Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Lost Art of Manhood - the Hat

Several of us at #252 have rediscovered the style of wearing a hat with our formal wear. There is nothing like walking down the street with your Brothers, on the way to a local dining establishment, and tipping your hat at the ladies who pass you by. I don't know who feels better about it - them or us.

I personally have take to the wearing of a bowler. Other Brothers prefer fedoras or Homburgs. There was a great posting in the Art of Manliness blog on the art of wearing a hat. You should check it out: Bringing Back the Hat.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Semi-Annual 309 Society Dinner Lecture - Spring 2011

The 309 Society held it's third semi-annual dinner lecture on April 18, 2011 at the Great Valley Masonic Lodge in Great Valley, New York. The featured speaker was RWBro. Thomas Savini, Director of the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York.

RWBro. Tom gave a lecture on a discussion of "Masonic Research Methods." It was kind of a homecoming for Bro. Savini as he is a Past Master of Great Valley Lodge #1178 and a Past AGL of the Cattaraugus District. Six out of 7 Lodges in the District were present and a great time was had by all.

For more information on the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, check out www.nymasoniclibrary.org.

How Much is Too Much?

I was going through my jewelry box the other day and examined my ever-growing collection of lapel pins. It amazes me that over the course of 20 years I have amassed such a large amount. It got me to thinking about proper etiquette for the wearing of pins at Lodge functions. Over the years I have seen various Brothers wearing various numbers of pins. Some Masonic, some not. It got me to thinking. "How much is too much?"

While I will say for the record that it is the individual Brother's right to wear as many or as little pins (or none at all) as he wishes, I think that once one exceeds a certain amount, it borders on gaudy.

Most information I have found on the subject of wearing a lapel pin directs that the pin(s) should go on the left lapel, through the buttonhole. They may be worn on the lapel, but that they should be removed to avoid damaging the material on the jacket. I would agree with this philosophy. But how much is too much?

I would suggest that one, perhaps two should be the limit. I personally wear a Past DDGM pin and usually one pin of the organization that I am attending. I think that it was MWBro. Edward Trosin, PGM of New York who set me on that path. His directive to his Grand Lodge officers was that they may wear whatever pin they wished on their Grand Lodge uniform jacket, but only one. To me, that presented a clean look.

Every year at Grand Lodge I run into several Brothers who look like General Patton. They have every lapel pin of every organization (Masonic or not) on both lapels. To me, they look like a huge walking billboard. Why is that necessary?

So what do you think Brothers? "Spartan Conservative" or "General Patton?"

How much is too much?

Monday, March 28, 2011


Yet another gem I read on the Art of Manliness blog. It's connections to Masonic thought are really mind-blowing.

"Foundations" - From "Traits of Character" (1899) By Henry F. Kletzing

Don't risk a life structure upon a day's foundation- The government building at Chicago, a large, massive structure and apparently well built, so that it might stand for a century, was recently torn down, not because the superstructure was not firm, but because the foundation at several places was found faulty. Thus, at a great expense, the old building is removed and a new structure is erected, all because the foundation was not safe. Men fail of their best efforts because they are unwilling to prepare well in days when preparation was the one duty.

The foundation for greatness must be laid in youth. Young men frequently make a serious mistake here. They are content with following the pleasures of youth instead of improving early opportunities for preparation of life's great work. Wellington frequently said that Waterloo was fought and won while he was a schoolboy. It was what he learned then that prepared him for that great battle. Inattention to the foundation has mired many a structure. Inattention to the intellectual and moral development and preparation has ruined many a life.

See yon building rise. While men were engaged in laying the foundation there was nothing attractive about it. Dirt and stones and mortar are not sightly objects. It is only when the superstructure is rising that the attention of the passer-by is given to it. This is why not more attention is given to foundation work. Many a youth who has attracted attention by doing work successfully thinks that his foundation is sure, and looks only to the superstructure. Many a college graduate has dreamed of greatness while delivering his final oration as the applause of friends greets his ear: but too often he is never heard of afterward. Life consists of more real and earnest things than brilliant graduating orations.

