A ramble about the charity and the future

Discussion in 'General Freemasonry Discussion' started by Michael Hatley, Apr 15, 2013.

  1. Michael Hatley

    Michael Hatley Premium Member

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    Brethren, fellas, lurkers - forgive me in advance for the length of my ramble. Had some thoughts I wanted to pen and this seemed like the best place for a braindump. A fair bit of this is Shrine related, but my main thoughts are aimed at Blue Lodge so I figured here might be better.

    By way of introduction, I'm a pretty new Mason. I got involved a while back after being introduced to it by an Australian man I was working with on a project down under, and then a year by a 92 year old fella local to me who's goodness glows off of him in practically a tangible aura, both of which are long winded stories. It turned out they were both very, very well traveled men who do their best to keep me out of trouble.

    Anyhow, my lodge rents space in our local Shrine center and I'm both active in my lodge's line and at the Shrine. I've got a background in community activism (been a commissioner with the city of Houston, worked with the po-pos on a bunch of stuff, yadda yadda) and feel pretty strongly about leaving the forest better off than I found it. And since our lodge had a forest fire about the time I joined it there has been only up to go to if you get my drift :scared:

    I've been in some wrong places at the wrong times since I joined the fraternity and fell down some rabbit holes :closedeyes: I'm a shy fella, so never got the hang of small talk. So I spark up philosophical discussions with people a bunch wherever I go, mostly so I can hide my awkwardness with a few big words I memorized :)

    So /tiphat, glad to meet ya.

    Now a lot of you have prolly been following some of the disagreements Blue Lodge has been having with the Shrine. I'm no expert, but a lot of it seems to have sprung from personal disagreements and ballooned out of control. Keeping in mind my lodge is within my local Shrine center and I'm active at both. So the whole thing gives me indigestion, especially this latest rumbling I've heard about the Shrine potentially removing the requirement of being a Master Mason to join their ranks. Joking aside, it is a worry, to me. I love that my fellow Shriners are Brothers and I'd personally have it no other way.

    This weekend at an event down a rabbit hole I had the pleasure of sharing a few tables and with a number of past potentates current divan members (leadership muckity mucks in the Shrine, most of them members of the board for the hospitals and that sort of thing) from different parts of Texas, and some mover and shaker guys in their 30s from various Blue Lodges who are either recently past masters, sitting masters or senior officers in their blue lodges. And since I'm not worth a darned at small talk I generally go right to whats important to me - getting their opinions on this rift (imagined or not), how to attract new young doers into the Fraternity and so forth.

    My general take - the young men like me (who don't have a vote at Imperial) were all very strongly opposed to removing the Masonic requirement from the Shrine. To a man, actually. Many privately said they would demit from the Shrine immediately if it happened.

    The old timers hedged, mostly. And since I share the view of my younger Brethren I pressed the issue every time and tried to assert that it would be a Very Bad Thing.

    Now I think it is important to note that in order to become a Potentate of a Shrine you generally have to have a pretty substantive core. At least thats what I've found talking to these sorts over the last couple of years. They are aw shucks sorta fella until you get to the nut cutting, and then you realize that pretty well all of them are very, very shrewd businessmen and leaders. Their opinions are very reasoned and valid. And they are all serious about charity, real serious. Being in the Divan is very time consuming - far more than most Blue Lodges. Its a different scale, generally speaking.

    One particular conversation I had with a man who will be potentate I think it is next year in a Shrine Center here in Texas stands out. Rosy cheeked fella of good cheer that I shared some time telling jokes with, and when we both ran out of em I went to my old standby of asking him about The Rift. It was amazing how the question flipped on his serious side and we talked seriously at length.

    It turns out this fellow was a product of Masonic Home and School of Texas, back when we had an actual building for it and all that. An orphan. Masons literally raised him, and he made a point of saying Masonry literally saved his life - with passion and a tear in his eye at one point. He's served that organization to give back for many, many years.

    When I asked him about The Rift, he, like a bunch of the old hands, hedged. He didn't want to see it but allowed it might become necessary - and he didn't know how the vote this year would go. I got the impression he hadn't made up his mind how he would vote.

