Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

27 May 2005

An Inspection of the Dunkel Weizen

An Inspection

I was asked by the Master of Gov. William King Lodge in Scarborough, Wor. Bro. A. Robert Kvedar, to help them out of a jam for their inspection. They needed a fill-in Senior Deacon, a role which I have held twice and filled quite a few times as a replacement. As usual, they were wonderful hosts making me feel welcome as if I had been raised there. Though I erred in ritually relocking the door at the reception of the District Deputy Grand Master, all went reasonably well on my part. Wor. Bro. Kvedar (Bob) and his officers were excellent.
Prior to the meeting I had learned from them that the lodge had a small group of homebrewers, apparently they were wasting their time reading my terrible writings. I brought some of the my Triple Hop IPA and some of my father-in-law's Dayside Dark. In return, Bob brought me two of his beers...

Of the Dunkel Weizen

The first of the two he gave me was a ready-to-drink Dunkel Weizen. I opened it and enjoyed it with dinner this evening. The color is quite dark with a thin almost non-existent head. The smell is sweet and malty with an almost molasses character. The mouth feel is thinner than you expect from the scent, but I imagine it is primarily due to the wheat. The feel is still quite rich with a roasted malt element filling in the initial gaps. There was a only the lightest bitterness in the aftertaste. The beer was absolutely wonderful. The perfect blend of lightness and roasted malt flavor. I only wish there was a partner for it, as I would certainly be having it while I write this. The Dayside Dark and Triple Hop IPA will only spoil the experience. Tea for me now!

22 May 2005

The Maine Masonic College

One of the more important new programs announced at the Grand Lodge Annual Communication was the establishment of the Maine Masonic College. Their mission stationed is:

To create an educational environment for the purpose of inspiring the members of the Craft to explore the nature and purpose of Freemasonry which will lead to a deeper self-understanding of the founding principles, tenets, and lessons of morality.
The way I interpret the text is that this is a body intended to make serious the promise of Masonic education. The lodge system is capable of doing a good job of disseminating existing programs, but in general the lodges are not effective at creating new content for Masonic education. They are likelier to bring in prepared speakers on Masonic topics or historical recreations by esteemed brethren. The Grand Lodge has attempted to fill this gap by providing speaker lists, a failing endeavors as a twenty or even fifty person speaker list is like attempting to light the entire state of Maine with twenty-five or fifty candles: too little light over too much area.

If, on the other hand, the Maine Masonic College could bring in one member from every lodge you would create two hundred candles. An excellent start, since the as the syllabus grows each year new men will sign up and the number of candles will grow. Before you know it the lodges will be vibrantly illuminated by the content created in these programs. Then, just perhaps, the lodges might begin to gather in members who were moved to tears by its deeply meaningful rituals and bored to tears by the interminable Stated meetings. I am a Secretary, so I know for certain that Stated meetings suck the life out of lodges.

One key for the success of this body is a graduated programs like a pyramid: broad general interest at the bottom, more difficult courses for intermediate students of Masonry, and then extremely difficult courses at the top to make the learning of our best Masonic scholars worthwhile. Helping move people up the pyramid lights more candles and creates a progressive institution of learning. Another key is wide dissemination of the material through our vast state. Ensuring the programs reach the parts of the state where the instructor cannot comfortably reach. The two options I can imagine are video tape and use of the distance learning systems within the University of Maine system. I have no idea what the latter costs, but it would be the best possible option as it provides for distributed learning and interactivity.

I have the pleasure of having been asked to plan and teach a class on the development of Masonic ritual. I have been thinking a great deal about this, but I have yet to start my preparatory reading. I am finishing some reading on the study of ancient languages: The Story of Decipherment by Maurice Pope and Lost Languages by Andrew Robinson. The plan I am formulating right now is to split the seminar into two parts. The first part will be a survey of the development of Masonic ritual in four stages: Gothic Constitutions, pre-Grand Lodge exposures, Prestonian developments and finally Webb developments in America. The course would take about three hours with about one hour earmarked for Q&A. I am uncertain how to whip through six hundred years of Masonic ritual in around two hours of speaking, but it is essential for the class to be interesting to all levels.

The second version of the class would be a multi-day or six-to-eight hour class. The idea there is to study the process of ritual development and to help brethren understand how to begin the process of investigate ritual history themselves. The most important steps in the development of ritual in my view are parallel tracks: simple initiation to catechesis then catechesis to lecture and unguarded to bigradal to trigradal. The class would work together studying selected texts to spot the hallmarks of transformation and note places where gaps are occurring. The class would also have a chance to peak into what I call the pruned branches of our ritual, such as the three sons of Noah, a ritual which predated Hiramic legend. There are many interesting questions to address, such as why the trigradal system developed at all.

