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Claims Adjustment

June 16, 2017 2 comments

Anyone who has been paying to US political news for the last year or so knows that 2016 was a particularly divisive national election year, and that 2017 has been pretty much one “crisis” after another, as Republicans battle Democrats, and Trump supporters battle “Never Trump” activists.

I’ll admit to having done a bit of troll baiting over the last year, mainly because, well, I’m a 15 year old teenager trapped in a grown man’s body. Despite that, however, my Facebook friends list has stayed fairly steady. I’ve been blocked or unfriended by a few family and friends, but for the most part, the people that I’ve gotten to know – online and off – as fellow Freemasons have managed to keep their conversations level; they have been all over the political spectrum, but our disagreements have not been enough to have them drop me as a friend, nor I them.

Until this week.

The shooting of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise earlier this week should have elicited sympathy, if not outrage. At the very least, one would have thought that the more enlightened people would have abided by the rule “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” That’s why I was not just surprised, but saddened at the comments of one of my friends who wrote, in essence, that Scalise deserved what he had gotten, that it was re-payment for his being a Tea Party supporter, and then added something about karma and female dogs.

The comment was not part of a conversation in which I was involved; I just blocked and later, deleted him from my friend list.

Oh sure, we’ve all had our moments of righteous anger. I can think of any number of times that I’ve read about some thug holding up a store, getting shot in the process, and thinking “Oh, good, maybe that’ll teach him a lesson.” But Scalise was not a thug; in fact, I had no idea who the guy was until I’d read the news, which indicates to me that he probably wasn’t an especially bad person. I’m guessing that for a lot of other people this was also the case.

“Okay, Tom,” you’re saying to yourself about now, “if I wanted to read about politics, I’d be on Facebook. How is this related to Freemasonry?”

Some US states have a piece at the closing of lodge (sometimes called the Closing Charge), that is sadly absent in Connecticut (and apparently elsewhere), but which I’ve run across, and I think it’s a moving bit of ceremony. A typical version runs like this:

Brethren: You are now to quit this sacred retreat of friendship and virtue, to mix again with the world. Amidst its concerns and employments, forget not the duties you have heard so frequently inculcated and forcibly recommended in this Lodge. Be diligent, prudent, temperate, discreet. Remember that around this altar you have promised to befriend and relieve every worthy Brother who shall need your assistance. Remember that you have promised to remind him, in the most tender manner, of his failings, and aid his reformation. These generous principles are to extend further. Every human being has a claim upon your kind offices. Do good unto all. Recommend it more especially to the household of the faithful. Finally, Brethren, be ye all of one mind; live in peace; and may the God of love and peace delight to dwell with and bless you.

I don’t know what made that pop into my head at some point yesterday, but there’s a part in there that I believe gets overlooked far too often:

These generous principles are to extend further. Every human being has a claim upon your kind offices. Do good unto all. Recommend it more especially to the household of the faithful.

That is, we have an obligation to be tolerant, if not downright charitable to everyone, regardless of political outlook. Maybe some of us need to be reminded of that not just in and around our lodge, but also whenever we log into our social media.

Do you even lift, bro?

April 1, 2016 1 comment

There was a period about six or seven years ago in which I cut back on attending lodge and Masonic events to focus on my business and health; you know, those “usual vocations” that they talk about in the lecture things that we hear once in a while. During that time, through the Scylla and Charybdis of diet and exercise, I managed to lose close to forty pounds of body weight. When I resurfaced at a few events, a number of well-meaning brothers took me aside and asked if I was “alright” or “had “been sick.”  The intimations over that time was that most of us don’t lose a lot of weight in middle age unless it’s involuntary — poor health, cancer, chemotherapy, or side effects of various medications will often take a toll in that manner.

Over the next couple of years, though, the questions and concerns were replaced by remarks of congratulations (and sometimes surprise) for having kept off the weight. Of course, some of those remarks were also followed by warnings that it would probably come back, and then some. “Yeah, I did that [Atkins, South Beach, Mediterranean, Grapefruit, Paleo, etc.] diet last year. I lost twenty pounds, but I gained back thirty pounds six months later.”  And sometimes, after having seen some of my blog or Facebook posts about some bike ride, brothers might respond that they found most exercise to be boring, or that they too often hurt themselves while lifting, running, cycling, or walking.

Brothers, I totally understand. Dieting, which is already difficult with the easy access to all sorts of delicious foods, is made more difficult by those dinners at lodge — not to mention the desserts after the meetings. Cake, pastries, and cookies are staples at my own lodge, and probably at yours, too. And the apres-loge snifter of brandy (or bottle of stout, or glass of scotch) certainly are not low-calorie treats. Let’s face it: losing weight, especially as we’ve gotten older and our metabolism has slowed down, is difficult.

But it’s not impossible.

Recognizing that many of my brother Masons have had a difficult time researching, planning, organizing, and ultimately adhering to a diet and exercise program, over the past year I’ve dropped pretty much all other Masonic activities in order to become, what I believe, is the first Freemason Fitness Coach.

To that end, I have opened the first Freemason Fitness Training Gym, offering personal coaching services in dieting and weight loss. My program is tailored toward busy Freemasons who are often out several nights a week, and who don’t “have enough time to exercise.”

