Not sure what jurisdiction this is, but they seem pretty “regular” to me.
It’s some kind of rule in New England that we need a Masonic Mardis Gras; that is, a break from wearing the formal suits to lodge for at least one evening, and instead, dress up in the most garish costumes that seem to be specifically designed to emphasize our expanding waistlines by covering our upper bodies with bright colors and ridiculous prints.
That’s right, I’m talking about Hawaiian Shirt Night. It wouldn’t be summer in New England if a lodge didn’t have a Hawaiian Shirt Night. That is, except for those lodges that have Hawaiian Shirt Nights during the winter.
We didn’t have a luau for dinner, but we did have hot dogs, burgers, and barbecued chicken.
Maybe the purpose of the shirts is to hide the barbecue sauce and ketchup?
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.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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?
On Sunday, Bro. Euphrates published a post on Freemason Information that reflects the attitudes that many Masons have about their own lodges. He wrote, in part:
Would you really want to explain to a prospective Mason what really goes on at a typical lodge meeting? Let’s imagine how that conversation would play out.
Inquirer: So what do Masons do?
Mason: Well, we have a couple of lodge meetings a month.
Inquirer: What do you do there?
Mason: We read the minutes of the previous meeting and make any necessary corrections to them. Then we pay the bills, read any correspondence, and vote on any new petitioners. Then we proceed to discuss business for about an hour. Like, last week we were discussing how we were going to put on a spaghetti dinner. Our Junior Warden had it all planned out and then one of the older Past Masters told him how he ought to do it. We also discussed how we might go about making the necessary repairs to the building. Then we closed the lodge and went downstairs to eat some generic-brand cookies and drink some coffee before going home.
Inquirer: I thought you had philosophical education.
Mason: We do when we perform the degrees.
Inquirer: How often does that happen?
Mason: Sometimes once a month. Sometimes we will go several months without doing any degrees.
Inquirer: What about the fellowship you were talking about?
Mason: That’s what the coffee and cookies are.
Inquirer: What about the charity?
Mason: Well, that’s why we’re doing the spaghetti dinner, so that we can raise money in order to write a check to the Grand Lodge’s charity.
Inquirer: That sounds kind of boring.
Mason: Want a petition?
Freemasons view the organization in the proper light, but they don’t always run the organization with that same philosophy. Freemasons need to take all of the great things that they have to say about the fraternity and actually accomplish them in lodge.
I was thinking about this when I walked up to my own lodge on Monday night. Outside, I saw a handful of brothers enjoying a quiet smoke after the meal that we generally serve before each meeting. I slipped inside, and tried to pour myself some coffee from the pot that is right near the door, but was somewhat hampered in my efforts by pausing to greet another half a dozen brothers who welcomed me. I looked around, and something compelled me to snap a few shots of the typical gathering before one of our meetings.
You can’t tell from the terrible pics of my phone cam, but we had a dozen officers (The spots from WM down to Tyler and Marshal are always filled, and we’ve even needed to create positions of “Associate Stewards” to accommodate the new members who want to help out). We had another dozen members, ranging from Past Masters, 50+year members, down to our newest Master Mason (one of three raised at a Special Communication two Saturdays ago). We had a couple of brothers from other lodges visiting, plus the District Deputy. And, as you can see from the pictures, we had a smattering of wives, girlfriends, and children.
Yes, that’s right. Our families come down for the meetings.
This has been a huge shock surprise to brothers visiting from other lodges. Once, an older brother arrived and asked me if it was some kind of awards night. Another asked me if it was a Ladies Night. And still others have asked if there was actually a meeting going on at all.
Some of the families have dinner before the meeting, and then leave. Others will stay until we close upstairs. Mothers will take children home, sometimes leaving dads in the fraternal care of a trusted brother who will drop him off later on. They like to stay, of course, because we have coffee and generic cookies afterward. We also have pie — store bought or home made — ice cream, and for those who indulge, a smattering of alcoholic beverages, often consumed in conjunction with cigars, cigarettes, or the occasional pipe. Last night, it was after 11 pm when I finally left; more than two hours after the actual Stated Communication ended. And I left behind me the District Deputy, the Master, and a couple of officers. A visitor from a neighboring lodge had left only a half hour before I did.
Yes, this is typical. Sometimes there are more people, sometimes fewer. Sometimes we call it a night earlier, sometimes not. Sometimes more scotch is consumed, sometimes none. But the essential character of Friendship Lodge remains the same.
Why is that?
Simply put, it’s because the members run the lodge.
Yes, I know — of course the members run the lodge. Don’t they?
