Saturday, January 19, 2008

Installation of Officers

Today was the installation of officers for my mother lodge. I had the distinction of being the only recycled Past Master in the progressive line. Furthermore, Adelphi Momauguin is showing it's newly formed youthful image. The oldest brother in our 8 man progressive line (and Chaplain, which is the seat for our outgoing Past Master) is 35. Most of our officers are in their mid twenties. This makes us one of the youngest lodges in our Grand Jurisdiction. The future of our lodge looks bright and hopeful.

Worshipful Master Daniel W. Hawthorne has a full program for the year concentrating on Masonic Education and giving presentations during most non-degree stated communications. Adelphi Momauguin Lodge #63 will have a step-up night in April, where JW James Tirrell will sit in the East for the first time. In June, the lodge will host a joint table lodge with Corinthian Lodge #103 in honor of Saint John the Baptist Day. This is just a short list of the planned events that our lodge has planned for the ensuing year. It sure will be busy and enjoyable.

On a personal note, our new Worshipful Master, Daniel W. Hawthorne, has been one of my dearest friends for almost 15 years. Our new Junior Warden, James Tirrell, is my blood brother and I have the great honor to call him a friend and a brother. I will be sitting in the West as Senior Warden for the year. It fills me with joy that our lodge has entrusted us with the three principle officerships of the lodge. I have no doubt that we will "dwell together in unity."

Congratulations to all the officers fo Adelphi Momaguin Lodge #63, A.F. & A.M., North Haven, CT!!!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

To-do list item #7 - Completed

I've managed to finish up another item on my to-do list that I posted previously. This item was to ask the lodge to financially sponsor any brother of the lodge who would like to take the Masonic Education Course. The Masonic Education Course is a six part course provided by the committee on Masonic Education for the Grand Lodge of Connecticut. This course focuses on ritual, masonic rules and regulations, and traditions. This is a mail-in course that can be either sent to the brothers by mail or email.

I've found that the biggest reason why brothers don't take advantage of this program is the relatively tedious task of signing up for the program. The GL of CT requires a six dollar fee for the costs of printing and mailing of the material. I think a lot of brothers get dismayed at the prospect of finding their checkbook, an envelope and a stamp, filling out the application and mailing it out. We all suffer from procrastination at times and many brothers put off signing up for the course. Many Masons may label these brothers as "lazy." I really don't think throwing around negative adjectives like this helps the situation. So, instead of writing off these brothers as slackers, I decided to take action. I printed out twenty applications and asked the lodge to send out one big check for all brothers interested in taking the course. I then offered to have lodges of instruction, where we would go over the course as a group. Last night, I had nine brothers sign up for the course.

The reason why I bring this up in a post is because I would like to point out a negative trend I've seen on the Masonic internet. There are many online brothers who are quick to judge the actions, ability and intentions of their fellow brothers. I see many brothers who purport to be "good" masons, but look down their noses at the brothers that are not as "good" as them. Many of these brothers show disdain for other Masons that aren't as active or who are not interested in furthering their Masonic Education. To me, this is unmasonic.

Masons are builders. When we see a problem, we build a solution. We don't sit around and complain or judge. We act. A better world is not made with words. It's made with long hours with your brothers, personal sacrifice and dedication to helping your brothers.

I saw that Masonic education was lacking in my lodge. I could have sat on my high horse and blogged about how ignorant my brothers are or how lazy they are. I could rail against the hypocrisy of these brothers. But to me, there's no positive reason to do this. Instead, I found a way to extend my hand and aid my brothers in learning more about Masonry. I'm not perfect and I never will be. But, I try to live life by the golden rule. Do onto others, as you would like done unto you. Put yourself in the shoes of your brothers and ask, "Would I prefer words of scorn or an out-stretched hand?"

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Top Heavy Structure

Who's cooking tonight's meal? I don't know, go ask the Master. Were the candidates contacted about the degree? I don't know, go ask the Master. Is the treastleboard printed and mailed? I don't know, go ask the Master. Where's the master, I have something for him? I don't know, go ask the Master.

Does this sound familiar? The typical Masonic lodge has an extremely top heavy leadership structure. Almost all decisions, plans and vision rest on the shoulders of the current Worshipful Master. Very little leadership or direction comes from the subordinate officers in the lodge. This organizational structure is both outdated and detrimental to the future of the lodge. Here is a graphical representation of the leadership structure in many Masonic lodges.

