Monday, September 15, 2008

This is not Masonry....

This is not Masonry. This post is not Masonry. The blogosphere is not Masonry. The internet is not Masonry.

Like many brothers on the web, I have spent a significant amount of time following the back and forth occurring on various Masonic Blogs. Many blog posts have been ripe with disagreements, fights, arguments, contention, hatred and generally un-brotherly un-Masonic conduct. Like daytime TV, gladiatorial matches and professional wrestling, these examples of the most basic of human emotion has attracted me like a moth to a flame. I have paid unnecessary attention to it, like a passer-by gazing at a car wreck. Not giving assistance, yet transfixed and focused on the destruction. These brothers are not building the temple while they fight and I am not building the temple while I idly watch. This is not Masonry.

This bad energy has permeated my being and has nearly poisoned my own love for Masonry. After the long summer months I have felt dread about returning to my labors, not because I dread my lodge, my valley or my district. But because I have convolved the bad blood being shown over the internet with what real Masonry is. I have somehow confused the ill will shown by brothers in this land of bits and bytes with the brothers of flesh and blood.

Real Masonry is your lodge. Real Masonry is your brothers. Real Masonry is your community. Real Masonry is helping the poor and distressed. Real Masonry is looking to God, thanking him for his beautiful gift and continuing with your labors no matter how much the world-at-large has been sullied. We labor not in spite of our flawed humanity, we labor to better our flawed humanity, not to give into our more base instincts.

The brothers of my lodge, my valley, my district and my Grand Lodge have recently reminded me why I labor. This was not a conscious reminder on their part. No one stopped and noticed the corrosive forces at work in my soul. No one stopped, said that I looked lost and actively showed me the way. They didn't need to, they did what Masonry is meant to do. Masonry gives no man light. Masonry shows no man where the light is. Masonry isn't light. Masonry reminds men that there is light in this world and that we are all seeking it together. A calming joke at the right time, a friendly hand shake, a shared pizza, a chat about life; this is Masonry. Being there when your brothers need you and finding your brothers when you need them. This is Masonry.

Turn off your computer. Close your laptop. Thank God for the light in this world. Lock arms with your brothers and find a ray of that life-giving force which serves to enlighten our hearts and minds. Live Masonry.

".....that cement which unites us into one sacred band, or society of friends and brothers, among whom no contention should ever exist, but that noble contention, or rather emulation, of who best can work and best agree."

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Masonic Tattoo

I haven't had a chance to blog lately. Unfortunately, work and life has been extremely busy. Lodges in the area will be gearing up again after the summer break soon. Which means I will have even less time. Hopefully, I'll be able to fit in some of my latest thoughts and ideas later on.

In the meantime, RWB Simon LaPlace has asked me to take a photo of my Masonic tattoo for a possible upcoming CT Freemasons (The GLofCT's Newspaper) article. I got this tattoo in 2000, shortly after being raised. Some of you may have seen my ink immortalized in this post by VWB Tom Accuosti from the Tao of Masonry. I figured that a good higher resolution would be nice to share, so with further ado.

Additional Diabetes Related News: I posted a while back about my recent diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes. I recently saw the doctor and I had by blood levels checked out. When I was first diagnosed, my Hemoglobin A1C levels were 10.9, which is extremely bad. After a month of medication, exercise and dieting, I had it down to 9.9. Better, but still not good. The Hemoglobin A1C test is a reading of how your sugar levels have been for the past three months. The doctor tells me this is the "cheat" test, because a patient can't be good for a few days before the appointment and "cheat" a good reading on it.

It has now been four months since I was diagnosed. My latest reading was 6.1. A reading between 7 and 6 is ideal for a person with controlled diabetes. So I'm doing great! My diabetes doesn't control me, I control my diabetes. I've still got to focus on lossing more weight and exercising regularly, but I'm moving in the right direction. It looks like I'll have to talk the stewards into serving more salads ;)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Email Etiquette - The Do's

This post is a continuation of my previous post on Email Etiquette. The Do's and Don'ts outlined in these posts are not specifically Masonic and can be used in your personal life and in the workplace. However, effective communication is of the utmost importance within the Masonic Lodge and writing effective emails is extremely important in today's world. Therefore, it's vital that Masonic lodges not only adopt email as a form of communication, but adopt good email etiquette as an effective form of communication. Here are the Do's of Email Etiquette.

Email Etiquette - Do's!
  1. Do get to the point - The best email is a short email. Just remember KISS - Keep It Short and Simple. People do not want to search through lines and lines of babbling to get to what is important. When you're writing about an event, just include what, where, when, who and how. When writing a request, just include what you need, by when and from whom. Emails are not Masonic ritual, they do not need to be filled with flowery prose and esoteric meaning.
  2. Do spell-check and grammar-check - I don't enjoy reading letters written by ten-year olds, nor do I enjoy reading letters by grown men who write like ten-year olds. When writing emails to brothers, I try to hold to the "Reread it thrice" rule. Reread your email three times and you should catch most, if not all, errors and omissions. Computerized spell-checkers and grammar-checkers are a good tool, but are far from perfect. For example, Microsoft Word doesn't find anything wrong with this sentence "I can't believe there leaving they’re children their alone!"
  3. Do read it out loud before you send it - A sure fire way to find mistakes in your writing is to read it out loud or better yet, have someone else read it out loud to you.
  4. Do reply quickly if possible - One of the key benefits of email is that it is a method of rapid response. If you can, reply to your sender with what he is looking for. If your reply depends on something that will occur in the future, send a quick message saying when he will hear from you. Email is cheap and easy. Feel free to send little messages, just so that the recipient knows that you are paying attention.
  5. Do not send an email without a meaningful subject - When people have to process large numbers of email daily they typically need to decide quickly how they want to act on an email. Depending on what the reader is currently doing, he may want to fully read an email, save it for later, reply to it, archive it or delete it. By putting a descriptive subject in the email, you allow the reader to decide what should be done with the email quickly and easily. A descriptive subject should summarize the content of the email in as few words as possible. Here are some examples of good subjects.
    • RSVP for Blue Lodge Council Dinner
    • Officer Information regarding EA Degree
    • Potential Motion for Grand Lodge Semi-Annual
    • Photos from Family BBQ
    • Letter from Worshipful Master for newsletter
    Here are some examples of bad subjects
    • info
    • lodge
    • Re:

    • Update
    • This is that link
  6. Do specify who should respond - When sending an email to a group of individuals, be sure to specifically mention who should be responding to the email. This will reduce two potential problems. First, you're less likely to get bombarded with a huge number of un-needed responses. Second, you're more likely to receive a reply from the person who you want to hear from. For example, asking a question like "Can we have an Entered Apprentice degree next month?" is vague and un-specific. However, if this questions can be posed as "Bob, when will the hall be rented next month so we can see if an EA degree is possible?" or "John, will the candidate be interviewed prior to our meeting next month, so that we can hold an EA degree?". This is requesting specific information from specific people and will receive specific responses. Be specific!
  7. Do supply only one topic per post - One email should have one topic. Don't be afraid to send out several emails each with a different topic. This will help your brothers be able to sort through each topic and prioritize their actions. Don't mix minutes, announcements, event planning and the kitchen sink all into the same message.
  8. Do send your emails in plain text, unless you know the recipient can read html-encoded mail - More and more email clients now allow composing emails with colors, different fonts and images, however many email clients do not. So if you write an email using all sorts of funky formatting, the receiver may not be able to open it. Therefore, mass emails should be written using just plan text. Don't worry about the colors and the pretty pictures, let your content speak for itself.
  9. Do have a comprehensive signature - Signatures are bits of text that are put at the end of emails to supply the recipient with vital information about the sender. You can create a signature that holds important contact information about you, such as phone number, address, calendar link, website, etc. Furthermore, most email clients can have multiple signatures for specific contexts. Therefore, you can set up a "Masonic" signature that lists your lodge, it's address and it's website.
  10. Do use Email! - Email is cheap, fast and easy. It has become a critical avenue of world communication. Masonry can use email to communicate within as well as without the lodge. Email can be used for sending treatleboards, event announcements, personal messages, candidate information, dues reminders and countless other applications. Let email become one of the working tools of your profession!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Email Etiquette - The Don'ts

In my previous posts The Pen is Mightier... and Royal Arch Masons Secretly control Gmail I outlined some of the benefits of using Email for lodge business. Those two posts are full of reasons why lodges should be using email, but they do not touch on the how. As with all social interactions, email is part of a greater culture and carries with it certain social expectations. Users of email expect that the people they communicate with will adhere to certain acceptable email behaviors and will have adopted the proper etiquette of the internet.

