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Fatherhood

– Topher Endress

It’s probably no surprise to any of you that I want to have kids one day.  I did after all work with high school students throughout all of college, substitute taught middle school kids and even did childcare at my church every now and then.  I spent my summer working with seriously ill kids at camp (if you haven’t applied for a SeriousFun camp in some capacity by now, I am very disappointed).  Even now, I’m tutoring some first graders at a local elementary school.  Not that I’m getting baby crazy, but once you hit mid-20’s and realize that you are good friends with people who procreate, you start to think about what having kids brings to the table.  And thinking about kids makes you realize several things about the importance of framing.

When a little kid asks you a question, it is usually more than that.  Sure, they may want the answer, but they are also trying to figure out the context of their world.  It’s a commonly repeated statement that kids crave structure – I think this is in part because they don’t have the experience or knowledge to provide any real structure to their own worlds yet.  And so how we, as adults, talk to kids is vastly important.  As they grow, children will learn more and more from the adults around them – directly through education and indirectly through actions and paradigms.  Books are incredible, but until you can pick apart the author’s personality and underlying framework for yourself, there need to be people that will teach you to contextualize your world.

You’re right, this IS a lot of responsibility.  It’s why I don’t want to see kids conceived “accidentally.”    How can you look at something so awe-inspiringly significant and not find it necessary to be at least a tiny bit philosophically prepared?  Most couples I know did this.  They shared a worldview and discussed it with each other.  They talk about what kind of schools to put their kids in.  What kind of churches to raise them in.  What kind of stories to tell them, movies to watch with them, toys to buy them, people to interact with them.  But whether you ever consider exactly how to contextualize their world or what you hope that they learn, you as a parent will color their interpretation of what they see.  Since that is inevitable, I might as well start thinking about the truths of the world that I want my kids to know.

There are several parenting methods and philosophies out there.  I can’t tell you that any one of them isn’t valid for some children, especially not having kids of my own.  It certainly isn’t my place to tell anyone that they aren’t raising their kids the right way.  But, I do think that parenting should, for the most part, be a natural extension of the way the parents think about the world.  To do something other than that seems disingenuous (of course, you have to be adaptable and flexible – I’ve heard that from pretty much every parent I’ve ever met.  Making a few rules that are out of character doesn’t make you a hypocrite at all).  And so, based on my orientation of this world, I had* this thought about raising kids.

One day when my kids worry about the monsters under their beds, the strange things in their closets, the menace of shadows outside their window, I don’t want to be the father that teaches his children that there are no monsters. That nothing can hurt them. That they are safe. No, I want to be the father who teaches his children how to fight back. How to kill their monsters. How to champion their own safety. Because the monsters do exist. There are terrifying truths about our world that children have to learn.  It will be a temptation to protect them.  To keep them from ever finding out about the hurt and brokenness out there.  But it will inevitably find them, just as it found all of us.  Every man knows about the paralyzing fear that can come with discovering one’s own mortality, but every good father knows their child can always be stronger with the right training.  So when I’m called in to check the closet and under the bed for monsters that aren’t there, I’ll be suiting my kids up for battle.  Because one day, my kids will be called into war, to fight real monsters, to battle against bullies and cancer and asking girls out and racism and injustice and learning to drive, and I will know that they will be ready.  HOORAH!

*Much like Mick Jagger’s composition of ‘Satisfaction,’ I dreamed it first, then woke up to write it down.

Ann Coulter

– Topher Endress

Men, we have read posts on the importance of words, but I need to take some space to write about a very problematic issue that many of us (myself included) face. All to often, it is easy for us to call something by the wrong name. We willingly forsake accuracy for emphasis in many conversations – not always a bad thing, of course. However, sometimes this lack of consideration for our terms is very damaging to others.  Take, for example, Ann Coulter’s recent tweets about Obama.  During one of the presidential debates, she referred to him directly as a retard, then later said that if Obama was the smartest man in the room, it must be one retarded room.  Now, especially on election day, I’m not going to pick sides and say that she’s right and saying it wrong, or that she’s wrong and saying it really wrong.  I will, however, never mention Ann Coulter again in an effort to keep her off the airwaves.  Someone who is so blatantly disrespectful does not deserve our attention for it.  Of course, as I think about her word choice, I can’t help but think about what I hear from the people around me.

