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Writer’s Ashlar

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

It Will Pass

An Entered Apprentice was waiting to enter the lodge. He sat down with the Tiler and said, “My life is in chaos! I feel so distracted, I cannot concentrate on my questions and answers, and I’m so tired that I keep falling asleep in lodge. This is just horrible! What shall I do?”

“It will pass,” the Tiler said matter-of-factly.

At the next lodge meeting, the EA came back to the Tiler. “You were right! Everything is great now! My life is in order once again, I can focus on the questions and answers, and I’m not too tired to pay attention in lodge.”

“It will pass,” the Tiler said matter-of-factly.

From ZenMasonry

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Except for a handful of officer’s installations, I haven’t been to a lodge function, let alone a lodge meeting in two months.

It’s not that I’m upset with anybody there, or because I haven’t paid my annual dues (umm… I’m pretty sure I sent out that check), or because they don’t serve low-carb dinners. It’s because after 2 -1/2 years of a miserable economy, I’m suddenly working like crazy. Customers that pushed off orders indefinitely all seem to be calling them in. While this is a good thing indeed, at the moment we’re lacking in manpower to meet the demands. I’ve had to cut 30% of our personnel over the last couple of years, and now we’re trying to meet production schedules with the people that are left.

I’m not sure if this is a sign that business in general is coming back, or if it’s simply a temporary spike as customers replace depleted inventories; accordingly, I’m hesitant to hire more people in case I have to let them go in a few months. This means that I spend half of my days doing paperwork, and the other half working out in the shop;  I’ve been working twelve to fourteen hours a day, and by the time I get home I can barely stay awake enough to read my messages and do a little internet surfing. More than once my wife has nudged me when I’ve started to doze behind my laptop. I have a few other writing gigs, and lately I’m way behind because I’ve been falling asleep at the keyboard.

And of course, holidays, family time, school plays, music recitals, charity functions (can you believe that not every community function I do is not some Masonic thing?), home repairs, and the annual pasta dinner at the local church fill in the other gaps in my  many heures joyeuses.

My lack of personal time has also taken a toll on my blogging — I barely seem to get an article in each month. It’s not for a lack of ideas; I’ve got a dozen drafts that I get a couple of paragraphs into, and then can’t seem to finish because after a week or two I lose the train of thought behind them. I used to write a bit in the morning, but lately, instead of writing I head to my exercise room (actually, it’s the laundry room-slash-pantry) and work out for an hour. Sit mens sana in corpore sano and all that.  Actually, those of you who have been following my Tweets, Facebook, or Buzz have seen my not infrequent complaints about my exercise routines, my diet, or my (lack of) weight loss — and even at that, I can barely find enough energy to micro-blog more than a couple of times a day. I mean, how much energy and inspiration do you need to grind out 140 characters?

Anyway, you’re not here to read about my busy life. You’ve got your own busy lives, and can barely squeeze in enough time to read your favorite blogs.

Over the last few years, I’ve met people in town who say things like “Oh, my father (brother, grandfather, uncle, husband) is (was) a Mason.. But he doesn’t go anymore.” When I ask about this, it seems that many members stay active for about 10 years or so, and then wander off into other things. Yes, there are exceptions, but those that do seem to lose interest after that time rarely come back. Perhaps it’s because many of the people that they knew — the officers and other regulars — have also run through their own 10 year span; when a member goes back and doesn’t recognize anyone, he feels out of touch, and loses the motivation to come back again.

Or maybe  it’s because, having been an officer, perhaps even having been the Master, they no longer feel that they have any purpose in the lodge anymore. Yes, I know that many Past Masters seem to believe that their purpose it to make the newer officers miserable, but I suspect that such PMs are actually a minority, albeit at times a loud, vocal, annoying minority. But some Past Masters really have no role in lodge anymore; once in a while they are called upon to sit in a chair for a degree, perhaps to take part in a Past Master degree, or maybe to deliver some lecture or charge on short notice.

