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The Grey Area

July 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Since everybody else is all gaga about some kind of proposed TV series about Freemasons that’s been going around lately, I figured I’d try my own hand at marketing a Freemason-themed movie based on the idea of a script from a book I haven’t written, for which I got the idea by lurking at fanfic groups.

Here’s the pitch:

A new Mason looks to the Worshipful Master of his lodge for some guidance, and ends up being asked to become a Steward – which compels him to spend his time cleaning and cooking, after which he is slowly coerced into memorizing lectures. Before he’s even aware of what’s happening, he is seduced into taking committee positions, running picnics, and planning lodge events, while the Master and other lodge members become more and more demanding of his time and energy.

The story continues following him over the next several years as he makes his way through the officer’s line and eventually becomes the Master of the lodge – during which time he mentors a new Mason by asking him to take on some simple duties…

I’m going to pitch this book idea, so I don’t want any of you people stealing this, okay? I’m going to call it:

Fifty Shades of Freemasonry.

How most Masons spend their first couple of years at their lodge.

I’m hoping to get enough donations so after I finally write the book, and then script, and then get the movie deal, we can shoot on location at such exotic places as Podunk, Connecticut.

 

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You’ve Got Mail. Now answer it!

June 30, 2015 6 comments

I think that rarely a month goes by in which the /r/freemasonry group on Reddit does not see a question like this:

“I am very much interested in joining a local lodge but haven’t had much luck getting a response back from the lodges I contacted. I contacted one via email and then followed up with a phone call about a month ago but haven’t heard back. I also contacted another lodge about a week ago and still eagerly waiting for a response. Is this typical? Is there anything more I can be doing?”

Reddit tends to be a younger demographic, so the responses are often wry or exasperated comments about the old-timers in charge of a lodge who don’t understand email, or how lodges haven’t kept up with the changes. Usually they tell the person asking the question to have some patience, and to keep trying, because this kind of thing is typical for most lodges.

“I emailed a lodge about a week ago through their contact us form and published email and haven’t heard anything back. Wondering if it would be prudent to start exhausting some other methods of finding contact or whether I should instead just sit tight and be patient.”

I used to think that way, myself, but I’ve changed my mind. I now believe that we should not encourage petitioners to keep trying to join a lodge in which the members do not seem to have a clue as to how communication works. Email — indeed, anything internet related — might have been the “wave of the future” a generation ago, but now it’s the acceptable methods of communication, and any lodge that can’t figure out how to use it should probably just die a natural death.

“I’ve been interested in the Freemasons for sometime and would like to petition my local lodge, however I do not know how to contact them. The lodge locator site shows my closest lodges but offers no means of contact. I don’t want to just show up at a meeting date and ask, as that seems rude.”

Thirty years ago, electronic mail was something for scientists, universities, and geeks. Twenty years ago, email was common, but still somewhat novel. Ten years ago, email had become one of the standard methods of business communication. Today, many businesses are giving up their fax line as most documents are now more easily scanned and emailed. If you have a cell phone (approx. 75% of US residents), then you have an email address.

“I’m interested in joining, but I have contacted 3 Lodges in [city] as well as the Grand Lodge of [state] with no response. I don’t want to be a nuisance, so I’m curious if there is something I’m missing!”

There is absolutely no reason for a Masonic lodge to not have an email address. More importantly, there is no reason why several members should not be checking that email address. Free email addresses are readily available from a variety of providers, including Google, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft, and your phone service provider.

“I’ve been interested in the Freemasons for sometime and would like to petition my local lodge, however I do not know how to contact them. The lodge locator site shows my closest lodges but offers no means of contact. I don’t want to just show up at a meeting date and ask, as that seems rude.”

Apparently a lot of Masons have taken a step or two toward modern times. Many lodges actually do have an email contact. Unfortunately, all too often it belongs to Old Jake — remember Jake? He was the Secretary back in 2004. He’s in Florida now. Nobody knows where those emails go.

“I exchanged e-mails with someone about a year back, we met and discussed everything. He seemed really enthusiastic. Then he disappeared after the lodge went dark for the summer months. He did not come back after the summer as far as I can tell.”

