Archive for August, 2012

Don Quixote

– Topher Endress

Last night, someone asked me to name some of my favorite books. As I was explaining why I like each of these books, I got to thinking about book number 3: Don Quixote. The basic narrative follow the man so enraptured by old stories of chivalry that he refashions his entire world, casting himself as a brave knight standing against the forces of darkness (who are often simple, confused townsfolk). The novel is amazing for several reasons, but I think that’s the reason I enjoy it so much is that it point out two very important truths.

As a general rule, men want to both belong to something larger than themselves and to matter enough to make a difference. The Man de la Mancha didn’t just fantasize about being a knight. Being a knight had meaning. There was a senseof of shared values and shared practices. Knights from all over Western Europe had a code of ethics that they practiced. When someone saw a knight, they knew something about them – it was a community, a culture, an ideal that bound them all together. Don Quixote is in part a story about a longing to belong, not just among men, but to something larger than oneself.

It isn’t enough simply to belong, though. Once a part of the group, men look to have roles that are important. Not only do we need work, we need to know that we matter. Quixote needed to rescue the beautiful Dulcinea, infusing purpose into his role. Goals are important; without them we tend to drift aimlessly through life, not putting forth the amount of effort we are capable of. Devoting himself totally to his cause, within the context of knighthood, allowed Don Quixote to satisfy two of man’s largest needs.

Recruitment is both important and necessary. As Lambda Chapter, you owe it to the men on campus to provide a space for them to be important and a context to do it in. The best way you can attract Men of Character is to show your brotherly love for each other very obviously and to display how being in community allows you to impact your world more powerfully; act these out in front if recruits and the ones you want will be drawn to you.  Those that care about partying and social rank will see that Phi Kappa Tau is honest and committed and will not look to stay. But the men who are introspective enough to realize these two great truths will see Phi Kappa Tau, Lambda Chapter, as a space to both pursue life’s great motivators and to learn from them.


The Still Surviving Voice

– Topher Endress

“I simply took for granted that book knowledge would not help me so much as a living or still surviving voice.”

Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis

Being in Grad School forces me to read.  A lot.  Hundreds of pages per week, thousands upon thousands of sentences to pick through and an inordinate amount of concepts to parse.  Every now and then, in spite of the large-scale verbosity, I come across a really excellent sentence that says far more than most.  The above was a quote taken to illustrate a patristic ideal of apostolic tradition stemming from direct lineage (go ahead and say it – I’m studying to be a nerd).  But while Papias may not have thought his statement would ever be in a textbook of mine, it certainly speaks to a deep truth about who we are and how we learn.

Learning is a Function of Interaction: Let’s imagine for a second that all of our communication was written down instead of verbalized.  Every time you were with a Brother, you had nothing but the words they would have said written down on a sheet of paper.  How would that affect your relationships with them?  With no body language, no inflection, nothing beyond the flat, basic words, how would your relationships fare?  I know that my relationships tend to falter when I can’t see people, hear their voice and learn from conversations in a more holistic way.  It’s why going to class makes you better at ECON than just reading the lecture notes.  We are hard-wired to understand language better than words on a page (I was a neuroscience major for 2 years, btw).  Even when we read, our minds naturally translate it to “audibles” anyway.  (That’s why you shouldn’t study with music, unless that music has no words (even foreign languages that you don’t understand)).  Point is, written interaction doesn’t translate to learning the way that true interaction does.  Papias hit upon this sacred truth well before any studies of neuroanatomy hit the academic world.  A conversation, or even just someone lecturing, teaches far more than reading.  So, take-away number 1: go to class!  Lambda Chapter has a commitment to learning – and yes, that means classroom learning too.  But of course, because it’s me writing this, I’m going to charge you all to learn from your Brothers just as well.  Here’s my first challenge to each of you – have a conversation with a Brother and ask them to teach you about something you didn’t know beforehand.  Maybe they can explain Marxism, or how to change the oil in your car, or the secret to the best cookies (Momma Campbell, you can send me cookies whenever you want ;D ).  But learn from each other while you have the opportunity to hear each others’ living voices.

We all should be held accountable to the standards that Lambda has set, but sometimes we need to be reminded of our standards when we fail them.  Simply reading laws or cultural norms (or how to run a meeting properly) does not prepare you to act in accordance with principles and values.  Learn from those around you – ask what things you do to piss people off, or what things you do that other Brothers secretly find offensive.  Learn by engaging and practicing, not simply by reading. A conversation can be worth its weight in gold.

