Archive for March, 2012

Friday: Partying Gets Boring

– Topher Endress

So, some of you probably have realized that I am not a teetotaler. Some may have even seen me imbibing in person. A select few may realize how naturally cheap/frugal I am. For those, it may not seem like a shock that, upon realizing that since there were drinks included on our snorkeling trip (I saw a barracuda!), each drink decreased my total cost/increased my value. This led me to possibly drink a tad too much in the morning. So after a quick lunch, we headed to the “party” beach, where the younger and rowdier crowd was. At this point, the drinks were still gaining momentum on me.  Of course, in true Boilermaker fashion, I didn’t quite stop when we got to the beach (I’ll never look at Strawberry Fanta the same way again…).  Yes, your illustrious chaplain got drunk on a beach.  It (probably) shouldn’t have happened; it was a mistake; it was a poor choice. I’m not sure that I can grammatically-justify using two semi-colons together like that, but I’m an adventurous writer.  Whatever you want to call it, my actions on Friday were not much different than a large majority of the people on that beach, nor, I imagine, is it all that different than what most of our Fridays’ look like.  So while it may have been a dumb thing to do, I can take solace in knowing that I’m at least not alone in being dumb.

Or, I could take solace in that.  Except that I have realized that partying gets really old really quickly.  After a wonderful (and much needed) nap on the beach, I awoke still incapacitated.  But the rest of the world was still moving on around me.  I wasn’t able to contribute much to it, but as the day progressed I often found myself wishing I wasn’t still drunk.  Some of the girls on the trip needed some responsible guys around them to keep them safe from all the prying eyes of the other vacationing frat guys, we needed to clean up the church we were staying at, we needed to navigate the island despite the lack of street signs – and I wasn’t able to help with pretty much any of it.  I remember being fairly frustrated that my real desires were blocked by some poor decisions earlier.

I understand that we are in college.  I understand the culture of being in a fraternity.  I don’t take issue with alcohol in general.  All I’m saying is that eventually (probably sooner rather than later if we are becoming more mature and responsible), we come to a point where partying is getting in the way of what we really want.  And all it takes is feeling that once before you realize that partying gets old.  It can be fun, I get it, but having fun has nothing to do with alcohol.  I can promise you that partying gets tedious after a while – you’d better have a back-up plan that doesn’t involve liquor if you want to enjoy life.

Thursday: Selfish Time

– Topher Endress

Thursday was a frustrating day, but also a fun one. Midmorning, we got word that the church we were staying in was not happy with us at all – too messy, too loud, leaving dishes out, etc. Most of it was simply poor communication (i.e. we thought the person down the hall wasn’t living there that week). Still, a few people needed to take off and clean the church while the rest of us tried to finish up the job site. Being short-handed, one would assume that we started working harder to get more done. That is an assumption I would want people to make, but unfortunately, they would have been wrong. While some did more work, there were several times that multiple people were taking breaks all together and doing far less throughout the day. As I reflected on the day, one word kept popping into my mind: selfish. And it wasn’t just the people who were sitting around. All of us took off after a nice dinner of fresh shrimp (seriously, fresh caught and prepared by a chef. Best free meal ever) and went to have a fun night on the town.  What we didn’t do was stay late and finish everything we were supposed to do.  Habitat was more than happy with what we got done, but I wasn’t.

I think the reason that I wasn’t happy was because I knew that we could have worked harder.  I remember painting the window frames and getting three fully done in about an hour.  In that same time, the four people on the porch got two windows and a doorframe.  Sure, some people are naturally faster at painting.  Maybe theirs looked a tiny bit cleaner since they took more time.  But there were still windows on the house that didn’t get painted.  I know that I was being told to clean up before I felt I was done, so I just kept working.  But I’m not saying that to prove that I’m better than the other people.  I simply worked for a bit longer.  ALL of us, myself included, left a worksite before the job was totally finished.  And we left it unfinished not because we were out of supplies or tools, but because we were planning on doing something else with our time that we wanted more than we wanted to continue working.

Here’s the thing – as I write this, I can’t really remember what we did on Thursday night.  I’m sure I enjoyed it, but what I do remember is that the window on the right side of Mrs. Dobbin’s house in the back corner did not get painted.  And it didn’t get painted because I was selfish.

Sometimes, we need to be a little selfish.  There is an element of selfishness in a lot of the good things we do – taking a rest, starting a relationship, working hard in school or at work – some really positive things can, in part, have roots in self-interest.  However, the amount of selfishness we need is much like the amount of sodium or fat we need in our diet – sure it’s necessary, but we’re going to get far more than we need regardless.  There is no sense in taking in any more than we already have.