This graphic represents the current state of affairs, where all the officers of the lodge report to the Worshipful Master.

Once again, I can hear the cries. "This is the way it's always been." "This has always worked, why change it now." "This is the Masonic way to do it." Wrong, wrong and wrong. Masonic Lodges have not always had a monolithic leadership structure where everything depended on the Master. This is a byproduct of the times. I propose that the current over-dependence on the position of Worshipful Master has arisen because of two reasons, common societal structures adopting a rigid hierarchical structure and the significant decrease in Masonic membership in the past four decades.

During World War II, a large number of citizens were introduced to the rigid hierarchical structure of the military, where a group of soldiers would report directly to a commanding officer. This is typically the model of the smaller military divisions, such as patrols, squads and platoons, which is the level at which most enlisted personnel were introduced to during the war. As a side note, the larger military structures, typically battalion size and above, did not hold to this direct line of command and were usually organized into a chain of command. A chain of command typically promotes an environment of leadership growth, while a direct leadership structure promotes order and control, commonly needed in the military for enlisted men.

After the war, many of these soldiers and officers became active in volunteer organizations to regain the camaraderie and brotherhood that they felt while in the service. This accounts for the meteoric rise in Masonic membership during the 1950's. (See Membership graph)
This influx of new members brought an emphasis on the same leadership structure that these brothers were used to while in the military, which was typically the direct command structure of the smaller military units. The development of this structure can be easily seen through the literature of the craft. Books written prior to the 1940's about Masonry emphasized all the lodge officers and their duties. While books written after this point, such as "How to become a Masonic Lodge Officer" by H.L. Haywood (1958) and "Designs upon the Trestleboard: A Guide Book for Masters and Wardens" by A. Herrmann (1957), specifically focus on the position of Worshipful Master. (Note: I still highly recommend these two books for all lodge officers)

Over the course of the next forty years, our membership numbers fell into decline. It became harder and harder to find competent and enthusiastic lodge officers. Our lodge leaders gradually lost faith in their subordinates. A natural response to this is to take more responsibility upon their own shoulders. After a couple of years of Masters consolidating responsibility around the oriental chair, it becomes institutionalized and develops the aura of a "tradition." It now became the responsibility of the Worshipful Master to have direct control of all the lodge's doings, while previously there was a division of responsibility that allowed the subordinate officers to develop needed leadership experience.

So, why is this so bad? The purpose of the Masonic institution is to provide its membership with an avenue of personal growth. One crucial aspect of personal growth is the development of leadership skills to assist others with achieving their goals and the goals of the fraternity. By removing leadership responsibilities from the lower officers of the lodge, these brothers will lack the necessary experience to fully develop their leadership skills. This, in turn, hurts the lodge. Many new Masters lack the requite skills to properly govern the lodge. If these new Masters were given the proper instruction and experience while they progressed through the line, then they would be far more qualified when it became time for them to ascend to the oriental chair.

The solution to this problem is not easy. It takes some letting go and some trust. First, clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the subordinate officers. The Junior Warden traditionally is responsible for refreshment and the Senior Warden is responsible for instruction during labor. This makes their job definition fairly clear. The Junior Warden should be responsible for food and festivities during refreshment. This position is assisted by the Stewards. Therefore, the stewards should report directly to the Junior Warden. If they have a question about dinner or the budget for supplies, they should ask the Junior Warden and not the Worshipful Master. Since the Senior Warden is in charge of instruction, then he should be responsible for Masonic Education and the well being of the candidates. Naturally, he has the Junior Deacon to assist him in this duties. Therefore, if a degree is occurring, the Junior Deacon should be making sure that all the candidate items are out and that the candidate is properly prepared. If there is a problem, he should report to the Senior Warden, not the Worshipful Master.

The exact implementation of this system will differ from lodge to lodge. It is up to the officers of the lodge to develop this plan of action and see that it succeeds. I can not stress this enough. This process should be developed by everyone in the officer-line. All officers should be giving their input about this process. Without their support, the process will fail and the lodge will be back to square one.

Here is an example of the chain of command that my lodge developed to help grow our leadership. The solid white lines show who the line officer reports to and the dashed white lines show who the non-line officer reports to. The blue arrows show the line progression of which office a brother will take the following year.