When was the last time you said someone was retarded?  Not too long ago, if you are anything like the general 20-somethings population that I’ve known.  See, our culture has taken this word and misapplied it because, as a descriptor, it adds emphasis to what we say.  I didn’t just make a mistake, I’ll apologize for being retarded.  That person isn’t just asking a question in class, they are retarded for not getting it right away.  The ref didn’t make a bad call, he is retarded for missing that obvious foul.  It is quite literally akin to using the word literally to describe feelings (when it is far more likely that you intend to say emphaticallylegitimately, or passionately).  We like being able to emphasize our words through these types of hyperboles.

However, let me point out two main reasons why misusing the word retarded will ensure a swift kick to the face from me next time I see you in person: retarded was never meant to describe a person and retarded is an emotionally charge word that places the power in the listener’s ear.

First, there is a proper use of the word.  Today, it is used to only to describe a system or process that is slowly down or being hindered.  In music, you have a retardando when the tempo slows.  We have machines that retard and baby clothes that are flame retardant.  While this could have described those with mental handicaps several years ago, I would hope that each person reading this blog would realize how inappropriate and  inaccurate that term is if used to describe a human.  I don’t mind anyone using that term properly, but it is never the correct usage to use it as a description of a person.

Second, the biggest reason that this word is offensive is because it is.  Simply put, because a critical mass of people have used it inappropriately as a pejorative term, anyone using it now is necessarily bringing in the negative connotations that come with it.  We don’t have those same negative emotions associated with other adjectives – I wouldn’t be offended if you called me “quixotic,” but if enough people started using “quixotic” as an insult I would eventually be offended by that term no matter how good of a descriptor it once was.  We are Men of Character.  Not knowing that something is offensive is an excuse that can be used once at most – we do have an obligation to understand how to best relate to and see the value in each person around us.  Part of that means educating yourself on how to interact in a way that is fair to both parties.  Of course, that is the general ideal.  The word retarded is well-known to be offensive, so I personally wouldn’t give anyone that one-time pass.

I understand that as guys, it is natural for many of us to rib each other.  Most insults and bickering are more parodies of masculinity than they are true expressions.  But there is no reason for a group of dedicated Men, Men who want to change the perception of fraternal life at Purdue, Men who want to cause an impact in their community, Men who strive to be a light in already too-dark world, should ever jeopardize their efficacy by using words that serve no purpose other than furthering a divide with an already maligned community.  Many people hearing the word retarded recognize that it stands for a label that dehumanizes someone with mental handicaps or disabilities.  And no Man of Character I know would ever stand for that.

How can you work on changing your vocabulary to exclude words that only serve to insult?  When do you find yourself using terms like that, and how can you change those situations?  What other words might you be using that offend those around you?

As a final read, I highly recommend this open letter, penned to Ann Coulter after her tweets.

Movember

– 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 (http://us.movember.com/mospace/3657205) and for more information on Movember, please check out their site here.

Memory

– Topher Endress

At first glance, it would seem nothing is as intimate as one’s memory.  Private scenes playing in your head, often so real you can nearly taste them, hear them, feel them, with words not doing the feelings and pictures justice.  How could anyone else have the same memories that you do?  Despite this, I contend that memories are not the beacon of individuality that one might expect.

Instead, memory is a social institution. We have collective memories – sharing major experiences like 9/11 in our lifetimes, Pearl Harbor in our grandparents’, the release of the ipod, landing on the moon, the Challenger disaster, Hummel’s block against Wisky my freshman year (that was a world event in my eyes), etc. Moving away from global or national perspectives, we still have regionalist memories like earthquakes, winning sports teams (’07 Colts, baby!) and other highly-talked about events.  Group dynamics need historical components, or shared memories, to connect the current with the past and to allow the future to be connected as well.  We do not live in a bubble.  We are inherently effected by what goes one around us, and what has gone on before us.  As such, we need to know what those who have come before have done and how it changed them.  One of my most clear memories of Chartering weekend was listing to Dave Wozniak shares stories of sharing life with his brothers post-college, mostly because I know that those experiences are shaping our chapter today.  It is important to hear both the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ from older men if we are to learn about where we are right now.

Of course, if we are to learn important lessons from those who have come before us, by logical extension we should share our own stories of who we were and who we are, individually and communally. We should be telling stories of why we joined Phi Tau and what it gave us.  Otherwise, the past stops impacting the present and cannot shape the future.  The new guys, younger guys, older guys and alumni all deserve to have a space in this storie-sharing cycle.  If we want Lambda to flourish, it will come from being able to transmit the knowledge of the past onto the present and applying it to the future.

What kind of stories can you share with the men around you?  What do those stories tell them about who you are and what you believe in?  What do your stories tell others about your experience in Phi Tau, and what do they make them think about the organization?

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?

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?