Freemasonry from the Edge – Tim Bryce brings a commanding presence of Masonic Leadership and wisdom on all aspects of the fraternity from the day to day operation of a lodge to the underpinnings of living the meaning of Masonry.
BRYCE ON FREEMASONRY – And what I remembered of them.
After being away a long time, I recently returned to my home lodge for a visit. Those of you who have followed my writings will remember why I left my lodge, primarily due to Freemasonry turning into a good old boys club as opposed to the fraternity it was intended to be.
I went back to my lodge to see a young man return his catechism in front of the Craft. This was a good man who I was pleased to sign his petition. I am somewhat old school in this regard. I believe if you sign a man’s petition, you should be there for him as he proceeds through the three degrees. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me and thinks nothing of deserting the Brother.
My friend was joined by three other Entered Apprentices who all returned their catechisms masterfully. I have obviously heard these words many times before and instructed several Brothers in this regard. Needless to say, listening to this was nice, but a wee bit boring. As I sat there, my mind started to drift away to years ago when I was in their shoes and returning my catechisms.
It was a slow night, and nobody was in the north. As I sat there staring at the empty seats, I began to imagine seeing the many lodge Brothers I had known over the years who made lodge meaningful to me, but had passed away in recent years.
There was my old mentor, Rome Scerbo, who I succeeded as Secretary; the three men on my Masonic investigation committee, Bill Brooks, Forrest McQuiston, and Herb Furman; the organist, Bob Haynes, who played “Happy Trails” as we closed the lodge; Bob Clarkson, the Treasurer who presented me my first Masonic pin; Bill McIntosh (senior and junior) who influenced my Masonic career; Dave Seidel, who was Treasurer when I was Secretary; Alex McColl, an old Scot with a wonderful singing voice; Charles Rongey, the lodge Historian who taught me a lot about the history of the lodge and the village; and many other side-liners who had served the lodge in a variety of capacities. They are all gone now, but in their day, they were the movers and shakers of the lodge.
Back then, when our lodge meeting was over, it was common for them to sit down, drink coffee, and talk about the lodge, their lives, and the world around them. It was here I discovered these were the people who truly tended to the business of the lodge, not the current sitting Master. If there was a problem that needed to be addressed, they took care of it. They leaned on one and other thereby creating an esprit de corps which I admired. Yes, they most definitely spoke “on the level.” These were men of honor, integrity, and teamwork. There was no interest in autocratic rule or accolades for personal glory.
Today though, when lodge is over, people bolt for the exit. The words spoken in the lodge room are the same today, but the spirit is different. I am still warmly greeted, but I get the unsettling feeling we are only going through the mechanics of Freemasonry as opposed to living Freemasonry.
I had the great honor of serving as Master for many of the ghosts during their Masonic funeral service. Maybe that’s why I am so sensitive to their spirit and see them sitting in lodge before me.
Now, I am one of the elders. As I looked around the lodge room, and heard the catechisms spoken, I noticed there were only three other men attending who served the lodge longer than myself. Everyone else was much younger.
As I sat in my chair, gathering my thoughts, I thought back to a time when the fraternity meant something more important than a good old boy’s club. People weren’t measured by a Masonic title or fancy apron, but simply by a plain white leather apron, a warm grip, and the word “Brother.”
BRYCE ON NEW “HOW TO” BOOK – It doesn’t require rocket science.
According to Bryce, “This is my fifteenth book, the purpose of which is to act as a guide to effectively run a nonprofit organization, be it a charitable, fraternal, religious, amateur sports, civic, social, veteran, political, professional trade, or homeowner/condominium association.” According to Bryce, he often hears from officers of such organizations, all complaining of the same problems, be it related to leadership, organization, membership, attendance, finances, records management, excessive politics, or whatever. He contends most of this is unnecessary and can be avoided with a little patience, common sense, and some good old-fashioned management.
There are obviously distinguishable nuances for each type of group, but this primarily resides in their mission statement. Otherwise, they are all fundamentally the same in terms of their operations and challenges.
Even worse, the press frequently writes horror stories of embezzlement, adversarial relationships with management companies, problems with lawyers, and primitive or nonexistent records management. True, these are fast-paced times in terms of changing technology, but it has always been so. However, Tim contends if you pay attention to the basics of management and have an eye for detail, you should be fine.
Bryce argues, “Let’s put our cards on the table; the biggest problem with most nonprofits is they are run by nice people, who mean well, but haven’t a clue as to what they are doing. This book is for anyone involved with a nonprofit, be it a new person, or someone about to assume an officer position. As such, it is a GREAT GIFT IDEA.”
Over the last 45 years, Tim has served on well over fifty Board of Directors for a multitude of nonprofits, serving in a variety of capacities, everything from President to Historian, Secretary, Finance Chairman, Division Director, Communications Chairman, and just a simple helper. As such, he hopes to describe the lessons he learned over the years. By profession, Bryce is also a management consultant who has taught planning, systems design, and project management to a wide variety of companies around the world.
This book is organized into the following sections:
CHAPTER 1 – A NONPROFIT IS A BUSINESS – some legalities to consider.
CHAPTER 2 – THE HUMAN SPIRIT – being sensitive to people.
CHAPTER 3 – MEETINGS – how to conduct properly.
CHAPTER 4 – MANAGING RECORDS & FINANCES – describing administrative details, including “checks and balances.”
CHAPTER 5 – COMMUNICATIONS – how to effectively communicate with the outside world.
CHAPTER 6 – BRYCE’S PLANNING SEMINAR – a special seminar to determine a nonprofit’s purpose and objectives.
CHAPTER 7 – PROJECT MANAGEMENT – how to plan, estimate, schedule, report and control projects.
CHAPTER 8 – ANOMALIES – describing difficult situations we often face in nonprofits, such as “Dealing with Deadbeats,” “Dealing with Politics,” “Management Companies,” handling “Vacancies in the Board,” “Improving membership and attendance,” “Feasibility Studies & Bids,” and much more.
Details on the Book:
ISBN: 9781082722172 151 pages Price: $15 for printed version; $7.50 for Kindle e-Book (ASIN: B07VNT61CM) or PDF versions. Published through Amazon, printed in the United States.
– Because we are not dedicated “for the good of the order.”
Shortly after I wrote a recent article regarding the problems my home owners association was experiencing, I received several notes regarding the problems in other nonprofit groups in my area. This includes fraternal, political, religious, club sports and other home owner groups. I know many of them as I have actively participated in them over the years, but today they all seem to be struggling to keep their heads above water. It appears most, if not all, are in a self-destruct mode, which caused me to wonder why.
Let’s put our cards on the table; the biggest problem with most nonprofits is they are run by nice people, who mean well, but haven’t a clue as to what they are doing. Many of these offices come with a fancy title, but offer little in terms of insight for performing the work. Very few provide training in how to run a nonprofit effectively. There are some state courses describing pertinent rules and regulations to be observed, but none to my knowledge in terms of how to actually lead and manage. Consequently, nonprofits flounder due to ineffective leadership, causing meetings to become chaotic, financial reports to be prepared with errors, and the attitude of the general membership suffers, causing a decline, all because it is well known management is incompetent. Even worse, stories of embezzlement and gross negligence have become common.
People who serve on the Board of Directors for nonprofits should only do so “for the good of the order,” meaning it has more to do with the overall group and less about the individual. In the early days of our country, the Congress consisted of representatives from farms and other businesses who took turns serving, and at the end of their term, were anxious to return home and tend to their farm or business. There was no thought of lifetime service as there is today. They came, they performed the nation’s business “for the good of the order,” and returned home. This simply is not so anymore.
Today we have people who serve only to fuel their ego or career. There are those who take on a position to give themselves visibility to promote their products and/or services. Of course, the membership has no interest in this, yet the individual persists in his/her agenda. Then there are others who look to add a feather in their cap which will look good on a resume. In Freemasonry, we call this “chasing aprons,” meaning they are actively pursuing fancy Masonic aprons and titles. Most of these people never accomplished much in life and thrive on the adulation associated with such recognition. I have always been of the opinion that such people should be given their apron, then get them out of the way so they do not impede progress.
Such conduct results in what today is called an “Ineptocracy,” an incompetent ruling government where the least capable are elected to positions of authority. Quite often, this is done not because the person has exhibited any special talent, but rather there is nobody willing to serve or, perhaps worse, “it’s his/her turn” to preside. Not surprising, people quite often rise above their level of competency (aka, “The Peter Principle”). This does a disservice to both the organization and the person as well. When a person has risen above their level of competency, it will become obvious to others and will likely affect morale.
Working “for the good of the order,” means you believe in the virtues of the group, that it serves a useful purpose, and that you possess something to help the group, be it a specific talent or you are willing to work in any capacity. This is an important point. If you are unwilling to get your hands dirty, you should not be serving on a Board of Directors. It is like the old saying, “talk is cheap.” The effort of ALL members of the board are required in order to be successful. It is one thing to offer advice, quite another to see it through to completion.
There is one other cause for failure, that people believe management is not “cool.” Translation: a person lacks the discipline, organization, and structure to effectively lead people and hold them accountable. This normally results in either one person doing all the work so others are not burdened, but more likely, everything falls through the cracks and chaos ensues.