    He pointed out to me a few things, and I may not have understood him completely so blame me if I get something wrong. But you know how we are supposed to have something like 100k Masons in Texas? I forget the number. You fellas realize that in a bunch of those numbers, they count lodge memberships, not men? Think about that a moment and you'll get depressed about how many Masons we actually have in this state. It isn't as many as sometimes we think there are, and even that number is what, a third of what it was a few decades back?

    Now as an active line member I'm always on the prowl for men, especially young men, to help me - and since we can't recruit I just try my best to be a good example and all of that. Not just because I want help, but because I enjoy the company of fellas who get Facebook, or played WoW some, or had a Whitesnake cassette tape, or have seen an episode or two of Game of Thrones, or whatever. Folks whose wives are my wife's age and all of that so they can hang out too. Its nice.

    But finding men who are both young, interested enough to not just join the fraternity but make it to MM, and then to join the line and make it through? Those are rare birds in my experience. A lot of them in this state are either active posters or lurkers right here at this website, so you know what I mean, brethren. You know how when a few of us doers get together and share a libation or two how comfortable it feels - it makes me sigh down to my toes and just feel good. I want more of that, brethren. The responsibility of runnin a lodge makes us brothers in arms, sort of. It feels like the relationship I had with my fellow infantrymen, a feeling of brotherhood for well and true. We understand one another. We are common men. It is very real in a world of plastic things. I live for that esprit de corps, fellas.

    So anyway, I pressed this issue with this fella I was speaking to and we wound up delving into a philosophical discussion about what Masonry is.

    He posed a question to me. What is Freemasonry's work? If you had to sum it up as succinctly as possible.

    My answer, after scratching my beard for the best answer for a couple of minutes was "making good men better".

    He nodded, and agreed. We both went through adding on many other things but for us, at that time, that was the central bit. Yours may differ - mine might even on a different day or whatever, but it was what we came up with for the moment.

    Then he asked "what does the public perceive as Freemasonry's work?"

    To which I had to respond with Dan Brown/Lost Treasure stuff. Illuminati and blah blah. If you are lucky, the perception is history, the founding fathers and so forth. Or a respected man, uncle or whatever that perhaps someone knows. A Grandfather who passed away. Etc.

    Then he asked "what is the Shrine's work?"

    To which I immediately answered "the hospitals".

    He nodded, and asked "why did you answer so quickly, Brother?"

    I answered that because I'd been to them. I'd seen the children who had multiple limbs completely burned away. Worked to stifle my tears in their presence. Felt my calling in my bones to help them.

    He nodded, and asked "what does the public perceive as the Shrine's work?"

    To which I immediately answered "the hospitals".

    He nodded. And then he told me that decades ago, people often would have said the Masonic Home and School of Texas were a very big part of the work of Freemasons in Texas. We took care of orphans and people knew it. It would have been an immediate response. Now few know that it even exists as an organization.

    We both grew quiet and stared out of the window together for a while together and reflected.

    I told him that in my travels I often ask young, active Freemasons what they most enjoy out of Freemasonry in an effort to plant a banner, to do my part to attract these good men.

    Traditional Observance is a trending thing among our crowd, and I've attended a TO lodge here in Texas (St. Albans) and really, really enjoy it. The getting back to our roots. The substantive presentations. The air of gentlemanly and brotherly conduct. I believe in many parts of the TO model.

    And on the flipside, events like the fork and knife event at Spring Lodge up north of me is really great fun. Good men, good food, like minds, warm atmosphere and warm hearts. I dig it and events like it a whole lot.

    But Brethren, I wonder. I wonder if charity represents a united path forward for the century to come.

    Maybe a new charity. That we all get behind.

    You know the Shrine didn't always have the hospitals. My impression (which may be wrong) is that the Shrine was perceived as a bunch of scoundrels (the more things change, eh?) and decided to pivot and created the hospitals as a new path forward. They threw their hearts into it. They marketed it. And it worked.

    Now I've often brought up Charity to my brethren. I've got a presentation on it and the other virtues I'm working on, but many of you know that charity is central to Freemasonry.

    But from many Brothers, they say things like "Blue lodge is an organization that does charitable works, but it is not a charity" and other things that make the process of making good men better, education, knowing thyself, brotherly love and so forth as bigger priorities than charity. I understand. Part of me agrees.

