Wishing I Could be Three Again

Hello from the study,

It has been an interesting 5 months. It is, almost to the day, that amount of time we started a Spring Break and the fear of COVID was becoming more of a reality. Since that time, the world has been turned upside down and that is a profound understatement. A CBS news report that was updated on March 14, 2020 noted there were 32 deaths in the United States. Five months later, we are at 162,000 and increasing about a thousand a day. We are at 5.05 million cases, and there is still no vaccine and there is still more we still to not understand than we do. I am not pointing fingers; I am not blaming; and I am certainly not trying to be political in these comments. I am saying that we live in a different world, and yet, I am not sure what that means because I have little ability to understand all the consequences. I am not a medical professional; I am not an economist; I am not a global anthropologist; I am merely a person who, while educated and someone who I believe is thoughtful, is simply trying to find my way in a world that is both implicitly and explicitly changed from when I left for a spring break back in March of this year.

The reality of COVID hit me a bit differently last week when I woke up in the middle of the night with a fever and maintained a fever through the next day. Because of some of my underlying issues, a call to our regional medical center verified I should be tested. So I had an appointment and then had a wait time of 24-48 hours. While I did not feel excruciatingly terrible, the stress of waiting for results was palpable. Fortunately, the news received Sunday evening was my test was negative. I still have some symptoms that show me there is something going on, but I will have to work through it. If the symptoms continue, I would consider a second test. While I intentionally try to stay away from statistics and gloomy, doomsday, predictions, there is little doubt we are living a global version of the tail-wagging-the-dog. Again, I am not blaming anyone; I am not trying to question why something was done or not done; it is merely pretty apparent that this virus has a virility that is different than most anything we have faced before. This morning, while driving to drop off a book, I heard a news item about two women (one in her 30s and the other in her 50s), who both tested negative, eventually tested positive and 4 months later are still struggling significantly with the consequences of being afflicted with COVID. The story was not sensationalized because of where I listened, but it was certainly frightening. There seems to be not specific rhyme nor reason to why some things happen to some and not to others. It will take time and a body of evidence to see what the best course is. As for me, I seem to have my own pattern over the past few days and we will see what happens.

As I have been working on school things, I have made good progress, but there is still so much to do in BOLT, our course management system (CMS) or things I want to manage. I am trying to layer things in a different manner because I have learned clearly there are a number of things necessary to meet as many as possible in the most efficient way possible. One of the things I have noted from the outset is what we will have societally on the other side of this is also something beyond most of our cognitive capabilities. I do believe the realm of higher education will be forever changed. The role of moving toward distance/remote teaching, which is a current push, and something that was being pushed before March, will be in overdrive now. What it will do in terms of residential college life is profound. What it will do in terms of helping a student move from high school to the professional world will be forever altered. Consider this: even if you went to college 40 years ago or 10, part of college is leaving home, living in a new community, learning how to manage your life beyond the walls of your own bedroom or with your parents managing all of your requirements. Part of college is being exposed to new ideas, new options, new possibilities. Part of college is figuring out who you are and what you want to do for the rest of your working years. Everything being required as we return to the new year flies in the face of that. It it antithetical. It honestly turns it all on its head. That is what is happening and we have no idea the consequence. However, I can assure you, there will be consequences, and consequence is not completely pejorative. Certainly, remote learning puts a great deal more responsibility on everyone in the class, and there is something good about that. However, the isolation and change in terms of socialization will be something significant.

This moves me to the initial things I have pondered as I moved toward this blog posting. Again, I have a couple others even started, but life seems to get in the way of those thought processes; emotions seem to push me in a different direction; questions about the why of something haunt me much like the words of the narrator in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. At the end of the story, the narrator, who is death, notes they are “haunted by humans.” I think I am more haunted by our human condition and what seems to be a growing lack of societal compassion. I continue to struggle to understand how we can be so callous about the other. Even more than the first time I watched Glee, the tears have streamed down my face as I am working through the series again. I am using some of it in my first year writing class as one of their assignments is to create a memoir in the form of a Google Map they will someday give to a future son or daughter. One of their books, which I am going to allow either as a Kindle or even an audio book, is Naya Rivera’s memoir Sorry, Not Sorry. It is rather well written and it certainly has the sassiness of Santana Lopez. As I took at the characters a second time and how their identity is developed in the series, as well as the significant societal issues the series deal with over the six year run, it is really a testament to both the creators and the actors how they made their characters come to life. As I noted above, college is a time to begin to understand one’s self. It is a time to move beyond the protection of one’s family, using their experiences as a foundation that supports them in their quest for moving into real adulthood. From where is that foundation most firmly grounded for someone. For me, I realize even more so now that it occurred when I was between the ripe old years of 2 1/2 and 3 (to almost 4). It is the time I wish I could return to somehow, knowing at least some of what I know now (and I realize returning there from a month shy of 65 seems a bit extreme). Why there? A reasonable question. It is the one time in my life I think I was truly happy and I felt safe. That is it.

I do not ever remember living with my biological parents. My sister and I were picked up by my paternal grandparents after being left alone on multiple occasions by our parents, even though I was less than 2 and my sister was probably 6-8 months old. After one particular instance, according to what I was told, my grandparents told my parents they could not have us back. By this time, my mother, who was not yet 19 was pregnant a third time and my father, from what I know, was headed to Huntsville, the well-known Texas State Penitentiary, for some relaxation time. I am not exactly sure what prompted his incarceration, but I do know it would not be the last time he spent time as a ward of a state. While my grandparents owned a bakery, I have vivid memories of living at their house as a toddler. Many aspects of my own home at this point are reminiscent of the acreage my grandparents owned (they had about three to four acres of land) at the edge of an area of Sioux City called Leeds. I have not always made this parallels consciously, but I realize from time to time through observation and even some experiential processes, there is more of them here yet today than I have intended. Perhaps that subconscious parallelism is because it is a time I remember with such appetency. It was the time in my life I felt the most loved and valued. One of the first pictures I remember of me as a small child was sitting on the gargantuan baking table that ran almost the entire length of the humongous main back area of the Scandinavian Bakery. I am sitting in the middle of the table with my own little rolling pin rolling out dough with the biggest smile on my little face. I remember sitting inside the huge mixing bowls of the floor mixers and being pushed around the table like a race track. I remember (even years later) playing with the old-style adding machine, amazed by the sound of the clicking keys and the tape upon which all the printed numbers were. It is a wonder I did not become an accountant.

My grandfather worked both at the bakery and at the Sioux City Stockyards, which was one of the three largest the country in terms of size, but I think was often the largest in terms of receipts. I remember walking the catwalks between stalls with him as he moved cattle around. I remember that he could wrestle a steer if need be and I thought he was the strongest man in the world. He also sat on the back porch steps with me at night, helping me overcome my fear of the great-horned owl that would perch itself on our telephone wire. I was both mesmerized and frightened by the sound and the size of this majestic bird. So many nights he sat with me and would talk to me about the owl. I do not remember anything he said, but I do remember he told me there was no reason to fear this incredible bird. I remember them making homemade ice cream and I remember sitting on laps in the den of their house, which to this day is one of the favorite spaces I was ever blessed to be comforted in. I remember the wonderful couches and the green-shaded lights that were on wooden bases. I remember the small black and white television that sat diagonally on the small corner table, which we would watch. I remember sitting on laps and being read to. What I remember feeling most was that I was loved and safe in this little house. It was not a ostentatious dwelling, but it had a wonderful living room and dining room. It had a country-sized kitchen much like I have now.

The kitchen was a place of amazing food, wonderful smells, and each meal that seemed to be prepared with both thought and care. To this day, by comfort food is two poached eggs, a piece of toast, from fresh baked bread, and a half of grapefruit. My grandmother was a firm believer in a wholesome breakfast. I have the egg poacher; I have a toaster and generally only by pretty stellar bread; and grapefruit, while I am not supposed to eat it with taking a statin, still finds its way from time to time on the acre. I learned to love all vegetables, I learned to not eat sugar, and because my grandfather worked at a stockyards, some kind of protein was always a main course. I remember an outdoor fireplace where they grilled out. Those of you who have visited the acre do not have to think very deeply to see the parallels. I guess in many ways I have worked hard to reinvent my three-year-old safe haven. Love and safety . . . it is those two things that I believe are essential to anyone having hope. It is those two things that offer a sense of possibility, that allow someone to be themselves without fear or trembling. It is those two things that seem to be most lacking in our society at present. I spoke earlier this evening with a former student and now friend and we chatted about the idea that too many are unwilling to hear the other, to offer the other an opportunity to share without judgment. I have a student now whose parents and they have almost diametrically opposing views to me in terms of our political leanings. And yet we can speak, respect, and appreciate the other. We can even rib each other about this upcoming election. I have listened to the student as they have been concerned about being ostracized by others because of their conservative views. Those fears have created tears for this student. That is not okay. It is not the way we want our world, our country, our state, or even our campus to function. I have stood up for their right to believe and vote as they will. Even as I disagree, I respect them. Much to some of the disbelief of those who want to argue I am indoctrinating them with my liberal point of view. I want then to feel the same safety I felt as a three year old. What I realize is the amazing gift my grandparents gave me through their love and bringing me into their house. My grandfather, who smoked Pall Mall straights, would die of lung cancer before I was three. That would eventually create a cascade of events that would lead to an adoption. Regardless of all those changes, those three years at 4547 Harrison Street in Sioux City created a foundation that still shines through me today. I care about people and I want them to feel safe and wanted regardless their ethnicity, their intelligence, their gender, their religion, their preferences, or their politics. I wish sometimes I could relive that time because I felt loved and safe in ways I perhaps never have since.

As I have worked on my class and considered the idea of identity as a foundational principle of my first year writing class, my re-acquaintance with Glee has continued. The tears continue to stream as I watch how that choir room becomes the safe place for the New Direction members. Many songs that demonstrate that care and acceptance, but one I saw again recently reaches out in ways that I think demonstrate acceptance that goes beyond the simple. Enjoy . . .

As always, thank you for reading and to my students for the semester who find this, welcome.

Dr. Martin

Don’t Stop Believin’

Hello from the study at home,

I am always amazed by the response of people, the way people interact, communicate, or even reflect on their own selves (and this is about me as much as anyone else). Sometimes I believe my propensity for reflection is the well-known, need-to-be-cautious, and proverbial double-edged sword. It offers the opportunity, the possibility to imagine things; it provides me creative stimulation in almost every area of my life. It provides me with the desire to always improve, to refuse complacency. All of these things are positive, and generally they have been the driving force behind any success I have achieved. And yet, there is that counter-balance, the thing that has established a certain level of melancholia that never seems too far away in my daily life. A questioning that makes me also imagine what if somethings had not happened? What if I had grown up in a biological family instead of an adopted one? What if somehow I was carried to term might I have avoided the affliction of Crohn’s Disease and the long-term consequences of 11 abdominal surgeries or the drug therapies that have created some of the serious repercussions that now are part of my life? It is wrong to imagine what if? It is somewhat futile to engage in such, should I say, folly? There are those times where my desire to opine might be ineffectual at best and perhaps somewhat lame at worst. There are some who might assert that such a dream is little more than fantasy and such things are more hurtful than comforting. Is it all true?

