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Don’t sit alone in the dark – where to go for your Freemasonry fix

April 20, 2020 3 comments

As the social distancing and self-quarantines stretch on, Freemasons are feeling the itch to get out and have some fellowship with their brothers. While not quite the same as sitting around a table and chatting over coffee or an aqua vitae, many Freemasons have already found a way to indulge in discussion with like-minded brethren — not just from their lodge, but from around the state, and even around the world.

For those who haven’t done more than share pictures of their dinner or grandkids on Facebook, the social media giant has dozens of groups for Masonic discussion, both informal and educational. Some of the larger ones are:

The Winding Stairs Freemasonry Group: One of the fastest growing Masonic groups, with over 20,000 members (not all online at once), this moderated group has a wide mix of educational articles, questions from new and old Masons, some humor, and general information.

Masonic World Wide: A large, established group with a large percentage of members from across the pond. While mainly a chat group, one will find a lot of fascinating information here.

Freemasons Page: One of the largest and oldest Facebook groups, there’s something here for everyone. Chat, education, articles of interest, and plenty of humor to lighten the mood.

Freemasonry is not confined to just Facebook; Reddit, one of the largest online news sharing and social groups has a club (known as a subreddit) for every interest, including Freemasonry.

The Reddit Freemasonry group (http://reddit.com/r/freemasonry) is one of the largest active online groups outside of Facebook, and has dozens of discussions going at any time.

The Lodgeroom UK (http://lodgeroomuk.com/forumphpBB/index.php) One of the oldest web forum based groups, and not limited to UK Freemasonry.

Those hoping for a more “live” online experience can join the Freemasonry group on Discord, a popular chat and messaging app. Those of you with a Discord account can find it at: https://discordapp.com/invite/fezFP88

For those of you who would prefer to listen to some background discussion instead the news, there are some fantastic podcasts by Masons, covering a wide range of topics of interest. Some of the best known are:

The Masonic Roundtable: (http://themasonicroundtable.com) A group of Freemasons running a weekly podcast, with guests, Masonic news, and some good natured banter.

Masonic Lite (https://www.masoniclite.com): Inspired by The Masonic Roundtable, a decidedly lighter flavored group of guys, just sitting around and talking about anything with a Masonic spin.

Whence Came You? (https://wcypodcast.com/) A more educational podcast, with a wide range of topics, presented by different speakers.

The Craftsmen Podcast (http://www.thecraftsmenpodcast.com) A monthly podcast discussing “… the nuances of the Scottish Rite, humor of the York Rite, and all things Masonic, except for the secret handshakes. Sometimes we even share our favorite recipes,”

Occult of Personality (http://occultofpersonality.net) With a focus on authenticity, accuracy, and quality, Occult of Personality peers behind the veil to provide recorded interviews with serious esoteric practitioners, scholars, and teachers from all over the world.

Finally, for those of you who would rather relax with some reading material, there are still some excellent blogs online.

The Midnight Freemasons (http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/) Topics of interest from a variety of authors.

The One Minute Mason (http://oneminutemason.blogspot.com/) Short essays on various topics.

Freemasons Are Us (https://freemasonsareus.wordpress.com/) Mainly historical topics about the development of Freemasonry.

The Traveling Templar (https://www.travelingtemplar.com/) A variety of history, information, and personal blogging.

Noble Science, Royal Art (https://noblescienceroyalart.wordpress.com/) Essays on various Masonic themes.

Addendum: For the latest in up-to-date Masonic news, don’t forget to put Chris Hodapp’s  Freemasons for Dummies blog (https://freemasonsfordummies.blogspot.com/) on your reading list.

A list of other blogs, podcasts, and further online resources can be found at:

Ashlars to Ashes (http://ashlars-ashes.blogspot.com/)

 

 

 

 

 

A backwards glance

January 13, 2016 1 comment

I started 2015 with every intention of getting at least one post a month up, and I actually did pretty well, only faltering in the last two months of the year. But I averaged more than one a month, so I’ll call that a win.

Last year was an interesting one for me. I completed my York Rite degrees, and even though I haven’t written much about them (okay, almost nothing, really), I can’t stress enough how they were worth waiting for, and that any Craft Masons who have an interest in the history or ritual of Freemasonry should definitely look to their local Chapter for the next leg of their journey.

