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Archive for February, 2014

The Argument About Dues

21 February 2014 1 comment

The Argument About DuesIn today’s broke economy with many people out of work or underemployed, who wants to talk about raising the cost of anything?  I know I am stretched pretty thin as it is, so any increase in anything extracurricular would probably affect me.  As it stand now, the things many of us have to use every day like gas, insurance, electricity, and general household items have gone through the roof in the past few years. So why start the debate on the cost of dues now?

There is no question that dues have not increased with inflation.  There is no question that dues are merely a fraction of what they used to be at one time compared to the cost of living.  My Blue Lodge dues, 60 bucks a year, aren’t necessarily high, but they are higher than they were just a few years ago when we voted raise them from $50 when I was Master in 2012.

With such low cost of dues most of us can afford membership today, but still we have guys on the non-payment list in April when dues were due in January.  I got to thinking, is that because people really can’t pay? Is it because people just don’t care? Then I think, perhaps they just aren’t high enough to be taken serious.

Full disclosure here, I too, sometimes fall into the category of men who will pay a little late more times than I’d like.  This is not because I don’t have the money, but many times simply because I know I will be going to the lodge soon and think, “Well, I’ll just take them in when I go.”   After all, I am pretty active, I enjoy lodge, and I am pretty sure the Secretary knows I am going to pay up.  Does that make being late with dues ok?  No, not at all.  But, Eh’ sorry. Sue me.

There could be a million reasons why the average Joe is late paying dues, but I think a major reason is that for much of the early history of Freemasonry the average Joe was never intended to be a member. This is partly because he couldn’t afford to be a member.  This was an elite group of men gaining elite men.  (notice I said elite, not elitist) This was a network in many ways, if course, but it also was very selective.  Does that mean that all men who COULD afford high dues were the best candidates?  Hardly.  Does that mean that all men who COULDN’T afford membership were not otherwise great candidates for Freemasonry? Again, hardly.

In just one example using a well-known man, I did the math. According to existing records from Fredericksburg lodge, when Washington was initiated, a fee of 2 pounds, 3 shillings was paid.  By today’s standards £2 roughly equals $3.27. Three shillings is about 72 cents.  Because the exchange rates could vary slightly I am just going to round and call it $4.00.  Converting back to pounds, $4.00 is roughly £2.45.  Using an inflation calculator online we can see that £2.45 in 1752 is roughly equivalent to about £385.80 today.  Converting this to dollars and we can see that about $630.78 was paid for Washington’s initiation.
(2/23/14: FOR AN UPDATE ON THESE NUMBERS SEE THE END OF THIS BLOG)

Let’s call that 600 dollars.  Right there, I think, is a major factor in the free-for-all we have going on. Any man who wants to join can, and does, without making it a serious life decision.  I don’t know how it works in many of your houses, but 600 dollars is not something I can just float willy-nilly on a club that I may or may not want to be actively involved with.

Lodge dues currently can vary wildly.  I have seen dues at 40 dollars and I have seen dues well over 100 dollars.  It is very rare that you see dues at 600 dollars, although they are out there.  Does that mean that I think that we should just jack dues to unbelievably high amounts?  Not necessarily.

For many men, Freemasonry is used as it was intended or at least the closest to it as it can be.  We have been given tools to use, and we put them to work.  For other men, they are given the tools to use, go out and buy a ring and a bumper sticker, and contribute very little to Freemasonry other than their 60 dollars a year.

Speaking as a po-boy who loves Freemasonry, here is where I am torn.  I, like many other people, do not fall into that upper category of wage earners.  If I told my wife I wanted to spend 600 dollars to be initiated into a fraternity I would most likely have pieces of me removed in my sleep.  In short, I probably would not be a Freemason if dues and initiation were to skyrocket.  I do think there is an answer though.

Incentive programs and chances to earn Freemasonry can take a dedicated man, at any level of income, and open the doors to him.  I think that having dues at the level of $500 or more can serve as an instant deterrent for many guys who just want to slap a square and compass sticker on their bumper.  They would have to make the choice; “Do I care enough about this whole Mason thing to spend 500 dollars a year on it?”  or;  “Do I care enough about this whole Mason thing to work down the cost of dues and initiation?”   The men who truly want to join at this point will join.  The card carriers would most likely work themselves out of the system over the course of a few years.  There will still be a few well off non-contributors who will continue to treat it as a good old boys club, but I can argue that those fellas are here now.

If I knew that I could earn back a portion of my initiation and dues each year by performing certain tasks such as reading and writing reviews on books, presenting programs, and otherwise earning Freemasonry perhaps I wouldn’t mind the high cost of dues.  I would know going into it that there is a cost involved, but also that there is a way to lighten that burden.

One of our greatest problems, in my opinion, is not enough men joining, but rather, too many under-qualified men running the system without knowing what the system is.  A system of forced education, or incentive based education, would ensure that the men who join, would, by default, learn something and use the Craft.

