Monday, June 26, 2006

Masonic decline: "We discourage enterprise and imagination"

W. Bro. Tim Bryce's recent article Masonic Membership: Quantity vs. Quality, was published on many sites and generated more comments than any article he has written, Bro. Tim recently wrote. His latest article, More on Masonic Membership, is a compliation of these comments.

The following comment, from an anonymous brother in Florida, pretty well hit the proverbial nail on the head about the problems of Masonry and perhaps outlines the remedies, too.
Tradition, especially in Freemasonry, is a double edged sword. No one can argue the value of our time honored traditions as the keystones of our Brotherhood. Our ritual work and common practices are the foundation of our Fraternity and have stood the test of time by generations of Freemasons everywhere. The reason for having done so is that they are right. But not all things rooted in tradition that we embrace are so right that they can't stand some introspective from time to time. Our new members are attracted to us because of our long standing traditions but once inside the Lodge they see things that have become problematic to the craft in the name of tradition and are confused by our inability as a body to address them. The arguments against the necessary changes seem weak , especially when those presenting them cloak themselves in the righteous shroud of traditionalism. We would all still be driving a horse and buggy if we had accepted that kind of reasoning a hundred years ago but wiser, more progressive ideas prevailed. This is not to say we should throw out the baby with the bath water and abandon any of our worthwhile ideals. But much of our approach to solving problems has become our inability to think outside of the box because of our fear of defying tradition, even outdated and useless tradition.

If we are on the decline it is because we discourage enterprise and imagination. No one wants to be a part of something these days that is stagnant. This isn't the 17th, 18th, 19th or even the 20th century anymore. Computers and modern communications allow us all to exchange ideas without restriction and explore avenues we never imagined. The old restrictions against color and gender are gone in the digital world of the 21st century. E-mails and text messaging have no race or creed. Yet we embrace a policy of discrimination against many prospective members in the name of tradition. We refuse to embrace the social changes that have come about because they were morally right and cling to arguments that seem simply outdated when presented as tradition.

Despite our outdated prejudices, we are getting both quality and quantity through our doors as new Masons these days. Many of those new members to our fraternity are eager to bring progressive ideas to us and help fix the things that are destroying us from within. But they become confused about what they have become a part of when they meet those who denounce their ideas because they defy their concept of traditionalism. After a while the new members become discouraged and find another outlet for their energies. Unlike years ago, there are many organizations today who will allow them to exercise their imagination and welcome them as a useful part of a growing entity.

We are declining because of what we have let ourselves become. It isn't the fault of those who come to seek us out; it is the fault of those who would not unlock the traditional door and allow them all the way in.

— A Brother in Riverview, Florida

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  1. one thing i've noticed is that the controllers of the blue lodge "don't" want many new members and the reason I believe is then youth can't get together and vote in one of their own to be in a position of control,i.e. secretary or treasurer. From what i've seen, the elders vote together and for whom they are told to vote for. No, intelligent man with any independence will deal with that.

  2. That was one of the first things I noticed, that certain people who held behind-the-scenes (not really so behind-the-scenes, just unelected) power, told the rest of the brethren who to vote for. I well recall the first election meeting I attended; the name of the "proper" candidate was whispered down the line, and each brother dutifully wrote the name on a slip and handed it in.

    In my short Masonic "career," I too was "shoo'd in" each election, until the most recent one last December, where the word went out to vote for someone else for Senior Warden. After near-unanimous election to each office for several years, I was unceremoniously derailed 27-4 after I'd "stepped on the toes of the Big Dogs," as one Past Master put it.

    — Widow's Son

  3. WS, I feel very badly for you if you have actually experienced this - IMO - unMasonic behavior from your fellow officers and brothers.

    Most lodges seem to have more or less "progressive" lines, in which one advances through each chair. But I strongly feel that any brother who is not going to have the ability to advance should not do so, nor should the lodge feel compelled to vote for him. That said, I also strongly beleive that the officer should not discover this on election night! If the other officers or active members have a concern about a particular officer in the line, they should have the testicular fortitude to address those concerns with the brother in person, and well before the elections. It's possible that the outcome would be the same, but brothers owe each other at least the modicum of respect and consideration.