Writing about that reminds me that I really haven’t been active in any of those bodies lately, owing in part to some work commitments, and to some more recent and unanticipated family commitments. I suspect that one of the reasons we see so many retired guys in the Craft, and more in the York Rite is because it’s difficult for younger guys to make the time to get involved in all the different aspects.

Freemasonry in Connecticut is beginning to settle down from the last few fractured years, after a major turnover in our Grand Line. The bigger lesson in all this has not gone unnoticed by Grand Lodges in other jurisdictions: progressive Grand Lines may be the easy way to go, but they are only as progressive as the will of the Craft allows.

We had some interesting things in Freemasonry, too, at least, in the online world. Facebook alone had several hundred conversations on which way you should wear your ring, and the topic shows no sign of slowing. Also popular on social media were discussions about Masonic bling, with the designs of our working tools becoming more stylized and less traditional looking — a trend that some people aren’t completely happy with.

And speaking of online Masonry, I’m glad to see that our Grand Lodge has thought to get a virtual lodge started; it won’t be the first, but hopefully this will be a trend that will become more common, and will be one more way for brothers to connect, who would otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.

WBC hates gay Masons

The Westoboro Baptist Church found itself in a quandary when they realized that it was the Freemasons who were outlawing homosexual behavior.

Many of the  brothers in the online community — most of them tending to the younger side of our membership demographic — were disappointed by the actions of the Grand Lodges of both Tennessee and Georgia. Tennessee, which had on their books a prohibition against homosexuality, saw proceedings against a member — a Past Master with a good record — after he posted photographs of him and his (male) spouse after a wedding ceremony. Georgia, not to be outdone, saw the outgoing Grand Master send out an edict which made both homosexual activity and “fornication” offenses subject to Masonic discipline. The real outrage (again, online) happened after the Grand Lodge of Georgia had their annual communication and passed that edict into Masonic law.

The last year also saw some nice activity on some blogs and podcasts. Whence Came You, The Masonic Roundtable, and The After Lodge Podcast were particular standouts for group podcasting, and show no signs of slowing down. On the written side, I’m glad to see that The Millennial Freemason and The Midnight Freemason still turning out thoughtful pieces, and have been joined by a new Mason on the block, Fresh from the quarry.

Naturally, I have these and other fine resources listed at Ashlars to Ashes. Go visit some of them.

Before I wrap this up, I should note another new blog that appeared at the end of the year: The Past Bastard, an Onion-ish site for humorous pieces and satire. Well, I certainly hope they are satire, although after reviewing some of the activities of real Masons from the last few years, I’m beginning to think that the line is becoming very thin, indeed.

Lily work, Social Networks, and Pomegranates

March 20, 2009 Leave a comment

Here’s an interesting question: Are our modern Grand Lodge websites already obsolete?

At a committee meeting that I attended recently, the subject came up that some of our brothers were posting notices of lodge events on Facebook, which causes a problem for those brothers who aren’t connected to any of the dozens of social networking, blog-friending, or instant messaging hosts. The bigger concern, though, was that these events were not being published on the regular lodge web calendars.

This struck me as strange, because Grand Lodge of Connecticut has a fantastic web site, with hosting space for each lodge (each with their own domain), plus a web forum , and (and this is the important part) an easily updatable calendar that can be used as an event search tool. For example, as  District Grand Lecturer, I like to visit lodges that are having degree work. Going to the Grand Lodge calendar allows me to search on, say, EA degrees, only in District 5. This presents me with a list of the lodges doing an EA degree anytime in the next few months.

At least, that’s what I would see, if the lodge bothered to update their calendar.

I’ve written before that the reason I started blogging was that when I was Master back in 2006 I wanted an easy way to announce events, and at the time the then-new GL web site was pretty much hosed. Events were lost, half the people didn’t know how to use the controls, and the few lodges that cared enough to dress up their site a bit from the cookie-cutter template were constantly frustrated by frequent updates which would wipe out their changes or enhancements.

