The Year in Review

Graduating Friends

On August 24th, I moved into a big community house a short distance from campus, with 13 other Gordon students to begin my Junior year. I had just returned from three months of work at a summer camp in Martha’s Vineyard where I experienced some of the best Christian fellowship and community to which I had ever been exposed. I was tired and a bit resentful of the fact that I had chosen to so quickly throw myself into another “intentional community.” I knew that it meant that I would have to start all over – get to know each of my peers on a deep level, serve them, be responsible for them, and depend on them. I had learned the summer before that living in a community in which each member is dependent on the other is exhausting, but ultimately highly fulfilling work. I knew what lay ahead of me as I unloaded my things from the car – all the challenges and the payoffs that awaited me.

As the weeks and months began to roll by, I realized just how thankful I was for this group of people who formed the fabric of day-in, day-out life. They were the backdrop of a year of self-discovery and of incredible learning that I will never forget. They were my playmates, classmates, cooking partners, prayer partners, and chore helpers. We grew together and as individuals learning more about what it means to be a daily servants, and life-long learners. Four people in our group were seniors. Although it is uncertain when I will see them next and how different our lives will be upon that meeting, I know that all it will take will be just one hug and friendly smile to send me back to the memory of this year of growth, love, and learning.

However, these housemates weren’t the only close friends to whom I had to say goodbye this May. During my sophomore year at Gordon, I joined a group of three other Gordon students-musicians who were beginning to make a splash in the local music scene playing in clubs and bars in Boston. I had been watching their progress and eventually tried to pry my way in by sneaking hints to the drummer (the only one I knew at the time) that they needed another guitarist to fill out their sound. He eventually convinced them to invite me to a practice, and a week after my casual “audition,” I began playing gigs with them, and helped them finish their first full-length album, which we recorded in the small audio lab in Jenks Library. It was a time of complete creative stimulation and bonding I knew I was going to miss sorely when we all split up this year. Calvin was going to go abroad to China in the Fall, and Tom and Dave were going to graduate early and leave that Spring – Tom to California and Dave to D.C. The band was as good as dead.

But this fall, to my surprise, we rose from the ashes. In September, with our bassist abroad in China, one of our songs landed a spot on a Boston “new music” mixtape and we began to get invites to do a music video feature, a radio spot, andto  play a few shows. We were a man down, but we resurrected and kept the band going at least until the two others left, and then it would be only me left to hold down the fort, the lonely Junior.

One week ago, I had the pleasure of seeing all of these friends graduate – my very dear housemates and bandmates. But I couldn’t help but give attention to the haunting feeling that I may never see any of them again – friends, who in many ways formed me and gave texture, substance, and vibrant life to these shallow college years, which were doomed from the outset to fade into the recesses of the memory of a life lived and long past.

Will they always just be college friends, juvenile acquaintances of half-witted, young-adult, college Me? Who knows? They may be. They may only fade into the noise and color that fills the gaps between categorical insights: Gordon College…Wenham, MA…English major… So many things that matter now, won’t matter to me then, when I look back but I refuse to give the memories and the friends themselves to the ripping current of time’s voracious flow. They will always be mine: the house and the band; the floor-mates, classmates, and friends through the years.

I am indebted to the friends I have made at Gordon. They have made me who I am, and who I will be. And I eagerly anticipate one more year to come of such vibrant learning, growing, and relationships.

Golden Goose ’13

Getting down to JT’s “Suit & Tie”

The whole crew

In February, I got a text message from a member of the Campus Events Council notifying me that I was selected to represent the Junior Class in Golden Goose, the students’ annual comedy and talent show. Each year, the classes nominate three of their year’s “funniest” peers to represent them in competition for the “Golden Goose” (literally a gold, spray-painted, plastic lawn-decoration goose – figuratively, bragging rights of being the funniest and most talented class for the year).

