Archive

Archive for the ‘ritual’ Category

… gang aft awry

November 23, 2008 Leave a comment

Sometimes when you look at something on paper, you’re completely convinced that it’s going to be a disaster, but when you actually have the experience, it turns out to have gone rather well.

On Sunday night, WB Jim calls me up. “You know that Master Mason degree that we’re helping with over at Unity 148 on Tuesday? We’ve got a problem. I need you to be King Solomon.”

Oh man. I’ve got less than 48 hours to prepare, and I’ve got a pretty heavy workload for the next couple of days, plus a visitation the night before. Was I supposed to study in my sleep? Ah, but such is the life in any Masonic lodge, and we are always prepared for these small incidents when real life interferes with what we would like to do, right?

Over the next two days, it got even better. There’s no rehearsal, and we need a Senior Warden, too. Oh, and we can’t get together all of the Craftsmen that we need. And, uh, several of the candidates aren’t going to make it.

Man, could it get any worse?

By the time Tuesday night came around, I learned even more. I was expected to serve as Worshipful Master from after refreshment, through the drama, and then into the closing. This was a Past Master’s night, and some of the PMs hadn’t been to lodge in over 10 years. And in addition to the lodge we were helping, we had brothers from three or four other lodges filling in – all of which had their own little customs and ways of doing things, and we had about 15 minutes to get ourselves ironed out.

Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, at first.

Fortunately, the Craftsmen – what few we had – were headed up by WB Frank of Frederick-Franklin 14, arguably one of the best ritual lodges in the area. WB Frank and I took a few minutes to go over some details, and since we’d worked together in the past, it was just a matter of communication. The SW, Bro. Doug, came from Silas Deane 147, and we only needed a few minutes to fill him in. I had thought that the SD was to be WB Jim from my own lodge, for part of the degree, but ended up being RW Gary, Grand SD and GL officer in this district, who seemed rather unfazed by the confusion in the temple.

The lodge opened, and it was interesting to see the older Past Masters of this lodge in action. If this were a Carl Claudy story, I’d be mentioning how they took over the room and how things moved along flawlessly, and how impressive it was to watch Past Masters at work. However, anybody who has read this blog knows that I’m only mentioned in the same sentence as Claudy when at least one of the other expressions in that sentence is “in contrast to.” There were some stumbles and memory lapses, to be sure, and I think that some of that could have been prevented by a rehearsal. But after a few minutes to warm up, most of the PMs managed to get into gear, and the degree moved along well- all the more impressive knowing that some of these men had not done this in years.

Before long, it was time for refreshment and the Hiramic drama.

Personally, I really hate not being well rehearsed and well prepared for degree work. Part of is it a desire to make a good impression on the candidates, and part of it (perhaps the bigger part, if I’m being honest with myself) is simply pride and ego. So I have to admit that when I assumed the East that night, I did get a bit flustered, and it took me a few minutes to find my center. But at some point it came to me; I lost my earlier feelings of annoyance and frustration, and WB Frank and I simply followed each other’s cues. The next thing I knew, I was at the gravesite and the degree was almost over. Too soon, too soon!

One more surprise, though was being able to hear the ritual style of somebody I’d looked up to for the last several years. RW Carl, the Chaplain for Unity, when he wasn’t reminding me about my hat, proved to have a melodious speaking voice, and an incomparable memory. It’s funny; I’ve known Carl for about five years on several committees, but never sat in lodge with him until this year, and have never heard him really have any speaking parts until the other night. I really enjoyed listening to him. Also enjoyable was watching WB Harry, the outgoing Master of Unity, perform a lecture that is normally done by the newer members. I’m sure that both he and Carl will make fine Stewards one of these days.

While I would never advocate “winging it” as a ritual style, sometimes it can’t be helped. Afterward, scarfing cookies in the kitchen while trying to decompress, we decided that it had actually been a pretty good degree after all, and we were all just a little bit proud of ourselves for having done a great job.



Beyond the Valley of When Bloggers Collide

October 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Nothing much to report, except that last night Friendship had a Moving Party Move Up Night in which Bro. Eric assumed the Oriental Chair. Eric has taken on more responsibilities over the last year, and it’s going to be a pleasure watching him as Master.

