Why you shouldn’t become a Freemason.

This is a great post that every brother (and potential brother) should read at some point in their masonic careers.

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Freemasonry  is shrouded in a pop-culture mystique of danger and intrigue. Now I won’t comment on if any of those intrigues are true (hint), but one thing is for sure,  Freemasonry has gotten a reputation as an organization in decline. This is very much not true.

Freemasonry is growing almost everywhere in exciting ways. Lodges are bringing in young, vibrant members, eager to learn traditions and add their own modern perspective. What is true, however, is that Freemasonry, along with every other fraternal club, saw huge booms in the twentieth century, and those boom times are gone. Frankly, those boom times were probably not that great for Freemasonry. They drew the focus away from self-improvement and brotherhood, and into more publicly-focused areas. Rather than helping each other grow better, many used their brotherhood to help each other grow richer. Charity became an industry, rather than a personal offer of relief…

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The Lesson of The Garden Club

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that there exists a very old and well-respected gardening club that you’ve taken an interest in joining. This club tells potential members that it helps to make good gardeners better and they can become ‘master gardeners’ if they are willing to put in the work and advance in levels. You don’t mind the idea of doing work if you become a better gardener in the process,  so you petition for membership and gain admission.

The introduction to each level is very ceremonial and there are different lessons about gardening which are central to them. At the first level, you are officially made a gardener and are taught about laying the foundation of gardening, which is tilling the soil. After the ceremony, a lot of members come and shake your hand and tell you how excited they are to have a new member and then you are introduced to your mentor who will teach you all the memory work about tilling the soil which is relevant to this level. The information from the memory work is valuable but you’re a bit perplexed that you don’t do any actual tilling. You finally ask your mentor when you’ll get to the actual work of tilling the soil and he just smiles and tells you to be patient. Fair enough.

Time passes and you finally memorize all the tilling questions and answers and recite everything to all the other members. A date is set and you go through another ceremony, this one is about planting seeds and you learn there is more memory work that needs to be learned. Privately, you ask a few members that you’ve befriended how you’re supposed to plant seeds when you haven’t even tilled any soil yet. They look at you strangely for a moment and tell you that you’ll understand everything after the next level.

You learn the questions and answers and recite them just like you did before. You go through the very impressive ceremonies of the last level and you become a ‘master gardener’. You have finally reached the highest level within the club and you are now entitled to learn everything that this club can teach you! There are some questions and answers to learn about harvesting,  which was the theme of the ceremony, but your mentor assures you that you’ll have it learned in time for the election of officers, which is right around the corner. You’re excited but something still seems missing. You ask the president what you’re supposed to harvest when you haven’t planted anything and he responds with something along the lines of “you’ll get out of it what you put into it”.

So you take the president’s words to heart and you begin ‘putting into’ the club. Months pass by and frustration begins to set in. The memory work that you’ve learned hasn’t made you a better gardener, despite assurances that it would, and you’ve attended several stated meetings but you begin to realize that nothing is being taught or presented which will help you become a better gardener. Maybe you take it upon yourself to share what you’ve learned about gardening at this point, maybe you don’t. One month the stated meeting rolls around and you decide that you’ll sit this one out…you tell yourself that it’s just this once but it becomes the norm and you rarely attend club meetings anymore. You still pay your dues so you don’t get suspended, after all, you worked hard to become a ‘master gardener’ and the dues are so cheap that you can keep your membership without feeling obligated to contribute or attend.

Years go by and you eventually receive a letter from the club telling you that it’s going to shut down due to no participation or retention. “Well it’s no wonder.” you think to yourself as you toss the letter in the trash, “Why would anyone be interested in a gardening club that doesn’t ever talk about gardening?”.

 

 

 

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Masonic Improvement: Creating A Vision and Goals

In my previous post, I laid the groundwork for my series on lodge improvement. I wrote about what continuous improvement is and why it’s important but I never got into the details of implementation. Let’s dive in, shall we?

A Person Without Direction Is Like A Ship Without A Rudder

I find success and leadership to be very fascinating and I’ve studied of these concepts on my own time recently. What I find interesting, and hopefully you will too, is that I have never found an example of a highly successful person who did not have a clear vision for themselves and a plan to obtain it.

There are countless books that focus on the importance of having goals and creating visions. The idea is that visions and goals are like a roadmap for your life. A vision is your destination and the goals are the path that will take you where you are going. Highly successful people excel at using their own personal roadmaps when they make decisions. When they are given an option they compare the opportunities that option provides with their goals and vision. If the opportunity will bring them closer to achieving a goal and take them closer to their vision then they are more likely to accept the opportunity. If on the other hand, they have a chance to do something but it will not help to achieve a goal or, even worse, it brings them further away from their goal, then they do not give it any further consideration.

