Friday, September 28, 2007

Old School for the New School - Part 2

This is the continuation of the article I posted yesterday focusing on what "Old School" technology and methods are employed in a masonic lodge that work. In the previous post I listed five items of importance of masonry. This items were ritual, dues cards, scholarship, mouth-to-ear learning, and pen and paper. In this post the second half of this list.

I do find the second half of these two part posts to be more difficult than the first. Most of the items that freely come to mind I put into the first post and I have to struggle to find the latter half that I wish to include. However, I do enjoy the road less traveled. For the second half, I need to search and analyze, focus and think, observe and contemplate. Truly a masonic endeavor :)

With no further ado, items six through ten of "Old School for the New School"

  1. Ballot Box - It's a simple system for balloting. There is a box with two sides. One side is filled with uncast votes represented by white balls for yes and black balls for no. The other side is where the vote is cast. Quick and simple. No paper ballots. Voting without a trace. No hanging chads. This is a system that has worked well for centuries and will work well into the future. Although there are problems with the one vote and dismiss system, it is a proven method to keep harmony in the lodge by allowing any brother to vote no and keep a problematic new member from being excepted.
  2. Budget - Budgets seem old fashion in todays world of internet banking, ATMs and credit cards, but this is a wonderful planning tool. By laying out the financial year of a lodge, the organization of the year must also be planned. There are many lodges that don't utilize this tool and should. Budgets are forward-thinking items and should be used to help the Master, Wardens and brothers plan a successful year. The tool can also streamline a stated communication, because budgeted items may not require a vote. Old School productivity at its best.
  3. Visitor Book - Recently, I filled in as Junior Warden for the lodge that hosted the Master Mason degree where I was raised (I was raised at a Blue Lodge Council Meeting in 2000). I hadn't returned to that lodge since I was raised, because its geographically distant and I don't know many of the brothers there. When I recently visited, I went to sign their guest book. After signing it, I opened the book up to Oct 30th, 2000 and there was my name with the initials FC next to it. In that moment the breadth of my masonic journey washed over me. I was instantly aware of how far I had come and how far I still have to travel. It was quite a humbling experience. The visitors book is an important tool for recording benchmarks and realizing your place in time.
  4. Name Badges - Badges! We DO need some stinking badges! I know that lodge brothers should know each other on sight, but it doesn't always happen that way. This is especially true of new brothers and visitors. When I joined my lodge, I didn't know a single person. For the first year, I relied on name badges to learn who everyone was. The lodge should be a welcome place for its brothers. However, being uncomfortable because you don't know someone's name is quite unwelcoming.
  5. Speech- (This may sound like #4, but it is a quite different.) The oldest communication known to man, speech. We can have all the letters, trestleboards, calendars, emails, websites, IMs, notes, etc, but without using speech as a primary tool of communication, all is lost. Digital communication is a great, but meaning is lost in it. Masters need to talk to their officers. Officers need to talk the brethren. Brothers need to talk to non-masons. Disagreements and arguments often arise because brothers don't talk to each other. A brother may feel slighted because the Master did not personally contact him or a brother may be angered because he was not told about an important event. The 30 minutes before and after a stated communication is often far more important than the time spent within lodge, because brothers can freely talk. Most of the arguments I have seen arise in the lodge is because a brother didn't convey his thoughts and feelings or a brother did not listen to another's needs.
Those are my ten Old School technologies and methods for the New School. I know there are many more. Here are a few to come to mind that I didn't expand on; Past Masters, real candles, summonses, log books, tracing boards, lodge libraries, antique furniture, photographies, etc. The moral of the story is if it ain't broke, don't fix it. However, learn to recognize when something is broke. If you feel something in lodge is not part of the core of masonry and it isn't working, change it. But just because it's old doesn't mean that it isn't working. You should be that certain point within a circle. Look to one side and remember the lodges of old. Look to the other side and envision the lodges of tomorrow. But, always remember you stand in the present and that you must balance the old and the new.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Old School for the New School

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to introduce new technology and methods into the lodge to help with organization and productivity. I tend to beat this drum loudly, because I love masonry and do not wish to see it become obsolete. I will freely admit that there are many individuals out there that are progressive for the sake of being progressive. We all know that guy who has to have the newest gadget and the most shiney technology. I am not one of those individuals. I do not believe that throwing the baby out with the bathwater is a good way to approach a problem. New does not always mean good.

