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I’m Back

I haven’t written here in quite some time. I will endeavor to improve and blog with more regularity. I logged in and have a half dozen posts in the queue, all unfinished, and all outdated at this point. The most complete of them is 18 months old and expresses my elation at being elected to lead my mother lodge for 2015-2016.

Essentially, all of those posts won’t see the light of day. I will however, draft some new posts, and hopefully avoid ancient history. The first of this new series of posts began with a conversation I had on reddit a few months ago. Stay tuned as we delve into the differences between Mentorship and Instruction – and how the Craft uses both to its benefit.

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Lodge Officers Journey, Personal

The Rocky Road to a Successful Called Meeting

Our lodge has been growing, as I’ve mentioned in other posts. Today, we initiated our 7th new Mason in the last 9 months. A veteran Past Master had taken charge and organized a team to put the degree on – if you aren’t a Mason, think of it like a play with 9 speaking parts. He’d picked a lot of our new and young members for various speaking parts, and each did a great job.

But that isn’t necessarily the story here… Continue reading

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In Trouble, or Ready to Thrive?

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago, but didn’t finish. It’s been sitting in the queue for a bit.

A Brother on Reddit posted a long missive regarding the status of his lodge; unfortunately, as much of Masonry’s membership ages, the scenario he describes is all too common. You can read the full discussion in this thread. I’ve excerpted it below for the purpose of discussion.

“My mother lodge has 9 active members. There are 3 of us who have been raised in the past 3 years.”

The Brother goes on to mention the total membership is 28, which is on the small side, at least by American standards, but let’s analyze the situation. Roughly 33% of the members are active. Compare this to lodges I’ve been to that have 100, 200, or even 300 members. They have a large dues base, but between 10% and 20% may visit the meetings. Couple that with 33% of the active members being new Masons – they have the ideal situation for future growth!

“If we exclude alcoholics we lose about 85% of the local population.”

I would argue Masonry isn’t for the 85%. We aren’t elitist – but we are a society of good men, interested in working with other good men, to become better men. If 15% might be interested and capable, be glad for it. The same if 1% are interested – or even less. I live in a town of around 80,000. Our two lodges, which I would consider healthy, have a combined membership of less than 200. That’s 0.25% of the population – we’re growing, but we will never reach even 1% of the local population.

So why do we always think more members are the answer? Often, unfortunately, it is for the dues payments. We must assess men for what they give. Not money, or even time; the gift men have for the lodge is energy. Enthusiasm and energy beget the same. My lodge, not long ago, had about a dozen active members. There was talk of merger and consolidation – the writing had been on the walls for years. We decided to change – quality meals, educational programs, and excellent ritual quickly became a way of life. Then we visited with inactive brothers, showed them the value we were presenting, and won the battle against Monday Night Football and Dancing with the Stars in a handful of cases. The return of these brothers added energy and nearly doubled our monthly attendance.

With increased energy, Masons became much more visible. A thriving community is developing around the lodge – dinners are frequented by families and friends, giggles of children move through our large downtown hall before lodge opens. Our wives, kids, and grandkids are getting to know each other and enjoy spending time together. But it isn’t just that: we are doing more, publicizing it better, and finding an interested audience of young men who come to events and talk to us about becoming Masons. We work with our members to make them better communicators, and some of them are fantastic ambassadors for the Craft. With each fundraiser, public presentation, and supper, we see more men arriving at our doors. Some of the first to knock  at our threshold this year are already referring friends they feel would benefit from what our lodge has to offer. But this isn’t a brag post – it’s an example of how a 140 year old lodge with faltering, ageing membership and limited funds can turn the corner.

We aren’t reaching the 85% – our small city has almost 80,000 residents, and well less than 200 Masons. That is 0.25% of our community. Freemasonry truly isn’t for everyone, but it is for me, and I’m always glad my lodge is there for me.

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Should we teach Gentlemanly Behavior?