The next week, I joined the ranks of the other chosen-eleven and our two dance coaches to begin practicing choreography for the dance portions of the competition. What followed was two months of tiring practices and meticulous choreography, but also of an amorphous cloud of creative energy and love that filled the room of those late-night practices. Out of the other eleven, I knew only one person. Soon however, we became a dynamic unit of students from all majors and campus communities who found a strong, empowering, and collective identity in our group-self. These other “geese” quickly became more than friends, but a vital part of myself – my Junior Self; my Sunday night from 5pm to 9pm Self; my Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at midnight Self; my “Goose” Self: he who was so joyously alive, and in full expression of himself in the presence these others.

I find that this happens often at Gordon, a reorganization of the Self in light of community. The Self adopts, incorporates, absorbs the Selves of his others – those who become such an integral part of him so that if he casts them off, he loses in some sense, his whole Self. I have grown into this giant, super-human Self time and time again at Gordon. I have been part of so many life-giving communities, so many creative groups, and have grown into a Self bigger than my(own)self. One thing I’ve learned throughout my years at Gordon is that you can’t remain yourself here; your peers won’t let you get away with that. Community is meant to grow you. Community is Gordon’s bread and butter, its mashed potatoes, its numero uno institutional ethos concerning the growth and development of the Student Self.

So, on Thursday, April 25th, when we twelve geese gathered backstage to 2,000 cheering students and community members anticipating the show of our work, my heart was alight with the buzz of something bigger – Glory. To God. By His people. We were expressive creatures expressing creation, together. That Thursday night, was the best of my year, but the two months preceding made it so. It was an event for much more than bragging rights and a gold-painted lawn fixture, it was an emotional display of Gordon at its best: creation, play, teamwork, practice, diligence, and freedom as expressed by a community on fire with love.

Golden Goose, Schmolden Schmoose. Bring on the lovers, the givers, the saints – the students. We’ll put on one heck of a show.

Check out the CEC blog for more pictures, and watch my individual video and our Junior stage act below:

“Ladies Love It”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRp9jhxOlnY

The Junior Stage Act: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZcLvM9FW60

On Telling My Own Story

My Work Desk

One of the biggest obstacles I have had to overcome this semester was the telling of my own story. What is my autobiography? What is my memoir? were some of the questions I had to confront this semester as I began drafting narratives for my Creative Nonfiction class: The Literary Memoir. After reading narratives by E.B. White, David Sedaris, Annie Dillard, Joan Didion, and even Sufjan Stevens, I had trouble thinking about casting the same literary light on my own life story. Tackling this challenge has largely resulted in a form of memory mining, a kind of detective work for the most substantial bits and pieces of what make me who I am – and not only that, but those that make my story one worth reading.

Using a small journal, I began to search myself through writing. I set the story down on paper, one golden remembrance at a time, subsequently reliving all of my past selves: the four year-old boy, scared of the dark who took comfort in the glowing plastic stars glued to the ceiling above his bed; the rebellious twelve-year-old with a nasty habit of lying; the hopeful eighteen-year-old kid with his bags packed for college, ready to make a difference in the world; and the sentimental young twenty-something who spills words over his paper, remembering it all and solemnly wishing he hadn’t been so eager to say goodbye to his childhood.

The telling of one’s story is the synthesis of all of the past selves into the story that makes the individual. It is the act of setting down onto paper the many tree-rings that compose the self, and it all begins with the act of remembering.

 

The La Vida Experience

My La Vida Group c. 2010

Looking back at my Gordon career, I often forget about how formative my La Vida experience was. It was one of the first events that signified a turning of the page in my young adulthood. This wasn’t just because I had never been camping before, although this did play a big role. But I found the main points of transformation in the interplay between members of a peer-driven Christian community. In other words, most of what I learned came through working closely with a team of close friends to achieve specific daily goals on our journey. As we made our way through the Adirondacks by canoe, we cooked, played games, laughed, prayed and overcame challenges together. Looking back on the experience now, I see it as a condensed, highly interactive lesson in building community.

