Monday, October 15, 2007

The Masonic Spectacle...

For the candidate, masonic ritual is new and exciting, filled with wonders and thought-provoking allegories. For the newly initiated brother, seeing a degree on the sidelines gives them a different view of the experiences they just undertook and allows them to reflect on these important principles. For the masonic officer, performing in masonic ritual is exhilarating and allows them to discover the lessons that teaching can only bestow. But what about our other brothers? Sitting on the sideline for degree after degree can grow stale and placid. This lack of excitement can quickly lead to lack of interest, which will yield a lack of attendance.

Any brother who has been active for more than five years and says that he has never been bored by masonic ritual is lying to himself. This point of boredom may occur long before the five year mark, I stated, depending on the activity of the lodge, but it will most likely occur.

Now, I don't want brothers to get angry with me. I can hear it now. "Masonic ritual is the greatest thing in the world. No one can ever get bored of it!!!" Come on! Let's be real here. If the portrayal masonic ritual was always extremely exciting, why do most lodges only have a 10% active retention rate? Why do so many brothers seek further light in the apendent bodies, so quickly? Why don’t brothers volunteer in droves to perform in degree work?

The answer is our brothers are bored. Many of our brothers have seen dozens or hundreds of portrayals of the exact same degree, performed in the exact same way and with the exact same level of enthusiasm. This is the killer of our fraternity, boredom! But how do we fight boredom? Simple, change how we do ritual!

Once again, I can hear the screams of our brothers, “Masonic ritual is sacrosanct, we can’t change anything. It has always been done this way and must always be the done this way!!!!” Hogwash! First of all, I’m not suggesting an all out change to the ritual, I’m suggesting we change how we do ritual and to expand the ritual. There is a huge difference. Hamlet has been performed in thousands of different ways, but it’s still Hamlet. Second, Masonic Ritual is not sacred. It was not handed to us by God, that is a claim for religions. Masonic ritual was made by man and therefore can be changed by man. As long as we stay within the rules and regulations of our Grand Lodges, changes can be made. Finally, Masonic Ritual has been a dynamic organism over its several century development. The rituals performed for Washington, Pike, Kipling and Garbaldi were all very different. Ritual from one country will be different than the ritual in another country. Diversity is one of our greatest strengths.

Now, prepare for some Masonic Heresy. Masonic Ritual is like sex! Sex is great and wonderful. When it’s new, it’s exciting. But it can grow stale, if you do it the same way every time. Talk to any long term married couple and you’ll discover that sex can grow boring, even for people who love each other very much. So what do they do? Marriage Councilors and Sex Therapists have many suggestions to spice up a sex-life. Some of these suggestions are role-playing, bringing food into the bedroom, special costumes, change of location, different positions and acting excited to foster excitement. I will now prescribe the same solutions to help masonic ritual.

Now, get your mind out of the gutter. There’s no sex in the masonic ritual room (a pun on Chris Rock’s song “There’s no sex in the champagne room.”) All the aforementioned solutions can easily be adapted for masonic usage. Let’s begin:

Role-playing - I have heard too many brothers perform ritual like a robot. There is no emotion, no inflection, no change of tone, no acting. Masonic ritual should be exciting. Don’t be afraid to “ham it up.” I enjoyed acting in High School and now I attempt to add some of that acting to my degree work. You should act the part. When you do degree work, you’re no longer John Smith. You’re the Senior Deacon. So, act like the Senior Deacon. A prime example of this is the second half of the Master Mason Degree. This part is not ceremonial, it is a drama, so we should act dramatically. Add emotion to this section and the newly made Master Mason will surely remember this experience for years to come.

Bringing food into the lodge - The fellowship that occurs before a degree can make a huge difference. This fellowship can be amplified by food. Breaking bread with your brothers creates a type of bond that is truly unique and this feeling will only help the bonding occurring during the ritual. My lodge has been introducing a large dinner before many of our degrees. The smiles and laughter during this time sets the mood for the work we do upstairs. Also, the food doesn't have to be boring. I have been to too many meatloaf dinners at lodges. Try something interesting, like an international night, where all the brothers bring a dish from their families ethnic background. An Octoberfest dinner can easily be made or Creole food for Mardi Gras.

Special Costumes - The traditional dress for degree in my lodge is tuxes. However, I have attended ritual done in police uniforms, Scottish kilts, ancient builders dress, colonial garb and york rite aprons. There are many other variations of dress that Masonic Ritual can be done in. As long as your Grand Lodge's rules and regulations are followed, be creative! Visually changing the appearance of the ritual can make a world of different to the level of excitement that occurs. Check out Levant Preceptory for an example of interesting costumes for degree work. These brothers dress as original Knights Templar for the Commandary Degrees in the York Rite and I'm sure they have a blas doing it.

Change of Location - Lodges don't have to meet in lodge rooms! With dispensation, lodges can change locations. This opens the doors for a wide range of options. A lodge in Moosup, CT has a Quarry Degree, where the brothers hold their degree in an operative masonic rock quarry. My lodge over the past weekend, held an Outdoor Master Mason Degree. This simple change of location energized my lodge brothers in a way that I had not previously seen. Everyone had a wonderful time and we hope to make it an annual event. Joint degrees can also be held with a neighboring lodge, so your lodge can visit another lodge in their building. A change of place can yield a change of mind.