My brothers, maintenance is boring and expensive. But it’s not nearly as time consuming and expensive as repair or replacement.

 

Come on — let’s get with the program!

Freemason Fitness

Masons, not Gay-sons!

October 31, 2015 11 comments

 

WBC hates gay Masons

Dateline: Atlanta, GA — Westboro Baptist Church members are coming to the support of the GL of GA over their controversial decision to make both homosexuality and fornication Masonic offenses. As reported on Chris Hodapp’s blog,:

The Grand Lodge of Georgia met yesterday (Oct 27) and the voting members upheld Grand Master Douglas McDonald’s edict outlawing homosexuality, and throwing in fornication for good measure. After several impassioned speeches on the floor against the measure, it passed with a very close vote that probably should have been counted individually, but wasn’t.

Today being Halloween, a seance was held to summon the ghost of church founder Fred Phelps, who directed the WBC to give their support to the GL of GA, which has come under fire from Freemasons around the US and other areas for their decision to pass this ruling during their recent GL session.


The seance was short-lived, and reportedly ended with the ghost of Phelps complaining about the lack of air conditioning.

 

 

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.”

A bit crypto

November 12, 2014 8 comments

I’ve always believed that a large part of why Freemasons have the long history of secret passwords, etc., was because we (as a group) tend to be charitable, and when approached by people asking for some kind of charity, especially as Freemasons, we give what we can. Naturally, we give to other causes, but when you think that you are giving to a particular group – any group – you like to know that your gift, be it time or money, isn’t being diverted to other uses.

With that in mind, I’d like to mention something that has come up in the online Masonic world: GCoin.

First, I will freely admit that I don’t know enough about cryptocurrency to even hazard a bad explanation, so if you’re interested enough to research on your own, then by all means, start with Wiki and go on from there. Disclosure: I have some Dogecoin amounting to about 33 cents, and I haven’t done anything with it yet.

Earlier this year, someone posted to the Reddit subgroup /r/freemasonry, announcing an alternative to Bitcoin, calling it GCoin. He announced it as having been developed by Masons, and for the purpose of making charitable giving easier. Naturally, we joked that it was hard enough to get a lot of our brothers to use Facebook or email, so good luck in trying to explain how it was supposed to work.  Unfortunately, requests for more specific information from them was vague, when it was forthcoming at all.  More to the point, the person refused to give any actual proof that he was a Mason, or that other Masons were actually involved in the development.  We eventually forgot about it, as new cryptocurrencies are being introduced all the time.

This week, the same user posted another announcement that it was going to be officially released.  That recalled the original discussion threads, and again, the user was just as vague with the details. He claimed that anyone, not just Masons could use GCoin, and that coin users could vote for small percentages to go for various charities. Unfortunately, he again failed to specify which charities, or how the voting worked. For that matter, it appears that even if some Masons decide to allow some percentage of the interest to go to a charity, they might be outvoted by other users.

Again, I don’t know enough about cryptocurrency to understand how it works, or what differentiates this from others, such as Bitcoin or Dogecoin.  Since the link between GCoin and Freemasonry is so tenuous, however, I think that anyone – Freemasons or not – should approach this with caution.

That said, maybe it would be an interesting project for some of our brothers to develop a cryptocurrency (MasoniCoin, perhaps?) specifically for Masonic purposes.

 

 

 

Connecticut Casual

March 22, 2014 6 comments

If you had to make a Venn diagram of the categories “Rap Videos,” “Connecticut,” and “Freemasons,” you’d probably think that the intersection would be 0.

You’d think.

Reel Wold Productions presents: Apathy – “The Grand Leveler”

With special thanks to the officers and brethren of Coastal Lodge No. 57 in Stonington, CT & Bro. Jim Johnson.

Blog Aggravate

February 9, 2014 3 comments

The “Golden Age” of Masonic blogging was probably from 2005 to 2010; Facebook and Twitter became the most used social networks, and most of the existing blogs lacked for readers, which in turn discouraged many writers.

I recently went through my own archives, and over the years I have subscribed to or listed just under 200 blogs by Masons. Most are now dead or dormant, but surprisingly, there are still a number of active blogs, and once in a while I’ll run across a new one that I find enjoyable. I’ve been trying to list them on my sidebar, or add them to my RSS reader so I can keep up.

More interestingly, some intrepid bothers will take the time to sit down with a microphone and some recording software, and put together a half to one hour program of discussion. While Masonic podcasts aren’t nearly as common, they are generally an enjoyable alternative, and you can listen to them in the background as you’re working on other things, or save them to mobile device and play it in your car on that long, boring commute.

I know that some of my readers are always on the lookout for new or interesting Masonic reading, so I’ve put together a new Masonic blog aggravate aggregate; a collection of links to the more active blogs that I’ve been reading, and that other people have kindly pointed out to me. These are blogs that have all posted articles in the last year. Right now there are about 2 dozen, but hopefully that will grow. And since blogs are not the only Masonic writings available, the sidebar will have links to podcasts, web sites, essays, and other bits of interest to Masons.

Ashlar to Ashes: An aggregate for Masonic blogs and writings

This is just a little project that I put together in an afternoon, but if people find it useful, then maybe we can keep this going. If you have a favorite (or your own) blog, podcast, web board, or website that you would like added, please leave a comment here or on Ashalr to Ashes so we can check it out.

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