On La Vida, I was really on my own for the first time. There were many new things I had to interact with. I had to go to dig a hole in the ground with a stick in order to go to the bathroom. I had to drink the juice out of the discarded can of tuna so as to “leave no trace” that we had been there (for nature’s sake). I had to fast by myself in the woods for 60 hours with only a Bible to keep me company. None of these experiences in and of themselves would I describe as anything near pleasant, but I did take a lot away from them. What I learned was not simply that “yes, if challenged I can overcome personal adversity,” but that all of the challenges we faced individually and communally brought our group closer together. I still remember surveying the sun during my two-day “solo,” trying to sense the hour that I could see my friends again, pat them on the back, see them smile, and share a meal with them. There is so much to learn on La Vida, but it is not necessarily what you would ever expect.

Gordon Pride

Gordon v. Curry 2/23/13

The men’s basketball team led their charge to the conference finals this year on a nine-game winning streak, ending the season 14-4 in the conference and 21-7 overall. There was only one team that was consistently better than them: Curry College. Although Curry fell to several teams that Gordon had no problem beating, Gordon was circumvented both times the two teems met during the regular season. It was this deciding factor that gave Curry the number one seed and consequently, home court advantage throughout their playoff campaign. It was also for this reason that I had an unsure feeling in my stomach as I piled into a car with a few friends for the drive down to Curry on the South Shore, at the tail end of a giant caravan of Gordon students. Standing for the entire game, we hundreds of visiting students rivaled the home crowd.

It was a hard-fought game but in the end, Gordon lost the championship. The Curry fans flooded the court, the confetti flew, and the hundreds of Gordon students and fans solemnly filed out of the gymnasium, past our dejected friends and players who were obligated to stay and wait for the awards ceremony. Torture. If I had the chance to relive that moment, I would have waited with our team and applauded them for the gift that they gave us of a beautiful, terrific, exciting, and momentous season. From November to February, the men’s basketball home game was the place to be. They consistently gave us something to be excited about, hopeful for, and proud of. They excelled at their game, and it was a beautiful thing to watch. It was a truly remarkable season and made for many great memories on the sideline as well. I had never before seen Gordon students so proud of their team, their colors, and each other. And even after having lost the championship, I was impressed by the many different thanks our community gave to them: applauses in chapel, emails from administrators, and commendations from student groups.

It’s as if we just can’t find a way to lose. Even our losses feed our community. How is it that we are somehow apparently prouder for having been defeated? I think it’s because it’s moments like these that show us who we really are: we are people that stand up together and for each other, no matter what. Success or failure, we are faithful. And that feels like the biggest victory of all.

Now, I have to admit, not everybody will agree with me on that. Perhaps most especially the players. In fact, near the end of the season, after having told our starting point guard that “no matter what happens, it will have been a good season” (perhaps in an attempt to ease the pressure on him), he looked at me, laughed and said, “No, no moral victories here. We’re looking for a championship.” I respect him tremendously, but I think he has to give this one to me. He’s given me no reason to be disappointed in him, and a whole season of memories for which to be proud of him. Championships are good, but community is better. I think we still won.

So, thank you fans and team for a great season. It truly was one to remember.

The Day that Gordon Beat the Blizzard

Campus-wide Snowball Fight 2/9/13

I had never seen a Massachusetts storm quite like the one that hit us Friday morning until Saturday night. For the second time this year, I was evacuated from my house and subject to a shelter-in-place in one of the brick fortresses on the main campus. The first was during Hurricane Sandy in October, which cut our power, swelled our ponds, and doused our campus with a dreary, pine-limb-scattered malaise. I knew the drill. I was in the middle of making egg-drop soup with some friends in my kitchen, feeling pretty toasty and cradling a cup of hot chocolate when a public safety officer came to pick us up. Discontented, we all packed up and boarded a mini-bus set to take us to safety. We sputtered and glided along the small stretch of road over 128, onto Grapevine, and eventually up the unrelenting hill to my overnight stay in Tavilla. I fell asleep on a friend’s couch that night, staring out of the living room window at a whistling, villainous mix of snow flakes and ice particles, forming cloud-like images of rabid animals clawing at me through the window screen. The next morning, I trudged with my pillow and my bag down the hill, through lower campus with my head set on home. Instead of following the shortest route along Grapevine Road, I decided to cut through campus to see the quad, and what else made it through the storm. As I got closer to the center of campus, I heard the shouts and screams of what sounded like a huge mass of people coming from the quad and did the best I could in the snow to hurry to see the commotion. Suddenly, someone pelted me with a snowball. I turned and saw hundreds of students congregated on the quad in the deep of the Nemo, laughing, playing and wrestling in the snow. I put down my bag and pillow and started making snowballs. At that moment, I felt an indisputable victory over the storm.

