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There are two types of people…

June 11, 2008 Leave a comment

Watching an old movie the other day reminded me of a discussion I had a while back with someone who intimated that I did not take my duties – or Masonry, for that matter – seriously. Predictably, he went on to mention some of the things that he, himself would do if he were me; including, not unsurprisingly, making sure that people who didn’t abide by the rules would be “dealt with.”

It became apparent that my well-meaning brother was under the a mistaken assumption in which he was confusing the tools that I use in my duties (“levity” and “a relaxed approach”) with my underlying attitude and approach toward them. Obviously, this brother and I hold fundamentally different philosophies as to how the structure of our fraternity works: he seemed to think that just telling people what to do is sufficient, and considered what I do as a District Grand Lecturer something akin to a traveling minstrel show.

See, as the District Grand Lecturer, my duties as assigned are actually pretty light: I just have to administer a test to make sure that the incoming Master is prepared, ritual-wise. However, several lodges have asked me to help them polish their ritual proficiency and floorwork, and so I spend most of my time at rehearsals, giving tips, making suggestions, and (hopefully) inspiring new officers to be better by coaching them along. Not surprisingly, this is exactly how I was taught in my own lodge by some experienced Past Masters. In theory, I could simply read the book to them and say “Okay, that’s what you’re supposed to know. I’ll be back next week to grade you.” In practice, I tend to be light-hearted and jokey (where have I heard that before ?), simply because that was the kind of style that inspired me. I figure that if I’m going to join a half-dozen guys walking around a cold lodge room on a rainy evening, then I want to at least make it enjoyable for myself. If the other people get something out of it, then so much the better.

In the aforementioned discussion, I found myself rather surprised to hear the suggestion that lodge officers should be given the ritual book, and have it explained to them that the rules of our Grand Lodge say that they need to follow the instructions. Their testing, as it were, could then be done by some other officer, thereby obviating the need for District Lecturers. I was surprised because, indeed, this is exactly the case as it has been for the past fifty or more years. Connecticut has a published ritual monitor, and it’s relatively clear what the Master and officers should be doing. The problem is, some people haven’t been doing it. In fact, by my estimation, a hell of a lot of people haven’t been doing it properly for quite some years, and many lodges have had several generations of officers pass without seeing proper ritual work modeled for the younger officers, who would then model it for the officers after them.

This is where I come in. I see that there is a disconnect between what the officers should be doing and what they are doing. So, in my light-hearted and jokey way, I’ve been giving ritual coaching. While I agree that the officers should be doing things a certain way, I don’t believe that throwing a rule book at them will make them change their behavior. My counterpart believes that it doesn’t matter – they knew what the expectations were when they signed up; or at least, they should have done so, because they agreed to it.

So, which one of us is correct?

Actually, he is.

Unfortunately, being right doesn’t always fix the problem.

This is a common situation for people in organizations because of the nature of the various types of people who are in – indeed, who are needed – to run an organization.

Freemasonry, like every other organization, is comprised of people who take on various roles. Most organizations have people who have a command of every rule and regulation, down to the sub-articles and clauses. It needs to be stressed that these people are very important to the organization because without rules, you have no organization! During any discussion in which group members want to “hurry up and do something”, it’s easy to dismiss the comments of the rule-keeper when what the members are proposing run a little out of bounds. “Oh, you’re just being fussy” or “Rules were made to be broken” are typical responses to those who strive to keep order. In our rush to be post-modern action heroes, we often fail to think our actions through to the possible consequences. Organizations in which the members do not follow rules soon devolve into anarchy. Those who keep track of the rules help to keep the structure of the organization intact.

