Monday, December 31, 2007

It's Been Quite a Year

December has been a crazy month - even crazier than December usually is for those of us who observe Christmas.

My wife and I had been invited to my lodge's holiday dinner in the middle of the month, but unfortunately it was canceled due to a snowstorm. It would have been a welcome distraction from our main concern, which was the house we had been in the process of buying since the end of October.

We actually closed on the place on Christmas eve - probably the most expensive Christmas present we'll ever buy for ourselves.

Back in September I alluded to "other factors at work" in the context of wishing Summer would last just a little bit longer. At that time we had determined that we were ready to take the plunge and buy a home, but given our budget and the type of property we really wanted (A house with several acres, but not too far from civilization, and staying in New England) it looked like we were going to wind up moving to Maine. (That's why I was driving around Maine in October; doing reconnaissance.) Although I love Maine, I was not thrilled with the prospect of moving several hours away from family and our few local friends. I was also not crazy about the fact that a move to Maine would probably mean taking the degrees from my mother lodge and then skipping town.

Within days after returning from Maine, however, we found a few listings much closer to home in Massachusetts... they were all "fixer upper" properties, but they generally met our criteria, including budget. One in particular grabbed us; a 19th century post and beam home with plenty of land, a pond, and apple trees. It's now ours... there are several months of hard work ahead of us before we can actually move in, and many more months/years of hard work after that before it's done (as "done" as old places like this ever are), but in the long run it's going to be well worth it.

What's especially pleasing is that it's not much further from my mother lodge than where we live now, so I needn't worry about breaking off that fellowship before it's hardly begun... and at the same time, our new house is only a few miles from another lodge, which I will be petitioning once I get my dues card.

Speaking of my mother lodge, it's looking like the next round of degrees will be starting in February. If you had told me *last* February that I would be joining the Freemasons a year hence, I would probably have scoffed. The seeds of getting involved in my community had been planted by a couple of co-workers, (one in the Knights of Columbus and numerous other organizations, the other in the Elks), but given my grueling commute at the time there was no way I would have considered taking on any additional commitments.

Happy new year - it promises to be another interesting one for me!

Monday, November 26, 2007

EA Dream

I had an interesting dream last night, in which I was about to take the Entered Apprentice degree. I don't believe I've had any Masonic dreams before, at least none that I remembered.

You'd expect that a dream about an initiation ceremony would concern itself with the actual ceremony, but that wasn't the case. For me, it was all about the preparation. It's all a bit hazy this morning, but key details were:
  • I was expecting to change into the one-sleeved, one-legged getup, but to my dismay the lodge had no such garments, and I was told that I'd have to just undergo the degree in my boxers and t-shirt.
  • Having dutifully stripped to my undergarments, I was asked to step out of the lodge for a few moments, which was inexplicably in a labyrinthine shopping-mall type complex that was totally unfamiliar to me.
  • My parents were in some sort of assembly in a nearby room, and greeted me enthusiastically as they left. I had the impression that they had been watching a "So someone in your family has decided to become a Freemason" presentation, kind of like the pamphlets new petitioners get.
  • When the time came for me to go back into the lodge, they flicked the lights on and off intermission style. It was at this point that I realized I was lost, and I kept trying fruitlessly to find the entrance to the lodge. The sense of urgency grew with each wrong turn and dead end, until finally I woke up from anxiety/frustration.
My armchair analysis, point by point:
  • Clearly, a variant on the classic "naked in front of class" dream.
  • Big labyrinthine spaces have always been a pretty common dream element for me, which is probably why I liked Doom and Quake so much.
  • At Thanksgiving my grandfather asked if I had been initiated yet. My dad, aunt, and brother were within earshot, and I felt vaguely uncomfortable. As excited and supportive as Grampa is, I think that deep down I'm still concerned about other family members' impressions of this whole adventure.
  • I'm anxious about either slipping through the cracks or not being able to make another EA degree ceremony as happened back in September.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Soooooo.... How did the whole Masons thing turn out?

My good friend J. and I have known each other since 9th grade. My family moved away after 10th grade, but we stayed periodically in touch by letter through the rest of high school and early college. We lost touch for a few years in the mid-nineties, but when I looked him up again and dropped him a line via e-mail we picked up the threads quite naturally, and in many ways our renewed e-mail correspondence was just like the messages we used to exchange on local BBS systems in the late eighties.

Nowadays it's pretty common for several months to go by between e-mail exchanges, and there's never any reproach or apology necessary... as with the first email, we just pick up where we left off.

Our last exchange this year was back in June, not long after I petitioned my lodge... I told him why I had decided to join, citing most of the reasons listed in early posts of this weblog, and I was curious to see what he thought. The idea of joining a fraternal/service organization is "not his cuppa," but he understood what I'm looking for and was very curious to see what my experience was.

The other day I got a very brief e-mail from J., simply saying

Soooooo.... How did the whole Masons thing turn out?

I was a little bit chagrined to have to tell him "I'll let you know when I find out!"

It's interesting how perspectives and priorities change - over the last month or so I have been preoccupied with the purchase of my first house, and as a result I have withdrawn from obsessing over Masonic minutia, going back to something more like my perspective as a total "outsider" early this summer. That's not to say that I'm not still very much looking forward to joining... just that most of my mental energy is going somewhere else right now.

The recent news about Halcyon Lodge #2 (Formerly #498 under the G.L. of Ohio) is very interesting. From a Masonic perspective, I think it's too bad that the brothers ultimately felt that they had no choice but to sever their ties from the Grand Lodge. I also think it's too bad that the only thing critics of the split seem to have to say is, "If these men would just be good Masons and listen to their Grand Lodges then they wouldn't be discontented!"

