Archive for the ‘ Love ’ Category

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.

Make Your Bed

-Topher Endress

There was a running joke at camp concerning me and my bed making prowess – namely, I was compared somewhat unfavorably with some of history’s most oppressive governments when it came to how I felt these bunk beds should look.  I may have gone a tiny bit overboard with going behind people and remaking all of their beds – though it really shouldn’t have irritated them as much as they claimed it did.  Yes, I was probably annoying, but you can’t argue with results:

This was considered by a fellow counselor to be “acceptable.” I disagreed.

Top vs. Bottom – which would you rather sleep in?

Yes, that’s a hospital corner. And yes, there is a matching one on the far side, despite the fact that it is hidden from anyone’s view.

While my beds did look a lot nicer, my colleagues also pointed out that it was pretty unlikely for an eight-year-old to notice whether their bed was particularly nice when they drop their bags on it.  It was a valid point, and when you have to reset 12 cabins to be ready for the next wave of volunteers and kids, you don’t need to be wasting a bunch of time making each bed perfect.  However, while I realize that it may be a tad crazy, I felt I had some solid reasoning.

Here’s the thing about camp – you end up doing plenty of things you really don’t want to do, if only to brighten the day of a kid.  The culture of a SeriousFun camp is that kids come first, absolutely, no questions asked.  Their (and our, as they are our national philanthropy) mission is to create a space for kids with serious illnesses to come and forget that their lives look different than what a kid’s life is supposed to.  To me, a big part of that mission meant showing the campers and volunteers that we expected them, that we were looking forward to them being at camp with us.  If someone is willing to clean and prepare for you, it shows that you must matter.  And these kids do matter.  So I was willing to do anything I could to help them feel at ease with getting to camp – and a nice looking bed can play a big, if subconscious, role in being comfortable in your surroundings.

I’m not advocating that each of you makes beds intensely for yourselves, significant others, or even campers if you spend time at a SeriousFun camp.  I am, however, advocating that you be forward-thinking when it comes to important relationships.  Think about who is on the other side of the relationship, then consider what their needs might be.  As men, society tells us that we need to work hard to provide for those around us.  But until we know what others need, we can never work hard enough.  If you start considering what the people around are in need of, then work on finding a way to use your gifts/talents/resources to help, your relationships will assuredly strengthen.  Whether it is big or little, it is still a call to action.


Improve Your Handwriting

– Topher Endress

So far at camp, I have been given many things.  It started with a name tag, then a camp shirt, a walkie, and sweet bag to hold all my Head Leader swag (sunscreen and bug spray, mostly).  I’ve even been given training materials, manuals, a penguin-themed clipboard, gaming books and programming guides.  Looking outside the box, you could say that I’ve been given a chance to learn and a chance to practice leadership principles (plus a sweet role in the skits as Prince Charming).  And while it’s all great and helpful to be given these tools to help me play leader for these counselors, I think the most memorable thing I’ve been given so far this training week was a simple note from my supervisor.

I was going to lead a training session one night, and the supervisor wanted me to have all the necessary knowledge in front of me, so she wrote out a quick guide to give me.  There was nothing inspirational about it; nothing on it was worth framing or tattooing onto me forever. But still, that little note impressed me.  Instead of simply copying her existing notes (admittedly, more efficient), she chose to take some time and hand-write her suggestions and tips.

It may seem unimportant and not worth the effort, but your willingness to commit your values to even the little things in life is what separates the Men from the boys.  A hand-written note shows that you care; it shows that the recipient is worth the investment. After being here for less than a week, I’ve already begun to look for ways to encourage my leaders. We all need a push in life, whether we’re working to bring magic in the lives of sick kids or we’re just trying to pass Econ. Writing notes that show you care helps your brothers grow in confidence into the Men of Character that Phi Kappa Tau calls them to be. Maybe a text, facebook message or phone call would work, but if you want to impress upon someone that you really mean what you say, pick up a pen and start practicing your cursive.

I will be hand-writing notes to all of my leaders tonight. Who can you write some encouragement to? What will you say?

Genius on Hold – a Review of the Latest Beach Boys Album

– Topher Endress

Most of you probably know that I am slightly obsessed with the Beach Boys.  They aren’t just my favorite band, they weren’t just my first concert (yes, a 7 year-old me asked for concert tickets for my birthday.  I was born more hipster than you), they are a way for me to connect to ideas too big to give words to.  And so, while I naturally have been listening to their newest album nonstop since it came out yesterday, I will admit that Brian Wilson was writing better music in the 60’s than he is today*.  Comparing the incommensurately (English majors – it isn’t a literary oxymoron if you use the contrast as hyperbole) great Pet Sounds, the surprisingly innovative Today! or even the unfortunately unheralded Sunflower to That’s Why God Made the Radio leaves the listener looking for a little more that isn’t quite there.  There are moments of brilliance that prove that Wilson still can write better than anyone else (arranging achingly beautiful harmonies and excellent wall-of-sound backings reminiscent of the sounds that brought songs like Help Me, Rhonda and I Get Around to number 1), several points of the album are cheesy and overly produced.  There are points that sound like Kokomo instead of Caroline, No, which is a travesty.

These ‘low’ moments point back to a time when Wilson was still a prisoner of his prolific drug addictions and had no involvement with America’s best selling band throughout the late 80’s and into the 90’s – a time when John Stamos of “Full House” fame was allowed to act as a member of the group, synthesized steel drums were the norm and melodies so cheesy Kenny G would refuse to play them were somehow made worse by gag-inducing lyrics.  This was a time when the other band members were allowed to write the music – but they really should have stuck just to singing.  And yet, for as bad as that time period was for the band, it isn’t the end of the world to hear some of it echoed on this new album.