I will agree it creates some hurt or longing for something else, but I am not completely convinced such pondering is wrong or completely malevolent to myself. When I see families that seem to manage that infamous nuclear grouping, more than hurt it provides me hope. When I see how two people can love each other when there are times of economic stress, can support each other in the struggles of juggling multiple schedules, or demonstrate a commitment to family above all else, I simultaneously wish I might have experienced more of that growing up and feeling hopeful because I see, and believe, it can still happen. In the last couple days a teacher, coach, and eventual district administrator, and the husband of my one of my childhood neighbors passed away. They were married for between 56 (almost 57) years. That is incredible, and her commitment to him as he disappeared through the terrible disease of Alzheimer’s never wavered. Commitment like that is grounded in believing in the goodness of the other regardless how much they have changed, what they say, or how incongruent their actions are. And yet the pain of losing your life-long love, piece by piece or day by day, is excruciating. There is nothing that can prepare you for the disappearing act that occurs before your very eyes. It is difficult in this time to be so far away from a family that was so much a part of my growing up and as COVID makes normal possibilities of mourning no longer normal. It is difficult to believe that we might get back to a time when we can gather in the ways we have been accustomed to assembling in this significant time, with little understanding yet of what is beyond.

What is required to believe in another person or even in possibilities? This is a difficult question. When I was speaking with a good friend earlier today, a former student, and incredibly talented person, and an even more amazing mother, we chatted about the necessity of resilience. There are a number of words that are synonymous, but I appreciate resilience because of what it means literally . . . from the Latin root resilire, which means to rebound or even more accurately to leap back, and while some might consider that a sort of recoiling, I prefer to see it has leaping up and forward. I have mused at times it would be nice to have a summer job of boring; merely to find out what it would be like. It would be so much easier to have that sort of simplicity, but then again, I am pretty sure I would get bored with being bored quite quickly. Why is it there seems to be that I must always be doing something? In fact, a former student just noted in a response to another on my Facebook timeline that they wished I would slow down. There are times I wish that also, but there is more to that than I would like to admit. When I was in graduate school, both before a hiatus to work on a marriage as well as after, it was a difficult time. I think my PhD earning colleagues would agree it is one of the more stressful times in a person’s life. I have noted more than once, I was in counseling the entire time I went to Michigan Tech. I refer to it regularly as my one hour of sanity a week. When I returned to Tech the fall of 2000, my divorce was about a month from being finalized; I had lost everything I owned; and I was subletting a furnished little cabin on the portage. Fortunately, I was able to get a job, had an incredibly supportive committee, and finally, I had a focus. I also had some super graduate school colleagues from both my first stint as well as new ones to be involved with as I found my way back to Houghton. So, I was a full-time student, a full-time Graduate Teaching Instructor (GTI), and I worked pretty close to full-time in a restaurant. I also slept about 3 1/2 hours a day, though I would try to get one somewhat normal 8 hours at least once a week. This would not have been quite as taxing if I was in my twenties, but instead I was in my forties. During a particularly difficult time, when I was sent to the nurse practitioner for some support at the direction of my counselor, she asked me,

“When was the last time you slept 8 hours?” My question back to her was,
“Do you mean 8 hours straight?” And when she said, “Yes.” I responded,
“Thirty years ago.” Thinking I was joking, she said, “I am being serious.” I responded,
“So am I.” She was rather flabbergasted at that and then had more questions. Because of my own background, I knew where these questions were headed, and I was not pleased. When asked a series of questions, I knew precisely where the NP was headed, and to be honest, I was not very compliant. Regardless, she got what she needed, and wanted to put me on medication. I had been against the sort of diagnosis du jour for quite some time and I was certainly not going to change my feelings about that after a series of questions. Because of a bigger picture at the time, I did end up on some medication to help me sleep, and to be honest, it helped. However, after a few months, I continued to work with my counselor and decided that cognitive therapy was probably more conducive to my maintaining a modicum of healthy living. While I could give you a run down of all the things occurring in my life at that time, I won’t. Let’s just say, I was struggling, but somehow, thanks, primarily to my counselor at MTU, I was able to pull through. Why tell you this in this blog? Because it pushes me to finally admit why it is I seem to be able to go most times like the proverbial Energizer bunny, and yet at other times struggle to manage daily tasks or keep my calendar or daily life organized. Why was it at the age of two I was already making my bed or dressing myself and sitting at the bottom of the stair landing waiting for others to get up. It compelled me to see that Kris, my sister, and I had more in common than I want to admit. The NP diagnosed me as Bipolar II. When I was told this in graduate school, I rejected it. In fact my response to her was an exclamatory, “F you; you can kiss my ass.” Neither professional or helpful. I took Zoloft for a period and I actually slept 8 hours straight more than once. This admission for me is still difficult. Now I take no medication and work mostly through diet and trying to be healthier in my basic lifestyle, and yet, there are times I know her diagnosis was correct.

It gets back to my title for the blog. It is easy to be sidetracked, to lose perspective, to stop believing in the possibilities or the dreams we have dreamt. Possibilities and dreams provide hope, and hope is something we desperately need as we face this uncertain world. Sometimes, and presently maybe often, it is necessary to step back and look beyond ourselves. This is a fundamental – and necessary – human characteristic, but it is easily overshadowed when we have been enculturated to believe that individualism is the overarching requirement of freedom. I understand this is an opinion, but I believe that the mandate of individualism at all costs equals freedom is a misunderstanding. Freedom is about the ability to love and care for the other. It is about giving a damn about something larger than yourself. Recently when I was asked why I am willing to see the other person as equally important or how I became a person who wanted to accept the other versus reject them because of their difference I think my response caught that individual off guard. My answer was that the person’s own family taught me that lesson when I was in elementary school. One of the family members was profoundly mentally handicapped, to the point of being institutionalized. That child was brought back home on a regular basis. The disabilities were physical, mental, and verbal. The consequences were extreme and for someone 8 years old, it was overwhelming and frightening. However, as we would visit each time they came home, we learned to interpret expressions, movements, and sounds. We learned that they were an individual worthy of respect and love as much as anyone else. I learned to not be afraid. I learned to accept and I learned that our interaction was profoundly important for them also. It was an important lesson that has stuck with me. It caused me to look beyond the obvious to believe there was more to this individual than I could ever imagine. It prepared me to be able to accept others throughout my life in a way I could have never probably be capable of doing.

What is required to believe in something? The variety of things we choose or, perhaps, need to believe in, are myriad in number, and what is required in times of uncertainty is probably even more obtuse, more difficult to ascertain. I wish I had an easy answer, but I most certainly do not. Believing in this case, at least for me, is closely connected to hope and trust. When things do not work, when we seem to have little control, it is easy to lose hope, to have our trust shaken or even shattered. That is simultaneously precisely the moment when we must continue to believe in the possibilities. It is the cost of discipleship as Bonhoeffer said. Believing in troubled times is neither easy nor accomplished without struggle. Much like the grace of God, it is not cheap to believe when most all around us seems more dystopian than not. I refuse to give in to those who would have us believe we cannot do better. I refuse to allow myself (though there are moments) to continually accept that we are a country willing to separate families, abuse authority, and act in a manner that rejects the words on the tablet in the arms of a Statue in New York harbor. I will continue to believe we are a better people than that. We are, and should be, a people willing to care about the health of our elders, our marginalized, our vulnerable, our neighbors. Don’t stop believing there are options which can move us forward in a manner allowing and understanding the inner-connection of individual rights and national identity. Don’t stop believing in the call of freedom that belongs to us individually, but is so much more profoundly apparent when we work together. As I have been wont to do lately, what made the incredible twelve Glee individuals successful in the show was their ability to overcome their individual significant trials and work for the better angels they collectively brought (I am referring to their characters more than their personal lives). In spite of all of it, they did not stop believing.

As I move toward another semester, it will be unlike any semester I have taught. Because of my own health issues, I am required to teach remotely. Because I was not supposed to be here, but rather in Poland this fall, I have a schedule that has been finalized rather last minute. I will have three sections of Freshman Writing (75 first semester freshmen online). Anyone who has taught any first year writing class knows the importance of community in that class and the laborious nature of acclimating freshmen to the jump in expectations is significant. Doing it remotely will require even more time, but it is as it is. The fourth section this fall is Technical Writing. It is my hope that we will be able find a space and process that will provide them with the best experience possible. I believe that can happen, but it will take dedication and hard work from all (and yes, that includes me). I believe it the power of community and hard work. It has served me well for almost 65 years most of the time. Well . . . off to do some of that work. The version of “Don’t Stop Believin'” here is the version that was sung during the two-episode 100th show of Glee. Wherever you are, “don’t stop” . . . . keep going. This version and what the show accomplished for so many people keeps me believin’, and as I often do, it makes me cry, but I love the care it demonstrates.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Nobody Said it was Easy

Hello from the acre on a cloudy, but busy, day.

This morning as I went to water the garden, which up until now my fence seemed effective, two of my tomato plants and a squash planted has served as sustenance for my roaming deer. I am not sure if the two tomato plants will recover and the squash plant is not too damaged, so I was out with the deer-be-gone bottle attached to the hose. Hopefully it will do the trick. I also sprayed the yard and everything around for about 20 feet, so we will see what happens. In addition, I had plumbers here this morning to manage servicing both toilets in the house as well as the hot water faucet in the downstairs bathroom. For the first time since I have lived in the house, I think everything is working up to par. That is a great thing. I should also note that both of the service plumbers wore a mask as did I while they were here. I also went on a cleaning frenzy in my kitchen, watered plants indoors, and have now sat in on a Covid Response Presentation from Geisinger Health System over the last little more than an hour, which was profoundly informative. Last, and certainly not least, it seems I have a bit more of an idea of what my classes will be during the fall. The story behind all of that is an entire post in and of itself, but I will refrain. Suffice it to say it has been taxing (and that has nothing to do with the fact that tax day this year was July 15th).

I continue to be more profoundly affected than I expected by the death of Naya Rivera and my listening to the music of the show has been a way for me to mourn, or pay tribute, in my own private manner. I felt some of that when Cory Monteith passed and again some when Mark Salling, so I do not know if it is a cumulative thing or it is because I feel even worse because Ms. Rivera was able to provide entre for so many others because of her ethnicity and the character she played as well as like the others, she was incredibly talented and lost far too soon. Perhaps it is also that it appears her passing was the consequence of trying to save her son. Each time I write that, focus on that aspect, I have literal shivers in my body. What I realize in the case of each of these incredibly talented individuals all the fame, success, or other consequences of being on a groundbreaking show did not make their lives easier. Perhaps, in fact, it can be argued it did exactly the opposite. Making in the neighborhood of 80,000 dollars an episode, which is where some of them were, is a responsibility. It requires someone in their mid-20s to mature, manage, and understand things few are prepared to understand. And while the success is perhaps admirable, there is little doubt it causes monumental changes in every aspect of that individual’s daily existence. Our consumer society flashes around them like an unlimited candy-store, and now they can buy most anything they want. Yet, it is fleeting. While the main characters on the show are well-known, and they have experienced something few do, how long does it last? More importantly, can it be replicated when the the final episode is done? I do not think any single one of that cast (who were not already established and beyond their twenties) has been able to see themselves as simply the person for whom life merely continues. It is not easy to be seen as something different than or other than a member of the show choir, New Directions, from McKinley High School. The cost of fame is steep; the responsibility is never ending. Is that reasonable, I would say, “Certainly not!” But we foist this because of our national obsession with the biggest star, the most incredible athlete, the most (you fill in the blank).

