Dispatches from Maine

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

08 December 2008

Tours of the Portland Masonic Temple

The Masonic Temple in Portland, Maine has been put up for sale. As a Past Master of Triangle Lodge No. 1, housed in this beautiful temple, I too am sad to see this day come. Unfortunately, the building is simply too expensive for our lowered membership numbers to maintain. The building is owned by the Masonic Trustees of Portland and its head, also the current Master of Triangle Lodge, loves the building perhaps more than anyone else in the State of Maine. He has arranged for an open house on Saturday, December 13th. The facility will be opened to the public from 10am to 2pm with tours of all of its historic halls. At some future day all of this grandeur will be lost to history, so take this opportunity to see what is inside this mysterious and beautiful building. Here is a preview: commercial.

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31 August 2008

A New Season Begins

After a short break from the hectic schedule of a District Officer, the 17th is waking up with a bang! Before the first September event has even occurred I am already scheduled for ten evenings. Pretty wild for there being only twenty-two weeknights available. It is great to see the lodges with so much activity, to many candidates is a good thing. I am more than a little worried about my potential for burnout this year.

I did manage to read a lot of great books over the summer: Committed to the Flames by Morris and de Hoyos, William Preston by Dyer, Freemasonry: Secrets, Symbols, Significance by MacNulty, Knights Templar of the Middle East by Prince Michael, The Magus of Freemasonry by Churton, and a ton of reference materials for my paper and the MEALS Committee. Hopefully, this will provide materials for me to use during my brief Masonic education talks.

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25 June 2008

First Inspection

Here in Maine, the District Education Representative is the right-hand man of the District Deputy Grand Master. I am very fortunate to be working with R.W. Bro. Walter Lamb, who is a big teddy bear and an all around good guy. It is his primary task to examine the records, financials and ritual of ever lodge under his care once per year. This event is a called the "Annual Inspection and Visitation" in our jurisdiction. The Secretary and Treasurer, unless they are new, generally do not sweat the experience at all, but the Master and his officers, whose ritual is being carefully examined, could loose a few pounds due to stress in that one evening.

We attended in the Inspection of R.W. Bro. Lamb's Mother Lodge, Presumpscot Lodge in Windham, this past Monday night. There was a great turnout to see his first Inspection and the two candidates were very attentive. I have little doubt they learned a great deal about the nature of our institution during their Fellow Craft Degree. Perhaps it is a sign of the economic times, but there was a well needed gift to our new District Deputy Grand Master. A Past DDGM, R.W. Bro. Jake Caldwell, remarked that lodges had been cooking a lot of spaghetti of late and poor Bro. Lamb's tuxedo shirt had been taking a lot of pink gunfire from the sauce. To help him endure the saucey onslaught Bro. Caldwell and his wife Judy presented Bro. Lamb a full size cloth bib with flags on the front and the square and compasses on the back. It reminds me why I often wear street clothes to dinner and change into suit or tuxedo before lodge!

This is going to be a great two years!

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23 March 2008

District Meeting

What a day! On Saturday the 17th Masonic District, essentially the Cumberland County region for Maine Freemasonry, had its annual meeting. The Grand Master was in attendance along with more brass than you could count with fingers and toes. Since the event was being held at my Mother Lodge, Deering Lodge No. 183 in Portland, Bro. Chris DiSotto and I ran the dinner. The cooking began at noon and we were able to offer people a choice of prime rib, salmon or an entirely vegetarian pasta dish. Feeding 100 people in a single sitting was a new accomplishment, leaving the entire kitchen crew exhausted by 7:30pm. We were very happy with the results.

The meeting itself was considerably more engaging than I remembered from the past. The District Deputy Grand Master, R.W. Bro. Kenneth Caldwell, ran a fabulous meeting filled with many surprise awards. V.W. Bro. Walter Lamb received the Daniel Carter Beard Award for his work with the Boy Scouts of America. Bro. Chris DiSotto received the Mason of the Year Award from the District. While ordinarily each of the nine lodges recommends a different Brother, this year six of the nine joined together in recommending Bro. DiSotto for his work within the District. It was a moving moment for a good man. Another wonderful Deering Lodge Brother, Bro. Robert Wade, Sr., received a very special award. He was appointed as Assistant Grand Tyler. His son was previously a Grand Steward making for two Grand Officers in one family!