As expected in Friendship, all of the officers did a great job in their parts. I’m always proud to see our newest members step up to take smaller parts, and last night, I noticed that everyone who did so made the effort to put some animation and – dare I say it? – enthusiasm into their various parts.

We split up the Middle Chamber (aka: the Staircase) lecture, with four brothers stepping in to assist the JD. We’ve done this before at Friendship, and personally, I prefer this. In the US, it’s common for some lodges to put a large burden on a junior officer to memorize this one, 30 minute long lecture filled with arcane usage and words known only to sesquipedalians. The problem that I frequently see is that the poor guy is so focused on the memorization that most of the time the lecture ends up being monotonous. And while old-timers might see one’s ability to memorize 20 pages as a pre-requisite for serving as Master of a lodge, I can think of at least a few other skills that would be more useful.

From Visiting Bros

And it was nice to see one of our old friends who made an hour-long trip to support Bro. Eric, even though he had to be wheeled in on a hand truck.



Fixmaster G in da house!

September 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Every lodge has those people who hold the place together. Generally when we say this, we’re talking in the metaphorical sense of the term: people – usually Past Masters –  who are always there to do ritual, investigate candidates, run the Widow’s Night dinner, etc.

Gerry is one of those other types of people who hold the lodge together in the more literal sense of the term. We have an old building (not a big surprise in New England) that frequently needs TLC in the form of repairing a leaky pipe here, a leaky roof there, installing new floor tiles, storage shelves, replacing rotted boards, and the hundred and one other things that it takes to maintain a century-plus old building. Now our Junior Warden, Bro. Gerry combines the skills of Bob Vila with the temperament of Norm Abrams, and has been our own “Mr. Fixit” for the past several years. If there’s something that Gerry can’t fix, then we don’t know what it could be.

Well, perhaps breakfast. I’ve seen him crack open eggs into a pan of boiling oil, then serve this surprisingly tasty treat over an English muffin layered with bacon and cheese. I can feel the grease clogging my arteries just thinking about it… but it wouldn’t surprise me if Gerry had a miniature plumber’s snake to fix that, as well.

Last week was his first time in the East, on a move-up night for an EA degree. I was there in my official capacity to check his proficiency, and it’s no surprise that he did an excellent job – as did the rest of the officers, all of whom moved up a station, as well.



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.

| |

Picture: The Fairly Odd Parents

Information Overload

June 8, 2008 Leave a comment

I’ve known my Canadian brother Justa Mason for a few years, and I’ve learned that you can always depend upon him to present a responsible opposing viewpoint to virtually any situation. Actually, what I’ve learned is that you simply can’t stop him from presenting an opposing viewpoint. On a recent post about our Past Masters MM Degree in which I described the dramatic additions to our Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend that some lodges have been known to perform, he asked a particularly pertinent question:

I understand; the MM degree is long, and Friendship Lodge adds another dramatic section to the Connecticut version of the Hiramic Legend, which adds to the memory work. In our state, some lodges choose to add sections to the degree that give more background, which helps the candidates to better appreciate the lessons of the story. A number of them add the same section that we do, and one of my lodges, Frederick-Franklin 14, adds yet another section which serves to give even more insight into the character of Hiram Abiff.

Tom, I will opine here all this additional stuff does wonders for the member who can show off his memory skills.. and very little for the candidate.

What value is all this extra ritual if he can’t absorb any of it? His mind’s on overload to begin with. Shouldn’t stuff like this be done on a separate night where he can let it sink in?

What is the reason behind subjecting him to all kinds of optional ritual on a degree night?

That’s an excellent point. Most of us assume that if some ritual is good, then more is better, and lots more should be great.

Admittedly, I, myself, have pointed out that our candidates sometimes have a difficult time processing the information presented. I’ve even made light of it by writing, in a post about ritual:

The lectures and speeches are filled with symbolism and instruction, and those of us who have put the time into learning them know just how difficult it can be to deliver them with meaning.

All this just for the candidates?

You mean those new guys standing there in the front of the room with the deer-caught-in-the-headlights look? Those guys?

Yeah, those guys. Those guys can barely remember what to do with their hands and feet, and we’re expecting them to absorb some esoteric lesson, which has often been delivered by people who would have not been allowed speaking parts in the local amateur theater group. On the surface, it does sound like a waste of effort. Why go through the trouble to present such material – done well or not – if the candidates aren’t grasping the meaning?