While some people still hold to the belief that the internet is some lawless wasteland where typically social behavior is not necessary, they are most certainly incorrect. The computers, the internet and email are all just tools. If you are not willing to do something in the "real" world, then you should not do it on the internet, especially in regards to interpersonal communication. A simple rule of thumb is "you should never send an email that you would not say to the person's face or send through the normal postal service."

Another key factor in email etiquette is recognizing that the shear volume of email that the average person receives is orders of magnitude larger than that which a person receives via the normal postal service. In a February 2007 article, Information Week reported that the average email user receives 20 emails a day of which %70 is junk mail. Since the rate of email transfer nearly doubles every year, that means that the average internet user receives nearly 60 emails a day now with approximately 18 of them being real emails. For those of us in the technology field, this number can get much, much larger. I receive between 30-60 work related, non-junk emails a day, in addition to the 20-40 personal, non-junk emails I receive each day. This is compounded by hundreds of pieces of spam, bacn (email lists that you subscribed to) and forwards. That is a huge amount of information to process everyday!

Why do I bring up the volume of email that people receive? Because by filling people's inboxes with junk, you're wasting their time and energy, which could be better spent on Masonry! For brothers in the technology field, they could spend hours a day working with their email. By not following simple internet etiquette (or netiquette), you could waste not only his time, but his employer's time.

Now, I can quickly imagine my readers saying to themselves, "Masons always act like gentlemen and would never waste someone's time or send them something they shouldn't!" This is simply not the case. I have been bombarded with garbage email from friends, family and Masons alike. In fact, I have received huge amounts of garbage mail from the brothers of my lodge.

To help combat this ever growing problem of poor email etiquette, I will list ten "don't's" and ten "do's" for proper email etiquette. If a brother is bombarding you with garbage mail, please feel free to send them a link to this post and hopefully he'll realize the errors of his ways. Here we go!

First and Foremost! Remember Rule 0 - "you should never send an email that you would not say to the person's face or send through the normal postal service"

Email Etiquette - Don't's!
  1. Do not forward junk mail, chain letters, spam, jokes, pictures - "Fwd" is the most hated abbreviation in an email subject line. 99% of the time, "Fwd" means complete garbage. By forwarding every cute/funny/perverse/spiritual piece of junk mail that passes into your inbox, you undermine your e-credibility in the eyes of the receiver and he will be less likely to open anything of yours in the future, because all you send is junk. There are people that I know, who I never read their emails anymore, because they send so much junk. They are then puzzled when I don't read the occasional real email they send. Publisher's Clearinghouse could send me a very important letter today, but I would never read it, because I know that all they send is junk. Don't be like Publisher's Clearinghouse!
  2. Do not send material that is Not Safe For Work without a warning - First of all, I would say that you should never send pornography or any other offensive material through email. This usually falls under Rule 0 and Don't #1, but if you are going to send potentially offensive material via email anyway, please put a warning on it. Most people sending offensive material will add the acronym NSFW (Not Safe For Work) to the subject of an email to warn someone not to open it at work. Not only can offensive material insult people, it can potentially get them in serious trouble at their place of work. The bottomline is don't send offensive material, but if you're going to anyway, Warn The Recipient!
  3. Do not send political or religious material - This should go without saying. These two topics are not allowed in lodge, because they divide rather then unite. So, why send them via email to your brothers? It makes people uncomfortable and potentially angry.
  4. Do not type in all Caps - WHEN SOMEONE WRITES LIKE THIS ON THE INTERNET IT MEANS THEY ARE YELLING!!!!! This is considered very rude and can make people annoyed even if the content or tone is friendly.
  5. Don't overuse acronyms, emotions, abbreviations - BTW, FYI acr, emo & abb can mk emails hrd to rd :( Once again, emails do not have to be filled with flowery prose and unnecessary verbiage, but it must be readable and understandable. An email recipient should not have to have an advanced degree in cryptography or logic to decode your message about the "pot-luck dinner next Thursday." It should be short and to the point, but easy to read and understand. Typing on a cell phone isn't an excuse for sending an undecipherable message. Check out my post about Jott for a great tool for writing large emails via a cell service.
  6. Do not send files of unknown origin - The single greatest factor in the spread of computer viruses is email attachments. Many viruses, spyware, trojan horses, malware, etc. are spread via email attachments, like photos, movies, word processing documents and spreadsheets. If you didn't create it, don't forward it to someone else. Cutesy/funny photos and movies will be the downfall of not only your computer, but the other poor recipients you send them to.
  7. Do not deliver bad news via email - If you must send a message about a death, divorce, financial hardship or some other piece of bad news, make it personal and call the brother or tell him face to face. Email is quick, handy and efficient, but it is a poor substitute for delivering information that requires a personal touch. When in doubt, pick up the phone and call!
  8. Do not send an email when you are angry - If you're upset about a vote in lodge or the actions of a brother, do not express it through email. People are much more likely to take offensive when they are reading via email. Furthermore, an angry email can be easily forwarded and cause a rapid escalation of a confrontation, while drawing others into the conflict. Many bitter arguments have been resolved over a cup of coffee, but very few have been resolved while staring at a computer monitor.
  9. Do not send important personal information via email - We must be very careful with what is sent via email. Email is not secure and can be easily read while in transit from one server to another. Account numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, scans of IDs, etc. should not be sent via email. There are Secure Email Services that will allow you to send secure messages, if both users have accounts with the service. Check out 4securemail as an example of such a service.
  10. Do not send sensitive lodge business or private Masonic ritual via email - Like what was said in Don't #9, email is not secure. Lodge business and Masonic secrets should not be sent via email for the same reason.
The next post on Email Etiquette will list 10 Do's for writing good emails. If you have any Don't's that you think I should have listed, please post them in the comments sections of this post. I hope to hear from you!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Masonic Tech: Skype

Yesterday, I was presented with a pleasant surprise. As I was wrapping up my day's work, I was instant messaged by Brother Simon R. LaPlace, Right Worshipful Grand Junior Deacon of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Connecticut. R:.W:. Brother Simon and I have chatted from time to time via the tangled web of electronic tubes that connect these mechanical thinking machines. I consider him to be the premier techno-enlightened grand lodge officer and most of our conversations have focused on new technology and how the Grand Lodge intends to use it. Readers of the Movable Jewel may remember Brother Simon from this interview, where Brother Movable Jewel and Brother Simon had a great conversation about what it's like being a Grand Lodge officer and the future of the craft.

After our typical pleasantries, R:.W:. Brother Simon asked me if I had a webcam. Luckily they come standard on all MacBook Pros, however my camera has rarely seen use except for the occasional funny faced photo or software avatar (see the right side-panel for an example). The purpose of Simon's IM session was to test drive his video-chatting capabilities. So, he had me quickly download Skype and we ventured off into the world of video conferencing.

In the past, I have used screen sharing software at work to troubleshoot and train clients with my company software. However, I have only used video-conferencing on a few occasions, but never with a Brother mason. We spent about half an hour testing the capabilities and working through some of the minor technical problems that we encountered. We then spent some time discussing Masonic Tech and how video-conferencing would help Masons.

Simon plans on inviting the Grand Master to a meeting of the legal affairs committee being held this morning in Wallingford, CT. However, he is fully aware that the Grand Master will be in Massachusetts on other fraternal business and will be unable to travel the several hours back to Grand Lodge for this committee meeting. Brother Simon then plans to surprise the Grand Master with a technical solution, using Skype to telecommute to the meeting! This could be the Grand Lodge of Connecticut's first foray into telecommuting.

As a clarification, I in no way condone using this technology as a replacement for the social or ritual aspect of Freemasonry. Webcams have no place at our Stated Communications or at our social events. Freemasonry is a personal organization and will stay this way. However, there is a lot of administrative overhead in Masonry. Brothers, especially Grand Lodge officers, have to continually go to committee meetings and planning meetings. This can be a huge burden.

Quite simply, there are two main benefits of telecommuting to certain types of Masonic meetings; time and money. First, if it takes you an hour to drive to and from a half-an-hour meeting, it's extremely inefficient. Many lodge and Grand Lodge officers encounter this problem quite frequently. Huge amounts of time are spent traveling for planning and committee meetings, which rarely require a physical presence. This is time away from family and friends. Furthermore, it's time that could be spent on more Masonry. If a brother could save two hours of traveling several times a month, that time could be spent on a plethora of other worthwhile activities, like Masonic education, communicating with other brothers, charity, blogging, etc.