Those of us still young enough to be in the working world understand that sending an email to the lodge in care of “oldjake1932@prodigy.net” doesn’t look very professional, nor does it inspire confidence. And I do understand that while having your own domain name for your lodge sounds cool and modern, it’s really not necessary; in fact, just that type of thing will be guaranteed to become a burden at some point when the people who are supposed to  handle the re-registration aren’t around. So, let’s keep it simple.

“I contacted the [state] lodge through their online form last week but haven’t heard anything. I’m just wondering if there are local masons I could meet through here or if I should do something else to contact the lodge. I don’t see any events on their website to attend.”

Here’s my suggestion (are you listening, Grand Lodge officers?): Have one of the more technically inclined guys in a lodge (or his grandson, or any passing high school student) register a Gmail account with a name that is similar to the lodge. For example, my lodge would be “friendship33@gmail.com.” Then, go into the settings and have any mail that comes into that address immediately forwarded to the Secretary, and two or three other members of the lodge. Give all of them access to that account so any one of them could respond to a potential applicant.

“I reached out to the GL here and got invited to an “Brother Bring a Friend ” event at the respondent lodge. I got dressed up, showed up early and waited for about an hour before being told they had canceled it (but not update the webpage or let me know since my RSVP.) It was disappointing and the lodge’s secretary I was in e-mail contact with seemed generally remorseful so no trouble there. My initial e-mail was December ’12, the event I showed up to was January ’12. I e-mailed again in January to no response and then again in late April to no response.”

I’m not going to walk you through all of the steps because a) it’s easy enough to figure out, and b) the people who really need to be doing this aren’t reading my blog, anyway. They are probably too busy passing around the latest Facebook “Remember when mail came with a stamp once a day? Like and Share!” memes.

“I moved to a new town a couple months ago and have had the hardest time getting in touch with these people. They don’t answer phones, respond to voicemails or emails (i’ve tried like 4 email addresses).”

Naturally, the same courtesy should apply to returning voice mails. If someone has taken the time to find the contact information for the lodge, the lodge needs to make sure that someone — and preferably more than one person — will return that message in a timely manner.

“A few weeks ago I sent an email to my local lodge requesting information on becoming an mason. I hadn’t heard anything back a week later and decided to re-forward my original email (I mentioned that I was concerned that my email went to a spam/junk folder.) this happens to me from time to time. At this point, another week has passed. I certainly don’t expect immediate replies but I’m curious about whether my emails have been received or not. Perhaps I’m going about contacting the lodge in an incorrect manner… Any feedback?”

I have seen this topic come up countless times over the years, and while it was funny back in 2005, I find that I’m actually becoming embarrassed to hear these stories, over and over. What kind of organization does not understand how proper, courteous, business communication happens in the real world?

“Hey, I’m a 21 year old who’s interested in becoming a prince hall mason. I’ve contacted the grand lodge, sent an email, and even left my number and no one has gotten back to me in [state].”

I’ll tell you what kind: one that will eventually no longer have people seeking to join.

“I was told that from petition to a phone call or other contact is an exercise in patience. I talked to a guy in a neighboring town say it took him 6 weeks to get a call.”

When I’ve spoken up about this in other venues, I’ve had members — mainly, but not always, older guys — try to explain to me that Freemasonry is a slow process. “People always expect something right away,” they have told me. “Freemasonry isn’t about the instant gratification,” is the message — as if that’s supposed to excuse a lodge that has left a potential member wondering if he has done something wrong.

“I’ve tried various means of contacting people in [city], as well as the Grand Lodge in [state]. This includes e-mail, contact forms, and by phone. I don’t want to come across as pushy, so what should I do next?”

Freemasonry is not about instant gratification? I’m going to have to call BS on this line of reasoning. We still have US states who push dozens, if not hundreds of candidates through in the One Day Class/Blue Lightening/Mister to Master, or whatever they call it in that area. Even the idea of just a few weeks between degrees sounds like a quick sprint to some of our European brothers who may take six to twelve months between degrees.

Again: email and voicemail are not the wave of the future. They are long-established methods of communication, and any lodge that can’t figure out how to use them does not deserve to have the rest of us telling potential candidates to “wait with patience.”

