Sunday, July 15, 2007

Learning to speak, before we yell....

Masonry has begun to advertise. Go onto and you can find advertisements from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Some Grand Lodges have adopted billboards. The Grand Lodge of New York threw open their doors and had a front page article on the New York Times. My own Grand Lodge and many others have hired public relations officers to "boost our image." The MasoniChip Program has become the primary means by which we get our message out. Individual lodges are creating programs that allow their towns to see our brothers and our good deeds. We have flyers and brochures and websites. We have banners and signs and flags. We have parades and scholarship nights and thank you dinners. We have gone from the "Quiet Fraternity" to the "Screaming at the top of our lungs Fraternity."

Now, I don't believe that being open is a bad thing. I also don't believe that all the aforementioned methods are bad either. However, although we have so many means to spread the word, we have forgotten the most important method communication of them all. Our voice. Most of our brothers have no idea how to talk about the Craft. A simple question like, "What is Freemasonry?" or "What do you do in lodge?" can stump most brothers and ruin a first impression.

Personally, I'm proud to be a mason and I'm not afraid to talk about it. I don't go out there and bang the drum to get people to join, but I do talk about my lodge, my brothers and our brotherhood. If I believe a friend would make a good brother, I invite him to one of my lodge's events that are open to the public. I've never asked someone to join, but I've signed more than a dozen petitions since I joined in 2000. These friends of mine asked me to join because I talked about how much I enjoy myself in lodge and how important Freemasonry is to my life.

If you feel you know how to talk about Freemasonry, give some other brothers a hand talking about the Fraternity. Some brothers are new and are unsure about what to say. Some of our brothers come from a time when no one talked about Freemasonry. Assure them that talking about lodge is not only allowed, but recommended by our Grand Lodges now.

An old proverb states that "you need to learn to walk before you run." We need to learn to talk before we yell.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Don't buy this book!!!

Three months ago, my lodge placed a huge order at Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company. Most of this order was to replace aging ritual materials and to give our last ten Past Masters their PM aprons that we traditionally give. As my lodge resident bookworm, I was able to place a series of books on this list to help our lodge with leadership and organization. We pretty much bought every book on the subject that Macoy has and I've been slowly reading through them, gaining a fair amount of insight.

Then, I began to read Masonic Action Teams by Ronald J. Cottman. From page one, this book was boring and nonspecific. It approached Lodge leadership from typical management principles. It was very strange, every topic seemed extremely general, as if lodge was just a word. This book also completely lacked any of the proverbial masonic wordage and rhetoric. Page 3 of the book focused on how Lodge teamwork was a Biblical Theme, quoting several specific biblical pasages, none of which had a building or stoneworking theme. Again very strange.

Finally, I came to page 7 and the reason for the oddness became crystal clear. On this page, Cottman writes this line, "Further, the seven-day-a-week activity schedule advocated by Lyle Schaller in his book The Seven Day a Week Lodge^1 is becoming a reality." The book that Cottman references was completely foreign to me. I had never heard of it and I have read a far amount of books on Masonry. Luckly, Cottman referenced this sentence with a footnote, so I checked it out. Here is the footnote "Lyle E. Schaller: The Seven Day a Week Church: Addington Press, Nashville, 1992" Now, why was the book called "The Seven Day a Week Lodge" in the paragraph, but "The Seven Day a Week Church" in the footnote? I checked the web and in fact "The Seven Day a Week Lodge" doesn't exist, but "The Seven Day a Week Church" does.

That is when it dawned on me. I was reading a book on Church membership not Masonic membership! The author must have written a book on Church Membership and it couldn't sell, so he used a simple find and replace function in his word processor and replaced the word "church" with the word "lodge" and the word "paster" with the title "Worshipful Master." Find and replace usually doesn't work on footnotes, so it didn't get replaced. Now the book made complete sense.

He never talks of masons, he only spoke of "lodge members," which could have been "church members" previously. At one point, he mentions "lodge doctrine." I didn't know we had a real "doctrine." This sounded like the term "church doctrine" to me. Finally, I found the definitive proof that I had read before but didn't notice. On page 4, Cottman writes:

"In Corinthians 1:17 Paul states that Christ did not send him to baptize. He sent him to proclaim the gospel. In other words, Paul's job was that of a preacher. His statement here emphasizes that no single preacher or teacher is a complete link between God and people. Christian ministry should be a team effort that includes both Staff and Lay believers."

It looks like Cottman didn't use a find and replace on "christian" or "ministry." He also didn't bother to proof read his blatant mockery of scholarship. This was truly pathetic, it looks like he couldn't make money off of his religion, so he tried to make it off Masonry. Now here is the worst part, he says that he is a mason, when he thanks a Brother Bob De Santo for editing his "work" in his introduction. This was truly a scummy action, trying to pawn his non-selling book on church membership off on his "brothers" just to make some cash. Truly pathetic.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Brother Hodapp ain't no dummy

I read Brother Christopher Hodapp's introductory book to Freemasonry entitled Freemasons for Dummies about a year ago and was greatly impressed by his clarity and openness about our fraternity. I have frequently recommended this book to masons and non-masons alike, who are looking for a good starting point. In fact, several lodges I know of have been giving this book out to new Entered Apprentices as a general introduction to the craft. Although most of the material found in this book can be found on the internet or various other sources, Brother Hodapp compiles this material into one text, where brothers don't have to worry about their new EAs or FCs coming across a portion of the ritual or some anti-masonic rant. I have furthermore recommended this book to family members of applicants and new brothers, as a way for them to learn about the fraternity and to discover that we're not a closed off cult, boogie-men or devil-worshipers.