Fortunately that aggravation is long past; the website is much easier to use, and good features and enhancements have been added over the last few years. Changing your lodge home page is painless, and you can add lodge forums, photos, newsletters, etc. You know, just like a real organization should have.

Which brings me back to the subject at hand: Why would lodges – that is, lodge officers – with their own website and calendar functions turn to Facebook (or any of the other social networking sites) in order to pass along information?

I wouldn’t bring this up if I didn’t already have an opinion, of course.

I think it’s simply a matter of convenience and available technology. Web sites are so last century.

Yes, Joomla and Drupal and their various plug-ins have made large sites much easier to set up and maintain. The problem, though, is that you still have to actually make a point to go visit them.  While you might forget to visit a website to check for updates, there’s almost no danger of missing information on a social network, unless you overlooked it because of the sheer number of other updates you might be getting.

Facebook (for example) – especially with the Twitter application – allows you to customize the flow of information so that what you’re interested in comes to you, via your cell phone. Or your Crackberry. Or your email inbox. I can well understand the appeal, especially to those who pretty much live in front of their PCs; it’s definitely easy to send off an email or event notice to your named group, mention a few key details, and follow up with a little bit of chatter; the notices will have links to the events, and anyone getting automatic updates can immediately click the link (should they so desire) or forward the event to their online calendar.

By those standards, I feel like a moss-backed old turtle when I use my cell phone to send an SMS to my update my Google calendar, or to make a blog post via sending a multi-media message to my blogger address.

I understand the concern about lodge members – and not to be stereotypical, but it’s generally the younger members – Tweeting and Facebooking event details and updates. It inadvertently bypasses those who don’t live or work in front of a PC all day, or those who don’t care to immerse themselves in the Web 2.0 media stream. Entire events can be brainstormed and planned online in a matter of a couple of days without any need to meet in person. While it’s great for moving things along, the movers and shakers need to make sure that they aren’t neglecting the older members who have barely managed those wireless telephone thingies that all the kids have nowadays.

Interestingly, I’ve had exactly this conversation in the past, but in the context of static websites and emails being too “high tech” for the older members. Tempus fugit, eh?

Another concern that arose about the social networking sites seems to be the idea that it decentralizes the information, so that a) pretty much anybody (Masons or not) can see it, and b) the people who need to be informed – or at least, who think they need to be informed – might not get the information.

The validity of the first point seems a bit over-stressed, what with Dummies books, Idiots guides, dozens of personal blogs, and an almost weekly mention of the secret inner workings on the cable tv channels. Most Masons hip enough to be using Facebook are probably savvy enough to know what they should or should not be writing for public consumption anyway.

But the second point illustrates the constant tug of war between those who understand the need for some kind of central repository for information, and those who tend to adopt new tools,  techniques, and strategies when the need arises.

Obviously, having some central facility for knowledge and information is important to the success of an organization. In fact, I’d say it was inherent in the term itself. People who are in positions in which they are responsible for organizing and overseeing other people or projects really do need some way to get the information easily.

The problem with the “keep it in the house” attitude is that the structure itself often becomes more important than the contents and accessibility. Everybody involved in some way wants to have input on what kinds of and how much data should be stored, who can access the data, and how it should be managed. Then, add in those people who can’t or won’t figure out how to use the existing tools, and you have a situation in which only a few people will actually be using the tools on a regular basis. Eventually, the tools sit unused because they have limited usefulness.

There will always be pioneers and early adopters, people who will use new tools, or perhaps invent new uses for old ones. Such people drive the forces of innovation that allow us to progress as a society, whether it be to profit from more productivity with the same amount of work, or to have more leisure time, allowing us more opportunity for rest and refreshment. The early adopters also help to weed out those tools that aren’t useful, thereby saving the rest of us from wasting large amounts of time and energy.

Early adopters, however, often forget that not only are some people lagging behind a little bit, but that there a lot of people who aren’t even in the same race. Our lodge has at least one Past Master who insists that we send out postcards for major events so that people can hang them on the refrigerator as a reminder, and he is not amused to hear that newer appliances are connected to the internet so that one’s Google calendar can push the reminders to the door at the appropriate time.

I once told him the joke about Java once being something you’d find in your coffee mug instead of your cell phone.

He didn’t get it.

