Always Been Good Enough – The Emblematical Instant Coffee of Refreshment

vintage sanka adA budget debate in Excelsior Lodge focused on memorial contributions for deceased brethren.  In the jurisdiction, it is customary for Lodges to remit a nominal amount as a memorial contribution to the state-wide Masonic charity, and I may reliably report that since time immemorial, that amount has been ten dollars.  I know this because several brethren of Excelsior Lodge have been Masons since time immemorial ;  one of them – Roy Mantooth —  was even Past-Master of Antediluvian Lodge No. 1, before he transferred, and his membership number, barely visible on his faded dues card, is four.

You read that right: Four.

Mine is 127598.  His is 4.

So the story goes, when they decided they ought to assign membership numbers, Solomon took number one, then Hiram King of Tyre, then the other Hiram, and then Mantooth because he was the one who always filled the coffee pot. With Sanka.   Anyway – so since forever Excelsior Lodge has sent ten dollars as a memorial, until this year’s  sitting master – a dangerous and revolutionary firebrand, not to mention a financial daredevil  – decided to make the contribution twenty-five dollars and chaos ensued.

As discontent is concerned, it was pretty mild, like most things Masonic. No shouting or anything (that’s for The Elks, or worse: The Eagles). No, it was more like watching dandelions taking over your garden, slow, inexorable, and not really noticeable, but you wake up one morning and think,  wow – where’d all those weeds come from?  But like discontent everywhere, it was deeply rooted.

“We need to lower that memorial contribution back down to ten dollars,” Mantooth was saying in his forceful manner, “it’s been ten dollars since I’ve been here and that’s always been good enough in the past.”

Always been good enough in the past.  You run into this sentiment a lot in Masonry.  In fact, I think it’s a Masonic motto: Is est satis pro habenae opus. A few nods from some of the older fellows and Mantooth started gathering more steam, “ I mean, if we were going to send flowers to the funeral – instead of sending a memorial to the Charity – we wouldn’t spend more than ten dollars, anyway…”

To be fair, Mantooth is not a florist, but one of the younger fellows piped up at that, saying  “that would be a pretty lame bunch of flowers for ten bucks,” but  it didn’t register.

And the problem is, it usually doesn’t register, because the divide between the older and younger members is very deep.  We’ve all noticed them in a hundred small ways – the emblematical instant coffee, for example, which, with a plate of day-old snickerdoodles from Albertson’s, is the Alpha and Omega of a typical Masonic fête.  Our meetings are slack, our regalia tattered, and our dress codes are either from 1974, or would shock the staff at the City Rescue Mission, take your pick. But more alarmingly, our lodge halls are crumbling.  In some halls this occurs because the members have fled the instant coffee for the latte house, but in others it comes not from penury but from pure parsimony, and heaven help the master who suggests raising dues.

These are all symptoms of  doing Masonry on the cheap, and its effects are insidious.  It means not paying proper attention to good form because it’s easier not to, and it means that the way things were in the past is not only good enough now, but for the foreseeable future.  This is why members think that flowers still cost ten dollars, that instant coffee is an elixir, and that red Bee Gees jackets present the image of the fraternity that will attract members in the critical 25 – 40 age group.  Because it’s always been good enough; no further analysis required.  If the goal of the fraternity was to rival the AARP in members over 65, we’d be in fine shape.

If not, it’s time to unplug the percolator. Go digital instead of analog.

I don’t pretend knowing how to pry the dead hand of the past off the steering wheel, but a good place to start is your officer line, you incoming masters.  Pack that sucker as full of young brethren as possible, giving yourself a coterie of men who share your priorities and who can withstand the insistence that the old way is the only way. With a young line, you still might have an antediluvian secretary (or treasurer), but with no voting bloc of his own, that’s a majority of one. Too often, the young men are sidelined because they don’t know the work, or because the master wants “seasoned” brethren in line to help him out.  This can be helpful in the short term, but it will defer our younger members assuming the mantle of leadership for as long as it continues.

And if you hate Sanka as much as I do – the sooner you start, the better.

This was originally published under audevidetace

Posted in Leadership, Sojourners and tagged , , .


  1. Brother, respectfully, let’s leave our Oedipal battles at home. The idea that the young WM is Zeus, having successfully castrated and ousted the Ouranos of the older Past Masters, is not helpful to the Fraternity.

