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This blogger has no title

March 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

I’ve spent two years as a District Grand Lecturer, traveling to the different lodges in my district, helping out whenever asked, tactfully making suggestions, always stepping in when a body was needed. Two years of certifying those who would sit in the East, often at only a few days notice. Two years of going to meetings, of discussing issues with Grand Lodge, of offering my helpful suggestions whenever asked.

At the Grand Lodge Annual Session, I was stripped of my title.

Did I have some controversial blog post? Have an argument with my Grand Lodge superiors? Shoot my mouth off after imbibing at a social function?

No.

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Oh, I’m still the District Grand Lecturer, of course; it’s just that Connecticut is doing away with the honorific “Very Worshipful.”

I’m so not the drama, remember ?

Sheesh!

Anyway, it was great to go to the Grand Lodge session again. That is, it was great to go to the socials on the night beforehand. To me, this is the best part of Grand lodge; you get to see people from around the state that you rarely or never get to see otherwise. Even thought Connecticut is a small state, it still sometimes seems impossible for me to get to the odd corners of the state, especially when I spend so much time looking after the lodges in my district. But even if I did get out to the lodges in, say, our New York or Rhode Island districts, there’s still too much lodge business to be conducted to be able to spend any good length of time just talking, getting caught up, passing along gossip, fixing the problems of the fraternity, and admiring the new high tech toys that we love to show off.

I have to admit that I felt a little bit like a rock star for part of the evening, as several people introduced themselves to me and mentioned that they were readers of this blog, bringing my total of Connecticut readers up to, oh, 27 or 28, I think. I got the usual comments about how I look like my Simpsonized Blogger profile picture, some nice compliments on my writing for both this blog and our state publication, and even our new Grand Senior Steward admitted that perhaps I might have a few readers who were of the UGLE persuasion. Lofty praise, indeed!

Adding to the rock star aura was a Past Master from Universal Fraternity 149, who had been to Washington D.C. and met with one of the real rock stars of Masonry, Dr. S. Brent Morris, the noted Masonic scholar, and author of a Dummies book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry (I’m told that he has written other things as well, but I can’t imagine they are as good). WB Daniel passed along a greeting to me from Bro. Morris, the honor of which was marred only slightly by my needing to explain to those around us who Bro. Morris is. Apparently the orange books aren’t quite as widely known as the yellow ones.

I especially appreciate Bro. Nick (raised less than two weeks previously) telling anybody that passed him on the way to the bar that The Tao of Masonry was one of the things that convinced him that he should join the fraternity. As the drinks were free, I have to suppose that he really meant it, too.

Speaking of free drinks, a lot of brothers were disappointed in the lack of lodge-sponsored “hospitality rooms” this year. As far as we’ve been able to determine, only Friendship 33 had an open room for the mingling of fellow travelers. There was the regular suite run by the Grotto, and some people crashed the Grand Lodge (quasi) private reception area, but the handful of lodges that typically sponsor such rooms were markedly absent.

I think that Friendship 33 deserves some kind of recognition, don’t you?

And speaking of recognition, I ran into a long-lost friend. Well, actually, he searched me out, and ran into some guys from the Fifth District who grudgingly admitted to knowing me. He found me having dinner in the hotel saloon, and the first thing he said was something to the effect of my hair not being as gray when he’d first met me.

The next day I made sure to scratch the side of his car with my walker.

I’d “met” brother Steve on a Masonic discussion board back in 2000 before I joined the fraternity. The board had a variety of Masons from jurisdictions all over the world, and he was they only one from Connecticut. He was a fairly new Masons himself back then, and it was good to read his perspectives on his own journeys. He wrote an amusing anecdote about his interview which prepared me for the one that I would undergo a year or so later.

One of the nicest things, though, was he came up to see my EA degree, a good hour’s drive (he’s from our New York district). I was a new guy at Friendship, and while I had met a few people, I had only really known one guy well, so Steve was the only other person at my degree with whom I was somewhat familiar. It made the experience a little more friendly for me. Thanks, bro! He had taken a few years off – a respite – and last year threw himself back into the labors. It was good to reconnect, and I’m planning a visit to his lodge next month.

Naturally a bunch of us spent some time fixing the fraternity – or at least, explaining how we would fix things, given the opportunity. It’s a lot like when people fix the government, but harder because Masonry is much more entrenched. While naturally such discussions are fueled in part by spirits, the great thing is that they, in turn, fuel the spirits of those who are committed to the improvement of the Craft. In other words, while some people see this as carping or complaining about the fraternity, I tend to see it as expressions of concern; those without a sincere desire for the welfare and growth of the organization do not bother to put much thought into either the kinds of things that they would like to see changed or improved, or the means to which those changes might happen.