This brings us to the second point; money. Transportation costs money and these prices are sky-rocketing. Freemasonry is a volunteer organization. Lodge officers and Grand Lodge officers do not get gas stipends. R:.W:. Brother Simon uses 70 gallons of gas every month on Grand Lodge activities. With gas prices at $4.50 per gallon in Connecticut, Brother Simon spends approximately $315 a month. That's almost $4000 a year, which he spends out of pocket. Now, if each of the 18 primary Grand Lodge officers in Connecticut use a comparable amount of gas, that is $72,000 a year in gas used by the primary Grand Lodge Officers. This amount does not include the District Deputies, District Grand Lecturers or Associate Grand Marshals. If we include these approximately 50 brothers at half the gas usage of the primary Grand Lodge officers, it is another $100,000 a year. Therefore, the Grand total of approximate volunteered gas costs for the entire Grand Lodge is $172,000. Wouldn't this money be better spent on our lodge buildings or our charities? Telecommuting can help limit some of this unnecessary expenditure. If these officers telecommuted to %25 of their required duties, there would be $43,000 extra for other expenses.

Video-conferencing is far from perfect. Simon and I experienced some lagging and syncing issues that we're trying to rectify with different protocols. However, for many meetings, only audio is needed, which works perfectly. Some brothers will feel uncomfortable about talking with a brother via the internet, but this discomfort quickly subsides as the user gets used to the software and experience.

Although I name Skype as the Masonic Tech in this post, this is just one of hundreds of audio and video conferencing applications available. One of the benefits of many of these pieces of software, including Skype, is that they are free. Brother Simon and I plan on trying some of the other ones for ease of use and compatibility issues. If there is one that you can recommend, please drop a comment onto this post.

I'd like to thank R:.W:. Brother Simon for his hard work with modernizing the Grand Lodge. He has been a major force for technology in Masonry, as the editor of our state-wide publication, e-forum moderator, website designer and promoter of us crazy bloggers. It's great to see a Grand Lodge officer embracing technology. Yesterday, Brother Simon told me via AIM that "we have to get everyone 'connected'." When it comes down to it, that's what Masonry is all about: connections. We connect to our family, our friends, our brothers and God. The aim of the internet is also about making connections, so Masonry should strive to continue using this valuable tool to help with bringing people together in new, interesting and efficient ways.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Too many meetings? - Part 2

The initial question that I proposed, "do we have too many meetings?", is intentionally a simplistic question. Answering this simplistic question will in no way describe the problems that Masonic lodges are facing. It does not propose a solution to these problems. Nor does it suggest what alternatives a lodge may have to remedy the opinions of meeting-weary and exhausted brothers.

However, this simplistic question serves a purpose. At times, a simplistic question needs to be asked to allow for further probing questions to be formulated. When the source of an issue is not readily apparent, it is sometimes beneficial to pose an open-ended question with the expressed objective of generating further inquiry and to develop ideas. This was precisely the intention of my proposal. I don’t have an answer to if we have too many meetings. However, I do have some further questions.

Are our meetings fulfilling and exciting? If a brother feels that we have too many meetings, perhaps he’s not enjoying himself at the meetings that are being held. Will having fewer meetings make the meetings we do have more interesting? Some brothers hold the old axiom, “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, to be true and that meeting less will naturally make the meetings that we do have more meaningful. Other brothers counter that if someone doesn’t enjoy 20 meetings, he won’t enjoy 10 meetings. It’s not quantity; it’s quality, according the counterargument.

What are the aspects of a Masonic lodge meeting that makes a brother want to attend? Is it possible for a lodge with a diverse membership to implement a schedule of events that will be pleasing to all brothers? Some brothers enjoy ritual, while others enjoy fellowship. Some brothers enjoy family events, while others enjoy brothers-only events. Some brothers enjoy presentations, while others enjoy interactive activities. It is impossible to please everyone all of the time.

When a brother states that he would attend more meetings if they weren’t as frequent, is he being sincere? Is this just an excuse for not attending? If the lodge meets less frequently, would he continue his same level of inactivity? Brothers have many different reasons why they do not attend meetings; work, family, personality conflicts, boredom, sickness, etc. A brother may just be using the time commitment of lodge as an excuse.

Do we have a membership problem or do we have a problem with our membership? Is having 10-15 brothers at a stated communication and 20-25 brothers at a degree a failure? How many brothers should attend a stated communication or a degree for it to be considered a success? My lodge has approximately 150 members. If only 15 members show up for a meeting, that means we have a 10% turn out. Is this a problem? Should Masonry be an organization where nearly all the brothers of a lodge are present for all of its meetings? Or should Masonry be more passive, where the important aspect of the Fraternity is that a brother lives our excellent tenants, rather than spending most of his time at lodge meetings? If you have 20 members at a meeting and enjoy yourself and feel fulfilled, isn’t this a success?

These are just a few of the questions that have come to mind regarding the “problem” of too many meetings. If more questions on this subject come to mind, please post them in the comments section below. With this set of questions as a suitable foundation, a more thorough analysis of my lodge’s meeting frequency can be performed. In my next post, I will attempt to analyze the meeting situation of my lodge as an example. It is important to note that the purpose of this series of posts is not to solve the “problem” of too many meetings for all lodges. The important aspect of this series is to assist brothers to analyze if their lodge has a problem and how to develop a suitable solution. My forth and final post on this subject will be a proposal that I hope to present to my lodge in the early fall.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Masonic Tech: Timetoast

Here's another great web tool that can be used by the members of a Masonic Lodge. Timetoast has produced the ability to quickly and easily create online timelines. These timelines can then be shared in a blog, a social networking site, a lodge website and many other web technologies.

As an example, I created a small timeline of my lodge's history. Altogether, the timeline took about twenty minutes to create, including the five minute sign-up period. Each event can include a short description, a long description, the date and an image. Embedding a timeline into a blog is extremely easy. Just click the embed button on your timeline and copy the html directly into a blog post.

The applications of this tool for a Masonic Lodge are numerous. A lodge could create an historical timeline, like the example below, to assist in teaching their members about their history. A lodge could use a timeline to plan the events for the upcoming year, listing important events and dates for its members and officers. A timeline can be developed for long-range planning purposes and be included in the lodge's strategic plan. Individual timelines can be created for members of the lodge who have had prominent Masonic careers, mapping the important events in their lives.

These are just a few of the ideas for using this timeline website. If you have any other ideas for how this technology can be applied to a Masonic lodge, please drop a comment on this post.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Masonic Summer Picnics

Editor's Note: I'm still in the process of writing the continuation of "Too Many Meetings", but saw this link and thought a quick post would be timely.

Happy 4th of July! I am currently celebrating our nation's Independence Day on foreign soil. As I looked out on a Nova Scotian harbor from my campsite and started up my day's blogroll, I found a quick article that I believe would be beneficial to all brothers for this summer season.

It seems that in the summer months, nothing is more Masonic than picnics, BBQs and pig roasts. Many of these are pot luck, where brothers will be inundated by countless containers of boring baked beans or repetitive pasta salad. Creativity may be lacking at some of these picnics, but it doesn't have to. Check out 101 20-Minute Dishes for Inspired Picnics for some great ideas on how to spice up your lodge's BBQ and get people excited!

Now if only I can find a list of 101 Not-so-boring Master's speeches!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Too many meetings? - Part 1

Have you ever heard any of the following statements by your lodge brothers?
  • I can't wait for the lodge to have its summer break!
  • It feels like we're meeting all the time!
  • I don't have much free time at home because we're meeting so much.
  • I can't come to all of the lodge meetings, because we have too many.
  • If we schedule another degree, I think my wife will kill me!
I have definitely heard these statements and many more regarding the number of meetings we have. In fact, I have personally said all of these statements at one time or another. At times, lodge brothers can feel inundated by the number of meetings that is required of them. In addition to stated communications, there are Fellowcraft Club meetings, Building Association meetings, planning meetings, funerals, social functions, special communications, etc. etc. The time commitment for lodge can be quite extreme for many brothers.

At the last meeting of my Blue Lodge before we went on our two month summer break, I decided to propose two potential bylaw's changes. The first proposed bylaw's change was an increase in our lodge dues. This motion needed to be made before the summer, so that we could send out the proper notices for the vote prior to next years dues notices being sent out in the fall. I hope in the future to discuss further my proposal for a dues increase, however this post will focus on my second motion.