There is nothing to strive for higher than love – and I think that we’ve been doing an excellent job so far.  I wrote about this before, but I think what made our colony so strong was a commitment to brotherhood, which is really just the fratboy word for love.  Showing love is great, but seeing and hearing love is more powerful.  Giving someone the time for a conversation is a display of love, and will allow you to teach them implicitly about love.  I’m very guilty of this – it is so much easier to write someone a birthday message on facebook than to call them up. But, that message loses meaning if I never spend time in conversation with that person. Especially now, as a Chapter, stand out by committing to loving each other by conversing face to face with one another.

Who have you not had a real conversation with in a while?  Have you spoken face to face with the last people you’ve texted?

Static-Free Presence

– Topher Endress

I am in a course right now that focuses on both practical counseling skills and the theological/philosophical context for such care. It has quickly become my favorite class, despite the heavy reading and writing work load. Each day before any lesson is taught, we spend the first 5 minutes in intentional silence. While it may seem like a waste of time or money (because I am paying to learn from my master’s), it has been contrarily a source of refreshment and powerful education.

Margaret Kornfeld, an author probably no one but me is familiar with since I’m pretty sure I’m the only one taking Pastoral Care and Theology courses, writes about the baggage each of us walks into situations with. From a counselor’s perspective, it would be very unhealthy and unhelpful to have previous client’s issues still on your mind when a new client arrives. The trick is recognizing what is going on in your own mind, addressing it, removing from your thoughts and then allowing yourself to be fully present with whomever is around you. Yes, it is important for therapists and counselors, but this is important both for and to those being listened to.

As brothers (now and always, until the day we die), we have an obligation to provide space for each other to be heard, listened to and cared for. This is a remarkable opportunity on the flip side, as it is increasingly rare in American culture to have a solid support group. Each of us has, at various times, a slew of of issues that could be helpful to contextualize within the schema of life. Having caring brothers around allows for growth through self-reflection. In order to do this, though, our own thoughts and presuppositions must be removed. Our focus on tertiary things (like schoolwork to be done, ladies to impress, parties to prep for, businesses to start, etc.) when in conversation with others is what is known as “static.” We carry this into interactions and lose out on true connections because of it. Often, it is completely justifiable why we hold on to these thoughts – emotional connections to situations (as in, you just had a family member die and cannot remove them from your thoughts), necessary logistical work (like upcoming papers or tests), or even just items that are more interesting or engaging than what is currently happening (seriously, is that girl single?). But justified or not, bringing static in only hinders effective communication and as a result, retards care.

Taking time to empty ones thoughts before engaging a brother is a sure sign of intentional caring. Now, I don’t think every, or even most, interactions warrant this mentality; however, some conversations clearly do. This is the challenge – when a difficult or important topic arises, take a moment to center yourself and focus solely on the other person. This allows us not to paint their words with our own beliefs, and truly hearing someone is one of the most helpful ways to care for them.

This may only be useful once or twice in your college career. If you make a point of opening yourself to being static-free, it will likely happen more and more. Regardless, let yourself be marked by a totally open listening stance. The men around you need it just as you need it from them.

Barbarian vs. Greek

– Topher Endress


πας μη Ελλην βαρβαρος – Greek for “Whoever is not Greek is a Barbarian”

The more history we learn, the more our perceptions change about what the world around us used to look like. While in our education system we tend to focus on the major early societies that shaped the Western World (Egypt-Greece-Rome-Holy Roman Empire), the rest of the world was still hanging out and playing a pretty important role in defining the future (aka our time).  I’m not denying that these were the major superpowers of their times and that they were unfathomably influencial, but the tendency is to think that anything outside of these cultures most have been backwards and wrong.  The word barbarian has a loaded historical connotation – much like the word ‘hillbilly.’  I won’t liken it to the word ‘hoosier,’ however, since that word stands for something objectively wrong.  Used by Greeks and Romans as a perjorative for anyone outside of their culture (the original Greek envokes the idea of someone babbling – because screw multilingualism): Germans, Persians, Celts, Turks, Medes, Egyptians, Carthaginians and Phoenecians.  Because it isn’t like those societies ever amounted to much.  Barbarians were either anyone outside of the system, someone drastically uncultured, or both.  This eventually played directly into the Greek slave system, with Aristole claiming that barbarians were born to be slaves.  Talk about exclusivism.