It also got me thinking beyond. As I noted in the last post, there was a time when life was simpler. Simpler was have a sense of security it seems; it was knowing that you could count on coming home and it would be there; it was believing that your parents would take care of the things you needed, and even if things were a bit tough, you were not aware because they would not let you know of their struggles. Yes, we learned about the things of the world; we were aware of the difficulties in the bigger world; and yet, most importantly, we did not worry about them because of the list that precedes this one. Whether or not we were aware of the larger struggles, we somehow believed that it would all be okay. Yet, why can I write this? That is an important thing to consider and ponder. I am able to write it because I grew up in a white, blue-collar, basic, middle-class family. As I noted in a recent blog, I did not worry about the discrimination many of the black and brown people lived with on a daily basis; in fact, I had no clue what they dealt with. I need to be honest about that. Life was not simple for them; they all lived in one section of my town, but I did not realize that. More importantly, we seldom stopped in that section of town. I realize now what that means. I realize so much more now about how I believe we worked to make our own lives simple, or at least I thought so, and yet we seldom worked to imagine the life of the other. It was not a conversation that would have even occurred to me. What I am so much more aware of now is easy is a relative term. It is what we believed we should have, what we were entitled to, what supposed hard work and keeping our noses clean, as my father would say, would accomplish. What makes life easy? This is not an easy question.

What I realize now, at least for me, easy is about contentment; it is about a sense of peacefulness; it is about believing in the possibilities or being able to chase a dream. Easy does not come easily, however. As we get caught up in accumulating, seldom are we content. When we believe there is more to do, more to accomplish, more to complete, seldom are we at peace with ourselves or those around us. As we are worried about living out or dream or seeing possibilities as simply that, merely a possibility and not a requirement, it is easy to lose sight of both. If we only understood more profoundly the consequence of choice at an earlier age, then, perhaps, we might find it more possible to see where we might go or what we might achieve. Again, what happens when someone is born into a situation where the ability to accumulate is not likely? What happens when strife because of a lack of basic essentials makes peace merely a concept? What happens when dreams become more a realization of what will not happen? Even in my own part of town, where there were few who probably lived much more than from paycheck to paycheck, there were some who struggled to even have a regular paycheck at all. I had a Sunday School teacher whose husband made probably little more than minimum wage or certainly struggled to make a living wage. It was all the more difficult when they had 5 or 6 children who ranged from late teens to barely in school. They seldom had a working automobile and they lived on a dirt street and often they walked to church through the rain and the mud. And yet, my Sunday morning teacher seldom complained, always had a smile on their face, and would give to another when they barely had something for themselves. To this day, I marvel at this individual. I believe they are still alive and in their 90s.

I have noted in a number of blogs that I seldom dated in high school. During my senior year we had newly built schools and a reorganized school district. Where I attended my senior year, the majority of minority students in my town attended that same school. During my senior year, I had a number of classes with one particular classmate. She was intelligent, personable, thoughtful, beautiful, and black. I did not really think of her as a black student, I saw her as a friend and someone who made me laugh. One day she asked me if I would like to go to a movie. I was stunned, not because of her ethnicity, but rather because she was so beautiful and I was not that amazing. It took me less than a second to accept. When I got home that night I told my parents I had a date. They were also stunned, but for a different reason; I only when out maybe three times my entire time in high school. My dad even allowed me to use their second car. I did bring my friend home to meet my parents, and they were cordial, but when I got home that night, my father told me that I needed to sit my ass down. Yikes!

He asked me, What I was thinking?
I asked, innocently, “What?”
His response, “You went to the movie with a black girl.”
My response, to which he was not amused, “She was?”
Again, he told me in no uncertain terms that was not acceptable.
My response, even then, was, “She is my friend. I would have probably been okay had I stopped there, but those of you who know me, know that was not the case. I told him that I would promise to go out with her three or four more times before I would propose to her. He was not amused. I tell that story because I did not consider my parents as racist, but through that as well as a later statement by my father that stated, “I have known black people, but I have never been friends with one.” told me just how bigoted that generation was. Indeed, life could never be easy when that is what the average white, middle-class, person held as a common attitude.

As I noted in my last blog, the passing of Naya Rivera has been a difficult and emotional thing. As I have pondered the rationale for that, I believe what has been so significant for me what how this amazing six year run of the show so honestly considered the complexity of what many people face in their daily lives and dealt with it in a forthright and thoughtful manner. There is nothing easy about growing up, and as we are in the midst of a global health crisis, any misperception that it will get easier is a pipedream. I have gotten a regular stream of phone calls over the past couple weeks from students asking my thoughts and advice about what might happen concerning our coming semester. I have been thoughtful and honest with them. I tell them what I have a sense of, but also remind them that I am not part of a university committee who are considering the complexity of what coming back to Bloomsburg entails. I also advise them to contact their landlords if they are living off campus. I remind them that communication is essential if they are to prepare for whatever the fall might bring. For those who are coming to college for the first time, I can only imagine what might be going through their minds. For those who are about to graduate, their senior years are much more complex than they imagined as freshmen three years ago. For those who have been teaching or working at the university, life as it was seems unlikely to return anytime soon, if at all. Indeed, no one said it would be easy, but I am quite sure we were not prepared for this. We need a strategy, but we need that at a university level, at a system level, at the state and the federal level. Such a take will never be easy when what we are attempting to manage is nothing like we have tried before. It will never be easy when we seem to have a national situation that is fragmented and seemingly dishonest. There is no easy silver bullet, and, again, to believe there is will do little to confront Covid’s complexity. Leadership is not something that can only be initiated publically, it is well-evidenced these past five months that it will take each of individually doing our level best to get in front of this deadly situation. Anything less is a failure and cheapens each individual life we have lost. Again, this is not about easy, it is about what is right, what is moral, and what is necessary. Finally in honor again of the loss of a mother and a talented person, I offer another song from the series Glee.

Thank you as always for reading; I wish you each health and safety, a sense of peace and hope.

Michael

How Television Creates our Reality: From Little House to Glee

Hello,

It has been close to a month since I posted. I have written more than once, but did not feel the post was doing justice to the topics or concerns at hand, I did not post. Sometimes, things need to percolate a bit more. Sometimes, what I believed to be important in the moment now seems less kairotic or as appropriate as it did, and as such it is best to let the thought pass. Sometimes silence is the best policy and then again sometimes, the daily viewmaster of pictures is so absurd, I have no words. As I have been in a somewhat creatively-unable-to-write hiatus, I have continued to cook, to tend things on the acre, and attempt to respond to the trolling of both a hometown/neighborhood family friend and a college floormate. Those things have taken some energy and patience, but if I am going to be out there and express my thoughts, there is a consequence. Second, and more importantly, just because I disagree (and I would like to believe my disagreements are based in fact and logic), I do realize there are converse or opposing opinions which have validity and deserve my thought or consideration also. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of sorts, and the world situation, and more so the national situation, are disconcerting to put it mildly. When I struggle to find a comfortable space, I remember things I appreciate. This blog is about some of that.

When I was growing up in the 60s, we got our first color television when I was in 5th or 6th grade. It was a Motorola Quasar. It was incredible and shortly thereafter, in addition to Channels 4 and 9, we got the third Channel of 14. We thought we were quite amazing. The television did not really go on that much before our 5:00 dinnertime, but it was on most evenings, though I think my bedtime was around 8:30 p.m. at that time. On Saturdays, we got our own bowl of popcorn and got to stay up until 10:00 p.m. to see Gunsmoke, which came on after Death Valley Days. That was quite the treat (both the individual popcorn and the extended time before lights out). Television, as I remember it, played an interesting place in our family life. My father sat in his chair watching or reading the paper. My mother the same. We laid on the floor (the three of us kids), and there was little discussion as to what was watched. I think that was the decision of our parents. We often knew more about what day it was because of the program than what might have happened at school or home that day. Certainly, Saturday and Sunday nights were controlled by the tube, or so it seemed. If we were not at church events on a Sunday evening, it was Lassie, the Wonderful World of Disney, The FBI, and Bonanza. That would take us beyond bedtime and I detested not being able to watch all of Bonanza.

This past week, I had the opportunity to listen to one of the thespians who played a main character in a show I watched regularly, and I was older. It was a show that starred one of the characters in Bonanza, Michael Landon as Pa Ingalls. Melissa Gilbert, who played the author of the amazing children’s books of Little House on the Prairie, was interviewed about what being that childhood actress taught her. She is now in her fifties and lives on a farm in New York. She began her interview showing her chickens and a rooster named Dr. Fauci. She noted that she was like eternally in summer camp playing dress up and asserts that its renewed popularity (it was on the networks before syndication in the 70s and 80s) is because in our current craziness. It might be that it reminded people when life was simpler. I would note that simpler is not synonymous with easier. With its premier during the gas crisis, a recession, and the Watergate Scandal, it, according to Gilbert, looked at the beginning of the country and some of those difficulties, including an incredible episode on racism, with an incredible question asked of Michael Landon, “Would you rather be black and live to be a hundred or white and live to fifty?” Pa Ingalls has no answer, and I am not sure we would want to answer that question today. In addition, as a decades earlier premonition perhaps, there was an episode titled “The Plague,” and also an episode about a quarantine. She again contends, and I believe correctly so, that if we are to get through this current time it will take compassion and community, faith, and love. I couldn’t agree more. She noted that the values of believing the good in people and they are redeemable, which again, she asserts were the beliefs of Michael Landon, have stuck with her (as well as many other life lessons). That we can change things through love and fairness. It is interesting to me that my grandmother had the same philosophy as well as ironic that I remember hearing that Landon had passed away from cancer as I recuperated from surgery in Tempe, AZ in her elder sister’s apartment in 1991. I wonder if he would still believe that in our current national situation? It shocks me to realize I have lived a decade longer than he did. Another amazing milestone is the show has never been totally off the air. It is a show that can still bring tears to my eyes at times because it had a pureness and honesty to it that created something I believe we all need.

During the past week, as many others probably have, I have been sadly drawn to the drama that ended with today’s latest announcement that Naya Rivera probably lost her life saving that of her son’s getting him back onto the boat. That I would imagine something happened where getting back to the boat was exhausting and she perhaps sacrificed her life for her four-year-old son. It appears that the boat was not anchored and it drifted in the afternoon winds and currents. That is heartbreaking. As I have read the various aspects of yet another Glee cast member lose their life way too soon, it is hard to not feel a sense of loss beyond the person. It is also eerily coincidental, but perhaps intentionally appropriate that Cory Monteith passed on the same day. Those While I did not watch the series when it was on, I did find it after the fact, and I will confess I binged it. Why? Because I found so many elements in the storylines that reminded me of a undersized, awkward, wishing-to find-his-place, abused, but hoping-to-be-happy boy, one who grew up in NW Iowa. I was musical, and actually a very talented as a trumpet/cornet player, had a strong vocal ability, but never really turned any heads. I was petrified of girls both because I thought they were all beautiful and I did not want to have my mother annihilate me because I was interested in a girl and not studying. The series and some of the episodes so stunned me that I found myself crying with tears streaming down my face as I watched episode after episode on my iPad lying in bed. What is so incredible about this (and the same with Little House) was that I found an outlet for the pent up feelings that were so much a part of the psychological makeup of the wounded child, one that still existed within me. With Pa and Ma Ingalls I found examples of what strict, but loving parents might do. With Glee, I found high school, coming-of-age students, students who struggled to find their place, whether it was in their group the New Direction or within McKinley High, where music and theatre nerds were still outliers. I had always felt like somewhat the nerd with my short hair, glasses, and overgrown ears. I had lots of acquaintances, but really few friends. I was allowed along it seems as a favor or even a novelty.