Don’t get me wrong; I know that there are only 24 hours in a day, and only seven days in a week. But this is the longest I’ve been too busy to make lodge meetings, and it did make me wonder why some of us simply stop going and drift away. Were they suddenly too busy with work or family issues? Did they expect that it was only temporary, and that they would soon be back in their regular seats? When did they realize that they just aren’t going back at all? Does some psychic inertia take over that makes it just too difficult to start going again?

What do you think? What makes you or your brothers wander off for long periods of time? And why do you (or they) lose the motivation to come back?

Weakest Trivial Pursuit of Final Answer Jeopardy Link

May 19, 2009 Leave a comment

A few years ago, RW Gary made up a cool little device that mimics the “Oooh, I’ve got the answer” gadgets that light up on popular TV game shows; when a contestant presses the hand-held button, his lamp lights up, and prevents the other lamps from burning. We combine that with randomly drawn questions on cards that contain queries both easy enough for a new Entered Apprentice, and those that will stump old Past Masters (and yes, even a District Lecturer). I think that the questions are from a British “Masonic Trivia” game, to which we have added various questions pertaining to exciting things in Connecticut – our rules and regulations, for example.

Last night, the brothers from Wyllys-St. John’s Lodge No. 4 in West Hartford came down to Friendship in order to challenge us on our grasp of Masonic trivia. Since it was their own meeting night, they got dispensation to move their charter, and held a meeting concurrent with ours. We’ve moved our own meeting in order to  show off have a Master Mason degree in another lodge; as far as I know this is the first time that another lodge has come to visit us.

This was no idle challenge, by the way; at stake was a $100 donation to the charity of the winner’s choice. The players on both sides did fairly well, but we all seemed to miss more questions that we answered. Despite the efforts of one of our own Past Masters who not only failed to answer a single question, but who, in fact, managed to caused us penalty points – not once, not twice, but three times – Friendship pulled ahead near the end after a squeakingly close contest. Worshipful Brother Craig can be proud of the efforts of his officers, especially his Junior Warden who responded with a little dance of irrational exuberance every time he got an answer correct.

All in all, it was a fun evening and a great chance to get to know brothers from outside our district. In fact, we enjoyed their company so much, that we decided to make them honorary members of the 5th District. We’re all looking forward to visiting their lodge in the fall.



Points well made

March 6, 2009 Leave a comment

“You’re wearing your ring the wrong way, you know.”

The Past Master tried to be nonchalant, but the way he slightly emphasized the “you know” implied that he didn’t actually think that I did know, and he was going to make sure that I knew I didn’t know.

You know how some people are.

“That’s odd,” I replied, “I was sure it was on correctly when I left the house.”

I shifted the glass of Jameson’s to my left hand and held my up my right,  wriggling my fingers.

“Yeah, see?” I pointed out. “The big part of the ring is on the outside and the the skinny part is on the inside. It would really be uncomfortable the other way.”

To his credit, he didn’t take the bait, being more interested in pointing out my mistake.

“No, you’re wearing it with the points out. You should be wearing it with the points in.”

“In where?”

“Pointing in, toward you,” he said.

I curled my fingers and moved my hand around a bit. “Aren’t they pointing in now?”

“No, I mean pointing in on your finger.” He was obviously being very patient with me. “The points on the compasses should be pointing up your finger to your hand, back to you.”

“What? Why’s that?”

“Because you’re not a Past Master, that’s why.”

He sipped his beer and gave me a knowing look. I swirled the glass of Irish whiskey, hearing the tiny cubes tinkle in the glass.

“I don’t remember that being in the ritual monitor,” I said.

“There are lots of things about Masonry that aren’t written down,” he replied. “You just have to learn them the hard way.”

He took another sip of his beer.  “Do you always wear it that way?”

“Well, maybe,” I replied. “I hadn’t really thought much about it until now.”

“I’m surprised that nobody else has mentioned it before,” he said. “I guess I just must be more observant.”

“What possible difference could it make?” I asked “It’s only a ring.”

“It’s the symbolism,” he explained, “a only a Master can give light; you have only received it.”

