Cosmetics for the Soul

Hello from a little bistro called October 6,

Permítanme comenzar con un sincero agradecimiento. Primero a mi compañero de clase de la universidad, y un compañero de clase profundamente brillante y amable se acercaron el i fin de semana. Tus comentarios son más significativos de lo que nunca sabrás. Es irónico que nos comuniquemos en el lugar y sobre el lugar, usted hizo gran parte de su trabajo de posgrado. A menudo cuento la historia de su capacidad para salir con nosotros, ya que somos estudiantes universitarios y llegábamos a casa a la 1:00 o 2:00 a. algo mejor de lo que podríamos esperar escribir en esas pocas horas. A menudo te describí de la siguiente manera. Lo único que no te puede gustar de ti es que no hay nada que no te guste. Creo que eso es probablemente todavía cierto. If you read Spanish, I hope my use of Google translate is not painfully obvious. I can get by more and more with small things. Writing like this, not so much. This paragraph is to a friend I have known 2/3s of my life, and who is an incredible human being.

One of the things we humans spend billions of dollars on are things we can use to cover our blemishes, our inadequacies. I remember the first time Lydia sent me to Macy’s to purchase her makeup. This was not something within my repertoire of handy facts, so she sent along the almost empty bottles. As some know well, these were not large bottles or containers. In fact, I would go as far as to say, they were perhaps less than a small size. Maybe not minuscule, but certainly dainty. Those three little items were beyond $200.00. I was flabbergasted. And yet, perhaps that was, in part, the reason this little woman, who was beyond 80, could have passed for 60. I would also learn through one of those random conversations that can occur all to often on a plane that most cosmetics, regardless of brand, are made from the same ingredients, they are merely bottled differently. This makes sense to me both literally and metaphorically. We are such amazing creatures, attracted to the outside trimmings of things, too seldom taking the time to example the label. The reason for cosmetics is more than appearance, and the consequence of the 10s of billions of dollars invested is far reaching. And yet, we continue to believe in the efficacious nature of them. I am guilty of some of the same. But I think it is the allegorical nature of covering, the things we do, the methods we use, to conceal our fears and hurts, that are perhaps the most amazing. Those hurts often come from deep inside, the product of past experiences. We think they have healed because we have done such a remarkable job of camouflaging them, of masking them. And yet, the blemish still exists. Then, much like makeup, the brush of a tissue, the rubbing up against something unexpected, and the hurt is exposed, the pain revealed. I experience this more often than not, and ironically, it is through the revealing of them in this venue that I perhaps find the greatest chance that they might be finally ready for the light of day, no sort of foundation needed to manage them. Perhaps true healing, profound or more complete curing might occur.

One of the things I have learned through my life is I am able to read or intuit what communication scholars might refer to as relational and content levels of communication. Much of that came from being a parish pastor where most often you get the milk-toast version of most situations, and this occurs out of deference for the role of pastor. It is also because it was necessary as a child to be able to manage my surroundings. On the other hand, I believe, as noted by Kenneth Burke, the rhetorical scholar, much of our language is symbolic and yet poetic. Words are the things that both reveal and simultaneously obscure us. Some of this is unintentional because we are struggling to understand our own needs or wants, our own fears and insecurities. I have been pushed to understand my own insecurity, or perhaps my own selfishness, once again. And then again, how much of it was because of a lack in communication? How much of it was misinterpretation? Sometimes I feel like emotions can be the universal equalizer in our attempts to disguise, much like the remover used to get back to the basics of one’s complexion. Where is the space that is most appropriate? What does it take for one to be protective, but not reclusive, either with their time or their soul, if you will?

I believe more now than ever, it is a matter of timing. It is a matter of allowing the process to move forward. The difficulty is most often we are simply not consistent in our progress, and, in fact, can regress, and no two people have the same process. As I noted in my last post, forward movement is difficult. It pushes us to take chances, and that is frightening. And then there are times we take those chances, and much like the person on a diving board, we turn around. We are not ready to jump. Our bravery is simply another screen, allowing us to appear to be something we are not. There is a beauty in the natural. I know that sounds a bit trite to some, but even in the realm of our made-up world, when I look back in my life, some of the most incredible beauty I have witnessed was in two sisters. They owned a business, and I was blessed to meet them in other social situations, but to this very day I am in awe of their beauty. It was not merely the way they looked, which is still stunning, but it was more who they were (and I’m sure are even now) and the goodness to them. There is an honesty and pureness to them that is inviting and powerful. Perhaps their example is a life-example. Their intelligence and work ethic, their care and compassion for their family and the world, are exemplars of what I hope to be even now. One of the things difficult for us to do is accept our scratches, our defects, our imperfections. Yesterday there was a situation that from one perspective was an attempt to be helpful. From the other perspective it was a slight. Pondering now, I am not sure if the truth is somewhere in the middle or fragility was the main culprit.

