There’s been some interesting online discussion about the video The Grand Leveler from hip-hop artist Apathy, not just for his use of a Masonic Lodge, but because he, himself is a Mason. Some people in our fraternity enjoyed the music and his vision, while others believe it portrays Freemasonry in a bad light.
For anyone so inclined, you can jump into a discussion with Bro. Apathy that’s happening right now on Reddit:
And after you’re done, then stop by the Reddit Freemasonry group to discuss it some more.
WALLINGFORD — One of the items that is being overlooked in the agenda for the upcoming Grand Lodge of Connecticut Annual Communication is a bold initiative to help finance the rejuvenation of the state’s older lodge buildings, a plan that may be the first of its kind in the North America, and which may be the key toward not only rejuvenating the buildings, but revitalizing the lodges, themselves.
Like most of the areas of the northeastern US, Connecticut has a number of older lodge buildings, many of them built in the early 1900s or even before. While many of these buildings are located in the center of their respective towns, these historic buildings were often poorly maintained, and the funds for much needed capital improvements were often neglected by the members from the 1960s until today. Indeed, it’s not unusual for lodges to lack air conditioning or updated heating systems, proper kitchen and dining areas, or in some cases, even modern bathroom facilities.
“While some members of the fraternity might see their facilities as ‘quaint,’ the sad fact is that many members of the public, including potential members, see them as ‘antiquated,’ ‘dated,’ or just plain ‘old,’ and it becomes a real turn-off,” said Grand Master Simon LaPlace. “Unfortunately, many of the lodges were short-sighted and skimped on saving money for improvements, and with the lack of new members, they simply can’t afford to put the necessary thousands of dollars into building improvements, and many of them are just barely able to keep up with the basic maintenance. This is why we are introducing this plan, which should help them to raise the money to bring the facilities up to date.”
The new program, called the Building & Organization Allied Sponsorship, or BOAS, allows lodges to partner with local or even national businesses and organizations in order to have a committed source of revenue that would be put toward building and grounds improvements, and updating the facilities inside the buildings. Lodges could look forward to new or updated lighting, handicap access, internet and wifi service, and cable tv, as well as kitchen and dining equipment, general upkeep, and yes, even more modern bathroom facilities.
When questioned about the criticisms that BOAS would lead to Freemasonry as being seen as “too public,” the Grand Master dismissed the concerns. “Corporate sponsored venues have been around for years,” he said. “A few large corporations put their names on ball fields, and nobody bats an eye. But a business puts a name on a small, little lodge, and everyone loses their minds.” Indeed, a quick survey showed that most people could not remember the previous names of the Xfinity Theater or the Comcast Theaters, although most people also did not remember that Toyota now sponsors the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford — ironically, the town in which the Grand Lodge of Connecticut is located.
A large concern for some is that the Connecticut Grand Lodge gets a percentage of the BOAS funds, and will start pressuring all of the state lodges or buildings to find businesses to partner with, or worse, may penalize some of the lodges for not doing so. “Grand Lodge needs to make money, too,” responded Grand Master Simon LaPlace. “None of those guys complaining think twice about spending money on a mocha latte several times a week; but if Grand Lodge asks for a five or ten dollar per member increase, suddenly we’re the evil empire. Sure, times are tough, but we’re talking about giving up the equivalent of a couple of coffees and donuts in a year.” He looked around and added “And believe me, many of our brothers could certainly afford to go without a donut once in a while.”
Not surprisingly, not all of the Masons are happy about this program. “It’s nothing more than plain, old Grand Lodge greed. They don’t actually care about the lodges, they just care about getting their cut of the action.” said one Past Master who refused to be named. “That’s not what we used to do back in the old days,” said another, “Back in 1968, when I was Master of the lodge, when we needed money, the wives around the lodge would help hold a bake sale, and we hit everyone with a ten dollar special assessment. Why, we once raised over a thousand dollars, which was enough to put on whole a new roof!”
That’s not the attitude voiced by everyone, however. Many more members, and not necessarily the younger ones, seem to approve of BOAS. Several lodges around the state have already been testing the idea, and indeed, at least one partnership is in the final stages. “We have been fortunate to partner with a large, nationally recognized corporation that is known for its aggressive community outreach,” said a District Deputy from the 4th District. “We are just finalizing some details, like the new sign placement and promotional spots, and within a few weeks everybody should be seeing some big changes at the new McDonald’s Masonic Center of New Haven.”
While the larger buildings in the cities that host several lodges will probably benefit the most, smaller lodges in the towns will also be encouraged to seek out sponsorships, and the Grand Lodge will have suggestions for those who are interested. “Try to focus on the businesses that are important to your area,” suggested a Grand Lodge officer who would only identify himself as ‘Mike.’ “For example, Southington is known for its fruit orchards and large number of chain restaurants along the main street. I’d suggest that they approach Applebee’s. Newington has those shopping centers and the Berlin Turnpike running through it; I would tell those guys to look at Dick’s,” he said. “Or maybe they’d rather look at Hooters, instead. Unfortunately, towns like Putnam or Lakeville aren’t known for anything except being out of the way. We haven’t come up with any good ideas for them as yet.”
