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Back (ward?) to the Future

November 6, 2014 7 comments

Several contentious years of Grand Lodge politics have culminated in an unprecedented (in Connecticut, anyway) upheaval in which the progressive Grand Line officers were voted out and replaced by a new line of elected officers.  The hotly contested elections (reportedly needing four votings to arrive at a majority) ended with the election of two Past Grand Masters and the re-instatement of a former Grand Line officer. The future of the Grand Line officers appointed during the past year is uncertain, as is the standings of the dozen or so Grand Lodge committees.

Edit: At the time of publication, several of the appointed GL officers appear to have resigned, as have several District officers.

In the time-honored tradition of keeping Masonic news as dry as possible, that would almost seem to be the entire story. Indeed, the only thing that would appear to be missing at this point would be a picture of MW Simon LaPlace presenting a gavel to our new Grand Master MW Tom Maxwell as both of them grin into the camera. Unfortunately, that is not the situation.

Leaving aside the rumors of collusion and conspiracy (on all sides) that have strained the patience of Connecticut Masons for the last couple of years, the situation at hand seems to be that a number of members, unsatisfied with the changes (both made and proposed) in Connecticut Masonry, managed to convince enough of their brothers that the changes were damaging to our organization, and that the only remedy would be to remove the current elected officers and to replace them with those who had a different vision.

This, of course, is the purpose of a democratic system, and it’s good to see that Freemasons remembered how it works.  Sometimes the good intentions behind having a “progressive line” in most US states leads to stale, if not undesirable Grand Lodge policies. At a time in which our membership is continuing to decrease and our societal culture moves away from joining groups, the remaining members have often been slow to react or have been unwilling to make changes that would attract or retain new members. In the US, this has led to Grand Masters with little or no vision, or Grand Lodge policies or programs that have little relevance to the needs or desires of the younger members that are joining the ranks. The events last week in Connecticut will hopefully serve as an example to Grand Lodges elsewhere around the US that members of the Craft can – and will – take the necessary steps to get the kind of leadership that they want.

That said, there is something symbolical about the recent overturning of the Grand Line that has many Connecticut Freemasons concerned: Does the election of older Past Grand Masters, who served respectively 18 and 25 years ago, mean that we could not find anyone younger, or more attuned to the needs of the latest generation of Masons? Or does it mean that our vision of Masonry for the state looks more like the 1970s instead of the 2020s, and that our desire for the coming years is actually just a reboot of something from the past?

Personally speaking, I share these concerns. I became a Mason in 2001, just before the DaVinci Code and Nick Cage movies were reigniting an interest in Freemasonry. Back then, many Grand Lodges still did not even have a website, let alone electronic contact information, PDF Trestleboards, or online committee meetings. Connecticut Masons have been fortunate that Grand Lodge officers from the previous several years have been forward-thinking, and willing to adopt new methods. More importantly, some of them have been willing to take on the difficult task of changing the culture of our organization. For example, we have nine Masonic districts in Connecticut, ostensibly to correspond with the train system that was extant in the early 1900s. With nine Grand Lodge officers, we have had a century of a progressive line, one officer from each district, with a new one appointed every nine years from the outgoing Grand Master’s district. The last two years saw a change in the district structure, and with it, a different way of choosing new officers. Changes like this are huge in Masonic terms, and it would be easy to believe that the voting reflects a reactionary attitude from members who object to these and other kinds of alterations (or “innovations,” if you will) in the organization.

A reactionary mindset among the members raises other concerns for the future of our fraternity, mainly that younger or more progressive minded members will no longer desire to work toward improvements, or even to aspire to a Grand Lodge or District position if it means constantly butting heads with the old guard. Ours is a volunteer organization, and most of our members are paid only in the satisfaction of a job well done; feedback in the form of being voted out of office with little or no prior warning would seem to be a disincentive for many of those who would be qualified for those positions.

Again, democracy obviously works — the recent voting was proof of that.  But we should also remember the words of Comte Joseph de Maistre: “Every democracy gets the government that they deserve.” For the sake of Freemasonry in Connecticut, let’s hope that we all have not taken a big step backwards.

 

 

Ask the Grand Master… Anything!

June 6, 2013 5 comments

GMM_SimonWhile some Grand Lodge officers are barely able to use their email, Connecticut’s Grand Master, MW Bro. Simon LaPlace, is going to do an AMA on Reddit Friday afternoon, June 7, from 3 pm to 6 pm.

Reddit is a news aggregate site, similar to Digg or Stumble. Users submit news items and articles of interest, and readers vote on the quality, timeliness, and usefulness of the item. As the site has grown over the last five or six years, users have added sub-groups, so people interested in certain topics can find items more easily. There are now several thousand interest groups, ranging from art, to cooking,  exercise,  investing, home remodeling, coin collecting, bicycling, and yes, even Freemasonry. I know this because I happen to be a mod on the Reddit Freemasonry group, along with another one of your blogging friends, The Millennial Freemason.

/r/freemasonry, as the group  is known, has been growing steadily for the last couple of years, with now well over 2,000 members. Since the Reddit user demographic tends to be late teens to 30s, the members are mainly younger (i.e., newer) Masons, most of whom are enjoying the opportunity to ask questions and trade ideas with Freemasons in other jurisdictions.

The other day, after I had been writing about how great Masonry is in Connecticut, and how progressive the Grand Lodge was with regard to online communication, one of the members asked if our Grand Master would consider doing an AMA. The next thing we knew, we had it set up.

An AMA is an online Reddit interview, in which a person of interest agrees to stay online for a few hours, answering questions from random users, mainly, but not always, about the topic at hand. While there have been several Freemasons who have volunteered for these on the subgroup /r/iama, MW Simon will be the first Grand Master — and apparently the highest ranking Mason ever — to sit in for one.

For some reason, I’m sure that this won’t stop the various conspiracy nuts from asserting that “Yeah, he might be a Grand Master, but he’s still not a high-enough ranking Mason to know the *real*truth about the Illuminati — Zeta-Reticulan — NWO conspiracy.”

If any Freemasons are reading this, please stop by and join in the fun. If non-Masons are reading this, please stop by and ask questions or offer up comments.

Friday, June 7th 3 pm to 6 pm EDT

Be there and be square!

 


Edit: Here’s the link to the AMA.

The Greeks don’t want no Freaks

December 5, 2012 6 comments

Well, it’s about time that some of the Freemasons came to their senses, and we should all be thankful that Florida has the temerity to lead the way.  I’m talking, of course, about the recent edict by the Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Florida who is evicting anyone from the Craft who are not right-thinking, God-fearing Freemasons.

The Masonic online discussion world has been all a-Twitter over this, so there’s no need for me to go over the details, but the essentials (from the Grand Master’s Edict page) are these:

The question has arisen if certain religious practices are compatible with Freemasonry, primarily Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, and secondarily Agnosticism and Gnosticism.

He then natters on about some legal stuff, and writes:

I. CONCERNING GOD AND RELIGION
“A Mason is obliged, by his tenure, to obey the moral law; and if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious libertine.”……….

And then finishes up with the important part:

Therefore, as Grand Master, it is my Ruling and Decision that none of the above mentioned beliefs and/or practices are compatible with Freemasonry since they do not believe or practice one or more of the prerequisites to be a candidate for Masonry listed above.

Further, any member of the Craft that professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion since there is no provision to allow anything contrary to the Ancient Landmarks.

Furthermore, Freemasonry prohibits the change of any of the Ancient Landmarks, and its members admit that it is not in power of any man, or body of men, to make innovations in the body of Masonry.

It’s about time that somebody took a stand to kick out those trouble-making types who can’t commit to a real religion, and who pick some made-up theology in order to join the fraternity. My only beef is that MWGM Jorge Aladro hasn’t gone far enough.

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention to Tom Hanks, Nicholas Cage, or any of those TV specials that have come up in the last five years, the Freemasons have very few actual requirements for joining. You must be a man, of lawful age, of good character, with a belief in a Supreme Creator. Some jurisdictions change the qualifications slightly, but those are the basics. Florida, apparently, has gotten tired of non-religious posers who are trying to sneak into the fraternity by claiming to be believers in completely fictitious, made-up religions like Paganism. Personally, I can’t imagine anything good coming from allowing such trouble makers into the Craft. If a real religion isn’t good enough for those people — or as is more likely the case, those people aren’t good enough for a real religion — then they are obviously rebels who will end up causing nothing but trouble for those around them.