The second piece of legislation was a change to how often we meet. Currently, we meet twice a month for ten months out of the year. The change I proposed was that we meet once a month for ten months out of the year. I proposed this legislation because like many Masonic lodges we still suffer from what many brothers perceive as a membership problem. My lodge typically has 10-15 members at its stated communications and 20-25 members at degrees. Many brothers, myself included at times, believe that these numbers are too low and that we should have a much larger turn out. In the past, we have tried many different approuches to getting members to come to the meetings. Some ideas have worked for a time and some have not.

When I proposed this bylaws change, I stated unequivocally that proposing this motion was by no means an endorsement of the motion. I stated quite plainly that I believe that this idea has some merit, but I was unsure if it was a good solution. The main objective of this proposal was not to have it passed, but to get the brothers of my lodge to start thinking and to discuss the problem; do we have too many meetings?

This is not an easy question and it doesn't have an easy answer. I want to use the next few blog posts to explore this topic. I plan to ask several questions regarding this topic, contemplate the root causes of the problem and deduce if my proposal is in fact a good solution. I hope that you stay tuned and give some valuable input on the subject.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Quick Update...

So, it has been about a month since my last blog posting. Since this last posting, I have concentrated on getting my health and life in order to help combat my diabetes. Things are looking good now. My body is growing accustomed to the medication. I'm exercising regularly. So far I'm up to running/jogging/walking for three miles straight when I go to the gym. I'm eating right; no more sweets, no more fried foods, very little carbs, lots of vegetables and fruits. My blood sugar is averaging 120, which is a far cry from the 430 I was at previously. I'm losing weight and feeling great.

I have not forgotten about this blog, the Masonic Renaissance. Nor do I plan to discontinue writing my thoughts and ideas about revitalizing Masonic Lodges. In fact, the past month has been so life changing for me that I have an over-abundance of ideas that I want to express. Currently, I am toying with the idea of starting another blog that focuses more on my personal journey and Masonic experience. I want to keep this new blog separate from the Masonic Renaissance, because the objective and goal of this blog is not personal, spiritual or emotional. Therefore, I want to keep the clear delineation between what I write here as being strategic, operational and experimental. I hope that I will have some time soon to write more. Please stay tuned.

Always on the square,
Brother Charles

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On health and wellness...

The Masonic fraternity teaches that the 24-inch gauge is a symbol of temporal moderation. The time a man has in a day is finite and when he excessively focuses on one aspect of his life, the other aspects of his life suffer. This lesson is one of the first taught in the lodge and is perhaps the most readily disregarded. Typically, Masons are doers and givers. Our calendars are full with events, degrees and meetings. We give to others liberally, sometimes at great expense to ourselves. Masons want to change the world and build a better tomorrow. This new spiritual building must be built brick by brick, stone by stone.

Unfortunately, while we devote our mind, body and soul to the principles of Freemasonry and give to the world ever drop of energy the Grand Architect has bestowed upon us, we often neglect our own lives. For some brothers, their marriages may become strained from too many evenings and weekends away from home. For others, their jobs may suffer from being too tired after several long nights.

I, too, am guilty of not heeding the lesson of the 24-inch gauge. For the past several years, I have been running myself ragged. As a student, I typically took the maximum number of credits possible, while working and being very active in the lodge. On average, I would leave the house at 7:00 am and not return until 11:00 pm. Since I have graduated, I typically work 60 hours a week and am still active in the lodge. I combine these responsibilities with my duties to my family and my volunteer commitments. Due to this, I have adopted several bad habits in terms of eating and resting. I ate too much fast food, candy and caffeinated drinks to keep up my energy. I didn't sleep very much and was overly stressed all the time. The lesson of the 24-gauge was lost on me.

Last Friday evening, I received a rude awakening that my lifestyle had to change. I stayed late at lodge with my wife for a Wii night, where some of the younger guys got together with some of the DeMolay kids and played video games. Like normal, I had candy, pizza and a large amount of diet soda. When we got home, I stopped to see my mother. In passing, I mentioned that I have been very thirsty lately and have had to frequently urinate. My mother, having diabetes, recognized these symptoms and made me take my blood glucose level. It was 430 mg/dl. This is well above the 120 mg/dl my blood sugar should be. I looked through some materials on diabetes and it appeared that I had all the symptoms of a hypoglycemic event. Yesterday, I went to the doctor's office and was diagnosed formally with Type-II Diabetes. I'm 28 years old and diabetic. My doctor told me that I am on a crash course for disaster if I don't change my lifestyle, because I also have hypertension and high cholesterol. The perfect storm.

So what does this have to do with Masonry? I always had the opinion that I had to spend every minute of my day learning, helping and doing. However, without taking the time for refreshment and sleep, the body can not survive. If my lifestyle kills me, then I can't help anyone and I can't change the world. Many Masons live the same life that I live. We have huge hearts and sometimes forget that you must take care of yourself, before you take care of others.

The three symbolic degrees of Masonry are representative of youth, middle age and death. For years, I lived like I was young. I believed my body was impenetrable to the vicissitudes of poor living. I did not give heed to the lessons of balance and moderation taught in the Entered Apprentice degree and because of this I was given a glimpse into the lesson of the last degree of ancient craft Masonry. We are all mortal. We will all die. But it is our choices that decide how we live.

Symptoms of illnesses are a gift from the Grand Architect. It gives us a chance to ward off approaching danger and listen to the lessons he has presented us in this world. Last Friday, I was given a second chance to steer my ship in the right direction. I hope that I will have the strength and willpower to live life in a healthy manner, so I can continue doing the good works God has presented me with.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Book Review: Founding Brothers

When I first laid my eyes on this book, Founding Brothers, I instantly concluded that the premise of this book was to display the Masonic history of many of our founding fathers. I was sorely mistaken. Although the title of this book may excite the book-loving Masons out there, this book had absolutely nothing to do with Masonry. With that being said, I do highly recommend this book to all Masons, especially the e-masons who are currently entrenched in the online arguments occurring throughout the various Masonic blogs, email lists and bulletin boards. Furthermore, this book once again proves that sometimes non-Masonic books can have more to say about Masonry than Masonic books.

In actuality, Founding Brothers is a narrative description of several key events that occurred during and directly after the American Revolution. Six different vignettes are showcased and display the often adversarial roles the founding fathers had in relation to each other. The author pays particular attention to showing how the ideas of the American Revolution were not homogeneous and how many of the patriarchs of the United States fought bitterly with each other to strengthen their vision of the American future.

Nowhere in this book is Freemasonry mentioned. However, in this historical narrative, I can see many of the same battles that are being waged today by men who call themselves brothers. The hostilities between the federalists and republicans during our nation's birth are so similar to the arguments between the "pro-Grand Lodge" and "anti-Grand Lodge" camps that the parallels are too numerous to list in this short post. Direct comparisons can be made between the Masons who support their Grand Masters and the monarchists of the age. Furthermore, direct comparisons can be made between those brothers who have revolted against their Grand Lodges and the perpetual revolutionaries that attempted to ally the United States with the French Revolution during its infancy.

Please do not construe these comparisons as attacks on the various positions of our brethren, for this is not my intent. I only focus on this point because a certain perspective should be gained on the current arguments being fostered on the Masonic Internet. The balance between the authority of a governing body and the individual rights of man is not a new argument. This struggle is as old as time itself. Nor is it localized to the Masonic Institution. This conflict has raged on countless battlefields, numerous civil halls and various Masonic halls for centuries.

We as Masons should never allow our passions to overtake us, nor should we forget that the battle for freedom is universal and timeless. The balance between the needs of the many and the rights of the few will always teeter back and forth, but we as Masons must never forget that we stand for the Brotherhood of Man, under the Fatherhood of God. This brotherhood requires that we respect the opinions of our brothers, even when we disagree and that we do unto them as we would have them do unto us.

I highly suggest that you read this book and reflect. Masonry is not always found in things that are Masonic.

Masonic Tech:

Have you ever been stuck on a particular word in Masonic ritual and have had absolutely no idea how it should be pronounced? Have you found the phonetic spelling in common dictionaries difficult to figure out? Have you been dismayed when you found that brothers within your lodge pronounce a word entirely differently? Now there is an online tool that can assist you with your pronunciation and help clear up these various problems. is a website that categorizes words in 177 languages and allows users to record 2.5 second long sound clips of how to pronounce the word. This user-created content is now open for the internet community to listen to and discover how to pronounce those difficult to frame words.