Indeed, this highlights one of the biggest issues with BOAS: Lodges in the cities and along the “Gold Coast” I-95 corridor will probably have no shortage of possible sponsors, while those in the northwest (and northeast) corners of the state are in economically depressed areas, with few business or organizations that would have the financial backing to pay for advertising and promotion, let alone sponsor building improvements. Ironically, BOAS could well accomplish the very opposite of what the Grand Lodge hopes to achieve; as the urban and suburban lodges draw sponsorships and become more modernized (thereby attracting more members), the older, rural lodges will look even worse by comparison, and not only fail to attract new members, but perhaps even lose some to the modernized lodges.
“The big companies aren’t going to partner up with a lodge out of the goodness of their hearts,” explained ‘Gary,’ a former Grand Lodge officer. “Lodge buildings in the city offer some good exposure, plus the opportunity to use the auditorium facilities for meetings or presentations. Even the smaller lodges in the suburbs are usually located in areas in which the buildings are highly visible, which is at least good for advertising and promotion. The lodges out in the boondocks, though, will have a more difficult time attracting a sponsor because there’s no visibility. I don’t know what the solution is. Maybe they’ll have to get several smaller, local sponsors.”
Some of the members of the fraternity are ambivalent about the partnership idea, however. “Grand Lodge is always pushing some program, and every year it’s something different,” complained one member from a lodge that will be getting a facelift from its new sponsor. “It wouldn’t surprise me if in two or three years, whatever Grand Master happens to be in charge will scrap the whole thing, anyway. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
If you had to make a Venn diagram of the categories “Rap Videos,” “Connecticut,” and “Freemasons,” you’d probably think that the intersection would be 0.
Reel Wold Productions presents: Apathy – “The Grand Leveler”
With special thanks to the officers and brethren of Coastal Lodge No. 57 in Stonington, CT & Bro. Jim Johnson.
Freemasonry Today, the publication of the UGLE, has a short article from Bro. John Hamill, Director of Special Projects, in which he asks the question “Is it time to modernize the rituals?” It’s a great topic, and one that has initiated some
bickering discussion in some of the online Masonic communities, with the general consensus that this question should be answered with a resounding “Hell no!”
One might think that being a Past District Lecturer that I’d be completely against this; but I’ve given this some thought, and I think that one could make a case that modernizing the ritual might not be such a bad idea. As Bro. Hamill points out:
The English language is said to be one of the most difficult to learn, in both its written and spoken forms. Part of that difficulty is the wonderfully idiosyncratic illogicality of how we pronounce many of our words, which often has little bearing on the actual letters they contain. Another problem is that a simple word can have different meanings, or shades of meaning, depending on its context, or even where in the country it is spoken.
Our familiarity with words and phrases affects how we use them. Over time, the words develop different meanings or connotations. For example, our current Masonic usage of the word “clandestine” now means something slightly different than it did 150 years ago. Similarly, some words fall out of favor, some are preferred for written discourse, but are rarely used in spoken conversation. For example; “inculcate.” I suspect that nobody uses this in speech because it’s just a jumble of misplaced consonants.
Bro. Hamill also writes (and many others have pointed out):
English is a living language in which the meaning of words changes over time…
If our language is “living,” does this mean that some of our words and phrases can be taken out to the back field and buried when they are dead?
I bring this up because of practical reasons. As a visitor to many lodges, both in and out of my district, I watched as officers strained to deliver their various lectures and charges. You could see their brows furrowed, perspiration on their foreheads, and the tension just radiating from their body movements as they struggled to recite passages in a dialect that was strange and unfamiliar. Their lack of familiarity with the archaic expressions, I contend, is what gave many — perhaps most — of my brothers such a difficult time. Imagine someone from, say, the US trying to memorize a passage of French or Spanish, with little working knowledge of the language. Yes, you’d recognize some words, and perhaps some would sound vaguely familiar, but how well could you actually deliver the lines — especially knowing that some of the people in the room were listening for each little mistake? I think that the typical 30 to 40 year old Mason probably hasn’t read much 1700s Brit-Lit, at least, not since high school, so the lack of familiarity with the terms and usage turns a few paragraphs of a lecture into something akin to a foreign language.
Yes, I know that part of the appeal of Freemasonry is the rich history, but I sometimes think that those of us who decry the modernization of the ritual — or of any other aspect — is really saying that he made the effort, so now he expects everyone else to do the same. This position can be declared elitist, or possibly libertarian, but to some degree, it’s simply wrong. For example, I don’t hear very many of my brothers asking to bring back the even more ancient usages, such as:
The eghte artycul schewt zow so,
That the mayster may hyt wel do,
Zef that he have any mon of crafte,
And be not also perfyt as he auzte,
He may hym change sone anon,
And take for hym a perfytur mon.
Suche a mon, throze rechelaschepe,
Myzth do the craft schert worschepe.