Items on the repair list included more ritual seminars, more use of teh intertubez for communication and organizing, more time socializing, and less time reading the minutes. Of course, this sounded a lot like last year’s list, but little by little some things are improving. For example, in Connecticut, we’ve had about 400 new members join in the last year; 90 of them made contact directly through our web site. In other words, fully a quarter of the new members did not come in through friends or relatives. Would they have made any contact if our Grand Lodge site did not exist?

And speaking of new members, I was pleased to see a lot of new – as in, newly joined – Masons over the last couple of days, and I think that it’s a great thing for new members to get involved with the actually workings of the organization itself. I sincerely hope that they can keep up the energy and drive, and I hope to see them – and meet many new brothers – next year.

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Secret Sauce

January 29, 2008 1 comment

“So, what’s your secret recipe for this great tomato sauce?”

I heard this from at least 8 or 9 people on Saturday night, when my wife and I served up 65 pounds of ziti and 480 meatballs, all covered in almost 25 gallons of our home-made tomato sauce. No, I don’t have a big family; this is a now annual fund-raising dinner to help out the confirmation class of the First Congregational Church in downtown Southington.

I know, I know – you came here to read about Freemasonry, not about my cooking skills. I’m getting to that part.

My wife and I had started cooking the sauce a week previously, using the 8 burner stove and large pots available in the church kitchen. I’m sure that the church meeting hapll must have smelled like an Italian restaurant by the end of the week, and by 5:30 pm – a good half hour before the advertised time – because people were ready to stampede lining up to get good seats. We started serving at a quarter to six, and didn’t get a lull until well after 7:00, at which time I was able to walk around, fishing for compliments asking for feedback for the next year. And that’s when I noticed something: even though I told people what I put in my sauce, everybody acted as if I were being cagey about the answer. But that certainly was not the case; I’m usually more than happy to tell people what my own recipes are, and in fact, I’m going to tell you right here how I make tomato sauce.

Yeah, yeah, I know – you’re waiting for the part about Freemasonry. It’s coming, really.

A word of caution: if you’re the type of person who enjoys “recipes” that include such syrupy metaphors as “Add a cup of courage, a teaspoon of tolerance, stir with passion, and serve with L O V E“, then get thee hence! This blog is a NO GLURGE ZONE. Sure, those cutesy sayings were funny the first six or seven hundred times I heard them, but enough already. The 70s are over, and those little naked kids with the big eyes and hearts over their heads are has-beens. Deal with it.

Yes, yes, I’m getting to the part about Freemasonry. Really.

Now, I take a dim view of people who refuse to share good recipe. I don’t care if your great-great-grandmother carried it in her boot when she came from the old country, or if you just discovered it while messing about in the kitchen. In my opinion, the kind of people who won’t share their recipes are merely feeding their egos while they feed you a meal. When they invite you to dinner, it’s either to brag or to play the “I’ve got a secret” game and are, in essence, saying “Hey, I’ve got this really great thing and I’m only going to let you have a little taste in order that I might feel special. But don’t worry; come back next year and I’ll let you have another little taste, just so you can remember how special this is.”

Even more odious are those that purport to give you the recipe, but hold back a key step or ingredient, thereby making you think that you are stupid for not being able to follow directions. A pox on all of them.

What? Oh, yeah – the Freemasonry part. Sorry.

When the first few people asked what I put in my sauce, I told them “A hell of a lot of tomatoes.” It was funny at the time, and very true – we bought over two dozen of those large restaurant sized cans at the local warehouse store, along with salad for 200 people, dressing, grated Parmesan, and sundry other items. We started by sauteing several bulbs – that’s bulbs, not cloves – of crushed garlic in olive oil. Once the smell started wafting through the church hall (I should point out that I did this during one of the services in order to remind people of the upcoming dinner) I added a few scoops of the crushed tomatoes, and some of the typical Italian spices: oregano, parsley, basil, and a bit of fennel seed. I let this cook for a good thirty minutes, and then put some into each one of the five large pots. This served as a base, to which we added the rest of the canned tomatoes. One pot we reserved as a marinara sauce, and to the others we added some cooked ground beef (left over from the Rally Day picnic in September), and some minced and cooked Italian sausages, both of which had been cooked and minced previously in order to save time. We cooked the sauce for about six hours that day, and then came back for a few hours mid-week, and put them on again first thing Saturday morning so that they had another good eight hours to simmer. Usually I put some red wine in the sauce to counter the bitter taste from the tomatoes, but after a few people had concerns about sensitivities to the sulfites in the wine, this year I opted to add some sugar and salt.