“I’m pretty sure that the flashlight is the working tool of one of the other degrees.”

“Now you’re just being a Mr. Smarty Pants. The Worshipful Master gives light during the degrees. You, however, haven’t done that; you should wear your ring with the points in, the way you saw them on the altar.”

“Points in?”

“Yes. Look, how were the points arranged when you were brought to light?”

“The same way they always are,” I replied.

“Exactly – with you looking up at them.”

“Uhh… up?”

“Right. So, when the ring is on your finger, the points should be arranged the same way as when you first saw them, to remind you of that experience.”

“Unless I’ve given light, right?”

“Yes, now you’re getting it.”

I politely declined his offer of a little cigar, and pulled out my own pack of cigarettes. I struck my lighter,  a small butane novelty, and offered it to him. We stood for a few moments, enjoying the cool evening on the back stairs.

“I don’t suppose that counts as ‘giving light’, does it?”

He shook his head. “No, and you’re being a Mr. Smarty Pants again.”

“I’m just trying to be clear on this,” I explained. I took another sip of my Irish whiskey and thought for a moment. “I sort of get the symbolism – sort of. But, as a Junior Warden, though, I’ve done degree work. I’ve initiated new brothers. That sounds like I’ve given light – at least, partially.”

He paused for a bit, and then answered. “No, that doesn’t count.”

He didn’t seem compelled to explain why, so I asked him.

“Because, only the Master can give light.”

“But I was in the chair doing the work.”

“Yes, but you weren’t the Master.”

“But I was doing the work of the Master.”

“That may be, but you were not the actual Master.”

“So, are you saying that those new brothers aren’t real Masons?”

“Hmm?”

“Because the candidates certainly didn’t notice the difference.” I went on, “But if I didn’t actually give any light, and if I follow what you’re saying, then they must not actually be Masons. It would really be a bad thing if all of those lodges that have the Wardens do degree work turn out to not actually be initiating Masons. Why, half the members in this district are probably invalid, if that’s the case.”

He thought for a moment. “No, that’s not right. You did it with the permission of the Master, so you were acting through him.”

I conceded, but then asked “So, what if the master called out sick that night? I’d still have been doing the work, right? Would that mean that…”

“No, you’re purposely making this difficult,” he pointed out. “Only the Master gives light, so only he is entitled to wear his ring with the points out,” he insisted. “It’s symbolic.”

“And we’re big on symbols around here, I’ve noticed.”

“Right.” He took another sip of beer. “Besides, when you go around with the points out, pretty much anybody can see them.

“Well, it is a ring…”

“Yes, but it’s almost like you’re advertising that you’re a Mason.”

“Wait, what?”

“You’re supposed to be keeping the secrets of Masonry, right? You don’t go blabbing it all over, right? You do know that we used to call ourselves ‘The Quiet Fraternity’, right?”

“Yes, that was one of the things that I liked when I was reading about the fraternity; the lack of blatant self-promotion.”

“Exactly so,” he answered. “When you have your points out, it makes it easy for anybody to notice them. That’s why I said, it’s almost like you’re advertising that you’re a Mason.”

“Advertising?”

Ne nodded. “Like you’re showing off, or something.”

“Oh, I get it,” I replied, “We are quiet and internally directed because we’re making ourselves better men; so advertising our affiliation with our rings makes it look like we simply joined for the sake of joining.”

Ne nodded again. “Now you understand,” he declared, “I’m glad we had this little chat.”

He finished the rest of his beer and moved toward the door.

“Umm, one thing,” I said.

“Yes?”

I motioned at the two dozen or so cars in the parking lot, almost all of which were sporting decals with the logos of Blue Lodge, York Rite, or the Shrine. Several of them also had the now familiar “2B1 Ask 1″ bumper stickers.

“Why do you suppose it is that my small, discreet ring is ‘advertising’, but all of those decals, badges, and bumper stickers are simply showing pride in membership?”

The old Past Master stubbed out his cigar, and turned toward the door. “Some people,” he snorted, “just don’t get the point, even when you poke them with it.”