Do not mistake the applause of others as success. Avoid the idol which many worship - the love of notoriety and applause. Look to the foundations.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Whither are we traveling?

Many years ago MWBro. Dwight Smith published a paper entitled "Whither Are We Traveling." The paper, written over 35 or so years ago addresses the issues with the Craft at that time and spells out in plain English what the remedies were and dispelled many of the fallacies as to the decline in the fraternity. These issues are as true now as they were then. One of the addressed issues concerned membership. I bring this up because my Lodge Brothers and I read that paper about three years ago and took his message to heart. Now, we are seeing some change - some good and some painful - but the Lodge is hopefully in a positive transition. I am now looking at the possibility of becoming Royal Patron of my local Amaranth Court and I find myself looking into the same precipice as I did three years ago as I contemplated another run at the East. My worry is that I am not certain that my Brothers and Sisters of my Court have the motivation to deal with some hard issues.

After our Court meeting last month, a few of us gathered together and discussed what course of action we should be taking in the months ahead. We find ourselves divided into two camps: the first placing membership attainment as the primary issue, the other placing Court reorganization and improvement as the first goal. So, my question to all of you is which is more important? Both are essential, but if you needed to fix one as the primary and place the other in support of the first, which takes the lead?

The membership camp places all the blame on a decline in membership. They cite the various causes - television, two-income households, the internet, and many others. They bewailed the same old comment lament, "Things just aren't how they used to be. I can remember when the sidelines were full. Now look. We need to get more members." They then go on to blame the Lodge. "You guys are raising a bunch of younger men. We need to get their wives involved. Why don't you guys support us and have them come up?" To this camp, it is all about numbers. It's the "quantity = quality" mentality of "fish-fry Masonry" all over again.

Personally I am strong supporter of the other side. This is not just because I agree with MWBro. Smith, but because I am seeing it work. MWBro. Neal Bidnick, PGM of New York once told me that numbers aren't the issue. "I can make it possible so that you could raise 100 Brothers this year. But, if you don't offer them anything - none of them will likely stay." I have to agree. If the group is malfunctioning, if there is poor or undirected leadership, a myopic vision of direction, an unwillingness to consider alternatives and a complete lack of activity - why would anyone want to stay?

I submit that reform needs to begin from within. For our Court to survive we must determine a direction and commit to that plan. We must all dig in do what we can. We must look at our current way of doing business and determine what we can and cannot change and decide if we are willing to change it. We must decide if we are willing to make the Court a priority in our lives for the short term in order to change the course. Lastly we must have the fortitude to stay that course, even in rough times, in order to really see if the reforms we instituted really worked. The Court must be a functioning, lively and positive environment, otherwise we are dooming ourselves to extinction.

The question becomes whether or not the Court really has the drive and motivation to continue. If they do, it is worth a shot and who knows, we might actually start having some fun. If not, well...it might be better to euthanize this Old Yeller of a Court and spare it the slow painful death we are experiencing.

So I put it to all of you. Which is a better course - membership with reform support or Court reform with a membership component? Or is there a third course of action?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Maslow and Freemasonry's Hierarchy of Needs

It is always interesting to me how sometimes some simple discussion sends my mind off to the strangest of places. As I may (or may not) have mentioned, I am currently working on my Masters Degree in Social Work. The discussion which led to this this posting happened awhile ago, but it has been banging around in my head for awhile, so here goes.