There are months of research ahead of me to prepare the necessary material. I plan to post what I am reading and drafts of the class as it develops over the Summer and Autumn.

18 May 2005

End of the Mud

At long last the final coat of mud has been wet-sanded in the little room. The major construction is now finished. Starting tomorrow, Tandy will begin priming and painting the room. She has plans for clouds and stars on the ceiling along with special luminescent paint. Begining on Saturday I have to start refinishing the floor which will involve two passes of sanding and then applying polyeurethane on Sunday and Monday. Finally, the trip will be fastened on Tuesday early in the morning. The people from Bob's are coming to install the loft bed on Tuesday.
I sincerely hope there will be no more nights working on the room until midnight.

12 May 2005

The Pope drinks Stuttgart wheat beer

I ran across this posting on the Relapsed Catholic blog. Does it get better than a German Pope who drinks wheat beer? After the terrible failure of my attempt at an all grain wheat beer, this gives me a good reason to go buy crystal to try again: "Benedictine Wheat."

You might think the new pope would prefer water or wine, but Pope Benedict XVI has given the thumbs up to … beer. Thanks to the pope, a German brewery is enjoying new success thanks to his “endorsement.”

A Stuttgart brewery had been struggling to sell its wheat beer, until pictures showed then -Cardinal Ratzinger enjoying the brew every once in a while.

So when the new pope was elected, white smoke not only emerged from the Sistine Chapel, but from the brewery’s chimney as well.

This past weekend, the brewery sent a beer truck to Rome delivering 185 gallons of beer to the pope.

From WKYC,com.

09 May 2005

Fear and Loathing in the Craft

The Grand Lodge Annual Communication on May 7th finally cemented my feelings about the One Day Class issue. As I had studied Masonry, primarily focusing on the development of the ritual from 1390 - 1790, I found my sense of this issue flipping all around. Is the initiatory process we have today crucial? Does it always have the desired affect? Is our membership problem really all that severe? How does it compare to the anti-Masonic period? There are many questions, but few answers.

During the session an amendment came up to permit the Grand Master to waive the one day waiting period between the Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees. This opens the gap necessary for One Day Classes to be scheduled in Maine, something which has been debated three times in Maine. All of the debates are terribly polarizing, as is the entire issue. As I listened to the two speakers from the Committee on Amendments to the Constitution speak, my own personal view on the issue gelled for the first time. I realized that both are speaking out of fear of the unknown, and that no resolution will be found between these two views since they are both based in fear.

The people who speak out against the classes are arguing two major points. First, they assert that raising candidates in the traditional way is a unique and essential feature of Freemasonry. To change this by raising large numbers of candidates in an auditorium would pulled a thread so vital to the fabric of Freemasonry that the order would be irreperably damaged. Second, in the final analysis no Grand Lodge has been saved by the program. There are still no pockets of real positive growth associated with one day classes.

The people who speak out for the classes are also arguing two major points. First, without a large influx of new members soon the lodge system will be defunct and Freemasonry as we know it will vanish in a generation. Second, they note that the traditional techniques for raising candidates are not finding significant success. This is best demonstrated by the terrible lack of retention.

Let us look at the points of both sides from the bottom up.

The other method is no better...

Each side uses statistics to make the point that the other method is no better. There is much insight to be gained here since both sides have failed to convince people on the basis of the first, meritorious arguments. Both movements then switched to ad hominem attacks against each other, egenendering the bad blood we are all so painfully aware of in the Craft. Finally, they are each now attacking each other's systems as a way of undermining their opponent and winning their argument.

If the traditional method of raising candidates is failing, and I believe there is a serious, nearly fatal problem there, then the focus of the one day class community should be on lodge renewal before it turns to one day classes. Without lodges ready and able to receive candidates, any membership boost would require huge numbers to overwhelm inertia. To ignore lodge renewal puts their whole movement at risk since it assures the same poor results we obtain from traditional raisings.

If, on the other hand, there is really no net effect from one day conferrals, then there is really nothing to be concerned about. Rather than fight it and rip the Craft apart from the inside, which both sides should realize they are doing, let it wither on the vine. In Acts of the Apostles there is a scene of great wisdom where Gamaliel says, "So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God." (Acts 5:34-39). Our order is not divinely constituted yet the advice still rings true. If one day classes are without substance, then they will fall away unimpeeded.