The remarks by the Masters of the District, dignitaries and Grand Master were very interesting. There were two which made a particular impact on me. R.W. Bro. Ray McLellan, Master of Casco Lodge in Yarmouth, is in charge of a very active, community focused lodge. He is having a lot of success at his lodge and brings an "old school" sense of dignity to the office which is a good reminder for we younger Masters. Hopefully we will be able to set up opportunities for him to convey his know-how to officers in the other lodges. While not every lodge should necessarily be so focused on the community, they might be able to use a few of his techniques. The other interesting remarks were by the Grand Master. He noted two important shifts in membership statistics at the Grand Lodge level. First, our average age for new members has dropped from the 40s to the 30s, a great sign for the fraternity. Second, the number of new members is greater than the number of suspensions, for non-payment of dues, for the third consecutive year. These are both very good signs for the Craft and analyzing why their causation will take more time to uncover.

The final news to come from the District Meeting is the appointment of V.W. Bro. Walter Lamb as our new District Deputy Grand Master and yours truly as the new District Education Representative. Our installation will take place on the first Tuesday in May after the Annual Communication of Grand Lodge. I have high hopes that we will make a good team stewarding the District through an exciting time of growth and change. The family tells me that I get no special privileges as a "Very Worshipful" and I still have to do all my chores. Darn!

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13 November 2007

Of Revolutions and Reforms

I thought I was in on the writings of the major Masonic revolutionaries of the day with Bros. Tim Bryce, Theron Dunn and Widow's Son, yet none of them hold a candle to the cogent thesis of Wor. Bro. Frederic Milliken. His paper "Of Revolutions and Reforms" is wonderfully written and makes a young Freemason want to charge the Grand Lodge Bastille. I recognize myself and my would be reformer Brothers in his descriptions of the stretched-thin, battle weary men trying vainly to reform Freemasonry from within. Yet, at the same time I am watching us change Freemasonry at both low and high levels every day. After ten years of hard work I get to see lodges embrace a true traditional past of good work and solid understanding of the ritual.

As I have said before, Maine is blessed with a good system of Grand Lodge government and, in most cases, genuinely good leadership. We do have our share of men lost in the "members, members, members" struggle who sit idly by while the ritual, learning and fraternalism of their bodies literally collapses in a heap. Yet, I continue to have high hopes and high expectations for Maine Freemasonry. I just hope I can last long enough to see that beautiful world born.

(By the way, to all of the Masonic esotericists out there, I need some assistance with a paper I am writing and would appreciate some assistance. The title is currently "Masonic Gnosis" and is inspired by the writings of Tobias Churton.)

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20 May 2007

Teaching the Ritual

Bro. Tom Accuosti, of the Tao of Masonry, posted the following comments regarding my being appointed the District Ritual Instructor here in the 17th:

Yes! Another ritual dude on the blogscape! That's excellent news, Bro. Chris, and personally, I'm very happy for you.
In Conn we already have "plain English" books - the task for me is getting some members to actually open them up and look at the words.

I understand precisely what he is talking about. The 17th, and I believe Maine Masonry in general, has been struggling to develop its new generation of ritualists. Some of our programs have been successful while others have been significantly less so. The Schools of Instruction moved during the last several years from a recitation of the ritual words where the intent was to cover as much material as possible in the shortest amount of time, to a deeper exploration of the ritual and its meaning. This shift from a quantitative to a more qualitative experience was good for those Brethren who were already attending and it helped birth some of our new ritualists. I fully intend to continue that transition by emphasizing that both the words and their meaning are key when I am called on to assist lodges.

With all of the wonderful changes to the Schools of Instruction, the one missing ingredient is the attendance of more lodge officers. In talking with R.W. Bro. Steven Nichols, Grand Lecturer, and reading through the history of the Grand Lecturer in the archives of the Grand Lodge, I have come to the realization that the Schools were established to reduce the load on the Grand Lecturer and his assistants. Now that each District has a District Ritual Instructor, a return to an older style of education might be a good idea. The traditional mechanism was for the Grand Lecturers to go visit the lodges and spend evenings going over the ritual with them. I hope to reawaken this practice by visiting lodges on their Stated Communication nights. After the lodge is closed, I will sit down with any interested officers and brethren to review whatever part of the ritual they desire. I was pleased to have Hiram Lodge in South Portland invite me to review the Middle Chamber lecture before my appointment as District Ritual Instructor. Hopefully, this will be the first of many such tutorials.