Whoever leads a nonprofit, must set the proper tone from the beginning, including the “5-W’s and H,” meaning “Who” is assigned to “What” work, “When” and “Where” it must be performed and “Why.” As to “How,” there may be standard protocols, tools and techniques to be followed, but it may be time to upgrade them. This should be followed by a prioritized list of objectives for the nonprofit to pursue in the operating year.
This brings up an important point, I am a strong proponent of “Managing from the Bottom-Up,” meaning assign responsibility, train accordingly, and get out of their way. Unless there are specific time constraints requiring urgency, it is not necessary to micromanage everything. Most nonprofits are volunteer organizations, and as such, people typically want to go about their jobs without Attila the Hun breathing down their necks.
“Managing from the bottom-up” also includes the formation and empowerment of committees to perform specific functions, such as reviewing finances, planning social affairs, membership and programming, property maintenance, or special projects. By building legitimate committees, you are cultivating people to succeed to the Board over time. This is why they must be allowed to speak and think for themselves.
As I have said repetitively over the years, running a nonprofit organization doesn’t require rocket science. Actually, in most cases, it is quite simple. You need simple and responsible management; someone who knows the governing docs, Robert’s Rules of Order, and knows how to write an agenda and use a gavel. It is not necessary for the leader to have all the answers, but how to formulate the answers with the rest of the board.
One last responsibility the leader must master is to “do yourself out of a job.” Your tenure is typically brief, such as a year or two. Before you leave though, it is essential you have taught the Board to carry on without you. This is actually an on-going process beginning on the first day of your tenure. Take plenty of notes, perhaps a log of your activities, but also create or update checklists, job descriptions, governing docs (e.g., bylaws), and technical “how to” procedures.
The chaos within nonprofit groups these days has gotten worse because the leaders have either forgotten the basics of management or were never trained to begin with, or maybe worse, they’re in it for the wrong reasons, such as accolades. It is like they have come down with a bad case of “The Stupids.” All of this is so unnecessary. We must always remember, we are there to serve for “the good of the order,” and no other reason.
Freemasonry is steeped in history and ritual, but this doesn’t mean Masons lack a sense of humor (although I know a few whose faces would probably crack if they smiled). To demonstrate Masons do indeed have a sense of humor, I sent out a request over the Internet for some humorous anecdotes pertaining to the fraternity.
Give me golf clubs, fresh air and a beautiful partner, and you can keep the clubs and the fresh air.
Bro. Jack Benny, Waukegan Lodge No. 78 A.F.& A.M., Waukegan, IL
What follows are some true stories from the Brethren. I hope you will enjoy them:
FROM GEORGIA, USA
I found this quite funny and it happened last night. After a long night we were about to close the Lodge. The WM said,
“Bro. Senior Warden… Bro. Senior Warden… BRO. SENIOR WARDEN!” (who was off day dreaming). Suddenly, he came out of his trance and said, “It’s Time to Milk the GOAT!” Priceless.
FROM NEW ZEALAND
A few years ago, when I was chairman of the selection panel for the Freemasons Scholarships at the University of Waikato, one recipient, a young lass, was unable to attend the formal presentation because her studies had taken her on a field trip that weekend. I subsequently arranged for her and the District Grand Master to attend my Lodge so that he could present her certificate. She was accompanied by her grandfather (who is a Past Grand Sword Bearer), her father (who is not a Freemason) and a friend. We conducted our business, closed the Lodge then invited the visitors in where the District Grand Master did the appropriate honors.
We sat the lass at the top table in the refectory and, as we usually do, sold raffle tickets with the lass being presented with a few. The treasurer approached the young lady to draw for the first prize and as he approached her he commented, loudly, that it always seemed incredible to him how many times the person he asked to draw a ticket drew one of their numbers. It was not entirely obvious but it did seem as though he was trying to eyeball the tickets sitting on the table in front of her. When she actually drew one of her own numbers he was stunned! Some considerable hilarity resulted.
The next morning I received an e-mail from the lass thanking me for the Scholarship and our hospitality and requested, in particular, that I convey her thanks to the guy who rigged the raffle!
V:.W:.Bro Gary Kerkin, Grand Lecturer
On entering Masonry, I turned up at Lodge for my initiation full of the usual, worried, anxious and apprehensive thoughts about how it is going to be, what are they going to do, until it was time for me to be attired in the same manner as many who have gone before me.
The then DoC came to my aid outside the door of the lodge after being introduced briefly to members on their way in, giving me knowing looks, and sneaky grins about what is about to come.
This was in a back room of a hotel which we used for our Lodge. I got dressed as instructed, was checked and asked if I was ready for this, I was then blindfolded, when I heard a knock at the door, and was taken by the hand by what one of the deacons, who on raising his rod, clipped a light bulb on the ceiling and caused the whole hotel to fuse out and go into darkness. Of course I was already in this state of darkness, when he turned to me and said, “DON’T MOVE, I WILL BE RIGHT BACK.” I thought, “Don’t move?” I am already blindfolded, where did they expect me to go? The Brothers were all running around panicking about getting some light and order back to the Lodge and indeed the hotel.
I hope you find this as amusing as I did once I actually found out this is not part of any ceremony.
FROM QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA
One of our most respected Brethren in University of Queensland Lodge was W:.Bro. Arch Stoney, a long time lecturer at the University and a veteran Freemason. He retired at 83 but worked on until 87. Students, aware of his Masonic activities, described him in their magazine as “Killing himself by Degrees.”
Then there was the time when a Governor of Queensland and M:.W:.Grand Master of United Grand Lodge of Queensland took his team to an installation in a small country town. Prior to the meeting he attended a dinner at the local army base wearing his Colonel’s dress uniform. He kept this on when dressing for Lodge and the time arrived for him and team to enter in procession. The Grand D of C knocked and the young inexperienced Inner Guard responded. DC announced that M:.W:.Col X, Governor of Queensland was about to enter the Lodge and Brethren should prepare to receive him in due form. The Inner Guard, totally flustered, announced before the assembled Brethren, “WM, the Great Architect of the Universe seeks admission to this Lodge.”
Here’s another one: Many years ago my friend Don did his First in a Brisbane Lodge. He was a workshop technician in the University Chemistry Department and soon after his initiation the then Professor of Chemistry congratulated him and told him to be sure he was informed when the Second was due. Don duly informed him and the Professor asked him if he could attend the Lodge for the ceremony. In due course he drove his boss to the Masonic Temple but as they were entering he suddenly said, “Oh dear! I have just realized that never having sat with you in Lodge I cannot vouch for you.” The Professor chuckled and said he did not anticipate any problems. Don donned his plain white apron and the Professor put on a wondrous apron trimmed with gold and a very fancy collar. Fact is, he was the current Most Worshipful Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of Queensland.
Bro. Tom McRae
FROM NEW YORK, USA
At one of our hardworking Brother’s funeral service, as we passed a group of ladies standing near the coffin, one noticed our white gloves that we wear during the services. She stated, “This must be the Meals on Wheels group that Robert drove for,” referring to the gloves and aprons.
Bro. Leon Randall
FROM CALIFORNIA, USA
One night, the Stewards went out to prepare a candidate for Initiation. There was some delay in the preparation. It was later that we were told that the candidate didn’t, as a matter of course, wear any underwear. The candidate, was apparently so embarrassed, that he has yet to return for his advanced degrees.
Bro. Richard Mullard
FROM CONNECTICUT, USA
It was the final meeting before we break for summer, and it was a very hot and humid day in central Connecticut. Of course, our Lodge doesn’t have air conditioning, so the lodge room was quite stuffy. We had no degree work and only a little business to conduct, so the Master opened the lodge and all officers who had speaking parts went through the opening ritual with speed talk. Suffice it to say it was very funny to witness the opening and closing ritual spoken so fast. We all wanted to get out of that room as soon as possible because it was so uncomfortable, and it probably didn’t help matters that all members in attendance were laughing hysterically at the sped up ritual, putting more moisture in the air!!!
Bro. Scott McCarthy
FROM FLORIDA, USA
Here’s another “Hot One” for you…
We had a “Hot” MM degree about three years ago when our AC broke down. You can probably imagine how hot a Florida Lodge can get, particularly when it was held upstairs in the Lodge room. Fortunately, I sat on the sidelines in casual clothes, but the officers were all dressed up in tuxes and they melted. Everyone was sweating so bad that I took a role of Bounty towels and threw it around the room like a football (with the Master’s permission) so everyone could wipe their faces. It was brutal!
FROM MAINE, USA
A couple of funnies from when I was a member of Augusta Lodge No. 141, A.F.& A.M. in Maine (now part of Bethlehem Lodge No. 35 F.& A.M. (Ohio) of which I am still a member).