Large organizations typically also have members who understand that the underlying purpose of those rules is to have a better organization, one that is more effective, more enjoyable, or more satisfying to the members. They also understand, however, that sometimes the rules – or the imposition of new rules – have unintended consequences which affect the performance of the organization. To these people fall the unenviable task of trying to achieve long-term goals while working within the scope – if possible – of the existing structure. If they are successful, the rules are usually modified in order to accommodate the new strategies. Masons – indeed, members of any organization – need to realize that both types of people are essential to the health and longevity of the organization, and neither is more important than the other. As Entered Apprentices, we are taught the importance of a proper, true and square foundation to our temples. Those rules and regulations are the foundation of our organization, and it is essential that we understand their importance. Yet, we also understand that we are all human beings, and as such are all different in terms of abilities, skills, and talents with the tools at our disposal.

Friendly competition between the left-brain and right-brain people is necessary for the continued health of the Fraternity; indeed, this is the root of that “noble contention of who best can work and best agree;” but I think that many of us are prone to forget this when we get caught up in overseeing our own very small piece of work that we contribute.

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Picture: The Fairly Odd Parents

Revenge of When Bloggers Collide

May 2, 2008 Leave a comment

“[. . .] whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons, that must have remained at a perpetual distance.”

There is supposedly an old Chinese saying (are there ever any new Chinese sayings?) that runs something like: “If you save somebody’s life, you are responsible for them forever.” I left my friend 3M of Northeastern Corner in the fraternal care of Bros. Eric, Kevin and Kyle some concerned brothers of Friendship Lodge who wish to remain anonymous, on the night before the Grand Lodge Annual Communication. While his life was not in danger, his reputation certainly skated on some thin ice as a result of several incidents involving car batteries, kitchen utensils, a visiting dwarf-tossing team, and a large luggage rack. I was informed of this the next morning by Bro. Kyle, who, with the aid of a cattle prod and the aforementioned luggage cart, was able to minister to the needs of our brother who was led astray. For valor above and beyond all reasonable expectations, not to mention courage in the face of violations of several safety reglations, Bro. Kyle not only wins the Mason of the Month award, but now would seem to be responsible for 3M’s reputation for quite some time to come.

Proving that he did not learn to leave well enough alone, 3M invited us halfway across the state, down to St. John’s No. 6 in New Jersey Norwalk on Thursday, May 1st, where he would be sitting in the East for the first time to confer an EA degree. So, Thursday night saw Bros. Kyle, Eric and Kevin the anonymous brothers barreling down the Merritt Parkway in their officer’s tuxedos, as Kevin and Kyle had offered to sit in as Stewards. Yours truly followed up about 20 minutes later, having come right from work. The photo of 3M and I shows that while I was smart enough to remember to bring my tuxedo with me, I had forgotten the black bow tie, so I wore a festive blue one that I’d had in my pocket. I had also forgotten my apron case, which my traveling brothers graciously picked up for me.

Worshipful Du Jour

More embarrassingly, though, was that I had forgotten to bring a white shirt. I probably could have gotten away with wearing the grey work shirt if I’d remembered the black bow tie. Fortunately, it’s not as if I have an important position where people would notice that kind of thing about me.

3M assumed the East with only a few minor newbie fluffs, and my counterpart in District 1, VW Bro. Lem and I commented several times on how well he was doing. Most of the other chairs were filled by PMs of St. John’s, and the several younger officers that filled in the Junior officers chairs did admirable work. They initiated three candidates, all younger men (which, from my perspective, is anyone under 45). 3M graciously allowed Bro. Kyle to deliver the long-form apron presentation lecture, and Bros. Eric and Kevin to perform the first section lecture in the Friendship Lodge “walk around” style. Afterwards, we were treated to a rarely seen second section lecture by WB Paul Chapin from Federal 17. I was able to sit on the sidelines and simply observe, which is a rare occurrence for me lately. It also assured 3M that I would not spoil his EA degree by accidentally delivering something from an MM or FC degree.

Owing to the long drive ahead, we didn’t hang around long after the meeting . . . much. A few cold refreshments and cigars did manage to make the rounds, though, and a few of us had a great time ribbing – and congratulating – 3M as we developed an impromptu tailgate party.