I have to say that this was one of the best batches of sauce that I’ve made in a few years. Even my wife will attest that this year it was particularly good, and the compliments from the hungry crowd was certainly a testament to how it turned out.

Yes, yes – I’m coming to the Freemasonry part directly.

I told every person who asked me exactly what I used in the sauce – which, as you can see, are just regular Italian spices. Every person had the same reaction: If I’m just using regular spices and ingredients that you normally find in sauce, then why did this batch come out so well? Certainly I’m leaving out a crucial step, a secret ingredient, a particular item that made this come out better, right? After all, you can’t just throw some tomatoes and spices in a pan and expect it to come out like that, right? Right?

Apparently, my sauce admirers miss the essential point.

They had the list of ingredients that I use, and I even gave them some little tips. And while in theory there might be some small differences between brands of tomatoes or spices, in practice I’ve never noticed any significant difference.

So, what is the point of all this?

The raw tomatoes contain a lot of water, which needs to cook off. In that process, the heat breaks down certain proteins and acids, releasing certain chemicals, and causing others to bond. Five gallons of sauce in a pot takes hours to get up to the proper temperature, with constant stirring to prevent the bottom from burning and tainting the rest of the sauce. The heat also breaks down the chemicals in the spices, and the stirring allows the flavor to gently infuse throughout the pot of warm liquid. Eventually, the acids break down and dissipate, and the sauce itself tastes of the fragrant basil and oregano, perhaps mixed with the spicy saltiness of the sausage.

The secret, you see, is not the ingredients at all. It’s the time.

Those people who are accustomed to opening a jar of grocery-bought sauce simply can not conceive of the investment of time that one must make to cook a good, home-made tomato sauce. Despite the stereotype of old Italian ladies standing at a stove all day, few people really understand that it’s the process of cooking that makes the difference between a rich, thick, savory sauce and a thin, slightly bitter one. Too often we try to make up for the lack of flavor by adding extra garlic, salt, basil, or other spices. But these serve merely to cover up the fact that the sauce itself is a hastily prepared affair.

Even the cooking shows on television offer up tips on how to make good tomato sauce, especially tailored for busy people who only have an hour or so. And now question about it, some of those sauces are tasty. But they’re not the same; indeed, if I may be so bold, they’re not even in the same class.

Let me make this clear: In sauce making, as with so many other things in life, there is no substitute for the investment of one’s time. It is only through the lengthy process of cooking that the unwanted and unnecessary ingredients break down, and are replaced by the desirable aromas and textures. It is only through time that certain agents can be make their way around the large vat of liquid, moving here and there until the gentle stirring combines them with other agents to produce something delightful to the senses. And certainly, the larger the pot, the more time is needed.

Time.

Speaking of which, it looks as if I’ve run out. It appears that I’m just not going to get around to discussing Freemasonry, doesn’t it?

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Masonic Morality & Temperance

October 15, 2007 24 comments

Back in July of 2006 I wrote about a website with a collection of pictures of tattoos with a Masonic theme; generally some versions of the traditional Square & Compasses, but many we very elaborate examples of well-designed skin art. That site, Masonic Ink, now has dozens of pages of such artwork, and hundreds of pictures of various tattoos sent in by readers ranging from young, new Masons up to Grand Masters of the craft. In the last six or eight months it’s become one of the most popular pages on this blog, judging by the Google and other search engine hits. Obviously, the desire to display one’s Masonic affiliation has, for many of us, gone far beyond deciding what kind of ring or pin to buy.

That is why I was surprised and admittedly, a little irritated to read this recent anonymous comment on that post:

An “oxymoron” is a thing which is characterized by inherently incongruous or contradictory elements. For instance, a “smart fool,” a “salty candy,” a “soggy desert,” etc.

A Masonic tattoo is what many would consider an oxymoron because the wearer has chosen to do something that demonstrates a certain lack of the kind of prudence, restraint, moderation and temperance that is taught in Masonic degrees.

Of the three great duties that you, as a Mason, are taught to inculcate, the third charges you to avoid “all irregularity and intemperance, which may … debase the dignity of your profession.” We are assured that “a zealous attachment to these duties will insure public and private esteem.”

But, a Masonic tattoo says to the casual observer, “I’m enthusiastic about being a Mason, even to the point that I am willing to do something incredibly tasteless and intemperate to display my membership, therefore also demonstrating that I have learned nothing of Masonry’s lessons.”