First, back at the turn of the last century, there used to be a small Lodge in a small town somewhere just north or Farmington, Maine. Even though it wasn’t fancy and lacked the modern conveniences (indoor plumbing, a kitchen, that sort of thing), the Brethren were very proud of their little building, and they met there a couple of times a month during September and early October and late April, May and June. In the winter they met once a month on the full moon (for the extra light at night since there was no such thing as electricity yet). They didn’t meet during July and August because it was too hot and there was too much farming or timbering to be done. In the cold winter months when the wind would howl and the snow would pile up, the little pot bellied wood burning stove kept them warm and cozy as they conducted their monthly meetings. Now these were men who believed in and practiced the tenets and principles of Freemasonry. Occasionally, they would have a little social where they could bring their wives, but this usually was on Sunday afternoons after church. Beyond that, no women were allowed in the building!
Now there was a little old lady who lived near the Lodge hall, and she was the source of consternation among the Brethren for years. Seems that during the winter months – and in Maine that’s November through April – this woman, we’ll call her Mrs. Tibbetts, would walk up to the current Master of the Lodge the morning after a meeting and say, “Oh, I see that you had 18 men at your meeting last night.” Sometimes the number was higher, and sometimes the number was lower, but Mrs. Tibbetts was always right. This went on for years, and drove the Brethren crazy. Every morning after a meeting the Master would dread Mrs. Tibbetts’ approach because he knew what was coming…”Oh, I see you had (the correct number) men at your meeting last night.” And darn it, she was right, but how did she know? Did she have a way of sneaking in the Lodge and spying on us?
Finally, as Mrs. Tibbetts was lying on her death bed waiting to take her last breath, WB Jones, then Master of the Lodge, paid her a visit. Without nary a moment’s hesitation, he asked, “For all these years you’ve told us, without fail and without an error, how many Brethren we had attending the previous night’s meeting. How did you do it? Where was your spy hole? I’ve got to know.” Well, Mrs. Tibbets looked up at the perplexed and frustrated man and smiled. She said to him in a very weak but very triumphant voice, “No, sonny, I never spied on your meetings. But it was easy enough to tell how many of you men were there. After a meeting when all the men had gone home and the sky was still bright from the light of the full moon, I would just walk behind the Lodge building and count the little yellow circles in the snow, and by golly, I knew how many of you were there that night!” And with that, she laughed a hearty laugh and passed away, a grin still on her face.
This next one was told by Peter C. Schmidt, PGM and Past Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Maine. He always made himself the object of the story…
MWB Schmidt used to have speaking engagements all around the state. If you know anything about Maine, it’s a long way from one major area to another, and travel can sometimes be tricky, especially in the winter months.
One particularly cold winter’s evening, MWB Schmidt had to leave his home near Portland for a speaking engagement in Bangor, normally a little over a couple of hours away. Now MWB Schmidt was not known for his maintaining the posted speed limit. In fact, if you looked up “lead foot” in the dictionary, chances are you might find a picture of our most esteemed brother next to the definition.
But on this particular evening, MWB Schmidt was running extremely late and really didn’t want to disappoint his Brethren in Maine’s second largest city. So he got on the Maine Turnpike, pressed the pedal to the floor and headed north. He was making great time until he passed Freeport. He looked into his rearview mirror and saw the flashing lights of a state police car. MWB Schmidt pulled over, got his license and registration ready and waited for the officer. The state trooper tapped on the window and MWB Schmidt rolled it down.
“License and registration, please,” the trooper said.
MWB Schmidt handed the documents to the officer and while he was examining them, MWB Schmidt asked the trooper if he was a Traveling Man.
“Indeed I am,” was the reply.
“Sir, I am Peter Schmidt, the current Grand Master of Masons in Maine, and I am going to be very late for a meeting in Bangor. Can you help me out?” our Most Worshipful Brother asked.
“Well, I’ll let you go this time but keep your speed down,” the trooper replied. “And it was a pleasure to meet you, MWB Schmidt.”
Once again, MWB Schmidt headed north and as soon as he felt comfortable that he was way past the trooper, he pressed the pedal to the metal. He whizzed past Augusta and was now about an hour or so away. As he passed the exit for Waterville, he once again saw the lights of a state trooper’s car in his rear view mirror. Again, MWB Schmidt pulled over, got his license and registration out and waited for the officer. Tap, tap, tap on the window. “License and registration, please.”
“Are you a Traveling Man?”
“Yes, I am.”
Well, after a brief exchange, MWB Schmidt was let off with just a warning. And again, as soon as he was sure it was OK, MWB Schmidt let his foot do the talking, so to speak.
“I’m making great time,” he thought. “Only a half hour away.”
The exit for Bangor was now only a couple of miles away.
“I’m going to be almost on time!” MWB Schmidt thought. Suddenly there were the lights of another police vehicle visible in his mirror.
“Here we go again,” he thought.
Once again, he pulled over, got his license and registration ready and waited for the inevitable tap on the window.
“License and registration, please,” the trooper stated.
“Are you a Traveling Man?” MWB Schmidt asked.
“Yes, I am” was the reply.
Once again, MWB Schmidt identified himself, and pleaded his case. But this time the officer began writing a ticket.
“Officer, Why are you writing that? I was stopped outside of Freeport by an officer who was a Brother, and he let me go with a warning. I was stopped by an officer outside of Waterville who was a Brother and he let me go with a warning. Why are issuing me a ticket?”
The officer looked at MWB Schmidt very calmly and with just the hint of a grin on his face and replied.
“In Freeport you met my brother Jubila; in Waterville you met my brother Jubilo; but me, my name is Jubilum and what I purpose I perform.”
And with that, the officer finished writing, tore the ticket from his book, gave it to our Grand Master and wished him a safe journey.
W:.Jeff Kaplan, PM
FROM OHIO, USA
Probably the longest-running gag is for someone to slightly unscrew one of the light bulbs in one or two of the Lesser Lights. Sometimes, the switch will be thrown in conjunction with the slightly unscrewed bulb. Of course, during the opening of Lodge, the tampered-with lights fail to come on when the Senior Deacon flips the switch, and with embarrassment he has to screw in the bulb, flip the switch, etc. to fix the “problem.” Harmless but humorous to some “sideliners” or PM’s with too much time on their hands! (Of course, this gag is NEVER pulled during “special” meetings when dignitaries are present.)
Another fun gag is to unscrew the handle from the gavel of one of the officers. It is humorous to some of us when the gavel-head goes flying when the officers raps!
Sometimes, accidents are funny… Once, during an Annual Inspection (Ohio Lodges are inspected for proficiency annually), our Worshipful Master picked up his gavel with a nervous sweaty hand to give a rap. Upon rapping, the gavel handle squirted out of his sweaty hand and went flying into the floor directly in front of him. A helpful Brother, discreetly as possible, retrieved the gavel for him. Many muffled snickers were heard!
One of the funniest (to me now, not at the time) was a gag played on me by a couple of men on the Fellowcraft team during the Second Section of the MM – at our Annual Inspection! These two guys (JA and JO) were baldheaded fellows who got my wife to draw smiley-faces on their heads with her lipstick. Their heads were covered during the degree up until the point where they kneel to confess their deeds. After confession, these two hoodlums bowed their heads and their head coverings fell away, revealing the smiley faces on top of their bald heads! I had to take a couple extra breaths before proceeding with the ritual, when there was heard several muffled snickers around the room! Even the District Deputy Grand Master (my examining officer) was in on the gag! This story still surfaces when a bunch of us are sitting around reliving Lodge meetings of the past… even after 25 years!
The most enjoyable part of going to Lodge is the fellowship before and after Lodge. We have a comfortable sitting room where we have coffee or soft drinks and sit and swap stories and jokes. I have gone home after Lodge many times with aching sides. We have some very accomplished joke-tellers in our Lodge!
– Anonymously submitted
PLEASE NOTE: I’m still collecting Masonic humor. If you’ve got a story you would like to share with the Craft, please do not hesitate to e-mail it to me.
Keep the Faith.
Freemasonry From the Edge
Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company(M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:
Article reprinted with permission of the author and www.FreemasonInformation.com
Please forward me a copy of the publication when it is produced.
BRYCE ON BUSINESS Common sense is no longer common in the work place (and some lessons for Masonic Lodges).
Probably the main reason why Scott Adams’ “Dilbert” comic strip enjoys the popularity it does is because it is a clever parody of the corporate world. It now appears in hundreds of newspapers around the world. As readers, we can relate to the corporate situations the characters are put in and the inevitable results. What is considered logical and practical is often sacrificed to suit petty personality traits. The underlying theme in the strip is that common sense is not common in the corporate world.
I have assembled a list of items as found in business and compare and contrast how they should be applied in practice (common sense) versus how they are applied in reality. This provides some interesting insight into the philosophy of our corporate culture. Who knows, this might be nothing more than fodder for Scott Adams.
Common Sense: Impressions make a difference as people react to our appearances. How we dress and act send subliminal messages to the people we meet and work with, but we must be wary of facade; an actor rarely assumes the characteristics of the people they portray. The same is true in business; looks will carry you for a while but you have to be able to produce results in order to achieve the confidence and respect you desire.
Reality: Appearances and conduct are no longer considered important. A lot of managers are grateful simply because employees show up for work on time. Slovenly looks are often not disciplined accordingly. Our appearances also influence behavior; if we look bad, we typically lack respect for ourselves and others and treat them accordingly; looking better promotes pride and self-respect.