Tatian, an Assyrian “barbarian” theologian writing in the 2nd centrury AD was a reasonably influential writer.  His Oration Addressed to the Greeks was described by contemporaries as “the vindication of the Barbarians against the Greeks.”  Reading about Tatian got me thinking about what it was we were founded on – and why we should work to rebel a bit against being completely Greek now that Lambda is recognized as such.

Our tradition comes from Miami’s Non-Fraternity Association, but also Ohio’s Barbarians.  In its earliest forms, these groups of men were looked at as merely preportory for ‘real’ organizations of men.  Reading the history of Phi Tau, it seems as though most did not respect the NFA like they would have a traditional fraternity.  Our early brothers seemed to be working much harder just to keep pace, for without the natural inherent respect shown to other chapters all activities were simply made more difficult to pull off.  There are three ways this can impact our views of our own role on campuses.

1.  We can assume that because of our name change, we are fully Greek and nothing else.  We can ignore the history of our Founding Fathers, forget about the Non-Fraternity Association and Phrenocon, and act in accordance with the standard of everyone else.

2.  We can hold grudges against the Greeks on campus for their historical lack of respect.  We can separate ourselves out and choose to not participate, while also giving ourselves a sense of moral superiority.

3.  We can appreciate the dichotomy of our historical non-fraternal nature with the current state of affairs.

It should hopefully be obvious how a Man of Character would choose to act.  The temptation to jump feet first into full-fledged Greek life will be palpable, now that we have our Charter.  And the temptation to rebell against that very notion will also be difficult to overcome.  But there is no reason to sprint to either extreme.  We can bridge the gap between Greek and Geed because that’s exactly who we are – Greek and Barbarian, philosopher and realist, fratstar and common man.  We have a history and it should rightly leave us with a chip on our shoulder.  Don’t be satisfied with simply being Greek now.  Push beyond what is expected and excell.  You cannot escape being Greek in most aspects.  But it would be a shame and an affront to the men who formed our history if we did not stand out a bit.  Don’t disregard the Greek, but foster the Barbarian as well.

Chartering Thoughts

– Topher Endress

I received an email from a brother who is writing up a story about our chartering experience, asking me to weigh in on some basic questions (I believe a few other brothers were asked to do this as well).  I will be interested in reading the whole story soon enough, but I feel like the entire CHAPTER might be interested to see what I gleaned from our roughly 39 hours together.  His questions are italicized.


What did it mean to you to sign the charter?

– Despite its opportunity for reflection, and my own personal belief on the importance of keeping oneself in the present, signing the charter was for me a future-focused act. I could not help but imagine what the charter would look like hanging proudly on a wall in the next 20, 30, or even 50 years from now. I hope that our charter sends a clear message to the future brothers of Lambda Chapter – that because of the hard work poured in at the foundation, they are free and able to put in the hard work necessary to advance our mission. While it was certainly an honor, a charter means very little with out the promise of a future which continues to uphold our values.

What are you most proud of Lambda for during this process?

– While the actions of Lambda during the colonization and chartering processes have certainly been commendable, it is the way in which these men came together that has most impressed me. While it would be understandable, or seem unavoidable, for a group of 40 collegiate men to have divisions or interpersonal strife, I will contend that Lambda understands the spirit of brotherhood perhaps more so than any other virtue. I am proud to call these men my brothers, not simply because of our shared experience of the Ritual, but because of an intentional dedication to seeing the value in each of those around us. There is a sense of overwhelming brotherly love which underscores our actions, regardless of how difficult or frustrating our situations can be.

How do you think the chapter will do now that ya’ll have achieved this goal?

– While it is true that our chapter will necessarily seek a new set of specifics to reach, it is also true that we have not yet satisfied our goal. Chartering was but one important and necessary step en route to attaining our large-scope mission: changing the culture of Greek life by redefining what a fraternity is and what a fraternity is capable of. As long as we continue to have this goal to press on toward, our undergraduate brothers, as well as our alumni brothers, will continue to pour forth the hard work that got us to this point.

Why did you put in the work to get a colony chartered instead of joining an already established group on campus?