One program which has met with less success has been the Certified Ritual Instructor program. In my personal opinion, a major reason for this has been the principle of Brotherly Love. This is an idea which is close to the heart of every good Freemason, and none of us wants to hurt someone's feelings. Unfortunately, too much love can dilute the value of the thing being sought. In more blunt language, people who should have never earned the Certified Ritual Instructor card did and their lack of true knowledge and skill made the certification of less value. Lest anyone feel like I am talking about them, I am not. I am speaking of myself. The first time I took the test I should have been failed on the Entered Apprentice Lesson II, since I missed two more words than I am allowed. The kindly District Ritual Instructor and District Deputy Grand Master, two men whom I hold in the highest regard, felt that I should pass regardless likely due to the Brotherly Love they bore for me.

With the post of District Ritual Instructor it now falls to me to certify ritualists. I plan, at the Inspections and Schools this year, to tell the Brethren of my District that I will hold us all to very high standards, so that when a Brother says, "I am a CRI for the 17th District" everyone will know there is a truly skilled ritualist. I also plan to certify in one degree at a time, based on something I saw and was very impressed with in Florida. At the Schools I will introduce the Certified Ritual Instructors and try to have them added to the suite at Inspections. The idea here is not just to add yet another honor, but instead it is twofold. First, I do want people to feel like they are really earning both the certification and applause of their Brethren by virtue of genuinely hard work. Second, to circulate the identities of these men, so that the budding ritualists in the District will know who to go to for help with their ritual.

Like all ideas, these may well fail, but they may also help to produce the next generation of ritualists in the 17th District.

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17 May 2007

District Ritual Instructor

Well, the day has finally arrived when someone at Grand Lodge has finally slipped up and given me a real job to do. At the Masonic Lodge Association meeting tonight the District Deputy Grand Master, R.W. Bro. Kenneth A. Caldwell, announced my appointment as the District Ritual Instructor. If that sounds like a lot of blah-blah-blah, then let me translate it to English. I have been honored with the responsibility for carrying around one of the twenty-nine copies of the Maine Masonic Ritual rendered in plain text, rather than in the customary code. It is my task to help my Brothers in the 17th District to both memorize and understand the Maine Ritual. I am looking forward to this challenge and while some may think my ideas are new "young guy" ideas, really they are nothing more than reading history and repeating things that worked a long, long time ago. As far as blogger's go I am nowhere near as "on the dark side" as V.W. Bro. Tom Ascouti of Tao of Masonry fame, but it is still a very big honor.

As a side-note, just this week one of my Masonic blogposts was noticed by Bro. Chris Hodapp, author of Freemasons for Dummies.

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03 March 2007

Freemasonry and Dissent

An esteemed older Brother invited me for dinner some time ago. I had no idea what he wanted to talk about when I accepted. On the appointed night we met for dinner and while seated at a quiet table he got right to the point: should Freemasons be able to criticize Grand Lodge government in blogs. This was never something I seriously questioned: Yes! Actually, the answer is a little more complex...

I recognize that there is an absolute requirement in all of our discourse that we maintain a certain level of mutual respect and love, yet when we say "...harmony being the strength and support of all societies, more especially ours..." it is not meant to stifle all forms disagreement. If that were true, we ought to be ejecting One Day Partisans left and right without regard for whether they are for or against. Then who would remain to participate in our meetings?

We two talked for some time about the matter at hand. He outlining the authoritarian position common to his generation, which he imagined was acquired from their participation in hierarchical institutions. He would be more inclined to release his personal opinions to fully exist within the structure of his lodge, District, Grand Lodge and so forth. It is, essentially, a chain-of-command approach. I eventually realized that while my generation apparently believes in the right of individual conscience, my own position was based much further back in history.

Portland Lodge No. 1, chartered in 1769, included both Loyalists and Patriots, or rebels depending on your point of view, and managed to meet during the American Revolution with officers of mixed political affiliation. Two Brethren, with passions inflamed, nearly came to blows in the street, yet still met in lodge together. Freemasonry in Maine is positively drowning in Civil War buffs. Just try asking a Freemason who is a Civil War enthusiast, "Is it really true that Freemasons on opposite sides of the line really helped each other?" Make sure your chair is comfortable because the discourse can positively go on for hours.

Is the censoring of Tim Bryce a more intense debate than the Revolution? Is the United Grand Lodge of America more divisive than the Civil War? I defy any reasonable Freemason to argue this position; it is preposterous! The current debates are so incredibly minor compared to the debates of our Brethren before us that if we cannot tolerate these, then, my Brothers, we are not Freemasons at all. If we cannot safeguard dissent over these minor issues, then what we have today is less than a shadow of the great Fraternity of our forefathers. We would then be but children play acting in the attire of our parents.