In my view, and in the view of the Committee on the Condition of the Fraternity, there is almost no source for data of the detail and quality necessary to make such a judgement on either side. Even as a lodge secretary, I can tell you little about who attends lodge and why. The Grand Lodge has no access whatsoever to this data making it impossible for either side to say what is occuring. Some Grand Lodges are making efforts, but they are necessarily so subjective, and predisposed in one direction or another, as to be rendered meaningless.

The end of Freemasonry...

Strangely enough both sides are arguing that without them Masonry would be lost for all time if their opponent should manage to make change or to maintain the status quo. It is my view that both of these arguments are deeply myopic and the Craft should beware of them.

The pro one day class brethren argue quite strongly that we are witnessing the end of American Freemasonry. At the current rate of decline there will be almost no Masons remaining in the United States in twenty years. The entire lodge system will vanish and the beauty of the Craft will be lost for good. This is a dire prediction, but one which appears to be borne out by membership statistics and anticipated death rates. In my own mother lodge, there were 600 members in 1980 and today, twenty-five years later, there are 230. Using a Microsoft Excel FORECAST() formula, there are projected to be 115 members in ten years. At that point, with inflation set to 3% and no dues increase, the lodge will run a deficit of $10,000.00 each year.

These are all frightening numbers indeed for a Craft which has grown used to being in the real estate business with lodges of 500-1,000 members and annual dues set below the cost of a meal for two. But there are two key elements which should lead a brother to see the argument for what it is for. First, the dues rate is increasing now very rapidly making up for years of low or no growth. In ten years the dues associated with most lodges will have doubled or trippled. I fully anticipate $100.00 per year dues for my three lodges by 2010 and I do not begrudge them a dime of it. Second, is the recent influx of young men. While the rate, as a percentage of members, is still quite small it demonstrates that Freemasonry is finally starting to attract the men we are most looking for. This is through no action of our own! When you ask these men why they joined the reasons are as varied as the men who joined in the zenith of the 1960s.

At its heart the forecast is probably dead wrong. This is not the end of Freemasonry at all, this is merely Freemasonry shrinking. If Freemasonry ever really faced its end, it was the period 1826-1860, commonly called the anti-Masonic Era. In "The History of Portland Lodge No. 1 (1769-1880)" by Bro. Josiah Hayden Drummond the records of Portland Lodge show large numbers of candidates and busy times up until 1827. Then in 1828 we read:

Undoubtedly the effect of the "anti-Masonic excitement," growing out of the Morgan affair, had begun to be felt at the commencement of this year. Gooding declined to act as Senior Deacon, and was excused by a formal vote of the Lodge, and Arthur Davis was unanimously elected in his place.
The twelve stated meetings were held, but only two special meetings -- one to receive the visit of the District Deputy, and the other to confer the third degree.

The lodge becomes more and more innactive during the next four years, until:

The usual record is, "there not being a quorum of the members present, the Lodge was not opened." But Joel Benney received the degrees, being the last until after the anti-Masonic excitement had died out.
The record of the meetings in January, March, April and September is, "there not being a quorum of the members present, the Lodge was not opened:" and there is no record of any meeting in February, July, August, October and November.
At the meeting in May, a Committee of five was appointed to take into consideration the present state of the Lodge and recommend what method ought to be taken to preserve the fund of the Lodge, and report at the next regular meeting: but no report appears of record.
Upon settlement with the Treasurer, it was found that he was out of funds, and he was authorized to borrow seventy-five dollars, but this being found impracticable, at a special meeting held on the third of January following, the vote was reconsidered, and the Treasurer authorized to sell a share of bank stock belonging to the Lodge...

In the State of Maine, the lodges of the south began to rebound after the famous, but largely undocumented, Masonic Convention of 1843. This convention inspired many public celebrations and gathered so many Brethren into Portland that it made the Craft more visible to Portland's largest city. Yet it alone did not change the fortunes of Portland Lodge, as it had already received its first new petitioner in more than ten years before the convention assembled in 1843. The hard effects continued to be felt in other parts of the State, and the lodges closer to Batavia, New York felt the effects clear until the 1860s. If any brother can claim to have witnessed the very end of Freemasonry in the United States it would be the brethren who lived through the anti-Masonic Era. They knew what true hardship was: no meetings for years, no funds such that the lodge was inspired to borrow funds. They did not, however, make radical changes to the structure of the lodges or abbreviate the degree journey to escape this dire period. They simply got smaller and waited.