Although the applications for English students and foreign language students are readily apparent, Masons can also find this site very useful. Masonic ritual is filled with words that are not commonly found in present-day English. This causes Masonic Ritual to become ripe with mispronunciations. I can still remember the first time I portrayed the extended apron presentation and was advised afterwards by a Paster Master, that I had mispronounced two fairly important words. It wasn't the end of the word, but now situations like this can be avoided.

The downside of this site is that a person who records the pronunciation could still be incorrect. So all sound clips should be take with a grain of salt. Furthermore, the web site is still new and doesn't have a huge breadth of words yet. However, you can help by recording words that you all ready know. Hopefully in time, the site will be filled with many of those difficult Masonicisms. If you'd like to hear the voice of the Masonic Renaissance's author, you should check out the following words on Forvo:
  • irrevocable
  • votaries
  • Callimachus

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Royal Arch Masons secretly control Gmail!

For those of you who haven't seen the Gmail logo, I suggest you take a look. It appears that the Masonic World Conspiracy has once again taken control and has now invaded our email. Soon a majority vote in lodge will be required to send an email and all messages will be three weeks late because the secretary couldn't find his e-stamps. What a wicked web we weave!

In all seriousness, for those brothers or lodges out there that don't have an email address, get a gmail account!!! There are countless benefits to getting a gmail account. Here are a few of them:
  1. It's Free! No bill to give your lodge and no 25 minute discussion to pay that bill!
  2. 6.5 gigabytes of storage. Scan lodge documents and send them out to your heart's content. It will take a lot of minutes and semi-harassment letters by PMs to fill your mailbox.
  3. Keeping your brothers contact information in your contacts lists. No more Treastleboards and call trees to loose. Just keep them all online.
  4. Gmail application for your cell phone. Now you can check your lodge email while your ear is getting chewed off by a Past DD on the proper way to carry your deacon's staff.
  5. IMAP and POP3 support. This means that you can receive your email on your favorite mail client. I pipe my gmail directly into my Mac Mail app, along with my other addresses.
  6. Attachments are scanned for viruses automatically. Now you can safely open that email filled with kitten photos that your Senior Warden's wife had sent you.
  7. Advanced spam fitler. You can differentiate between Dr. Odo Boodoo from Chad selling you Viagra and Bro. Odo Boodoo RSVPing for the next Blue Lodge Council Meeting.
  8. Create multiple accounts. Each officer in your lodge can have email now. You can also create email addresses for the Fellowcraft Club or Temple Building Association.
  9. Getting a gmail account instantly gets you a blogger account. Now you can become a Masonic blogger and post really annoying top ten lists about what other Masons should be doing. Man, I hate those guys.
  10. Email is fast, easy, prevalent and josh darn it, people like it!
Now that I know that my New World Order secrets are safe with Gmail, I can finally email my list of UFO landing sites, Presidential Puppetmasters and local lodge fish-fries. A big thanks to the Royal Arch and Gmail!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

The bloggers are coming, the bloggers are coming!!!

I'm writing this post from the Farmington-Hartford Marriott hotel in anticipation of the upcoming Grand Lodge Annual Communication. Earlier this evening , I had the distinct pleasure of meeting with three of the four other Masonic bloggers in Connecticut. We have been planning to get together for several months now, but our schedules never seemed to coincide. We finally decided to meet for dinner and drinks prior to the Grand Lodge session.

M.M.M. from the North Eastern Corner, Traveling Man from the Movable Jewel, Tom Accuosti from the Tao of Masonry, my Worshipful Master, my Senior Deacon and myself met for dinner at the Marriott Hotel Restaurant. Afterwards, we shared drinks and fellowship in my lodge's hospitality room. The night was very enjoyable and I was very pleased to meet the other bloggers from the area. I hope that we will be able to do this again soon.

One thing that surprised me was how different each of our Masonic viewpoints were. Each of us had a truly distinct opinion on all things Masonic. However, we were able to discuss several topics throughly and thoughtfully. I believe that this was one of the truest forms of Masonic Communication. We were able to discuss topics that would probably divide most groups of Masons and lead to argument, but like gentlemen, we respected each other's opinions and listened attentively to each other's perspective. Displaying this open-mindedness while keeping our own opinions is at the heart of Masonry. To paraphrase Brother Traveling Man, Harmony is not everyone sounding the same together, that is monotony. Harmony is everyone producing different notes that when sounded together produce a beautiful chord.

Thank you my brothers for a great evening!

Best of Both Worlds

Editorial Note: This is the final part of the Masonic Renaissance's four part series on Masonic recruitment. I must apologize for the long period of time between the third and forth parts of this series. My usual vocation has greatly needed my attention, which has not allowed me to properly apply the lesson of the 24 inch gauge. I hope to rededicate myself to this blog in the coming months and continue my mission of proposing ideas to strengthen our great fraternity for the future.

In the previous three posts of this blog, the topic of Masonic Recruitment was discussed and analyzed. General definitions for different forms of recruitment were proposed in the first post. In the second post, an analysis of the "quality vs. quantity" debate was performed. The third article focused on reconciling a position that supported both quality and quantity. In this post, an application of various programs will be proposed that will support a healthy growth in our fraternity, both in terms of membership numbers and in the substance of its character.

Let us not put the horse before the cart. Focusing on quality must come before focusing on quantity. We can not expect to strengthen the craft, while over-inflating it with poor quality members. First and foremost, we must protect the West Gate. Quite simply, we have men joining our Fraternity that should never have been made Masons. We must enact a fair amount of quality control. To do this, we must discover that which has been lost, the blackball. If you don't feel that someone is ready to join your lodge, blackball them! We do not need to let in everyone who knocks at our door. Many American Masons believe that this view point is horrible. They believe this because we have spent years being afraid of losing members and we have shied away from using quality control. If you don't believe someone is ready, then they are not ready. Plain and simple.

In my experiences with Prince Hall lodges, I have seen that they use the blackball quite liberally, because they do not want to degrade the fraternity. However, they balance this with informing their rejected applicants that although they have been denied now, they can reapply later, once they are more mature. Typically, these applicants do reapply and many become Masons eventually. Mainstream Masonry has become so afraid that a rejected candidate will not only be turned away forever, but also they will discourage other men from joining the fraternity. If a rejection is handled properly, it can be turned into a positive experience.

If a man approaches you about Masonry, do not sign his petition unless you feel he is ready. We commonly accept so many substandard members because many of us lack the backbone to look a man in the eyes and tell him that he needs to improve himself. It is our duty as Masons to keep the foundation of our Fraternity strong, not to let in poor quality men because we were afraid of how it would make us look. Men want to join Masonry because it is special and our hallowed halls are filled with men of substance and morality. By guarding the West Gate and only accepting men of quality, we make the fraternity more attractive. This attractive appearance will reap untold benefits in the future.

This proposed view requires that the investigation committee become vastly more important and their responsibilities correspondingly increase. No longer can the committee meet the candidate for a half hour and simply say, "he seems like an ok guy." In my lodge, we have instituted a sweeping change for the investigation committee. The committee must contact the references that the candidate lists and talk to them about the candidate's moral character. Our committee now also runs a police background check with the permission of the candidate. If this permission is not granted, then the investigation committee must report negatively. Meeting the candidate at home and in the presence of his significant other is critically important. Large amounts of information about a man can be gleaned by viewing his home environment. Finally, my lodge now requires the candidate to write a one to two page essay on why he wants to become a Mason. This essay is read aloud in lodge prior to the vote and allows the membership to get a glimpse of his motivations, thoughts and feelings.

The next step to achieve quality and quantity is increasing the standards of Masonic Education. Ritual will only tell us what our principles are. Brothers teach us how to apply these principles to our lives. More is learned about being a Mason in a brother's living room talking about what Masonry means to him, than can be learned during ritual. Being an apprentice means that you are learning from a master. We must focus on learning through an apprenticeship system. There should be more lodges of instruction, mentors, one-on-one nights and study. Entered Apprentices should not be passed to Fellowcraft until he can act like a man among equals. He must be able to show that he knows his craft inside and out. To be raised to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason, he must show that he can be a Master of his craft. Advancement must be a time consuming process. It can't happen in a day or a week or a month. We must extend this process, so that we're creating true Masters of the craft, not just Master Masons in name only.

