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Protected: Strength from Weakness

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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.

Why I’m Glad I’m a Bad Kisser

– Topher Endress

I have been working with some great people this summer.  There are brothers that I have been privileged to know, staff that teach me about dedication and hard work, and some other various people that have been simply fun to be around.  One person, however, has been able to teach me something about myself that I would never learn from a brother – namely, I am a bad kisser.

Yes, I have kissed a coworker.  To protect the other guilty party (as inter-staff relationships are frowned on here as they are “distractions”), she will remain nameless.  Due to the incredible awkwardness of my kiss, she may choose to remain anonymous forever.  But apart from the scandal of our illicit affair, the larger story is that in one fell swoop, I destroyed any notions of being a cool ladies-man and learned something about relationships along the way.

Now, I have shied away from discussing sex and dating here for several reasons. 1) I have very different standards for myself than most guys and 2) I have much much much less experience than most guys.  However, I think this is worth sharing and may be helpful to some, regardless of standards and history.

First and foremost, let me just assure you that my “I’m a bad kisser” thought is not hyperbole.  I was literally laughed at immediately after by this clearly caring and compassionate lady (hint: sarcasm).  I felt the awkwardness coming and was powerless to stop it; leaning in, leaning back out, talking nervously, creepily asking permission, leaning in again, lips at the wrong spot, too little tongue turned into too much, and it was over.  Not that I remember it or anything.

But here’s the thing.  Even though I may have just set a new low for human to human interaction, I simply don’t care.  It may have been painful (just emotionally – I’m not THAT bad), but the sheer badness of it puts life into a better perspective. For one, it helps shatter any remote thoughts implanted by Hollywood/Disney that first kisses are amazing acts of passion that look and feel perfect.  Second, it was more ME to have a bad kiss.  It was weird and awkward, quirky and different, endearing and innocent – it was a kiss from me and not some Hollywood dream.  That makes me somewhat strangely proud, that I could give her something so untainted by anyone else.

This bad kiss has also taught me that relationships work better when two things happen. 1) When the physical interaction either matches or lags behind the emotional/spiritual/psychological connections and 2) when you are comfortable with the other person seeing the least cool parts of you.  I think relationships suffer from too much too soon – if you haven’t connected in some other way first, you may as well be hooking up with a stranger.  Also, I was laughing alongside her right after because I’m comfortable enough to be uncool.  New relationships are usually defined by that time when you only want to show off.  Getting past that stage before the kissing comes in makes me feel a whole lot better.

I will own up to being a bad kisser.  But with what it showed me, I wouldn’t consider trading it for a magical Disney moment.

Plus, now she has plenty of reason to help me practice, right?

That I May Ever Retain the Spirit of Youth

– Topher Endress

In our culture, it has become the norm for our favorite men to be the stereotypical man-child figure.  Think Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in Stepbrothers or Bluto in Animal House – the guys who are physically grown, but emotionally (and sometimes intellectually) they stayed at age 14.  Far more than a single generation of guys are growing up and looking to these men, as often the life of the party, as role models.  Modern humor, fashion and even friendship have been influenced by these “men,” but how responsible is it to live out the rest of our lives as if we never grew out of our adolescent immaturity?  And how else can we retain the spirit of youth without acting like a man-child?

As Roland Maxwell (USC ’22) wrote into our creed, retaining the spirit of youth comes through continued relationships with our past.  Working with children this summer at a SeriousFun camp, I can tell you that being around 60 preteens will force that spirit out as well.  Being with these kids as they rediscover the world around them is a moving and transformational experience, and in these past few weeks, I believe the spirit of youth has been made much more clear to me.  Rather than stunting one’s growth, our creed is emphasizing just the opposite.

So many of the kids at a SeriousFun camp come with a small view of the world, having lived being held back by physical limitations and illnesses.  The goal of camp is to give them a week to reclaim what they deserve.  In the time they spend here, the fishing, swimming, archery, games and crafts really take a backseat to grander ideas like growing, independence and forgetting that they have a disease.  As a seasonal staff member, I feel incredibly blessed to get to watch the internal growth that some of these kids go through in just seven days.  What I am privileged to see is a microcosm of childhood development – the rediscovery of wonder and the magic of learning something for the first time.  Childhood is not about staying put; childhood is running around and being messy, finding joy in learning both about the world around you and the world inside of you.  There is a constant growth in kids and I cannot believe that Brother Maxwell intended for that to be ignored.