More to the point, though, is this: A month ago, except for me, nobody in Friendship Lodge knew 3M. A month later, he now has several friends and acquaintances – some of whom were willing to give up a night in which they could have been doing almost anything else, to drive halfway across the state just to cheer him on. As I walked to my car, I watched half a dozen younger officers and new Masons chatting away, trading stories and jokes, and making promises to get together again soon.

And that is one of the beautiful things about our fraternity: the ability to remove that “perpetual distance” which separates men.


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When Bloggers Collide

April 9, 2008 Leave a comment

It was really only five years ago that I was the new guy, the young Mason attending Grand Lodge – or more correctly, the reunion and hospitality suites the night before Grand Lodge session. I’d taken the afternoon off from work and we’d spent the time prepping tons of food and drink for the wandering brothers. Several of the older, more experienced brothers took me around to visit some of the other rooms and introduce me to the brothers from other districts; I met a lot of nice people during the first year, and remembered most of them over the next several years. Grand Lodge is sometimes like the get-togethers you have at weddings and funerals: it’s the one time a year you might have to catch up on news and gossip. And I don’t know when it happened, but I’m no longer a new Mason. Last night Sunday night, it was my turn to be the older guy and take one of the new brothers around, and to explain how and why things work.

Yesterday Sunday evening, while most of the lodge parties were just getting underway, I met up with several other of the Connecticut Freemason bloggers. This was the end result of six months of emails and phone calls which began “Hey, we should all get together for dinner some night and talk about blogging.” After half a dozen missed opportunities, we managed to agree to meet the night before GL at the restaurant in the hotel. Fueled by the vapors of distilled grain, I had several hours of conversation with 3M of Northeastern Corner, the esteemed Traveling Man of Movable Jewel, and the Very Worshipful Charles Tirrell of Masonic Renaissance. We were missing MF (Metaphysical Freemason), whose father-in-law had to be taken to the hospital that morning. The pressures of work, family, geography, and of course our Masonly duties made scheduling one night a much more difficult task than you would have thought.

I’ve spent a little bit of time in and after meetings with both VW Brother Charles and with MJ, but this was the first time we’d been able to hang out without any particular agenda. And none of us have been able to spend much time with 3M, mainly because his district is down in New York (well, it seems that way anyhow). A pleasant and thoughtful young man, 3M was only raised a couple of years ago, making him the newbie. Nobody else from his lodge was able to make the trip up.

VW Charles brought up some officers from his own lodge, also younger Masons, and we spent a pleasant couple of hours having drinks and sandwiches, and just getting to know a little about each other. All of us being Connecticut Masons, we had the opportunity to discuss not just blogging and internet Masonry, but also topics concerning local, district and state events. Table conversation ranged from praising (and poking) other well-known bloggers and some of the recent topics, internet Masonry and how it can be better utilized to the benefit of the Craft (we’re in favor of more of it), District Blue Lodge Council meetings (some people find them to be a waste of time), the state of ritual (to some degree), and some of the items up for discussion at Grand Lodge (oh yeah, there’s a session).

After a dinner of sandwiches and frits (the French word for “fries,” I was informed), we retired upstairs to VW Charles’ room, where 3M treated us to some finely crafted hand-rolled cigars, which we enjoyed out on the balcony – smoking being prohibited in the hotel rooms. While enjoying the aroma, not to mention the invigorating New England air, we continued our discussions. The non-blogging junior officers lost interest, and retired to the warmth of the room, where they kept themselves occupied with a Wii, iPods, laptops, and various other electronic gear.