The traditionalists, on the other hand, feel that one day classes will precipitate the destruction of Freemasonry. It is their view that the structure of the degree journey is so essential that changes to it will have dire consequences for the Craft. As much as I love the degree journey, the history of Masonry simply does not bear this out. The first Free Masons spent much of their lives making the journey from booking (seven years) to apprenticeship (seven years) to finally being a fellow of the craft. The fourteen year period from booking to fellow is not viewed today, by the traditionalists as essential to the degree journey. Even the most ardent among them thinks a one year period is quite long enough between degrees (one month is the norm here in Maine).

The degree system as well is not nearly as traditional as some might have you believe. The early degree system, as revealed by the Gothic Constitutions and the aides de memoire of the 16th and 17th centuries, consisted of two degrees: Entered Prentice and Fellow Craft. There was no Master, but the Master who ran the lodge. The Master Mason degree is an innovation from period just after the first Grand Lodge was formed in London. The earliest two records, of which I am aware, are Samuel Pritchard's "Masonry Dissected" from 1730 and the letter of censure to the Masonic Music Society (the first valid Master Mason was 1726 at Dumbarton Kilwinning Lodge in Scotland). Pritchard gives us a version of the Master Mason Degree in text for the first time, previously exposures and aides de memoire only reflected the bigradal sytem. The Masonic Music Society required its members to be Master Masons, when a man who was not joined the society raised him themselves. This earned them a written censure from the Grand Lodge in London.

It is also a fact that one day Masonry has its start in the dying operative lodges of 17th century Scotland. There are minutes of Mother Kilwinning Lodge No. 0 which reflect the election of the local laird to the Craft during a time when there were not sufficient brethren to manage the lodge. The hope appears to be both to inspire more work and drawn new men into the Craft as "Accepted Masons." It did not work then, but it also did not destroy Scottish Masonry. Another significant change is the conversion from catechetical ritual, a fancy way to say "question and answer," to lecture-based ritual. Looking at Freemasonry in the United States today we carry around significantly more text from Bro. William Preston (via Bro. Thomas Smith Webb) than we do from our early Masonic brethren. The lectures were largely the work of one man, and are forever enshrined in our workings here in Maine. Brethren are celebrated not because they can remember "I hail. I conceal." but because then can remember "A lodge is a certain number of Masons, duely assembled with the Holy Bible, Square and Compasses..." It is the lectures not the catechesis which mark a great ritualist today. None of these significant changes caused the destruction of the Craft. They are all major differences, but they merely changed it, not destroyed it.


It is my view, that both sides are reacting out of fear. The one day class brethren fear the end of Freemasonry and will do anything to stop it. It is not necessarily true that just anything is the solution. If we do nothing at all, the Craft will be just as likely to prosper. The traditionalist faction fears change. Their ancestors also probably fought against speculative masons, who were predicted to destroy Freemasonry. For a laugh, read the pamphlet "A Mason's Complaint" which is from an old operative Mason arguing that the new speculative Masons will destroy Freemasonry. Even if we have ten years of nothing but one day classes the true essence of the craft will not be lost. The essence, in my view, is the fraternal bond and struggle of we brethren to be better men and to keep our passions within due bounds. The essence is not whether I took my degrees over three years, three months, or three hours. A Brother who shakes your hand, helps you when you are down, and works hard for the lodge is no less a Mason if he was initiated, passed and raised in one day.

There is nothing to fear, so despite my own love for the initiatory journey given to me by the Brethren of Deering Lodge, I would recommend we vote to allow the Grand Master to hold one day classes. The advent of these classes will not destroy Masonry, but the bitterness engendered by the fight over them just might.

with Brotherly Love,
Christian Ratliff

08 May 2005

Grand Lodge of Maine - Annual Communication

Among my favorite Masonic events each year is the Annual Communication of our Grand Lodge. This is where the brethren of the several lodges gather together to fund the budget, manage the rules and regulations and discuss issues of importance.