There are many psychological theories out there and one of them was offered by Abraham Maslow. Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" was proposed in 1943. The basic theory holds that individuals have needs and that they have a motivation to satisfy these basic needs before moving on to others. The hierarchy is organized in a pryramidal shape, from the most basic to the more intellectual/spiritual needs. Maslow theorized that individuals need to satisfy base needs before moving to "higher" needs on the scale. The hierarchy is normally presented as such:

What began to interest me during the course of the discussion was how it might apply in a Masonic Lodge. People generally tend to join a Lodge to fulfill some need, and if the Lodge provides it - they stay. If not, they go. So looking at this hierarchy I began to try to link these needs in a real way to how Lodges operate and to see if there is a connection.

The first level is PHYSICAL. Maslow defined these as biological - the need for oxygen, food, water and the like. He felt that these were the strongest, because they are the most basic and without them we could not survive. To me, that translates into a Masonic context in the physical atmosphere of the Lodge itself. Is it comfortable and inviting? Does it allow for adequate space for the needs of the Lodge? Is it well-kept and maintained? Does it provide refreshments for its members? To me, this is a very fundamental need. If a new member walks into a Lodge that is run down, does not provide for interaction, is not comfortable and provides no form of refreshment (or an opportunity for some), then a base need is not met.

The second level is SECURITY. Maslow defined these as the needs for stability. Masonically, we could equate that to personal and fiscal security. Is the Lodge a place to have shelter from the troubles of life? Does it offer a safe haven to its members where they feel that they can find support and can depend on their Brothers? Is the Lodge fiscally sound so that there is security in being able to maintain this environment? It also may extend into a feeling that one can express grievances in an appropriate way and have their voice be heard and their concerns addressed.

The third is SOCIAL. Maslow felt that people have a fundamental need for love, affection and belonging. He felt that people seek to overcome feelings of alienation. To me, this is a no-brainer. One of the fundamental aspects of Freemasonry is Brotherly Love and affection. We join together as one band of fellows and Brothers. Every well governed Lodge should have this spirit at the heart of their very being. Is your Lodge a place where Brothers feel that they truly belong? Are the bonds of Brotherhood strong? Does everyone feel included or that they have opportunities to do so?

Fourth is EGO (aka ESTEEM). If the first three levels are satisfied, then the need for esteem can come to the forefront. This includes self-esteem and esteem that can be given by others. We all have a basic need for a level of self-respect and a feeling that we are respected by others. When this need is satisfied, people generally feel needed and valuable as a person. When it isn't, it is usually followed by feelings of worthlessness and inferiority. Does your Lodge work to make everyone feel needed? Does everyone have an opportunity for participation and are they recognized appropriately? What I am talking about is offering thanks, gratitude and recognition for efforts - not necessarily the offering of titles, medals or jewels. Does everyone feel like they are respected and needed as a member of your Lodge?

The last level is SELF-ACTUALIZATION. Maslow has described this as a need to be and do that which a person was "born to do." He further stated that "A musician must make music, an artist must paint and a poet must write." While this last need can be difficult to identify, it can be noted when a person feels restless and expresses lacking "something." Masonically, I think I addressed this in an earlier post "Each to his own ability." It is important that we take into account that a Lodge consists of individuals and those individuals have talents and abilities. Does your Lodge offer outlets to allow Brothers to exercise them? In our efforts to fill our officer lines have we pressed Brothers into chairs that do not accentuate their strengths, but may set them up to fail? Have we presented educational opportunities that allow Brothers to research our Craft and find their niche within it? Do we allow our Brothers to develop into the Masons they want to be, or which we feel they should be?

In closing, I offer this thought. Given these considerations, does your Lodge meet your member's basic needs? What are its strengths and weaknesses? How do you address your members' basic needs in Freemasonry?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Building Bridges

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast, and deep, and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim, near,

“You are wasting strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide-
Why build you this bridge at the evening tide?”

