Archive for the ‘ Brotherhood ’ Category

Who Do You Say that I Am?

– Topher Endress

I don’t know where I first heard the term, but a humblebrag is a statement that someone uses to try to look humble, but really are just bragging.  Imaginative name, I know.  But, though the definition is pretty straight-forward, let me give you an example: “I really struggled with being impatient this weekend.  It was just really hard to stay focused all the time, especially since I was leading a weekend retreat for a group if developmentally handicapped students.”

See, I admit to being impatient, and therefore appear humble. But then I mention in the same breath that I selflessly spent my weekend serving a group of special needs guys.  Thus, a humblebrag.

I don’t really have any reason for bringing up that term other than I wanted to bring up this weekend and couldn’t without inadvertently bragging.  I felt like I could justify it if I called myself out first.

Now that that is out of the way, on to the real story!  I am a fairly new presence in these kids’ lives, and many don’t have great memories skills to begin with.  As such, I had to tell them my name several times throughout the weekend.  And sometimes, when they couldn’t remember and didn’t want to ask, they would make something up. At one point, a guy named Clay decided to go with the nickname, “boss-man.”  I like to think he meant boss as in “that guy is so boss,” and not “that guy is one bossy S.O.B.”

It was a pretty cool nickname for the weekend, but it got me thinking about whatit we are called and we call each other.  This summer, my predominate nickname was “Go 4 (Gopher) Topher,” in part because that is how I was required to answer the walkie and partially because I was constantly running around and doing little tasks for everyone.  Before that, I generally didn’t have a good nickname.  (I was, however, recently called “The Enforcer,” which was a nickname I had always wanted.)  However, it is still interesting how people choose to talk about you.  Maybe I’m just weird, but I notice how people address me.

“Bro” is a popular one.  “Dude” and “man” are obviously popular as well.  But then, they are for pretty much every guy.  But sometimes, one of my good friends will refer to me as his “brother.”  I cannot tell you how much I appreciate when that happens.  Sure, having a cool nickname is fun and often an indicator of a good friendship (right, Baby Bear?), but I would so much rather hear someone call me a brother and actually mean it.

Just think about what those names mean.  Would you rather have a friend call you by some generic moniker, or by something that implies you are family?  Frankly, there is a huge difference in “bro” and “brother.”  If you think I don’t want to have your respect, feel free to ‘bro’ it up.  But if you think that I’d appreciate knowing that we have a bond deeper than mere friendship, try switching over to ‘brother.’  I can promise you that it actually means something.



– Topher Endress

So October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month – I know that involvement around Purdue was steadily increasing each of my years there, so I assume everyone was made aware and possibly donated some money to research.  Overall, I think the communities that I have been in have done a great job to not only raise lots of research funds, but have really changed the way that we talk about women’s health.  While breast cancer and heart disease are the two biggest factors for early deaths in women, it seems like it is no longer a strange and/or awkward conversation on the community platform.  Women seem to be more able to converse about mammograms, screenings, taking care of their bodies and helping men learn about the unique issues facing women today.  And this is a great thing that should absolutely continue.  However, October is over and November is here.  This means that basketball has finally started, plans for gorging oneself at Thanksgiving are being made, and National Men’s Health Awareness Month is here!

A group in Australia started a campaign to coincide with the college males’ favorite season – No Shave November.  Now, our laziness and unwillingness to buy a razor can finally pay off!  Dubbed “Movember” (as “moe” is slang down under for moustache (yes, I’m using the formal English spelling)), the campaign has raised almost $22 million so far this month to be donated to Prostate Cancer initiatives and other men’s health organizations (they have raised about $300 million since 2004, with their donations increasing almost exponentially since then).  So, yes, I am growing a moustache in support of men’s health awareness.  Additionally, I am embarking on a campaign (with help from a nurse) to create some dialogue about how to bring health issues before communities.  I think this is very important, because the main issue with men’s health is not a singular issue (nor is it for women, but the prevalence of breast cancer makes it one of the biggest single targets for research).  While 1 in 6 men can expect to get prostate cancer in their lifetimes, the biggest issue facing us XYs is that too many men refuse to seek medical attention until very treatable problems have become major issues.  Prostate cancer is almost never as aggressive as other cancers, but when left unchecked it can cause serious issues.  Realistically, many of the top causes of death for men could be prevented with a higher willingness to access medical treatment.  Part of that is economic, which is it’s own issue, but part of it is simply men being hard-headed.  I am asking each of you to remember the power of preventative care and early detection.

Now, I am creating this campaign within my school because I believe that my classmates and I have a voice.  Being in Divinity school, I will likely have the opportunity to stand before a congregation, and I would love to know how to best address issues like these.  And while my current position and community are different than yours, I think we can all learn from this years Movember.  At the end of the month, I will be hosting a Moustache Bash, where all of my classmates are provided with and encouraged to wear a fake moustache all day to help show to others the importance of understanding the issues.  I will be posting all of the notes from our discussions here so that you all can begin to think of effective ways to use your times, talent and positions to help men better understand health issues.  This is one great way we can be discharging our obligation to others that arises from the fact that we are fraternity men.