The big problem with being selfish with our time is that it causes us to miss out on being truly present at all times.  When I am selfish with my time, I tend to sectionalize what I’m doing – this is MY time, that is YOUR time.  From x o clock to y:30, I can do stuff for you.  But from a quarter after z and on, that’s ME-time.  When that happens, I’m looking at my role in those times very differently.  I’m less engaged when it isn’t all about my wants.  It is very hard to care about other people more than we care about ourselves, so if we give some of our time to people and not all of it, we’ve created a dichotomy where some time is more valuable than others.  And when that happens, we remain distant to the situations around us.  All of us have gifts and abilities that we should be using to the benefit of those around us.  But if we are selfish with our time, then even when we are in one of those established, ‘other-people times,’ we will not be giving our self fully.

What is something you have done recently that was selfish?  What is one thing you could do today to put someone else before yourself?  How can we each remain fully engaged and present, no matter who we are with or what we are doing?

Wednesday: Mrs. Dobbin’s Song/Look for Passion, Not Execution

– Topher Endress

So Mrs. Dobbins, the woman we worked for, was an awesome 87 year old lady who loved to talk about the history of the island. As we worked for her, we realized that she also loved to take care of both children and other elderly people, she loved to dance, she was very faithful and also loved to sing. On Wednesday morning, Mrs. Dobbins led off by praying for us, then commanding us to sing. Which, clearly, was going to naturally work out incredibly well.  Afterall, it isn’t like we were all still groggy from a lack of sleep.  Also, we totally knew the song/melody.  Also, we were all excellent singers who understood how to harmonize expertly and each had perfect pitch.  Also, none of us were at all apprehensive about singing in front of a group of people we had known for a total of 4 days.

OH WAIT

Yeah, clearly, none of that is true.  We weren’t any good at singing, we didn’t know the song, we didn’t really want to do it.  And, understandably, it sounded worse than a Ke$ha  acoustic set.  But at least one person really enjoyed it.  Before we sang, I wondered why Mrs. Dobbins thought it would be a good idea.  After we sang, I wondered if she was going to ask us to leave and never attempt to sing ever again.  But instead of judging how well we performed, she simply half-laughed out of happiness and clapped.  She had this look of joy on her face that was hard to believe.  But her reaction showed me something fairly important about appreciating things in life – it isn’t about the execution, it’s about the passion behind the act.

When we see things that are done in obvious passion, it is easy to see it.  Adele has a killer voice, but the songs that have made her a modern icon showcase her real emotions.  The KONY2012 video is expertly done, but it was the guy’s passion that gave the movement a spark (I do not fully support nor condemn the KONY2012 movement, btw).  Guess what painting Da Vinci was most passionate about?  Yup, the Mona Lisa.  Watch this talk and just try to tell me that this man doesn’t inspire you to listen to classical music, just a little:

Mrs. Dobbins is passionate about her faith life.  Part of that includes some good-ol’, down home, Gospel singing.  She wanted to include us in her passion – not because she was trying to convert anyone, but because what you are passionate about comes to light in your life in an impossible-to-stop kind of way.  As she led us in singing, as awkward and bad as it was, it was what she loved to do.  Judging by the look on her face, there was nothing on Earth she would have traded for that moment.  She didn’t care about whether we could sing.  She cared that we did sang and that she could share something she loved with us.

Simon Sinek, in a different TED talk, says that Apple is effective not because of superior features, but because “people don’t care what you do, they care why you do it.”  When I see passion in the eyes of someone talking about their major, their favorite charity, their perfect drink at Starbucks, I take notice.  Passion is infectious – I have to.  And I will take the passionate recommendation of something over its rival, even if the rival has better ‘stats,’ every time, because we trust people more than we trust numbers.

Listen to yourself talk for a week.  What conversations giving you shining eyes like in the video?  What topics do you become passionate about?  What, or who, do you care about so much that you can’t keep from sharing it?

Tuesday: The Little Mermaid/Why Emulating Childhood Ideals is Unfulfilling

– Topher Endress

On Tuesday, we made our way out to a beach. It was in a State Park and not very crowded, so it was great. In addition to the sweet letters Doppler and I made out of rocks…

Just kidding, this is a natural formation. We had nothing to do with making it.

… there was a large outcropping of rocks just off shore that was close enough to swim to, maybe 300 yards out (they look much closer in the picture since there is nothing on them for reference).