    I wonder though. If we united behind a common cause and charity and threw our hearts into it, could it not only make us better men but attract more good men from our society?

    What if, for example, Blue Lodge was known in Texas as much as for helping the children of Veterans as the Shrine was for their hospitals? Or wounded veterans. Or autistic children. Or the homeless.

    Pick something that rides the wave of the zeitgeist of our era and unite behind it rather than a hundred random charities.

    Personally, I think it could help us a great deal. Worth thinking about seriously.

    In my opinion, a common charity shared by GLoTX and MWPHGLoTX would be a beautiful thing.

    Quixotic? Maybe so. But something has to change in my opinion.

    Anyway, I got the impression that this fellow believed that if the MM requirement were gone from the Shrine that while they might lose members, eventually they would surge in membership. I think he is wrong about that, for various reasons. And I don't want to see the two organizations split and I am vocal about that.

    But I think that the worthwhile thing to focus on is charity, Brethren. Whether you like the Shrine or not, the hospitals are real and are an effective banner we have rallied behind. It makes you feel good. It makes your wife feel good about what you are doing. Your parents. Your friends. It is karma, brethren. If I tell people I am a Freemason they raise their eyebrows. If tell people I am a Shriner I gain their respect. This public perception is important in my opinion.

    Could we learn from that and bring the approach to Blue Lodge?

    Or do we delve down the rabbit hole of Traditional Observance, of ritual, secrecy, exclusivity and gravity?

    Why not both?

    Ah, I have rambled far FAR too much. Just my braindump of part of my travels seeking the path forward for bringing more good men to the table and bringing meaning to the table as much as possible.

    Apologies for the length and lack of organization of the note, have to get to makin my daily bread!

    Fraternally,
    Michael
     
  2. lawyer_taj

    lawyer_taj Registered User

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    I greet you and I wish you well bro. Micheal. Nice piece.


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  3. chrmc

    chrmc Registered User

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    The challenge with the work in Blue Lodge - making good men better, is that it's very hard to see an quantify. You can easily point to a hospital and say "we've helped x number of kids," but not so with Masonry. It has always been a "secret" place where few people not initiated knew what was going on. And that was the intention. Especially if we draw the line to the Ancient Mysteries.
    In the past Masonry was judged by the men it called its members, which used to be the most upstanding parts of society - now it's probably not quite the same.

    This whole talk quickly leads to the well know discussion of "what's wrong with the Craft" and I think we've all be down that road before. To stay on point with the question you raise, I think the answer lies in both delving down the focus areas of yore which made us great, which today often is exemplified in the TO movement. If masonry once again was seen as an exclusive thing that truly had people in it's ranks that you could see were "the best of society" I think the problems of numbers could solve themselves.

    I've never personally believed that a core of Masonry was to do charity. I believe that a core is to teach Masons to be charitable, which I think is a small, but very important distinction. I believe that the best course would be if Masonry could return to be known for Masonry.

    (And on a side note I should add that the only reason why we really pay attention to the problem with numbers, is very often due to economy. We've got to big and expensive buildings that we can't afford, so we need more members to pay for them. In the past a lodge of 30-50 people was seen as a fine number, but that's another discussion entirely)
     
  4. Aeelorty

    Aeelorty Registered User

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    Charity is essential to masonry but masonry is more. Acts of charity have a positive effect on a mason and help him to grow. By acting out charity a person becomes more aware of the pain in this world and more sympathetic. This sympathy leads to a path of improvement. Conversely as a mason becomes a better person they become more charitable because they can see the good and importance of it more clearly.

    Charity is just one way the masonry leads to improvements in men there are others. When we focus exclusively on charity we end up where we are today, just another frat that does charity, not much more than the rotary club. The TO movement is the reaction to the focus on charity over the past few decades. They say lets back off that and worry about ourselves, because we have not been doing that and have suffered for it. We need balance between the two, personal charities to our local population, something where the intimacy of the act can have an effect on the person. We need lodges that teach men about masonry and our secrets and the beauty of the craft. Masonry needs to find the balance it preaches. Numbers will improve if masonry becomes balanced in all its aspects. Finding balance will bring in the youth and I say this as another young mason (21).
     