What’s interesting is that these concepts apply to organizations as well. It’s a very safe bet that most, if not all, multi-million dollar cooperations have a vision, or a big picture, for the type of organization they want to be as well as a list of very defined goals that will help them achieve their vision. In reality, it’s what makes them so successful.

So, if visions and goals are so effective for people and organizations, doesn’t that mean it should work just as well for Masonic Lodges?

A Lodge Without  A Paddle…

Does your lodge have a clearly defined vision which is shared on a regular basis with each of its members? Does your lodge also have clearly defined (and, preferably, quantifiable) goals which can be used to measure success and bring the lodge closer to its vision?

What about your Grand Lodge?

If your lodge or Grand Lodge already has these, then I give you my earnest congratulations because your lodge or Grand Lodge is truly exceptional.

The fact is that, much like a person, a lodge without a vision or goals is subject to the whims of whatever sounds like a good idea at the time. A lodge with no vision has no destination in mind and it will end up wherever it arrives at, which can easily be the loss of its charter.

Hopefully, by now you see the importance of developing a vision and goals for your lodge. Let’s look at the actual process:

Hold An Informal Meeting

If you’re the Worshipful Master, call an informal meeting. If you’re not the Worshipful Master, tell him your intentions and ask him to call a informal meeting. If this isn’t possible, for whatever reason, ask to be put on a committee created for this purpose. At least a committee can meet and follow these guidelines.

Typically, in most organizations, you’ll want as many stakeholders as you can get to attend this meeting. A stakeholder is a person who will be impacted by any decisions made by the organization, so if you have a lodge with 100 dues paying members then you should have 100 stakeholders. The reality of the matter is that the same handful of members who can be relied on for everything else in the lodge will be the members who show up for this meeting.

The reality of the matter is that the same handful of members who can be relied on for everything else in the lodge will be the members who show up for this meeting. These are your stakeholders. Don’t allow yourself to be too concerned with the remaining membership which doesn’t attend the meeting because chances are they won’t be too concerned with any changes you make unless it affects the dues they pay. I also feel it’s important to address this now: your plans to hold a meeting and what you intend to discuss should be shared with as many members as possible. This may or may not increase attendance but as masons, we should certain be open and honest with our brethren. You certainly don’t want to be accused of trying to change the lodge in secret.

Running The Meeting

Bring a dry-erase board to the meeting and be prepared to write a lot. Once everyone arrives, declare the purpose of the meeting. For many members, this will be the first time they’ve ever heard of anything like this being discussed in a masonic lodge and this is part of the problem (although it’s certainly not their fault!).

Many members are used to the Worshipful Master to simply decree what he believes is best for the lodge and the members are expected to follow through with it. This makes it difficult to create any sort of long-lasting consistency over the years because there is no ‘buy-in’ to any of the programs that the Worshipful Master pushes through during his year. Members will lose interest in the programs, assuming they had any at all, and the incoming Worshipful Master may or may not continue the program.

This means that creating a vision for the lodge and relevant goals can be a complete waste of time if there is no buy-in.

Creating “Buy-In”

As the change agent in this situation, you need to understand one thing about this meeting: your role is that of a facilitator. You need to guide the members through this process without trying to influence the meeting with what you feel the lodges vision and goals should be. It’s important to set the ego aside for this and understand that you are one man and the long term success of this quest depends on the majority of the stakeholders to feel invested in their ideas, not yours.

Calling a meeting helps to get two birds with one stone. First, the meeting will put the lodge on track to creating a vision and goals to achieve that vision. Second, the members at this meeting are the people who get to decide what that vision will be and what goals are needed to reach the goal. People love their own ideas and they feel invested in seeing their ideas bear fruit.

Defining Goals

I feel that it’s easier to agree on common goals and building a vision around those goals so this is where I start.

Ask the members present to brainstorm what they feel are the most important goals of the lodge. If clarification is needed then you may ask what the members feel the most important role of the lodge is. Remember that there are no dumb suggestions, write down each one on the dry erase board.

Once you have a nice list, go through the list with the brethren and ask them to raise their hands when you say what they feel is most important. Once you go through the entire list, look at the top three ideas with the most votes. Congratulations, you have just identified the top three goals your stakeholders feel are most important.

On To The Vision!

Once you have the top three goals of your lodge then it’s time to brainstorm about a vision. You’ll approach this much the same way, writing everything down and voting on it. Facilitation is very important here because it’s important that your vision and your goals align with one another if your goals are going to effectively bring you closer to your vision.