… gang aft awry

November 23, 2008 Leave a comment

Sometimes when you look at something on paper, you’re completely convinced that it’s going to be a disaster, but when you actually have the experience, it turns out to have gone rather well.

On Sunday night, WB Jim calls me up. “You know that Master Mason degree that we’re helping with over at Unity 148 on Tuesday? We’ve got a problem. I need you to be King Solomon.”

Oh man. I’ve got less than 48 hours to prepare, and I’ve got a pretty heavy workload for the next couple of days, plus a visitation the night before. Was I supposed to study in my sleep? Ah, but such is the life in any Masonic lodge, and we are always prepared for these small incidents when real life interferes with what we would like to do, right?

Over the next two days, it got even better. There’s no rehearsal, and we need a Senior Warden, too. Oh, and we can’t get together all of the Craftsmen that we need. And, uh, several of the candidates aren’t going to make it.

Man, could it get any worse?

By the time Tuesday night came around, I learned even more. I was expected to serve as Worshipful Master from after refreshment, through the drama, and then into the closing. This was a Past Master’s night, and some of the PMs hadn’t been to lodge in over 10 years. And in addition to the lodge we were helping, we had brothers from three or four other lodges filling in – all of which had their own little customs and ways of doing things, and we had about 15 minutes to get ourselves ironed out.

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, at first.

Fortunately, the Craftsmen – what few we had – were headed up by WB Frank of Frederick-Franklin 14, arguably one of the best ritual lodges in the area. WB Frank and I took a few minutes to go over some details, and since we’d worked together in the past, it was just a matter of communication. The SW, Bro. Doug, came from Silas Deane 147, and we only needed a few minutes to fill him in. I had thought that the SD was to be WB Jim from my own lodge, for part of the degree, but ended up being RW Gary, Grand SD and GL officer in this district, who seemed rather unfazed by the confusion in the temple.

The lodge opened, and it was interesting to see the older Past Masters of this lodge in action. If this were a Carl Claudy story, I’d be mentioning how they took over the room and how things moved along flawlessly, and how impressive it was to watch Past Masters at work. However, anybody who has read this blog knows that I’m only mentioned in the same sentence as Claudy when at least one of the other expressions in that sentence is “in contrast to.” There were some stumbles and memory lapses, to be sure, and I think that some of that could have been prevented by a rehearsal. But after a few minutes to warm up, most of the PMs managed to get into gear, and the degree moved along well- all the more impressive knowing that some of these men had not done this in years.

Before long, it was time for refreshment and the Hiramic drama.

Personally, I really hate not being well rehearsed and well prepared for degree work. Part of is it a desire to make a good impression on the candidates, and part of it (perhaps the bigger part, if I’m being honest with myself) is simply pride and ego. So I have to admit that when I assumed the East that night, I did get a bit flustered, and it took me a few minutes to find my center. But at some point it came to me; I lost my earlier feelings of annoyance and frustration, and WB Frank and I simply followed each other’s cues. The next thing I knew, I was at the gravesite and the degree was almost over. Too soon, too soon!

One more surprise, though was being able to hear the ritual style of somebody I’d looked up to for the last several years. RW Carl, the Chaplain for Unity, when he wasn’t reminding me about my hat, proved to have a melodious speaking voice, and an incomparable memory. It’s funny; I’ve known Carl for about five years on several committees, but never sat in lodge with him until this year, and have never heard him really have any speaking parts until the other night. I really enjoyed listening to him. Also enjoyable was watching WB Harry, the outgoing Master of Unity, perform a lecture that is normally done by the newer members. I’m sure that both he and Carl will make fine Stewards one of these days.

While I would never advocate “winging it” as a ritual style, sometimes it can’t be helped. Afterward, scarfing cookies in the kitchen while trying to decompress, we decided that it had actually been a pretty good degree after all, and we were all just a little bit proud of ourselves for having done a great job.



