Monday, December 27, 2010

Suburban World: The Norling Photographs

I'm a lover of history, most especially those events between the late 19th C and th late 20th C. Perhaps this makes me an outlier in a Fraternity filled with brothers who know the name of George Washington's horse in the French and Indian War but for me, some of the most interesting subjects in history happened between 1800 and 2000. I'd like to describe a book that takes a slice of life peek at the world of the 1950's, that much loved but misunderstood decade.

Irvin Norling was the unofficial photographer of one of the major suburbs to grow around the Twin Cities, Bloomington. Today, Bloomington is a town that hosts the Mall of America, the airport, dozens of hotels for travelers to these parts, and of course, the Masonic Homes and Grand Lodge headquarters. The Bloomington of the 1950's was a much different time and place than what I recognize when I pass by the neighborhoods of ramblers and tract homes.

Irvin Norling chronicled everything that happened in town, from the joyous events, like sock hops and Shriners activities to the tragic, like the many fatal car wrecks; Norling recorded everything. As I flipped through this book at my local bookstore, I became enthralled with these photos. Every detail, from the sign for the future home of the Minnesota Twins, the Met Stadium (no longer with us) to Howard Wong's Restaurant (a grocery store now stands on the site), I was witnessing a slice of life presented in vivid black and white. Every person seemed alive as if the picture would begin to move and the subjects would tell their story. It is a poignant collection of images digging deep into all aspects of suburban life at that time and in that place.

This collection is powerful and personal. There is no agenda, no elegiac longings for the idyllic nor accusations toward the hypocrites. The story is told by Norling's subjects presenting a life lived, even if that life is tragically cut short. I really believe that it is more than a coffee table book. You can find it on Amazon or if you live in Minnesota, you can find it in your local bookstore and you can catch a peek of the book at Google Books.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Lodge as Lab Part 1: The Full Third Degree

By Hannes Grobe 19:04, 3 September 2006 (UTC) (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

As I began to pull back into my new role as Lodge Education Officer, I’ve been thinking about all the different programs I tried at Corinthian Lodge No. 67 while I sat in the East. Masters are given a lot of leeway to try new programs out to get the brothers more active. We may not make innovations in the Craft but this prohibition is aimed at the ritual and have little to do with programs that make Lodge a fun and worthwhile experience, i.e. no fourth Craft degree. When I took the Oriental Chair, I began to view myself as a scientist, testing experiments on the brothers and candidates to see what works and what doesn’t work. The first experiment I would like to discuss is the idea of giving each candidate the full degree work.

In Minnesota, lodges have the ability to abbreviate the second section of the third degree on all but the last candidate. I wanted to see if retention and more especially, participation, went up if candidate received the full second section. I should first preface why I wanted to test this hypothesis.

For many years at Corinthian Lodge, we had many candidates go through and witness the second section performed on the last guy. I began to notice that there seemed to be a correlation between them coming to lodge and taking a part in the full degree. I also had a personal reason. The fee for degrees is not a small number. Many lodges charge hundreds of dollars to take the degrees yet we weaken the degrees’ punch by abbreviating them. Essentially, all but the last candidate becomes a spectator and loses any dramatic punch from the third degree.

This is what I did. We had three candidates for our spring class. (Corinthian Lodge ranges from one to three classes a year). I decided that I wanted each brother to receive the full third degree. As Master, it was my responsibility to plan the third degree and I took it upon myself to get the right brothers for parts. I doubled each part of the third degree and let the experiment begin. I also had all the candidates together for the first section of the degree as that was what they were used to. When the degree started, the results were astonishing.

I imagined the time to do each second section taking at least forty-five minutes if not longer. I was surprised to find out that it takes less than 25 minutes at a normal pace. With the right planning, three candidates at a normal pace take an extra 25 minutes maximum. Also, if brothers need a break, having roles doubled removes the stress and gives each candidate a different perspective on the degree. The ritual is the same for each candidate but the different emphasis and inflection of the words. Also, the first candidate to go through is able to watch the rest of the degree and understand more fully what just happened to him. Now for the results.

I have noticed that the first three brothers that we tried this on have been incredibly active. Two out of the three are in Scottish Rite and all are looking for other avenues for Masonic light within our Fraternity. All of them are voracious readers of our history and philosophy and are incredibly committed in just a short time of being a Mason. It looks like we will continue this tradition of the full second section on each of our new candidates.

My conclusion in this experiment is that we need to give candidates the same attention and care that we would want paid to us. Candidates pay a lot of money to join our Fraternity but may not get to experience the full feeling of being a Mason. Men petitioning now are looking for something more; not merely a place to hang out with the boys but a society of seekers looking for the tenet of Truth. They want to be true initiates of our Order. I think the only way we can give them that feeling and status is by giving them degree work without becoming a spectator.

Does your Lodge do the full third degree on each candidate? Why not leave a comment?