Conclusion

A lodge cannot be unsuccessful if it does not have a standard to compare itself with. This also means that a lodge cannot be successful if it does not have a standard to grade itself against.

By the time you have completed a vision and goals for your lodge you now have a standard to compare your lodge against. Throughout the year the decisions a lodge makes will with conflict or align with the vision and goals that were decided on and over time this will determine a lodges success.

Your goals won’t be perfect, they will need fine-tuning over time. The same may be true about your vision. This is normal and is an important factor in continuous improvement. Next time I’ll talk about how we will take these visions and goals and apply continuous improvement to them in order to let them further serve the lodge.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or on Twitter @Lone_Star_Mason!

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Best Practice For Masonic Improvement

Introduction

According to Wikipedia, A best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because it produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard way of doing things, e.g., a standard way of complying with legal or ethical requirements.

In other words, best practice means doing what is most effective and feasible to achieve the goals you have set. Best practice is a wonderful concept because it means the practitioner is striving for quality which is brought on by continuous cycles of development, implementation, and reflection.

Several professions seek to observe best practice, for example, as an educator I  know that a good teacher will always work to implement lessons that reflect the best practice for what is being taught. Anyone who has been to a doctor in their lives had better hope he or she observes the best practices in healthcare.

Best practice is a result of what is known as a continuous development cycle. There are different variations of what the cycle itself consists of as well as how many steps there are but the general idea is that a problem is identified and reflected upon, a plan is then developed and implemented, then the results of the implementation are reflected upon and the cycle repeats itself. So the outcome of continuous development is best practice, which is the most effective approach that can be taken, with given knowledge and resources, to achieve a goal.

Best Practice in Freemasonry:

Consider this: your lodge, your masonic district, and your jurisdiction are all perfectly adapted to obtain the results they are currently experiencing. Another way to put this is that every policy and program which gets implemented is perfectly designed to achieve the outcome which is experienced, regardless if said outcome falls short of or exceeds the goal.

This is a powerful realization, or at least it was for me. The results we experience in our fraternity are the fruit of our practices and we have a lot more control over the outcomes of our practices in the long run if we employ continuous improvement.

Unfortunately, nothing worth doing is ever easy. Continuous improvement requires buy-in from the majority of the stakeholders, a goal to strive for, and a way to measure progress. In our organization we often see leaders making important decisions with no buy-in from the membership and goals are often general or non-existent. In many parts of the country, this is the standard for doing things. It’s not the best way, it’s just the unquestioned standard.

Conclusion:

Best practice and continuous improvement are both broad and deep concepts; far too much for a single blog post. This post is the first in what will become a series on what I believe to be an important topic. Our fraternity is facing several problems, some real and some perceived, and each year new programs are rolled out with little or no success.

In my next post, “Creating A Vision and Goals”, I am going to look at the process for implementing continuous improvement cycles and give some examples of what best practice might look like in the lodge. It’s important to note that continuous development in the lodge will have to be a labor of love. It will be hard, especially if there are members that resist any kind of change. This is because the best practice for a lodge, especially one that may be doing poorly, can be a drastic change from its standard practice.

Thank you for your time and interest. Be sure to like me on Facebook if you’d like to keep up with what’s going on with my blog.

 

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Getting Freemasonry Noticed

As a fraternity we do a lot of things hoping somebody will notice us.

The majority of the time we seek attention hoping that some men will approach us and ask for a petition. Bigger has to mean better, after all, and more members mean more dues and more brethren to help out with events.

There’s a cycle to this actually:

Step 1: Host or attend an event with the intent of being seen in public.

Step 2: Hand out petitions.

Step 3: Initiate new members and have them help at the next event.

Step 4: Repeat the process.

There are a few problems with this cycle, namely the fact that we end up holding and attending events hoping the the recognition we gain from doing so will encourage more people to join. Sadly, for every member that joins and remains active, another member goes inactive or passes away.

Not only is this an ineffective way of building membership (if building membership is important to you) but it also detracts from the purpose of the fraternity.

What can we do?

I like to listen a lot, especially to older brethren. Many of them joined our fraternity when things ran differently. I’m not suggesting that things ran ideally but, despite the huge problems we had back then (and some jurisdictions still have), it really meant something to be a Freemason.

Most lodges didn’t try to get noticed back then. It was the good works that we, as individuals, did in our communities that drew attention to our fraternity. We were on city committees and local boards. We were church deacons and otherwise gave our time where it felt important to us.