Reminiscing about college fun with my brothers will remind me of my time spent as an undergrad.  But pushing forward and taking in the world with fresh eyes and a hungry inner drive will always be the key to retaining the spirit of youth.  Men of Character have no need for reliving their adolescence – we should all be too busy searching for that next magic moment when we connect one more dot between ourselves and our world.  Let us live out our creed and go forth, eager to live and experience, quick to give into curiosity, on constant guard against slowing down and move ahead with life.  That is what children are meant to do.

Remember that I Love You

– Topher Endress

This was the inaugural Senior Speech, given by Topher at the 2nd to last meeting as the lone attending senior.  Sound clip to follow.

It feels somewhat strange to be up in front of everyone without a specific purpose today.  I feel like I’m supposed to be giving you all some sagely, or fatherly advice, but (as many probably know) I am not in fact a father.  Still, I didn’t feel it was enough to simply thank everyone for making the fraternity what it has been.  I do want to thank all of you for justifying my decision to join Phi Kappa Tau – I’ll be the first to admit that I was prejudiced against fraternities for many years before meeting with Jon.  But I like giving advice, so I wanted to find something that would be helpful.  I tried to think of what my father has taught me, but I came up blank.  Not that there wasn’t plenty or that it wasn’t helpful, but nothing I thought of seemed to fit for tonight.  I even called him for advice about advice, which still didn’t sit quite right.  However, there is a statement that I have been picking up more and more on in the past few years.  Towards the end of our conversations, he has been saying the same five words: remember that I love you.  Now, I’m a somewhat long-winded person, so I’d like to dig into this and look word by word at some deeper meanings.  I think what I found both gives advice and also sums up my feelings towards all of you, my new brothers.  I’m going to work in reverse, starting with the word, “you.”

You.  It means that someone knows you.  That someone cares enough to notice.  If someone addresses you, you can know that you are being seen as an individual person.  I think that is important.  We are social creatures.  It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert, we all have some desire to be known.  Being seen tells us we are known and that we matter.  That we have impacted someone enough to get their attention.  And you matter not because of the group you are in, the letters on your chest or the things that you do.  You don’t matter because you are Phi Tau, or an engineer or a pilot, you matter because you are an individual.  Even our creed backs this up – 10 instances of “I” or “me” in our short creed.  I shall be loyal to my college and my chapter.  I shall be a good and loyal citizen.  I shall try always to discharge the obligation to others which arises from the fact that I am a fraternity man.  It is written for individuals, because being a man of character means being assured that you have worth as an individual.

I move on to Love somewhat reluctantly, because we all guys here.  Guys typically don’t like to talk about love, but I don’t think it’s because love is gushy and sentimental.  We don’t like love because love is risky.  Relationships are a two-way street, and there is no promise that the other person will follow through.  We can be hurt pretty badly when our love is not returned.  So when my father says ‘love’ in that statement, it isn’t just the feeling or action of loving someone.  There’s an implicit hope and trust.  There is the hope that I’ll take the risk to love back, and the trust that I’m going to be affected and changed by that love.  My father, I think, also displays both some confidence and some humility as we get to the ‘I’ in “I love you.

The whole statement gives me some power over him.  If you say “I love you” to someone, you are giving them something and the ball is now in their court.  You are at their mercy.  But that ‘I’ tells me that my father is confident in both him and me.  He is confident that his love, which is by far the most personal gift he could give, matters.  It matters because he knows that he matters.

Finally, we come to ‘remember.’  There is a future sense to this, where I’m going to one day need to know that he loves me.  If I’m sitting in the background letting everyone else handle to important stuff, I won’t really need the knowledge of being seen and known, of having someone show me their confidence through the humble act of loving me.  That must mean that his statement is a call to action.  It says, “What you have is good enough to start.  You’re ready.  And when it gets tough, as it inevitably will, remember what I have given you.  Because being a man of character takes risk.  It takes humility.  It takes confidence.  But I see you and I trust that you can do it.”