Grand Master's Address

Each year the Grand Master delivers a speech at the start of Grand Lodge. In it he assesses the state of Freemasonry in Maine and makes necessary recommendations. This year M.W. Bro. Claire V. Tusch issued several challenges to the brethren, some of which I hope Deering Lodge will enact.
  • He challenged the brethren of the Portland area to revive the Frank S. Land chapter of DeMolay. There will be a Grand Master's class in the area to help bring young men into the order.
  • He noted that Order of the Eastern Star is beginning an oratory contest for Junior High students. The brethren of Saco Lodge are working with the OES. Since so much of Masonry is devoted to public speaking, it is an area of interest to our ritualists, which is most of our active officers, and since it involves kids it may bring in interested members who are not officers. He suggested that when the protocol is fully fleshed out, other lodges should try the same program. Community involvement is key to our success.
  • The Portland area CHIPs program is going gangbusters. Under the leadership of Wor. Bro. Wendell Graham it has processed 7,000 of the 15,000 children processed throughout the state. All lodges should seek to be involved in their district's CHIPs program.
  • He also remarked that a key to our future is not just bringing in new members, it is also revitalizing our lodges so they are ready to accept new members and put them to work. A committee in Grand Lodge is working on an a la carte Masonic Renewal system. This is a committee which existed previously during the term of M.W. Bro. Wayne Adams. The District Officers will be receiving information about the system and then offering it to each lodge. If the lodges are interested, the first step is a self-evaluation which will point out which elements of the program might be beneficial.

    [ed. I spoke with two of the members of this committee and their plans sound very well considered. The idea of an a la carte program is great because it recognizes the inherent differences in each lodge. I stressed the idea of setting accurate success metrics since, for instance, a program of membership growth which set a 5% net gain as its metric will fail for almost all lodges. A better program would be to look at the ten year trend line and attempt a 5% or 10% change in the trend itself. If the lodge is projected to have a net loss of 15 members next year, then set the goal at a net loss of 10 or 5 members. If the lodge is successful, even though success is a smaller net loss, it will inspire them to continue the program. At least that is my view on things.]
  • The Grand Master also revealed that the lodge is working hard on another Castine-like leadership program. Many years ago, when I was a Deacon, the Grand Lodge offered a weekend-long intensive leadership training program in Castine, ME at the Maine Maritime Academy. The Grand Lodge received several donations toward the program and more information will be forthcoming.

    [ed. I attended the last Castine program and found it was invaluable. It changed all my plans as an officer and helped make my years in the East successful. Though it is of little use to me now, I would certainly attend it again.]
The Grand Master also made a number of interesting recommendations:
  • The lodges should seriously consider a dues amnesty for members suspended for non-payment of dues. Forgive all current debts and send a letter to each suspended member offering them free re-entry into the Craft. The Grand Master made clear that this should be a one-time offer.

  • The Grand Lodge should consider switching from an annual communication to a semi-annual one. This would permit the passing of legislation much more rapidly. It is also not very expensive for the Grand Lodge to host such communications.

    [ed. I realize the cost to the Grand Lodge is low, but the cost to the 500-600 brethren is quite high with travel and food expenses considered into the planning.]

  • The brethren should quite seriously consider passing the permission for One Day Classes. Here is a quote from the Grand Master describing his position in detail:
    While I believe strongly in the "traditional" degree journey, I also understand that there are many good men who would like to join our Craft but honestly feel they simply don't have the time.  A One Day conferral would enable many of these men to join and provide a significant shot in the arm for many of our Lodges as well as providing significant positive spin from the "marketing" promoting the event.  I would haveseriously considered holding a class.
Simon Greenleaf Medal

Wor. Bro. Wendell Graham received the award for his service to the Craft as head of the 17th District CHIPs Program. His crew has processed almost half of the children through the CHIPs system in all of Maine. He does a great job as organizer. Wor. Bro. Graham has a good sense of humor and no shortage of things to say normally, but he was utterly speechless. The award never went to a more deserving man.
R.W. Bro. Randall Burleigh received the award for his service to the Craft in for starting a bus shelter program in far southern Maine. I saw R.W. Bro. Burleigh speak at the last Castine Leadership Seminar and he was "on fire with enthusiasm." :)

Josiah Hayden Drummond Medal

R.W. Bro. Richard L. Bowden received this award for his many years of extensive and varied service to Masonry in Maine.

Report of the Finance Committee

There were, in my view, two key items to come from the report of this committee. First, they have requested a formal inventory and appraisal of the library and museum at Grand Lodge. The Bangor lodge fire reminded all of us just how easily our history can be erased. The cost may well be quite high, but it is worthwhile.