Once these safeguards for our quality are in place, we can then work on getting men to join. Masonry is a personal organization. Recruitment should therefore be approached in a personal manner. TV commercials and billboards to attract members is not a positive approach. I propose that Grand Lodges should not spend time, money and energy on large scale advertising campaigns. Instead they should promote teaching our brothers how to talk about the fraternity with their friends and family. Men join Masonry because it offers them a different experience then the typical 21st century organization. Men join Masonry because the romantic view of the warrior monk or the enlightened scholar is attractive. Men join Masonry because of the stories they hear from a brother's lips or the excitement they see in a brother's eye. Our brothers need to know how to talk about the lodge. Programs should be instituted on the local level that instructs our members on how to talk about Masonry and personally spread our message. Every member of our craft is a recruitment billboard. Make sure they are billboards you want people to see.

Our brothers should also have events that they can invite prospective members to, so they can introduce them to other brothers in the lodge. Masonry should be an active organization, that allows non-members to participate. Prospective candidates can be invited to our picnics, day trips, dinners, etc. Masons meet non-masons at more than "Mason/non-Mason Nights." Make sure that your events display the character of your lodge and of your members. Actions speak far greater than words.

In contrast to the standard Grand Lodge sponsored recruitment, I do support Grand Lodge sponsored public education. I believe that we need to make an effort to publicize our existence and our principles. Grand Lodge sponsored open house programs are extremely positive. These events allow the public to meet our brothers and see our buildings. These types of events turn public perception away from images of darkly dressed cronies doing secret rituals and turns the perception into "these are the guys we can count on to help build and guide our community." Furthermore, we should not feel shame in producing historical and informational material for the public to view. We have a long and illustrious history, which is intertwined with our communities and our country. Masonic history is the history of the world and the history of America. It should be shared, studied and celebrated.

However, I do not believe that we need to swing the doors of our lodges open and share our secrets. Part of the enticement to becoming a Mason is our secrets. Putting those out in the open wouldn't solve anything. Some brothers promote a general openness when it comes to our ritualistic teachings. I must advise against this path. Men knock on the door of Masonry because we have something special to teach them. If these lessons are exposed in a non-ceremonial fashion, then the gravity of these moral lessons will be diminished.

Although volumes can be written on how best to implement a system of Masonic Recruitment that would maximize both quality and quantity, I have offered a fairly general solution that I have witnessed operating in my lodge and in others. To summarize, here is an outline of the general process I have proposed:

  1. Protect the West Gate
    1. Do not accept candidates that are unprepared or unworthy
    2. Strengthen the investigation committee
  2. Focus on Masonic Education
    1. Form a mentorship program
    2. Demand proficiency before advancement
  3. Teach our members how to talk about Masonry
    1. Become an individual spokesman for Masonry
  4. Have events that introduce your lodge to the community
Although this outline seems short and simple. It is not. This process will take time, dedication, flexibility, creativity and thoroughness. The membership problem within Masonry cannot be solved with an edict, a program, an event or the voice of a lone brother. It can only be solved through teamwork and cooperation.

Finally, enjoy yourself! If it's not fun then why do it? Enjoyment and excitement are contagious. Find that niche within Masonry that you love and communicate that love. Masonry is and always will be about people. People want to be part of something that is meaningful to them, so show the world why Masonry is meaningful to you. In the words of MW Brother Charles Fowler, Past GM of CT 2006, "Make Masonry Meaningful." If all of our members could follow this maxim, we'll never have to worry about quality or quantity.

Masonic Tech:

Editorial Note: In the hopes of getting back on track with writing this blog, I will attempt to post a few "short" articles that have neither the breadth or depth of my last few posts. Hopefully, I can stray away from the "dissertations" (as some of my lodge brothers have described them) and focus on a few helpful hints.

Have you ever been in a lodge meeting and wished that you had the ability to send an email reminder to all the officers of the lodge, but didn't have an internet connection? There is a new service at that can be a great solution to this problem and many more.

The service works like this. First, call an 800 number supplied to you by with your cell phone. Speak the name or pre-created list of names into your phone. Then simply speak the message you wish to send as an email. will then translate your message into plain text and send it out as an email. It's that easy and it's free!

This is a great communication tool that I have begun using in my lodge. I also use it to send myself quick notes or reminders. I have used it to send individual messages to people. For the Masonic bloggers out there, there is a service that will allow you to post blogs via a recorded cell phone message on jott. There is also a Google calendar service, that allows you to add events to your google calendar in the same manner.

I'm sure that there are countless applications of this technology to a Masonic lodge. If you think of some, please post a comment. I'd love to hear it!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Recruitment Results are in!

Well the votes are in from Much Ado about Recruitment and it appears that most brothers who frequent my blog support Passive Strong Recruitment with 68% of the vote. Active Strong Recruitment came in second with 18%, Passive Weak with 9% and Active Weak with 4%. Unfortunately with a sample size of 22 votes, its impossible to make a direct correlation with the opinions of Masonry as a whole. We would need a much larger sample size to make any statements about how Masons feel in general. However, I was pleased to see that many brothers who read the Masonic Renaissance share the same point of view as myself. I didn't want to basis my questionnaire with my own view point, so I didn't state it at the time. I am a supporter of Passive Strong recruitment.

I believe that we as Masons should not actively ask non-Masons to join the fraternity. Men who are willing to seek out Masonry are more likely to be seekers of truth, the true profession of a Freemason. However, it is important to talk with non-Masons about who we are and what we do. The Masonic Service Association of North America performed a study a few years ago that showed that the majority of Americans (approx 80%) have no idea what Masonry is. Public awareness of Masonry is at an all-time low and it's important that we rectify this problem.

I have never asked a man to join the lodge, however I have signed nearly a dozen petitions in my eight years of being a Master Mason. I take the time to talk about my lodge, my brothers and our good works with my friends and family. I let my excitement show and this makes my acquaintances wish to know more. We don't need booths at fairs, billboards or TV commercials asking people to join. We need brothers who can talk about our brotherhood.

I try to remember this simple axiom when it comes to Masonic Recruitment, "Small is beautiful." I take this idea from economist E. F. Schumacher, who wrote against the idea of globalization in the 70's. Schumacher railed against the concentration of resources and proposed a system of decentralized economics that focused on the human aspects of production instead of an evaluation based solely on efficiency. Freemasonry should take the same approach. We need to focus on decentralized recruitment that focuses on the human aspects of Masonry instead of centralized recruitment. Quite simply, Masonry is about people and that should be the focus. The message of Masonry should be spread in a personal manner. More members can be gained through a supportive handshake, a shoulder to lean on when times are tough or advice to help guide a friend.

What I propose is no easy task. It requires two of the most difficult virtues to embody, patience and trust. First, we must be patient. The Temple of King Solomon took decades to build and the second Temple took decades to rebuild. Masonry is also in the process of being rebuilt. Many of our brothers are not knowledgeable about the craft and they must be taught. Many Grand Lodges wish to take a centralized approach to recruitment, because they fear that our brothers' ignorance will disgrace the dignity of our profession. The answer to this problem isn't to get a new set of brothers, it is to teach the brothers we have already to become true Master Masons. Second, we must trust in these brothers that we have taught. Once they have the tools that they need, let them do the work that they were trained to do. In short, we must patiently train our brothers to talk about the fraternity and then trust that they will help our craft grow.

In my next post "The Best of Both Worlds", I will conclude my four part series on Masonic recruitment. This post will focus on the specifics of creating a fraternity that has both quality and quantity.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Quality vs Quanity - A False Choice

In part, the following post will discuss the subject of Masonic Recruitment. For many brothers, this is a touchy subject, but I would like all readers to approach this post with an open mind. Although I won't go fully into depth on the subject of recruitment during this post, I will say that I am in favor of a limited form of Masonic recruitment. As defined in my previous post "Much Ado About Recruitment", I support passive strong recruitment. Personally, I don't believe that McMasonry is a good idea. We as Masons should not be jamming petitions into people's hands or asking every Bob, Joe and Harry to become Masons. However, I do believe that a Mason who knows of a man that he feels would make a good Mason, should talk to him about the lodge. Talking is not the same thing as asking and recruiting is not the same thing as pandering. However, even before we can begin a limited form of recruitment we need to increase our standards, our investigation processes and our methods of Masonic Education. I believe that more men should know who we are, but it needs to be more difficult to join.