As Charles mentioned in his own post on this subject, we found it surprising that with Connecticut being such a small state, the four of us had managed to develop notably differing ideas and opinions about Freemasonry. This wasn’t so obvious when discussing our ideas for how to improve the quality of meetings and Masonic education, but was more noticeable when we discussed our positions on those states which have yet to fully recognize the Prince Hall jurisdictions, and how our UGLE-related fraternity intersects with orders that have long since split off: La Droit Humain, Grand Orientes, and Co-Masonry. Fortunately, real Masons manage to subdue their passions when discussing such potentially divisive subjects, and we soon veered off those topics to discuss the proposed legislation and some of the rumors that had been making the rounds. We also traded stories about some of the lodges that we’ve seen that are doing it wrong (and some that are doing it right), and kicked around some of our own ideas for what could make for better lodges.

Charles is a very progressive-minded brother who has a number of great ideas for lodges on his own site, including utilizing Pay Pal or similar services to collect dues money. We also thought that the dreaded dues increases would hurt less if we allowed the members to pay in monthly or quarterly installments; we noted that most dues are, um, due right around the holidays – just when people are already ticked about paying bills. Perhaps a subscription service might be a better way to go for some of the brethren. We also discussed having some of the brothers “pay” in service, rather than in coinage; some brothers could agree to a certain number of hours doing maintenance, cleaning, repairs, etc., in exchange for some abatement on dues. We also – and I hope he doesn’t mind my mentioning it here – tossed around the idea of recording video interviews with notable brothers; not necessarily the oldest or famous, but brothers with an interesting perspective on the fraternity. Any Connecticut brothers with video editing experience who are interested in lending some help might want to contact VW Bro Charles.

Eventually we had to go home – at least, some of us did. TM wandered off to his car, and I took 3M for a tour around the hotel to meet the members of Friendship Lodge. A couple of brothers were at the room, and others appeared as we were having a drink. I left 3M in the fraternal care of our SW Eric, who promised to look after him, and I left for home around midnight. Since 3M was staying overnight, I was reasonably certain that he wouldn’t get into much trouble. I later found that natural supposition to be erroneous, but that’s a topic for another article.

The four of us got together out of curiosity – indeed, we’ve been trying to find some way to get together for months, but just haven’t been able to get our schedules together. When we decided to meet, it was because we thought that we had two things in common: Freemasonry, and a desire to share our experiences and perspectives via this medium. There are five of us who blog about the Craft, not counting the few people who mention Freemasonry on their MySpace and LiveJournal pages. While it doesn’t sound like very many, it does, in fact, make up a significant portion of the Craft-bloggers extant on the internet; more impressive when you consider the size of our state. In an age in which internet communication is becoming more utilized by new and potential members, I’m glad that such a great group of brothers has been able to spread some light through this new medium, and I’m sure that all of us look forward to doing this in the future.

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The District FC Degree

April 6, 2008 Leave a comment

Well, we pulled it off.

On Saturday, March 29, a dozen and half officers from the eight different lodges of District 5 managed to put together a very nice FC degree in the auditorium of the Masonic Health Care Center in Wallingford.

Anyone who has ever seen the bedlam which accompanies a normal degree rehearsal can only imagine what our single rehearsal was like the week before the degree. Well, that’s not fair – since half the people didn’t show up, the confusion in the temple wasn’t anything like it could have been, I’m sure.

On Saturday morning, several of the brothers met at Friendship and piled the officer’s stations, jewels, aprons, and the movable set of stairs into RWB Gary Arseneau’s and Senior Steward Kyle Charette’s pickup trucks. WB Ted Hasty, the poor guy who coordinated this event was already at the auditorium, moving the chairs and rearranging the room. By 10:45 am, everything was in position.

Which was perfect timing for my arrival at 10:55.

Apparently, WB Ted was a bit antsy about the event, and got there very early just to make sure that things were going to work out. He’s obviously my Bizarro world twin: he shows up as early as I tend to show up late. Oh, and I think that Ted has a reaction to the red kryptonite.