Second, the annual budget for this year does not require an adjustment to the per capita tax. This second item seems terribly strange to me. We went for many years without a per capita change and then there was a sudden demand to lift the 6% cap. The debate surrounding lifting the cap included much denigration of the Craft who complained, "Is this how little Masonry is worth to you?" The cap was lifted followed by a 25% hike in the per capita. Now, rather than making regular small hikes, the Finance Committee is leaving the per capita alone, inevitably building toward another large hike. Stranger still, they must be aware that at least two issues are on the table which will impact either the budget or their ability to raise the per capita (the plural member assessment change

Report on the Condition of the Fraternity

This report was a sea change. We all know how dire the membership situation is, but the condition of the fraternity is traditionally reported as "all quiet on the Western front." This says nothing at all negative about the previous committee members, two of whom are members of my Mother Lodge and I hold them in high esteem, rather it had been the style of the committee to accentuate the positive. The report, read by Wor. Bro. Charlie Plummer, was extremely long and very much in depth. The report enumerated the successful programs at different lodges and what the statistical markers were which singled those lodges out: frequent use of District Ritual Instructors, for instance. The report then went through a list of problematic conditions at the concomitant hallmarks for failing lodges. The report ended with thirteen recommendations (of which eleven are recorded here):
  • Membership gains has become an unhealthy obsession for the lodges and the Grand Lodge. Without a successful, vibrant lodge to receive them, no number of members will address Masonry's problems.
  • All District Deputy Grand Masters must begin using the correct forms and filling them in completely for the committee to do a proper assessment.
  • The significant leadership disparity, a mark which often makes the difference between a successful and failing lodge, must be addressed by intensive leadership training programs.
  • The lodge status report must be reviewed and revised to help the study of lodge conditions.
  • The inspections must conclude by mid-December to allow the District Representatives to submit their reports to the Grand Master for inclusion in the report to Grand Lodge.
  • A program of education for lodge by-laws and the Grand Lodge constitution should become part of the Masonic education package. We cannot expect members to obey what they do not know.
  • The District Deputy Grand Masters should always justify their rating with text explaining their decision [ed. I wonder if the committee is beginning to notice the grade inflation problem with inspections?].
  • The scheduling of rehearsals must be viewed as a key part of managing the lodge. To few lodges are practicing the ritual before they have degrees and as the degree system is key to our fraternity, this, more than anything, compromises our future.
  • The Grand Lodge and district officers must do something to get lodge officers to the schools of instruction, perhaps the pratices of R.W. Bro. Stephen Nichols could be a technique. His non-ritual school explores the meaning of the degrees and is generally well attended.
  • The lodges should cease their practice of driving new members up through the chairs so rapidly. A new brother should take five or more years to reach the East, not two or three.
  • All members need access to leadership training and the Grand Lodge should consider a program where leadership training is so central to the fraternity that we start teaching it to other people.
Report of the Jurisprudence Committee

There are three elements which the committee rules on: edicts, dispensations and decisions. The only item of interest to me personally was the edict outlining the regulations for lodges to rent to groups which are serving alcohol. The committee felt it was well within the Grand Master's right to issue the edict.

Raymond Rideout Award

This award is given to lodges with an excellent education program. The eight winners were: Tyrian, Delta, Asylum, Mt. Kineo, Amity, Jonesport, Euclid and Cornerstone. With the top two being Asylum Lodge and Wor. Bro. Carl Trynor's Cornerstone Lodge.

Report of the Committee on Memorials

This report largely focused on the death of M.W. Bro. Peter C. Schmidt, Past Grand Master of Masons in Maine. [ed. I sat with M.W. Bro. Schmidt in lodge many times and I can say he is among the funniest Masons I have ever met.] The report included a reading of a poem by Wor. Bro. Leslie Newton. He is a Past Master of Triangle Lodge, where I was Master in 2004. The poem was just wonderful.