At first, I wasn’t willing to give them a pass on the stylistic cheese, despite the fact that the youngest member is 69.  There are too many great high points to refute the thought that the Beach Boys simply couldn’t create incredible music anymore.  But the more I listened, the more I came to a realization that skewed my whole perspective.  Brian Wilson has had what may have been the best ten years of his life in the past decade.  From recovering physically and mentally enough not just to go on tour, but to make new music, to producing his 30+ year project (see below) in 2004, to reuniting with his bandmates after nasty legal battles, Wilson has enjoyed an incredible reversal of fortune (all while being lauded more so than ever in the music industry for his music and personality).  There doesn’t seem to be much of a chance that he hasn’t heard about how iconic he has become, or at least how revered his music is.  And yet, while Wilson was enjoying his new career with a new band, he came back to reunite with the same Beach Boys who had mocked his songwriting and embroiled him in legal battles.

Now, if that were me, I hope that I would decent enough to forgive and move forward.  But knowing that you are a musical genius and still allowing someone like Mike Love to write songs for your album?  I can’t imagine how hard it would be not to want to control everything that went into this; after all, the Wilson-led Beach Boys created songs like God Only Knows while the Love-led band made music so awful I refuse to acknowledge its existence (as does most of the world – it sold very poorly).  But still, this new album has Mike Love writing songs and some cheesy 1980’s synth anyway.  And I think I know why.

Music is important.  Music can make your day a little brighter, can enhance those feelings of nostalgia or can help you come to terms with breaking up with someone.  It can give you a reason to cry, or a reason to dance close to your girlfriend.  You can turn to it to give a voice to things that would otherwise go unsaid or unnoticed.  But music can never be a conversation.  Music cannot sit with you in a moment of grief.  Music cannot dance with you at a party.  I am confident that Brian Wilson could have written a masterpiece that stood the test of time (because he already has).  But Brian Wilson knows that music is always a servant and never the master.  This album is instead about being in community with his family – the Beach Boys ohana, if you will.  By letting the others take some reins, Brian is choosing to put relationships over music immortality.  And if a 70 year old man thinks that spending time with the people he loves is more important than returning to the highest level of his profession, I say there’s probably some wisdom in that.  This album’s greatness is in its acceptance of mediocrity for the sake of friends.

*I am counting SMiLE as being mostly written in 1967, despite its 2004 release date.  It remains the only album of this Millenium that I have heard that can compete with Pet Sounds for sheer musical genius.

Memorial Day

– Topher Endress

As today is Memorial Day, I thought it would be pertinent to write a post about the Armed Service members of our country.  Naturally, this is a bit of a dicey issue, as so many of the men I am writing to are on track to be highly involved with the military throughout the rest of their lives.  Add in the fact that half of my friends think I’m a bleeding-heart liberal (while ironically, the other half think I’m a conservative nut-job), and this post suddenly becomes a potential firestorm of misunderstood words and angry backlash.  Luckily, I think my point in this post will be accepted by both bleeding-hearts and nut-jobs alike.

So, typically on Memorial Day, I’m told by a variety of pundits through my t.v. that I should be honoring our current and former military.  And I do know several people currently serving overseas (including the ‘hot zones,’ if you will), and several who did see combat (including family members), so at first it seems like a no brainer.  But this weekend, I got to thinking, “Is honoring our military valid if you do not support military efforts?  Should you in good conscious honor someone who is dedicated to doing work that you do not necessarily affirm?”  Not to say that I personally stand against our military, but many in the country question much, if not all, of our policies.   Are they truly participating in Memorial Day?  Should they be participating?  Would honoring current soldiers violate their personal beliefs and make them liars?

As I’ve thought about how to approach the holiday, I’ve come to a conclusion – the characteristics held as ideals by our armed services are by-in-large worthy of anyone’s honor, regardless of political beliefs, personal beliefs or affiliation.  These characteristics are being made manifest by those who are serving and are still present in those who have served in the past.  Ideals like bravery and self-sacrifice are incredibly powerful and should  not be lightly discarded.  However, one could not simply say that the military itself deserves the laudations of every citizen, regardless of the necessary role it plays in fostering these positive characteristics.  The military is a collection of individuals, and I do not believe that I could possibly honor a mere system, especially considering that I do not believe most people (myself included) can give a blanket affirmation of any given system that is so large and plays so many roles.  It is infeasible to assume that most Americans support every single action taken by the Armed Services, but it is my personal belief that Memorial Day should be recognized to honor every single person with the Armed Services.

Memorial Day reminds us not to honor a system or a series of numbers.  Don’t spend today paying homage to the 416,800 servicemen who died in WW2, or the 1.3 million on active duty.  Spend today instead recognizing that each of our branches and each of those giant numbers are filled with people.  Regardless of your personal thoughts on our military strategy, if we can affirm the inherent worth of each person then we can also recognize the incredible sacrifice and hardship placed on each of those 1.3 million.  I don’t need to support every war to support every soldier.  I don’t need to love the system to love the sacrifice.  And don’t assume that supporting the military equates to honoring the people within it.  Today, put aside any political cares.  Drop the liberalism, drop the conservatism.  Forget party lines.  These are men and women.  Remember that each of them is a person and that they have worth.  They are working actively within their belief that what they do makes the world a better place.  I don’t care who you vote for, that’s worth honoring.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone.  And thank you to all of you willing to sacrifice so much for what you believe in.

Pictures from Camp

– Topher Endress

I’m spending senior week at Timber Wolf Lake, MI, where I’m helping the camp up there and relaxing.  It has been an incredible way to spend Senior Week, and I will have a post forthcoming about a major thing I have realized as soon as I write it.  In the meantime, please enjoy these pictures that I already posted to Google+