I have made several attempts to broach the subject of Masonic recruitment with the members of my lodge. These talks have focused on learning how to talk with non-Masons about Masonry and inviting non-Masons to public lodge events. For the most part, these discussions are very positive and I believe that some of my brothers have taken my advice to heart. However, I do occasionally hear the argument that we don't need quantity, we need quality. Although I completely agree that the fraternity needs quality far more then it needs quantity, this response still really makes me upset. My reaction is not based upon a disagreement with the brother over the validity of actively recruiting (even in the reduced method that I promote). My reaction is towards a rebuttal that I feel is unjustified, continually repeated without thought, potentially dangerous for the future of Masonry and an obvious deference of responsibility for the dismal state of modern Masonry. "We need quality, not quantity" is a sure fire way to get me pink in the face.

So, why does this anger me so much? I am upset that brothers will rely on this poor argument to justify stagnation. I have found that the brothers who use this argument have typically done nothing to increase the level of quality we want in prospective members. Furthermore, this argument is an example of a logical fallacy. A logical fallacy is method used in debate that is dependent upon flawed logic. A false choice, otherwise known as a false dilemma, is a specific logical fallacy, whereby an argument is made that forces a decision to be made between one choice or another. Typically, the two choices are presented as being mutually exclusive, while in reality, there may be a middle ground or compromise that breaks this dichotomy. An example of a false choice is "either you're with us or against us."

When a brother cites "We need quality not quantity," they are really saying that these two states are mutually exclusive. In other words, if we choose to have quantity, we will not have quality. Furthermore, the converse is proposed to be true. If we choose to have quality, we can not have quantity. To me, this is utter hogwash!

To gain quality members, we need to display the positive attributes of our fraternity. The most positive attribute of our fraternity is the character and actions of our brother. If we don't have many Masons in this world, then we can't display our fine attributes and therefore it becomes difficult to gain quality members. Quite simply, to gain quality we need to be shown as a quality organization. But, to be shown as a quality organization, we need active members to show off this quality. It's a catch-22. To gain quality, we need a quantity of active quality brothers.

Another argument for a direct correlation between quality and quantity is that quality members are typically pulled from a pool of diverse members. This is otherwise known as the shotgun effect. This theory proposes that out of a certain population of new members, you will naturally get active members and non-active members. To clarify, I would prefer that all men who join the fraternity are of the highest quality and will become highly active, but that is not always the case. No matter how hard we try, we will always suffer from a shotgun effect. Some brothers find something they enjoy in Masonry and become active, while some brothers do not. However, the more members that we get in general, the more quality members we will receive. Unfortunately, the converse is also true, the more members that we get in general, the more poor quality members we will receive. To control this effect, quality control must be implemented, which would limit the number of poor quality members. However, to support a growth in the fraternity, the pool of prospective members must correspondingly increase. Therefore, once again, to increase quality, quantity must also increase. In this case, the quantity of prospective members must grow.

My educational background is in physics and mathematics, so please bare with me a moment while I use a graphical representation of our membership to summarize the situation our membership is in. In the following graph, the x axis represents the quality of our membership. Quality in this representation can range from 0 (the worst possible quality Mason) to 1 (the best possible quality Mason). The y axis represents the number of brothers in the fraternity. This graph represents the quality vs quantity distribution of our current membership.

In this model, we have very few truly high quality members and very few truly low quality members. The largest portion of our brothers are of medium quality. In our current situation, we practice little to no quality control and little to no quantity control. This evaluation is simplistic at best and is open to interpretation. However, I am using this representation of our current membership as a baseline for future possibilities, where the comparison to the baseline is more important than the baseline itself. (Note to the Math buffs out there. This is a standard Gaussian Distribution with a height of .25, a center peak position of .5 and a standard deviation of .17)

Now, one possible recruitment method is the shotgun effect. In this approach, the fraternity would simply instate quantity control and no further quality control. Here, I define quantity control as knowingly implementing processes to control the level of the membership. In this case, the fraternity is attempting to increase its membership. This approach is characterized by one day classes, large scale advertisements and openly asking potential members to join the fraternity. In my previous article "Much Ado about Recruitment", this would be defined as Active Strong Recruitment.

In this model, the hope is that more quality members will be gained by simply increasing the pool of brothers. This may be true, but the adverse is also true. We will gain more poor quality brothers as well. Overall, the median quality level stays the same. This model is represented in the following graph by the red function with the blue function as our original baseline. (Note to the Math buffs out there. This is a standard Gaussian Distribution with a height of .5, a center peak position of .5 and a standard deviation of .17)

The next possible recruitment method is implementing quality control, but not seeking to increase the membership. This is the method that is proposed when brothers state that we need quality, not quantity. In this model, the standards of membership are raised and poor quality candidates are denied membership. The effect of this model is that we will have less members, but the members we do have will be of high quality. (Note to the Math buffs out there. This is a standard Gaussian Distribution with a height of .25, a center peak position of .75 and a standard deviation of .1)

Heretofore, we have reviewed three possible recruitment models for the Masonic Fraternity. The first model is our current state, where neither the quality nor quantity of our membership is increased. The first model is obviously flawed because this model has failed for the past fifty years. There are very few brothers that feel that this is a good solution.

The second model is promoted by several Grand Lodges in the United States. This model proposes that the membership difficulties will be solved by making it easier to become a Mason. I have often referred to this model as the "Field of Dreams" model, because it promotes a "build it and they will come" mentality. However, it is also flawed, because it will bump our numbers in the short run, but the Fraternity will lack in overall quality members. In essence, this would return us to our post-WWII membership situation, which would correspondingly suffer the same fate. This model would only prolong the inevitable demise of the fraternity. The success of the "Field of Dreams" model is only a dream.

The third model is typically promoted by Traditional Observance Organizations and European Style Masonry. This model proposes that the membership difficulties will be solved by making it more difficult to become a Mason. Commonly, this school of thought supports that all men must seek to join without any interference by the Craft. They interpret the "free will and accord" clause as meaning that Masonry isn't allowed to promote itself to potential members in any form. Although I believe that this is a better option than the previous two models, it is also flawed. The Masonic Service Association of North America recently conducted a survey that showed that the majority of Americans are completely oblivious to the existence of Masonry. This means that there are good men out there that do not know that Masonry exists. How can we expect good men to knock on our door, when they don't know there is a door to knock on? This model will eventually suffer from a lack of critical mass to support making new men interested about the fraternity.

I will now hypothesize a forth option. This model proposes that Masonry can have both quality and quantity at the same time. This means that we can have more members, who are of a high quality. This can be accomplished by limited recruitment, while implementing strong quality control. The following graph represents this model of the fraternity. (Note to the Math buffs out there. This is a standard Gaussian Distribution with a height of .5, a center peak position of .75 and a standard deviation of .1)

This "best of both worlds" model is possible. It will take hard work, dedication and creativity from the fraternity to achieve it, but it can be done. In my next post, I will give my proposal on how Masonry can achieve both an increase in active membership and an increase in the quality of its members. In the meantime, please give me feedback on the models that I have proposed in the comments section.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Much ado about recruitment

Recruitment! This is one of those words that lead to argument and disagreement in almost all lodges. There are many camps and many schools of thought regarding Masonic recruitment. The spectrum begins with "absolutely all forms of recruitment are prohibited" to "no forms of recruitment are prohibited."

The pragmatist in me believes that the longer we fight about what should be done, we miss what could be done. However, to progress we must reach a common ground. I believe that most of our brothers argue over recruitment not because they disagree with what should and should not be done. They argue because they perceive the definition of recruitment differently. So, what is recruitment? What does it entail? How is it done? Where is it done? With whom is it done? If we asked these questions instead of "Should we recruit?", we'd get more brothers agreeing and less brothers fighting. So, let's try to delve into these questions and find the multitude of answers we can find.

Merriam-Webster defines recruitment as "the process of adding new individuals to a population or subpopulation (as of breeding or legally catchable individuals) by growth, reproduction, immigration, and stocking." By this definition, we're recruiting no matter what we do. Masonry has a process in place to add new individuals to its population. This process is called initiation. However, this is not what most Masons think of when they think of recruitment. Many brothers hear recruitment and they think about handing out flyers and pushing petitions into people's hands. As a minimum, many Masons define recruitment as the "act of asking a person to join the fraternity".

Now we can see two different meanings of recruitment arising. To differentiate between these meanings I would like to define recruitment in two separate terms, passive recruitment and active recruitment. Simply stated, passive recruitment is "the process of adding new individuals to the fraternity without asking" and active recruitment is "the process of adding new individuals to the fraternity by asking." With these two definitions, we can progress forward without alienating any of our brothers. Now we can talk about recruitment as a craft.

