Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Renaissance.... Masonic Renaissance

From the American Heritage Dictionary:
- ADJECTIVE: Of or relating to Freemasons or Freemasonry.
- NOUN: A rebirth or revival.

We are in the midst of a Masonic Renaissance! I begin this blog with this simple metaphor, because it's the closest representation of the state of Masonic affairs that I can come up with at the moment. Public Masonic awareness is at a high that we have not seen in decades due to movies like National Treasure, books like the Da Vinci Code and the scores of documentaries on the History Channel. The tremendous decline in lodge membership numbers appear to be slowing within the United States and some grand jurisdictions are showing a positive growth. The average age of our new members is also lessening and the current generation is showing an interest in Freemasonry that was lost with the Baby Boomer and Vietnam Generations. Lodges are opening their doors to the public in new and interesting ways that allow our friends and families to see Masonry in a positive light.

The craft is no stranger to internal and external revolutions. In the early 18th century, Freemasonry came out of hiding and formed its first Grand Lodge. The structure of Freemasonry began to change and it became less of a "Secret Society" and more a "Society with some Secrets." This was due in part to an increase in religious tolerance and the ability for society to accept an order based on religious understanding. Freemasonry spread to Continental Europe and again changed to better fit within the culture it inhabited. The degrees that now constitute the Scottish Rite were first developed in France during this period, furthermore various forms of Templarism and the Rite of Strict Observance were developed in Germany. These are only a few of the various forms Freemasonry took during these early years in Europe. Each of these Masonic variants had a distinct feel that matched with its geographic location. Freemasonry likewise found its way to the New World. Here, colonial society had its affect on its lodges, culminating in the American Revolution. During the revolution, the colonial provincial grand lodges because independent of England and began a form of Masonry very unique compared to English or Continental Masonry. This period also gave birth to Prince Hall Masonry, which was shaped by the African American community it has served for more than two centuries. American Masonry was further shaped by the Anti-masonic fervor that overtook the country after the Morgan affair. During this movement, American Freemasonry became more open compared to European Masonry to answer the calls that Masonry was elitist, secretive and malevolent. In the later half of the 19th century, fraternal organizations were on the raise and men used these organizations as their primary social outlet. To answer this new call for social clubs, Freemasonry developed the Shrine as its social wing, where a less strict atmosphere allowed masons to do large amounts of charitable work. Following the Second World War, a flood of returning soldiers joined the craft seeking the brotherhood and camaraderie they had with their fellow countrymen during the war. In response to this nearly threefold membership increase, lodges changed their organization structure, broadened the number of leadership roles within the fraternity and introduced events geared towards the whole family.

This series of events and responses show that Masonry, as an organization, is dynamic, yet the principles, upon which Masonry is based, have remained the same. Freemasonry changes to fit the times, so that our principles and lessons can be learned by all men in all times and in all locations. Throughout each of these periods, Masonry was still making good men better and was still the brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God. It was always based on the principles of brotherly love, relief and truth, while being supported by Faith, Hope and Charity. The virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude were always found in the sacred halls of Masonic Lodge Buildings.

The core of Freemasonry has always remained the same, but several aspects of the fraternity has changed throughout the years. Freemasonry's organizational structure has been radically different from place to place and from time to time. The methods used by lodges to carry out their business has also changed depending on the technology of the time. The events held by a lodge vary depending upon the social demographic of its members. Even the landmarks of the fraternity change greatly from one jurisdiction to another.

Now I will discuss one of the key hurtles to this Masonic Renaissance, the resistance to change. The world around us is in a constant state of flux and the world is changing more rapidly today than it ever has. We are currently entering the information age, where messages are sent across the world in a blink of an eye, information is found more in computers than in text books and terrorism is fought in cyberspace. Yet most masonic lodges still depend on snail mail, paperwork, ineffectual committees and wasted time reading minutes. Many brothers confuse these organizational methods with our principles. They also confuse perpetuated mistakes for tradition. Just because this is the way it has been done for the last fifty years, does not mean it was always done this way nor should it always be done this way. In the past fifty years, we have had a fivefold decrease in membership and some brothers believe that we should continue with these same methods in the future. It is said that Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." Armed with this definition, I would say many of us are insane in the Masonic fraternity. If we want to continue being the world's oldest and largest fraternity with millions of members world-wide we need to accept that some of our outdated methods need to be thrown out and that we need new ideas.

The purpose of this blog is to describe these new ideas to help individual lodges grow their membership and to strengthen the lodge. I plan on starting topics that I have found important in my lodge and to have brothers from the world expand on these ideas. However, we all need to remember that every lodge is different and every geographic location is different. What may work superbly for one lodge, may not be a good solution for another lodge. There is no silver bullet answer to helping the state of Freemasonry. However, an open exchange of ideas will help all brothers come up with new plans of actions. Furthermore, this is not a forum to publish issues brothers have with their Grand Lodge or a place to talk about personal issues about the fraternity. The aim of this blog and comments left on this blog is to give individual lodges, their officers and members positive ideas, not to complain about other brothers or to attack the large scale organization structure of Freemasonry. The Renaissance in Europe flourished because individuals personally carried the banners of advancement and worked tirelessly to change the world. The Renaissance did not occur at the same time uniformly across Europe. It took decades to develop and began in small isolated areas. So think of your lodge as Florence, Milan or Rome and work hard at it being a shining beacon of our Masonic Renaissance.

Please drop me any ideas for future posts, articles you have read on lodge revitalization or events/programs you've instated that worked well with your lodge. Let's get those ideas flowing!

Let me end on these parting words from Steven Wright, "I was at this restaurant. The sign said "Breakfast Anytime." So I ordered French Toast in the Renaissance."