Recently, a brother left a link to the article Boring our Members to Death on the comments of a previous post and I had the pleasure of reading through this article. The focus of the article is that we're losing more and more members to boredom every year. The death rate of the WWII generation is beginning to slow and normalize, but the number of brothers we lose to demits and NPDs are on the rise. Therefore, it's no longer correct to blame our loss of members on the death of the members who joined during the huge rise in members between 1940 and 1965. In a nutshell, Brother Hodapp makes the argument that we're less attractive to our membership, because our meetings and events are boring. I couldn't agree more.

I wanted to expand on this topic a little bit. Today's society is filled with more and more forms of entertainment. In the past fifty years, we have seen the advent of television, video games, satellite radio, cell phones and the internet. These technologies have replaced the former community and locally based forms of entertainment that were necessary in the past. People don't expect to be entertained by fraternal and civic groups any longer. The Masonic Lodge used to be a primary means of entertainment, not just for our brothers, but for the whole family. Our brothers and their families used to go to the lodge to see plays, hear concerts, play cards and much more. But now the necessity of entertainment is fulfilled through other means. There are a wide verity of options for people wanting to enjoy their evenings or weekends.

We have also seen a change in the average family structure. Both men and women commonly work and this leads to time becoming the most precious commodity for a family unit. There are more and more single parent homes, where a mother or father fight to spend a few hours with their children after working a 8-12 hours at work, just to make ends meet. Finances commonly make it impossible for a family to be supported on a single income. Many of our brothers are students and have to spend long hours studying. Plus, many of these student brothers also work, which makes free time even more scare. When I was master of my lodge, I was taking six classes a semester, working 20 hours a week at my job and tutoring 10 hours a week to make ends meet. My time was precious and I didn't want to waste it.

All of this leads to two distinct assumptions that Freemasonry must make when thinking about our future; time is scarce and options are plentiful. When a brother works 50 hours a week and only has a limited amount of time with his family, what will he naturally choose to do with his limited spare time. Will he sit back and relax at the computer, spend some time watching a football game on TV or will he drive 30 minutes to sit in a stated communication where all that is done is the reading of minutes and bills, brothers argue over a few committee reports and an after-meeting snack of coffee and donuts are shared. Frankly, the last option sounds extremely boring to me.

Some brothers may brush off this type of criticism, saying that brothers who are bored "don't love the craft" or that they "need to set their priorities." I would say the exact opposite. I would say that brothers who allow Stated Communications to become boring and uneventful don't love the craft and need to set their priorities. Masonry isn't minutes, bills, committees, recognition, opening and closing. Masonry is special and our brothers deserve to find something special at our meetings. They should be excited about going to a meeting. They're minds should be challenged and they should be exhilarated by the feeling of brotherly love. The business of Masonry should always come second to the fraternity and philosophy of Masonry. Taking a line from A Laudable Pursuit, the tail cannot wag the dog. Business is a means to an end, not the end itself.

So, what can we do? From the Grand Master to the youngest Entered Apprentice sitting in the northeast corner, there is something for us all to do. Next time you see a stated communication where the Worshipful Master hasn't planned a program for the evening, volunteer to present something. If you don't know what to present, find something that interests you. It could be about Masonry. It could be a hobby of yours. It could be History. The key is to make it interesting. In my lodge we have had a defensive driving course, a memorization expert talk to us, a brother who reenacts civil war battles come in with his gear, presentations on Anti-masonry and the interest, coin collectors, etc. You could perform a play with some of your brothers as entertainment for the night. How about a roast of a past master. We've had Masonic Jeopardy in our lodge and Masonic Family Feud in our district. The possibilities are endless. The main point is that if you find your meetings to be boring, find a way to make it interesting. This will lead others to enjoy it and to then lead in a program. Excitement is infectious!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A call for papers...

I've started a list of papers, articles and websites in the right hand column of this blog. So far, I've only added a couple of papers that I have read there and plan to add many, many more. Several brothers across the world have been putting their ideas on paper and have written about how to better our fraternity. I do not necessarily agree with these papers 100%, but I do believe they make several good points and are aimed in the right direction.

One of the papers on this list, Laudable Pursuit: A 21st Century Response to Dwight Smith, can also be found on in spoken form. I think this kind of ingenuity is fantastic. By putting Masonic information in audio or visual format. It makes us appear more modern and allows the young adults of the information age to be introduced to Freemasonry. Furthermore, for our own brethren, it allows us to better multi-task. In fact, I'm listening to a Masonic podcast while I'm writing this. Here is a link to the youtube version of the paper and the first part of the article can be found below this post. So, go ahead! Click that link and listen to this article while you're sending out emails or updating your website. You could even plug your computer into your stereo and listen to it while you do dishes or laundry.