As you go out and continue to raise Phi Kappa Tau Lambda from the ashes, as you continue to change perceptions and change lives, as you show Purdue that we frat differently, as you teach the community that we have established a gentleman’s fraternity, remember that you have worth.  Remember that you should be humble.  Remember that you are allowed to be confident.  And remember that I love you.

Sunday: The Kind of Friends We Should Want

– Topher Endress

Many of you heard the exciting tale of Doppler and I trying to make it home from break. I will say for the record that when we switched outside Atlanta, Doppler peeled out quite unnecessarily from a Taco Bell parking lot.  I therefore blame him for the blown tire that exploded just past Chattanooga.  Now, being past 5 on a Sunday in the South, we were pretty much guaranteed to find that nothing was open.  Luckily, we did manage to find an all-night wrecker who was willing to put on the tires (neglecting to tell us that they couldn’t balance them until we got there…) and since the Wal-Mart manager hung up on me once, they had to play nice and reopen their tire shop.  So, we got the tires, got to the wrecker, and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.  Several people did come, but we were waiting on a mechanic.  So, we got some nice conversation from the lady in charge, but no work done.  After several hours, we finally got back on the road.  However, since there was no balancing machine, the tires really could have forced us to stop for the night anyway.  We decided to test them out and stop if we needed to.

That of course led to an interesting predicament – if we have to stop, where would we sleep?  Neither of us wanted to sleep in a car, but we really didn’t want to pay for a hotel room.  Luckily, we knew some people who lived on the route home.  So we got to calling.  Starting a few hours north in Murfreesboro, we had a place to stay in every major city along the way home within an hour.  And I wasn’t surprised in the slightest.  I was certain that each guy I called was going to offer up his apartment immediately – from the guys who have essentially been family for the last 5 years to the guy I spent 3 weeks working with two summers ago.  I was confident because I knew what our friendship entailed.  These were the guys that I could call for pretty much anything, even if it was late at night and/or inconvenient.  This is what the results of a good friendship can look like.

Now, I’m sure that many of you would open your doors to even a casual acquaintance  in our position.  But the certainty that I felt comes not from being friends with nice enough people, but from establishing a solid relationship.  All the guys I called on that particular night are really nice – but even if some were complete jerks they would have let us crash.  Being nice and being a friend are not the same thing.

Here’s a challenge: Write down everyone you are good enough friends with to call at 3:00 AM tomorrow.  If you have a ton, you probably already know how to establish in-depth and solid relationships.  If you are lacking, or can’t even find 1, it doesn’t mean you are failing at life.  But, you might be well served to try and change something on your end to make your friendships deeper.

With every one I called, I have had a conversation where we bared our souls to each other.  This can be difficult for three main reasons. 1: We don’t know ourselves well enough to share our deepest thoughts/feelings.  2: We assume that the other person doesn’t want to hear it.  3: Finding a conversation where it fits in readily is basically impossible.  These are legitimate things that stifle honest conversations, so I want to give some practical advice.

  • First, start taking time out each day to reflect both on what has happened and how the events of the day affected you.  Did you get really mad about a bad test grade?  Did you feel embarrassed because a cute girl ignored you?  Did you get too excited when you found out “Rocko’s Modern Life” was on Netflix (true story)?  Reflecting on the actions you take and the way they make you feel is the best way to teach yourself about … yourself.
  • Second, find someone who at least won’t run away from the conversation.  Then, man up and spill your guts.  It may not be a 40-minute rant.  It may be a short tangent in the conversation, but if it is honest and clues the other person into who you really are, your relationship will grow.  Here’s the secret – most people want to share and be shared with.  We want to know each other and be known.  So take that first step.  Grow and pair and put yourself out there.
  • Third, you’re just going to have to realize that being awkward is part of life.  We don’t live on a faux-reality show where writers script meaningful looks into our eyes.  Life is messy and weird – our conversations will reflect that.  Sometimes things don’t sound right in the moment, but 30 seconds later, you can’t imagine talking about anything else.  There is no perfect moment.  Just go for it.

I would love to grow closer to every brother before I take off in May.  I want to be that kind of friend where you know for certain that I will take your call at 3 AM and let you crash when you are stranded in Nashville.  I think that is a good goal for all of us – let’s all be that kind of friend.