What I continue to learn about myself is in spite of my success, I seldom feel successful. What I am pushed to understand or accept is in spite of all accomplished, there is hardly anything that gives me a sense of security, and when something pokes at that security, I am much like that little boy running to a safe place, hoping that I cannot be hurt. I once wrote in a blog to my mother that I am most easily hurt by those I care for. That is not surprising, but perhaps the disconcerting part is how deeply I feel that pain. Again, it is easy to understand from where it comes. It has a long history and is an integral part of my being. It is something I pray I might overcome, and I have worked hard to do so. I know there is progress because instead of stuffing it, I was able to verbalize the hurt, and that hurt or fear did not move toward anger, which would have happened earlier in my life. I was able to get a lot of work done in spite of the profound sadness. Some of that fear and hurt is the solitude I noted in my last blog. Some of it is timing, and an intense sense of vulnerability as I go about my daily work. And yet, like many, in spite of the fact I have never gone to cosmetology school in a literal manner, I have an advanced degree in it metaphorically. It leads to another question. Where is that safe space that one can be open and yet not feel dangerously exposed? I think there is no static space. Furthermore, it is ever more so complicated when it involves more than one person. We are fragile people, and yet I think most of us detest that fragility. I believe we want to be seen and accepted for who we are, but we need to be able to accept that first. Perhaps, almost absurdly and yet profoundly, I should thank someone for their seeming slight. I am not sure what they would say, and perhaps it too would be misinterpreted. The reasons are beyond simply words, but, in this case, even words are a struggle. What I know as I begin today, yesterday’s hurt is mediated to some extent. While I am not sure about the intentions, I would do well to believe the better angels, learn from it, and move forward. Is that covering it up once again? I want to believe the answer is no because I was honest about that hurt. I tried to offer a truthful response to the place I was in. The question is: am I merely concealing it or can I move beyond? Sometimes I think too much. I have been told this, and perhaps today is one of those days. There is so much to learn and understand. Perhaps like the sisters I so admire, I merely need to be the best, open version of myself I can. Is it possible through openness we overcome fear? Is it possible that I might be able to remove that amazing metaphorical make up I have created so well?

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Do You Believe In . . .

Hello from a little room in the Cathedral District,

Sometimes we want to believe in possibilities; we hope that what we have is reasonable or valuable, but it is hard to determine if that is true. Perhaps it is the reality that a good part of my life is coming to a close, and there are changes on the horizon. Perhaps it is my propensity for needing to plan. Perhaps it is even my expectation that I can make a difference in a world that seems more chaotic and unpredictable, and more hellbent on its own destruction. As I have a rather oxymoronic combination of hope and melancholia, there are times I find myself confused, struggling to make sense of others. As I look back on my life, this has been a rather constant companion of mine.

While I do not remember anything of my parents as a small child, trying to understand why they would neglect two of their children to the point, they lost them – or a mother could give a third child away to someone to never know where they are (and neither do I), is not something that makes sense to me, no matter how much I try to figure it out. In spite of a few years of living with a grandmother, a woman I still adore, the majority of my childhood and even beyond into adulthood, I made every effort to believe that I had something worthwhile. That battle was both internal and at times external. Today as I walked around, it came in an overwhelming manner once again. What I felt was demoralizing and it welled up like a beast from my past. As I walked around, I found myself examining my own worth and struggling to believe there was something of value. Perhaps most amazing was that I was able to hide it and go about the day as if it were normal, and nothing was amiss. As I sat in the Cathedral I think I felt like someone in a corner who could disappear and few would know. It was an profoundly intense and lonely feeling. Perhaps again, it was because I was trying to understand what I am trying to do, what I need, or perhaps do not need, to do. I am wondering if everyone struggles with the concept, the reality, of retirement the same way.