I think what often makes a show matter far beyond its weekly presence is the ability of the show to mirror what most normal people (which is also an amazing series) experience in daily life. It allows a relational possibility that can be safe for that person as they struggle in their own personal way. One of the video clips I watched over these past days was of Naya Rivera revealing how she came to realize the significance of the relationship Santana (her character) had with Brittney and that many students struggling with their identity and coming out found solace in that story line. I think all of this is even more important as the world we currently traverse each day seems to have no stasis points. As we find ourselves in the middle of a resurgence that has our Federal Government merely pointing fingers from department to department; as we find ourselves trying to prepare for an academic year with a constantly moving target of what is considered possible; as students, parents, faculty, staff, and administration scramble to come up with contingencies when they have no precedent, where do we turn for some sense of normalcy? I have found myself retreating into things that I find safe. What things might you ask? Things that make me think and ponder and things that I can imagine possibilities about. While I know there is so much struggle at the moment, I know that today my heart aches for a family of a four year old, who lost his mother. It might seem ridiculous to some as I certainly never met this incredibly talented young lady, but in the larger picture, she was a human and a mother. It is much the same when I consider that close to 139,000 people have lost their lives and many more have long-term consequences because of Covid, I mourn that this has affected how many 100s of thousands more who also mourn their lost loved one. The callousness with which so many people respond with the anti-mask rhetoric or their argument for freedom and individual rights is profoundly f-ed up. It just is.

I believe that both Little House and Glee compelled their audience to look beyond the obvious and imagine the possibilities of what can happen when we think first about the other, not necessarily at the expense of ourselves, but rather as a community of individuals working for something larger, something more important, something that our children and grandchildren will be fortunate to inherit. I cannot imagine our children looking forward to much at this point. The other night I delivered another meal to a family. They are dear to me, and they have two children, who are both adorable. I received a message later that evening that the five year old did not eat their meal, and was quite distraught. What I was told was this. When asked why they did not eat and if they did not like the food, they began to cry. They noted that they liked the food, but because they could not hug me when I delivered the food, they were sad. Further, they lamented how terrible this virus was affecting their life and if they were sad they could not eat. That is both a tender and gut-wrenching story. A five year old is thoughtful enough to understand how this virus has already altered their life in a manner that what they found important (to be social, to show care, and to create relationships) has been intrinsically changed. In their thoughtful and honest way, they, much like the Psalmist are crying out, “How long??” It is a fair and appropriate question. And much like the Old Testament Israelites, depending on something larger than themselves was the way forward. As noted by Melissa Gilbert, compassion and community and faith in each other is foundational if we are to move toward a world beyond Covid. Much as what seems to be the case in the tragic loss of Naya Rivera, the words of John 15:13 cry out from the waters of Lake Piru, “No Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NIV). I cannot imagine the thoughts that must have gone through her mind as she struggled to live. It causes me so much heartache. In whatever piety you have, it seems it is time to pray for our world, for each other, and for wisdom in a time where unparalleled wisdom is needed. I wish you all peace in this time of struggle and I offer this particular piece from the late talented Naya Rivera as Santana Lopez. It is not unnoticed by me that many of the lyrics are frighteningly premonitious.

Thank you as always for reading and I apologize for the time since my last blog.

Dr. Martin

“The American Dream”

Hello from my study,

I have been relegated to two things over the past 72 hours or so: grading and watering. Teaching technical writing in a four week block this summer has been a new experience, and I think the being remote before that, while it might seem to be good preparation, seemed to be counterproductive in some ways. Certainly, cramming 14 weeks into 4 is a tall order, but I am not sure either the students nor I were prepared for this. In other words, I do not believe this has been one of my best classes (and that is me evaluating me). I am grateful to the Baker’s Dozen who have hung in there over these three plus weeks. Watering has to do with my yard on one hand, but also my soul the other. I posted a number of pictures of the yard earlier this week and I have most everything done on the East and South sides of the house. There are some things I still want to do, but I am not sure if they will happen this year or not. The last few days have been a sort of Tale of Two Cities sort of world, but I am learning that is more the nature of what life offers than a mere sort of run-of-the-mill day, week, month, or year.

Certainly, regardless your political leanings, the world in which we all live and try to carry out our lives has been turned upside down: healthwise, economically, and now socially. I do not believe any of it is by accident and that is not a conspiracy theorist speaking, but rather we are too often unwilling to make the hard changes that we could (perhaps should) make if we are going to create a world that is equitable for all. Again, I know that is a loaded term, but step back for a moment, if you will. What do you hope for your children, your grandchildren, for those you love? What world do you want for them: environmentally (and I mean that inclusively – in terms of water, food, air, health,); what do you want for them in terms of economic opportunity (and again that is more than merely money; it includes education, employment, advancement, long-term viability as a reasonable life); and what do you hope for them in terms of social viability (which means a world where they are treated fairly, thoughtfully, and judged as Dr. MLK Jr. once said, but the content in their heart)? Over the past weeks, we (and that is an inclusive first person plural) are all confronted with who we are, individually as well as collectively. Confrontation of any kind is frightening. It bares the soul and can force us to be honest, if we will. More often than not, the fear evolves into anger and we shut down. I know I am guilty of this. It is hard for us to be accountable for our actions, even harder to be responsible for our attitudes. Attitudes are much more insidious things, as well as complicated.More importantly, what does it mean to understand our obligation, if I can refer to it as that, in terms of our societal responsibility to the world we live in? I turn to my seemingly- go-to person again, the Reverend Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When he struggled with the inaction of the church, or when a significant part of the church sold out to the Reich, Bonhoeffer was neither afraid nor silent at that point. I am compelled if you will to consider the obligation the disciples had when they chose to follow Jesus. I have gone back to reread and think about their calls. What does it mean to be called to do something? Being called, particularly when considered from a Biblical perspective does have an obligatory element because you cannot say no to the call. That is a frightening thing. I think about two things in Bonhoeffer’s theology that move us from the church to the world. Bonhoeffer lived in a time of hyper-nationalism as Germany had been crippled by the Treaty of Versailles, and in particular the Article 271, the article that placed the entire financial burden of WWI on them (btw, they finally paid it off in October of 2010, 92 years later). The decade that followed saw similarities to our America of the last decade. Those who had money in Germany had their own version of the Roaring 20s that characterized the United States. Yet the great majority of Germans suffered the extreme consequences of hyperinflation and struggles behind the scenes. Almost as a mirror image, America of the 20-teens saw the rich continue to move the stock market into on record high after another. In the meanwhile, while employment showed positive gains, the wages stagnated. Many more people than most realized were working multiple jobs to make it possible for their fading American dream find some degree of reality. Coming out of college with 10s of thousands of dollars in debt has made home ownership, mobility, or even marriage something to imagine later. Fareed Zakaria, an Indian immigrant and author of an incredible article on the reality of the American dream some years ago, laid out the disappearing reality of that classic understanding well.

The reasons for the impending extinction of the house with the picket fence, the garage, car, kids, and the pet, then-you-have-made-it are numerous, complex, but interrelated. As Zakaria noted, “For a picture of the global economy, look at America’s great corporations, which are thriving. IBM, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Intel and Caterpillar are all doing well. And they share a strategy that is becoming standard for success. First, technology has produced massive efficiencies over the past decade (which was the late 90s and into the 00s -parenthetical added). Jack Welch explained the process succinctly on CNBC last September. ‘Technology has changed the game in jobs,” he said. “We had technology bumping around for years in the ’80s and ’90s, and [we were] trying to make it work. And now it’s working … You couple the habits [of efficiency] from a deep recession [with] an exponential increase in technology, and you’re not going to see jobs for a long, long time.’ Welch gave as an example a company owned by the private-equity firm with which he is affiliated. In 2007 the business had 26,000 employees and generated $12 billion in revenue. It will return to those revenue numbers by 2013 but with only 14,000 employees. ‘Companies have learned to do more with less,’ Welch said”(Time 21OCT2010). This means that many high paying jobs have been swallowed up and what is left are jobs that do not pay as much. This is what we have experienced since the Great Recession. While job numbers are certainly up, the standard of living for the masses is not. “People who get paid a decent wage for skilled but routine work in manufacturing or services are getting squeezed by a pincer movement of technology and globalization” (Zakaria). Certainly, in the time since he wrote this article, we have tried to manage things by a more protectionist process and that is especially the case since MAGA has found its way into our vocabulary. But the consequence of this protectionism has been felt by every aspect of the workforce save the One-percenters, who have benefited from the tax overhaul of 2017. Zakaria (and others have noted the problem with that route. Again, he writes,  “It would be pointless and damaging to try to go down a protectionist route, though polls show a stunning drop of support for free trade, even among college-educated professionals, its usual cheerleaders. But technology is a much larger driver of the hollowing out than trade. You cannot shut down this new world. How would you stop people from sending one another e-mails, which is what a lot of offshoring comes down to these days? Nor can you help a modern economy by shielding industries from world-class competitors, which just encourages greater inefficiency” (Time 21OCT2010). The reason for me to base my argument on this article is because I believe as an immigrant and someone who understands our culture from both sides, he is uniquely positioned as well as brilliant and articulate in his critique. What was incredibly telling, which makes the present administration’s disdain for immigration and the closing of borders for all kinds of things, was the comment by Alcoa’s German-born Klaus Kleinfeld, previously the head of Siemens: “I know the things that America has that are unique. The openness, the diversity, the dynamism — you don’t have it anywhere else. If you keep all these things, build on them, I still believe in the American Dream” (quoted by Zakaria). Unfortunately, the administration, and by extension, the Congress have both been remiss, which is an understatement, in managing this openness, this diversity. Congress needs to take today’s ruling by the SCOTUS and come up with a reasonable immigration policy once and for all. However, I do not believe that will happen unless there is a change in November.

I have taken the time in my classes to ask my students about things like hope, their aspirations, their understanding of the American Dream, and their responses would frighten most of you. They, for the most part, seldom believe they will be better off than their parents. They regularly find the idea of hope unrealistic at best, and flat out bullshit at the worst. They often question what aspirations might be out there, and certainly the last four months have done little to assuage that concern. In fact, the level of exacerbation is beyond measurement. The number of 2020 graduates at any level who feel they have been screwed is exponential. So where does that leave us? Again, the parallels I see in the late 1920s-1930s Germany economically (and possibly politically) are beyond the pale. The creation of scapegoats to blame for our arrogance and greed is nothing new. The reality is simple, trickle-down economic theory is a fallacy. Those with the money are unwilling to share the money with those who create their wealth. As we move toward the technological overhaul Zakaria notes, there are fewer workers to argue for higher wages. If 14,000 can do the work of 26,000, the 14,000 are happy to still have a job. Step back and think for even a moment. What is happening between the pandemic, the economy, and now the reaction to the killing of yet another black person has created a perfect storm. Yesterday the Republican legislature in my state of Pennsylvania has drawn up Articles of Impeachment against our Democrat Governor, Tom Wolfe. Today, the federal government held Pennsylvania up as an example of how to manage Covid-19. And yet, the Republicans have referred to the Governor as a dictator. The dissonance between between the two positions would make Bartok and Schoenberg seem like they composed tonal rather than atonal music. Dr. Brandes would be so proud that I remember that.