You recognize that, don’t you? Of course you do; it’s the 8th Article of Freemasonry from the Regius Manuscript. What, are you having a hard time with the 14th century script? Here, let’s
modernize the text make it easier to read:
The eighth article sheweth you so,
That the master may it well do.
If that he have any man of craft,
And he be not so perfect as he ought,
He may him change soon anon,
And take for him a more perfect man.
Such a man through rechalaschepe, (recklessness)
Might do the craft scant worship.
So much easier to understand, don’t you think? Personally, while I find it interesting from a historical aspect, I suspect that if you went back to the late 1700s, we wouldn’t find a lot of Freemasons bemoaning the dearth of 15th century style lectures.
As a counter-point, I also suspect that if you sat down with a bunch of your brothers after lodge, most of you could act out and recite entire sections of favorite movies or TV shows. Most of the brothers around my own age could probably quote passages from Monty Python and the Holy Grail that are at least equal in length and difficulty as any of our lectures, and I know for a fact that quite a few of the younger brothers at my lodge can quote and act out scene after scene from most of the Star Wars movies. What’s the difference between Monty Python and the Middle Chamber? You might argue that it’s the repetition, but I’d say that part of it is the familiarity with the language. Yes, there’s the repetition, but think about this: Most lodges meet twice a month. A Mason who attends most meetings is going to see and hear the opening ceremony at least 20 times in a year. By the time he’s a senior officer, he could have well seen 80 to 100 opening and closing ceremonies.That is a lot of repetition, certainly much more than one would experience with most movies or TV episodes. And yet, how many times have you seen a Master of a lodge who could barely stumble through a proper opening and closing?
In answer to his own question, Bro. Hamill concludes his essay by saying:
Occasionally, we hear calls to modernise those ceremonies, to take out old words and phrases and replace them with modern, instantly comprehensible ones. I hope those calls are never answered. Our ceremonies contain some wonderful set pieces of English language that would be destroyed if we modernised them. Freemasonry is a learning process, and if we have to resort to a dictionary to fully comprehend what we learn, that can only enrich us.
Personally, I enjoy the works as they are. Although not a history buff, I appreciate the connection to the older days of Freemasonry, and I quite like the challenge of tackling some of the unfamiliar phrasing in order to present it as I imagine a brother of 1814 would have done. But if “modernizing” the ritual means that more members would be able to memorize it — and more importantly, to deliver it well to the newer members — then maybe this is an idea worth examining a little more closely, before we toss it into the “we’ve never done it like that” discard bin.
Back before I even became a member at my lodge, I can remember wondering which appendant body I should join next. The esoteric Scottish Rite — full of Morals and Dogma, and discussions of symbology, and the seemingly infinite number of degrees? Or the more traditional York Rite, to continue the Masonic lessons in the way that the early speculative Freemasons have done in the past? Oh, sure, older and wiser Masons cautioned me to wait a bit until I had a chance to settle in, but what the hell did they know?
But you know how things happen. Right after I joined, I
got sucked into was asked to join the officer’s line, and that turned into five years just trying to do a decent job, and I figured that after my year in the East, I’d start looking at joining something else again. But no sooner was I shunted off to the old Past Master home, when I found myself with the capacity to aggravate people in an more-or-less official capacity as a District Grand Lecturer. That became three more years of my being out several nights a week, and I really had no desire to add more meeting nights to my plate. And then I was busy with work, and barely had time to get to Friendship a few times a month, let alone do anything else. And then my daughter was in her last year of high school, and we spent quite a bit of family time together before we would send her off to be indoctrinated college.
And then in the fall, it got too cold (and dark!) to do any bicycling in the evening after work, and I found myself — somewhat uncharacteristically — with little to do. So , I again pondered my choices, and after some reading, and some discussion with friends who had been there before me, I asked a brother who frequently stops in at Friendship for a petition. Naturally he had one in the car (Masons, amirite guize?); I filled it out, asked a few friends to sign off for me (fortunately the Past Grand Master just happened to be there), and turned it back in that afternoon. I got lucky, because the next meeting was in two weeks, and as it happened, the Keystone Chapter No. 27 was free enough to confer a Mark Master Mason degree.
After a few back and forth emails, I showed up at the Meriden Masonic Temple on the appointed date, and even somewhat early. We had been having a particularly frigid cold snap, and I found it amusing that the thermometer in my car said 4º when I pulled into the parking lot. I chatted with a few of the guys, and was surprised that I hadn’t actually met any of them before except for RW Bob, who was going to be acting as the RWM that evening.
The brothers are to be commended for putting together a degree on such short notice, especially since several people were sidelined by the weather. I had a surprise at the end of the evening when the Senior Grand Warden revealed that he was originally from Minnesota, and was a good friend — in real life, no less — of one of the few remaining Masonic bloggers.
While most of the guys were anxious to get home, a few of us did hang around afterward, talking about the degree and some of the history behind it. I’m looking forward to doing this again.
Here’s a picture of the Masonic Temple in Meriden, CT., in which a number of lodges and chapters meet.