Sometimes I think it was because I generally felt like I was behind where I should be in terms of development, whether it was that I was smaller than everyone else, whether my starting college after everyone else my age, whether or not it was that I found my way through a maze of possibilities before I ended up in the academy. And once I figured it out or it figured me out, it seems like I have tried to make up for lost time. I have worked and worked crazy hours, but perhaps that is what kept me from taking care of my own self. I have been forced in many ways to manage my health situation. To not do so might have been fatal. So in many ways, I have been an incredible success in that area. I have done well as a professor, or at least I want to believe that is the case. There is my own struggle in believing that I can always do better. That might be my most profound demon. Not long ago, through conversations, I was pushed to understand my solitude, something that has lasted for over twenty years, with little change. How did I manage that or more significantly they asked how and why did it happen? While I think I have a reasonable handle on the external factors, I am not sure I have a clear sense of how my inner self kept that isolation possible. While I am neither female nor Muslim, their practice of purdah (living behind a veil or a curtain) might be a good metaphor of the past two-plus decades. And trying to come out from behind that veil has been a bit frightening. I am not sure how I might manage it, or if I will.

What I have been pushed to recognize is this: my work has been my escape from intimacy. The walls built, unbeknownst to the builder, are strong, and in spite of the ability of someone to see into that, there is more fear from their gaze than I sometimes realize. Today has been a day where little things pushed me to consider my place in the world. There was a young man asking for change, and I ignored his plea. As the day continued on, all I could think was I should have given him something. Do I understand the struggle and the nature of panhandling? Indeed, I do, but perhaps there was more of a struggle for this person than I realized. I felt like the person passing on the other side of the road. Phil Collins’ song “Another Day in Paradise” has been running through my head ever since. “Oh my Lord, there must be something you can say . . .” It seems too often we fail to care. These things haunt me. And even in this paragraph, I realize that I have ran away from the issue . . . thinking instead of other issues or other problems. What is in store for me? Where will I go? Will it make a difference and will it matter? What I am most afraid of, even as I often reclusively protect my solitude, is being alone. I am not sure that I have ever admitted that, even to myself.

When I find myself trying to believe that there was good in something, or in the someone, when that relationship was probably never a good thing (and I do not say that with any sense of malice), there is an issue. And I know undoubtedly, I did no better the second time, why would I even imagine wanting someone to be at my side again? Perhaps I am more clueless than I want to believe. And yet, I believe that loving someone is what makes us whole . . . it is what makes us grow and prosper. So why is it so difficult? Why is it so frightening? Much like when I tell my students how to write, and then I am reminded I should take my own advice, there is a parallel with relationships. I used to tell couples that being married would be the most difficult job they would ever attempt. I still believe that to be true, but in a much more thoughtful way than when I was that younger parish pastor half my life ago. I think, more than I want to believe, I was a failure as a spouse more often than not. I think there was so much more I could have given or have been willing to understand. I think this is my most profound failure as a person, and it now seems that it is the most consequential. I am amazed at my ability to want something and then I wonder if I unconsciously push it away at the same time? I have told some of a conversation with my graduate school counselor and his advice to me. When I called him the fall after COVID began, I told him that his advice was still ringing in my ears. We laughed about it, and there are elements that still cause me to smile, and yet today, it causes my eyes to well up in tears.

Sometimes, we are pushed when we least expect it to understand ourselves. Sometimes we are required to reassess what we have done, even in our distant past. Sometimes, we need forgiveness, which on one hand we have received, but on the other, the other will never forgive. Perhaps more importantly, can we forgive ourselves? This is where my childhood haunts me. If I was not good enough, worthy enough, valuable enough, why might I believe I am now? Again, please do not worry, I will work through it like I generally do, but on this rainy evening, it is proving to be a difficult task. I am reminded of another song that pushes me to rethink my lack of response today. It is a song by Everlast. The lyrics are tough, but honest. The reality of our inhumanity to others is front and center in this song. It haunts me as my actions did today. It haunts me as I struggle to understand my future . . . where it might happen, how it might happen, and if it will happen alone.

As always, thanks for reading.

Michael

It’s too late to . . .

Good morning from the mini-Acre.

We are products of systems and processes. More often then we care to admit we get caught up in the process and are influenced by the system in such a way we lose ourselves. We attempt to control the uncontrollable only to find ourselves somewhat frustrated, increasingly fearful, and mostly flummoxed by both what is happening, but also what we perceive as options to the circumstances.