Over time, the Craft could go from an organization of card carriers back to the benevolent society it once was.  This could, in turn, create that desire for men to join for the correct reasons and reduce the desire for men to join just to get the title.

What about the guys who are financially stable who are generally not involved?  Sad as it may be, there will still be the glory hounds who are better off and who can afford to just sneeze away 600 bucks.  Let them.  With a growing fraternity of qualified and educated men, the system should improve overtime.  The interviewers should become more selective as they become better educated.

I can also see incentives to serve as lodge officers with perhaps very good incentives to serve as Master for a year or more.  If dues are reduced based on your accomplishments, and perhaps even eliminated upon becoming a Past Master, then the goal for many would be to naturally become a Past Master.

Perhaps it is the capitalist in me, but I see a free market system so to speak.  The desire to become a Past Master may be increased creating actual competition for the chair.  Anytime that competition is introduced into a system the best usually prevail.

If said competition exists, I can see it most likely spilling over to other areas.  With a back log of qualified men working to be viewed as the most capable for the job, simply being certified in the degree work may not be enough to be elected Master anymore.  Would we then see other areas of the lodge start to increase productivity?  I think so.  I see men who know the ritual and floor work who are taking on other positions such as education, mentoring, programs and other aspects of the lodge that many times fall by the wayside.

Some men may have no desire to be Master.  These men can earn back some of the cost by researching a specified topic and presenting to lodge.  A system of incentives for performance could chip away at dues cost.

Over the years, no doubt, people grow tired of keeping up.  Even the most dedicated of Masons get burned out from time to time and take a hiatus from lodge.  For this, I see the dues coming down more and more as you reach milestones.  Currently we celebrate members who reach their 25, 50, and 60 year milestones with pins in Pennsylvania.  In my lodge, we forgive dues for 50 year members.    Perhaps even more reduction in dues can happen as you reach the other lower milestones.  I see dues forgiveness happening much earlier than that with incentives for education and understanding of the craft.

There is an argument of, “Well, we are all supposed to be equal and on the level.  How can one person have lower dues than another?”  For this, I have to say, go back and study what the level actually means.  To be on the level means that we all have the same opportunity for advancement and to gain the rights and privileges in the lodge.  With that said, any member who strives to chip away or defer the cost of his dues  would have the exact opportunity that others would have.

To recap, high cost of dues would act as an immediate deterrent for fly-by-night men who think they will just join on a whim.  Men could work their dues cost down.  Working their dues cost down would, by default, leave the fraternity with educated men.  Educated men, over time,  would secure the West gate.  With a secure West gate, our fraternity could work back to restoring the status and purpose it is intended for.

Maybe I am completely off base here.  What do you think?

(2/23/14: It was brought to my attention that my calculations on Washington’s initiation fee were not exactly accurate. Facebook follower Glenda Ray told me it actually would be about the equivalent of $826 today (1£=12 oz sterling silver in those days) and given that the average American earned less than £30 a year, £3 was more than a month’s wage. I simply used conversion charts that told me today’s pounds to dollars, then used another site that gave me supposed historical inflation rates. Regardless, the point I make is still accurate. We can all agree, the amount paid back in the day was considerably substantial compared to our almost non-existent dues amounts today. Thanks Glenda Ray for the clarification)

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Earning Freemasonry – A One Day Class Redemption, NOW AVAILABLE!

Earning Freemasonry – A One Day Class Redemption is now available for purchase.

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Click the link below to purchase through Paypal for $15.00 plus $5.00 for priority shipping.

Books purchased here will be signed and sent directly from the author.

Modern Freemasonry is changing. A new member today is brought into a fraternity much different than their fathers and grandfathers fraternity. Changing demographics and declining membership numbers have brought on many short cuts to membership and advancement in the Lodge. Designed to boost membership, combat a declining older generation, and fit better in the modern man’s life, one day classes and easing of membership have opened the flood gates to Freemasonry. Thousands of men have been made Freemasons in one day classes over the past decade. Countless others have become Freemasons in a more relaxed lodge than existed just a few years ago. While some of these men go on to do great things in Freemasonry, the sad reality remains, many men joining today do little more than get a card in their wallet. Any Freemason, be he a card carrier, officer, Past Master, or otherwise regular member has a part to play in our Fraternity. Some men take the long way; some men take the short cuts. Regardless of how you were given the tools of Freemasonry, it is up to the individual man to earn them. This books details one man’s journey from citizen to Freemason in a one-day-class. Through firsthand experience, observation, and opinion, the author explains the pit falls and trials that go along with the easing of the order and offers insight on how we may be able to correct our missteps. From the new Mason to the Past Master, this book is designed to help any member earn Freemasonry and start enjoying the true benefits of the Craft.

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Dude, Where’s my Lodge?

Ask yourself that question.  The answer is simple.  You know exactly where your lodge building is.  You could drive there tonight if you wanted to.  So, then what’s with the question?

