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!


Traveling Man said...

I agree that our meetings in the Craft Lodge need more than just opening , paying bills, and closing.

But, the more I read and listen, we need a balanced program. Not all will want to sit through an esoteric discussion, nor will they want to fry fish for the next 13 Saturdays.

The trick is finding the balance between the cerebral and the social.

My $0.02 at least.


Charles Tirrell said...

I completely agree Brother TM. We can't just focus on the esoteric or on just the entertainment. There must be balance.

I think its all dependent on the feel of the lodge as well. I know some lodges where 80% of their programs are esoteric and that works for them. The vice-verse is true in some other lodges. It really depends on the interests of the brothers. A lodge could do a program on birdwatching. It would bore me to tears, but as long as the brothers of that lodge liked it and it got them interested, then it's a success :)

Thanks for the $0.02 :) Keep it coming!