Common Sense: Our perceptions, right or wrong, dictate our actions. Whether we perceive a situation correctly or not is irrelevant; we will act according to how we see a situation. Knowing this, we should make every effort to correctly interpret a situation so we make the right decision and take the appropriate action.
Reality: We see only what we want to see. Little effort is made to clarify a situation and act on impulses.
Common Sense: The brain should be fully engaged in order to strive to achieve.
Reality: Companies establish working environments that do not stimulate thought. They prefer to have human robots as opposed to encouraging people to exhibit a little initiative.
Common Sense: The only good business relationship is where both parties benefit. The intent should be to create “win-win” situations where both parties prosper, not just one. This promotes cooperation and trust.
Reality: Its a dog-eat-dog world out there. Most companies have little regard for vendors and customers, let alone partners. “Win-lose” situations are still the norm today.
Common Sense: Talk and write to communicate, not to impress. An eloquent vocabulary tends to alienate as oppose to recruiting support for your argument. As such, it is important to know your audience.
Reality: Pompous speeches using a seemingly cryptic language does, in fact, impress people. Your audience may not understand what you are talking about, but they will be buffaloed into believing you. Don’t have any new ideas? Just change the vocabulary and make people believe you have invented a new idea.
Common Sense: All companies have a culture, a way by which their people think and behave. In order for new employees to succeed, they must adapt to the culture or face rejection (e.g., people refusing to work with them).
Reality: New people care little for the thinking and behavior of others. They believe they know better and act like loose cannons.
Common Sense: The customer is treated like a king. By providing excellent service, the customer will offer referrals (new business) as well as repeat business.
Reality: The customer is treated like sheep. By creating bureaucracy, consumers have learned not to expect too much and realize objections are exercises in futility. By vendors creating an aura that their products are “state of the art,” people will react like Pavlov’s dog and purchase the latest gizmo upon its announcement (usually sight unseen).
Common Sense: Business decisions should be based on sound logical facts, such as a Cost/Benefit Analysis with “return on investments” and “break even points.” People are typically not afraid of taking a risk if the facts are presented to them clearly.
Reality: Business decisions are based on emotions with an appeal to the frailties of the human ego, e.g., greed, stature, perks, etc. Politicians and marketers have known this for years, which is why Government initiates actions based on polls as opposed to what is really needed. People are not afraid of taking risks since they know liberal government bankruptcy laws will bail them out in case of failure.
Common Sense: If something is important, write it down. By doing so, we are providing the means for companies to carry on in the event of a catastrophe or a turnover in personnel.
Reality: Rarely is anything written down, particularly designs as it is considered a waste of time. Without documentation, people such as engineers promote job security; e.g., they cannot be fired since they maintain the designs in their heads.
Common Sense: Information is not synonymous with data. Information is the knowledge or intelligence required to support the actions and decisions of a business. People act on information, not data. Data is the raw material used to produce information. Consequently, data should be cataloged so that it may be shared and reused to produce the necessary information.
Reality: Information and data are treated as being synonymous. Rarely is data shared and reused outside of a single computer program. As a result, data redundancy runs rampant in business causing end-users to question the integrity of information from which it is based.
Common Sense: Tell the truth; if you don’t you’ll eventually get caught in a lie which could potentially cost the company business.
Reality: Lying is considered an acceptable form of behavior. In other words, say or promise anything to secure a contract. Let the corporate lawyers figure out later what to do if entanglements ensue.
Common Sense: Lead by example. Never ask someone to do something you are not prepared to do yourself. This will earn you the respect of your workers.
Reality: Most managers have little sensitivity for the type of work their people have to perform. In fact, they prefer a master/slave relationship thereby elevating their ego.
Common Sense: Create an environment that empowers employees and treat them like professionals, thereby giving them a sense of purpose. An empowered employee will be more dedicated and loyal to the company.
Reality: Promise recruits anything, sweat them, then let them go at the end of the assignment. Let us also not forget, employees will jump from job to job. Free-agency saw to that.
Common Sense: Insist on a clean work environment thereby forcing employees to be more disciplined and organized. By doing so, it will be easier to find and manage things, such as products, parts, and paperwork.
Reality: “A cluttered desk is the sign of a brilliant mind” is the normal cop out. By maintaining a pigsty, it is harder for managers to find out what the employee is up to.
Common Sense: Plan and set goals, but recognize that change is constant. As such, it is necessary to be flexible to adjust and adapt to changing conditions.
Reality: Plans are often cast in concrete thereby making it impossible to accommodate change. If a change is requested, blame the developers of the plan. Oh yea, don’t forget to print plans on fancy paper so it might impress others.
Common Sense: Treat problems, not symptoms. To get to the root of a problem, work backwards until you come to the starting point. Still can’t find it? Work forward, from start to end. Better yet, have a second pair of eyes look it over.
Reality: Treat symptoms, not problems. Apply Band-Aids where tourniquets are really needed (thereby pacifying the situation for the moment). Companies tend to develop a punchlist of symptoms and than take a shotgun approach to diagnosing them. Further, corrections are rarely delivered for free but, instead, are issued as updates (for a price).
Common Sense: Build quality into the product during development. By breaking the development process into stages, the product can be reviewed and inspected in increments. By doing so, it is rather easy to backup and correct the problem upon discovery. A quality-built product requires less time to maintain and, as such, reduces maintenance costs.
Reality: Companies inspect products after they have been built, normally by people unfamiliar with the processes and tools used to create the product. The rationale here is that it is seemingly cheaper to discard a product afterwards as opposed to during the development process. The cost of quality is normally bundled into the price of the product, thereby customers assume the price for corrections, not the company.
Common Sense: Share and reuse parts of products. By doing so, it reduces development costs and promotes integration between products. Further, it simplifies maintenance of products through the use of standardized parts.
Reality: Sharing and reuse is avoided (primarily due to the “Not Invented Here” phenomenon). Consequently, considerable redundancy ensues, both in terms of parts and the labor required to redesign each part. The resulting overhead is buried in the price of the product.
Common Sense: The best solutions are the simple solutions. Complicated solutions add to the expense of a project or a product (as well as the time to develop them). Do what is practical, not necessarily what is elegant.
Reality: Companies tend to prefer complicated solutions since they tend to pacify inflated egos or as part of a shell game in marketing the product. Complicated solutions inevitably add costs to the product (as well as markups).
Common Sense: A team of players can outperform any individual effort. As such, companies should be promoting teamwork and a spirit of cooperation.
Reality: Companies offer rewards for individual initiative (not teamwork), thereby resulting in a spirit of competition as opposed to cooperation. The thinking here is along the lines of “natural selection” as contained in Darwin’s theory of evolution whereby the individual with the strongest characteristics climbs to the top of the heap.
Common Sense: Technology should be applied in business on a basis of cost effectiveness. An elegant solution to the wrong problem solves nothing.
Reality: Technology is purchased by companies to “Keep up with the Jones” or as a status symbol. Rarely is it ever purchased for practical business purposes. Companies have been so conditioned to purchase technology, it is like taking their morning vitamin pill; a habit they believe is good for them. This train of thought is so pervasive today that technology often supersedes management. In other words, we do not try to manage our way out of a problem, we throw technology at it instead (this way, when something goes wrong, we can blame the technology).
Common Sense: Do your own work. Give credit where credit is due.
Reality: Piracy is an acceptable form of behavior. It is quite common for employees to take intellectual property from one company to another as they move from job to job. Let the lawyers fight it out if a problem ensues.
Common Sense: Stay focused on the work product (the result or deliverable) and doggedly see something through to completion with your best effort, thereby creating pride in workmanship. Further, accept constructive criticism so that we can learn and improve. Our goal, as employees, is to become craftsmen in our area of expertise.
Let us also not forget that everything begins with a sale. Without a sale, there is no customer service, no development, nada.
Reality: People will only work on those items they deem important, in no particular priority. Further, people like to “rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic” and, by doing so, try to make things look better on the surface than they really are. This is usually done by juggling the books. Companies avoid tackling major projects for two reasons; first, they no longer possess the management skills to accomplish the work, and second; rewards and systems of remuneration are based on a short-term mentality.
THE HUMAN SPIRIT
Common Sense: Since the inception of our company in 1971, the underlying theme in our methodologies and writings is the recognition of the vital role the human being plays in business. You have heard us say on numerous occasions:
* Everything begins and ends with the human being. * Systems are for people * Business is about people, not numbers. * Information is for people, not for the computer. * We accomplish projects through people. * Our corporate slogan: “Software for the finest computer – the Mind”
Knowing this, there should be greater respect for the human spirit and, as such, we should be sharpening our people skills as opposed to our technical skills. Technology will always have a role to play, but humans should never become subservient to it.
Reality: The human element is too often overlooked or forgotten. Technology is having an adverse effect on our social skills. For example, we can now electronically contact just about anyone anywhere on the planet, but we do not know how to effectively communicate or work with others. Some people believe the ideal business is one run totally by machines and not by people, thereby affording us more leisure time, a sort of “business in a closet.” But as long as we have people as customers, people as vendors, and need people to execute projects, we should always respect the dignity of the human spirit.
