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Uncivil Unrest

January 23, 2017 6 comments

II. Of the CIVIL MAGISTRATES supreme and subordinate.

A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concern’d in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates; for as Masonry hath been always injured by War, Bloodshed, and Confusion, so ancient Kings and Princes have been much dispos’d to encourage the Craftsmen, because of their Peaceableness and Loyalty, whereby they practically answer’d the Cavils of their Adversaries, and promoted the Honour of the Fraternity, who ever flourish’d in Times of Peace. So that if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State he is not to be countenanc’d in his Rebellion, however he may be pitied as an unhappy Man; and, if convicted of no other Crime though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his Rebellion, and give no Umbrage or Ground of political Jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible.


Freemasons in the US, at least, those not living in caves, can’t help but be aware that the recent US Presidential elections (and the equally important, although lesser discussed senatorial and representative elections) has been the most hotly contested race – and the most surprising upset –  probably since Ronald Reagan.

For reasons which I’m not inclined to discuss here, the election upset was so unexpected that the concern and complaints about it have gone on long after election day, and even after our new President was installed… err, inaugurated. Indeed, Facebook and Twitter seem to be talking about little else lately; even posts about bacon seem to be less frequent.

There is a time-honored tradition of not discussing religion or politics inside a Masonic lodge. Ostensibly to help maintain the harmony of the membership, some Freemasons mistakenly interpret this as neither subject is to be discussed at all, or as that neither subject should be discussed in any Masonic forum (either an online forum or a group at the local pub). Historically, however, it is probably the case that early lodges, not wishing to be seen as a society that might harbor traitors to the Crown or the Church, banned such discussions to avoid the appearance of impropriety. The tradition was strong enough in the early 1700s, however, to motivate Anderson to include it in his Constitutions.

I’m not surprised to see Freemasons on both sides of the election disagreement (4 sides of you include the Libertarian and Green party candidates), and frankly, given the nature of the contest, I’m not surprised to see many of them speaking out so vocally online. I am, however, a little disappointed to see some of them attacking each other, instead of limiting their arguments to attacking the candidates or their positions, characteristics, and perceived shortcomings.

While I’m all for keeping religious and political discussion out of the lodge meetings themselves (although it might liven up a few lodges after listening to the drone of the minutes), I’d argue that to keep Masons from talking about those topics with each other would be unnatural. Can you imagine the discussions that must have taken place around taverns and dinner tables in mid-1700s America? It’s conceivable that the American Revolution might not have taken place if the men – the Freemasons – of that time had interpreted the tradition the same way that so many of us do now.

Yet, despite my assertion that political discussion after the meeting (or online) is part of human nature, I’m still disappointed in how I see many of my fellow Masons going about it. Recent brain scan MRI studies have shown that political and religious thinking show up in the same areas as self-identification, meaning that our political philosophies are an intrinsic part of who we are as a person. Attacking and insulting each other is certainly not going to change anyone’s mind; if anything, human nature will just make that person dig in and more self-protective.

To be sure, some people can keep it light. Others have learned how to discuss seriously, but without rancor. It’s possible, really. But if your own argument is reduced to calling someone — whether a friend or a complete stranger — an insulting name, then maybe it’s time that you re-examine your own beliefs.  Or better yet, turn off your phone or computer and go get some fresh air.

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Past Master’s MM Degree – 2008

June 4, 2008 Leave a comment

Every year, the next-to-junior Past Master of Friendship Lodge gets the the unenviable task of gathering together a large group of his predecessors for the purpose of putting on a Master Mason degree. We typically hold two sets of degrees, one in early spring and one in the fall, and the Past Master’s degree is performed at the Master’s discretion. Some choose to do it early to give them more time to study for their own degree.

If you’re having deja vu, it’s because I first wrote that two years ago, and again last year. This is obviously a sign that I’ve been blogging too long.

Last year, we did this degree in the Fall. This year, we did it in the spring because the WM has slacked off needs more time to prepare before he can do it well. 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.

Anyone who has run an event comprised of all Past Masters can well understand the metaphor “like herding cats.” Some check their email daily, some weekly, some never. Some were going to be gone for the scheduled week, probably because it was close to the Memorial Day holiday. Some wanted minor parts, some weren’t going to make it for dinner, some wanted parts, but weren’t sure if they were going to be there at all.

Of course, it didn’t help matters when, not for the first time, I scheduled a rehearsal on Mother’s Day.

Lucky for me, I had just done this degree at my other lodge, so unlike last year, it was still fresh in my memory. One of my occupational hazards is that I’m often seeing, coaching, or participating in different degrees each week, and sometimes one degree will get stuck in my head and remain there for a couple of days. This becomes a problem when in the middle of a lecture or charge, I suddenly blank out and forget which degree I’m on. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem for me this year, and I somehow managed to get through the degree without any mental infarctions.

The junior officers put on a huge meal: a very tasty surf & turf dinner that was heavy on the cholesterol, for which they made no apologies. It didn’t seem to faze the dinner guests, and when I walked in I saw wall-to-wall smiling faces. How we all managed to stay awake after such a lavish feast is beyond my ken.

I took the East for the first section of the degree, and WB Richie took the West. We traded seats for the dramatic portion, and at the end of the evening had raised three new Master Masons. Those of you who are reading this, hoping for one of my little humorous tales of something gone wrong, are going to be disappointed, I’m afraid. We had an excellent crew of Past Masters, and by all accounts the evening was a success.

It was, however, the first year that I actually felt like a Past Master, myself. Last year the whole PM thing was still new for me, and I was still getting the hang of being the District Grand Lecturer. This year, though, I had more of a sense of how removed I am from the Oriental Chair. I’m not sad or melancholy, quite the opposite: I’ve had a long time now to look back and to think about what I liked, and what I might have done differently. The weekly phone calls from the current Master Worshipful Jim serve to remind me that my opinion and advice are still valuable, and I have come to appreciate that.