*I don’t have an account to donate to, but you should send your money to my buddy Anthony ( and for more information on Movember, please check out their site here.

The Economy of Grace

– Topher Endress

Being at a school like Purdue (or Vandy, in my case) allows us opportunities to see some of the big hitters of the corporate world.  We get the chance to rub elbows with recruiters for major worldwide companies, meet with alumni who have seen wild success and listen to the frontline of information concerning the economy – both from those in the working world and those studying it.  Of course, our schools are big enough to offer several alternative options of study in case rampant capitalism isn’t your ideal field.  And, as I will argue through this post, it shouldn’t be – at least in terms of Phi Tau.

Solidifying my position as a non-technical nerd, I’ve been spending my Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings in an early morning ancient Greek class (it’s ok, I’m jealous of me, too).  Among the few things that I have learned from this class are two words, which we love to join together in English:

oikon nomy: home name. Rendered in English as “echo nomy,” or economy.

The original conception of economy was not one of dollars and cents.  Economy instead meant considering the needs of a household or family unit.  I believe that it is worth our time to consider how we view ourselves and our brothers in the economy of Phi Tau.

Is the economy of Phi Tau one of capitalism?  Do we look to our brothers and our organization for personal gain?  Is the economy of Phi Tau one of Kenynesianism, where the desires of our men are held in check by the pragmatism of our bylaws? How do we consider the value and usability of the fraternity?  After all, we affirm that each man has inherent worth, and I think we can safely assume that the abstract parts of Phi Kappa Tau (Ritual, creed, the membership in something larger than oneself, having 90,000 brothers, etc.) and the potentials of Phi Tau (networking, opportunities for leadership training, chance to work at SeriousFun, etc.) all have value.  So, the men, the abstracts and the potentials all must be categorized into a coherent system, or economy.

I will say that I think this can be done better by someone smarter than I.  However, I will do my best to create a system that works and is true to our chapter.

The Abstracts of Phi Tau are tools for teaching

There is much to be learned from studying most things.  However, our Creed, our Values, our Ritual and any other writings or Phi Tau knowledge is intentionally shaped to hold more weight than a cursory glance would indicate.  We have some dense documents and studying them in depth will prove fruitful.  We as initiated brothers have an obligation to foster deeper understandings of Phi Kappa Tau, and that comes in large part by participating in and studying what has been handed down to us.  The tools for learning how to lead, love, serve, learn and grow are all before you now.

The Value of Brothers should be considered above all in terms of grace

America is known for it’s insistence on free-market capitalism as the way to prosperity.  I’m not going to argue that case on a macro scale, but I will certainly make the claim that too much of our lives are dictated by this thought pattern.  Based on the Abstracts of Phi Kappa Tau, I believe that when it comes to our interactions with our brothers, we should not be shaped by the free market, capitalist, quid pro quo mentality. The value that each man brings is not a commodity to be bought, sold or controlled.  First, recognize that you are only in control of yourself.  Then, give of yourself with zero expectations.  You don’t need anything in return for sharing your gifts with your brothers, your house, your oikon.  Instead, work to ensure the livelihoods of each are taken care of.  Our market-based perception is easy and readily permeates everything.  It is safe to give with the expectation of receiving an equal amount in return.  Grace means giving without respect to being repaid.  Men of Character are not safe.  Go outside of the system and give everything to community, charity and brothers.  The Economy of Grace is radical and shocking. Be radical.
I really like this song – this small section can be encouraging and galvanizing.  Don’t let the nature of how others run things keep your from growing. This is a war against the norm!  What are you waiting for?  Why don’t you break the rules already?

The Potentials of Phi Tau are rewards only reaped after experiencing the Abstracts and Value of Brothers

I have heard several men try to recruit others (myself included) into fraternities.  Their main selling point is potential – large alumni/networking bases, leadership training, seminars, etc.  Sure, these are great things.  But by focusing on them without recognizing that our basis for having any Potentials is understanding our Abstracts and valuing our Brothers, they did a disservice to the men they ended up recruiting.  Not only is fraternity life not simply a club to join in order better one’s lot easily, the Potentials available are really only available to those who understand the Creed and live it out through an Economy of Grace.  Who can truly learn to lead without first serving?  And who can learn how to serve within Phi Tau without a knowledge of what Phi Tau stands for?  Serving, learning and growing are important, but each is far more edifying when you have reason to base your actions on.

I believe that if we re-categorize what we can gain from Phi Kappa Tau and place those benefits more or less linearly into this model, we will see that the Economy of Grace – built off of our Ritual, Creed and other Abstractions – will lead you to a better experience during your time as an undergraduate brother and will help the Potentials that can better you as a Man of Character materialize.

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.