My only concern is that Florida is about 240 years too late. Reading through my Masonic history books, I see that quite a large number of Freemasons from that time were also posers who claimed to belong to some movement called Deism. You can tell that Deism isn’t a real religion because they don’t have any churches. But even at that, listen to what those guys believed:

From Wikipedia:

Deism holds that God does not intervene with the functioning of the natural world in any way, allowing it to run according to the laws of nature that he configured when he created all things. God is thus conceived to be wholly transcendent and never immanent. For Deists, human beings can only know God via reason and the observation of nature, but not by revelation or supernatural manifestations (such as miracles) – phenomena which Deists regard with caution if not skepticism. See the section Features of deism, following. Deism does not ascribe any specific qualities to a deity beyond non-intervention. Deism is related to naturalism because it credits the formation of life and the universe to a higher power, using only natural processes. Deism may also include a spiritual element, involving experiences of God and nature.[17]

So, let’s see: No churches, no bible or holy book, and a God that makes stuff and then wanders off to God who know where. Those guys from back in the late 1700s obviously were not members of a real religion, either. Too bad MWGM Alandro wasn’t around to kick them out of the fraternity, before they got themselves up to no good.

If you’re interested in reading more about this:

GM of Florida Expels Wiccans, Gnostics and Others

An Open Letter to the Grand Master of Florida

More Masonic Purging Florida Style

Grand Master & Suite visits Friendship Lodge

April 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Friendship Lodge No. 33 was proud to host a visit from MWGM Gary Arseneau, newly installed Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Southern New England on Monday. This was the Grand Master’s “Homecoming” visit, and naturally he was accorded the highest honors and a warm welcome. MW Gary was accompanied by several other new officers of the GL-SNE, several of whom who were invited to help judge a chili cookoff dinner before lodge opened.

The Grand Master’s schedule is pretty full, so we were fortunate to get him to stop by so soon after his installation. To mark the happy occasion, the officers of the lodge presented the new Grand Master with a bottle of single malt for him to enjoy during the very few quiet moments that he will have during the rest of the year.

The evening was not all pomp and introductions, though. WM Ryan Carlson presented the lodge with a recitation of the infrequently heard third section lectures; otherwise known as the  “Beehive” lectures. WM Ryan recited the entire section from memory for the benefit of five of our newest Master Masons.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation to MW Gary of a bottle of a very old single malt Scotch, presumably for medicinal purposes, as Grand Masters are notoriously prone to headaches.

 

From MWHMGary

The very full lodge was closed, and the Craft gathered downstairs for refreshment and several hours of friendly discussion. It’s unfortunate that RW Gary probably won’t get many opportunities this year to attend lodge at Friendship, but I’m sure how knows that our best regards attend him no matter where he might be.

 

 

223rd Connecticut Grand Lodge

March 27, 2012 1 comment

Members of the Craft who attended the pre-Grand Lodge festivities found the usual warm welcomes from the several groups hosting hospitality suites. Indeed, I’ve written in the past that the real “communication” of the Annual Communication happens outside of the business meetings, as people who haven’t had a chance to see each other in months have a chance to gossip and catch up on the news, learn what’s happening in other districts, and (as the evening wears on), propose ways to “fix” Freemasonry. In some ways, the evening festivities serve the same purpose of reconnecting as do those of weddings and funerals. That is, while everyone is ostensibly there for one purpose, a lot of business ends up happening outside of the original intentions.

The 223rd Grand Lodge of Connecticut Annual Communication was held in Cromwell on Monday, some of the brothers looking a bit the worse for wear after spending some long hours catching up with each other the night before. I have to admit, however, that I was surprised at the rather subdued atmosphere. Gary Arseneau, the incoming Grand Master was scarcely seen on Sunday evening; indeed, many of the higher-ranking Grand Lodge officers seemed to be MIA, as were members of several of the larger Grand Lodge committees, notably the Legal Matters members. Rumors were rife, of course, but that’s to be expected.