So what might our call be in this profoundly confusing world? I noted earlier there is a call that cannot be ignored. I will only begin to lay it out here and you can see more in the next blog. I believe if we are to overcome the division, the argument, the disdain for the other that is rampant, we will need to understand that what lies ahead of us is a call for patriotism that understands the difference between true patriotism, which goes well beyond ourselves, and nationalism, which is selfish, inward looking, and incompatible with our global economy. Too often we see patriotism and nationalism as synonymous. They are not. That is the case, not only rhetorically or definitionally, but also in how we live amongst each other, be that in my little area of rural Pennsylvania, in the urban area of Philadelphia, Milwaukee, or within NATO or the EU. This is a global issue. And certainly Nationalism is not just an issue in the United States. Brexit is an example of it. Hungary and Poland have witnessed it as have other countries. The reason it does not work is you cannot put a global economy back into the box it was pulled out of. The technology that has transformed our world into a global information highway is also not going to go backwards. Any such thought is so far beyond naive, I have no term for it. What I am arguing is most of our most significant problems today are not national problems, they are global ones. Certainly, the EU provides some idea of how difficult it is to get even a small group to work together. We see the same among our own 50 states. The United Nations has, at times, demonstrated an incredible sense of common purpose, but they have no authority to enforce anything. I think we are at a crossroads on a number of things. If we are to have hope and believe in the possibility of a world where our children and grandchildren are to thrive, it seems we need to work together for a dream that is larger than merely an American one. Certainly those of us who grew up in the 1960s believed America was unparalleled in goodness and opportunity. This song provides some sense of sometimes how I feel as I look out around me. It is one of the bands that reminds me of a so many wonderful concert experiences.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The Initial Date

Hello from the front porch,

It has been a beautiful beginning to June. It has been busy with school and a summer class as well as managing the yard, which is a daily chore, but one I enjoy. The acre still needs work; while much has been accomplished, and there are no major projects this summer, I wish the yard (and specifically the grass) was a bit more spacious than it is. That is my father coming out. He was meticulous about his yard. Once the utility company did some maintenance work and dig up his parking. They planted grass seed, which was certainly not to the level of grass he believed necessary. He fumed for days and I seldom heard him swear, but I heard it at that point. I got some of that same quality seed last summer through my own construction project, and I think it will take a couple years to recover in a few significant patches now. Yet, the yard is a living, breathing, and resilient ecosystem of its own. I am sure with some appropriate care it will recover.

The past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, and an emotional rollercoaster, but I am proud of managing it all better than I often have. I am reminded of the difficult, albeit perhaps a sage admonishment of my counselor in graduate school, the director of the counseling center at MTU at that time, Donald Williams. He was a person who had me figured out better than probably anyone I have ever met. Of course, 6 years of meeting almost weekly might do that. I have been pushed to realize the reality of things that can occur when people struggle with a variety of issues-issues that are often vexing and have profound consequences for their life, as well as the lives of those who care for them. Sometimes I understand more than I wish I did. Recently a poem was shared with me that poignantly reveals some of those struggles. One line states “As a tear touches your cheek, you turn away.” It is exceedingly difficult to turn away from those who have found a place in your heart, especially when all you wish for them is health and happiness. I have been pushed to remember my sister’s struggle with so many significant issues. There was this substantial push/pull between us as I wanted to help, but could never seem to find the ability to do it adequately. When I pushed or questioned beyond a certain point, she simply disappeared, sometimes for months. This was before the social networking we now have, but it was the earlier version of blocking someone. As the incredible actor, Tom Skerritt, as the Presbyterian minister in Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It, said so eloquently, “Each one of us in our lives will look upon a loved one, who is in need and ask the same question. We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those who are closest to us. Either we do not know what part of ourselves to give, or more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. So it is those we live with an should know who elude us, but we can still love them. We can love completely, without complete understanding.” So often our love is imperfect because we are imperfect. I have been reminded of this shortcoming so deeply in the past few days that it hurts, but it also serves to remind me that it is not my job to fix things. So often I want to make it alright. Decades of struggle are not eliminated by a single person’s care or hope. I am reminded of how the actions of those around us have profound and unending consequence. Why is it some can get beyond and some cannot? I think it is particularly difficult when you see the goodness someone has, but that goodness is dimmed, torn, or paralyzed because of the other things that life has dealt them.

During this week, the consequence of decades, and centuries of injustice have blown open our country, and actually more accurately our world. The mistreatment, the discrimination, the marginalization of black people, brown people, LGBTQA people, old people, mentally ill people has pushed a response unlike any before witnessed. One of the things I realize considering my sister, Kris, is that she suffered as a member of more than one of these categories. I wish I had understood more acutely, more completely, how various experiences affected her and how those experiences created or contributed to the struggles that I believe caused a premature death. I wish I understood how such a brilliant and loving person struggled so mightily to merely manage her day. Those questions have bubbled to the surface as I tried to make sense of other things that have occurred over this past month. I think, perhaps at times, it is easier to remember someone for who they were than what they have become. The window, as someone noted recently, is often fragile and what we see can be burdensome, even frightening. Too often the reflection is more honest than we can manage. It would be easy to give up and simply move beyond, but that too has a consequence. What we see and how we are seen by the other can paint very different pictures.

And yet, in spite of the difficulties of the day, I am reminded that today is an important day also, albeit very different from what was expected when I picked up a tall, slender, and tired young man from Denmark on the final days of August last summer. June 16th, today, was the day that Anton was supposed to return from his year in Bloomsburg after his study abroad year. I wonder what might have happened had we not ended up with a pandemic. I wonder what might have happened as he took the CCHS tennis team by storm. I wonder who he might have ended up asking to prom as it was something we had discussed. I wonder how 10 additional weeks might have changed his impression of his year in North Central Pennsylvania. Fortunately, we have been able to stay in touch on a somewhat regular basis, and I can say he does not look that different from when I helped him get to his plane in Baltimore. I do believe he is still reflecting on what this year did for him on a number of levels. It did, naturally, help him improve his English, which was quite proficient when he arrived. It gave him a very different living experience than what he knew from his years in Humlebaek. I smile now when I think about our conversations about the difference in his daily routine at school or how the friends he made here were so different from his friendships back in his home country. It is he who noted this and not something I would have picked up on. What is also important is how much he taught me, not only about what it meant to be 16/17, but more importantly, what he taught me about myself. Someone asked me recently how I had become so confident? I did not have a good answer for them, but I think it, in some significant ways, because Anton taught me so much about how to communicate more effectively and appropriately. He taught be how to listen more carefully and work together more thoughtfully. What still amazes me about him, along with his intelligence, his common sense, and his ability to listen and think, was his honesty and integrity. Seldom, if ever, have I ever met anyone, and especially someone who is still a teenager, who does not lie about anything. He was, is, and probably will be for sometime, a person I will look up to as a sort of paragon of honesty. I know that is quite the accolade for someone so young, but he is completely deserving of that.

Dates have always held significance for me, and I remember them quite well. I am not really sure how that happened, but it is something that was always the case. Be it birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, dates of someone’s passing, I somehow keep those filed away like a roll-a-dex in my head somewhere. There are times I do not get to things as quickly as possible, but seldom to I forget a family or close friend’s important dates. I remember the birthdays of most of my first wife’s family even now. I remember my parent’s birthdays, grandmother’s and aunt’s as well as some of their other important days. I wish I had that memory for somethings today as it too often seems I remember something about an hour after I should have been there. Yikes!! Dates, people, places, all of them create memories. Memories, I believe are what make humans unique in the worldly order. We not only remember, but we can anticipate, imagine, and wonder about the future. Those two things are probably our biggest gift and our most profound weakness.

As I noted in my last blog, the consequence of expectation can be devastating. I think the product of memory and anticipation is expectation, and perhaps more profoundly, it can, and often does provide hope. And yet it seems our world is sorely lacking in that particular area. What gives someone hope? I have asked this question before, mostly in the sense of what happens when it is missing, but I would like to find hope in the midst of some of what is happening, be it globally, nationally, or even individually. I want to believe that somehow better angels can come among us and lift us up in ways that allow the care and love that is present in all people can be the foundation of what we do. I want to believe that the goodness in someone can still shine through when they struggle to merely manage their day because of their own personal demons. I was asked more than once in the most so distant past why I work so hard trying to make things logical? I was asked recently, as noted, how I became so confident? I am not sure that I am as confident as I seem to portray, but I do believe I am pretty content with where my life has led. Last night I was blessed by a phone call from three former colleagues. What a wonderful surprise. I actually called the initial caller back today to tell them how important that call was. Sometimes, when we least expect it, we learn that we matter. We are reminded that we made a difference. Yesterday was an important day. It was the day that Anton was originally supposed to return, and even though he left 10 weeks early, the difference he made for me will be with me the remainder of my days. Yesterday was a day that I made some choices, that while difficult, are for my well-being, and that is not always something I am attentive to. It was also a day that I was reminded of people who have made a profound difference in my life, from a mentor in graduate school to colleagues from Wisconsin. It was a day like many, a day of ups and downs, peaks, valleys, and some smooth places too. It was a day to spend dinner with two wonderful colleagues from here at Bloom that I am blessed to call both colleagues and friends. I guess in spite of it being an important date in the life of Anton and me, it was a day that ended up much differently. Yet, it was an important day because things that matter still happened. It was an important day because I stood up for my own healthy choices, albeit difficult. It was an important day and date because I am still here today. Here is the amazing scene from the end of A River Runs Through It.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Imagining 50 Years

Hello from my porch,

When I was 14, I had an opportunity to be a member of the Sioux City Children’s Community Theatre. We were part of a larger group of theatre folks that included adults, but we were also independent. Be that whatever it was, we were a rather motley, mismatched, but open minded collection of early teen and thespian hopefuls. In the above picture, I am the little one in the glasses, and the person I am restraining as the undersized policeman was my best friend growing up, Peter Goede. Peter was my best friend for the remainder of his life. Under the watchful eye of our patient director, Mary Hart and her able assistant, Donna Nyreen, we presented plays at the Sioux City Community Theater. There was generally a summer play and soon after, the Christmas Carol was added as a holiday offering each winter. What made us an unlikely group was we did not grow up in the same neighborhoods. More significantly, even then neighborhoods, or sections of our town somewhat stayed to themselves. Yet, the community theatre was in my part of town (by a large city park that had once been the home to quite an amusement park) I and many of us were from Riverside, which was considered a more blue-collar section of our town of 100,000 people. That is what made the location of the theatre somewhat surprising. Some were from the Northside, which I believed were much more affluent families than I was used to, and some were from Morningside, which was the largest section of our Northwest Iowa town. What I realize now is our mentors created something quite special. It was unique because we did not really think of ourselves as more our less than the other, regardless their address. We merely practiced together; we worked diligently together; and we became quite a group of friends. In some ways we were the drama version of Glee, generations before anyone would hear of Glee. As we worked together we created flats, built sets, painted, and learned lines, stage directions, blocking. In fact, we even worked with our own makeup to some extent.