    And TC - I hope that you are only talking about your own lodge. My own lodge tends to encourage the younger members to take part in the various functions so that we have some fall-back positions in case somebody retires, gets sick, etc.

  4. Brother Tom,

    I'm not sure if you're new to the BT or not... if so, you might want to read my backstory, as it were.

    See the series of articles called "Small Town Freemasonry."

    Currently there are three parts. I'll be adding the fourth (and hopefully final) part soon.

    — W.S.

  5. unfortunatley, it was experienced in more than one blue lodge, and when trying to bring it to the fore front in one of the lodges, the youth got pounded down hard, but perservered though. It was ugly, unchecked men in position of control. Many men who don't even handle their own checkbooks should not run a temple...

  6. WS, I've read your back story, and have been reading most of the blogs that you've linked to. I've posted a few comments in the past, explaining that my own experience has been nothing like what you and several others have reported (and someone responded that I was living in a "Pollyanna world").

    Like you, I'm a younger, college-educated, esoteric minded brother. I did not join this fraternity for the pancake breakfasts and fish fries (we don't do much of that in Conn, anyway). I didn't join to make contacts, or because I had a grandfather in the Craft. That said, in the last 5 years, the overwhelming majority of the men I've met have been nice, honest, considerate, and trustworthy. Most - not all, but most - of the men in my own lodge are supportive and considerate of the newer members, be they 21 or 61.

    We had in issue with one officer because some of the others had doubts about his ability to sit in the East in a few years. We did not go behind his back, but arranged a meeting with everyone in which I and another officer facilitated. It gave everyone an opportunity to speak their mind and get the issue out in the open. It's still not resolved, but at least it wasn't left to fester. In my mind, waiting until someone is a SW and then *not* voting for him is a sure way to lose that brother, plus a few others who don't like that kind of underhandedness.

    If that's living in a "Pollyanna world", then so be it.

  7. Bro. Tom,

    The kind of man your lodge wondered would be able to handle sitting in the East... that's the kind of man our lodge wanted — a figure-head with no ideas or plans of his own.

    I attended three different Schools of Instruction over the years. When I was Senior Deacon, I asked a Past Master why in our lodge there wasn't a procession of officers into the lodge at the beginning of a meeting, since it had been presented at the Schools as being Uniform Work.

    Instead of the Past Master answering with, "Oh, we're too old and uncoordinated to walk in formation like that," or any other sensible answer, he simply glared at me and said, "Don't you even think about changing things when you get to the East."

    Needless to say, that man was instrumental a couple of years later in derailing my Masonic journey.

    — W.S.

  8. I'm not going to say that there is never any dissension in my lodge, or that we do everything perfectly. But I continue to be astounded at how different your experience is from mine.

    I'm halfway through my year in the East, and the "changes" that I wanted to make were already underway when I was a JW and SW - not that much was necessary because we continue to hone our ritural work and almost all of us enjoy it. That's one of the reasons we were invited to another lodge to do a degree (it's in my own blog form last week). In fact, our officers frequently help some of the less fortunate lodges in our area during degree nights. I've served in the West or South several times, given lectures and charges, as have over a half dozen younger officers at Friendship. I suspect it's because we're "hams".

    But very few Past Masters would dare to take a brother - especially an officer - aside to tell him not to change things. If somebody wants a stuffed shirt lodge, I'm sure that there are others in Conn he could visit, and he would be told so.

    Please understand that I'm not saying this to denigrate your own experiences. I truly feel saddened by your situation; what you are describing is *not* my idea of Freemasonry, either. Have you thought about joining another lodge in your area?