Check it out below:

How to Dress New England

I love it when I can go full New Englander. I’m talking LL Bean head to toe with a knitted wool beanie on top and wool socks to match. I actually love the winters in New England the most. Having grown up as a kid in Minnesota, I find them not anywhere near as harsh and all in all, rather charming.

Taking a walk down a snowy path in New England is one of the best things you can do with a free day. The snow seems to glisten with a particular kind of gaiety on this side of the country, whereas in the Midwest the snow falls gluttonously – too much and with a hint of regret, which probably comes from the fact that there’s no skiing to be done on the prairie. So, it’s with great pleasure that I don my New England threads and carve my way on pleasant walks through the woods or to school on my walk on the bridge over Route 128 – even the power lines are beautifully with a thin coat of powder! Without further ado, I present my favorite getup and the ideal winter threads of an authentic New Englander:
1.    Insulated Wool Beanie – Cumberland Farms

2.    Down Jacket – LL Bean

3.    Quarter-zip Fleece – LL Bean

4.    Plaid Flannel – LL Bean

5.    Long Johns – LL Bean/EMS

6.    Blue Jeans – Gap

7.    Wool Socks – EMS

8.    Engineer Boots – Chippewa

Oh yeah, and don’t forget the Chapstick.

My Path to Gordon

Homecoming Photobooth with Gordon Friends. Freshman Year.

When I left high school, I was unsure of my path but ready for a change of direction. From eighth to twelve grade, I attended a (let me try to sum it up all at once here) tiny, private, alternative-learning, bilingual, liberal arts social experiment on the campus of Calvin Coolidge estate turned summer camp turned high school. We had six main buildings: the School, the House, the Barn, the Theater, the Forum, and the Gym. I have a multitude of memories associated with each place, and any smell to remind me of them puts me into the deepest state of nostalgia and sends me reeling into remembrances of all-school meetings, chorus rehearsals, community banquets, French skits, and a particular teacher’s home-made-chai-tea-Greek symposium. It was the kind of place where the students call their teachers by their first names, aren’t allowed to raise their hands, sit in circles on the floor, make home-made bread during free time, and play with double-exposure photography in the darkroom for hours after school for fun. There were times when I was kicked out of class for not having a question about a reading, and times when I was chastised for saying something without quoting the text or for speaking to the teacher instead of a classmate when making my remark. There were times when my poetry was mutilated by red ink because I rhymed too much and yielded to the muses not enough. Let inspiration take hold of you, I can hear my instructor saying, let the poem go where it wants to go.

 
It was a funny, upside-down place. Sometimes when I think about it, I can hardly believe it was real – all that was said, all that was done, the places I went, the people that I knew, the things that I learned. It was a place that wildly confused me, but a place in which I flourished, found my voice and in a roundabout way, my faith. I grew up around God, in an Evangelical home, and came to love Him in a childlike, innocent way until I entered High School. At such an organic, flower-child place, you reap what you sow. You get what you put in. One seeks and finds his or her own truth and forges a path accordingly. I found it to be very intimidating and challenging for my young, Evangelical inquiry. I grew up in a place where there was one truth, and carried this truth into a place with many. I believe I grew to know God more through being challenged and learned how to navigate a world without borders.