Perhaps the most incredible thing that happened to this undersized, somewhat shy, but generally happy boy was the chance meeting of so many wonderfully talented others. However, as 14 year old petrified of girls, of course, I would also meet a girl, one who was not only in the theater group, but also in Sioux City Children’s Choir too. This was the other city-wide thing in which I was involved. She was younger than I, but also taller as well as the most beautiful and kind-hearted person I could hope to meet. She possessed beautiful eyes, a mesmerizing smile, beautiful, long, wavy hair, and an incredible tan. She was perfect in my 14 year old eyes, and more importantly, she actually spoke to me. I was head over heels with this girl. However, there was one difficulty I would come to find out. She was a Catholic girl, and my older brother, five years my senior, was told no dating Catholic girls. Therefore, I assumed the same would go for me. Yet, as I was only 14, and not supposed to have a girlfriend anyway I believed, and quite accurately I might add, that I could fly below my mother’s ever present radar. If I was in a group with her, my mother would know or expect nothing. Seemed like a good way to move forward. During that next year, I was fortunate to have the group of theater friends, and somehow we convinced my mother to take us to play dates to the northern end of Nebraska Street where there was a concentrated geographic group of these amazing thespian wannabees. Those play dates created an even larger group. Maintaining our group events, attending cast parties after final performances, and painting of our play blocks on the wall of the theater along the adult plays made us all feel quite important. Yet, as I grew more enamored with my fellow actress, the reality of life would come and hit us in the face. She and her brother, also part of the group (and someone my sister made a good friend of), informed us that their father was being transferred in his job and they would be moving. To say my life came crashing down would be a profound understatement. That summer there would be a couple of going away parties and during one, she and I sat in the yard talking. We knew we liked each other, but were each shy in our own ways. I think I finally found enough courage to even hold her hand. We chatted about how we would manage to stay in touch from the impending distance of almost 200 miles. One must remember long distance calls were expensive and I would have to figure out how to mail things (stamps and all) without my mother knowing. If I were to write a girl, I knew there would be questions; and if my mother figured out the Catholic element I’m sure I would be in trouble. And yet as we spoke, I knew unabashedly, I was willing to do anything necessary to maintain contact with this incredibly angelic person who had captured my heart. Then it happened! She gave me a kiss on my cheek. I remember my ears (which I was still growing into) getting flushed and, naturally, as soon as she kissed me she got up and left. Heaven had just landed in the yard where I was sitting. She has kissed me. Oh my goodness! Had I imagined it? No; it had really happened. I don’t think my feet touched the ground the rest of that night. How could I be so fortunate to have the most wonderfully kind girl, the girl I actually liked, kiss my cheek?

I was frightened of girls and the only other girl who ever kissed me was my cousin, Janet, and they had to hold me down for that to happen. I think I was probably 11. I think we got to spend one more time together, after the life-changing kiss event before they moved. And there were letters and phone calls after the move, but distance and life would make connections more distant. At one point, while serving as a manager for the JV and Varsity basketball team, a couple of us figured out (this is way back in the time when phone booths had the 25, 10, and 5 cent slots) how to make phone calls for pennies rather than the actual cost. Someone figured out if you put put a flattened, drinking-straw down the quarter slot and put pennies down the nickel slot the phone was tricked into registering that quarters were deposited into the phone. Wow!! I found a way to make long distance phone calls to my favorite girl for pennies on the dollar. Of course, we were not smart enough to realize that collecting a bunch of pennies out of a phone that did not use pennies would raise some suspicion. I am not really sure how long we scammed Ma Bell, but, of course, a number of calls to central Iowa and the same number was not hard to trace. Eventually I had to fess up and needless to say the number of phone calls decreased significantly. I do not remember having to pay for the calls, but I do know my parents were not impressed with my ingenuity. Letters did continue, but changes in both lives ended with our losing touch. There was one time shortly after graduation when I visited her brother and then there was a phone call about a decade ago. And yet the very hearing of the name, whether it was about her or just another person with the name, would bring back the memory of my first crush and how she made my heart so happy.

How do you put a half of century into perspective? That is a tall order, even if one’s life is your sort of basic “I-grew-up; went-to-college; got-a-job-and-got-married; had-a-family-and-worked-a-job.” Then there is the reality: I did not follow any of that. As I have written in some recent blogs, I really had no grand plan for my life. I am not sure I can even say I do now. What I know is I have been afforded opportunities, and many times, they have been unexpected. Many times I think they have simply been gifts waiting to be unwrapped. It is somewhat analogous to how I used to speak to parishioners about baptism. I remember comparing baptism to the same sort of incredible present that can only be understood when we are willing to unwrap it. It seems unwrapping, however, takes courage. It requires us to willingly take a chance, but most times that chance is frightening. Fear comes from our own life experiences and the cumulative effect of those times when we have failed or been hurt. There is the reality of how changes are more profound to us when we age. Perhaps the older we are, the more fragile we are. I am reminded of the song from the musical, Rent, when Mimi says to Roger, “I am looking for baggage that goes with mine.” I have noted in conversations with more than one person as of late, I feel like all the aspects of my life have finally caught up with each other. It is a nice feeling. It is also a bit strange, but it has been hard work getting here. Life is a journey of unexpected events. Too many times just when I think I have a plan, something occurs that makes the plan either no longer possible, obsolete, or altered in some significant way. There was the plan of the fall sabbatical in Poland; there was the expectation that I had a tenant for another year. Both have changed. There was an expectation that Anton would be leaving tomorrow; instead, he has been gone since April 1st. There was an expectation that I might be in Cape Charles around this time, but I do not expect that will happen anytime soon either. Changes happen regularly, although unanticipated, unforeseen. I think one of the things I have learned to do, not always willingly, is roll with whatever happens. Perhaps it was my father’s admonishment to never place expectations on things or people. That has been a difficult lesson more than once in my life and recently, it was revealed yet again.

My signature in some of my emails also is a line from Rent. It is the line that most resonates with me: “there is no day, but today.” I can only manage the 24 hour block I am in and sometimes not even that. I am so grateful for the fortuitous and wonderful conversations that have occurred, for the pictures from another time, for the questions and honesty. I cannot control anything, but I can trust in my soul that what I believe is worth believing. The other song from Rent that tears deep inside of me is the song “Will I?” While I have been gifted beyond anything I could have imagined, there are no guarantees. I know this well, and I have struggled with events over which I have no control. I am in charge of so little. Myself, and even that is not always within my capability. At this point, grading is finishing up; Polish needs to begin once again. Writing projects and trying to wrap my head around a new university process will keep me busy. And yet, my heart is happy. For that I can only say thank you. Imagine 50 years? Perhaps I will; perhaps something miraculous can happen. I believe in the hope and goodness of what honesty can do.

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael

Considering Life Together

Hello on a Saturday morning,


I need to take a break from grading, though I will be back to it for most of the day and tomorrow. This past week, in the midst of our national chaos, I have tried to understand why it is we are so incapably divided, so resistantly unopen, so readily confrontational. This is not merely through my watching the news. It is in response to what is both said and unsaid; it is through the consequence of that which is both acted out or by that done through lack of response. It is through my own reflection on what I have felt because of things experienced or my observation of others experiences. What does it mean to be a nation? That is the question I am left to ponder. What constitutes a national identity when the fabric is tattered, soiled, faded, and seeming irreparable? As importantly, where might I go for answers to these difficult, pressing, and monumental types of questions? Perhaps it would be easier to push them aside and merely go back to my work, which is pressing, and 5 days of feeling less than optimal has made more of a hurdle. Perhaps I too could throw up my hands or wring them in despair at where we find ourselves in this unprecedented time. Yet, that sort of inaction if you will allowed atrocities in the past, both here and in other placed to proceed unabated, unquestioned, at least to the extent that we have places like Auschwitz, Dachau, or events like Ruwanda or the שואה as part of our history. Again, I know those are some extreme examples, but nonetheless, they are reality, things we would want to believe we are incapable of allowing or participating in, but as a collective species, we did.

I believe we are at a carrefour, an exigence, perhaps even a crisis moment. If we are to speak out, calling up our most fundamental sense of decency for all people who are unjustly marginalized, with a sense of purpose that appeals to the ideals of the human spirit, we must turn to something larger than our own individual sense of right or wrong. This is not to say we have no individual input, or that anyone can merely step back and allow the others to manage this kairotic moment. However, what is the path? Where do we begin? A couple of blogs ago I noted a small book that Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, when he was considering the clandestine seminary group of students at Finkenwalde. This text titled Life Together, focused on what it meant to create a community. Perhaps that is where we ourselves must start if we are to do anything beneficial or redemptory to our crumbling national temperament and sinking reputation both here and abroad. I have former students, classmates, as well as colleagues who are working or expatriates with whom I speak or communicate regularly. It is interesting to hear their views as well as difficult to answer their inquiries when they address things about the country where they were born, still hold citizenship, and yet have been able to watch with a more open view. They still love the country, but not being subjected to the 24/7 news, and looking at us (themselves included) from a distance is always a different thing. I know this from watching things here when I have been abroad at various points in my life. They ask questions from the insider viewpoint, but with an outsider experience. That is actually a pretty wise place to be at times. I am not always sure what even to answer. I find much of what is said and reported to be embarrassing at the very best and down right frightening at not even the worst. Therefore, back to the question at hand, at least the question for me: what might we do to begin to move toward something more hopeful? I think Bonhoeffer’s reflection on what it means to truly be a community is insightful.

Bonhoeffer looked at community from a truly spiritual viewpoint. There is much to say about that, but suffice it to say, a spiritual reality for Bonhoeffer required an individual to think and believe beyond themselves. To do that it seems we must dedicate ourselves to something beyond ourselves, beyond our community, and for me, yes beyond our humanity. When I was in seminary, one of my professors, Dr. Frederick Gaiser, a distinguished education in Old Testament, began each class with this prayer:

Almighty God, draw our hearts to you, guide our minds, fill our imaginations, control our wills that we may be wholly yours. Use us as you will always to your glory and the welfare of your people . . .

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978, page 47)

I have never forgotten this prayer or what it offered to me in a sense of comfort and hope. To be of use always to the welfare of others is a tall order, but it provides something that we cannot do on our own. It is the essence of community. However, it is not something simple, it requires our hearts, our minds, or imaginations, and our wills. It is amazing to me if I take time in the morning to think and mediate a bit before I let the days troubles or requirements overwhelm me. The Psalter, which is something Bonhoeffer memorized while in prison to help him endure his captivity notes, ‘My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee’ (Ps. 5.3). ‘In the morning shall my prayer prevent thee’ (Ps. 88.13). ‘My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise. Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp; I myself will awake early’ (Ps. 57.7, 8) (Bonhoeffer, D. Life Together . Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition.). Bonhoeffer goes on to note the unique position of the Psalter, describing it as both the “word of God and the prayers of [humanity].” Most importantly, it allows me to think beyond myself or to put it another way, it pushes me to consider the importance of the other before the importance of myself. Therein lies the foundation of community. More profoundly, Bonhoeffer called the Psalter the vicarious prayer of Jesus himself on behalf of the church, which I might argue is more inclusive and is on behalf of all people (and I mean all).

In addition, perhaps one of the most important parts of community is solitude. It is the ability to be alone and silent. For the introvert, this is, of course, invigorating; for the extrovert, the silence can indeed be deafening, distracting, and disconcerting. If we are to be helpful in our community, we need to know what our gifts are and what we can do to make an efficacious contribution. This is perhaps where Bonhoeffer is the most instructive. When we are unwilling to listen to the voice who speaks to us in the quiet, we are incapable of being a community from the outset. When we have no ability to listen before we speak, we miss the significant input of the community, that which is necessary for the mutual upbuilding of the other to begin with. Bonhoeffer stated it as follows: “Let [one] who cannot be alone beware of community. Let [one] who is not in community beware of being alone” (Life Together . Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. Kindle Edition). Too often I am guilty of believing I have it figured out; too often I am willing to believe in my own piety, and as such fall into arrogance. Finally, if I believe I can figure it out on my own, there is no community and there is little chance of making any differences in a world that is crying out for change. It has been years since I had read Life Together, and as I reread, I realized it had been too long. Again, the brilliance of this young German theological mastermind is simultaneously profound and simple. He again notes, “Right speech comes out of silence, and right silence comes out of speech” (Life Together). There is an incredible balance. It is something sorely lacking in our lives and world because we have become reactionary (to everything and everyone). Again, I too am guilty of falling into this trap. The reasons for wanting us in the trap are another issue, but it is time to crawl out. If we are to move beyond reaction, be it individually or corporately, we need to find a place to retreat and think. We need a place to mediate and pray, whatever that means for each individual person, but it means self-care, not selfishly, but for precisely the opposite, for the good of the soul. Again, Bonhoeffer states is more eloquently, writing, “Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness” (Life Together). It is my hope you do not think this is merely a stringing of things together, it is my own trying to make sense of the senseless and hoping to find the space in which to do that.