It is stunning to me that another year is almost concluded. It has been a year of unexpected events and decisions and consequences. It has been a year of realizations and planning as I ponder the next phase or stage of my life. It has been a year of wondering if there are other changes or things I might consider. Perhaps the most important thing realized within the year was sometimes there is no turning back. Sometimes things we wish might, or might not, have happened just are. Regret is a profound emotion because it is often accompanied by guilt and shame, and each of them affects us differently; they are not the same thing. One of the things most painful this past year was when my exchange student had to move and the ensuing fall out from that move. It was my actions that necessitated the change, though unintentional. Nonetheless, once certain wheels started turning, there was no reversing them. It was traumatic for his family, and it caused difficulties that I am not sure will ever be overcome. It was painful for all.

More often then we care to admit, we are make choices that result in difficulty, for both ourselves and others. What is more significant, however, is the consequence of the choice, the effect of that experience, or combined experiences. The resulting action, the long-term emotional or mental outcomes, can affect us for even a lifetime. There are many times I find myself responding to or stepping back from a situation because of something that happened years before. These moments can be both helpful or distressing. In spite of understanding and realizing the effect of my childhood to much more completely than earlier in life, I often wonder if I will ever fully be able to manage it. And will I know if that happens? Sometimes the loss, the consequence of life itself can overwhelm us and leave is despairing. As I write today, I have been grading for the entire day, and it is time for a break. As I write, I have listened to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, one of the most amazing vocal and orchestral groups I have ever listened to. To witness them in Salt Lake City is on my bucket list. The video at the end of this post is one of the things I have listened to while working today, and it gives me chills to consider it. Sometimes I am in awe of those around us who are able to face life-changing moments and step up and manage them with such grace and courage. As I began this blog, there was a part of me despairing, wondering, and trying to imagine what is next. There was a fear and a general lack of courage. There as a feeling of rejection and wondering why such a rejection or feeling of such enveloped me so quickly or easily? I am reminded of a former student who once noted that I have a melancholy side to me. It is true, and perhaps that is the most profound effect of my childhood. Perhaps it is my struggle to believe that I am worth having in this world. I know that in an of itself sounds pretty dismal, and I am not that downtrodden at the moment, but perhaps it is the feeling that there is no real place I feel I belong. Additionally, I must note that this is not really because of others, but because of my own frailty.

As I sit now and type I am in a courtyard of an old hotel that is no longer serving in that capacity, but it is an Air BnB. It is an incredible place with a touch of both simplicity and elegance. The garden area is beyond tranquil, and there is a set of steps up to a second floor where there is a small pool (fountain) and then a really quaint area that used to be a restaurant and is available to reserve and cook things. The area I am in is referred to at the Cathedral area, and it is very nice, but if you go even a couple of blocks, it can be very different.

During the past week, it would have been my sister’s birthday. I often wonder what she would have been like at this point in her life. It is stunning to believe that she will be gone almost 15 years ago, and likewise, it is a quarter of a century since our father passed away. This perhaps returns me to the title of this blog. Often, in spite of our best intentions, we fail to let those who matter know how important they are. Sometimes, it is because we do not take the time to think about it. Sometimes, it is because we focus on the difficulties rather than the gifts. I actually began to write this blog the day before her birthday, and I knew then the title was related to her. She and I struggled as we grew up because I did not understand her. What I did not understand was her sexual orientation. Today, I would even perhaps question her sexual identity, but I am not sure that was even a possibility when we were growing up. What I realized is she found most attempts to feminize her repulsive, or at least that is how I understand her now. As a brother only months older than her, I simply found her embarrassing, and as a consequence, I avoided her. What I realize how is how difficult that must have been. I also know that she was victimized more by our mother than the two males were. Perhaps our mother did not understand or appreciate her either. No wonder she tried to run away. As I ponder it now, it hurts me; it saddens me; and I wish she knew where I am now. But, 15 years later is a bit late. I have written about her a number of times, but as I think of her now there are two specific things that I would note about her. Her obituary noted that she was caring and compassionate, and that is certainly true. I think she cared for others because she did not receive that care growing up. She learned compassion because of the lack of compassion she experienced. The second thing that would characterize her was an incredible creativity. From writing to art, from her appreciation of what she observed in nature to her ability to replicate it, she was both talented and brilliant. Too many times those gifts were not cherished; they were not nourished as they should, or could, have been. Because of the time she was born, her sexuality began the thing that most people would focus on, and the world, which is still not accepting enough, was even less so then. I wonder what she would think of today’s world? She would certainly have opinions, that is for sure. I am hoping in my own piety it is not too late to tell her I am proud of the amazing person she was an in awe of her talent. She was a piano player; she had a strong singing voice, and she loved being a mother. I wonder if we had a chance to do something together, perhaps to travel or spend a week somewhere, what she would want to do. I think it would be rustic and simple, but she would prepare now. Earlier in her life she was a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants person. She was as untidy as I was neat. She was willing to try anything once, where I was more cautious or probably fearful. I remember when we were in early elementary school she was my protector, even though she was younger. She had little fear of anything or anyone. That might have been why she was so difficult for our mother. She could be defiant in ways I could not even fathom.