By changing the way Masonic leadership is implemented, we will change how leadership is learned. The lodge will benefit in many ways. The brother who becomes Worshipful Master will now have several years of leadership experience and will be able to govern his lodge effectively from day one. The chance for "Master Burnout" becomes extremely diminished because he can now rely on a team of dedicated individuals instead of taking all jobs upon his own shoulders. Finally, by having all officers be on the same page and making group decisions about the future of the lodge, the officer line gains continuity.

Traditionally, each Master reinvents the wheel every year, thereby making each year strategically isolated. For example, in 2006 a lodge follows Bob's plan. In 2007, they follow George's plan. Now in 2008, Bill has the responsibility to develop a whole new plan. This is not the way to plan for the future. In my lodge, we have developed a one year, a three year, a five year and a ten year plan. The whole corps of officers and interested brothers have developed these plans and the vision of the lodge's future. The incoming Master now knows what he has to do while sitting in the East since he began in the line and has had years to plan. This opens the lodge up to many possibilities. By having an on-going plan, the lodge can now accomplish goals that require more than one year of dedication.

My father gave me a crucial piece of advice while growing up, "Don't work harder, work smarter." This is the main point here. Many brothers in the East feel as though they must bare the complete responsibility of the lodge on their shoulders and do everything themselves. This is not the case. The Master should be developing a system to insure the lodge's survival, growth and well-being. This system must involve everyone or else it will fail. A building is only as strong as it's foundation and the foundation is made of many stones, not only one.

With the power of my mind........

I recently submitted a derivative of this post as a response to a blog post over at Movable Jewel and then as a response on a facebook Masonic group. After rereading it, I thought that it would make a good general article for the Masonic Renaissance. This is the memorization technique that I widely employ to learn ritual. I hope that it can help others in there oratory skills.

There is a method of rapid memorization known as Ars Memoriae or the art of memory in Latin. This was a technique developed by the ancient Greeks to quickly and accurately retain large orations. This technique was then adopted by the Romans. However, it was relatively lost except as mentalist "tricks" in modern times, because of the lack of need for large memorized speeches. Aristotle himself considered Ars Memoriae to be a critical piece of rhetoric. Therefore, this technique is not only modernly applicable to Freemasonry, but it also forms the foundation for one of the classical liberal arts and sciences that we are taught to revere as Masons.

I learned this technique when I was a Fellowcraft from a mentalist that we invited to lodge for a presentation. Most brothers blew off what he had to say as mumbo-jumbo. This was mainly because he approached it as a mentalist trick and not as a viable technique used in the classical period. I was intrigued with the method, so I did some further research on it and began to employ it to memorize Masonic ritual. By using this technique, I can memorize a set of ritual far faster then the average brother and be much more accurate with my delivery. As an example, we had a brother who normally does our EA charge become sick a day before the degree. I was able to memorize the charge (4 pages in our ritual books) in its entirety and recite it without prompt after only one and a half days of work on it.

The basic idea of this technique is to choose a location you are very familiar with that is filled with items (the lodge room is a perfect example, a museum or your home can also work - This method also works with parts of the body). The location should be fairly static, so that your memory doesn't rearrange a lecture, when the location is rearranged. Create a tour through this place, where you touch upon each item in a specific order. Now break up the lecture into a number of pieces, usually based on sentences, that is less than or equal to the number of items in your location. The next step is to associate each sentence with that item through an action. The action should be extremely memorable, this is the glue that holds the technique together. An example, if you have to remember "free will and accord" at a certain spot that has a chair. Imagine a person chained to the chair, breaking free. Therefore, actuating his "free will and accord." The trick here is that you can reuse your "place" and "items" for different lectures.

I know this sounds strange. But trust me, it works really well. This technique was used by Aristotle, Cicero, Saint Thomas Aquinas and many more men known for their oratory skills.

This technique was also a significant topic in Robert Cooper's book "Cracking the freemason's code." Don't let the title fool you, this is a highly intelligent historical analysis of craft Masonry by the Curator of the Grand Lodge of Scotland Museum and Library. Cooper makes the argument that the reason why the middle chamber lecture uses the physical location of King Solomon's temple to convey the lessons of the 2nd degree is because our ancient brethren employed the "method of loci", where ideas are connected to items in a physical location to assist in memory retention. Furthermore, for everyone that has every learned a "steward's lecture" or catechism, you have already employed this technique. These catechisms are based upon Masonic ritual which is both a spacial and temporal location.

For some more information about this technique check out this wikipedia article for an introduction and further references.