I know this week has been a difficult one, for both obvious reasons, but also for less than in-your-face that seems to characterize our national discourse. There can be little silence in the midst of chaos and unrest, but much as a particular quarterback had to step back and reconsider, much as I been fortunate enough to communicate with two individual students (with whom I have told each about the other because of their similarities), one conversation was quite effective, the other more difficult and I am not sure my care and agreement, even with some disagreement, came through effectively. And that pains me more than they might think. I know there is work to do to bridge the struggle, but it is time for reflection and silence. It is time for me to work a bit harder to understand or appreciate their place, even with my own struggle. I do know that the responses I received this week after noting my own failings were humbling. I am so blessed by the amazing students I have been blessed to work with, both here as well as in Wisconsin and Michigan. I am glad that many times more than not, it seems that my manner demonstrates a willingness to accept rather than discount, even when there is a disagreement. Can we imagine the better? Can we work toward the better? Can we be willing to be used for things larger or more complex than we are in our individual selves?

If we are to do so, we will need to step back and believe in the goodness of the thousands who are protesting, but not covered in their peacefulness nearly enough. If we are to be collectively connected for the good of the whole, we will need to realize that all law enforcement is not the enemy, but differentiate between those who sully the badge they wear and those who believe service is their greatest calling. If we are to make the change desperately needed in terms of equity and justice, we need to admit our innate suspicions and self-serving practices at all levels. None of these things are new, they are core to who we are as a country. Our words, our constitution, and the ideals we claim to hold are little more than words when the reality of what we do is so profoundly opposite, but it is only through admitting that reality we can begin to change it. Again, I do not believe those on either the right or left are as hateful as it seems we have become. We are all trying to make sense of the senseless, but can we focus first on our humanity and our need to be a society of caring, hoping, and loving people rather than red or blue, Republican or Democrat, or any of the other binaries we try to fit into? When and only we pray the prayer above and live its words might we find that we can live together working mutually for justice, equality and dignity for each other.

I hope this post might offer a sense of hope, a sense of our mutual calling to make our world a better place. It is that sense of call to something better than provides a sense of hope to something larger than ourselves.

Dr. Martin

Admitting a Mistake

Hello from my upstairs sanctuary,

Each day I want to believe – seriously I do – that we cannot become more divided, more visceral, more unwilling to listen to the other, but each day it seems I can be proved wrong. The last 24 hours have my head reeling. To listen to the flash gernades in the background as I waited for the President to address us from the Rose Garden yesterday was such a juxtaposition that seems to typify everything in our country right. That was one thing. However, to find out on the hand that he (or his Attorney General, William Barr – and this is an addition) specifically had Lafayette Park cleared of a largely peaceful protest, using flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets to walk over to St. John’s Church carrying a Bible moved beyond even how low I imagined he could go. The response of the Episcopal Bishop this morning (and clergy who were gassed in the church) sums it up quite appropriately. And, then to top it off, he broke his own curfew, just imposed by Mr. Law & Order, to walk over there. Where in any of this can one find even an inkling of appropriateness?

As a person who has a background as a history major, a theological background as a former ordained Lutheran pastor, and two degrees in rhetoric, I find myself trying to make sense of the optics of last evening’s incredibly profound fiasco that began as a Presidential statement. Certainly, I agree that when protest disintegrates into violence and looting, that is beyond a serious problem (and some for whom I have great love and I have disagreed since my posting about this). However, there needs to be recognition of the reason the anger has become so visceral. I could list the names over the last 10 years; I could explain what I know my students of color face everyday in terms of being treated differently, viewed suspiciously, or spoken to disrespectfully by supposed law-abiding, often conservative-Christian, white people. Most of us, if we will stop and think, would be angry, fed up, and struggle also. Think about it on an individual scale. Anyone who has been married and divorced: generally (hopefully) you believed you could not love that person more on the day of your wedding. And yet something disintegrated. The hope, the trust, the foundational belief in the goodness of something changed. Did you ever holler, swear, throw something, punch something, do something out of anger you wish you had not done? Did you ever hate them so much you wished them dead? Sad, but most of us can probably answer yes. When you are so angry you wish them dead or out of your life, regardless, perhaps we come to some understanding of how the loss of hope, trust, and foundational belief in society for those marginalized for years might feel. I have watched as some have gotten angry merely over being told to wear a mask and have stormed the State Capitol waving guns (which btw, what did 2nd Amendment have to do with anything in that statement last night?). If the same people now demonstrating against discrimination, even without hollering or chanting, walked into the State Capitol carrying a gun, legally or not, what would happen? I would venture someone would be in a hospital recovering from bullet wounds, and charges would be filed. Do you not see the double standard in this? Can we not admit we have systemic racism in this country? Why is it we are afraid of mail in ballots? That is the way to manage a change appropriately should we as a county believe there is a change needed. I voted two weeks ago. I requested and got my ballot. It came to my mailbox as it should; I filled it out as I should; and I was notified that it was received and would be counted, as I should. Studies have shown the incidences of fraud are minimal (I could list them, but will not) and the states with Republican or Democrat governors is split almost 50/50. In addition, of 5 Western States, those who have gone to mail in balloting, three have a Republican Governor or chief election official (Collier, 29May2020). The governors and the chief election officials of any state, regardless their administration’s party have a swore duty to uphold laws. The seemingly prevelant argument that Blue States have no laws, nor enforce them, is asinine. The false narrative that all non-white people are trying to sway an election is fear mongering at the very least. More importantly, it is yet another example of disenfranchisement of a significant part of our electorate at its worst. It is discrimination at its most fundamental worst. Certainly the right to cast a ballot has been a struggle many in of our democratic country has experienced from the outset. There was a reason for the passage of voting laws to curb that. Yet, as typical of our states’ rights bent, if you were a woman, a black, an immigrant who gained citizenship, the ways states made it difficult to vote are legion. Too often the stories of KKK leaders, those who hid under their pointed hoods, were the very law enforcement people, the very lawyers, and the esteemed businessmen of their communities, too often the supposed Christians sitting in the pews on Sunday morning, but more accurately little more than bigots and liars with not enough balls to be honest.

The difficulty today is the only thing changed is their tactics, but their actions result in the same discriminatory and hate-filled rants that went along with their white-nationalistic, their white-supremacy-filled, hateful rhetoric and the crosses they burned in the night. Today they argue that the way of the white person is being overrun by immigrants, illegals, or academic liberal ideology that somehow questions their 21st century version of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. I know this is an incredibly inflammatory statement that will anger some people, but I believe this is where we are. The President’s statement yesterday is not that different from the arguments that an Austrian failed-artist once made to rile his base supporters in the 1930s. I am reminded of the statement of Martin Niemöller, the German theologian and pastor imprisoned for his opposition to what Hitler had done to the church. Hitler demanded that the church show allegiance. Hitler too was obsessed with loyalty. Niemöller wrote, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist . . . Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist . . . Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew . . . Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Being called socialist is something this President has done to those like Senator Sanders and Warren, and certainly many in the right fringes have picked that up. The role of unions has been battered by big business and certainly those who do not want to allow labor a decent wage. This has been an argument for some time. And yet, while the President has promised job things like the auto plant in Lordstown, OH would be back bigger than ever, he has taken more than one auto company CEO to task for not playing his game. An issue of loyalty again. As I have noted in recent blogs, the fact that we can go from 3.3% unemployment to 19% in less than three months (40,000,000 people unemployed) gives some indication of how strong the job market really was. And while there has been a significant uptick in discrimination and hate crimes against the Jewish people, what is happening continually against blacks, which has never really stopped, the Muslim people, particularly post-911, the Hispanic people, because current administration policies from the very first statements when President Trump declared his candidacy, and now Asians, because of Covid, referred to regularly in discriminatory terms by the President as the China Virus, are all exemplars of this administration’s bigotry. To what extreme has this happened? Check out the recent video news conference when he told an Asian reporter to ask China about the Corona virus. When she appropriately asked why he would say that to her, he acted like she was wrong. Incredible. Futher, more problematic is his overt and blatant racism is met too often by silence by many in the Republican Party, the very party the helped pass the 13th Amendment and was led by the Illinois Senator who stated unequivocally that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Lincoln, 1858). In questioning the role of slavery in the country, Lincoln understood that this was a national issue, not merely an issue of popular sovereignty as his opponent Stephen Douglas had argued. I believe we are, at minimum, at a crossroads once again. Yet as our President wants to claim law and order through his militaristic threats, he simultaneously argues the states need to do their work while he has ultimate authority. It is the divide and conquer strategy. When there is no clear path forward, chaos can reign and the individual gets lost in the morass. More significantly, the creator of the chaos claims it is not their fault.

In the last 24 hours, this President, who can argue that he can grab women by the genitals and they will let him, wants to now hold up a Bible and somehow make us believe in his faithfulness. As a former pastor, I will note I never believed I had the right to question the position of someone’s soul, but I do believe that the importance someone’s faith has in their life is demonstrated through their daily actions and words. I will let that statement speak for itself. And as such, the photo opportunity after clearing Lafayette Park is an anathema to faithful well-intended, struggling Christians or people of any faith for that matter. As people protested in Lafayette Park on Monday, members of the clergy were at the church, offering water and aid as things were peaceful. As noted in the New Yorker today, the scene that unfolded as the President strolled into the recently cleared park was beyond words. “When he reached the sanctuary, he did not go inside. Instead, he turned toward the camera, and members of his entourage assembled into a tableau so bizarre that it took a moment to understand what was unfolding. He held up a Bible and posed with it for the cameras, clasping it to his chest, bouncing it in his hand, turning it to and fro, like a product on QVC. He did not offer a prayer or read from scripture. On either side of him, his aides fidgeted awkwardly; there was the droopy, basset-hound visage of his enabling Attorney General, William Barr, his unrelenting cheerleader Mark Meadows, the chief of staff; his spokesperson, Kayleigh McEnany, who grinned madly. Apart from Ivanka Trump, none wore masks” (Osnos 2Jun2020). There was no contacting the Bishop or the clergy of the parish, there was no mention of God, it was simply an arrogant bully, a foul-mouthed, poor-excuse-for-a- President getting his picture taken with sacred scripture. This crawls into the depths of nothing I have read or researched since the Reich Church swore an allegiance to Hitler.