As I get further into reading, writing and networking with my online brethren, I find myself asking this question more and more.  Now, I do enjoy my friends at lodge.  They are great guys.  We all get along great.  We all share good times in our lives and families from time to time outside of lodge, and generally, most people are happy. 

But, I always come back to this question or other questions similar.  “What really are we doing here?”, “Why aren’t we having philosophical discussions?”, “When will we start doing something, anything, Masonic in our meetings?”  A key frustration of mine has always been lack of Masonic programs and less than fraternal discussion during meetings.  It’s known that I feel this way, but I have recently come to the understanding that I am not the only one who feels this way. 

In the past two years I have been fortunate enough to find an outlet for my thirst for Masonic information.  The world of online networking and social media, for me, has become what my lodge is not.  Again, I need to make it clear, I love my brothers at the lodge, but I can’t remember ever having a deep or enlightening discussion in lodge.  I have seen some very good presentations and programs, but have come up short on the discussions of the who, where, what, why, and how that SHOULD go along with every meeting. 

I don’t know about you all, but when I open facebook and see Bro. Shawn Eyer has just posted 10 new pics of the George Washington Masonic Memorial, or when John Paul Gomez releases a new necktie on Fraternal Ties, or when I see Living Stones or Working Tools Magazine post info about their latest editions I can’t help but be left fulfilled as an informed brother.  It truly is an amazing world, this internet.

I consider myself fortunate because I have been able to connect with men who are delivering much of what I am looking for, just seeking light, sharing what they know, and helping others also find their niche in Freemasonry.  From authors, to podcasts, to blogs, to facebook and social media, I have come to realize that the lodge experience I am missing in lodge has actually been found online.  I will admit, part of that reality makes me sick, but I cannot deny the fact that it has been overwhelmingly helpful and far exceeds any form of enlightenment I have ever received sitting in my actual lodge. 

So, where is my lodge?  The building is in Hollidaysburg, PA, but the light I seek has come from very public sources such as Robert Johnson (Whence Came You podcast), and Juan Sepulveda (The Winding Stairs podcast.)  I have had the opportunity of meeting with authors or at least communicating one on one with modern authors writing about various aspects of the Craft relevant to modern Freemasonry.  These men like Charles Harper (Freemasonry in Black and White), Shawn Gorley (Freemasonry Defined), Cliff Porter (A Traditional Observance Lodge), Andrew hammer (Observing the Craft), and many more that could fill up an entire page. 

These men have become my lodge in many regards.  With the podcast, books, magazines, and most recently the Masonic Roundtable video discussions getting started I, and thousands of men from around the county, are able to stay informed with what is happening pretty much as it is happening.  We are suddenly able to discuss all (ok, most) topics of Freemasonry at any hour of the day.  Answers are immediate many times and help on any subject is a text message away. 

Years ago, this is what your actual lodge did.  Men of similar interest would meet in smaller, intimate groups.  Good men that were prominent in their communities took part in philosophical discussions that actually improved their lives and made them care a little bit more about the security of the West gate.  Since lodges today have become complacent and pretty much admit most men who petition, the exclusiveness of our lodges in not what it used to be.  I am not suggesting that lodges should be full of prominent elected officials or made up entirely of lawyers and doctors and other community leaders, after all, if they were like that I most likely would have never gained admission, but we should be a little bit more selective in our admission. 

Our lodges have become a place to pay bills and meet once a month, but the actual work for many of us is being done between meetings by the new generation of movers and shakers claiming their stake in this fraternity. 

While talking on the phone with my good Friend and Brother Shawn Gorley (Driven by Light Blog) we were discussing the restoration of the fraternity and where it may be headed.  As bleak as some aspects of our forecast were, I found myself becoming more and more optimistic as we talked about our upcoming travel and presentations we have scheduled.  We talked about our friends from around the state that were having both Shawn and I, as well as other young movers and shakers come speak.  I was overcome with a feeling of optimism as I thought about the lodges who were now about to become exposed to this group on men who unknowingly came about independent of each other, many hundreds of miles away from each other but were now becoming extremely useful as a group a spreading the light of Freemasonry. 

Authors, podcast personalities, presenters, historians, ritualist and generally a new generation of good Freemasons coming down the pike will be exposing the newest, or perhaps some older members to the true purpose of Freemasonry for the first time. 

Showing complacent lodges that any Joe Shmoe individual is capable of delivering light to others can, and should, be exactly what we, as said movers and shakers, should be doing.  I am happy to see these men traveling to lodges, talking to followers, replying to messages, and building a community of younger brethren simply by doing what they do. 

There is a lot of talk about Masonic restoration lately.  It is an uphill battle, especially now when it seems that the establishment and many Grand Lodges are all too eager to keep changing and simplifying everything.  The guys that blog, podcast, and write may be the mentors that many lodges need.  We may be the first shovel of dirt on the construction site.  I see it as being up to us to create interest for the complacent.  If we keep doing what we are doing by staying active and staying informed I think it is likely, as outnumbered as we are, that we can build the next generation of men excited to keep the building project going. 

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