Some would suggest the Common Sense items listed above are naive concepts; that business doesn’t work this way. They are probably right, but then again, this is what makes “Dilbert” so funny. We all look for Common Sense in the work place, but are no longer surprised when things go awry. Consequently, these Common Sense items are considered “Uncommon” in today’s world.
I’ll close with one final Common Sense maxim admonished by my grandmother years ago which I have always found to be true, “In every person’s life, you must eat at least one spoonful of dirt.”
First published: September 18, 2006. Updated 2019.
Keep the Faith!
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.
Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
BRYCE ON NONPROFITS What is more important, the institution or our vanity?
As a follow-up to my recent column on “Do Just One Thing,” I want to describe another problem involving nonprofit organizations, and that is “Chasing Aprons.” This is an expression derived from Freemasonry, the ancient fraternity. For those unfamiliar with the Craft, it is customary for Masons to wear a plain white leather apron at our meetings, symbolizing the aprons worn by workmen years ago. We are admonished there is nothing more ancient or honorable than the plain white apron, yet there are other more decorative aprons awarded as gifts to Masonic officers. Over the years, such aprons have become coveted as a means of identifying a Mason of influence. Unfortunately, some Masons desperately pursue these ornate aprons only to denote their authority, not for accomplishing anything of substance, hence the expression “Chasing Aprons.”
The Masons are not alone in this regards as I have seen similar situations in other nonprofit groups. For example, I remember attending a party when I moved into my neighborhood and a man approached me with some swagger saying, “Hi, I’m John Doe, President of the homeowner association” (it was kind of like, “Hi, I’m the Head Raccoon”). He winked at me, then turned away to glad hand someone else. Frankly, I burst out laughing as he thought he was impressing me. In reality, this same gentleman ran the homeowner association right into the ground and nearly bankrupted it.
At some of the I.T. related associations I was involved in, there would be the usual officer titles, such as President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer, but then there are higher titles such as “Division Director” as you now oversaw several chapters as opposed to just one. There are other names for this, such as “District Deputy” or “Inspector,” but you get the idea. Such titles denote a loftier position and are either given to people to perform a legitimate responsibility or awarded as gifts to cronies.
I have seen people “Chasing Aprons” in just about every nonprofit group I’ve been involved in, be it fraternal, political, professional, educational, even in sports clubs, such as those related to baseball, softball, football and soccer.
I have found people who covet such titles tend to be more consumed with the title, and less about the responsibility associated with it. This is essentially no different than in business where people yearn for a job title for political reasons as it will look good on a resume. I tend to see such people as rather shallow. They never accomplished anything of substance in their life, so the appeal for recognition through titles and aprons is irresistible to them. Whenever I run into people like this, who obviously don’t know what they are doing, I tell others to give the person the title or apron and get them out of the way as they will only inhibit progress.
As an aside, I wonder how many people would volunteer their service if there wasn’t a title or apron involved? It would be an interesting experiment to see if people care more about the institution they belong to or are in it for themselves.
Obviously, this is all about the human ego. In Freemasonry, we are taught the importance of the title of “Brother” as it is a fraternity, a Brotherhood. There are many other impressive sounding titles associated with the Masons, but nothing more important than the simple designation of “Brother” and the plain white leather apron.
Just remember, being called a “thoroughbred” doesn’t change the fact that a jackass is a jackass.
Keep the Faith!
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.
Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
BRYCE ON NONPROFITS What can be done to rebuild declining nonprofit institutions?
When I travel around town these days, I often run into old friends and neighbors who know my background regarding nonprofit organizations (I served on +50 board of directors over the years), and they like to unload their frustrations on me. For example:
The president of a homeowner association complained he had to serve a second term simply because they couldn’t find anyone interested in serving on the board and perform some relatively simple tasks. Consequently, they were forced to hire a management company to perform these tasks and the annual dues skyrocketed. Operating an HOA is certainly not rocket science, but if nobody is willing to perform these simple tasks, then they have to be delegated to an outside contractor.
A local club for a major political party is also having problems attracting people to their Board of Directors. Further, not long ago, participation in parades was well attended and gave the club visibility in the community. This year, they could only attract four people to walk in the Xmas parade, an embarrassingly low number.
Masonic lodges continue to shrink in size in my area. Instead of addressing the root cause of their problems, membership continues to diminish, and Lodge funds are being drained to maintain aging building structures. It’s just a matter of time before they disappear just like the Odd Fellows did in our area.
Information Technology related associations for adults have disappeared. Back in the day, professional trade groups enjoyed a major presence in cities, such as the Association for Systems Management (ASM), the Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP; formerly DPMA), and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Today, these groups are non-existent in the Tampa Bay area (as well as my old stomping grounds in Cincinnati). ACM does maintain student related chapters, but nothing for adults in my area. Other trade groups are experiencing similar problems.
Attendance at local churches are down. So much so, some have been running in the red for quite a while and are faced with tough decisions for cutting costs, including the firing of pastors. Further, due to lack of participation, the elders have to serve multiple terms.
Volunteers for public schools are hard to come by these days, not only for general school activities, but for local Parent Teacher Associations (PTA), and School Advisory Councils (SAC).
Little League programs have shrunk noticeably. In my area alone, children participating have dropped over 50% over the last few years.
It kind of sounds contagious, doesn’t it? So many different nonprofit organizations with similar problems.
In many cases, nonprofits are run by well meaning people who have some time on their hands, yet haven’t a clue as to how to run a business. Consequently, the execution of simple procedures are neglected, e.g.; the preparation of meeting agendas and budgets, issuing routine treasurer reports, auditing finances, or keeping accurate minutes and membership records. For a list of tasks, see my earlier article, “Managing a Nonprofit Organization.”
I guess I have become somewhat of a therapist on such problems as people continue to confide in me. I try to advise them accordingly, but the sad truth is the people running these organizations are frustrated and exhausted. They desperately want to hand the baton off to others, but there is nobody there.
Now and then in nonprofits, someone with a business background comes in, takes the bull by the horns, and does a good job with an assignment. The problem is, it is assumed the person will do it again next year, and possibly for eternity. With rare exception, this is not what people signed up for. To overcome this problem, ask the person to document the steps they used while they were in charge, perhaps through checklists, thereby documenting the procedure for future reference. The person thereby passes this knowledge on to the group overall, and someone else can perform the responsibility. Bottom-line, execution is fairly easy assuming planning is competently performed.
From my perspective, there are three fundamental problems facing nonprofits:
Apathy by both the officers and membership who genuinely do not believe a problem exists. The old maxim applies: “You cannot treat a patient if he doesn’t know he is sick.” Such apathy suggests incompetent leadership from the Board of Directors.
As an aside, I tend to believe our excessive use of personal technology shares part of the blame in terms of apathy as people are more imbued with their technology and are losing socialization skills, including volunteering their services.Organizations are stuck in a rut of repetition. They have been doing it wrong for so long, they believe it is right. Instead of making the programs meaningful and interesting, there is little or no imagination to adapt and improve. Again, this suggests incompetence by the Board of Directors.
Failure to recruit and train people to succeed the current administration. People today are less inclined to volunteer as in the past. Now, is the time to personally ask for assistance, indoctrinate them in one aspect, and empower them to conquer problems. Start by asking people to serve on committees. To get the ball rolling, simply make a list of committees and tasks, and get everyone’s name on it. To gain their commitment, have them sign their name.
As to this last point of recruiting support, during my talks to such groups I generally admonish all of the attendees to “Do just one thing.” This is derived from Billy Crystal’s movie, “City Slickers,” whereby Curley (Jack Palance) tells Billy’s character the meaning of life involves “Just One Thing” which we must all figure out for ourselves. In terms of nonprofit organizations, I think I have an answer:
If all members did “Just One Thing” for their club, it would be a better place. I am not suggesting we do anything extremely labor intensive; perhaps it is something as simple as being a greeter at the door, preparing name tags, attending a meeting or social function, helping to write letters, or just helping out in some simple way. If we all did “Just One Thing,” the institution overall would be a better place.
Something that might help is the creation of a “Member of the Year” competition based on points for service, and award prizes or special recognition at the end of the year for their service. It sounds trivial, but people react to such competitions. Simply devise a list of activities with related points, and have people notify an officer of their activities.
Where is it written the club Officers must do all of the work? Sure, they have many responsibilities, but it is the job of the officers to formulate objectives and set the membership to work towards some goals. I am amazed by those members who come to such clubs and are not happy with this or that. For example, how often have you seen a member criticize the club, yet make no attempt to lift a finger to help out? We have developed into a generation of “takers” as opposed to “givers,” and this has to stop. Before you criticize next time, figure out how YOU are going to help solve the problem. Do not be part of the problem, be part of the solution.
I guess the following quote sums it up:
“People can be divided into three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.” – John W. Newbern
It is up to the membership, not just the Board of Directors, to each share in the responsibility of making our clubs successful. If we all did “JUST ONE THING,” be it large or small, think how far ahead we will be.
Keep the Faith!
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.
Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
He liked my article and shared with me his outgoing Annual Report & Valedictory Address as Grand Master, a very illuminating read. He has given me permission to share it herein. I hope you enjoy it. – Tim Bryce
Rank, Regalia and Regulations vs. Rites, Rituals and Reflections
by Jacques Huyghebaert
Grand Master’s Annual Report & Valedictory Address
Prague, 26th April 2015
As I am at the end of my Grand Master’s term and am submitting to you my final report, allow me to share with you some reflections on the nature of Freemasonry, its current state in the world in general and in the Czech Republic in particular.
I cannot but observe that for the last 70 years Freemasonry has witnessed a continuous numerical decline, losing over 50% of its members worldwide.
The trend has been particularly strong in the U.S.A. in the U.K. and in the English speaking world, where recruitment of new members has reached an all time low and at a time when the average age of Freemasons is now reported to be above 65. The future of the Craft looks grim in some of these countries…
In contrast, in Continental Europe and in Latin America, where for over two centuries Brethren had been subjected to religious and political persecutions, Freemasonry has since the end of World War II, seen its membership steadily grow. Age distribution among the Brethren is balanced. Old prejudices and lies against Freemasonry have faded away, while public interest and respect for the Order are growing.
What are the reasons behind these evolutions? What is it that makes the two situations different ? Are we in the presence of two distinct types of Freemasonry? I will now review the negative and the positive elements of the situation and suggest a constructive approach to strengthen the genuine values of Freemasonry.
For the general public, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, Freemasonry has in the past generally been associated with elite, high rank and public respectability, having counted among its members Kings, Princes, Heads of Government as well as artists, scientists, academics and eminent members of every class of society.
Today however, Freemasonry is sometimes described by non-masons as an out-dated institution, whose members continue to dress in an old fashioned way, wearing gold chains and medals, richly embroidered regalia, parading in solemn processions, using pompous titles and spending their time at the performance of formal ceremonies.
The question that arises is: what that is sufficiently attractive has such a type of organization to offer, in the context of today’s society, to an educated, dynamic mature person, that he would wish to attend Lodge once or twice a month in 2015?
Statistical figures in England. show that for the last 30 years, 4 out of 5 new Brethren, have been leaving Freemasonry within the 5 years following their admission.
This fact demonstrates without any possible doubt that the expectations of 80% of the candidates joining Freemasonry have not been satisfied, resulting in disappointment, followed more or less automatically by their resignation from the Craft.
RITES AND RITUALS
Rites and Rituals are not limited to Freemasonry, they are a universal feature appearing in all human societies, they exist from times immemorial.
Burial sites, found all over the world, confirm that already in prehistoric times, as distant as 100,000 years ago, the corpse of a dead person would be placed, in accordance with certain rules, in a tomb constructed for that purpose, or in a grave intentionally dug into the earth, along with various objects, thus giving the proof of the existence of established burial practices, funeral rites and ceremonies going back to the dawn of mankind and the very emergence of Homo Sapiens.
Solemn ceremonies in ancient times were usually performed in the context of the rites and rituals of prevailing religions and cults, being traditionally associated with major life events such as birth, coming of age, marriage and death.
Rites and rituals were at the root of cultural behaviors governing society by formalizing relationships within the family, tribe and nation.
While in its Masonic sense the word “rite” refers to a system or an organization, covering a number of degrees and ceremonies, like the Scottish or the York Rites, the word “ritual” deals more particularly about the content of the ceremonial activities.
A rite or ritual can be described as an established usually solemn ceremony or act, requiring a particular dress code, performed in a customary way, and consisting in a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, taking place in a particular place, usually a Masonic Temple or Lodge Hall, according a prescribed order, form and manner, governing both words and actions.
Speculative Freemasonry from its inception in the early 18th century has been characterized by the paramount importance of ritualization in its activities.
REGALIA AND RANK
In addition to masonic rites and rituals, without which it would be difficult for most of us to imagine our Lodge meetings, our ceremonies and degree work are characterized by the impressive place which our customs have conferred to regalia, rank and titles.
Regalia is a Latin word which covered originally the emblems or insignia of royalty, especially the crown, the scepter, and other ornaments used at a coronation.
Each and every Mason begins his career with a plain white apron, to remind him that Masonry regards no man on account of his worldly wealth or honors.
This ritual symbolism is intended to signify to us that the internal and not the external qualities of candidates are the criteria that have to be examined for initiation.
Yet, despite official pretensions of humility, and the ritual statement that Freemasons are equal and meet on the level, concretely, generations of Brethren have been dressing up in impressive ceremonial clothes, eagerly wearing elaborate aprons, collars, gauntlet-cuffs and gloves, as well as breast jewels, medals, gold or silver embroidered paraphernalia and sashes richly adorned with symbols.
The wearing in Lodge of distinctive clothing and costumes, ornaments and regalia on formal occasions is inextricably linked with Freemasonry and still carries a paramount meaning to a vast number of senior Freemasons as the indication and recognition of their pre-eminent hierarchical status, rank and position in the Lodge and the Order.
Important masonic ceremonies are still largely conducted with the pomp and luster of customs and traditions passed down from our 18th century predecessors directly to us, but many of which already existed in medieval pageants and religious liturgy. By contemporary 21st century standards, as existing in developed countries of the world, however we need to ask ourselves if, not only in the eyes of non masons, but also of potential candidates, these old dress codes traditions and usages have not become ostentatious and grotesque remains of a bygone, obsolete age.
THE TRADITIONAL TOP-DOWN HIERARCHY
Characteristics of the authoritarian model:
From the top of the ladder, when looking down, you see a lot of “shit”
From below, you only see “assholes”
Is this the type of Grand Lodge that we want for the future?
RULES AND REGULATIONS
We hear from time to time that Freemasonry is an Order based on hierarchy, where power is vested at the top, while we members are expected to obey and abide cheerfully by all the rules, regulations, edicts and decrees made by our leaders.
While earlier pyramidal forms of government, based on the assumed superiority of its heads, had been the rule for the major part in the history of mankind, the authoritarian model was first challenged and then progressively abolished from the 18th century onwards, except in parts of the world ruled by tyrants and dictators.
The development of speculative Freemasonry has taken place in parallel indeed with the spread of egalitarian principles of Human Rights, and with the ideals of freedom and justice, dear to all Freemasons, which characterize our modern world.
What had been earlier be immutable justification for the divine, royal or natural right invoked by the very few who preside at the top and command, and the imperative duty to obey applicable for the rest of us, materialized in the difference between the high and the low social classes, determining in an absolute manner the relations between men and women, parents and children — is now nearly universally rejected.
The patriarchal role of the wise and experienced man, the teacher and the professional craftsman have been seriously eroded, as we have lost confidence in the relevance of the former codes of dominance and their associated beliefs and behaviors.
As deep, far reaching and rapid social and technological changes have been taking place during the 20th century, authoritarian government stereotypes appear generally today as outmoded, inefficient and inappropriate models.
In contrast with the public trend promoting casual dress codes, simple and informal social relations, including at work, we should examine whether the corollary of the great importance given by Freemasons to rank and title is perhaps not that our Fraternity, in some jurisdictions at least, is at risk of being the victim of too much hierarchy and abusive use of personal power by individuals.
Worse: has the image of poor internal fraternal relations, crippling the reputation of some Grand Lodges, caused by excessive authoritarianism, not become a deterrent for potential candidates to join Freemasonry as well as a direct reason for a number of disgruntled Brethren to resign their masonic membership?
Is it not true, on the contrary, that as genuine Masons, and as taught in our ritual, we should systematically meet on the level and always remember that we are Brethren!
In accordance with the masonic principles which we proclaim, and using common sense, let’s keep administration, bureaucracy, rules, and regulations as light as possible, while encouraging peer-to-peer teamwork, consensus and friendship between the Brethren, the Lodges, the Grand Officers and Grand Lodge.
Thus we will be able to focus on Freemasonry itself and enjoy its benefits.
RITUAL AS A SIGNIFICANT AND MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCE
It’s obvious that, if so many men join the Craft, then leave, it’s because when they get in expectations aren’t met.
The common sense thing is to find out why people join, what were/are their expectations before joining the Craft and deliver on that — if it fits.
From the outside, Freemasonry has a sense of mystery and wonder; that there is something valuable to be gained from membership.
Candidates simply don’t get this when they get in. The Masonic ritual is often delivered at ceremonies in superficial, mostly rote ways. New Brethren are asked to start memorizing the ritual, without having been informed in advance about this requirement and without receiving proper Masonic education after initiation.
The on-going trend followed by several Grand Lodges of wanting to ‘change in line with society’ and to recruit and retain members isn’t working.
The recipe to save Freemasonry is to reconnect it with its deeper purpose.
The answer is not to change Freemasonry.
The answer is to understand what Freemasonry is at its core.
WE HAVE ONLY ONE LIFE!
Despite good health, the comforts of modern life and the security of sufficient income, many people these days are dissatisfied with the routine and shallowness of modern life and are looking to reconnect with deeper, more fundamental truths.
What are we looking for, to make our life interesting?
1. A break from monotony
Sitting all the time locked up in an office can be next to unbearable, claustrophobic. Going through life following every day the same dull routine with occasional weekend activities can be extremely insufficient. Widening our horizon makes our life more interesting and gives us a sense of freedom.