On Monday, the business meeting went smoothly, with the notable event being the chartering of Quinta Essentia Lodge No. 500 in New Haven. The lodge was started by a handful of brothers who wanted to return to a more traditional style of Freemasonry, with fewer meetings, better festive boards, and more focused on the history and esoterica of Freemasonry. Also, some of my friends in my other lodge have started a new lodge in a town in the center of the state  (ETA: Hospitality Lodge No. 128 in Wethersfield). Again, it will be a small, inwardly focused lodge. With so many lodges having closed in recent years, it’s great to see this kind of activity, and we wish them well.

More pictures available at the Facebook album Grand Lodge 2012.

The big news for Friendship Lodge members, of course, was the installation of MW Gary Arseneau. Gary has been a solid fixture around the state, and we’re all looking forward to seeing how well his vision for the future of Masonry will be carried out. Also from Friendship, our very own WB Jim Vanderyk has been promoted from the lodge chaplain to MWGM Gary’s Grand Chaplain. WB Jim has long been known for his calm demeanor and a repertoire of quick quips. We’re sure he’ll be a great help when MW Gary needs inspiration.

Shake ‘n’ Bake

March 24, 2012 Leave a comment

A Worshipful Master noticed there was a newly proficient Master Mason who came to diligently practice the ritual every time the lodge was open. So the WM went to question him: “Dear brother, what are your intentions in practicing the ritual? What do you want?”

The MM said: “More light!”

The WM then picked up a tile and began to rub it very vigorously. Of course, the MM noticed this and asked: “What are you doing?”

The WM said: “I’m polishing it to make it into a mirror.”

The MM asked: “How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?”

The WM said: “You’re absolutely right, polishing a tile will not make it a mirror. How can practicing the ritual give you more light?”

The MM scratched his head: “Then what am I supposed to do?”

The WM replied: “It’s like an ass pulling a cart. If the cart does not go, should you hit the cart or should you hit the ass?”

The MM had no reply.

The WM continued: “Do you think you are practicing ritual or do you think you are practicing Masonry? If you are practicing ritual, ritual is not degrees, or opening and closing the lodge. If you are practicing Masonry, it is not a fixed form. In the midst of everything that is changing you should neither hold on nor push away. If you keep ritual in the lodge, this is dowsing the light. If you cling to the forms of Masonry, this is not attaining its essence.”

From Zen Masonry

Most lodges probably have a “move up” night, during which the officers will move up and perform the duties of the next station, usually as a way to help the newer officers prepare for the duties that they will most likely have during the next year. Once in a while, Friendship Lodge has a twist on that idea. We sometimes have a “Sideliner Night”, during which we randomly have the regular members draw a position out of a hat and fill it for the evening. We also have a “Shake-up Night”, in which the officers are randomly reassigned to different stations. It’s not really a big deal for the Senior Warden to fill in at the Junior Deacon’s chair, but it’s much more interesting when the newer, junior officers are suddenly promoted into the senior chairs. The other night, the Senior Deacon ended up in the East, and our “Associate Steward” ended up in the West, and our Junior Deacon ended up in the South.

Anyone who has watched experienced officers barely get through an opening ceremony can imagine the smiles (and groans) of the Past Masters watching such a display, but the Friendship officers usually practice several times for any degree ceremony, and so each officer certainly has seen an opening quite a few times during his membership. I happened to be sitting next to our Past District Deputy, and we joked that we’d seen worse at lodges on their regular nights.

Well, okay, maybe I wasn’t joking.

But here’s the interesting part. I was sitting there, watching the displaced officers trying to brazen their way through an Entered Apprentice opening, when I found myself ignoring what they were actually saying, and listening to what they were trying to say. Yes, most of them missed some of  the words, or substituted similar words, or switched phrases around — but that was just on the surface. When you listened closely, the words were wrong, but the ritual itself was right.

Masonic ritual is not simply a ceremony denoting the opening and closing of a lodge. Nor is it (as it seems to be practiced in some lodges) a memory competition designed to show who would make the better officer.  Our rituals, and the lectures during our degree work, are not empty passages, but lessons. Indeed, when the Worshipful Master is charged with giving instruction to the Craft, most people aren’t even aware that the ritual itself, is part of that instruction.

