Posted in Stories

A few fraternity memories

A recent Zoom meeting with a bunch of college fraternity brothers brought back a flood of memories from four decades ago. I had to write these down before I forget them.

The first involved Joe, a somewhat whiny and annoying brother, who lived in a back room on the second floor of the house. I am not sure what inspired me, but one day I suggested to my friend Gary that we nail Joe’s bedroom door shut, and then rappel out the window. This is not as far-fetched as one might think. Gary was a rock climber, had the necessary rope and harness, and as house manager, I had a hammer and nails.

One day, while Joe was in class or out somewhere else, Gary secured a rope on a radiator and hung it out a third floor window. Gary then used some big old nails to permanently attach the door to the frame from the inside. He rappelled out the window, ran back up to coil up the rope and the project was complete.

I wasn’t there when Joe discovered that he couldn’t open his bedroom door. I so wish I was. All I got to see was the smashed in door when he apparently threw all of his weight against it, breaking the door and frame to get in. It was well worth the cost and effort to replace that door!

A second memory was a lot bloodier, much less entertaining and very vivid. It happened in the kitchen where Bob and I often washed and dried dishes after supper. Don’t ask me why, but one night we decided that it would be fun to stab empty milk jugs with carving knives, like swashbucklers. It’s really not that easy to do. The knife isn’t sharp enough and the jug isn’t heavy enough to actually slice through. However, on one attempt, the knife caught the edge of the counter, Bob’s hand slid up the handle, and sliced through a few of his fingers. I don’t think it hurt that much, but there was a good amount of blood. That blood sport not only required a trip to the emergency room, but also some follow up surgeries so Bob did regain full use of his finger. No, we never tried that again.

A few other miscellaneous memories that sometimes flash through my mind:

  • Tossing an old refrigerator and sofa off the back porch
  • Parties that featured live bands, before the days of DJs.
  • “Blinkey” and trashcans of water dumped off the roof onto the pledges
  • Gary teaching me how to play guitar
  • Road trips to see Rocky Horror Picture Show with bags full of toast, rice, water, toilet paper, and playing cards – and absolutely trashing the theater
  • Eating BLTs and rare roast beef in front of some of the more kosher Jewish brothers – and of course, pizza during Passover
  • Coming and going via the fire escape through a third floor window outside my room
  • Drinking some of the worst beer I ever had in my life from a keg far past its prime

I have so many vivid memories of my fraternity brothers from over forty years ago. The bond of the sphinx, as we called it, is strong indeed.

Posted in college, Life

I learned a lot in college. (But not necessarily in class.)

collegeI chose my college (Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA) on the recommendation of my high school physics teacher (Mr. Nicholaus Ignatuk) and the amount of financial aid they offered. Those were the two reasons I chose them over Bucknell and Penn State, from whom I also got acceptances my senior year.

At that time, all I knew is that I wanted to study mathematics. I liked math and was good at math. I really hadn’t thought four years ahead to what I would do with a liberal arts degree in math, but I’d worry about that later. As I think back now, a lot of what I learned at college had nothing to do with academics anyway. Much of what I learned came from outside the classroom.

F&M was a small liberal arts school, about 2,000 undergrads on campus. No graduate programs. Every class was taught by a professor with a Ph.D. Everyone took four classes a semester, and when you got to thirty-two, you graduated. Most of the friends I met were pre-med, pre-law, or accounting majors. Math? Only if they had to. Me? I took as much math as I could.

But there were lots of extracurricular activities. Lots. As I look back, that is where I got most of my education.

For example, the fraternity I joined, Delta Sigma Phi, taught me a lot. Yes, I learned how to drink there. I learned a lot playing intramural sports, from flag football to street hockey to softball. I learned how to play guitar from a brother, learned how to run a kitchen to earn my room and board, and learned a lot about relationships. Some brothers got me interesting in running, and that was a big part of my life for a long time.

I learned a lot from working with the college radio station. I learned how to work the board, how to DJ a show, how to edit and read news, and a lot about music.