Different Positions - Many lodges have "Step-up Nights", where all the line officers step up to the next chair in the line. This gives these brothers a chance to experience what their next years will look like. Many lodges also have Past Masters' Nights, where the Past Masters of the lodge perform all the degree work. There are also Purple Apron Degrees, where all the positions in the lodge are filled by Present and Past Grand Lodge Officers. A lodge in my area has an EA degree called the Kiddie Corner, where the newly raised brothers of the lodge perform the degree. Degrees don't have to be done by just the officers of the lodge, everyone can get active.

Another change of position is what degree work is done. In my jurisdiction, we have many extended lectures that can be performed. The first lecture I learned in my lodge is the extended apron lecture. I throughly enjoyed learning a piece of lecture that added to the degree work of the lodge and my brothers enjoyed hearing it. There are many other additional lectures that can be learned, such as "The Bridge Builder" poem, the extended Middle Chamber lecture, charges from other jurisdictions, the Beehive lecture and many, many more. Another change to a lecture is the Walking Stewards lecture, where the brothers who perform the Stewards lecture, act out the responses to the questions being asked. This is a great way to recap the entire degree in short form. Once again, make sure that the rules and regulations of your Grand Lodge are checked before making these changes.

Acting excited to foster excitement - This is the most important change that can be made to Masonic Ritual. Act Excited! If you want people to enjoy themselves, enjoy it yourself and show it. Excitement is contagious. Always stay positive if you want to get other brothers involved. Don't speech negatively about other people's degree work or lack of participation. Guilt and talking behind someone's back will only yield resentment. Negativity will only sour the pot. One of the most important roles for a Masonic Lodge Officer is to be a cheerleader.

One of the draws of Masonic Ritual is seeing something new and interesting. A spectacle can be defined as " Something that can be seen or viewed, especially something of a remarkable or impressive nature." So make your degree work into a spectacle. Make it remarkable and impressive. Once this is done, you brothers will naturally want to attend more meetings.

These are the things that I have seen to make masonic ritual more exciting, but there are many other ways. I would love to hear what other brothers have done to make their degree work more interesting :)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Birds of a Feather

Worshipful Brother Tim Bryce posted a great article on using recent internet technologies to form online discussion groups and networking for masons. Check out the post here.

The website this article is hosted on is also a huge wealth of masonic knowledge, so I would also suggest checking out

Friday, October 5, 2007

Actions speak louder then words

This is a post that a lodge brother and old friend sent me about what he feels is important in masonry. Brother Tom has a huge heart and uses it often. There is a difference between being a mason and living masonry. Brother Tom does both. I would suggest we contemplate his words the next time we're arguing over minutes or wasting time on bills. Masonry should be about what masons do, not what masons say.

"One of the things that I would change about Freemasonry is our level of community involvement. All to often, it seems like when a brother first enters the Fraternity there is a lot of talk about how we give so much money away. Now I’m not disputing this, but I think as a whole each lodge should and could do more. For example what’s to stop each state from having an annual or monthly soup kitchen run. We could assign certain members of each lodge to donate their time once a month for a period of 4 hours to help run a soup kitchen. We could do things like this and many other activities. For example it’s not just donating money that allows “Masons to help make men better ” Time is also a valuable asset. Many of us can donate time at the Shiner’s hospitals by just reading, educating and entertaining the kids that are in the hospital. I would gladly be willing to put more of my time doing something like, rather then waiting in lodge to hear the minutes read. There is also a lot of preparatory work that can be done on nights where we have meetings.

In our lodge we have an event called breakfast with Santa for the kids. Every year there are two of our lodge members slaving away the night before wrapping present for hours? Why? Why not have the whole lodge help out after the Stated Communication and wrap a couple of presents. Our members are there why not put them to work. We could help organize a phone-athon wherein we call other masons and family members to see if they would donate money for one of the many walk-athons. We could act on behalf of companies such as Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, or even help our own circle of brothers, like the Shiners Hospitals. We should be calling up big fortune 500 companies and small ones and getting them to donate time, money or both.

When you ask people about community service many say they would love to perform some but often never follow through with it for two reasons. One of the reason is people have never been shown the harsh reality that some people experience, such as elders eating cat food because it’s cheaper. Second, people are a bit intimidated by the fact that they don’t know how they can help. Just imagine for a minute if we could change our lodge dues to also include 12 hours of community service every year. That is just one hour a month. The lodge I currently belong to has 110 members that are dues-paying members. So if those 110 members did 12 hours of service each, that would leave you with 33 weeks of 40-hour community service workweeks. We also share the same building with another lodge. If we teamed up, it would amount to over one year of 40-hour community service workweeks. It’s one thing to say, “making good men better”; and another thing to see it put in action.

I understand that we must have ritual work and stated communications. I’m not disputing that. But I would much rather put some energy and effort into feeling as if I’m making a difference in the community rather then have to sit and listen to minutes read and people arguing over insignificant details.

What really bothers me is that we say we are so great and that we do all these great things. We do give a lot to in comparison to most. However, I think on the local level there are a ton of things that we can do with very little change. But it all starts with our ability to put these plans in actions rather then sit and rant about minutes from the last meeting.

My lodge’s Fellowcraft Club has a game night about once every other month. What’s to stop us from having these game nights at hospices or other community centers where we can interact with our elders? In high school I used to leave school during my study hall just to visit a local elderly care place. I often would be the only visitor some of these people would see for months.

In closing I’m not saying that we should denounce our current system. I just would like it if we did less talking and more action. It shouldn’t take us 30 minutes of arguing to deciding the condiments at a family and friends BBQ. Instead if we should put those 30 minutes to good use. We could spend that time creating something positive and avoid situations were two members are stuck wrapping presents for hours."

Brother Thomas Hardy

So mote it be!