My favorite music genre is classic rock and metal. When I arrived at Saint Louis University three years ago, I was proud that my iTunes was full of “real music,” music that had stood the test of time and did not bend in the breeze of pop culture.
I did not expect the breeze that has blown through my iTunes these three years at SLU. If I were forced into one of those Facebook games where I had to post my most played songs, the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th would read1: “Kiss on My List” by Hall and Oates, “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” by Katy Perry, and, uh… how to put this… “[African-American Gentlemen] in Paris” by Kanye and Jay-Z. I can’t deny that this demands explanation.
Here it is: over the past few years, in addition to my philosophy studies, I’ve served SLU’s Greeks as a chaplain, and I first heard each of these songs on road trips while leading Greeks on spring break mission trips. Whenever I hear them, I am transported to Jonesville, VA and to the consolation of serving both the residents of Appalachia and the SLU undergraduates themselves. Whenever I hear those three songs I sense God supporting me through a community that has become near and dear to my heart. At the risk of sounding saccharine, the SLU Greek community has been a sacrament to me – they’ve been signs of God’s patient love and vessels of grace; they have taught me how to minister to others through God’s agenda of love and justice instead of my own.
When I arrived at SLU, I heard that there was a possibility to serve undergrads by helping with a Greek Bible study. One thing led to another… All of a sudden, I was meeting Greek after Greek, getting to know officers, helping coordinate mission trips, and generally getting to know the Greeks and offering them a Jesuit available for whatever their needs were. Now it does help that I am a Greek – a former Warden (pledgemaster) and Chaplain (ritual master) within my own PiKapp chapter. I knew I could speak the lingo and understand the bonds that are formed through rituals, so I figured I could show up, be the SLU Greeks’ mentor, and, you know, generally save the day.
It’s while I was daydreaming that it hit me: I had never previously led a Bible study. Or planned a mission trip. Or taught anyone how to lead an examen. Or planned a prayer service for a sorority member who would soon undergo a bone marrow transplant. Or ministered to students whose personal and family lives had been ravaged. Or dialogued with atheists in areas like religion, philosophy, and science. Or served those who felt excluded by the church. These circumstances called me to open my own windows and let the breeze come in. This breeze has invigorated me in at least three ways and has led me to depend more on Wisdom and less on my own Greek collegiate experience.
- Greek Lesson #1 – I am grateful for the ways that SLU’s Greeks have helped me grow in my own Jesuit identity. Greek emphasis on community life has caused me to question the way that I both live in community with my Jesuit brothers and work in conjunction with lay colleagues. Having worked with Greek’s I’ve learned to ask: Do I sense factions, or am I a part of one myself within my community? Do I really love those with whom I live and serve, or do I live and serve with them as a matter of convenience? Do I take community prayer and ritual seriously, or do I crack jokes, screw around, and make it clear that I am thinking of 15 other places I’d rather be? Greeks and Jesuits need to ask themselves these same difficult questions, and SLU’s Greeks have helped me answer them.
- Greek Lesson #2 – I am grateful for the ways that SLU’s Greeks have modeled and taught me healthy leadership practices. In college as a fraternity officer, I learned what not to do as a leader… you know, like bankrupt a chapter and cause a schism between classes. At SLU, Greeks have impressed me with their leadership. I have witnessed Greeks lead some of the largest organizations on campus, from Student Government to OneWorld magazine, from SLU Dance Marathon to SLU Relay for Life. These leaders have shown me how to be more assertive, more organized, and more collaborative. As they used their gifts and talents to help fill needs within the larger community, I’ve learned to take initiative to do the same. There’s no room for rash decision-making and factions in a leader’s portfolio, an important lesson for this young Jesuit in a Society of Jesus that is calling its men to be leaders at a younger age.
- Greek Lesson #3 – Of course SLU Greek life isn’t just a bunch of toga parties where everyone is happy and healthy. The university has suspended two fraternities and has placed others on probation since I arrived here. I’ve met with chapter presidents to discuss concerns I have had about particular social practices. Some rivalries between fraternities and sororities can be toxic. All of this has placed me in areas of tension where I need to be just, and a reconciler. As I near the end of my time as a graduate student at SLU, I find that I am grateful for these tough times as well, because it was in those moments that the Spirit was especially palpable, and because it allowed both me and the Greeks to mature. Even more, these interactions with Greeks invite me to humility in two particular ways. First, I now know that I need that breeze of Wisdom to blow so I sense what to say and how to say it. Often prayer before these meetings allows me to release frustration and invite the Spirit to fill me with charity and clarity. Second… honestly, I did the same stuff in college. Cognizant of this, I’ve come to appreciate the grace of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises: that I am a loved sinner. And so are the Greeks. I am an unworthy servant because I am no better than them, and yet I have been chosen to serve them. It keeps me from getting proud.
Pope Francis – himself “lowly, but chosen” – told the priests of Diocese of Rome on Holy Thursday that they needed to be “shepherds living with the ‘smell of the sheep’.” I do not smell completely like SLU’s Greeks – unless they also use Old Spice – and I still love my classic rock and metal. However, my iTunes is now richer for having served them, and so am I.
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Cover image courtesy of Saint Louis University, used with permission of SLU’s Student Involvement Center.
- I’ll let you guess what’s #1… ↩