But at the end of it, I needed to be reaffirmed; I needed to know that I wasn’t alone. I needed to know that there were professors and academics who professed more than just their knowledge, but faith in Jesus Christ as well. I knew Christ to be the cornerstone of my life, but I needed to see His work in the lives of others and I needed to meet some brothers and sisters who lived out His love. I wanted to know God and experience a true community of believers. So, I came to Gordon College.

On Returning Home to a New Land

I suppose I’ve always been aware of the secret meaning of Home. What I mean is that I must have always known it, like a breeze that whispers by my ear, hearing it only as it passes. The truth about Home seems to be one of those truths that is always told but scarcely known, one of those everlasting truths that lives untouchable in the spirit of man – the kind of truth that only wise old mothers and grey-bearded fathers seem to know. And I think it will always be true to us no matter our own willingness to be ever true to it, because the fact is, your Home will never be a place, it will always be the people to whom you belong.

I know, I know. It’s so simple it’s stupid. But it took a 15 hour travel day, 3 connecting flights, a bus ride, and a three week journey for me to figure out. This winter break, two days before Christmas, I packed my things and boarded a plane to attend my brother’s wedding in Marseille, France, ultimately discovering a new meaning of what it means to be Home. As all my college friends were shipping off to California, Kansas or Illinois to be home with their families for Christmas, I was touching ground in a place I’d never before been and kissing family members I’d never before met – my brother’s parents-in-law, siblings-in-law, aunts and uncles-in-law, cousins-in-law, and grandmas-in-law.

The time I spent in France this winter was an extended celebration between two families from different continents. We feasted, played, danced, and “fait la fête” night after night. We celebrated the birth of Christ, the new year, and the marriage of our families together. It was the most splendid three weeks I’ve ever experienced. And it taught me a very important lesson about Home. The minute my mother, father, and I arrived at the front door of our new French family’s house, we were surrounded by an outpouring of love and welcoming. Home truly does transcend place. It is a belonging given to you by those who love you most. Whether that place is this same in which you grew up, or an entirely different destination with a different language, culture, and customs. I returned back to school after my Winter Break having been home and having felt the warmth of my own bed, without ever having touched it.

View of Marseille Sea Port from the Cathedral

 

What I Got Right This Semester

One year ago, on a retreat at a bed and breakfast in Rockport, I was gathered with a group of virtual strangers and asked to write about will be said at my funeral. I sat, legs crossed at the feet of people named Hannah, Anna, Jess, and David, slowly carving little, precise letters between the lines of my spiral notebook, hoping my mind would give some sort of substance to my words by the time they were formed on the page. I was a sophomore and in the middle of a year of distancing myself from people, partly because I was an RA (RAs have the unique responsibility of being a parent figure on the hall) and partly because I hadn’t quite found my place at Gordon. After a great Freshman year with lost to do and many new friends with whom to do them, I was lonely and had gotten used to attaching myself only transiently to others – as a classmate, a group member or Resident Advisor. All of those blank faces and new names I learned during our first Elijah Project retreat last January I have now learned to say over and over again for the past four months so that they have become a patchwork of who I am. Now, there is no Kelly without Amelia, and no Jorge without Lis. It is all one name because we are all one community called Dexter (the house that we call home).

It’s January 2013 and I finally have my answer to the probing question asked of me at our Elijah Project retreat. At my funeral, I want it to be remarked of me, “what a good friend he was.” I want that to be unanimous. I want to be such a good friend throughout my life so that by the end of it, I will be remembered for what I’ve invested in others. And if there’s one thing I’ve done right this year, it is investing in my time, my effort, and my gifts into my community. It has been hard, but the investments I’ve made in these new friends have paid enormous dividends already. There’s something beautiful that comes from giving your whole self to a group of people to which you also commit yourself to loving. And if you’re doing it right, it means partly surrounding your pride, independence, and self-reliance. Doing so is a risk but once the love and trust you invest in others is tested and established, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. This community of people has truly made my fifth semester at Gordon both life-giving and life-changing.

A Dexter House Christmas (featuring Santa Carmer)