Report of the Committee on Amendments to the Constitution

This is the most contentious time during the entire Grand Lodge session every year. The issues discussed here go to the very heart of the government of the Grand Lodge. This year was no exception, the following issues were discussed:
  • Changing section 90.1 of the Constitution to eliminate the dual per capita assessment. The primary matter for discussion was actually the manner of the committee's proposal. Traditionally the committee receives motions from the Grand Lodge, ruminates on them for a year and then makes a recommendation regarding them. The issue is that a motion goes in and a recommendation comes out and the brethren vote on the recommendation, not the motion. So, in this case, the motion was to insert language eliminating the dual per-capita assessment. The recommendation of the committee was against the motion. This meant that a "yes" vote refused the amendment and left the Constitution untouched, and a "no" vote changed the Constitution inserting the new language. In parliamentary terms, this is called a "negative motion", since yes means no and no means yes. It is a dangerous way to govern a body since it can be used to pass motions without the voters really understanding.
    The confusion lead way to a significant debate, in which I participated, which wound up forcing the committee to restructure the motion so a 'yes' passed the amendment and a 'no' rejected it, but with the committee telling the brethren they ought to vote no. Unfortunately, the committee failed to make a meaningful case for voting against the motion, believing that their recommendation alone was sufficient to predetermine the outcome, and the motion passed easily. It is was a classic case of the dangers associated with ignoring parliamentary process, since the vote wound up being more a response of the brethren to the committee's motion rather than its content.
    [ed. Each member of the grand jurisdiction is assessed a "per capita" fee by the Grand Lodge. This fee is paid by the lodge to which they are a member and since plural members belong to more than one lodge, the extra lodges are really "double billed" for the member. This amendment would take this money back from the Grand Lodge and vest it in the lodges who carry the affiliate member. This, in my view, is a totally fair way of taking money back from the Grand Lodge, which has been busily taking from the lodges for years, particularly of late. I hope the added workload on the Grand Lodge Secretary's staff will not be too much, I appreciate all they do up there!]
    Proposal Passed (amendment added)
  • A minor change to section 36.10a which eliminates a requirement that the MEALS [Maine Education and Lodge Services] Committee submit recommendations for District Education Representatives to the Grand Master.
    Proposal Passed
  • Another minor change moving the date of submission for the Grand Lodge budget from 31 January to 28 February.
    [ed. I believe the issue here is the lack of information about each budget line item, and the small committee which crafts this budget each year. If the committee posted its minutes during the entire year on the Grand Lodge website and welcomed input, I think many brethren would feel better about the process. I know I would and I do read the budget carefully each year, but I know too little about each line item, making it impossible to comment.]
    Proposal Passed
  • The next proposal permits the Grand Master to remove a member of the Finance Committee who has failed to attend two meetings without providing an excuse in advance.
    Proposal Passed

  • The next amendment had been pending for two years. It was proposed in 2003 in Portland, then was not included in the pending matters last year. This year it came to the floor and was rejected for a defect of form caused not by the proposer, but by the manner in which it was printed in the coming items of business. The proposal itself is, "amend section 90.1 Powers and Duties of Lodges by imposing a cap of 10% per year on any per capita tax increase." The committee then added the text "If amended this section would read:" and inserted the version of the text from 2003. The issue is that the text of 90.1 was changed in 2004, but the committee did not update their presentation of the material. Again the brethren were to vote not on the words of the proposal, but on the words of the committee. The Grand Master promised me as a brother that this proposal will be brought to the floor and given a fair vote next year.
    [ed. Though it is not even my proposal, I remain deeply disappointed at the way in which it has been handled by the Grand Lodge. It originated as a counter proposal from Wor. Bro. Robert Haines of Corner Stone Lodge to the Grand Lodge's request to remove the previous 6% cap. The Grand Lodge kept it off the floor last year, leaving no measure to compete with the proposal to remove the cap. The cap removal passed the floor after much debate. Having blocked 10% cap amendment again this year it makes the cap removal a fait accompli.]
The following new proposals were then entertained:
  • A new version of section 90.1 was submitted by R.W. Brad Blake, then Senior Grand Warden. This new version increases the new member fee from $2.00 to $15.00 and it removes the per capita as a fixed cost. Instead the approved annual budget is divided by the number of members and sets the per capita for that year. His view is that it is similar to a mil rate and if towns manage their budgets that way, so should we. There was a significant amount of discussion regarding this matter particularly because the committee, which is the group who offered the amendment at the first, noted only the minor change of the new member fee and neglected to mention the major change to the per capita structure. This latter point was outlined in greater detail by R.W. Bro. Blake.
    Eventually, an amendment to this motion was inserted by Wor. Bro. Hamlin who suggested the new member fee and the per capita tax be set to the same value each year. After the amendment had been inserted I tried to call for division of the question, splitting the amendment into a degree fee vote and a separate per capita change vote. The Grand Master rejected, fairly, the call for division, but I suspect that will prevent any action on the degree fee issue next year. The amendment was tabled until next year when it will be debated anew.
    [ed. There are two issues with this proposal in my view. First, is the incorrect assessment that this is not another fee increase to the lodges. The new member fees are generally set down in the by-laws of the lodge, Deering Lodge charges $35.00: $10.00 petition deposit, $25.00 first degree fee. This currently is $33.00 for the lodge and $2.00 for the Grand Lodge. Should this item pass, then without a by-laws change it would be $20.00 for the lodge and $15.00 for the Grand Lodge, a loss of $13.00 per candidate from the lodge's books. The only alternatives for the lodges would be to either eat the loss or change their by-laws to float their degree fees based on the Grand Lodge fee: $10.00 petition deposit, $25.00 plus Grand Lodge fee for the first degree. This would make the degree journey jump from $75.00 to $90.00. The second element is far more concerning. I understand what R.W. Bro. Blake is suggestion, but it will lead to two problems in my view. First, it will make debates over the budget extremely drawn out and divisive. Since the content of the budget sets the per capita rather than the per capita, this subjects each line item to intensive scrutiny. In my view, the committee and the Grand Treasurer are probably not prepared for the level of angst which will surely be attendant on this change. Second, the budget process itself is too closed when compared with a city budget. The public may attend the budgeting meetings and debate for weeks each element. The Grand Lodge budget system, on the other hand, is created by the committee, published at the end of February and voted on in May. This is simply no way to manage a budget with a city-style funding procedure. It is a good way to manage the budget, NOW, with a fixed per capita system, but under the weight of a direct funding system I fear it will become destablized.]
    Motion Tabled (to be voted on next year)
  • The next item would remove the mandatory one day waiting period between the Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees at the discretion of the Grand Master, effectively permitting one day degree ceremonies in Maine. The debate was sure to be fierce, and the committee itself was divided on the issue. M.W. Bro. Wayne Adams, Past Grand Master, spoke against the motion and M.W. Bro. George Pulkkinen, Past Grand Master, spoke in favor of the motion. Their positions were delineated on the classic one day class arguments. During the floor debate, I spoke in favor of the motion and my comments will follow in the next blog posting.
    Motion Failed (190 yes, 213 no)
  • An amendment was proposed which would require two black cubes, rather than one, to reject the candidate. There was some debate over its necessity, but I understand from Bro. Anthony Pereira, Senior Warden of Deering Lodge, that this procedure is normal for the Order of the Easter Star.
    Motion Failed
  • A motion was introduced by M.W. Bro. Charles Ridlon, immediate Past Grand Master, to publish the Mackey and Pound Landmarks. The motion was amended by M.W. Bro. Walter Macdougall, Past Grand Master, to include the report of the Committee on Landmarks with the listings.
    [ed. Having read the report, it is well researched and every brother should read it. The great zinger of the day was when Wor. Bro. James Dufresne, Grand Librarian and Past Master of Deering Lodge rose to speak on the issue. M.W. Bro. Ridlon, the Grand Master who established his position until the vote of the Grand Lodge, asked "Who gave you your title and collar, Jim?" to which he replied, "The Brethren, Grand Master." It was a moment not to be missed. M.W. Bro. Ridlon has an incredible sense of humor and he took it well.]
    Motion Tabled (to be voted on next year)
  • Finally, a motion was introduced to move the Grand Lodge from annual to semi-annual meetings.
    Motion Tabled (to be voted on next year)
Grand Lodge: where all the fun happens.