There’s a conversation going on right now on reddit where winterg mentions his college frat provided pledges with a book of tips for being a gentleman. He goes on to ask when these matters of etiquette stopped being a focus in our lodges and how we can return some focus to them. Here’s the full discussion: http://www.reddit.com/r/freemasonry/comments/2a3sqj/gentlemanly_behavior/

 

I’d like to argue that yes, these elements are still important to modern men, but that they have never left.

I doubt I’ll see a program during Masonic education on how to match a tie or wetshave, but these are topics that come up between brothers. My lodge actively works on communication skills – we go so far as to hold multiple workshops each year to teach active listening, social skills such as providing great introductions for people you know, eye contact, posture, handshakes, and the like. We’ve got an upcoming program on “Power Poses” – possibly the first in a series based on early interest.

Our Masonic lodges have put me in touch with a network of experts – one of the most amazing things about the fraternity in my opinion. In just my small town lodge, we have lawyers, financial planners, doctors, nurses, teachers, students, current and former military, retirees, computer guys, business owners, chefs, railroad men, personal trainers, and everything in between. The lodge gives me an easy way to develop mentoring relationships with these men and learn mutually. They are objective and fair, and know when the tables are turned, I’ll also provide expert and fair advice. Going beyond our professions, I share hobbies with a number of local brothers. We wrench on (or more likely gab about) our old Volkswagens together, or get together to workout, hike, walk, and sometimes just sit and chew the fat.

Guess what happens when you bring a group like this together? We grow closer, learn from each other, and become better gentlemen. Is there room for improvement? Sure, there will always be someone with idiosyncrasies you don’t care for – bad table manners, grooming habits, or the like – but that is one of the best chances we have to pull a brother aside, whisper good counsel, and aid in his reformation.

 

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What are we without intent?

The allegory of Freemasonry tells a final story of Grand Master Hiram Abiff and his encounter with 3 Ruffians, who are workmen in the Temple, but not as enlightened as Grand Master Hiram. A number of Masonic authors have explored this legend over the past 3 centuries, and one great exploration can be found in “The Lost Keys of Freemasonry”.

In this volume, Manly P Hall expounds that the 3 ruffians represent man without pure thought, without pure speech, and without pure action. I found this interesting and striking, when compared to the points of the Dharma.

The Buddhist Dharma relates 8 points to enlightenment: Right Speech, Right Thought, Right Action, Right Intention, Right Concentration, RIght Mindfulness, Right View, and Right Livelihood.

Taken together, we learn of 3 Ruffians – Speech, Thought, and Action, which manifested to slay our Grand Master Hiram Abiff. What we don’t discuss are the other 5 points of the Dharma, and their omission directly contributes to the tragedy that befell Hiram.

Intention is the practice of action through intent – resolve or determination to do something. Without intention, while the ruffians were ultimately responsible for their thoughts, words, and actions, they lament the result. Hiram, on the other hand, demonstrated intent; through his thoughts as he created the plans for the workmen, through his words as he guided the Craft in the daily tasks of creating the amazing edifice of King Solomon’s Temple, and through his actions as he drew the designs upon the trestleboard.

Concentration is the focus on a given task. Concentration builds on intent, but can also stand alone. The mental process of concentration caused the Fellowcrafts to recant and report the crime. Hiram’s concentration caused the vessels of the Temple to be cast, the Craft to pursue their labors, and the entire massive project to reach completion.

Mindfulness builds further on intention and concentration. Personal awareness through mindfulness drives self-actualization. Hiram was certainly mindful; the ruffians envied his composure, poise, and abilities.

View, from the dharmic perspective, refers to looking at an angle larger than your own. It results from mindfulness and awareness, and was one of Hiram’s strongest abilities – he could understand not just his own labors, but those of all the associated workmen in and about the temple.

Livelihood, the final point of enlightenment requires all others to be in place. The right view, brought on by mindfulness, is a result of concentration and intention. True intent – that resolve or determination requires right thoughts, speech, and actions.