I learned a ton in band, too. I was exposed to so much music in marching, concert and jazz band, and I got to play with some incredibly talented musicians. I even got to play a double bell euphonium!

I was a part of the computer club, where I not only spent much time teaching people how to program but also how to hack into the administration’s data base with nothing more than a dial-up modem and a 60 pound “portable” computer terminal.

With my fraternity brothers I learned how to rock climb, how to tap and keg and fill a cup with hardly any foam, how to do the “Time Warp,” how to play hockey, way too much about professional wrestling, and what drinks not to mix together.

I could be way off, but I think we were paying about $5,000 a year to go to college back then. Now? Over $70k to attend F&M. That would be tough for me and my family to afford now. What did I get for my money? The ability to help my daughter with her calculus homework twenty years later. The confidence to work the sound board at church. A little bit about speaking to an audience, teaching a class, and working behind a bar. I can code and I know what a Fourier series is. My undergrad transcript somehow got me some jobs after college and eventually into grad school to get my M.Div. and become a pastor.

I like what I am doing now, so guess that for me, college was worth it!






Posted in Ministry

“The only pastor kind of guy I know”

“In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love…” and, as I learned this week, to college.

Weeks after most application deadlines have passed, letters of recommendations mailed and acceptances (or rejections) received, two young men came to me in the space of a week to get a reference from me. Both seniors in high school, each recently was recruited by small schools, in part, for their athletic prowess. Both were small Christian schools that required a reference from a pastor to complete the application. Each student stopped by my office to have me complete that form, saying, “You're the only pastor kind of guy I know.”

Student A graduated from our church's preschool fifteen years ago. His mother also taught at our school for many years. I believe His family was half-Jewish and half-Christian, though I don't think they participated in either tradition very often. Since I had to answer a question about his commitment to Jesus Christ, he explained to me that his parents exposed him to both traditions so he could make up his own mind. I asked him if he had. He said he was open to it, which is what I typed as my answer to that question.

Student B was in confirmation class five years ago. At the time, his family was regular in worship and I got to know him very well. He was smart, asked great questions and seemed to grasp well the basics of the Christian faith. After confirmation, though, I only saw him three more times. Once, when his younger sister was confirmed. The second time was a weekday morning when he asked me to pray for a friend of his in the Marines being deployed to Iraq. Number three was to ask for this recommendation. At one time his commitment seemed strong. Presently I knew little about his faith, so I typed that for my answer.

So now I am wondering how many small Christian colleges get recommendations like mine? How important is my input in the admission process? How important is my input for their athletic programs? Was I just a hoop to jump through? (I'm pretty sure I know the answer to that question.) And why would you ask a virtual stranger to recommend you to a college?

I have written many letters of recommendation over the years, mostly for young people I knew very well and could write pages about. For each I've strived to be unique, creative, entertaining and put into words how impressed I was with them. But this was a new experience. I tried to put the best construction on everything. I tried to express everything in the kindest and most honest way. But I had to be honest.

It took courage to come in and ask me for a recommendation. I'll give them that much. But it takes a lot more than courage to make it through college.



Posted in Life

Florida State University Graduation

Our family traveled to Tallahassee yesterday for FSU’s commencement this morning.  My son, Adam, received his bachelor’s of science degree in Sociology with a religion minor.  There were just under 1000 receiving degrees today (at the 9:00 am ceremony), with some master’s and doctorate’s mixed in, too.

For an occasion of that size, things were well-orchestrated.  Done in two hours.  A quick speech by an alumni, Gen. Jay Warner (ret.) got a nice round of applause.  Everything was done in a dignified and respectful manner, suitable for those who had worked so hard over the last four or more years.

I tried to remember my own college graduation 30 years ago from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.  Tough to do.  I remember that our speaker was science fiction author Isaac Asimov.  That’s about all I remember.  I am sure my parents have some pictures somewhere.  I should try and track them down.  My diploma, all in Latin, is in a folder on a shelf in my office at church.  Maybe it’s time to frame some of those documents.