03 May 2005

Creative Destruction: bedroom edition

For the last four weeks I have been hard at work on my younger daughter's room. We own a small home with two large bedrooms and one tiny bedroom with a super small closet. Since she is the younger girl, she is stuck with the smaller room. We looked around until she found a loft bed she fell in love with at Bob's Discount Furniture. Starting at the beginning of April we gutted her room, removing the lathe and plaster walls and sucking out the 1996 insulation. It was blown in when the house was finally resided after seventy years. We removed the closet, which was not wide enough to hold full size hangers anyhow, and expanded to the room to about 9' x 10'. While I had the walls open I replaced the single outlet with five outlets and fancy lighting. There are two lights: one overhead panda light and a blue art glass wall sconce by Hampton Bay (this shape, but this color). As with everything in her room, she selected the light fixture. The key feature of the bedroom's wiring is the dual three-way switches. As you enter the room there are two switches: one for the overhead light and one for the sconce. Then up, in a spot convenient to the loft bed, there is another pair of switches. If she climbs into bed forgetting to turn out the light there will be switches handy for her.

As a result, demolition, cleanup, hanging sheetrock, and mudding have been keeping me quite busy for the past three or so weeks. So busy I have been unable to keep up with my minor lodge paperwork. The mudding should be done in another five days or so, and then we can apply the magic primer. My wife found it while I was remodeling our library. I was never quite happy with the imperfections in the mudding job, so she bought a tinted primer which is essentially a super-thin joint compound mixed with paint. It did a great job masking the errors in the mudding. Even today people still do not realize I mudded the library, of course, what guest is going to say, "Man, that looks like sh*t. What monkey did the sheetrock?"

I look forward longingly to the complete bedroom and another year of rest until we tackle another project.

This post is brought to you by the music of Relient K. Their album "mmhmm" is great. If you are into a single track try Be My Escape [iTunes] or My Girls Ex-Boyfriend [iTunes].

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