RW Paul (the latest Nutmeg State Mason to start blogging) has another perspective, one which I’ve heard a number of times:

I am on the side that the extra lectures add value, of course I enjoy ritual and often perform some of the extra parts so my opinion is bias.

I have heard this argument in my district as well. But based on the comments by Grand Lodge that there is a lot lousy ritual being done, I think the lodges that still can perform these eleborate degrees should be proud.

I would much rather sit through extra long well performed degree than a short poorly performed degree.

Connecticut, like most US states, uses some variation of the Preston-Webb lectures in which there is a catechismal section (a Q&A section) and two other sections that elaborate on the symbols and allegories of the respective degrees. Each section can be ten to twenty minutes long, and in my experience generally seem to have been memorized by ol’ Brother Joe who retired to Florida a few years ago, so nobody does them anymore. I’ve seen these sections presented on non-degree nights a few times, but as degree nights typically get a larger turnout, it seems like the energy is better spent having them done when the largest number of people can potentially benefit.

Often, arguments – i.e., debatable points – are presented as a matter of extremes. Paul’s last sentence is an example of this, and Justa’s entire message does the same thing, albeit more subtly. I believe that there is a position between those extremes, however.

First of all, I firmly believe that lodges can deliver extra ritual that is good and well-performed. I know it’s true: I’ve seen it done. That said, one could argue that if they can do a good long degree, then they should be able to do a good short degree, too. Yup, I’ve seen that as well. But there are several advantages to a degree ceremony that pulls out all the stops, for both the candidates and for the other lodge members.

As to the candidates, I could point to the importance of total immersion in the initiative experience to create the most overwhelming feelings of awe which may inspire intense thoughts or associations on a deeper level. I suppose that I could also claim that – like the ‘shotgun’ approach – it’s important to throw as much as possible at the candidates in hopes that something will stick. Personally, I think that it’s rare for most lodges to get motivated enough to perform sections of a degree ceremony on off-nights, especially sections that require a certain amount of dramatic talent. It’s easier to present the material when all of the candidates happen to be in the room. Just the preparation for a degree ceremony tends to inspire the lodge members who are actually rehearsing the parts; I think that it would be difficult for some of them to “get psyched” enough to do inspiring work as a program after a regular stated communication.

But there’s something else that we miss: Yes, the candidates will miss some things with a longer degree. Hell, they’re going to miss things with a short degree. But later on they are going to be watching that same degree performed on someone else, and then they’ll have the opportunity to catch a few things that they’d missed.

And why do we assumed that the ritual ceremony is all for the new guys? What about the regular brothers? I’ve noticed that degree nights have a much larger turnout than regular business meetings. Wouldn’t it be nice if the older members had the opportunity to hear that rarely-done piece of ritual? Most of them might miss it if it were done as a “program” in a regular business meeting.

Let me repeat something that I wrote over a year ago in the post referenced above:

Our fraternity has some of the most morally instructive and spiritually inspiring ceremonies, all of which are delivered from memory at no small personal effort. When did we lose the motivation, the initiative to do it for ourselves?

I’m at the age where I attend almost as many funerals as I do weddings; but for each occasion I have lately discovered that during the ceremony I suddenly “hear” something new. Yes, I may have seen the ceremony and heard the same words a dozen times, but each time I hear something that I never noticed before. Why? Maybe a minister or rabbi delivers a line with more or less emphasis, or maybe because of where I am in my own life’s journey some passage that I’ve heard countless times before will strike me with a new insight. Who hasn’t been sitting at a wedding and suddenly turned to their partner upon hearing a line that reminds you of your love? Who hasn’t been to a funeral and been suddenly reminded of your own mortality? That is the purpose of ritual and ceremony – not only to instruct the new members, but to remind us – the old members – of our previous instruction.

Give this some thought: When did our ritual become less inspiring? When did our degrees become merely a pastime between dinner and desserts? When did you stop noticing something “new” in a lecture?

How many of us have substituted listening for hearing?

If the “extra” instruction is presented well – and not just once every several years – then it benefits everyone, new brothers and experienced members alike.

%d bloggers like this: