Master of Your Domain

Q: How many Past Masters does it take to change a light bulb?

A1: Change?
A2: But… my grandfather donated that light bulb!
A3: Let’s put a committee on it next month.
[ . . . ]
A1,001: The bulbs never went dark in my year.

The jokes about Past Masters abound, and understandably so; the stories we hear about some Past Masters seem to be almost as old as the fraternity itself. Yet, most new Masters look to the Past Masters, if not for help and support, at least for some kind of direction. And again, understandably so: for most of us, being the Master of a lodge is less a matter of preparation and more like On the Job Training. Unfortunately, too often the “direction” we seek comes in the form of “thou shalt nots:”

“We never did it that way before.”
“We tried that back in ’96 and it didn’t work.”
“Don’t waste your time, nobody wants that.”
“We’ve never done it like that, and we’re not going to start now.”
“Don’t worry about what Grand Lodge says, we run things differently here.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before.

That was a trick question; if anyone has been paying attention, you’d realize that you’ve heard this not just in lodge, but pretty much everywhere you’ve been since you were old enough to understand the spoken language. Parents, teachers, civic leaders, politicians, religious leaders, family, friends, cow-orkers, neighbors, even spouses have all chanted these lines to you – and perhaps you, yourself have said some version of one of those lines to someone else.

Lately, I’ve been hearing about lodges run by Past Masters, to the frustration of the new Masters. This means that at some point in the history of that lodge, a new Master – perhaps motivated by insecurity or doubt – abdicated some authority to those with (or so he must have believed) more experience. It’s no wonder that so many lodges are run by the Past Masters; to most of us, it’s got to be very difficult to overcome the feelings and beliefs that have been instilled in us from childhood: Listen to your elders. Do what they say. Don’t rock the boat. Follow instructions. Stay inside the lines.

With the exception of a few of the Pointdexter types, most men going into the East do not have the rules and regulations and By-laws memorized, and generally, younger men haven’t had the experience with managing and organizing large groups of people. I’m quoting from something that I wrote last year to help make my point:

For many of us, being the Master of the lodge is our first time in a managerial position, and while we’ve prepared ourselves by honing our ritual work for our new position, learning the proper introduction for the seemingly endless titles of Grand Lodge officers, and getting the phone number of the Grand Lodge secretary, most of us aren’t prepared for the real secret of the Master’s chair: Almost none of the things that were important last year will apply to you this year.

Does that sound familiar, too? It should. No, not because you read it last year, but because this is exactly what happens to us every day in real life. Elementary school, High School, College, and even Grad School do not prepare us for real life, except in the sense that we learn some general skills that we can (hopefully!) apply.

Think of your lodge as a metaphor for your own life, and the Past Masters as a metaphor for the society around you. As Master of the lodge (that is, your life) you are presumably in a position to control your own destiny. Yet, every situation you encounter is one more opportunity not to display your knowledge, but to learn even more new skills, and you are constantly testing your experience and new skills against those societal rules and social mores that you’ve internalized all of your life. In real life, at some point we make our own decisions, even though we may consult others for advice. That is because our life’s task is to learn how to best take care of ourselves. Often, what we want for ourselves is not what our community, family, legal system or faith traditions may want for us, and so we then learn how to cope with either giving up our desires, or to cope with the consequences of doing something that is counter to the desires of those around us. Whatever we decide, we hope it will help to smooth our ashlars.

So, who’s running your lodge?

  1. June 15, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    Amen, Brother! Excelsior Lodge totally has this problem. Many of our revered Past Masters have provided me with invaluable experience and direction, as well as a sense of continuity. But a few have simply put the damper on any fun we could have had and many of them remind me weekly about how much money we’re giving to charity and that we shouldn’t donate so much. I remind them that they have an equal voice with the rest of the brethren when voting on donations and that apparently doesn’t sit too well with them, especially if they’ve been used to running the Lodge from the sidelines (we’ve had a string of very weak and inattentive Masters).


  1. June 24, 2016 at 1:12 pm

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