If you come to visit me, I have two pictures of the two of us displayed. One is two small pictures side-by-side of our kindergarten graduations (I was a grade ahead of her). The second is of the two of us when we still lived at our grandparents. I am going to assume I was about 2 1/2 and she would have been a little older than 1. I think they were probably the first set of photographer pictures my grandparents had, and it was probably shortly after we had come to live with them. I sometimes wonder what it must have been for them to take on two toddlers, while they owned a business and my grandfather worked two jobs. Those are things I wish I knew more about. I remember seeing my grandfather at the Sioux City Stockyards. In fact, cattle were a significant part of both my initial family and my adopted family. I know that we had probably only been there a year and my grandfather would pass away from lung cancer. So now my grandmother had two little ones under the age of three and had a business to run, and she was in her early 40s and a widow. I have noted a lot about my grandmother in this blog, but I find myself wondering about my grandfather. I know a bit more about my grandmother’s side because she was a Hannestad, but I know very little about the Lynam name or its history. I have been trying to get more on the Hannestad side for a cousin, but I have not been as successful as I would like. Something else to work on when I have some free time. What I have found about Lynam is it is from English, so there is more of that UK to me than I often realize.

As I am moving into a last year, perhaps it is important to manage some things before it is too late. Sometimes it is nostalgia; sometimes it is curiosity; sometimes, it is simply important to ask the questions and find the answers. As I ponder all of it, I wonder why we are so content to let it pass by until it might be too late. And indeed, as well as not surprisingly, this song comes to mind.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Called, Gathered, Enlightened, and Sanctified

Hello on a chilly and damp November morning,

At the passing of my pastoral mentor, I have been somewhat preoccupied with reflecting on my life both as a pastor and beyond. I remember my ordination day generally, and I still have a VCR tape of it, which I should probably have re-rendered into a different format to watch again. I remember elements of the service; I remember elements of the sermon; I remember the presentation of the stole; and I remember most vividly after it was completed feeling overwhelmed and being sick to my stomach because of the depth of what had occurred that day. It seemed everyone, my family, friends, home congregants, were really to celebrate this important occasion in my life of my home parish, and I wanted to go to bed because I was exhausted and feeling ill. Even now I reminded of the story of Luther presiding at his first mass and almost collapsing. I can empathize. As I have returned this semester to teaching our Bible as Literature class, the examples of, the process of, calling are (is) apparent throughout the Bible, and indeed through both testaments, and the apocrypha. What it abundantly clear is both the reception and response to the call is seldom something that causes some profound sense of joy, a sense of being special because of the call. More often, the response is one of shock, a sense of can we refuse it because it is neither convenient nor desired. This confoundedness, this sense of mistaken identity, happens whenever we are asked to step up. I see it in my classroom. Students with the deer-in-the-headlights stare; I also saw it when I taught confirmation and you asked some 13-14 year olds what it meant to affirm their faith, to realize what it meant to be a faithful person. I remember at one service when my senior pastor in that Affirmation of Baptism Service telling the confirmands if they did not really plan to follow through on this promises that affirmed their baptism they were lying. And he followed with God does not like liars. Even I almost sunk into my chair, hoping I might disappear. Holy Buckets was it quiet in that crowded sanctuary.

And yet Luther’s explanation of the third article is profound and all encompassing. Luther asserts that we cannot believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord or come to him. The very act of believing in Christ as the Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The very act of exhibiting faith in Christ as an external act is dependent on that same Holy Spirit, but the gift bestowed, through baptism, is total. We do not come on our own, we are called, but that call is not merely something that we manage in some solitary manner. The Holy Spirit realizes our capabilities, or lack there of. We are called and gathered. The significance of the community of faith cannot be overstated. It is both foundational and necessary. It is through the congregational experience that sacraments and joint confession and absolution are available. It is in the gathering that the reality is the incredible grace and forgiveness of God becomes most apparent. It is in our dialectic nature of saint and sinner that grace accomplishes its efficaciousness most completely.