    All of the points you make about making changes are valid, necessary, vital for the fraternity. But we need to do it with Brotherly Love for our older Past Masters. We need to be so good at our tasks as Masons that the older brethren are reassured and delighted to leave trusteeship of the fraternity in our hands. We need to win them over, to have them love us and trust us with the Craft that they have faithfully served for their entire Manhood. We cannot do that by making them the enemy. The line of officers ends with power and then powerlessness, and that’s to teach a moral lesson. Depending on the lodge, the Past Masters can be an arbitrary, exacting, retrogressive power bloc or they can be the greatest cheerleaders of younger Masons. They can ruin or resurrect a lodge. The natural progression of things is to have a new young Line emerge that is so capable and so diplomatic that the older Past Masters are thrilled to have them continue the lodge. Only Brotherly Love can achieve that aim. I’m not suggesting obsequiousness, and I’m not suggesting that we can’t implement the changes we need to make to continue the vitality of the Fraternity. I’m saying that the older Past Masters, no matter how crotchety, are our Brothers, and we are obliged to extend the hand of Brotherly Love to them (even when that looks to some like Tough Love).

  2. This made me laugh out loud and it does address an important topic. I have to say though that I don’t think age is the determining factor. There are many forward thinking older brothers who would agree with your ideas. Resistance to change exists within all demographics. The idea of the crotchety old PM is a stereotype (and yes stereotypes reflect some truth. In any event even though I agree with 47th, I enjoyed this piece and found it a very well written piece of ribbing.

  3. I haven’t read about Oedipus since my sophomore year at college, so forgive me if I am a little rusty. As I recall the story (by Aeschylus?), Oedipus murdered Laius, his old man, in order to marry his mother, Iocasta, perpetrating an even greater horror than the one he attempted to avert. This, and Freud’s later adoption of the story as jargon for boyhood neuroses is probably that “Oedipal” thing to which you refer. But it is Sophocles who is more interesting, I think, in his story of Antigone, where Oedipus relinquishes power in favor of a younger generation.

    If the latter is the Oedipal theme you refer to – then I hardly see how that might be a bad thing. If the former, however, I think the allusion rings hollow; no one advocates the overthrow of the old order here, nor of assuming what rightfully is the place of another – I simply urge that younger members take the second of the three steps in Masonry. In my view, this step is often blocked by the Old Guard (who stand on the third step). Although we – the Craft — are tradition bound (and often proudly so), too often we are shackled to outmoded customs that serve no useful purpose, and in fact, serve to prevent all change, all of the time. I do not advocate a palace rebellion, but I do urge that younger members start getting involved now, before it’s too late. Too often an isolated voice or two for change in the lodge is rolled over by more vocal members senior in rank. By coalescing, younger members can withstand the insistence that all change is to be avoided, and through the normal Masonic process (not by killing Papa and marrying Mama) effect change. This is not neurotic, in my opinion; rather, it is common sense.

    That said, I nod my head in agreement at the rest of your post, with only a quibble that the caliber of each lodge’s assortment of past masters is a huge variable, and in those halls where there influence is largely negative (or at the very least, stymieing), the younger members must move ahead with their agendas by placing it before the lodge for its consent.

  4. I meant Oedipal in the psychological sense, with the mother as the Lodge. In Sophocles’ version, Oedipus is a foundling, who never meets his parents until adulthood. His father Laius assaults him, neither recognizing the other, and Oedipus kills him in self-defense. He later meets Jocasta, his mother, and without knowing that he is related to her, marries her. So even though Oedipus’ motives are pure, he has still committed patricide and incest.

    I meant much more simply that the Past Masters who control the lodge are fathers and husbands of the the Mother Lodge, and the younger masons ultimately have to learn to husband the lodge properly, as the Celestial Lodge above will eventually call the older Past Masters to labor there. You are absolutely right that younger masons must consider their future leadership, husbandry, stewardship and control of the lodge almost immediately upon becoming Master Masons. That doesn’t mean they should wrest that control, but merely that they should consider that they will be in control eventually, and prepare well for their future duties. A mason about to enter the Officer’s Line should regard the Inside Sentinel and Junior Steward as their Senior Warden and Worshipful Master in the future when they first sit in the South. The third-year officer should regard the two officers immediately below him in station as his future Wardens when he sits in the East. Not all lines are progressive, nor should be, but you get my point.

    One of the reasons that a progressive line is slow is to get the lodge accustomed to new leadership. But these days, with work and family interrupting, and brothers moving, and other ways membership gets depleted, a young mason can find himself a Warden before he knows it, and sitting in the East all too soon. He has to be mindful upon being raised that he is being considered as a future officer, and upon joining the line that he is being considered as a future WM. If others are already considering him that way, he should consider himself and other younger masons that way, and be ready and capable when the time comes.

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