– Joining ΦΚΤ less than 14 months before I graduated allowed me to more fully comprehend how limited and valuable our time can be. Having spent several years in college, I knew well the dangers of wasting time on unworthy tasks. Seeing their hard work and commitment to service, well before even colonizing, proved to me that these men were not simply creating a group to occupy their time. Right from the start, it was abundantly clear that they were enjoining men together not for the purpose of throwing better parties or having another line for their resume, but so that the resonance of their impact on the world might be felt more powerfully. Such a clear invitation to stand united with men of similar values against a flow of culture seemingly bend on regression could not be ignored.

What was your favorite memory from this weekend?

– This chartering weekend was filled with many highlights, forming a fount of memories that will hopefully last for a lifetime. One particular moment that does stand out, however, was the time immediately following my initiation ceremony. Being in the last pair to go through the Ritual, it was easy to see a clear difference in excitement before and after we were done. While my brothers were naturally very excited to see me and my fellow associate finally become brothers, there was also an implicit understanding that now that all of us had taken care of the individualistic parts, we could, as a group, finally charter. In this moment of palpable excitement, one could clearly see how important chartering was to this group.

Do you agree/disagree with any of my assessments?  How would you have answered these questions?

Tolerance =/= Shared Belief

Topher Endress

So I majored in Organizational Leadership, which made be one of the most ironic things to have ever happened to Purdue.  I have zero organization in my personal life, which is why I am just now posting this blog.  I wrote it in a notebook sometime mid-Spring, but just now found it to type it out.  So, I’m making some changes to it to make it more relevant to what is happening today.

Here is an excellent question: How should Men of Character treat deep-seated beliefs?  Is it more in line with our ideal of manliness to hold fast to personal convictions, or to accept the view’s of others?

I love this question because it has a huge impact on all of us – everyone has their own personal beliefs (and if you don’t, check on this post).  Maybe you are a die-hard Republican, or are ardently pro-choice, or you hold a specific value or belief set to be higher than anything.  As Phi Taus, we have our own values and ideals that we affirm, which will be further clarified this Friday as we initiate (w00t woot!).  Whatever it is, chance are you have a personal reason for affirming it.  So the question of whether a Man of Character upholds his personal convictions or if he can accept the convictions of those around him is highly relevant to each of us.  I have three responses to this question: Uphold your values, Accept his values, Be humble enough to bridge the gap.

1. Uphold your own convictions.  I’m going to lay this paradigm down – Men of Character should have strong convictions.  If the convictions are strong, you owe it to yourself as a true man to not just uphold them, but to allow them to surface and be known through both word and action.  In class today (note: this was originally written in the Sping), a professor mentioned politics, then immediately assured us that he wouldn’t share his own political view.  To me, this sounds like he doesn’t really care enough about those beliefs.  If his values aren’t important enough to share, why hold them for yourself?  Conviction that doesn’t make you want to share it and live it out isn’t conviction at all – and if you aren’t grounded in something, you will bend to anything.  That being said, you should still always…

2. Accept the other person’s values.  THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOU SHARE OR AFFIRM HIS VALUES.  If you have differing beliefs, then to affirm something that conflicts is to deny what you hold to be true.  But accepting, not affirming, means that you can tolerate and understand their position in a way that give their values system its fair due.  I’ll be dealing with this a ton for the next few years – within the Div School, we have a huge range of thoughts on the same subject matter.  I need to be aware and accepting of views (feminist, masculinist, universalist, limited, reformed, evangelical, mainline, pluralist, post-modern, allegorical, patriarchical, trinitarian…. ad naseum), but aware that understanding the view held by a classmate or professor doesn’t mean I need to come to the same conclusions.  You will invariably come in contact with other men and women who do not share your world view – other fraternities who have different philosophies, non-fraternal organizations who disagree with fraternity life, anarchists who enjoy recreational arson – but a Phi Tau can accept and respect a non-brother.  However, accepting their view for what it is, and not shaping it into what you think it is or what you think it should be, does not mean that you affirm or agree with them.  How undermining to your own life choices would it be if each time you spent time with non-Greeks you disregarded our creed, only to re-affirm it in the presence of brothers?  Accept that people have different views, but hold fast to your own.  To do that, you will need…

3.  Humbleness, which leads to bridging idealistic gaps.  Sometimes, we meet someone with ideas so out there that we feel the need to change them ourselves.  As a natural debater, this is something I struggle with daily.  However, no matter how much we feel that they are wrong, we cannot force our beliefs or ideals upon them.  Values and world views must be crafted by individuals, even if we are 100% confident that we are right and they are wrong.  Despite our confidence in our position, we must realize that we are merely human.  We do not know for certain what life’s secrets are, nor can we accurately predict the future.  Recognizing that we are fallible, let’s start to agree that our insistance on someone else affirming our beliefs is often a symptom of pride, rather than a focus on education.  It can hurt when someone disagrees with us, especially when it is someone we care about.  But that hurt is usually coming from a deflated sense of ego.  Especially in this beginning of the year, it is colossally important to understand the difference in being disregarded as a person versus being disagreed with.  Please do not let a different of opinion separate your from a brother – college is to short to spend time apart from your brothers over petty arguments.  The skill of humbleness must be learned and practiced.  Try to recognize when you are talking out of conviction and when you are talking out of pride.