  5. Shariff

    Shariff Registered User

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    Good evening gentlemen I am interested in becoming a mason. I am originally for Brooklyn,Ny. Now reside in Raleigh,Nc. There is a lodge in the area but I think it's disrespectful to just show up and demand information on becoming a mason. Can one of you brothers give me some words of wisdom on how to go about becoming a mason


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  6. chrmc

    chrmc Registered User

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    Well, I'd suggest to not post in a thread that is on a completely different subject to be honest, but once that is done, check out the website for the Grand Lodge of North Carolina, and find a lodge in your area. http://www.grandlodge-nc.org/ - if you already know where one is, it is actually as simple as just showing up. You can contact them first, but drop-ins are welcome.
    If you need more assistance, suggest to create a thread in the forum dedicated to it, so we can discuss further in the appropriate place.
     
  7. cemab4y

    cemab4y Premium Member

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    I would love for Freemasonry to "branch out", and try some new charitable work. Be prepared to be crucified! Most lodges are hide-bound, and unwilling to try anything that has not been done before. I wanted for my lodge to underwrite a public TV show, and assist people in earning their GED (high-school equivalency). The lodge threw a fit. "We never did it that way before".

    Keep pushing. I wish you luck.

    "You can always tell a pioneer. They have arrows in their backs" -Author unknown
     
  8. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

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    On the one hand, showing up in person is exactly the best way to go about it. There are no invitations so asking a Mason to become a Mason is the only way it can happen. On the other hand, demanding is exactly the worst way to go about it. I suggest you do show up and introduce yourself. Ask how to become a Mason. Tell your story and ask how you can get a petition to join. They'll likely invite you to come back a few times for chats and then give you a petition and at that point one with signatures on it.
     
  9. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

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    When asked if Masonry is a charity or service organization I respond - The goal of Masonry is to make good men better. One feature of better men is they give to charity. One feature of better men is they do acts of community service. But neither is the only feature of better men. Lists of famous Masons give all sorts of examples of what better men do and it's all sorts of activities. What they have in common is they work long and hard at their tasks and they do it consistently with integrity. If I have a good reputation with you for whatever reason, that's what Masonry teaches. By the way there are no invitations to Masonry. The only way to join is to ask. Let me know if you ever have any questions.

    When my wife hears this she knows I'm doing my standard marketing pitch. She jumps in to say she's not a mason so the rule against invitations does not apply to her. Then she invites him ...
     
  10. chrmc

    chrmc Registered User

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    This is the key essence I think you hit right here. Masonry is supposed to teach you how to be a better man through the symbols and rituals, and if it achieves that all the other things will follow. It's kinda like paving a golden path to follow which will bring a lot of good stuff with it.

    I think if we focus on the charitable portion we will do go, and we will make men better, but doing charitable work does not address circumscribing your desires, uprightness of character, how you treat your fellow man etc. All these things should be important aspect of Masonry.
     
  11. widows son

    widows son Premium Member

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    Charity is but a portion of the full circle.
     
  12. Zack

    Zack Registered User

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    Charity is NOT just giving money. As a matter of fact, for me, the easiest and most impersonal form of charity is a $20 bill.
     
  13. Michael Hatley

    Michael Hatley Premium Member

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    Just to clarify - I don't mean to suggest, Brethren, that we forgo our ritual and other things by any means. Or to lessen their importance in any way. I'm a firm believer in the value of our ritual, history, and symbolism.

    It is just that I believe that the best way to teach charity is by doing. It is one thing to teach that charitable acts are good. But words are words and actions are actions. The latter is what, in my view, teaches best and unites most solidly. Doing.

    And it seems to me that if we did better about uniting behind a common charity that we could do a lot about our image at the same time.

    For me, I am not willing to accept our decline in numbers. I'm not willing to blame the times or the economy. I feel like the baton of responsibility has been passed into my hands, our hands. We own it and the future of Masonry. And so we have a responsibility to lead by example.

    In the past, Texas Masons built schools. Now we hope to be able to have a cornerstone ceremony. I see a disconnect there.

    Anyhow, for me anyway, some folks have asked me - if you serve in the East what will be your priority during your year? A lot of this rambling and whatnot comes down to me soul searching for the answer to that question.

    And for me I think it comes down to visible charitable acts focusing on volunteerism. Get out in the community.

