave the impression that Grand Lodges use the ODC to get those candidates “all the way in a day”, so they are compelled to pay dues for at least the first year.
And I’m not picking on the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, it’s just that they happened to have one this past weekend. Again, from their website:
Your support of this class will help “make a difference” to rebuild the membership of our fraternity.
Another theme I’ve seen is that we have so many lodges that simply can’t do the work because the current members are poorly practiced, don’t care enough to improve, or don’t have enough members to properly put on a series of degrees. This is a pretty sad state of affairs, and it ties into my thinking that maybe we need to let some of those lodges die, instead of committing time and resources to keeping them alive. My own opinion is that by supporting the ODCs, we aren’t rebuilding, we’re merely repairing by stuffing dues paying bodies in the lodges the way we might stuff caulk into the cracks of a drafty building. We build a stronger fraternity by giving our members something to be proud of, not by rushing them through the degrees.
But the worst indictments against keeping the ODCs came from the members, themselves, who had been brought in that way. Here’s a sampling of the comments and emails from those who went “from Mister to Master” over the last few years:
“I absolutely feel cheated and I’ve mentioned it on several occasions to the point where I was chewed out by a DD because how dare I question the GM.”
“[My lodge] didn’t want to have to do individual degrees. Either they didn’t have the numbers or they weren’t prepared. My lodge hadn’t done a MM in over a year and lots of guys forgot how to do it (as was evident during the degree).”
“I was a one day classer because I wasn’t given an option. I actually had time to do it the normal way and my lodge would do several degrees a month.”
“It is my experience as well, that not one Mason who took the 1 day option feels that his experience was equal or better than the traditional route.”
“I didn’t think about it until I saw a degree done the regular way at another lodge. It was really impressive to see how much work the lodge put into it.”
It’s pretty clear that once the ODC candidates discovers that there was another option, they felt cheated out of the experience. You are only initiated once, and lodges should take the opportunity to do it properly, or not at all.
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?