When we volunteered our time we didn’t do it in our aprons. We didn’t wear our jewels to the city council meeting and we didn’t pass out petitions at the church potluck. Still, people knew these men were Freemasons and it was witnessing these community leaders embody the noble tenants of our fraternity that often compelled many to turn in their petitions.

Do you want honest, ethical, compassionate, and driven leaders to join our fraternity? Then go out and be the example. Let our fraternity represent itself through your actions in your community. Men of like mind seek one another when they are exposed to one another.

If we are actively working as individuals to make the world a better place then we will attract the same types of men. However, if we are actively working to hold fundraisers then we will attract men that think we have to continuously work to hold fundraisers.

Conclusion

Events aren’t bad by their nature, they help to build and maintain community ties. Holding events with the hope of getting noticed and attracting new members, on the other hand, is an exercise in futility.

Do you want our fraternity to be noticed? Be an upstanding citizen. Get involved in something locally. Let men see how internalizing what you have learned from our fraternity makes you a better version of yourself on a daily basis.

This is the secret to being noticed and attracting the right men to our fraternity, in my opinion.

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How Freemasonry Is (Or Used To Be) An Honor Group

I’m a huge fan of Brother Brett McKay’s website, The Art of Manliness. I have followed his website for several years and I can tell you, with no uncertainty, that I would not be the father, the man, or the mason, that I am today had I not stumbled across his site when I needed it the most. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear, I suppose.

The articles on his website are geared towards helping men become the best versions of themselves. If this already sounds very masonic to you then it should come as no surprise that many of the articles have content which can apply directly to our Fraternity. For this article I will be referencing Brother McKay’s post: Manly Honor: Part 1 – What Is Honor? and discussing how I believe this is relevant to Freemasonry.

In this article I hope to make the case that Freemasonry was once an honor group and that it can be once again if we regain certain aspects of the Fraternity which we have allowed to slip by. If you haven’t yet, I strongly recommend you read the article linked above first because I will be discussing certain concepts that Brother McKay covers much more eloquently than I ever could.

Horizontal Honor In Freemasonry:

Horizontal honor, by its very nature, is difficult to obtain and requires high standards to maintain. Having horizontal honor within an honor group means that they consider you an equal but failure to adhere to the expectations of the group means that honor is lost.

As Freemasons, we are told numerous times throughout our masonic journey that we should meet and act as equals. We still do this very well, at least in the lodges I’ve been a member of, however an open West Gate means that membership is not difficult to obtain at all. To quote Brother McKay:

Honor groups must also be exclusive. If everyone and anyone can be part of the group, regardless of whether they live by the code or not, then honor becomes meaningless. Egalitarianism and honor cannot coexist.

In many places we speak of high standards in our obligations and law books, however these expectations of masonic conduct are not usually enforced very strictly and, as such, there is no shame in failing to meet our standards. Traditionally failure to live up to our standards resulted in a masonic trial and, ultimately, expulsion from the order. This rarely happens today and, as a result, we have several ruffians moving through the progressive line unchecked.

Vertical Honor In Freemasonry:

Vertical honor is about giving recognition to those who embody living by the standards of the honor group. In the case of Freemasonry, vertical honor is (or should be) what we bestow upon the officers of our lodges, most especially the Wardens and Worshipful Master. The catch to this, however, is that vertical honor cannot exist in a group if horizontal honor isn’t already present. In other words, you have to have horizontals before you can apply verticals, then you end up with perpendiculars.

As a result we have many leaders in our Fraternity which nobody honors or respects. This is because there is little or no horizontal honor in many of our lodges. When you have no horizontal honor then vertical honor cannot be given and suddenly the East is a position that simply goes to whoever is next in the progressive line and suddenly the majority of the lodge consists of Past Masters after several years, which changes the title of ‘Past Master’ from something which should be exceptional and marvelous into something common and mundane.

Conclusion:

Freemasonry is (or used to be) an honor group in that it has standards, exclusivity, and repercussions for failing to maintain its standards. Unfortunately, the standards are rarely enforced very strictly, many lodges are not at all exclusive about their membership, and there is often no longer any expulsion for failing to live up to our standards. As such, we have an organization with all the requirements to be an honor group in place, but instead conducts itself more like a service club.

If we want membership in our Fraternity to be an honor once again, or if we want positions, titles, or even awards within our lodges to be honorable and respected once again, then we must reconsider how we can make each of our lodges an honor group once again. First by reestablishing horizontal honor and then vertical honor.

I can offer suggestions but each and every lodge is different, with its own unique needs and culture. As such, any suggestions could be considered but only taken with a grain of salt unless a lodge feels it would be a good fit. I’ll post these suggestions in my next entry.