Life is about balance. We, as masons, are taught that we are a point within a circle, which represents guarding our passions from extremism of all forms. To be completely new school means that you do not heed the lessons of the past and are doomed to repeat the mistakes of history. To be completely old school means that you are not open to the new ideas being developed by your contemporaries and that dynamic world we live in will push you to the side. I like to think that as masons we are the best mix of old and new school. We profess an admiration for ancient knowledge and revere the heroes of the past, while looking toward the future and presenting the modern world with the forward-thinking ideals of friendship, morality and brotherly love.

So, what's the point of this post? Because all ideals should be tempered with action, I will write about what old school methods still work in masonic lodges. What old school technologies and methods do we use that still produce positive results? I will now imitate my previous two posts and give a two part list of what I see in the lodge that has been around for awhile and still works.

  1. Ritual - Man has used ritual from time immemorial. Coming of age, holidays, religion, marriage, hunting prayers, rain dances, etc. are all examples of how mankind has used ritual since the dawn of civilization. Masonic ritual is a vast, rich and complex system that changes the mindset of the candidate and instills in him wise and serious truths. Knowledge and wisdom is bestowed in a way that can not be duplicated with a book or a computer. An iPhone or a plasma TV can not reproduce the experience of masonic ritual. It is purely a social situation and is the primary purpose of the lodge. A masonic lodge is there to make masons and masons are made through ritual. It sets us apart from the uninitiated, makes us better men and is totally old school.
  2. Dues Cards - I once heard a young brother in our lodge say, "Why do we need dues cards? Can't we just email the lodge we're going to visit?" That piece of paper is your traveling papers, gifted to you by King Solomon. It represents the lesson of the third degree, where through faith and trustworthiness you have earned your right to travel in foreign lands. It's true that a dues card can be faked, but so can an email, a letter and a phone call. But it's difficult to fake the look of pride a mason has on his face when he hands you his dues card and says "Yes, I'm a traveling man."
  3. Scholarship - The days of independent scholarship and reflection seem so far away for some. With the internet, satellite TV and cell phones, many people have forgotten how to think. Answers can be quickly gained by typing into a search engine, but are the answers you receive correct? Scholarship is about critical thinking, not about finding answers. True knowledge can never be given, it must be searched for and discovered. The halls of masonry are filled with countless texts, drawings and symbols to help the brethren in their search for knowledge. A lodge's most important physical asset is its documentation. Through years of painstaking transcription, masons can learn our history and therefore prepare for our future.
  4. Learning Mouth-to-Ear - A brother can sit at home, by himself and learn our ritual from a blue book. Although he is learning masonic ritual, is he practicing its tenets? Our brotherhood is about being brothers. Learning ritual through your brothers is the best way to learn. Freemasonry is still one of the few places in the world where people can find an oral tradition. Through our oral tradition, we not only learn ritual, we hear stories, learn about triumphs, experience downfalls and gain wisdom that could never be placed into a non-living receptacle like a book or a PDA.
  5. Pen and Paper - I almost never see masons taking notes during a stated communication. However, I do see many brothers forgetting meeting times, missing events and not being prepared for degrees, simply because they forgot. All brothers in the lodge should have a pad of paper and a pen at meetings. Trestleboards are not always correct and don't have all the information you need. Minutes from stated communications are difficult to get between meetings. The mind forgets most of what it hears. It sounds simple, but write down some notes, so that you'll remember it later. It's quick, easy and cheap and it will save on alot of headaches in the future.
Tune in next time for the continuation of this list of Old School for the New School.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword.... But not the computer! - Part 2

