Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On fire, most of the time

I've enjoyed Seth Godin's marketing wisdom sound-bites for years... he makes a lot of very keen observations, and when I read his post today about Managing urgencies I found myself relating it back to the recent state of online Masonic discourse. From Mr. Godin's post:

"You can have grand visions for remodeling your house or getting in shape, but if there's a fire in the kitchen, you drop everything and put it out. What choice do you have? The problem, of course, is that most organizations are on fire, most of the time."

The kind of inflammatory rhetoric discussed here by Bro. Greg Stewart et al makes it awfully tempting to grab a fire extinguisher and fight some fire... I know, because I've started and abandoned several responses in the last couple of days myself. I'm not going to do it, because I have work to do. If there were any gentlemanly resolution to be reached through reasoned discussion about problems facing the Fraternity today it would be one thing... but the acrimonious back and forth we are witnessing lately is not debate, it's classic arguing on the internet, and it's not going to make our ashlars any smoother.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Bow Tie Follow-up

I try not to take for granted that I am very, very fortunate to have a job doing something I enjoy and would probably spend at least some of my day doing even if I didn't get paid for it.

I also try not to take for granted the fact that throughout my career I have largely avoided environments where one has to worry about things like the following responses to the question, "What about wearing a bow tie to an interview for a job at a bank?"
Dr James Ryan:
February 12th, 2006, 17:05
A bow tie would not be appropriate for a banking interview, or really any kind of interview I can imagine.

February 12th, 2006, 17:07
A bow tie for a conservative job interview would definitely be way too foppish. It could cost you the job and even cause an interview to end prematurely.

You are announcing to the interviewer that you don't know how to dress. Unless your name is Tucker Carlson or some other nationally known figure, you will not be taken seriously.

Enjoy bow ties after you have the job if it is an environment that will accept them (and ONLY if it is an environment that will accept them.) In conservative business and banking circles, you need to fit in, not stand out.

(The whole discussion is at

It's not like the guy asked "what if I wore a novelty oversized red and white polka-dot bow tie that spins around when I squeeze a bulb hidden in my sleeve to a bank interview?"

When I was traipsing around Wall Street as a tourist last fall, I saw an extraordinary number of impeccably dressed, miserable looking people. Thanks, but no thanks.

(No discussion about uptight financiers would be complete without a link to the business card scene from American Psycho.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

New Perspectives on Neckwear

I was at a conference back at the very end of last November when I noticed a gentleman wearing a bow tie. Not the cheesy, pre-tied, hook-on bow tie that you get with a rental tuxedo or movie theater usher uniform, but a real "freestyle" tie with a nice subtle pattern. It looked pretty sharp - you can definitely tell when a bow tie is actually tied around someone's neck, instead of stitched onto a strip of fabric and fastened by a hook. Dapper and snappy are words that come to mind, and I made a mental note to keep an eye out for a bow tie.

I don't have to wear ties very often (before joining the Masons, I'd say I had occasion to wear a scrap of fabric around my neck only once or twice per year. Whenever I put one on I am struck by what a ridiculous garment the neck tie is... long, dangly, prone to either falling into your soup, having soup fall on it, fluttering around in the breeze, etc... they're pretty much useless.

Bow ties are equally useless, when you get down to it, but at least they're symmetrical, and tidy, and stay out of the way. And, I'll admit, the fact that they have become anachronistic also holds a certain appeal.

Anyway, I have indeed been keeping my eyes open since last November, and I have learned that you just can't buy a plain old, self-tie, non-formal bow tie at any major retailer of men's semi-formal/business clothing in central Massachusetts... no dice at Sears, J C Penney, Macy's, or any of your basic mall anchor department stores. I stuck my head into a tux shop, but didn't even bother asking because it was quite clear that the only freestyle bow ties they might possibly have would be of the black satin variety.

They are much easier to come by online, but I held out for a long time hoping for the instant gratification of finding one locally. Finally, I gave up and ordered one from ebay seller Bow Ties and More... a nice maroon tie with a conservative gold and blue pattern. It arrived today, and once I tried in on (with the help of a nice how-to video), I became an instant convert - I have to get my hands on some more.