Past Masters need not devolve into moss-backed old turtles once they leave the chair.

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.

Badges? Badges? We don’t need…

March 6, 2007 1 comment

Before I dipped my toe into the blog pool, I used to write on the various Masonic web groups and on Usenet. In fact, despite the rather unpleasant signal-to-noise ratio at times, I happen to like newsgroups. The quick responses and multi-threaded conversations are often mentally invigorating; although lately it seems that most conversations that I have are just arguments with the Anti-Masonic crowd. That said, in searching for something else, I ran across a few of my posts to the group alt.freemasonry and soc.org.freemasonry that I made when I was a new officer. I’m going to post some of them here because they provide an interesting perspective from an idealistic new Mason – as opposed the the jaded and bitter ramblings of the Past Master that I’ve become. This one in particular I remember well, and here it is, slightly edited to clean up the typos and formatting.

It was 2004, I was a new JW, and we were only two or three meetings into the year. One of my best friends − the guy who brought me into Friendship − was the new WM, and the two greatest Stewards in the world were on either side of me, and we were about to have an EA degree, which was to be inspected by the DD and AGM, both of whom were frequent visitors to Friendship. We were well rehearsed and anxious to get started. It doesn’t get any better than this.

In Connecticut, the JW has a great section in the opening and closing ritual (that is, in the “long form” in which Friendship Lodge works. There is a “short form,” but we do not speak of such things in our lodge) . I love this part, and frankly, I do tend to ham it up emote a little because I like to get into the proper mindset before a degree. I have discovered that I really enjoy ritual, and constantly challenge myself to do just a little better each time. Anyway, within the section (which may be slightly different in other jurisdictions) I describe part of the JWs duties, and admonish the brothers against turning the purpose of refreshment into…

− and here I paused for dramatic effect and slowly turned to look at the dour and stern-visaged brother on my left −

“…intemperance and …”

− and here I paused and turned to the rather large and expansive brother on my right −

“…excess.”

I continued on with the speech, but the attributes of my Stewards fit so well with the section that everyone, including the purple aprons across the room, started cracking up. And from that night on, pretty much everyone in the entire district referred to them as Bros. Intemperance and Excess. Anyhow, at the end of the year, the Stewards secretly had name tags made up that resemble the regular officer’s tags; and yes, they had them made up as Intemperance and Excess.

I want to interject at this point to assure readers that we do not engage in such tomfoolery during actual degree work, and our candidates get nothing less than the most impressive and solemn ritual, quite possibly in the state. However, I do acknowledge that we have a bit of light-hearted fun during the normal business meetings.

So, why is this significant? I’m getting there.

Eleven months later we had our 2005 officer’s installation, and yours truly was now firmly ensconced in the West. Without getting into yet another long story, our lodge officers have a tradition: the officers, for at least the last 10 or maybe 15 years, wear bright red socks with their tuxedos. Each installation the WM presents the newest officers (usually a Marshall or Steward) with a pair of red socks. That year, the incoming WM announced that there would be a new tradition: in addition to handing out the red socks, we had The Passing Down of the Stewards Badges. He called up the old Stewards, and the old SS passed his “Excess” badge down to the incoming SS, who passed his “Intemperance” badge on to the new JS. He had this all set up ahead of time with the Stewards in order to rib me a little. It was very funny – in a “I guess you had to be there” kind of way, and we all had a nice laugh; even the non−Masons present enjoyed the joke after we explained it all (in most US states, installations are semi-public events). I hope I’m around in 20 years to see if they’re still doing it, and to see if they understand why they’re doing it.

And that brings me to my point: I know that there are some lodges out there − yes, even in Connecticut − that can barely fill the officer’s line, that have nothing but rusty, dusty, carping PMs sitting on the sidelines, or that need to close because of a lack of interest. I don’t know why this happens; demographics, time, culture change, there are dozens of reasons I suppose. And frankly, I’m not sure why Friendship Lodge has been so successful in the camaraderie department. Somehow, we’ve been fortunate to have a great mix of guys; our most active members are typically from their mid−20s to mid−50s. Most of the PMs are still active, too − I don’t mean that they show up, I mean that they’re active. Oh sure, there are a couple who might comment from the sidelines when you screw up, but most of them take you aside to point out a flaw or to give some advice; not because they want to show off their knowledge, but because they want the lodge as a whole to improve.

It saddens me to hear the stories of lodges with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash reserves that serve donuts after a meeting to 9 people − on a good night. Lodges at which members show up only ten minutes before a meeting and leave fifteen minutes afterward. Or lodges that have 2 hour discussions over minutiae, like whether to buy the $30 or the $35 coffee maker. Yes, I know that if they’re willing to argue for an hour over little points, then it means that they care on some level, but seems to me that it would be better if they used their energies elsewhere.

I’m proud of the officers in the line behind me; they’ve found a way to create their own traditions and culture; and maybe these little changes and additions that they create will make the lodge feel more like their “home”, and keep them coming back and contributing. Oh sure, I’m a teeny bit smug that it was my own little attempt at humor which has helped to create a new tradition, but that’s really not the important part. The important part is how they responded to the humor by taking something and molding it into something that works for them. It’s all too easy to just keep going along, doing the same old, same old without giving any thought as to why you are doing it. It’s no wonder that some people simply stop showing up at meetings when they no longer feel as if they are a part of something, and when they no longer believe that they are making any difference.

I want to come back in 20 years, not to see “The Passing of the Stewards Badges” in particular, but to see something, anything that tells me that these men – my brothers – are creating their own reasons to keep coming back.

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