I have seen lodges in which Past Masters critiqued new officers, admonishing them for missing a word in an otherwise well-delivered piece. If that makes that officer concentrate upon the words, will he then begin to miss the underlying meaning, or maybe to miss the overall lesson of that particular piece? Personally, I think so. I’ve seen some officers literally close their eyes and stand , trembling with effort, to deliver a rushed, albeit word-perfect memorized lecture. I’ve seen more than one charge delivered at high rates of speed by men intent upon getting all of the words out lest they forget something and freeze up.

What is the lesson here? What values and precepts are being taught — or learned?


 

On another note, I’m happy to say that this week marks our Grand Lodge Annual Communication. I’m particularly happy about this one because it has been an excellent year for the outgoing Grand Master, MWGM Jim McWain. Bro. McWain has been a particularly good example of a Grand Master who has been able to blend vision with practicality. We wish him well in the future.

And adding to that, Friendship Lodge will see one of it’s own entering the Grand Oriental Chair: RWB Gary Arseneau will be installed on Monday afternoon. Gary has shown himself to be a dedicated and resourceful Grand Lodge officer for the last ten years, and we’re all looking forward to another excellent year. We understand that we probably won’t get to see as much of him in lodge as we would like, but the members of Friendship wish him well, and hope he gets a chance to visit, with or without his purple apron.

Not just Grand Lodge – a Great Grand Lodge.

February 26, 2012 1 comment

I just got a notice from the Grand Lodge office this weekend, reminding me that our Grand Lodge Annual Communication is only a month away, and outlining some of the issues that we will be discussing and on which we’ll need to vote. As usual, most of them are clarifications and procedural items.This is the dull part about Freemasonry; we sometimes forget that we have an organization, and with an organization comes — eventually — the organizing. You know what I mean: the bills, expenses, regulations, planning, and other issues that need to be taken care of before we can get to the fun parts.

Connecticut meets twice a year — not a hardship in a small state like ours — and it often amazes me that in one sessions we will quickly throw together a regulation, then vote on and pass it, only to modify it at a subsequent session when we realize it wasn’t written up as tightly as it could have been. However, I guess that the alternative is to mull it over for six months, send out proposals to the members, then collect various ideas and alternate proposals, and then re-vote on them. And believe me, you need to get this done before lunch, or else there will be a lot of complaining.

That said, this should be a great Grand Lodge. Since our state long ago squandered its money on some kind of hospital or something, instead of on a fancy Grand Lodge building, we hold our Annual Communications at area hotels. After about 10 or so years in Farmington, last year we moved our Grand Lodge to Cromwell, where the hotel management seemed a little more accommodating to our needs. Those “needs”  were mainly things such as to have a number of small meeting rooms available, to have a large convention room that would be private, and to be able to accommodate a large number of people just meandering around the floors, talking and socializing until the wee hours.

Friendship Lodge is booking a few rooms, and we’re in the mood to throw a party. A nice party. One that will probably last for a few days. Not that we need an excuse, but we have an especially good reason for doing so this year: One of our own is going to be installed at Grand Master.

R.W., Gary Arseneau (he’s the older guy with a beard in this picture) was elected back in October. The Grand Line in Connecticut is a little different from that in other states. We have 9 Masonic districts. The outgoing Grand Master will pick a potential successor from the district from which he came, which means that every year there is a Grand Line officer from a different district. While only the top three Grand Officers are voted on each year, the end result is that we have a progressive line from Junior Steward, right up to the GM. Once in a while somebody will propose changing this, but nobody seems to come up with a better idea, so we stick with it.

Fortunately for us, RW Gary is one of the younger, more progressive minded Grand Officers, and he has spent a good part of his Masonic career on the challenging committees, like Legal Matters and Welfare of Lodges. A bright, easy-going brother, he often fills in as Secretary at Friendship, and he has a wealth of knowledge that he never hoards, but happily spreads around to the lodges inside (and out) of his district. Gary, an engineer in real life, rigged up a series of thumb switches and a light box, and when coupled with a large supply of Masonic trivia index cards, has a traveling “Masonic Jeopardy” show.

Sure, he has his quirks, but we at Friendship are nothing if not tolerant of the quirks of our members. We’re counting down the weeks — no, days, now, since Grand Lodge is literally only a month away. Here’s hoping for a smooth transition, and a successful installation for him.

 


 

Categories: Grand Lodge, Grand Master
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