As a Mason, consider the obligations you have taken. Each focuses on speech, thought, and action. I believe the Masonic framework presupposes our membership possess intention, and have or can learn concentration, mindfulness, and view. By holding to our obligations, and integrating each of these elements into our lives, we reach livelihood – which is, in a lot of ways, the entire purpose of our Craft.

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Personal Update

I haven’t done as well as I would like about keeping posts coming here, figured I would get restarted with something very simple, albeit apart from the philosophical and symbolic subjects I’m wanting to focus on. So, it’s summer time, and that’s lodge election season in Texas. We hold elections at the last meeting before June 24th (The Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, one of Freemasonry’s Patron Saints). I’ve been in the South as Junior Warden now for an entire year (well, one more stated meeting and a called remain in this year), and I am very excited to say my Brethren have elected me to serve as the Senior Warden for the upcoming year.

For those unfamiliar, Freemasonic Lodges regularly elect new leaders – in most American lodges, this happens every year. In my lodge, we elect 6 officers – the Worshipful Master, Senior Warden, Junior Warden, Treasurer, Secretary, and Tiler. The Master and Wardens serve as the President and Vice Presidents of the organization during their term (it is, of course more complex, but that’s a great simplification that relates to most profane organizations) the Treasurer and Secretary are typically long running positions with the duties you would expect in any organization. The Tiler prepares the facility and stands guard outside the door during meetings.

I am really excited about the year ahead – I’ll continue to learn and grow within the Craft, while working with two very close friends in the Worshipful Master and Junior Warden. Now that elections are over, we are wrapping up the current year, which has been absolutely fantastic – and we still have 3 meetings to go between now and July 26th. Then, on the evening of the 26th, I’ll be installed as the Senior Warden by a Texas Past Grand Master and the current Grand Secretary. Great to see Grand officers coming to our small town and, in many cases, coming back year after year to see the great things our lodge has going on.

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Do We Still Take Good Men and Make them Better?

“To sleep little, and to study much; to say little, and to hear and think much; to learn, that we may be able to do, and then to do, earnestly and vigorously, whatever may be required of us by duty, and by the good of our fellows, our country, and mankind,–these are the duties of every Mason…”

–Albert Pike, Morals and Dogma

One night, a couple months ago, we had wrapped up a long lodge meeting, followed by a committee meeting and round table discussion. The kitchen was cleaned, most everyone had gone home. A few of us sat around, discussing our academic and professional pursuits. The night before, I had been reading Pike, and this quote sprang to mind. I pulled out my iPad and retrieved it to share with my Brothers, and we each felt it represented us as men and Masons very truly.

I always heard the mantra “Masonry takes good men and makes them better”. I’ve never liked the phrase, but can’t argue against its veracity. In my lodge, there is a group of about 10 younger Masons who go above and beyond – showing up early, leaving late, and representing Masonry very, very well. The bulk of our petitions come through the men in this small group. One night, we were discussing education, Masonically, and in general. I looked around the room and came to the realization each person present had challenged themselves with new academic pursuits since joining the Craft.

One has completed an MBA, another is enrolled in an M.S. program. Three more returned to school as adults to pursue B.S. degrees that stalled in their younger days. Others have gotten professional certifications and accreditation. Two more have gotten their first college degree and found professional success. Each is a success in his own right and someone I am proud to know. Masonry certainly has enriched their lives and given them tools which have helped them succeed.

In returning to that snippet of Pike, above, I see each of these guys. They study, together and apart. Nights after lodge might find one Brother tutoring another to help him understand statistics. Another pair might discuss technology certifications, while still others discuss and learn from each other about anything from philosophy to bitcoin. We learn, then we do, and we keep doing until success happens. This, to me, is a better Mantra for today’s Freemasonry than “Taking Good Men and Making them Better”.

 

 

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