Masonic Parochialism

October 21, 2008 1 comment

For several years now I’ve gone to Grand Lodge sessions, and each time I’m amazed that a majority of the people attending get there just a few minutes early, and then leave as soon as the gavel bangs the meeting closed. Okay, I’ve never been much of a fan of sitting in meetings, especially meetings in which other people do the talking. In fact, I can imagine that for a lot of people, Grand Lodge sounds like this:

“Blah blah blah… declare the session open … blah blah blah… welcome to the two hundred and mumblety mumbleth annual… blah blah blah… welcome the Past Grand … blah blah blah… presentation by Masonicare… blah blah blah… elections for the next year… blah blah blah… the proposed budget includes … blah blah blah… lack of membership… blah blah blah… new programs will include… blah blah blah… show our appreciation to … blah blah blah… results of the voting… blah blah blah… congratulations to … blah blah blah… please inform the Grand Tyler… blah blah blah… Thank you all for coming.” BANG

Even though it ended a half hour earlier than anyone had expected, some people zoomed out of there so quickly that I thought we were serving free donuts in the lobby.

I don’t get that. For me, the best part about Grand Lodge is the hour before and the hour after the actual meeting; this is the time to get together with people that you don’t normally see every month, to renew old acquaintances, and to hear about what’s happening in other lodges and in other parts of the state. There are not a lot of ways that the Grand Lodge can communicate ideas about its various programs until after they are instituted – which, to my way of thinking – is usually to late. People on various committees who talk about new ideas with the Craft are in a position to get input. The flip side, of course, is that the Craft – that’s you and me – manages to have some input at the planning stage. And, this is the opportunity to meet those junior Grand Lodge officers who are going to be leading the Craft one day.

Additionally, I get to see other District Grand Lecturers so that we can complain discuss the issues in our districts. I have also found that there are a number of old-timers who are full of ideas and opinions – but good ones – and I enjoy talking to them and getting some feedback. And truth be told, I also enjoy listening to the latest gossip news about various lodges and officers and the people I’ve met.

In current business parlance, this is known as “networking.” Now, networking has developed a bad rep, mainly because people imagine a room full of insurance brokers and used car salesmen who are trying to get you to buy something that you don’t want. But consider: we explain to our Fellowcrafts that the pillars representing  Strength and Establishment are adorned with net work because it represents “unity.” And truly, how can we have unity – that is, a cohesive Craft – if members on one end of the state don’t know (or don’t care) what is happening at the other end?

When talking with a few other brothers after the meeting, it came up that very few people had – according to the poll on the Grand Lodge website – visited lodges outside of Connecticut. That led another wag to note that most Masons don’t even visit other lodges inside Connecticut.

Brothers – what’s up with that?

Before a member is even raised, we are talking to him about visiting other lodges. “Wait until you’re a Master Mason,” we love to tell them. “You’ll go to all those other lodges and see how other people do things,” we explain. It’s as if other lodges are foreign countries. In fact, part of our degree ceremonies here in Connecticut do allude to traveling in foreign parts, and how that is one of the benefits of being a Master Mason.

So why do so few of us actually take advantage of that privilege?

Sure, sometimes there is a time factor. Many of us barely make time for our own lodges, even when we know what the schedule will be. Members with a family – or a life – are already juggling evenings off. In my own family, my daughter has music lessons, Girl Scouts, and tutoring, my wife has church meetings, and I have a few non-Masonic duties each month, and I imagine that many families are not much different.

Yet I’m still amazed at the number of masons that I talk to who have never – as in, you know, never - visited another lodge. Others have gone once or twice, but “not in years,” or only for some special program. Simple curiosity isn’t enough to get somebody out of the house and into another lodge once or twice a year?

The underlying attitude that puzzles me – actually, that bothers me – is that too often I get the impression that many members forget that we are all part of a larger organization. I understand that some members feel very strongly connected to their own lodge, and that could possibly be a reason that they do not have much interest in the lodges around them. But still, why bother even mentioning “the ability to travel” if you are not going to avail yourself of the opportunity?

For that matter, why not simply remain a Fellowcraft?



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