In my previous post, I wrote about new technologies that would help a lodge with it's organization and workflows. The five technologies I wrote about were
  1. Email
  2. Wikis
  3. Web Calendars
  4. Video Editing Software
  5. Instant Messaging
In this post, I will continue with this subject, listing another five technologies that can be used. Although I specifically mentioned that these technologies would benefit the lodge secretary, they can really be used or implemented by anyone. Let's begin again :)
  1. Paypal - The younger generation barely uses checks anymore for personal finance. The internet and most businesses are based on using credit and bank cards. However, many lodges still only accept checks and in many cases take weeks or months to cash them. Some people believe that to do business by credit card, you would have to invest in a credit card machine and huge numbers of hours learning how to deal with cards. But, this isn't true. Since 2000, Paypal has been a cornerstone in internet credit card transactions. From individuals who wanted to auction something minor on Ebay to large businesses, many people and organizations have used paypal to move money from one place to another, with just an internet connection and a credit card. Why can't a Masonic lodge do this? Want to pay your dues? Go online and pay them with a Visa or Mastercard. The receipt for dues can then be emailed and the dues card will be waiting for the brothers at the next stated communication.
  2. Digital texts - Books! Most lodges are full of them. But they're old and delicate, so they're not allowed out of the lodge building. New masons have to either stay for hours at lodge reading this texts, buy their own or be relatively uneducated about the fraternity. Now, there is another answer. Digital texts that can be viewed in a wide-range of formats. Since much of freemasonry's texts were written prior to this century and all works published in the United States before 1923 are in the public domain, many Masonic texts have been converted to digital form and are freely available on the internet. Here are a few sites that offer Masonic texts for free: Sacred Texts, Project Gutenburg or Pietre-Stones. Many of these texts can be read on the computer or printed, but now many of them can be sent to your cell phone or PDA and read on the go.
  3. Websites - 1990 was 17 years ago. That makes the World Wide Web 17 years old. There are high school seniors and college freshmen who were born at the same time as the internet. Future masons around the world do not remember a time before the internet. Yet we still have lodges without websites. I don't think I need to make much of an argument for this one. Lodges need websites. Plain and simple. Many web technologies need a central access point, where brothers, friends, family, cowans, evesdroppers, prospective members, anti-masons can get information about that particular lodge.
  4. Digital Images and Scanners - As masons, we like our history. Each lodge has its own rich history, filled with lodge buildings, past masters, degrees, dinners, parades, visitations, etc. With each of these aspects of a lodges history comes handouts, photos and mementos. These are precious items that many brothers in the lodge should experience so that they may learn about their lodge history. But, often precious items are delicate and can't be freely given out. With digital images and a scanner, these documents can be recorded digitally and given out in mass quantities. Now all the brothers of a lodge can access those old minute books, past masters photos and degree handouts. Jewels and Banners can be recorded by camera and posted on the webpage. There are even free photo sites that will host all your photos, allow you to share them and allow prints to be ordered of them.
  5. Blogs - Last but not least! Blog is short for Web Log and if you haven't noticed, you're reading one right now. Blogs can have many purposes. Minutes can be posted on blogs. Officers can share their experiences with other brothers. Ideas can be posted and other people can comment on it. Go to Blogger and try making your own. Like most web technologies, it's free and easy!
There you go, ten great technologies! Most of these are simple and easy. Most of them are free and come in many verities. These ten techs are just the tip of the iceberg, the internet and electronics stores are filled with solutions to many problems facing your lodge. The key is to actively seek them out and have an open mind. Since I've spent so much time on the high tech solutions in the past two posts, I think my next post will focus on the low tech solutions that can help a masonic lodge. Paper and pens still have a place in the Masonic lodge and we'll talk about where that someplace is.