I would like to now propose two additional definitions that can be added to these ideas of recruitment, weak recruitment and strong recruitment. My definition of these terms refer to the amount of information that is disseminated amongst the non-Mason population. For instance, a brother in favor of weak recruitment would believe that Masonry does not need to disseminate information about itself to gain future members, while a brother in favor of strong recruitment would believe that Masonry needs to disseminate information about itself to gain future members. This delineation does not refer to propositioning non-Masons, only informing non-Masons.

With these new definitions of recruitment; passive and active, strong and weak, we can now define four definitive schools of thought regarding recruitment. Here are my definitions for these schools of thought:
  • Passive Weak Recruitment - No one should be asked to become a Mason and Masons should not inform non-Masons about the fraternity. These brothers typically never speak about Masonry to the point that their families do not even know what they do with the lodge. These brothers expect candidates to ask to join the lodge without prior knowledge of what occurs in the lodge.
  • Passive Strong Recruitment - No one should be asked to become a Mason, but Masons should inform non-Masons about the fraternity. These brothers typically talk about Masonry frequently with their family and friends, but rarely discuss it with people they are not close to. These brothers expect candidates to ask to join the lodge with prior knowledge of what occurs in lodge.
  • Active Weak Recruitment - Individuals are allowed to be asked to become a Mason, but Masons should not inform non-Masons about the fraternity. These brothers typically ask people to join Masonry directly, but inform the candidate that he can only learn about the fraternity once he is part of it. These brothers are willing to ask a candidate to join the lodge without prior knowledge of what occurs in lodge.
  • Active Strong Recruitment - Individuals are allowed to be asked to become a Mason and Masons should inform non-Masons about the fraternity. These brothers typically talk about Masonry frequently and are willing to ask non-Masons to join. These brothers are willing to ask a candidate to join the lodge with prior knowledge of what occurs in lodge.
I know that these four categories are a simplistic categorization of how our brothers feel about recruitment. However, I feel that it is important to understand what our members currently believe about the subject and to establish a vocabulary about the subject before a dialog can begin. After reading this article, please vote on the right hand side of the blog with what kind of Masonic recruitment do you support. I would be interested in hearing what my readers think about the subject.

This is part one of a series of posts I plan on writing about recruitment. Please tune in for the next installment entitled "Quality vs Quantity - A False Choice." This will be published once I finish the article, hopefully over the weekend. Thanks for reading :)

Monday, February 4, 2008

If we didn't have a hall, where would the three of us eat?

(Editorial Note: When using the term "hall" in this post, the author is referring to the large meeting area where dinners and other social functions occur in a Masonic Building. I am in no way promoting getting rid of lodge rooms. Lodge rooms are necessary for making Masons and are therefore a critical aspect of a Masonic building. The purpose of this article is to challenge the typical design of a Masonic Building, in favor of a new design without the large dining hall commonly included in most Masonic Buildings. Special thanks to Brother MMM from The Northeast Corner for pointing out my lack of clarity.)

As masons, we place a peculiar importance on the buildings in which we meet. There are several reasons for this. The most common reason for this importance is because we practice secret ceremonies, which by definition must be held in a facility that can shelter us from the outside world. Furthermore, we place importance on our buildings because the symbolism of our craft is entrenched in the tools of operative stone masons. Our lodge rooms are physical representations of King Solomon's Temple and therefore command a level of reverence uncommon in the halls of other fraternal organizations. Many Freemasons feel as though our buildings are the last bastions of positive idealism and our walls guard us from the collapsing civilization, where we commonly reside in our normal lives.

By thinking about why a Masonic building is important, we can define what exactly is the purpose of these buildings and use this definition to plan out the Masonic building of the future. So, what is the purpose of a Masonic building? In the most simplest terms, the purpose of the Masonic building is to house a Masonic Lodge. Since the purpose of a Masonic Lodge is to make Masons, then the purpose of a Masonic building is to provide a location to make Masons. The requirements for a location to make Masons are simple, a secure location that can hold the number of individuals participating in the degree.

Since form typically follows function, the heart of the Masonic building is the place where Masons are made, the lodge room. I would argue that it takes more than a degree to make a Mason. It takes time, contemplation, research and discussion with well informed brethren. The perfect place to perform these actions is a library. However, very few Masonic Buildings contain a communal study area. There is also the need for spaces to coordinate the organization of the lodge, such as a secretary or Master's office. Obviously, a Masonic Building needs storage facilities for lodge paraphernalia and other supplies.

Now, what is the most common aspect of a Masonic Building that I have not mentioned? What is the first thing that the visiting public thinks of when they think of a Masonic Building? The answer is the Hall.

Why didn't I mention the Hall before? Because, I don't believe that it is necessary. That's right! We don't need a hall in our buildings. This is a vastly different building philosophy then modern Masons are used to. We have become so accustomed to the Masonic Lodge room being built on top of a large hall formula, that we can't think of a building without it. Trust me, we don't need halls in most Masonic Buildings. I know that this is a lofty proposal, but I will give a list of reasons why the "Masonic Building must have a hall" philosophy is outdated and flawed. Here it goes.
  1. Our halls are too big. Most of our halls were built in the early and mid parts of the 20th century, when Masonry was big. We had a large membership base that needed large spaces to eat. The average number of members at a stated communication could not fit in the local restaurant and therefore needed another place to congregate. Today's Masonry is smaller. We have a quarter of the number of members we had in the 1950's, but our halls have not shrunk to meet with our demand.
  2. Our lodge buildings do not hold the same social and entertainment role as in the past. The Masonic Building used to be a place to hold dances, concerts, plays, dinners and many, many more events. As modern forms of entertainment, such as TVs, video games and computers, became more popular these types of events became less and less prevalent. No longer do families fill their calendar with events to attend for entertainment. They fulfill their entertainment needs within their own home.
  3. Halls are a black hole of time and energy. How much time and energy goes into sustaining the hall? In my lodge's old building, we would have to spend several hours a month on maintenance and upkeep. We would have to clean, mop, wax, paint, wash and dust on a regular basis. This was time and energy that the brothers of my lodge could have used being Masons, not custodians.
  4. Halls cost a lot of money. The bills to support a hall can be staggering. Some common expenses for a hall are heating, air conditioning, insurance, electricity, taxes, maintenance and security. A typical hall can cost $6,000 - 10,000 a year.
  5. To cover these costs, many lodges will rent it out to the community. By renting it out, the upkeep on the building increases even further. A rented hall commonly costs between $20,000 and $30,000 a year in upkeep. The following is a summary of how these costs increase with rental.
    1. Heating and cooling cost go up to support the patrons needs for a comfortable environment.
    2. Insurance rates can double or triple, once the lodge's property is rented to people outside the organization.
    3. Electricity rates increase to cover DJ equipment, lighting needs and food refrigeration.
    4. Taxes are based on the assessed value of the property of a building. A hall means more square footage, more square footage means a higher property value, which in turn means higher taxes.
    5. Renting will add more wear and tear on the property, therefore raising the maintenance costs.
    6. A semi-public building can attract crime and theft. This will increase the costs of security.
There are several alternatives to having a hall in your Masonic Building. The hardship of not having a large meeting space can be countered with some creativity. Here are a few examples of how a hall-less lodge can function.
  1. Meet at a local restaurant before Lodge meetings for your dinners. Many restaurants don't charge a rental fee for large functions during the week because this assures them that they will have a large amount of business. Shop around and you may find a restaurant willing to give you a group discount. This has the added benefits of exposing the outside world to your Masonic Lodge and you may see a membership growth because of it.
  2. Rent out a hall from another organization for larger events. If another local hall costs $500 a rental and you only have four large events a year, then you pay $2000 a year. Compare this to the $6000-$10,000 needed to keep a hall going ever year.
  3. Coordinate within your district and have one lodge building serve as the hall for many lodges. This plan is an alternative to renting a hall from another organization. If the other organization is a Masonic Lodge, then you're supporting Masonry.
  4. During the summer months, rent out your local park and have a picnic before a lodge meeting. Park rentals typically cost $50 to $100. It's a cheap and fun alternative to sitting in a stuffy hall during the hot summer months.
  5. Brothers who have a large home or yard could host a small dinner or an outside barbecue.
Remember, Masonry isn't our buildings, our halls or our equipment. Masonry is not dependent on physical things or location. It is dependent on its brothers and the intangible principles of our ancient craft. Don't let physical conventions of the past threaten our future. All it takes is three men to form a lodge, where they eat is immaterial.