I’m not suggesting that the more static websites are no longer relevant, of course. We will always have a need for safe repositories for the archives of our Craft, and that includes a place to keep handy and useful information. I know that more US states over the last few years have taken the time and resources to create very impressive websites, although from what I can see, most of them are still merely online pamphlets explaining a bit about Freemasonry, and giving a few phone numbers and contact details. A good example is the site of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts: they have a beautiful Flash-driven website that offers some announcements and contact information, along with information about the fraternity; but there is no way to find anything about the lodges themselves, let alone a local calendar, unless that lodge (or a well-meaning member) bothered to put up their own web page.

Indeed, a few minutes of searching on the GL Massachusetts site shows that most of the lodges themselves don’t even have their own web pages, and those that do are a mishmash of 1990s style Geocities pages to more modern, media-laden websites. A perusal of the web sites of other Grand Lodges around the US shows that this is rather typical; I’ve seen a lot of Geocities and AOL personal pages hosting lodge websites, and while I admit that it seems I’m bit of a cyber-elitist, the more distressing part is that if my random surfing is any indication, the vast majority of lodges in the US don’t even have a website. In contrast, GL Connecticut gives web space to each lodge with a hosted dot org domain name, and the calendar for each lodge is tied in to the Grand Master’s calendar, so that once an event is entered, it can be searched from any other lodge calendar. Each lodge website is built on a Joomla template, allowing (if the lodge can find somebody to help them) plug-ins for picture albums, forums, and other little applications.

I can imagine some brothers from a few of the less tech-blessed jurisdictions wondering why anybody would resort to some outside service, considering what we have for web tools. We’re probably just spoiled up here.

With two-thirds of our population using broadband internet connections, and the merging of SMS/text messages into most of the social networking and micro-blogging services, it’s probably unreasonable to expect connected and tech-savvy Masons not to use them for communication, especially since they are probably already using these features for communicating with family, non-Mason friends, and work mates. As one of those aforementioned connected Masons, myself, I readily admit that I like the idea of being able to jump in and out of a conversation that might take place over several days. I find that the more I use Facebook, the more I enjoy the variety of features, and over the last six months or so, I’ve been using it more and often, to where I’m checking it several times a day. At least half of my contacts are Masons from around the globe, most of whom I know from the various web groups to which I subscribe, but I’m discovering more family members and old friends every month.

Ironically, despite the subject of this article, very few of my own lodge brothers use Facebook. They’re probably too busy with their personal WoW and Counterstrike servers.

As to the issue of some brothers using Facebook instead of their lodge websites, I think that first of all, any brothers that are taking advantage of new technologies to keep in touch should be applauded for their ingenuity. That said, perhaps those same brothers, being more tech savvy, should actually be the ones in charge of keeping the lodge websites updated, since they are already spending at least some time passing around event details; five minutes to access the calendar really shouldn’t be much of a stretch.

And that said, despite the fact that we probably have one of the best Grand Lodge websites in the US, maybe we need to look at some enhancements to make it even more accessible and usable for the technorati, and eventually for everyone else in the future. For example, RSS readers are now ubiquitous – not only are there a dozen popular readers for your browser, you can find them built into some email clients and Firefox browser extensions. Perhaps web calendar updates could be aggregated and syndicated for subscribers. Better, could the calendar updates be emailed to a subscriber list? Masons interested in the events in particular lodges could subscribe to the calendar updates, which could (perhaps) be filtered for event type.

But what about information flow in the other direction? The answer might be already available in the form of microblogging : There are a dozen well-known microblogging platforms (such as Twitter or Jaiku ), most of which will accept input from PCs, IM clients, or cell phones/SMS. Installing a Twitter application on a lodge website would allow any of the members to post not only event details, but comments about the event, and even pictures. It might be difficult to figure out how to capture a Tweet and put it into usable for in order to make a direct calendar update, but it might not be a good idea anyway, as you would need to control access to prevent adverts and spam.

Certainly there are a lot of options here, and there’s much to think about. I’m sure that our GrandLodge IT guys will enjoy having a word with me at our upcoming Grand Lodge Annual Communication at the end of the month. If any readers have something to add, please feel free to leave a comment so I can pass it along to them.



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