Wednesday, April 28, 2010

“The only difference between this place and the Titanic is they had a band…”

I am a member of the Order of the Amaranth. I belong mostly because my wife belongs and because it gives us time to spend together. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Order, you can find out more from the Supreme Council’s website. I am writing mostly because this has been drifting around in my head for some time and I need to find some outlet for it. I am finding myself increasingly frustrated by the current state of the Order, at least locally, and I am finding it more difficult to remain motivated about belonging and attending. For the most part I feel like I am on the deck of the Titanic and I am watching the iceberg approaching. There are a few others with me and we are frantically ringing the alarm bell – but the officers are out at evening tea.

Perhaps it is because I am very involved with the Blue Lodge and that they have begun to wake up and see the writing on the wall that I find it difficult to believe that the Amaranth cannot draw parallels to themselves – especially since Masons comprise a portion of their membership. It’s almost like folks are ignoring it – like ignoring a toothache figuring that it will eventually go away. The problem with that approach is that if you ignore something long enough, there may be nothing to save once it is all over. Amaranth is undergoing the same strains that the Blue Lodge is currently experiencing: a decrease in new members, an ever-aging membership, worries about financial stability and sometimes (I think) a questioning of purpose. The Masonic fraternity is well familiar with these problems. The difference is they are beginning to do something about it.

The current issues are apparent in the local Court of which I am a member. Meetings are tedious at best. Let me paint a picture for you. The meeting opens with a lengthy and archaic ceremony that is staged for more people than are in attendance. This is followed by a lengthy introduction of anyone who has held or used to hold some kind of office.

This is the active part of the meeting.

The remainder of the time is spent mostly with everyone looking at each other (and their watches), mentioning that we need more members and talking about the old days when the sidelines were full. We talk about how we need to fundraise and make up the budget shortfalls. Then on to the lengthy closing (again with not enough members needed) followed by coffee, some more disgruntled conversation, and then – home. See you in two weeks.

Sound familiar?

It is my understanding that this is how it is pretty much around the state. The funny thing is that no one seems to know why this is happening (see above and I can guess) and those in charge that can affect change either can’t or won’t do so. The fact of the matter is, if someone at Grand Court doesn’t get brave enough to do what needs to be done, there won’t be a Grand Court – and eventually probably no local Courts either.

The Amaranth espouses four principal tenets: Truth, Faith, Wisdom and Charity. They have, in my opinion, fallen a bit by the wayside. Truth seems to have been overcome by Intolerance. The ritual teaches that we need to “solicit the most careful scrutiny and reveal the good and true” yet we continue to not be truthful with ourselves. We know the state of things, but we refuse to see them as they are. The intolerance even extends to being intolerant of change.

Faith has been pushed aside by Apathy. Once, there was a strong understanding of the purpose of the Order – now it seems lost or at least clouded. There is no impetus to change or to better ourselves and to steer the Order into forward movement. Burnt out older members are tired and don’t want to be involved anymore. Younger members have little time or drive. We talk about needing members, yet we won’t get out of our seats to go find them.

Wisdom has given way to Astigmatism. The near-sightedness of the Order is probably one of its biggest problems. There is no room for out-of-the-box thinking or considering changes. There is only the way things have always been done. Lastly is Charity. To me, Charity has fallen to Inequity. It is not a matter of doing what needs to be done, but to do what appears to be submitting to special interests and egos.

This seems like an overly negative post. It is both meant and not meant to be. I belong to the Order because I choose to and because I believe that, at its foundation, it is a very worthwhile institution. What is difficult is that some of our leadership can’t seem to get out of their own way, to move past outdated ideas and to ensure the longevity of the organization. Here are some suggestions:

1) Look at revising some of the Standard Work. I am not saying that we should throw out tradition, but to make the ritual more manageable with today’s numbers. Similarly to the Scottish Rite, the ritual can be adapted to more workable numbers based on average attendance – at least for opening and closing ceremonies. What would also be useful is some kind of education. Freemasonry has a multitude of resources that discussed Masonic symbolism and philosophy. The Amaranth ritual is full of wonderful symbolism (like the Rite of Ablution). How about some kind of program that would promote an understanding of the tradition?
2) Make the meetings more productive. We spend more time recognizing current and past officers and less time doing some thing productive. Save that stuff for a Past Officer’s Night and let’s have some programs or travel instead.
3) Prepare for financial increases. Cost of living has gone up - so have expenses. Let’s stop nickel and diming the membership with constant internal fundraisers and just raise the dues. This will permit us to fundraise outside the membership for our charitable projects.
4) Stop talking and start doing. Enough of what was. Let’s deal with what is and do something about it. Get out into the Districts and drum up some interest.
5) Do something. We can get a hundred members to join, but if there isn’t anything for them once they get there, what’s the point. Do a program, go on a trip – something.

That is just a start. Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It’s time for something new.

Here comes the iceberg. Are we going to steer the boat clear or should we get ready to man the life boats?

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