Social Masonry

May 22, 2015 7 comments

The question came up with one of my friends on Facebook: “Is there too much Masonry on social media?” By that, he was asking if the dozens and dozens of similar Facebook groups, often with overlapping membership, and all seemingly having the same conversations (and disagreements) over and over is somehow bad for the society. Naturally a few wags jumped in to suggest that the problem was that there wasn’t enough Masonry in the Masons on social media. An amusing retort, but it misses what I think is the real issue.

Social media, specifically the big groups like Facebook, offer an opportunity that we constantly remind new Masons about: the ability to “travel” to foreign countries. On Facebook, you won’t attend a lodge, but you can certainly find yourself in a conversation with someone from a different state in the US, or a Canadian province, or (if you don’t mind the time zone lag) brothers from across the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. secret-society-social-network

American Freemasons are somewhat insulated by the above-named oceans; most of the US practices some version of the Preston Webb lectures, and the variations between most states are fairly minimal, at least in contrast to the workings and customs in lodges in the UK,Scotland, Ireland, France, and other areas. And because most of us lack some exposure to other workings and customs, we often tend to think that our way is “correct,” which leads to long pointless discussions on why you should (or shouldn’t) wear your ring a certain way, or why our English brothers don’t seem to get into arguments about the feminine Masonic orders, or whether the workings should be learned from a book or verbally, or why a tattoo isn’t a violation of one’s  Masonic obligations.

I’ve often seen a picture of some brother’s new tattoo or some Masonic item, followed by a few comments like “You forgot your oaths,” or “Why are you displaying the secrets?”or “I take my obligations seriously and would never do anything like that!” or even “Are you even really a Mason?” To me, the disturbing thing isn’t that those commenters didn’t know about the different customs elsewhere, but that they immediately jumped to a conclusion and instead of questioning, responded with criticism. Perhaps when we talk about “the universality of Masonry,” some people make the assumption that Masonry is universally practiced the same way as it is in their lodge, instead of assuming the bigger picture, that Masonry is a way to encompass a universally agreeable set of moral values.

Masons on social media would be better served by giving some thought to their comments before typing. Of course you take your obligations seriously, but why would you assume that the person in question does not? Instead of jumping to conclusions when you see a brother espouse a different opinion, ask yourself what may be different about his lodge, his community, or his Grand Lodge that would cause him to think differently. And if you can’t come up with an answer, then ask him directly. Questions like “Hey, I saw that you have a different way of doing ___. Why is that?” will go a lot further toward spreading the cement of brotherly love and affection than assuming that he’s simply doing something wrong.

You may not be able to actually travel to far-off lands, but thanks to the internet and the various media platforms, you can at least get an idea about the different customs and cultures elsewhere. Freemasons should take advantage of those opportunities to learn about each other because we are, after all, one of the oldest social networks in existence.

 

Freemachonry

May 12, 2015 4 comments

Most of the old web boards where I used to hang out with Freemasons from around the globe have quietly gone dark, deserted, or have disappeared entirely, as threaded conversations have moved over to social media sites. That’s not an entirely bad thing, because the social sites like Facebook and Google Plus tend to attract many younger Masons, who in addition to text can now use pictures and video to share their experiences. Facebook groups, for example, are filled with pictures of newly raised Master Masons, shots of their lodge, their rings (worn properly, of course), and various other examples of Masonic displays.

Where we once were  known as “the quiet fraternity,” we now have a host of designs to adorn our cars, hats, jackets, shirts, belt buckles, computer or phone desktops, and pretty much anyplace else we can think of. Some of the examples of artwork that I’ve seen have been excellently rendered in various image creation & manipulation programs, and I’m often amazed at the detail that some of my graphically inclined brothers can put into those images.

One of the trends that I’ve been noticing has been the masculinization (or rather, the hyper-masculinization) of Freemasonry; that is, of the images and symbols that we use. In the last few years I’ve been seeing more drawings and graphics depicting overly-stylized Square & Compasses adorned with skulls, crossed thighbones, and various edged instruments; some of these artistic variations would seem more at home on the back of a motorcycle jacket, or perhaps adorning a 1980s metal band album cover.