After the room was set up we were treated to lunch in the MHA cafeteria. I declined, owing to a traumatic lunchroom incident in my childhood involving spaghetti, soy meatloaf, and canned wildebeest – the details of which are best left to the imagination. But shortly afterwards, several of us took a small tour of the Ashlar Village facility, just up the hill from the hospital. Ashlar Village is a small community having a mixture of independent and assisted living buildings. We took a look into the newly remodeled main building. “Newly remodeled” is perhaps not the best term, and for the last several years it seems to be under a new plan called “constant remodeling.” I think that the facility changes every month. One of the highlights, though, was the small lodge room that has been built on one of the basement areas. It hasn’t been used for any official purpose, however as you can see from the pictures it’s had some unofficial uses.

By the time we got back, other people started showing up: officers from other lodges, several interested onlookers, and eventually, a few brothers from the hospital itself. Personally, I was a little disappointed at the turnout – only eight brothers from the hospital and nearby Ashlar Village ended up visiting. But that disappointment was mitigated by learning that one brother had not been to a lodge in over 40 years, and another had been hoping to see a degree for several years, but had no way to travel. Four of our guests were in wheelchairs, one had a walker, and another had a cane. One brother happened to pass by me heading down the hall and called out “What part are you doing, sonny?” I slowed down to talk to him and keep him company on the walk down. After assuring him that I really did not need to borrow his ritual book (why do some of the old timers read the books while following the degree? Self-appointed quality control inspectors?) he told me not to walk with him because he was shuffling along rather slowly and he didn’t want to hold me up. “I’m pretty sure I’ll make it by one-thirty!” he called after me as he inched along the hallway.

Click here to see the rest of the photos

The degree itself was a pleasant affair, made interesting because we had one candidate from Sequin-Level and one from Unity. Being a Fellowcraft degree, Friendship brought along their stairs. Yes, we have a set of spiral stairs that appear to have been built in the 50s; they disassemble for storage, so we were able to fit them into the back of a pickup and haul them down. Some of the visitors who had never been to Friendship spent some time testing them for strength; but we’ve never had a problem. I fear, however, that we’ll need to make some minor repairs, simply because age and knocking around in a closet every few months is taking it’s toll on them.

The officers performed admirably and the candidates had a very nice degree, made even more memorable by the fact that parts were done by officers from eight different lodges. Even the “Staircase Lecture” was broken up into several parts to allow the lodges to take a more active role.

On the way home, most of us wondered why we didn’t do this kind of thing every year. By the time several of us had driven back to Friendship to help unload the furniture, we’d resolved to have another District degree for the residents of the hospital for next year.

5th District to present FC Degree at Masonic Hospital

March 26, 2008 Leave a comment

For those 19 readers that I have in Connecticut, there will be a Fellowcraft Degree at the Masonic Hospital in Wallingford on Saturday, March 29 at 1:00 pm in the auditorium.

The purpose of the degree will be to allow Masonicare residents who can not normally get out to attend a degree. The various lodges from the 5th District will have different officers take the chairs, and we expect that several candidates from the 5th District will be passed.

We drew names positions out of a hat at a recent Blue Lodge Council (our periodic District meetings), and came up with this mix of positions:

Worshipful Master: Valley Lodge# 36
Senior Warden: Sequin-Level #140
Junior Warden: Unity #148
Senior Deacon: Friendship #33
Junior Deacon: Frederick-Franklin #14
Senior Steward: Silas Deane #147
Junior Steward: Village #29
Chaplain: Evening Star #101
Charge: That egotistical District Lecturer.

Several of the lectures are going to be split up amongst various other officers in order to have a good representation of the lodges in the 5th District. The degree is being coordinated by the already overworked Ted Hasty, the Associate Grand Marshal for the northern part of our district. Anyone who remembers that all lodges have their own little quirks and “traditions” can well imagine the amount of aspirin that WB Ted is going to need in order to coordinate (and accommodate) eight separate lodges.

Some of us will be showing up at the hospital at 10:00 am in order to transform the auditorium into something that resembles a lodge room. Hope to see you there!
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