Rick: Excuse me Doug E Fresh…
R: Have you ever seen a show with fellas on the mic
with one minute rhymes that don’t come out right?
D: They never write.
R: That’s not polite!
Am I lyin’?
D: No, you’re quite right.
R: Well, tonight on this very mic you’re about to hear
Both: We swear, the best darn rappers of the year.
D: Yell –
R: Scream –
B: Also, if you didn’t know,
this is called ‘The Show.’
Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, “The Show“
So, I just finished rambling on about how I thought that long degrees with lots of information and lectures were a good thing, both for the candidates and for the brothers attending lodge. For the candidates, it’s an immersion experience; they are – or should be – awed by the amount of information in the initiatory experience, and although they can’t possibly absorb everything, it should at the very least present them with an overview of the teachings of the Craft. And for the older brothers, seeing good ritual work done allows them to gain new perspectives as their own life changes coincide with the various moral teachings available in the various lectures.
I’ve been to degree ceremonies that have gone on until very late in the evening, usually because of extended dramas or lectures that one doesn’t normally get to see in a typical Connecticut lodge. Sometimes the ceremonies go so well that few brothers leave early; nights like that point out that good ritual ceremonies really do have value for everyone, not just the candidates.
Sometimes, however, I find myself at degree ceremonies that last until very late – but not because of the rituals or lectures. Rather, it seems to be a factor of people wanting to make a large production out of the evening, for what are probably the right reasons – but perhaps missing the point in the execution. For degree work, certain situations just seem to cry out for something special: A good friend, a son, a grandson, a favorite nephew, even (as I’ve seen) a father of a member – especially if that member is the Master – are circumstances that anyone would want to make especially memorable.
But. . . isn’t being initiated or raised not memorable enough?
I’ve been to several degree ceremonies – and they are always the EA or the MM degree – at which there have been several Grand Lodge line officers, Past Grand Masters, several District Deputies, and a number of representatives from the appendant bodies. It’s very nice to see such a show of support, and admittedly I was impressed the first few times I’d seen a wide array of Grand Lodge representatives at a degree. But now I’m beginning to wonder what the lodge has in mind when the officers plan on this type of arrangement. I mean, do any of them realize how long it takes to get 7 or more purple aprons out of the room, properly lined up, escorted back into the room, and then formally introduced?
Never mind, that was a rhetorical question.
There really isn’t any answer because the more purple aprons there are, the longer it takes to line them up by year, get their names, line them up again by rank, add a couple of names for the guys still sitting in the lodge room, line them up again according to the latest protocol, get the names of the late arrivals, pass the names to the Marshal who has now despaired of matching the names to the correct titles, have them walk back into the room in only the vaguest semblance of order, and then read the hastily scrawled names off of the 3 x 5 index card, after which they will be escorted to the Master’s station to shake hands and to be offered a hard, uncomfortable seat in front of the lodge, instead of one of the nice, comfy seats on the sidelines.
The candidates, of course, never get to see any of this. In fact, by the time the candidates actually get to meet the phalanx of officers, they are often too tired or overwhelmed to appreciate the trouble to which the lodge has gone, ostensibly on their behalf. They don’t know anything about officers or Grand Lodge officers or protocol until the end of the night, when the Master is compelled to call upon them, the Grand Lodge officers, for closing remarks.
And does anyone realize how long it takes to get 7 or more purple apron types to get through their closing remarks?
Never mind, that was another rhetorical question.
The real point that I’m trying to make is that we, that is, the more experienced Masters, sometimes forget that the initiatory experience is already overwhelming; too often our inviting large numbers of Masonic VIPs who have no connection to the candidates turns what should be a moving and solemn experience into a spectacle. I once overheard an older member at another lodge tell a couple of newly raised MMs how lucky they were to have been part of what he termed “an historic occasion” at their lodge. After he walked away, the new MMs turned to each other and shrugged. “Whatever,” they seemed to say; not, I’m sure, because they didn’t care, but because they had no context, no frame of reference by which to understand the circumstance of having 2 PGMs, four District officers, and half a dozen poobahs from the local Scottish RIte Valley.
If you are one of those people of the cynical persuasion, you’d begin to think that the reason that lodges have these kinds of spectacles events is to give a big ego boost to the WM. I’m going to stop short of that assumption and instead, charitably suggest that Masters are not thinking in terms of the candidates themselves. Rather, they are thinking in terms of making the degree ceremony an experience interesting enough to draw out the brothers who might otherwise stay home.
And this reasoning I can understand; part of our job success as Master of a lodge is to get the brothers to participate, or at least, to show up. But there are other ways to get them interested:Have a special dinner, say, a cookout or a surf & turf or some other theme night. Have a few visiting brothers do one of the lectures. Have the degree in costume. There are dozens of ways to make a degree night interesting for everyone that would not make it overwhelming for the candidates – or for the 80+ year old members who have to drive home.
Getting back to my original point, I sometimes wonder if having good, well-performed ritual work wouldn’t be enough of an incentive to attract the brothers who are the fence-sitters, the people who might come if only they thought it would be worth spending a few hours down at the old lodge. By “good,” I mean officers who actually study and rehearse their parts, and who have learned to put some feeling and character into their ritual work, and who can make the quality of the work itself the spectacle, rather than the quantity of the visitors.