There were several people on one of these formations, but just a couple on the one we headed out to.  They weren’t the easiest to climb, being wet and slick, but only one person got injured (cough*Doppler*cough).  The girls immediately laid out to get their tan on, but the guys gave in to their natural instinct and explored a bit.  I found a rock that was sticking out a bit from the others and got the brunt of the incoming waves.  You know that picture from The Little Mermaid?  Where Ariel is pushing off the rock and a wave is exploding behind her?  This one:

You know you want to look this cool.

That was basically this rock.  So naturally, I say to myself, “Self, this is one of the few chances in life to emulate a Disney movie without disgracing everyone who knows you (see here and here). Surely, you will always remember how awesome it is to look like that, even if you don’t have a purple shell bra!”

I’m sure you have already guess this based on the title of this post, but it was completely lame.  Sure, the payoff of the experience vs. the cost of walking over a few rocks is worth it, but only because it cost me about 20 total calories of energy to make it happen.  The water did explode from behind me like in that picture.  I enjoyed it.  But as it all went down, I realized how lame it was compared to several other things I had done that day alone.

I’m not saying that the dreams we had a little kids aren’t worthy of chasing.  I’m also not saying that the Little Mermaid is a movie that had a profound effect on me – but that picture is still baller.  But think about some of the things you wanted as a kid.  Did you want to eat McNuggets for every meal?  Stay up super late? Be a robot that uses karate to fight aliens? Maybe you wanted to be the hero of a different movie – the Terminator, a Rescue Ranger, a Green Monkey or Ash from Pokemon.  Looking back now, some of those childhood fantasies and ideals are still ok, but by in large they are incomplete compared to what I now know about the world.  Sure, it would be cool to be a Space Cowboy Millionaire Ninja in the Intergalactic Police Force, but the things I wanted as a kid were one-dimensional and would be highly unsatisfying by my own standards.

Little kids don’t realize how complex and detailed life in the real world gets.  “Fighting crime” isn’t a plan for future happiness.  Maybe that is what you will do – join the Armed Forces or the Police – but even if you get to satisfy a childhood dream, it will not be fulfilling.  Life takes a more holistic plan.  Being a pilot means nothing for the other aspects of life that don’t involve helicopters.  How do you relate to other people?  Are you making a substantial impact on those around you, both at work and at home?  Being satisfied with life means something much bigger now than it did when I was 5.  And getting to do things like helping an elderly woman renovate her house is so much more satisfying than emulating some one dimensional ideal from my youth.

Are you chasing childhood dreams?  Are you wasting time trying to satisfy immature ideals?  I challenge all of you to chase something bigger than the Power Rangers.

Monday: The Blanket Round/Forget Your Inhibitions

– Topher Endress

I love the game ‘Celebrity’. You divide into teams and try to get your teammates to guess as many famous people, actions or phrases in a short time – much like Guestures. Each round has different rules: The Catchphrase Round, The Charades Round, The 1-Word Round and finally, The Blanket Round.

The Blanket Round is the same as the Charades Round, but infinitely better because you are under a blanket. A large enough blanket to make you look like a ghost with an inner-ear infection trying to dance. So after we get through our first few rounds with the typical awkwardness that comes from not knowing each other, each person had to try and get their team to guess words like ‘stripper’ or ‘purple’ while covered with a sheet. Just try and look cool doing that.

So apart from the general fun of the game (and the dominate victory of my team), I was glad that we got a chance to look like idiots in front of each other early in the week. It may seem awkward at first, but intentionally making yourself look crazy is probably the best way to break the barriers everyone tends to put up. Before the game, we had bonded a bit simply by being together, but after the game we were much more like a group of friends.

Appearances are very important to people, especially in Greek life. We like people seeing us as smart, witty, chill, put-together people. We want them to see us the way we wish we really were. But we aren’t perfect. It doesn’t matter how awesome you want to be or even think you are, all of us will deservedly look foolish at some point – probably often and probably soon. We have to come to terms with that.

Other people may not realize this yet. Some of our brothers, family and friends may be putting on a false front simply because they don’t know an alternative. But having seen how much better relationships are for having openly admitted to each other that we can’t always look suave, I think we owe it to those around us to lead by example. Let’s stop pretending and start opening up to people.

How can you put on a blanket and show your true self to someone today?

Sunday: Just Do Something

– Topher Endress

Technically, this should be listed as “Saturday” or maybe “That Tuesday I decided to go to Key West.” But it looks better to put everything together with no breaks, so Sunday it is.

I recently went to Key West to work for Habitat for Humanity/enjoy Spring Break on a beach.  Throughout the week, there was enough fodder for several posts.  So, I have decided to write about one event or experience each day.  As I reflect on my week on break, I hope that each of you will either reflect on the week you had, learn something from these posts (whether it is intentional on my end or not), or preferably, some combination of both.