Other examples of this kind of misplaced enthusiasm would include a minister who is so enthusiastic about being a minister that he would would wear his collar anywhere he went, including wearing it into a house of ill repute; or an Eagle Scout who is so proud of being an Eagle Scout that he wears his uniform all the time, even when he is doing something that he should not.

Would you want to be a member of a fraternity whose members do not frown upon, say, eyebrow rings with the fraternity logo? I wouldn’t.

Wow.

I have to admit that my first thought after reading this was “Who died and left you in charge of what is acceptable and tasteful around here?” After a few moments, however, I managed to subdue my passions and read it again. What struck me was how this person – who I’m assuming is a brother – ascribed a “wrongness” to tattooing, without explaining his reasoning behind it. The central theme of his opinion, that a tattoo is “incredibly tasteless” and proves that one has learned “nothing of Masonry’s lessons,” is, I’m sure, based upon some kind of previously held perspective on morality; and truth be told, most of us have some kinds of prejudices and biases based on nothing more than our constant exposure to stereotypical attitudes in our local culture. Further thinking on this led me to wonder what it is about tattooing and other body modification that – supposedly – belies one’s Masonic prudence.

Indeed, it made me wonder about the entire concept of Masonic morality. After all, we purport to teach moral lessons through metaphor, allegory, and symbolism. But what, exactly, is the basis of that morality? And what, exactly, are those ethical principles? And how do we manage to go from general principles of morality to those things that belong within the realm of the individual – tattoos, clothing, piercings, hair length?

In the US, the charge to a Fellowcraft – the second degree of Masonry – one learns that it is “the internal, and not the external qualifications of a man that Masonry regards.” One can’t get much more “external” than a tattoo or an eyebrow piercing. Indeed, I’m reminded of one of those old Carl Claudy-esque tales in which a young, long-haired, scruffily dressed Mason shows up at a crowded lodge meeting, and finding no seat sits on the floor. An older, respected Past Master sees this and walks (slowly, because of of his age, of course) down the aisle. Everybody in the room expects that the PM is going to give the scruffy youngster a stern talking-to, but they are surprised when he – carefully – sits down on the floor next to the young man and introduces himself, and welcomes him to the lodge. Apocryphal as this story most likely is, it demonstrates that some of our members actually do that that part of the charge to heart. Masonry has everything to do with being a good man and true, and little or nothing to do with what amount to individual preferences or tastes.

Coincidentally, there is a recent post over at Beacon of Masonic Light about homosexual lodge members, and personally I’m astounded that this topic even warrants any discussion. Again, as with tattoos or piercings or hair length, where in any of our obligations, allegories or any other part of our teachings does a person’s sexuality have any bearing on their being good, honest, and upright men? Judging from the comments left there, however, it apparently does make a difference to some members. Bro. Dunn’s excellent response to a comment sums up my own perspective on Masonic morality rather succinctly:

Its not about me changing them, its about ME changing ME.

We need to keep this in mind in lodge. Morality is not about what people do with consenting adults in private, its what we do to and for society that shows our morality.

Indeed. Those of us with ashlars needing to be perfected would do well to remember this.

Apple Harvest 2007 – Week 2

October 11, 2007 Leave a comment

What a difference a year makes! Last year Friendship Lodge finished up one of the best Apple Harvest fund raisers in recent memory, all the while dodging the rocks and ruts of the construction going on at the front of our building. This year we sold slightly more fried apple wedgies than last year – by 5:30 pm on Sunday we actually sold out of the 1,000 Cortlands that we’d bought. The word it definitely getting around about our delicious, tasty apple treats. We had an impressive number of repeat customers – some of them within a half hour of their first purchase!

Unfortunately, we had quite a bit of chopped steak left over, both cooked and defrosted. Ironically, we think that this is because the weather on Saturday was so nice – as in warm in the mid-80s – that people were too hot to eat regular food, and instead merely snacked on apple treats. Since the meat had already been paid for, some of the brothers on clean-up detail took it home (I’ve got a couple of bags in the freezer, just waiting for me to add it to a nice tomato sauce), and some of it was donated to the soup kitchen that uses our lodge hall during the day. This is the first year that we haven’t donated any healthy apples to them.

Although our profits weren’t as high as they were last year, we’re pleased that our expenses for the year are more under control. We’ve done a lot of repair and maintenance work, both inside and out in the last year, and the little bit that we have to go requires more time and sweat than actual money, so overall we’re in pretty good shape.

 

Apple Harvest 2007

 

Here are some pictures of the 2007 Apple Harvest, along with a nice shot of the completed front of the building.