    Personally I'd like our lodge to move towards TO practices, and I have a dream of putting together a group of Masons who go skydiving regularly (I can't tell you how much I want that), and a host of zany personal sort of things.

    But for the lodge, and for Masonry, I'd make charitable works our focus and try and get other folks serving in the East that year to partner with us to make a difference.

    They may run me off if I talk like that though hahaha :001_cool:
     
  14. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

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    I enjoyed your story brother, thank you for sharing it. :)

    Warning: The following is purely personal opinion.

    I do want to say that I feel the current state of Masonic charity is a bit misguided however. I believe that Masonic charity should consist of giving of ourselves to help and assist our fellow brethren and their families, widows, and orphans. I feel big charity is better left to organizations created to handle that sort of thing.

    Like I said, it's just my opinion though. I felt compelled to say something about charity since it was brought up.
     
  15. Michael Hatley

    Michael Hatley Premium Member

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    I think your view is in the majority Brother, or at least thats what I've seen in my lodge. I get a number of responses to my rambles about charity from my Brothers pretty often (by that I mean Ive ran into these multiple times). In no particular order:


    1. Masonic charity should be mostly about our own Brethren and families
    2. Teach a man to be charitable rather than focus on charitable works
    3. Charity properly translated means "love", so "charity" means spreading "love" - not contributing as a group to "charities"
    4. Less is more - we should concentrate on guarding the west gate and be happy with smaller numbers, trying to "publicize" ourselves with public charitable efforts is distasteful
    5. We're already tired from doing fish fries and whatnot to support our building, please for Heaven's sakes no more fundraisers
    6. We shouldn't be about the business of deciding who a man donates his charitable time or money to
    7. The Shrine or Scottish Rite already does charity, they are better vehicles than Blue Lodge
    8. The ritual/history/traditional observance is the path forward and everything else is a distraction
    9. The potential arguments about what charity to get behind introduces disharmony into the lodge

    Those are the ones that come to mind.

    It is a whole lot of reasons why not to do it.

    The only ones I've got in response are that


    1. The visibility of good men doing good works can bring other good men to our table
    2. It is the right thing to do
    3. It feels good

    Feels like an uphill battle, truly. My thoughts are to start with an event whereby a group of us go volunteer our time on a Saturday to trash cleanups, feeding the homeless and whatnot and see if it takes.
     
  16. JJones

    JJones Moderator Staff Member

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    Your response was a bit of a relief, sometimes I'm a bit hesitant to give my opinion as I don't want to step on anyone's toes...especially since it's your thread. :p

    Things like this tend to be pretty local and I think that's great. Our lodge participates in the Adopt A Highway for the highway going through town and we also (try to) maintain the Veteran's Memorial in town. These are great ways to be seen and help make the community a better place. It's hard to get volunteers to help with these things but I've found that offering the brothers a good breakfast or lunch helps bribe, I mean encourage, them to come. ;)
     
  17. Michael Hatley

    Michael Hatley Premium Member

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    Well I freely admit that I'm a little quixotic about the whole thing. And as our lodge went through a heck of a time of trouble about the time I came in I witnessed first hand what a hell bent man in the East can do to empty the place out, and had to work pretty hard to try to reverse the exodus. So I'm very, very sensitive to the fact that peace and harmony really does come first. If my ideas sell, they sell. If they don't, I'll move on to other efforts. The will of the lodge, and of you, my Brethren, prevails. I'm just one fella.

    Worse case scenario I'll dedicate myself to the Shrine and their efforts with the hospitals down the road to fill that personal need within myself.

    Hmmmm - perhaps I can entice them with BBQ :laugh::laugh:
     
  18. widows son

    widows son Premium Member

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    I always felt the local is the most important and more than just donating money. Have you guys heard of the MasoniC.H.I.P. program?
     
  19. dfreybur

    dfreybur Premium Member

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    my wife and I love volunteering at CHIP events. Worst name ever for a service program though.
     
  20. widows son

    widows son Premium Member

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    Lol ya. When I first heard it was told to me as "chip" not the acronym. Long story short, I asked the brethren in my lodge about it during refreshment and my table erupted in laughter. But we've got about 51,000 kits in Ontario so far.
     

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