In short, don’t be bull-headed about your beliefs.  Walk that fine line between belief and questioning.  But if you have come to solid conclusions, don’t be afraid to stand strong in them.  And always remember to accept your brothers, even when you disagree with them.

Question/Answer #4

– Topher Endress

Mom asked me this while I was in town over the weekend, but this one of those questions that deserves a discussion.  So start commenting with your ideas.

Question: How can I live up my senior year?

There are several brothers about to join D-Rose and I as alumni after this semester (Campbell is not one of them – apparently he just wants to be very well prepared).  As someone who had 4 semesters of senior year, I feel that I can posit some advice.

It should hurt when you leave.

Seriously. There is a reason that things end, and appreciating the inevitability of moving on will make you a happier, more well-adjusted person. As Men of Character, we will be moving into newer and bigger stages several times throughout our lives. As our National Blog recently reminded us, the world needs us. We are needed to move the world forward while the culture around us seems bent on regressing. And that means that leaving Purdue will not be the last time we need to change our setting. So, consider this your Senior Year: Part 1.

But just because it is necessary doesn’t mean it should be easy. It shouldn’t be. Leaving your friends and all of your customs from the past 4/5 years is a psychologically and emotionally trying time. As it should be.

Life is hard. Losing people is difficult. Changing so much of your life had better not be easy. Which is exactly why you should work to make leaving even harder.

First, here’s how. Life is all about relationships, so invest in the people around you. You have a finite amount of time to impact the people around you – let them know what they mean to you. This is the time to spend copious amounts of quality time with not just your brothers, but your classmates, other friends, roommates and professors. I challenge each of you to have a major, deep, open-heart conversation with at least 10 people that you haven’t with before. These deep conversations not only link you together as friends, but teach you about yourself.  (For more on this, check out a past blog here)

Also, live up the college lifestyle. Not in the “let’s party until our livers forcibly try to escape” kind of way, but in the eating pizza at 3 am, staying up late with study partners, going to college games, playing ball at the Co-Rec, volunteering during the day, taking funny pictures around the bell tower, going on fountain runs kind of way. The things that BGR told you to have fun with.  You have an amazing opportunity to use the time and space around you. Purdue is a world-class university with a unique culture and incredible set of opportunities.  Find something to do and keep yourself busy.  Anyone can sit around and play MW3; not everyone can walk through the Sidewinder (the weird stick-art behind Pao).  If you can use all of your time for something, be it growing closer to the people around you or throwing yourself in Purdue culture, you will build a Senior Year worthy of pining its loss.

Leaving will be hard.  Sure, you’ll likely be moving on to great things (like moving to Nashville – where you can always feel free to come visit/stay/live in my side yard) and you should rightly be excited by the next steps in life.  But I guarantee there will come a time when you get the urge to go see Bruce and can’t, to grab a quick Den Pop and can’t, to grab  a nap in the Union and can’t, want to run to Wiggins to chill for an hour between classes and can’t and it hits home that life has already been happening.  And not only has it been happening, but a section of your life has passed by, never to come back.  You may not cry, but you will assuredly lament the death of an era.  I urge you to take it all in now, while you have the chance to appreciate it.  Don’t let the fact that it will hurt to give it up keep you from putting everything you have into that year.  Give yourself fully, and let it be taken from you anyway.

And that will mean something. It will mean that you can take the gut punch of loss and still move forward. It will show you that there is a darker side to life – pain, disappointment, regrets. Because if we as Men don’t see the darkness, how can we spread our light where it is needed? College is a time of preparation. Prepare yourself for the inevitable loss that comes after doing a job well. Because I expect you to be needed elsewhere, and you have to be able to pull yourself away to get there. Make your impact, waste no moments, leave nothing on the table, then go forth and do it all again.