Finally, there is much more to this topic and its parallels to Freemasonry which can be covered, and I may do so in the future. If this peeks any brother’s interest then please let me know and I’ll be glad to follow up with more content on this in the future.

I should also mention that polite and constructive comments are always welcome, I love to hear feedback from my readers. Also, if you enjoy my blog please be sure to ‘like’ my page on Facebook. Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Putting Quantity Before Quality:The Open West Gate

The West Gate is a term many masons may be unfamiliar with. I know here in Texas I have never heard of it until I began actively researching and collaborating with other masons  from various jurisdictions online. In the physical sense, the West Gate is the door through which candidates and brethren enter to receive their degrees. In a more conceptual sense, the West Gate is much broader in definition and encompasses the entire process of receiving petitions, investigations, and voting on accepting and advancing new members.

The latter definition is, at least in my mind, most applicable to the phrase “Guarding the West Gate” and is what this post will be focusing on.

Quality vs. Quantity

When the printing press came into everyday use, books, which were once uncommon and valuable, became common and affordable for most people. The Industrial Revolution had very much the same effect in that it made items which once took time and craftsmanship to produce cheap and easily accessible.

This being said, this post is not written to complain about progress.  Rather, in both examples given above society moved from quality items which were once created by  craftsmen towards faster production in favor of quantity. You see, you cannot have quality and quantity at the same time. Quality makes an object or an experience something marvelous and quantity makes an object or an experience something mundane. This marvelous vs. mundane argument could apply towards several facets of Freemasonry and probably deserves its own post in the future but, for now let’s apply it towards the West Gate.

Four quarters or one hundred pennies? 

The application of quality versus quantity applies to Freemasonry very well, in my opinion. Remember that something which is marvelous and/or has high quality must, by it’s very nature, be scarce. This principle also means that as a product becomes more and more common the quantity will increase but it will become more and more mundane at the same time.

Unfortunately, this is what is happening in our Fraternity. In many lodges that standards for who they are willing to accept have dropped severely and in some lodges the standards are non-existent outside of the bare minimum which has been set for their jurisdictions (in some jurisdictions even these minimum standards get be wavered).

There’s a saying “If you don’t stand for something then you’ll fall for anything”. This could also be adapted to say “If a lodge has no standards they will accept anybody”, which is sadly often the case. The requirements a jurisdiction set for men to petition should not be looked at as though it is a pass or fail situation but instead should be regarded as minimum criteria to be considered for admission.

If you ever get the chance to talk with a real old-timer Freemason, ask him what it was like to join the Fraternity back in the day. Several decades ago it was much more difficult to become a Freemason. My own grandfather has told me that when he first joined in the 50’s the lodge he petitioned had an unspoken policy that every petitioner was turned down the first time they applied, the idea being that if someone truly wanted to be a member they would re-apply later. Other older brethren have told me they had to ask three times before they could even receive a petition. Certain professions, activities, and reputations could bar you without question. Yes, I know, these methods all seem extreme and possibly even cruel to us today, however they created scarcity which, in turn, made membership more desirable and generally increased the quality of the members as well.

This is a sharp contrast to the petitioning process for many lodges today. In fact, even though many lodges are allowing every man without a criminal record to join most U.S. jurisdictions are losing members faster than they can be replaced. That being said, when membership was hard to obtain men were always petitioning during a time that many of us today regard as the Golden Years of Freemasonry.

So the question is this: would you rather have four quarters in your pocket or a hundred pennies? Is a small and intimate lodge with a handful of quality brethren better than a large lodge with only a few active brothers and a hundred members on the roster who never show up and never dedicated themselves to the Fraternity?

Final Remarks

I’m not an elitist and I don’t want to be regarded as such. I am, however, in favor of making it actually mean something to be a Freemason again. When membership was scarcest people knew that you were a quality person to be affiliated with the Fraternity, now this isn’t always the case. In fact, if we’re being honest with ourselves we can probably think of at least one Freemason who has no business being in the Fraternity.

The purpose of this post was to encourage reflection towards the petition process your own lodge is practicing. What are your standards? How thorough is your investigation process? How many times is the petitioner expected to come meet and eat with the brethren before he is given a petition? What are your degree fees? Are you truly only accepting men who are masonic material or is any and every man with a petition and degree fee in hand being accepted?

We have a huge responsibility as stewards of our Fraternity. Every unworthy man who slips through a wide-open West Gate into the craft has the potential to eventually vote, assume an office, and even get involved at the Grand Lodge level. One such man is toxic enough, what if we allow hundreds to slip through?

The future of the Fraternity is in our hands brethren. Do we want it to be marvelous or mundane?

 

 

 

 

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