I’m going to suggest that in most many cases, the members don’t run the lodge at all. Instead it is run by Past Masters and/or Secretaries. I know of some lodges in which the incoming Master has to present the program for his upcoming year for the approval of a board of the Past Masters. While it is certainly helpful to have the advice and support of those more experienced, all too often such approval serves only to make sure that the new Master continues to do what the older members have always done — whether it works or not. Likewise, one should have respect for the Past Masters who stepped up to the Oriental Chair several times during those years in which lodges lost more members that they initiated, but too often those same Past Masters can discourage new members from implementing new ideas.
Sometimes, the reverence for the traditions and history of our Craft work against us; this can be seen in situations in which the lodge becomes so insulated from the surrounding society that it simply loses relevance. Lodge meetings become just one more thing on the ever-filling calendar. When members begin seeing it as a chore, it’s no wonder they stop coming.
A few years ago, Friendship Lodge installed cable television and wifi internet access. After the members have gone upstairs for the meeting, it’s not unusual to see a few women watching a show, doing some hobby or craft, updating their Facebook accounts, doing homework, or just net surfing. The lodge is now an enjoyable activity for them, which makes them less inclined to object when their partner has to come down on a Saturday for a special degree, or to attend another lodge to help out with something. And because the families are there, the lodge seems less insulated, and more relevant to the daily lives of the members.
Who made the decisions that allowed more family participation in the lodge? The members. Some of the members are Past Masters, of course, and personally, I don’t think that anyone envisioned just how successful these changes would be. And yes, a few of the old timers occasionally bemoan the changes, but I suspect that nobody hears them over the noise of the tv and Youtube videos, and of course, the constant chattering of the people-filled meeting hall.
There is an adage that says “People tend to get the kind of government that they deserve.” It’s a cynical perspective, but poignantly accurate. If you found yourself nodding and agreeing with Bro. Euphrates the other day, then maybe it’s time to ask yourself: What kind of lodge do I deserve?
Every year, the next-to-junior Past Master of Friendship Lodge gets the the unenviable task of gathering together a large group of his predecessors for the purpose of putting on a Master Mason degree. We typically hold two sets of degrees, one in early spring and one in the fall, and the Past Master’s degree is performed at the Master’s discretion. Some choose to do it early to give them more time to study for their own degree.
Last year, we did this degree in the Fall. This year, we did it in the spring because the WM has slacked off needs more time to prepare before he can do it well. I understand; the MM degree is long, and Friendship Lodge adds another dramatic section to the Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend, which adds to the memory work. In our state, some lodges choose to add sections to the degree that give more background, which helps the candidates to better appreciate the lessons of the story. A number of them add the same section that we do, and one of my lodges, Frederick-Franklin 14, adds yet another section which serves to give even more insight into the character of Hiram Abiff.
Anyone who has run an event comprised of all Past Masters can well understand the metaphor “like herding cats.” Some check their email daily, some weekly, some never. Some were going to be gone for the scheduled week, probably because it was close to the Memorial Day holiday. Some wanted minor parts, some weren’t going to make it for dinner, some wanted parts, but weren’t sure if they were going to be there at all.
Of course, it didn’t help matters when, not for the first time, I scheduled a rehearsal on Mother’s Day.
Lucky for me, I had just done this degree at my other lodge, so unlike last year, it was still fresh in my memory. One of my occupational hazards is that I’m often seeing, coaching, or participating in different degrees each week, and sometimes one degree will get stuck in my head and remain there for a couple of days. This becomes a problem when in the middle of a lecture or charge, I suddenly blank out and forget which degree I’m on. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem for me this year, and I somehow managed to get through the degree without any mental infarctions.
The junior officers put on a huge meal: a very tasty surf & turf dinner that was heavy on the cholesterol, for which they made no apologies. It didn’t seem to faze the dinner guests, and when I walked in I saw wall-to-wall smiling faces. How we all managed to stay awake after such a lavish feast is beyond my ken.
I took the East for the first section of the degree, and WB Richie took the West. We traded seats for the dramatic portion, and at the end of the evening had raised three new Master Masons. Those of you who are reading this, hoping for one of my little humorous tales of something gone wrong, are going to be disappointed, I’m afraid. We had an excellent crew of Past Masters, and by all accounts the evening was a success.
It was, however, the first year that I actually felt like a Past Master, myself. Last year the whole PM thing was still new for me, and I was still getting the hang of being the District Grand Lecturer. This year, though, I had more of a sense of how removed I am from the Oriental Chair. I’m not sad or melancholy, quite the opposite: I’ve had a long time now to look back and to think about what I liked, and what I might have done differently. The weekly phone calls from the current Master Worshipful Jim serve to remind me that my opinion and advice are still valuable, and I have come to appreciate that.
Past Masters need not devolve into moss-backed old turtles once they leave the chair.