When are we willing to admit the mistake we made in the last election? Hopefully soon. While I was not an initial Biden supporter, wanting the process to play out, his statement yesterday is more presidential than any statement I have heard in three and a half years (this is an edit also). When are we willing to question the policies of an administration who make a mockery of checks and balances, and jeopardize the very democracy we want to believe we have? If you take the time to look at some of the speeches in Germany of the 1930s and the Presidential rhetoric of today, the parallels are obvious, but the enemy is a bit different. The enemy is not pointed at any one group, but rather at anyone who speaks out in disagreement. Certainly, the use of Hispanics, immigrants, Arabs, Muslims, and other groups of color are well encased in the President’s disdain, but it goes farther. When anyone disagrees, his inability to manage disagreement is well evidenced. I can appreciate that people were fed up with the normal politics because they too (and I believe there are good people on both sides of the aisle) seem to do little more than figure out how to stay in office and maintain their power; most often at expense of the masses. As I have argued, term limits would be an important remedy, but I would term limit both Congress and change the term length and change the length of a term for the President also. I would do the following as related to terms and their limits:

  • Six Years (three terms) for House Representatives
  • Eight Years (two terms and this changes the length) for Senators
  • Six Years (one term, which changes to a single term and the length of term) for the President

I know this would have some difficulties like, for instance, is a President automatically a lame-duck? Six years is a long time to do nothing, but I am thinking it would require people to work harder, more diligently, and more thoughtfully. I would also take away their life-long pensions (at least in Congress). It would limit the power any one person could have and in that is democracy. Can we admit that President Trump, who I can appreciate was elected both because of his business acumen and because Secretary Clinton had flaws as a candidate, has not been successful? If the economy was successful, would it have tanked as quickly? Would the stock market had wiped out things as quickly? Can we admit that we have a systemic racism issue in this country and while looting and rioting are a problem (as one of my colleagues regularly admonishes me ‘Michael, that is an F-ing understatement), the anger behind it is justified and must be worked with? It is a mistake not to do so. To admit failure or mistake is difficult, but it is also a chance for redemption, which is a biblical term, a theological term. It is a chance to change direction and make amends for our failings. It is a chance for forgiveness and for renewal. We need renewal desperately if we are to come together as a people. The words of the Reverend Doctor King need to ring out from every corner of this land if we are to create a society he dreamt of. I wish I would have been more courageous earlier in my life to speak against so much injustice, but like Niemöller, I have too often acted as if it did not affect me it was not my fight. I have to admit, I was wrong, but never again. I will not be silent in the face of tyranny and injustice, the injustice that too many people I care about face each day. I know this is a difficult blog for some to read, and I am more than willing to speak and listen to those who disagree with me. Come visit the acre and I will make the coffee or offer a beverage. I am not kidding. I am not saying you do not think; I am not saying you are bad if you openly disagree. I am saying I think I have too often been silent when I should have stood up and supported those who do have the same opportunity to speak up. That time is now.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

When Hope Devolves into Despair

Hello from my yard,

Completing my seminary education in St. Paul, and living in the Twin Cities for 5 years, and then only an hours commute for another 6, I feel I am pretty acquainted with the metropolitan area. Likewise growing up in NW Iowa in what was considered a pretty large town at the time, I am well aware of the “whiteness” as a general demographic of the upper Midwest. Watching the news and listening to the responses of both mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as Governor Walz, my heart aches for those affected as the consequences of what seems to be yet another case of an overzealous officer treating a black man as someone unworthy of humane treatment regardless the situation leading to an arrest. I know I was not there, but how many have taken the time to watch the video more than once, appalled by a technique that numerous law enforcement people have regarded as unnecessarily brutal? How many listened to the clerk who called the police to begin with? How many of us, who are not black, brown, or Asian, have really attempted to understand how they might feel, how often they fear for their lives as a general daily practice, or to what extreme we as white people really consider that we are too afraid to admit our colonialisms in our own country? What do I mean by that you might ask? It is simple to state, but incredibly hard to accept. As a white person I am afforded privilege simply because I am white. I am allowed access to things that people of color must work harder at if they are to have that same access. The concept of separate, but equal was deemed discriminatory by the SCOTUS in a landmark decision, but in practice it still exists at all levels of this nation. As a white male I too have struggled at times, arguing I am a victim of reverse discrimination, if you will, but when I think about it more critically, I realize the insignificant things I want to claim as unfair pale in comparison to what my fellow citizens (and I use that word intentionally) of color must overcome 24/7.

In her amazing book titled White Fragility, Robin Diangelo, a professor of multicultural education as well as a consultant and trainer of racial and social justice issues, addresses so many things that we do unconsciously that contribute to the idea of racial inequality. Consider this for a moment if you will: when you see a black, brown, mulatto, or person who is not white, do you recognize and first see them as whatever that color is? When you see another white person, do you first recognize them for their whiteness? As I noted above there were times I felt what I called reverse discrimination. More likely, I have heard about it or wondered about it, but have I ever felt it? Studies show that while “55% of white people” believe there is discrimination (and this sort of understanding is based on things like Affirmative Action), to a great percentage, when pushed a much smaller percentage say they have actually experienced this (Diangelo, 107-108). Much more often, when most white people are pushed we fall back on our stereotypic response. I have black friends ~ I work with black people ~ I try to support black/brown/other people. Everyone of these responses is racist. What Diangelo notes is white fragility is about recognizing and admitting white privilege. She, who is, btw, white herself, asserts being aware of our privilege, if we can even admit that is not enough. Too often we attempt to be more inclusive, but the very idea that we believe we need to reach out to be kinder, more accepting, or focused on equality, we actually further the white fragility and racial underpinnings that cause us too often to see someone who is not white as the other. When I was part of a faculty reading group who worked with this text this past semester, it was stunning to see how we struggled to figure out what we might do. There were non-white people in the group and it was beyond eye-opening to hear their perspective. I do not believe there was a bad person in the reading group, but I can say with some incredible certainty that we all walked out that group after 4 or 5 weeks with a very different perspective on what our whiteness signifies to others. Too often, we see racism as an individual act versus a systemic problem. Too often, we believe the things we see or hear we would never do, but each time we look out at the situation, we are missing the point. As a white person, I am privileged and our society is structured to maintain that privilege. I know what some are thinking and what some are saying. For some, it is I do not believe this. For some, it is what am I supposed to do? I know that is in part true because it was a question the reading group asked among ourselves.

When the killing of a black man in the streets of Minneapolis or of a black woman is killed in her bedroom in Louisville, many of us are aghast, but what does that change? I think many thought when we elected President Obama, racism was over. What a naïve thought. I think many of us one to believe that racism is a Southern thing or an inner-city thing. Racism is because we are afraid to admit our privilege. I know of black students, those attending Bloomsburg where I teach, who have a saying that it is not safe beyond the fountain. I know where then the monster truck show is in town at the fairgrounds, our students of color are warned to not go out by themselves. What does that say? Be honest with yourself for even a minute. While I am fortunate to live where I do, I can say that I am continually amazed by the number of Stars and Bars flags I see in this state, ironically when it was in this state (Gettysburg) that Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was stopped and that turned the Civil War. I have a colleague whose parent was born in the Pittsburgh area, but has spent significant time in the South, and as such refers to the Civil War as the War of Northern Aggression. All of this is really a precursor to what I believe we are facing as we move into the summer of 2020.

I do not remember such a simmering, smoldering, tinderbox in our cultural fabric since I was about 13 years old. That was the summer of 1968 and the April assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and an assassination of a second Kennedy brother had our country reeling. That along with the Têt Offensive, which did as much to push the United States into the realization that the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong were willing and able to fight a war of attrition was a turning point in how the American public viewed what was happening in Southeast Asia. The previous summer of 1967 saw rioting across the country and it was particularly deadly in Newark and Detroit. Paradoxically, Dr. King spoke to a large crowd of mostly white people on March 31st of 1968 at the Washington National Cathedral (there were more than 4,000 people in attendance). He noted, “I don’t like to predict violence . . . but if nothing is done between now and June to raise ghetto hope,” King continued, “I feel this summer will not only be as bad but worse than last year” (Wills, 01Apr2008). He would be assassinated four days later. The four days following his assassination would rock our country again, and the political fallout would be witnessed at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago later that summer. President Lyndon Johnson, who is argued to be the Civil Rights President, would choose to not run for office again, which would push Bobby Kennedy to seek the Democrat’s party nomination, only to be assassinated himself. It seems the parallels of the Covid situation and now of incredible unrest, which I believe the unrest is appropriate (I am not saying I agree with looting, firebombing, and other violence.) as the number of times a black male has been killed by police seems to continue unabated. One of my former students posted what they would do if their child was to be killed by police. They did not mince words, and I know how serious they are. This is not a time for vitriol or foolishness. It is a time to step back and be honest with what we are dealing with.

It is now Sunday morning and I graduated from high school 47 years ago today. It is still incredible that I have been blessed to see that much life beyond those public school years. It was a different time. Some of what I noted above was happening then. Vietnam was supposedly wrapping up, but I would end up there two years later as a 19 year old to help with our evacuation. Iowa Beef Processors had quite a strike my senior year in high school over union wages, workers, and what should happen. And while the violence is nothing like we see happening now, I remember the anger my father had of people crossing picket lines to work. As a journeyman electrician, I grew up believing that the union was one of the few things available to protect the blue-collar, tradesperson. I have never lost that understanding, though it has perhaps been tempered. In the spirit of transparency, I am a member of our professor and coaches union, and I am proud to be such. I was a whole 28 days away from leaving for MCRD San Diego at that point. I had little idea about the larger world I was going into, but I believed it to be a good place. I believed that what I would do would help set me on a path that would provide yet unseen opportunity. To put it simply: I had a hopeful attitude and inquisitive mind. I knew, at least tangentially, there were difficulties, but the service did more than help me grow (I grew three inches and gained 25 pounds in bootcamp alone). It taught me how, as our drill instructor put it, there was only one color in the Marine Corp. It was olive drab. While we certainly had clicks: there were the cowboys; there were the brothers as they referred to themselves; there were Hispanics; and yes, there were those of us who were just there, hoping to get somewhere afterwards. To this day, I learned more about humanity and myself at that point. It was a bit coarse and matter of fact. If you have never watched the beginning of Full Metal Jacket, while many will find the language a bit offensive, it was how we were treated and the dialog is spot on. I still remember the first time I saw it and the person I was sitting with questioned if it was the first time I saw the movie. Indeed, it was the first time for the movie, but I had lived it a few times.

What I know 47 years later is much of the idealist fervor I had as that 17 year old is gone, but I refuse to despair. Are there serious issues for us all? That is an understatement. It seems everywhere I look, there is more than a slight reason for concern. When I grew up, serving in the Congress, imagining becoming the President, or now again, after yesterday, an astronaut was something to aspire to. Of the three, I think the astronaut would be still there. What is happening in Washington on a daily basis, on either side of the aisle is abhorrent. The lack of decorum and civility, the comments and what seems, unfortunately, to be necessary about labeling someone’s writing as suspect creates all sorts of problems: yes, from protected speech to the power of the words and why it seems we need to be warned. That is a topic for an entirely separate blog in and of itself. It is that I am wiser and see the connections and the complexity of what is happening? I wish it were that easy. I do see the connections and I certainly realize the complexity, but it seems we are content to live with the inherent inequity that permeates our country unless it affects us personally. The problem is it does affect us, even when we do not see the immediate consequence. When there is no hope, the future is tenuous at best. Then there is despair because you cannot protect the people you love, anger soon follows. Fear and anger are all encompassing, particularly when it seems there is no way to change things. We are facing another summer of questions, but these questions are not new. After I wrote about my student last night, I called them and told them how sorry I was that they had to worry about this for their black son in the world we live. They noted how they would have to educate them to protect themselves in this world. What a profound statement. All of us try to teach our sons and daughters, our children who identify in whatever way they believe to be safe and protect themselves, but what does it mean that parents have to teach some to learn how to respond when they are mistreated, discriminated, or abused by the very society they live in? No wonder there is despair, anger, and struggle. It seems we need to be honest about the change we need to make; it is a profound and all encompassing change. It is an incredibly different change, but if we can do it, we can move toward hope once again. When I was ordained, I had this song sung at my ordination, It seems appropriate to remember the words of St. Francis once again.

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael