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: forvo.com

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.

Forvo.com 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: Jott.com

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 jott.com 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 jott.com 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. Jott.com 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 jott.com 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!