Badges? Badges? We don’t need…
Before I dipped my toe into the blog pool, I used to write on the various Masonic web groups and on Usenet. In fact, despite the rather unpleasant signal-to-noise ratio at times, I happen to like newsgroups. The quick responses and multi-threaded conversations are often mentally invigorating; although lately it seems that most conversations that I have are just arguments with the Anti-Masonic crowd. That said, in searching for something else, I ran across a few of my posts to the group alt.freemasonry and soc.org.freemasonry that I made when I was a new officer. I’m going to post some of them here because they provide an interesting perspective from an idealistic new Mason – as opposed the the jaded and bitter ramblings of the Past Master that I’ve become. This one in particular I remember well, and here it is, slightly edited to clean up the typos and formatting.
It was 2004, I was a new JW, and we were only two or three meetings into the year. One of my best friends − the guy who brought me into Friendship − was the new WM, and the two greatest Stewards in the world were on either side of me, and we were about to have an EA degree, which was to be inspected by the DD and AGM, both of whom were frequent visitors to Friendship. We were well rehearsed and anxious to get started. It doesn’t get any better than this.
In Connecticut, the JW has a great section in the opening and closing ritual (that is, in the “long form” in which Friendship Lodge works. There is a “short form,” but we do not speak of such things in our lodge) . I love this part, and frankly, I do tend to
ham it up emote a little because I like to get into the proper mindset before a degree. I have discovered that I really enjoy ritual, and constantly challenge myself to do just a little better each time. Anyway, within the section (which may be slightly different in other jurisdictions) I describe part of the JWs duties, and admonish the brothers against turning the purpose of refreshment into…
− and here I paused for dramatic effect and slowly turned to look at the dour and stern-visaged brother on my left −
“…intemperance and …”
− and here I paused and turned to the rather large and expansive brother on my right −
I continued on with the speech, but the attributes of my Stewards fit so well with the section that everyone, including the purple aprons across the room, started cracking up. And from that night on, pretty much everyone in the entire district referred to them as Bros. Intemperance and Excess. Anyhow, at the end of the year, the Stewards secretly had name tags made up that resemble the regular officer’s tags; and yes, they had them made up as Intemperance and Excess.
I want to interject at this point to assure readers that we do not engage in such tomfoolery during actual degree work, and our candidates get nothing less than the most impressive and solemn ritual, quite possibly in the state. However, I do acknowledge that we have a bit of light-hearted fun during the normal business meetings.
So, why is this significant? I’m getting there.
Eleven months later we had our 2005 officer’s installation, and yours truly was now firmly ensconced in the West. Without getting into yet another long story, our lodge officers have a tradition: the officers, for at least the last 10 or maybe 15 years, wear bright red socks with their tuxedos. Each installation the WM presents the newest officers (usually a Marshall or Steward) with a pair of red socks. That year, the incoming WM announced that there would be a new tradition: in addition to handing out the red socks, we had The Passing Down of the Stewards Badges. He called up the old Stewards, and the old SS passed his “Excess” badge down to the incoming SS, who passed his “Intemperance” badge on to the new JS. He had this all set up ahead of time with the Stewards in order to rib me a little. It was very funny – in a “I guess you had to be there” kind of way, and we all had a nice laugh; even the non−Masons present enjoyed the joke after we explained it all (in most US states, installations are semi-public events). I hope I’m around in 20 years to see if they’re still doing it, and to see if they understand why they’re doing it.
And that brings me to my point: I know that there are some lodges out there − yes, even in Connecticut − that can barely fill the officer’s line, that have nothing but rusty, dusty, carping PMs sitting on the sidelines, or that need to close because of a lack of interest. I don’t know why this happens; demographics, time, culture change, there are dozens of reasons I suppose. And frankly, I’m not sure why Friendship Lodge has been so successful in the camaraderie department. Somehow, we’ve been fortunate to have a great mix of guys; our most active members are typically from their mid−20s to mid−50s. Most of the PMs are still active, too − I don’t mean that they show up, I mean that they’re active. Oh sure, there are a couple who might comment from the sidelines when you screw up, but most of them take you aside to point out a flaw or to give some advice; not because they want to show off their knowledge, but because they want the lodge as a whole to improve.
It saddens me to hear the stories of lodges with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash reserves that serve donuts after a meeting to 9 people − on a good night. Lodges at which members show up only ten minutes before a meeting and leave fifteen minutes afterward. Or lodges that have 2 hour discussions over minutiae, like whether to buy the $30 or the $35 coffee maker. Yes, I know that if they’re willing to argue for an hour over little points, then it means that they care on some level, but seems to me that it would be better if they used their energies elsewhere.
I’m proud of the officers in the line behind me; they’ve found a way to create their own traditions and culture; and maybe these little changes and additions that they create will make the lodge feel more like their “home”, and keep them coming back and contributing. Oh sure, I’m a teeny bit smug that it was my own little attempt at humor which has helped to create a new tradition, but that’s really not the important part. The important part is how they responded to the humor by taking something and molding it into something that works for them. It’s all too easy to just keep going along, doing the same old, same old without giving any thought as to why you are doing it. It’s no wonder that some people simply stop showing up at meetings when they no longer feel as if they are a part of something, and when they no longer believe that they are making any difference.
I want to come back in 20 years, not to see “The Passing of the Stewards Badges” in particular, but to see something, anything that tells me that these men – my brothers – are creating their own reasons to keep coming back.