I do not believe that. I believe that what we have can survive this and though we may occasionally loose our way, as it appears the Grand Master of Florida has, we will find it. I place my trust in the essential goodness of these men and their ability to resolve this embarrassing situation.

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22 November 2006

Grand Lodge Government

Tim Bryce, a fabulous Freemason from Florida, has posted a number of articles about problems in the Grand Lodge system. Each of those highlighted a different area of concern: Prince Hall recognition, free speech, unelected Grand Lines, and Grand Dictatorships. Each of these blog postings made me glad to be a Maine Mason since we are largely unaffected by those issues, though we struggle with our own problem ( One-Day Classes ).

The Grand Lodge of Maine has recognized Prince Hall Masonry for years. I was fortunate to be present at a number of important moments, largely because the Master of my lodge at the time, Wor. Bro. James Dufresne, was a prime mover in the recognition process. I was present at the first opened Lodge between Maine Masons and Prince Hall Masons of Massachusetts (an RCMP Degree team event). I was present at the first meeting of a Maine Lodge where Prince Hall Brethren were present (my Mother Lodge, Deering No. 183 in Portland). I was also fortunate to attend, and participate in, the first shared ritual between Prince Hall and Maine Masons: a re-dedication, re-obligation ceremony where I was permitted to recite the "Letter 'G' Lecture". These events were wonderful fun and the Prince Hall Brethren I met were smart, dedicated Masons. Yes, we do share concurrent jurisdiction with a Prince Hall Lodge in Bangor, sponsored by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

I have never found my own freedom of speech restricted in the Grand Lodge of Maine, and I have been more than willing to speak out. Heck at the Grand Lodge two years ago I got in the middle of the One-Day Classes debated and pointed out that both sides were being irrational and playing on unfounded fears (Fear and Loathing in the Craft). Even our most forceful, authoritarian Grand Master, in my experience, always managed to stay on the "Good Guy" side of the line. While he clearly communicated that he believed his power exceeded that which can be granted by election, which he was, he really never used it. It was a strange mix since it sent the message "I can make you do what I want, but I won't." In the end, he convinced me on a number of issues which I disagreed with, particularly the idea of Fellowship Nights. I think this is one of the beautiful things about the people of my adopted State. There is such a strong vein of rugged individualism, that anyone attempting to use unbridled power would break on the rocks. Go Maine!

We have an elected, non-progressive Grand Line. Each year you can change the officers around and we most certainly do. The Grand Wardens regularly shift under the feet of the Grand Master, who presides for two years, which gives a fair degree of control of who rises to the positions of Deputy Grand Master and Grand Master. This vests control in the hands of the Brethren rather than in a particular Grand Master who ended his term years ago. The Grand Lodge also rejected a proposal to give Past District Deputy Grand Master's a vote in Grand Lodge. This is a good thing since the Grand Lodge system already has enough power, better to reduce the vote count and keep in firmly tipped on the side of the lodges.

Enough with the greatness list. What would I change about the Grand Lodge of Maine if I could?

  1. Arrange the Committees according to controversality
    There is no changing the facts, many Brethren leave the Grand Lodge session at the lunch break. We should recognize that fact and adjust to it. The issues with the greatest potential for controversy and debate should be placed first on the docket. The Committee reports with no issues to vote on should be placed last. Then the Brethren would be present to vote on the issues of importance.

  2. Ban negative motions
    The Committee on Constitutions has frequently been using the parliamentary tactic of negative motions (a.k.a. dirty pool) to block legislation they dislike. The way this tactic works is that they read the legislation and then submit a motion where a "Yes" vote defeats and a "No" vote passes. Few are sure how to vote to get the outcome they want and many of these issues go down in defeat when they ought to have passed. All motions should be forced to be a "Yes" to pass and a "No" to defeat.

  3. Appoint a Parliamentarian
    Since Grand Masters cannot be expected to commit Section 44, Rules 1-20 to memory before running their first Grand Lodge Annual Communication, someone should be appointed to help the Grand Master navigate the parliamentary waters. A parliamentarian would keep track of what is on the floor and what actions are permissible. I have been at too many Grand Lodges where there where motions made atop of other motions and amendments to amendments and so forth. The Grand Master has enough to fully occupy his attention, but being responsible for the state of all of the motions and amendments on the floor might be too much to ask.
Clearly none of these issues have the importance of those suggested by Wor. Bro. Bryce. They are fine-tuning of the Grand Lodge of Maine, and organization which runs pretty darn well. Its successful organization is due in large part to the very nature of the people who inhabit this State. I am glad to know them, I am glad to live here, I am glad to be a Maine Mason.

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