No real Masonic content or context here, other than that I am grateful to have an excuse to "play grown-up" a bit more often now that I'll be attending regular lodge meetings. One of these days I'm going to buy a suit, too. At 33 years old I'm starting to feel kind of like a little kid going to Sunday school with my grey dress pants and black blazer.

Grand Lodge TV Ads

Living in the back end of beyond as I do, I don't see much in the way of local broadcast television, so I had to go looking for these ads on YouTube (thankfully, comments have been disabled on both of them, so you needn't be distracted by the ravings of semi-literate conspiracy wingnuts):

I think the video embedded above is a bit more effective than this one, although I personally did not ask to become a Freemason because I was searching for "greatness". Not that I am necessarily representative of the ads' target audience. (Now that I think about it, I'd be interested to know who the target demographic is - men in their early 20's? 30's?) I'd also be interested to hear what other Brothers (from Massachusetts or elsewhere) think of the "preparing for greatness" message as the way to get people knocking on the door.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Live in a Former Masonic Hall

Google Books is a heck of a thing - I don't even remember what exactly I was searching for, but it led me to Proceedings of The Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth Of Massachusetts, From March 9 - December 7, 1864.

I learned that there used to be a lodge in Northfield, where my family has had a summer cottage for about 100 years - Harmony Lodge, Chartered in 1796 (when M.W. Paul Revere was Grand Master). I don't know if this was the same Harmony Lodge that now exists in nearby Montague (also chartered in 1796), but when I went searching for more information about the lodge I learned that their former hall in Northfield, built ca. 1900, has apparently been turned into condominiums which are for sale.

(I borrowed the photo from the listing; too bad they don't have a better shot of the exterior.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Middle Chamber

Last night I was passed to the degree of Fellow Craft. There were many more Brothers in attendance than last month (when the meeting happened to fall on Valentine's Day), and this time there was a collation after Lodge was closed.
"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!"
(Psalm 133:1)
Having interacted with some of the Brethren over the last month the whole experience was a bit more relaxed and familiar, and the collation was my first real opportunity to experience a part of the fellowship of which I had hitherto seen only glimpses. It will take some time to get to know everyone, but during the hour or so I chatted with various brothers, I discovered common areas of interest and/or personal history with just about everyone I spoke to.

Earlier this week I received a copy of the handbook given to all new Entered Apprentices by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, and I have found it to be a helpful volume that touches on broad aspects of the degrees as well as more pragmatic matters of etiquette and specifics about the organization and vision of the Grand Lodge. As I was reading through today I was particularly struck by a very simple and seemingly obvious statement that sums up in just four words a huge part of my decision to become a Mason:
"Masonic philosophy is practical."
I feel that Freemasonry's nondenominational approach to faith (unfortunate exceptions notwithstanding) is just as important as the requirement of belief in a supreme being - while much symbolism and language of the degrees is drawn from Judeo-Christian sources, the overarching understanding that all of the teachings are symbolic serves to detach the lessons they contain from literal interpretation. When the name of God is invoked in Lodge, it is a symbol... a symbol for whatever supreme being is at the core of your faith. It is up to you to prescribe what that invocation means for you, while at the same time acknowledging that it may mean something slightly different, yet no less valid, to every other Brother in the room.

So far, I feel that I have chosen very well - I don't get the impression that these are the sorts of things you ponder after joining the Lions or Kiwanis.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Fellow Craft

A month has flown by and suddenly tonight is the night of my second degree. I will be sneaking as much time as I can with my cipher today, although the work is not as demanding as it is in other jurisdictions I have read about.

Now that I am actually experiencing the degrees, I am waiting until I have been raised and active in my lodge for a while before allowing myself to form any kind of opinion about that.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Sky Has Not Fallen

According to the article at, Two separate branches of Freemasonry have united in the Czech Republic: The Grand Lodge of the Czech Republic (Established 1928) and the Grand Czech Orient (Established in the 1990s).

This happened on Saturday and, I'm pleased to report, the sky did not fall (at least here in the Northeast U.S.), the world did not end - and, as far as I know, we're all still Masons.

(It should also be pointed out that none of those catastrophic things happened during the entire time the two Grand bodies existed side by side, either.)