One of the things most surprising to me to this day is as a young person active in church and coming of age in the 70s, the idea of spirit-filled, or charismatic, Christians frightened me. Those with particular spiritual gifts were overwhelming to me because there was little said about the third article of the Apostles Creed in my primarily Norwegian Lutheran parish. The closest thing I witnessed to the idea of the Holy Spirit as an active part of the Trinity was watching Billy Graham on television. Even in my 20s, those who were third article dominant were not in my circle of friends or in my worship experience. Even as a seminarian, my initial interests academically were both in either the languages and linguistics of the Bible or in the connections between linguistics and interpretation. It was not until I was in the parish, and called to administer sacraments that the role of the Holy Spirit would confront me. And yet, perhaps it was not a confrontation at all. That is not how the Spirit works; it is rather a gentle nudging or a persistent inkling of something more significant. What I learned was the Spirit is more than an advocate, to use the New Testament language, it is the person of the Trinity that undergirds and supports all of our meager attempts at faithfulness. The Spirit and its gifts are what allows us to fathom, to comprehend, to have the opportunity to come to a creator who loves us, even in our brokenness, perhaps loved us even deeper or more profoundly because of our brokenness.

As a college professor, one of the things I appreciate most in my classes is when that proverbial light snaps on for a student. I had such an occurrence, in a rather significant manner last Spring in a basic professional writing class. The student wrote in their final post (paraphrased)that what they learned in the semester was not merely course material, but rather life-long skills. The student nailed the purpose of the course, and stated its purpose perhaps better than I could myself. It is something I have not only held onto, but have used with students taking the course this year. This same student would come to my office regularly, more than once a week, and we chatted about much more than simply the course. Learning something is one thing, but comprehending and realizing the importance of something is life changing, or certainly can be. Managing something, claiming something, is to begin to make it your own. It goes far beyond merely showing up and listening to a lecture; it makes that lecture, that class, that education life changing. One does not return to the place they were, and, in fact, it kid not possible to return because you are a new being. In terms of one’s belief, one’s faith, it seems Luther’s assertion that one is newly raised, newly born daily is the consequence of being enlightened. And yet are we fully cognizant of our change, of our enhanced ability to comprehend and understand? Most often it seems the answer is a emphatic no. It might even seem that such an ability is not always a gift, and might even feel to be a burden. For example, understanding the reality of something requires a certain sense of enlightenment, but facing that reality is not always pleasant. As noted in a recent post, there are times we much prefer to not know. So, just perhaps, in spite of my usual assertion that I can manage what I know much better than what I don’t, do I actually feel the opposite, or is in on a case-by-case basis? Perhaps the idea of being enlightened needs more consideration.

Perhaps the most incredible, the most profoundly unexpected of the verbs in the title, in Luther’s explanation is sanctified, the idea that we are made holy, sainted if you will. How in our fallenness, in our imperfection and our selfishness could we ever hope to be made holy? That is the point, it is nothing we can hope to obtain, it is given. It is the gift of life in the midst of our dying. It is the gift of justification when there is nothing that can justify us. It is the gift of sanctification when there is absolutely nothing we can do to be sanctified. It is the answer to what saves us, as noted by the incredible Lutheran theologian, the Rev. Dr. Gerhard Forde, when he says nothing we do will save us except “to shut up and listen once in your life.” It is perhaps the most unparalleled gift God bestows through the spirit. The theology of the cross and the sending of the spirit are the core of my own personal piety. As I have worked in my Bible as Literature course again this semester, which as a reminder is not a religion class, working through the scripture and looking at the context of how scripture was written and passed on, I am always amazed at what looking at the Bible through any lens does. It confronts me and pushes me to ponder the role of God in my life. As many, I ponder the work of God in our daily lives, but when I ponder the Spirit, I am more amazed. How is it possible that someone, something, some – – – you fill in the blank, can anticipate or fathom our inability before it occurs, can rectify our failure before we do it, and ultimately take care of all options, while simultaneously cleansing us, protecting us, and providing for us? And this is only part of it. That is, at least for me at this point, how I understand what the spirit does. There is so much more I could write about all of this, but I think I will let it stand as it does.