What I find even more interesting, though, is what the whole situation must look like to a total outsider who has no stake in Freemasonry. I mean no disrespect to the brothers of Halcyon #2 and wish them great success in their endeavor, but you have to admit that a profane who has seen the beloved "Homer the Great" episode of The Simpsons would immediately point out that Halcyon #2 has pretty much just established the Ancient Mystic Society of No Homers.

Friday, November 2, 2007

On to November

It's hard to believe it's been about five months since I began reading up on fraternal/service organizations. It didn't take me long to zero in on the Freemasons, and five months later I'm still positive I made the right decision, especially after hearing my father and uncle talk about their brief experiences with the Rotary (My dad joined briefly while living in western New York in the 1960's or 70's, and my uncle thought about joining in southern Connecticut) and the Lions (my dad was a guest of a member at a few Lions club meetings in southern New Hampshire in the 1990's).

Apparently the Rotary had a policy where missing a meeting or luncheon meant having to pay extra fees on top of your annual dues. Similarly, what my dad saw at the Lions club was the singling out and ridicule of anyone who had missed a meeting or two in front of the whole assembly. My dad didn't spend long with the Rotarians, and never even bothered to join the Lions with the kind of attitude he saw there.

Disclaimer: this is obviously a second-hand and a very small sampling of experiences with the Rotary and Lions clubs. However, of all the complaints I have heard about the Freemasons, absentee fines and the harassment of infrequent attendees were not among them. While it may be true that the currently low annual dues make brothers value their membership less (which in turns leads to people paying their dues but not attending lodge, or drifting away altogether), I can't imagine wanting to belong to a club that hits me with a fine if I can't get to a meeting one week, or razzes me about it the next time I show up.

Hopefully things in my district will get back on track after October's official visits and installation of officers, and I'll get the chance to take the first degree I missed in September. I know it will be worth the wait.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

This and That

Degrees in my district this month were postponed/rescheduled due to official visits, so I'm still waiting for a date for my Entered Apprentice degree.

I visited my lodge during their open house this past weekend, and had the pleasure of meeting a few brothers, including the District Deputy Grand Master. They didn't have many visitors that day because their ad didn't make it into the local paper in time, and the Grand Lodge didn't buy any advertising on local radio (I've still never heard any of the Massachusetts Grand Lodge radio ads), but from what I heard that afternoon it sounds like there's a lot of young blood entering the fraternity, and starting to make some changes for the better.

I spent much of Sunday and Monday driving around central Maine, and I was struck by how many lodges have signs near town borders with the square and compass, lodge name, and meeting times. I don't know how old the signs are, but I got the impression that there are a lot more Masonic lodges per capita in Maine, with one in just about every town I drove through, compared to western Massachusetts where there might be one lodge per half dozen towns or more. Other fraternal and service organizations seem to be active, too. In one town I saw signs and/or buildings for a Masonic lodge, an Oddfellows lodge, an American Legion post, the Lions club, a Grange, and even a Rebekah lodge.

While in Maine I had dinner with my second cousin, and learned that her father was a Mason, both her parents were in OES, and that she had been a Rainbow girl.

The things we learn about people after they pass away! I dearly wish I had gotten know my grand-uncle before he passed away about 7 years ago. I only met him a few times when I was a shy, quiet kid, and so of course I hadn't developed many of the interests I would come to pursue as an adult. A few years ago I learned that he played banjo (one relatively recent pursuit of mine which I would have explored a lot earlier in life if I had had any idea where to look for information) and now I find that he was a Mason.

I'm a little surprised that he wouldn't have answered the questions that his brother (my grandfather, who was interested in joining but never did) had. I know that men tended to be more secretive about the goings-on of the lodge during the first half of the last century, but as brothers go I always had the impression that he and grampa were fairly close.

My visit to the lodge on Saturday has me more eager than ever to get started, but at the same time I have subdued my passions to the point where I am not speculating nearly as much about what my experience will be like.

All things in good time.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Massachusetts Square & Compass Day, October 13 2007

Next Saturday, October 13, is "Square and Compass" day in Massachusetts, and according to the Grand Lodge there will be open houses from 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM at lodges all across the state.

I'll probably go hang around my lodge, meet some more of the brothers, and see if I can't find out when the next EA degree might happen.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Masonic Hall, New York City

As promised, here are my other photos from the Grand Lodge of New York at 71 W 23rd Street in New York City. (pseudo-anonymity be damned!)

Grand Lodge of New YorkLobbyMuralFiat LuxEmpire Room - EastEmpire Room - WestGothic Room WindowGothic RoomHallwayChapter Room - 1Chapter Room - 2Chapter Room - 3Chapter Room - 4Chapter Room - 5Chapter Room - 6Chapter Room - 7Chapter Room - 8French Ionic Room - 1French Ionic Room - 2WashingtonColonial Room - 1Colonial Room - 2Colonial Room - 3Colonial Room - 4Sterling SilverJacobian Room - 1Jacobian Room - 2Jacobian Room - 3Jacobian Room - 4Jacobian Room - Master's ChairDoric Room - 1Doric Room - 2Ionic Room - 1Ionic Room - 2Ionic Room - 3Renaissance Room - 1Renaissance Room - 2Renaissance Room - 3Renaissance Room - 4Renaissance Room - 5Newell PostsHollender Room - 1Hollender Room - Washington StatueHollender Room - 3Trompe L'OeilStairwellSkylightStairwellHall and StairsGrand Lodge Room - OrganGrand Lodge Room - 2Grand Lodge Room - 3