2. Spiritual adventure
Learning and discovering new things, exchanging ideas, establishing friendships, studying different cultures is an exciting, unusual, unpredictable journey, which always ends in being an interesting experience or encounter. A full life revolves around constant curiosity and thirst for knowledge. When are old we should be able to look back on our life happily and appreciate the opportunities we took to explore the vast world which surrounds us.
3. A broader perspective
By opening our eyes and mind to discover different people and cultures, in a spirit of tolerance, we are able to enrich ourselves. A thing that is seen as unacceptable to us could be a daily occurrence in another culture. Just because we have been raised to believe in a certain set of beliefs, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right.
4. The Brethren
A very exciting thing about Freemasonry are the Brethren we meet and the friendships created along the way. Every Mason has a different journey, a different background story that has led him to his present point in his life. Each Brother is unique in his own way. Masons generally like to share where they come from and are interested to learn from each other. Meeting Brethren and establishing friendships leaves undoubtedly a constructive effect on our life as we move forward.
5. Personal Development
Complacency is Toxic! Freemasonry provides an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and the world we live in. All this offers a unique chance to reflect on our life, to analyze where we stand, and decide where we want to go in the future.
6. Just Because.
We only have one life to live! Let us therefore enjoy it to the fullest!
FREEMASONRY INVITES US TO REFLECT
Eternally valid questions and reflections are for example:
From where do we come?
Where are we going?
Who are we?
What is consciousness?
What is the sense of life?
What is the value of friendship?
What means initiation?
Freemasonry unlike other groups, does not recruit, it confers initiation.
Masonic rituals and ceremonies operate as an instrument, addressing our emotional senses and delivering practical, personal, spiritual and philosophical advancement.
Trends, environment and conditions change — but the deep mental and emotional nature of the human being does not.
As individuals, we are fundamentally the same, physically and psychologically, as our distant ancestors thousands of years ago.
Freemasonry transcends time and culture.
We make sense of the world and ourselves through the internal languages of mind. We are biologically programmed to react to emotional signals, which experience teaches us, are well conveyed through formal rites and rituals.
Freemasonry creates meaning through the language of symbols and allegories.
THE LOST WORD
In A Bridge to Light issued in 1988, under authority of the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, Washington, D.C., Bro. Rex R. Hutchinson wrote that:
“Modern speculative Freemasonry did not spring full blown upon the historical stage at a London pub or tavern meeting in 1717.”
“The operative Masons had already contributed a long legacy of symbolism and tradition that continues to enrich the Craft to this day.”
“Also there are persistent references in Masonic ritual, especially in the Higher Degrees, to relationships with Rosicrucians, Illuminati, Gnostics, Alchemists, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Christians, Essenes, Persians, Hindus and Kabbalists.”
“Whether these presumed relations demonstrate a continuous heritage, of which modern Freemasonry is the linear successor, or simply a source of inspiration is not essential, what matters is the teaching behind the symbols.”
“Whatever the truth of history, the contributions to the symbolism of Freemasonry by the religions, philosophies, mythologies and occult mysteries of the past lie upon its surface for all to see.”
“Rather than being a secret society, Freemasonry is a revealer of secrets. The great truths of ancient man were, in their time, also great secrets and few were admitted into the sanctuaries where these truths were taught.”
“Freemasonry teaches these truths to all worthy men who ask to learn them.”
IN SEARCH OF LIGHT
We all tend to stay in our comfort zone.
The comfort zone can be described as an abstract theoretical bubble, where we feel at ease, in control of our surroundings, and fully comfortable.
Everyone at some point should push his own boundaries to promote personal growth. One way to burst that bubble is Freemasonry
Masonic symbols are the keys to a long, difficult but rewarding spiritual journey, it is a thorny road which we have to travel by ourselves. Our Brethren can help us, but at the end of the day, nobody can do it in our stead.
Initiation does not consist in receiving any type of knowledge that can be written or said, or perceived by the five senses of human nature, but is an introduction to a type of totally different knowledge, where the Brother will learn mainly to use his heart to conceive the beauties of Freemasonry.
Then nothing will remain neither occult, nor secret, for the intention of the Fraternity has never been to hide, but only to transmit through the succession of ages, the most excellent tenets of our Institution.
The sense of symbols, first very obscure, will progressively became clearer, and those words that the young Entered Apprentice can only spell with difficulty, will be read later with ease if he patiently perseveres.
He is guided symbolically when he is given the first letter of the word. But he has to discover the second letter himself. In due time, the third letter will be communicated to him in order that he may uncover the next.
This symbolic approach, held in high esteem among the peoples of Antiquity, is still used today by Freemasons but has nothing to do with a craving for secret or mystery, nor has this method become obsolete.
Much to contrary, far superior to the confusion of words and of languages, Masonic symbols, so expressive, are more fitting than ever to imprint upon the memory wise and serious truths.
Let us hear what Dr. Albert Schweitzer had to say about this:
“When truth, knowledge or wisdom cease to be understood, they do not live any longer in our minds.”
“When knowledge is reduced to a mere dogma that is blindly accepted, it may appear to survive for some time, while its rules are still being slavishly observed. But as its underlying coherence and justification is being lost, truth is soon distorted and breaks into pieces, in the same way that the dead body decays and falls apart under the effects of putrefaction.”
“When truth is communicated directly, without requiring any effort from the recipient, it will not leave a lasting impression, for most human beings live day by day and are not capable of forming their own opinions.”
“So, it is necessary that all elevated ideas, be created again and again by each one of us in ourselves. Only when we attempt to follow with trust the inner road of our individual thought, can we hope to attain living truth.”
“Living and profound reflection does not fall into subjectivism.”
“It drives, by the force of its own intellectual power, notions that Tradition regards as true and attempts to transform them into knowledge”.
To this spiritual path the Masonic ritual alludes, when it states to the candidate at his initiation that he will need to go the same way as all Brothers have done, who have gone this way before him.
By their individual work, Freemasons can contribute to the construction of a better world. By their ideas and the example of their life, Freemasons can help in spreading more fraternal human relations.
Being sincerely in search of “that which was lost”, enlightened by the Wisdom of Silence, fortified by the Strength of Symbols, each Brother has the inner capability to reconstruct the Beauty of the Masonic Secrets in his heart.
THE SITUATION IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Czech Freemasonry was re-born in 1989, starting nearly from scratch after a long period of darkness. Today, we have gained worldwide recognition and respect.
Following our own path and facing our own difficulties, we have escaped so far the terrible numerical decline that has affected Masonic membership in so many countries, where old, experienced and well established Grand Lodges had been operating most successfully in the past.
We have currently 543 Brethren on the roll of our Grand Lodge. The total figure has been hovering around 550 unique members for the third consecutive year.
We hear the positive message from the Grand Secretary’s annual report, that the average age of the Brethren of the Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic has gone down, that we have now over 50 middle aged Entered Apprentices, who have replaced the elderly Brethren who have gone to Grand Lodge above, as well as a number of non-active Brethren who have been removed administratively from the Grand Lodge roll. We also hear that several lodges have many candidates.
Yet, I think that we should not rest on our laurels. I remain convinced that we can do far better in terms of membership. Can do ? No, MUST do!
In the 1950s there were over 500,000 Freemasons registered under the United Grand Lodge of England, for a population of 50 million at the time. Masonic membership in the U.K. then peaked at approximately 1% of total population.
With 10.5 million inhabitants in the Czech Republic, 1% of the population would mean over 100,000 Freemasons. Even only 0.5% would mean 50,000 members.
If we were 5,000 Brethren, = 10 times our current membership ! we would represent only 1‰ (1 per thousand) of the male population in the Czech Republic While our Fraternity is interested in the quality, not in the quantity of its members and while it is true that not everybody is fit to be a Freemason, would it not be proof of an incredible arrogance on our side to believe that out of every 1,000 of our countrymen, only ONE has the moral qualifications or the intellectual level to be a Freemason?
With 500 members, we are merely surviving, financially speaking, and, let’s admit it, we fail having reached the critical mass needed to operate as a Grand Lodge. 5,000 members means also concretely: 10x more income!
5,000 is possible, but it will require action, by all of us – at Lodge level! So let’s leave our “comfort zone”, and initiate many more potential candidates!
As a Freemason who has had more than one run-in with with Grand Masters, I have become a lightning rod for others who are no longer satisfied with the institution, both in and outside of my jurisdiction. I am not sure I can help other than to listen to their problems and offer some sympathy. Recently, I heard from two Brothers in my jurisdiction who called to complain about what was going on in their Lodge, or more specifically, what wasn’t happening. One was in his early 30’s, the other in his mid-70’s. Remarkably, their complaints were similar. Both fervently believe in Freemasonry as a concept, but have difficulty accepting how it is physically practiced in their jurisdiction.
They both love the concept of brotherhood, its heritage, the practice of morality, and working together to make communities better. However, they find attending Lodge meetings to be repetitive and boring with little effort to make it interesting and worthwhile. It almost seems like it is designed to fail. Both Brothers said to me, as well as many others, “This is not what I signed up for,” and are in the process of emitting.