From a technical standpoint, some of those designs are pretty cool in the way that they bring together disparate elements, or in how those elements are repurposed or re-examined. Symbols are not immutable; indeed, they change as the culture in which they are found changes. A good example is how the color pink is now more associated with young girls than with young boys, in a reversal from just a century ago. And new symbols pop up into our culture all the time: think about the red octagon that we now associate with “Stop” or the circle with a diagonal line across it, which now denotes “Prohibited.” Those symbols didn’t exist as such a century ago.

But some symbols are inherently associated with certain groups, and here is where I think that some of us (well, okay, maybe just me) are feeling disconnected. Recently I ran across this cool representation of the well-known symbol of Freemasonry: the overlaid Square & Compasses:

Does anyone happen to know the artist?

Let’s ignore for the moment that the skull is used in Templar Masonry and in the Scottish Rite, but generally not in the Blue Lodge. The skull itself has a furrowed, intent looking brow, Terminator-red eye sockets, and a somewhat threatening visage. It’s not the symbol that inspires one to think about their mortality and place in the world, but rather, to convey a sense of danger, or perhaps challenge. And the sepia tones are a nice contrast to the metalized look of our working tools.

The part that really made me think about this trend was the S&C, itself. What is a Square? Essentially, it is an instrument with a calibrated 90º corner and straight edges that allow us to design, sketch, or true up corners to keep them from going out of alignment. This square, while presenting a nice looking bit of metalwork, almost looks like a machine part. What’s with those inside edges, anyway? How can you trace a design on a trestle board with that? Speaking symbolically, is this teaching us to be true and honest?

I’m not sure where to even begin with the compasses. If the square looks industrialized, the compasses have been weaponized. In real life, a set of compasses is to aid in measuring and drawing arcs and circles; the points of which will scribe a faint line in the material on which they are used. But what is this instrument supposed to do? Those scalpel edges aren’t even in the same axis as the legs – they would scrape the hell out of anything you tried to use it on. The tips are further enhanced with stylized barbs and hooks, which would be pretty inconvenient to use as a hand-held tool. And from a symbolic perspective, our own compasses are supposed to keep us “within due bounds” and to remind us of certain Masonic principles, such as Friendship, Morality, and Brotherly Love. To me, these compasses show the complete opposite of those tenets.

This is just one example, but there are many such depictions readily available on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and other social media sites. I’m at a loss for an explanation, but I’ve been wondering if for a generation of men who may  have spent more time playing indoors than outside, Freemasonry is how they are rediscovering their own sense of masculinity and what it means to be a Man (capitalized) in a society that has actively sought to eliminate any dangers, real or imagined. Playground recess has been cancelled or restricted in many schools, as has ball-playing and running or racing games. Playground equipment is now designed with the avoidance of possible lawsuits, which means anything more than the swings or slides is now off limits. Even pick-up games in the suburbs are a rarity, having been replaced by child-league sports, overly-supervised by adults. Television and movies often present an ambivalent take on adult men or masculinity, and studios are becoming more fearful of alienating potential viewers by presenting old-school male role models — unless it’s to point out that they are dinosaurs in our modern age.

Have these kinds of influences led the newer generations of young men into turning Freemasonry into not just a men’s society, but a masculinity rediscovery society?

 

 

Foundations or boat anchors?

February 3, 2015 2 comments

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 mausoleums Temples.

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.

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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?

 

 

Ancient and Acceptable?

January 19, 2015 6 comments

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:

  1. A federal department of education with a secretary in the President’s cabinet.
  2. A national university at Washington, supported by the government.
  3. The compulsory use of English as the language of instruction in the grammar grades.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. The American public school, non-partisan, non-sectarian, efficient, democratic, for all the children of all the people; equal educational opportunities for all.
  7. 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’m Apathy… An underground hip-hop artist who is a Fremason AMA!

April 3, 2014 4 comments

There’s been some interesting online discussion about the video The Grand Leveler from hip-hop artist Apathy, not just for his use of a Masonic Lodge, but because he, himself is a Mason. Some people in our fraternity enjoyed the music and his vision, while others believe it portrays Freemasonry in a bad light.

For anyone so inclined, you can jump into a discussion with Bro. Apathy that’s happening right now on Reddit:

I’m Apathy… An underground hip-hop artist who is a Fremason AMA!

 

And after you’re done, then stop by the Reddit Freemasonry group to discuss it some more.

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