And once again the thanks go out to the unsung (‘cos I’m not singing) heroes of the annual festival. We’d get nowhere without the usual dozen or so people who come down every morning to open up or stay until late to clean up. Again, great work and I’m sure that all of the members of Friendship Lodge thank you and your wives and/or partners for the hours that you put in. We certainly could not have made it a success without you.

Apple Harvest 2007

October 1, 2007 Leave a comment

Town and county fairs are a New England tradition, and Southington – a town in the Quinnipiac River Valley and known for its orchards and farms – holds a town event called the Apple Harvest Festival . It’s grown to a two-weekend event, and hosts the usual assortment of crafters, souvenir hawkers, baby-kissing politicians, and of course, an assortment of foods. Times being what they are, we seem to see fewer apple-related treats and more of the “deep-fried ice cream” or the “chicken-on-a-stick” genre. We don’t mind, though, because it’s all delicious. Diets take a back seat to deep-fried donuts, fritters, and of course, to the now-famous Friendship Lodge “Apple Wedgies.”

Hey, wait a minute… I wrote this last year!

The usual gang of overworked and underpaid craftsmen persons were on hand, starting with putting down the floor and putting up the tent on Wednesday evening, then setting up the grills on Thursday, and cooking up shaved steak on Friday, and (barely) waking up on Saturday morning to put in a full day of doing it for the rest of the weekend.

Being a Past Master, I was on hand in a purely supervisory capacity. More correctly, people were supervising me to make sure that I didn’t wander off or get in the way of people doing the heavy lifting. Very important to stay out of the way of those who do the real work.

Sales were a bit slower than last year, although several of the booths that regularly hit the fairs mentioned the same thing. Too many fairs and festivals get crammed into September and October, which makes a virtual competition out of drawing in the crowds for each weekend. Southington runs the festival for two weekends, which helps to mitigate the problem of several large and well-attended agricultural fairs that always occur at the same time. Nonetheless, by Sunday night we had gone through several hundred pounds of steak, and almost 500 tart, tasty Macintosh apples.

Sunday morning saw great weather, which meant that the Apple Harvest parade would proceed as per schedule. Last year, a morning downpour forced the parade to be postponed until the next weekend, which meant that few outfits could march, as some had commitments elsewhere. The parade always elicits groans from some of the marchers – it’s a short route, but waiting in the lineup for almost 2 hours to march for 30 minutes is frustrating, especially when you can smell the various aromas wafting from the food areas. But as usual, thousands mobbed the streets to watch and wave us on. More encouraging, some people even seemed to recognize us as “The Masons,” which is much better than in past years where I’ve heard people ask a neighbor “Who are those guys in the suits?”

Actually, every year is a fun, exciting time – a little bit the same, a little bit different. The rush of getting food out during hungry periods, the story-swapping during the lulls, the complaining during the evening cleanup are all part of the experience – corporate HR departments spent thousands of dollars for team-building exercises that aren’t nearly as much fun, nor do they leave you with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Another Jewel

April 1, 2007 Leave a comment

Some of my 19 or so readers use the blogroll – the links on my sidebar – to jump to other blogs. A few weeks ago I added a link to Moveable Jewel, failing to mention that the author is also a brother from Connecticut. He and I have communicated via email, and he is young and idealistic about the fraternity… unlike yours truly, who is old and cynical middle-aged and pragmatic.

I am pleased to see that he is a member of the Philosophic Lodge of Research, one of Connecticut’s two research lodges. The purpose of a research lodge is to study aspects of the fraternity, and the members will write – and present – papers on various topics ranging from the historical to political to esoteric. Members will also come to speak at a lodge, which is a great idea for an educational program.

But I am pointing out his blog now because he’s written a great piece for the Philosophic Lodge of Research. Of particular note was this passage:

“I myself have been the object of Masonic Relief on more occasions than I care to count. I have arrived at Lodge careworn after a miserable day in a job that payed the bills, but did not feed my soul. At Lodge I received the warm smiles and firm handshakes of men that I truly respect. Their humor, and the camaraderie that I enjoyed with them lifted my spirits and gave me the stamina to improve my lot.”

There have been any number of times after a particularly bad day at work that I’ve been tired, frustrated, angry, and want to curl up on the sofa with a glass of wine and a book and ignore the rest of society; yet I throw on a change of clothes and head down to the lodge… and realize that by the time the Secretary has finished reading the minutes, I’m relaxed and feeling more human.
Thanks for reminding me of that.

Now, the other 18 of you – go check it out.

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