Instead of Lodges embracing the concept of Brotherhood, Freemasons have grown weary of the petty political struggles where people feverishly work to earn an inane object such as a fancy apron or a new Masonic title, e.g., Worshipful, Right Worshipful, Most Worshipful. I am often asked, “What is wrong with the plain white apron and simply being called ‘Brother’?” Instead, they lament Freemasonry is practiced as a Good Old Boy Club whereby, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” This suggests an individualistic approach based on favoritism, not one based on collective teamwork.
One of the Brothers noted, of all the people who were raised with him during his year, only one has returned to Lodge. Most simply disappear, move on to other endeavors, and drop out. This suggests the Lodge is not offering anything of value to its members, such as stimulating discussions and meaningful social interaction.
Like many other jurisdictions, we have watched membership here erode over the past fifteen years, losing over 1,500 on an annual basis. This is perplexing to the Brothers I talked with who commented while membership dwindles, the aprons and titles never abate. I tend to refer to this type of phenomenon as “Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic” – in other words, people tend to worry about the wrong things.
The Brothers had hoped to find a place for the free expression of ideas and debate, of stimulating discussion and mental gymnastics, to be curious and learn, but this is typically frowned upon by both the Lodge officers and Grand Lodge who are quick to squash such discussions. Consequently, Lodge is no longer “a place of enlightenment,” and people quickly exit it at the conclusion of a meeting. They further note sub-par floor work by apathetic officers during the conferring of degrees, some simply laughing off their performance. This distracts from impressing on the candidates the importance of the lessons embodied in the degrees.
They admit to having met some fine people along the way, true believers in the Craft, but also a lot of petty people who become jealous over the success of others and undermines them. Such backstabbing tends to make people paranoid and not comfortable in their own Lodge. As one of the Brothers explained to me, “A Masonic Lodge is a place where people prefer to speak behind your back, as opposed to your face.”
The Brothers also sought further light in Masonry from other institutions, such as the Scottish Rite and York Rite. Again, they didn’t find it stimulating, just “this is the way we’ve always done it.”
Maybe this problem is unique to their jurisdiction, but I doubt it.
I find it difficult to console such Brothers as I have always contended Freemasonry requires a major overhaul (see my “Masonic Manifesto” written years ago). Having fought the immovable object though for so long, all I can advise them is, “You cannot fight city hall.” This inability to adapt to change is the single biggest reason why the Craft is losing members, by frustrating good Masons and causing them to abandon the fraternity.
It is not my intention here to appear too negative, but we can no longer afford to cover up our blemishes and hope they will go away on their own. If we truly believe in the concept of Freemasonry, we can ill-afford to be reactive and become pro-active instead. This all begins by admitting we have a problem. It has long been an axiom of ours, “You cannot treat a patient if he doesn’t know he is sick” (Bryce’s Law).
Keep the Faith!
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BRYCE ON FREEMASONRY Can an old dog learn new tricks?
Freemasons have always been proud to boast, “We’re the original fraternity,” an acknowledgement of our roots in antiquity. Since then, many other fraternities have emerged, particularly in the nineteenth century, many of which are based on Masonic customs. Aside from college fraternities, there are the Eagles, the Elks, the Lions, the Moose, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), even the VFW shows signs of fraternal relations. These organizations may appear to be relative “upstarts” when compared to our ancient fraternity, but can they teach us anything?
As in many North America jurisdictions, Florida Freemasons are barred from enjoying alcohol in the Lodge as well as games of chance. Whenever such topics arise at a Grand Communications, the proposer is shouted down and admonished in a derogatory manner, “Why don’t you go and join someone else?” Well, I finally did just that, joined another fraternal order who allowed alcohol and games of chance in the Lodge. The identity of this particular order is immaterial for the purposes of this paper, and I suspect most are pretty much the same. I certainly haven’t turned my back on Freemasonry, but after over twenty years of watching repetition, I felt it was time to relax and enjoy the company of others over a quiet drink.
I joined the new “Order” recently as they had built a new lodge building near me and I was warmly received by the members when I requested information. As I first toured the facilities, I noted their clean and well stocked bar offering a wide variety of drinks and twelve taps for various draught beers. There were also some vending games of chance available if a member was so inclined. When I saw this, I thought back to a time when Masons argued over the virtues of alcohol and games in Lodge and why there was a concerted effort to prohibit it. Personally, I suspected the Shrine didn’t want the Craft Lodges to have it as it would represent a competitor to their venue. Nevertheless…
I found the Order’s dues and initiation fees to be affordable, much more so than any Masonic Lodge in my area. This was likely due to the revenues generated from alcohol, games, and renting of facilities. In other words, membership in the Order was not a financial burden as found in many Masonic Lodges today.
The application process and initiation ceremony were highly compatible to that found in Freemasonry. This led me to suspect such orders are based on Freemasonry as the comparisons were uncanny. For example, on the Order’s application, they claimed to be looking for men (and women) of good moral character; you couldn’t join unless you believed in the existence of a Supreme Being, were of 21 years of age or older, not connected in any way to the Communist Party, did not believe in or advocate the overthrow of the government of this country by force or violence, nor was a convicted felon or registered sex offender. A criminal background check is performed on each candidate, who is also investigated by committee. Sound familiar?
The Order also donates millions of dollars to charity, a living community village (Home) is available for seniors, all of which are also familiar to Freemasons. Beyond this though, the Order offers discounts on insurance, travel, office supplies, and more. In other words, membership has its privileges. The Order is open to both men and women, which would be alarming to most Masons, and there are no racial restrictions; e.g., no “Prince” Orders.
The first year’s membership is free for members of the military, law enforcement, and first responders, both current and retired (veterans). I thought this was a brilliant maneuver as it encourages membership and attracts the type of people they want to join their ranks. Freemasonry would be wise to study this further.
In meetings, the Order has jewels for the officers to wear. There are also do-guards and signs to observe. The obligation (oath) is reminiscent of that offered by Freemasonry along with a brief lecture to explain member responsibilities. Interestingly, I observed our initiation could be viewed by the outside world through the windows in the room. So much for being a “secret” society.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Order and Freemasonry resides in its Constitution, a copy of which is provided to members following initiation. Whereas Freemasonry is managed on a state by state basis (or by province or territory in Canada), the Order is run on an international basis from a single headquarters. This simplifies standards and promotes consistency between Lodges. It also means the government of the Order is flatter and more flexible to implement change.
Grand Masonic Lodges were first established in the early 1700’s, way before the advent of the U.S. Constitution. Consequently, the government of the fraternity is essentially based on the monarchy model. However, as these other orders were introduced in the United States during the late 1800’s, they tend to adhere to the concept of three separate but equal branches of government; e.g., executive, legislative, and judicial. Such an approach prohibits one person from having ultimate authority in interpreting the laws, rules and regulations which may vary depending on who is in office. It also causes a legislative body to be formed from the current and past presidents of the Orders.
I am certainly not suggesting one fraternal group is better than another; each has its own distinct set of interests and method of implementation. However, one could certainly learn from the others. For example, what the Order lacks in terms of decorum, they make up for in socialization. Conversely, what Freemasons lack in socialization, they make up for in decorum. Freemasons possess a stronger sense of history, and attention to detail in its ceremonies, thereby attempting to teach character, e.g., morality, love of God and country, honor, sacrifice, etc. By doing so they are trying to assist their members in the building of character. The other orders are much less formal, but still endeavor to promote character and Brotherhood through the help and society of others.
In contrast, the Order has been successful in:
Generating money from alcoholic libations with no adverse effects (swearing, fighting and intemperance are not tolerated and may result in penalties or suspensions for members). Further, rooms can be rented for parties and special events.
Negotiating benefits for its members, such as providing discounts on insurance, travel, office supplies, etc.
attracting new members with the type of character they desire, both men and women.
One could argue Freemasonry has slowly been evolving from a true fraternity to just another men’s club. They may be more solemn in their ceremonies, but surely they are not naive to believe they have a monopoly on the concept of brotherhood.
When I recently joined the Order, my initiation class consisted of 22 people, including both men and women, which is more than double what a single Masonic Lodge in my area may get in a single year. Two weeks earlier, another 22 people were initiated, and 60 people joined in December. Not surprising, the Order is financially sound, their activities are booming, their future looks rosy, and everyone appears to be happy.
Freemasonry is missing the boat if they dismiss the other orders out of hand. They are gaining in stature while the Masons are declining. I am not suggesting the Masons totally abdicate their current mission, but there is no denying their membership has been diminishing at an alarming rate. Something needs to change before the Lodges close their doors permanently. Perhaps a new hybrid organization needs to be conceived, whereby alcohol and games of chance are allowed following a meeting or degree, that the Grand Lodge seeks supplemental benefits for its membership, or that they also try to attract the right types of people to their organization. If the other orders can do it, why not the Masons?
Freemasonry may be much older, but these younger fraternities have grown up and appear to be prospering. What do they know that we do not? I for one, am not too shy to ask. In the meantime, more people are gravitating to these new orders while turning their backs on Freemasonry. Perhaps this is a sign of our changing social values. Let us not close our eyes, ears, and mouths and hope nobody notices. It’s much too late for that.
Keep the Faith!
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