The Holy Spirit protects and provides for us in our daily life, once we have that gift, we are changed. The question is simple. What will you do with the change? Perhaps it is not ironic that I post this on the 539th anniversary of Luther’s birth.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Keep Pushin’

Hello from my front seat of Bruce, The Beetle,

I am waiting for my friends and colleagues at our appointed place for dinner. My brain is whirling for a variety of reasons, and that is when I find it most necessary to write. It is a way to clear my thoughts, to structure the chaos, and a way by which I can move forward most efficiently. This afternoon I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with my late pastor’s son. It was the first time we spoke in more than a year. We have played phone tag on more than one occasion. Over the years we have managed to stay connected and it seems too often our actual conversing has occurred at those moments we are confronted with our mortality, with the reality of life’s changes. Changes that are mortally eternal, which are profound and emotional.

David spoke about the last moments with his father, and how he had never witnessed a death before. Certainly when that experience is your parent, it is overwhelming. I read him the blog written for his father and during our conversation there were tears from both sides. Loving someone, truly loving them beyond something comprehensible, with a wholeness or totality that eludes our normal thoughts or imagination is what I heard in David’s voice and through his tears. It is not a perfect love, but it is an unparalleled love. It is a life-giving love that we all hope to achieve. And it was a beautiful love to witness even through a phone. While it was not an unexpected love to hear about, seldom does such a beautiful expression occur. I was blessed in that exchange with my friend, one who has covered my entire adult life. In spite of the moment for him two weeks ago, we also note for us life continues and there is the reality of moving on. However, there is a sort of gut-check reality that one’s own generation has become the elder. In spite of the reality that created this role, there is something privileged in becoming that, the elder. And so the reality is we keep pushin’ . . . Keep pushin’ on.

As I write this, now on Thursday morning, another week of classes is completed today for the majority of my classes. While the semester has been beyond busy, it has also been another learning experience for me. There is always something to ponder, to imagine, and yes, to be amazed from in the daily push from the first day to the semester’s final posting. For over two and a half years, when we unexpectedly received a second week of Spring break, students, faculty, and administrators at the university (and individuals around the world) have labored to manage the virus that has enveloped our globe. To say we have struggled seems to be kind at best, and regardless one’s stance on social distancing, masking, or being vaccinated, we have pushed through. Recently I received the latest of the boosters, and yes, I have been injected (for those old enough to understand, I am hearing strains of Alice’s Restaurant) for flu and pneumonia. Indeed, selected, inspected . . . Sometimes it is easy to become overwhelmed and wonder if it all matters, but I wish such moments to be bit fleeting ones – ones that remind me of my humanness, but also ones that push me to be better, imagine better, strive for better. To keep pushin’ has become a mantra that is characteristic of my daily practice. I not always as successful as I wish, but seldom do I feel I am being regressive. I think retreat or failure to move ahead is a mindset more than an actual motion.

It is easy to feel disappointed in our current world’s atmosphere; I am sure the last 50 days in the UK are somewhat unprecedented; I am sure the situation for both the Russians and Ukrainians is very untenable, but nevertheless, it continues; In spite of our own midterm elections being only a week away, I think I am both accurate and realistic (and unfortunately so) that the beat of the 2024 drum will be echoing in my ears some the following day. It is with certainly that I say I hope I am in another country before that next November election. I do wonder what the founders of the country, those on either side of that political coin would say about where we currently are? While I believe I am a patriotic American, and I actually like exploring politics, I am tired of it all. It is not the intention of the political process, it is what we have managed to do with it. Hence, my question about our founders. I am sure there was some significant rancor in the founding conversations. It is important to remember many of the founders were in their 20s, and in spite of the differences between the 18th and the 21st century, 20-something males are exactly that.

As school this week, in other places, the reality of our daily grind seems to be more profound then is often the case. Why is that? Is it a perception or a reality? Perception is reality until proven otherwise, but I am much more a person who wanted to deal with the reality of something. I am reminded of some others questioning if everything must be logical to me? My answer was a pretty straightforward yes. It is how I teach. It is how I manage; and yes; it is my version of the title, the adage, the reality of this blog . . . life is process. Life is the reality of the push and being pushed. It is something that allows for possibility and hope. There will always be the reality that we will be pushed harder than we ourselves can push. There is the reality that we can be knocked down. Th question is how successfully can we get back up? Getting up is never simple, but it is always possible. Often it is a dirty process. There are times when others might prefer we remain flat on our faces. There are three times in my life when I was ostensibly told, you might as well stay down. After a serious argument with a band director, who found out I had enlisted in the Marines, told me I would never survive boot camp. That was motivating. There was a college prescient who told me I would never have a PhD. And yet I do. And there was a bishop willing to take away something precious, and content to leave me wounded on the road like the person in the parable of the Good Samaritan. There were those who found me and tended my wounds. Through it all I was able to keep pushin’