The builder lifted his old gray head:
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”

By Will Allen Dromgoole

I had the fortune to read this poem through an "Art of Manliness" blog. It brought to mind a major theme which was a focal point of MWBro. Edward Gilbert's term as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York. He discussed the need for us to be "cathedral builders." Our ancient Brethren who worked on building cathedrals did not work for the instant gratification of their labor. More often than not, builders who began work on the building did not live to see their work completed. They labored with the image of the completed ediface in mind, knowing that some day, their labors would be useful to those who followed after them. It was MWBro. Gilbert's assertion that we should model that philosophy. Instead of working only toward the short term goal of membership numbers, we should also be looking at long term goals - financial stability, improved education and a useful and attractive Lodge building as some examples. It is important that we not only focus on the "right now", but also on the future and those Brothers who will follow after us. We must build with the future in mind, and not be hampered by little setbacks or the absence of short term payoffs.

What will your Masonic legacy be?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Are You a Relevant Mason?

Gotta love graduate school. It really hasn't given me adequate time to post to this blog. I have had some time to keep up with what's going on and I came across this on The Sanctum Sanctorum Education Foundation's forum. It was written by WBro. Roger Tigner and it is reproduced here with the gracious permission of the author. Hopefully there will be more original stuff coming shortly. Enjoy!

Freemasons, like everything in nature, have experienced ebb and flow like the swing of the pendulum. Our most famous mantra from the 20th century was the concept of “Making Good men Better”, but what do we really mean? We point to the famous masons of our past with both awe and reverence in the work they accomplished in changing the world, but what about today or more importantly – tomorrow?

Our great Masonic leaders were not great simply because they were members of the fraternity. Some were great men before they ever became masons, while other became so after having joining the fraternity, but probably would have succeeded without our influences. What made them famous then is what we should be looking at today for the benefit of our future, not just the future of the fraternity, but of our country and all who inhabit planet earth. Many would argue that the American landscape has changed to drastically to be compared with the quaint colloquialism of our colonial past, or even the America of 60 years ago, but I would argue that is why the teachings of freemasonry are so great, its teachings are timeless and they gave our country the ability to have different views of social problems and taught us to keep the common good in sight while we discussed the merits and downfalls of solving a problem. That made our forefathers relevant to their friends and countrymen and created a nation envied for its freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. But what is relevant?

Merriam-Webster defines it thus: RELEVANT
1 a : having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand
b : affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion
c : having social relevance

Medieval Latin relevant –, relevans, from Latin, of relevare to raise up – First Known Use: 1560

Relevant today means that we care about what is happening around us, and most importantly that we try to do something about it. Freemasonry today has seen one of its lowest ebbs ever, in membership, in education, in having lost sight of what a centuries old fraternity was meant to be. Freemasonry today is almost schizophrenic in the multitude of directions its energies drive our members. Our lust for membership drives many to say “Freemasonry is for dummies and idiots” supposing that all we need to do is pander to the profane and we will be perfect in no time. Others demand that we collectively agree to calm the fears of the profane, that “we have no secrets and everything you ever wanted to know about us is on the Internet”. While still others throw themselves against the ramparts of history trying to prove the un-provable, that our Freemasonry goes beyond 1717 that the roots of our fraternity make us descendants of the actual Knights Templar, Solomon’s builder, Egyptian Priests or beyond.

While these are entertaining educational exercises they serve to do no more than distract brethren from more important endeavors. Becoming good men and relevant in their homes and community. I can be honest in saying that I had no idea why I joined freemasonry. I did know that the person who asked me to become a brother was someone I did (and still do) deeply respect as being relevant, his grasp of philosophy made him a good businessman, a good husband and father, and a great man in the eyes of many, me especially.

I will be brutally honest that the good being promoted by the fraternity through our philanthropy is equally offset by something well within our control – ourselves. By allowing unworthy feet to pass the threshold, bigotry, clashes of economic classes, generational divides and all the while the pretentious demagogue rails within our sanctum. What effect does this struggle have? I would answer that the best way to evaluate your image is not to ask those within the fraternity, but to listen to how those outside the fraternity view us. Mr. Victor David Hanson was being interviewed on about the future of the European Union his answer was sad, "Well there will always be a European Union, it just won’t do anything. It will be sort of like the Masonic Lodge today in small town America. It’s still going to be there, but nobody is going to belong or do much to it.” If we are seeking to be better men and relevant is today’s society; that statement would demonstrate how really far we have fallen and how far we still have to go.

So where do we go from here?

Many would say, “who cares about him, we just be need to be nice to everyone, they can be our new members.” There is a reason we have called people outside the fraternity “profane” through our history, we do not do this to be degrading to others, profane means to treat (something sacred) with abuse, irreverence, or contemp. I cannot speak for others, but my Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite and York Rite are very sacred meeting places and none but a Mason can begin to understand why, nor treat them with the proper respect. The fraternity cannot prove a negative, we cannot prove we do not worship Baphomet any more than we can prove that Freemasonry was actually created by the Egyptian priesthood, what we can do is guard ourselves as if anyone may be profane and study the best parts of all ancient mystical traditions and see how each of them, from time immemorial, has taken good men and made them better.

Recent events in Tucson, Arizona and other places have shown the desperate need for men of deep philosophical understanding to become engaged in their community and their countries affairs. The birth of Freemasonry developed in the Age of Enlightenment as the path by which uncaring monarchs where forced from power and inspired democracies and republics based on freedom and equality were born. To these same efforts we should focus our own energies in becoming relevant masons.

To this end we must make ourselves intimately acquainted with all the principles and obligations of our fraternity, and practice in our lives outside the lodge all its duties and requirements inculcated within it. We cannot be so preoccupied with our past that we ignore the present or the future. We must divest ourselves brethren, of coldness and apathy, so fatal to the best interests of Freemasonry – our nation – our world. Shun those affections and groveling passions unworthy of a soul that claims affinity with the “Sons of Light,” and put forth all your energies to grasp whatever is noble or elevating in thought, deed and action. Study the esoteric work of Pike, De Hoyas, Hogan, Hall and all who say greatness can be found in the philosophy of every age. Seek out what is good in everyone, not to try and be better than others, but to try and be better than ourselves, to learn how we can joins hands with those outside the fraternity and treat with them squarely, rather they allowing them always to remain at a perpetual distance. Seek daily whatever can reveal new and sublime ideas pertaining to our lofty destiny, not seeking to elevate ourselves beyond deserved greatness to date, but remembering each who did his duty as a Mason and seeking to emulate them in all our thoughts, words and actions. Guard against dissentions among ourselves that we may be united in the work we do, let no root of bitterness spring up to trouble you, we are all workmen in the quarries and each performs the duties he is best suited to perform, according to the designs laid out by the Supreme Architect of the Universe on his eternal trestlboard. Use all your exertions to preserve your Lodge pure, and prevent the introduction of vice or error in its thousand forms. Seek to practice true brotherhood, and if, in the frailty of mortality, a brother falls under the influence of unholy feelings and wanders into forbidden paths, seek the wanderer out, bring him back to the fold, and show him the superior loveliness of virtue, remember that deceit and hypocrisy should be unknown among us and frankness and fair dealing distinguish us, more especially with our brethren in masonry. For if we cannot speak plainly and affectionately to those we call brother, we will never be able to speak truthfully to our God, our neighbor or our country, thence we and they will all suffer. Much may be accomplished by the force of good example, and by offering good counsel in a friendly spirit, ever remembering that err is human, to forgive divine. Finally, brethren, be of one mind; live in peace. Let nothing disturb that pure, warm and holy love which our precepts enjoin.

When we begin to live our ideals, because only by living them will people outside begin to take note that Freemasonry has indeed made you a better man and more importantly making you a Relevant Mason.

Therefore the master goes about doing nothing, teaching no talking.
The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
Creating, yet not possessing, Working, yet not taking credit, Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.

From the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu Chinese Philosopher 6th Century BCE
Legend says Lao Tzu traveled from the East to the West after having attained light and knowledge.