  9. when I was in the east, I was doing three EA degrees one night, I was struggling with the part when the EA returned and was placed in the NE corner, in our ritual, it goes from third person to first perosn and my mind would not allow me to do it with comfort, so I had the the SD say the first part, which refreered to me in 3rd person, then I finished in the first person. Now, in our lodge, someone would do the apron lecture, regular lecture and charge. Not the master. Buut in the ritual, it denotes the WM to recite these parts, but seeing other members handle these, I did not think it was an issue to have the SD do those couple lines, but the treasurer, a PM, snapped at me about how we don't do it that way, and you can't deviate from the ritual book. This was done while the candidate was still standing infront of his desk in the NE! The SD looked astondished at me and I motioned for him to continue and ignore it.
    I could also go on about the slander that was ALLOWED to go on about young masons who uncovered wrong doings going on in an unchecked temple that they happened to join. It was facilitated by the highest ranking masons who had not had any involvement. It was being spread by second hand info from cronnies they've known for thirty years. Masonic attornies did not want to touch it for fear of their masonic careers. It sucks when one discovers main masonic players doing wrong. Then the whole frat attacks your name and character UNCHECKED!
    It was a shame, and I threatened to step down as Master of my lodge if it did not come to a stop. That my elders and GL did not adhere to their oaths and obligations, but I was supposed to obligate new young men at an alter, and expect them to adhere to them?
    I consciensously could not do it! Especially the firts part of the MM obligation.. I will not C,W,D a lodge or bro.
    all three of those were being violated by elders and NO ONE seemed to care.

  10. TC, it's funny how you mentioned the PM/Treas saying that in the middle of the degree. Didn't you have a rehearsal so that everyone would already know what's going on? We always have one, usually 2. We split things up according to ability, with the understanding that the truly important thing is that we give a good degree for the candidate.

    When I just did the MM degree that I wrote about, I gave several parts to people, not because I couldn't do them, but because I wanted them to feel honored and important; and I knew that they would add to the ceremony. Any PM in my lodge understands this.

    I'm on our Grand Lodge education committee, and one of the things that we try to teach the new Sr. officers is that being a PM entitles you to absolutely nothing in the way of power. The WM wears the hat and gets to direct the lodge, period. Yes, it can be daunting when you're new in the chair, but by that point one should have some idea of the duties, as well as an idea of what one would like to see.

    A friend of mine in another lodge had a problem in which a number of PMs were being particularly unhelpful, and he tried to work with them tactfully. After several months he invited them all to a breakfast meeting, but instead of threatening to quit, he explained that he was going to do things his way for the rest of the year, and they could go along or they could do things themselves. They are grumbling, but since they are not willing to step up the the plate, they're doing what they can.

    Sounds like you and your lodge were a horrible fit. Ever think about checking out someof the others in your area?

  11. In Georgia and perhaps other states, only sitting Masters and Past Masters can vote at Grand Lodge. This gives Past Masters a heightened sense of importance, and at the same time, keeps up-and-coming newer brethren, who may be Junior and Senior Wardens, no say-so about anything.

    On any given night in a lodge meeting in a typical north Georgia lodge, I'd hazard a guess that the sidelines are made up primarily — probably 75% or more — of Past Masters. What new guys there are have been appointed to the Stewards and Deacons positions.

    The sad truth is that most of the younger men lose interest very quickly, leaving only a handful of new guys who can never make any changes or even make constructive comments for fear of disrupting the "peace and harmony" of the older guys, who think that things should always be the "way it wuz" when they were Master of the Lodge.

    — W.S.

  12. WS - I think I see part of the problem. In Conn, the top 3 officers vote at GL sessions. Past DDGMs are considered to be "permanent members" and so have a vote. PMs, though, do not have any authority in GL.

    This point is illustrated in a humorous way in Friendship. At the end of the year we have a PM dinner at a local resaurant. The outgoing WM buys dinner for the WM elect, and there is a "roast", at which the PM to be is presented with his new name tag: It looks just like the regular name badge that all lodge members get, but the name section is left blank - signifying his status as a "worshipful nobody".

    Our PMs are usually still active, but frankly, I can only think of one who is a bit of a PITA, and even he's managable. Isn't it amazing that we can have such disparate experiences and still belong to the same fraternity?


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