To begin, I will say that this is not the first time I have driven thousands of miles on very little planning.   I did a road trip from Purdue to Pittsburg to Boston to Philly to Raleigh to Cincy back to Purdue during Christmas Break 2010-11.  That one materialized about a week before I left, and it was great.  But there is always a sense of anxiety when you can’t be sure of what exactly is going to happen.  And so, when I was presented with an opportunity to go to Key West and work for Habitat over break, I could feel myself being pulled to in two very different ways.  A: I could ignore the invitation, stay here for break and do pretty much nothing. B: I could jump into this trip, despite not know anyone, and do something over break.  With the first, I had a fair amount of security; the second, lots of ambiguity.  I’m not an introvert, but there is something enticing about knowing already what you are going to get with your choice. It’s why we have favorite foods at restaurants where we haven’t tried everything on the menu.  It’s why we sometimes want to stay in and watch a movie we’ve seen before instead of going out for the night.

I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t hold back sometimes.  There is something excellent about giving yourself some time just to be boring and lame.  However, that has to be balanced well with some adventure.  If it isn’t, you start to take for granted both kinds of nights.

As little kids, it was natural to look for things to go do.  We wanted to rummage the woods and go exploring.  We wanted to test ourselves and see how high we could jump and how far out we could swim.  Then, something happened.  We got hurt.  We got in trouble.  And sure, that’s helpful to keep us in check.  A guy who can’t tell where the line of safety is frankly being irresponsible.  But still, doesn’t it seem like we’re missing something if there is no adventure in our lives?   Have we let our past hurts and troubles kill off our natural drive to explore?

So even though it was a strange situation, one that on paper didn’t make a ton of sense, I wanted this trip.  I want to want excitement.  I want to want adventure.  And sometimes, the best way to do that is by committing to simply doing something.  When was the last time you challenged yourself in a way that made you anxious?  And when was the last time you conquered those emotions that try to hold you back?

Question/Answer #2

– Topher Endress

Question: Why Do I Do Young Life?

Answer: I have been asked several times recently about Young Life – what is it and why do I do it.  This is my best shot at explaining it.  As many of you know, or probably have guessed, that I am a Christian.  And while I enjoying learning and experiencing new ideas/beliefs, at the end of the day I am still a Christian with my varying degrees of set beliefs.  That being said, it isn’t unusual for people to see that I am a Christian, that Young Life is a Christian organization and put 2 and 2 together.  But simply sharing a large number of beliefs is not why I do YL – but this story can better illustrate my rationale.

Now, in typical Christian fashion, I am often caught feeling guilty about some of my actions or thoughts that are not in line with my beliefs.  It happens to pretty much all of us, and for me it reminds me how similar I am to the younger son in the story of the Prodigal Son.  I’m actively choosing my desires over my beliefs, so it just makes sense to relate to the younger, prostitute-lovin’ son.  However, I also often relate to the elder son – not that I can claim I always follow the rules without exception, but in that I find myself becoming jealous of someone else and asking, “where’s my party?”  Maybe I don’t deserve one, but really, I’m just missing the point.  I’m usually past the point of being that younger son – I’ve come home already.  And being the elder son is a much greater thing once you realize what is being asked of him in context.

The younger son is getting a party in his honor.  He’s come home, he was assumed dead and is alive, he has given his father his youngest son again.  But the father treats the older son with a respect that the younger son misses out on.  In that culture, the older son would have been expected to co-host that party – which was a huge honor.  That alone is striking, but even more so, the father actually leaves the party to go and find the missing co-host.  He didn’t do this for the younger son, just the older one, despite his very public denouncement of his family as shown by his absence.

As I continue to mature and learn, I have come to the realization that being a Christian isn’t about feeling guilty for the actions and thoughts not in line with beliefs, nor is it always about being a terrible person that needs to pull a 180 on their life.  There is a place for these things (which is worthy of a face to face conversation), but sometimes being a Christian means that I am supposed to co-host the party.  And that is what Young Life lets me do.

For anyone unfamiliar, I would describe YL as a cross between Big Brothers and a high school church youth group on crack.  Instead of being paired up with the kids that need a role model, we go out and find them.  I don’t do YL because it is required or because it makes me feel like a good person.  I don’t do YL because it is a fun activity, or because I can put it on a resume. I do it because I see it making an impact.

There are so many issues and problems that all kids, not just the drugs dealers and problematic ones, face today.  Everyone could use that party thrown in their honor.  Everyone could use that realization that they have worth and that there is someone out there that loves them for who they are.  YL allows me the freedom to go and find those kids and to help them find their own ways home.  I will always feel honored to have spent time helping to co-host that party in their honor.