As I finally finish this blog, it is now the first of November. It is the time to remember the Saints in our lives. It is easy to believe Saints are someone extraordinary, and extraordinary they are, but they are simultaneously human, ordinary individuals. Perhaps it is not by accident that yesterday was also the day Luther hung his 95 theses on a castle door 500 years ago. Luther’s dialectic of simul justis et peccator could be understood as keep pushin’ on. The tools to make a difference, the ability to be a light to another is within each of us. It was my grandmother who succeeded in a battle with alcoholism; it was my father who created a family of three children he did not create; it was a small diminutive woman, an only child, who came to another country and changed people’s lives in a classroom; they are three saints in my life. They were not perfect, but they loved me. None of them would consider themselves saints, but to me they were. They simply demonstrated the ability to keep pushin’ and by their actions and their love, I am but an ember of their incredible fire.

Below is the song that inspired this blog, I am reminded of more than once I saw this band in concert; am there is more than one album I probably played the grooves off from the number of times I would listen to them.

Dr. Martin

Father Fred

Fred is at the bottom left

Good morning from Rio Segundo,

It is a mixed bag morning as I am looking out at beauty, appreciating the remoteness on the one hand, but struggling with our technological dependence on the other because I cannot communicate adequately with a host of people. These are all issues to ponder in managing a move and all the other pieces of a complex puzzle I am trying to create.

The day before yesterday I saw a Facebook post that somewhat cryptically told me that the man who is probably as important to my faith journey, my piety, and my understanding of a creator as anyone in my life, has passed from this life to the next. The Reverend, and Navy Chaplain, Frederick J. Peters has finished the earthly portion of his journey. Well into his 90s, he lived a life of both faithful service (to his Lord and his family) and as an exemplar to a young clueless Marine veteran, one returning to his home town to meet the most incredible family, whose father was the pastor of my home parish. That fall, I had little idea how, or to the degree, this proud German Lutheran pastor, his Canadian wife, or, in particular, two of his four children, would change my life’s trajectory. The very fact that I am writing about it in my blog today is some indication of that profundity. I wonder what he would think of such a post.

Returning to Riverside from my enlistment was difficult; ultimately because the fractured relationship I had with my mother had not improved during my absence, and my return did little to please her. And that was merely the beginning. At that point in my life, I did not realize to the degree or the depth as well as the significance her earlier life experiences had on her or affected her. Because of that, I had little tolerance. So, even though I was an adult of sorts, I fell quickly back into the child role. I dutifully went to church every Sunday, sang in the senior choir, and worked a dead-end because I still had little idea of what I could do with my life. Yet, as I returned to the congregation that had reared by faith, I found myself amazed by the preaching and the incredible depth of the simple, and profound piety of this new pastor. Father Fred, as I would soon learn to refer to him, was a people’s pastor. He was a no-BS, earthly, and understandable pastor who was also an amazing teacher. It was my father who revealed this side of him. My father took Stephen’s Ministry classes from him; indeed, the Reverend Peters understood what it meant to have an educated laity, a parish who understood what it meant to be ministers and called in their own right. I remember my father would also teach first year confirmation for Fred. I can imagine my father welcoming him to coffee at this point.

Fred and Ruth Peters became surrogate parents to me as I found myself back in my home neighborhood from my time in the Marines. It was nothing expected by any of us. And for Ruth, bless her heart, I am not sure it was exactly what she bargained for. However, it is what a poor wandering soul probably needed. The Peters along with another surrogate church father by the name of Sheldon (Bud) Reese did more to manage my cluelessness than my own parents. To be fair, I am not sure how much I would have listen to my adoptive parents at that time. My father had been hands off most of my life, and as I understood, he had little interest I think in helping me figure myself out, and on the other hand, my mother had lost none of her disdain for a person she resented since the age of four. So as I worked full time initially at a Walgreens Superstore, I found myself attending high school football games, driving my car around, and spending time with two of the four offspring of the new pastor at my home church. The only Peters son and I became friends, along with another XC person, a wonderfully smart classmate of theirs, Bob Sandison. Between David, Barbara, the second eldest daughter, and Bob, I felt like I had a group of friends, which I now know was probably life-saving to me. It was on a October Friday evening that I ended up on the front room floor of the parsonage, playing board games with David and Barb, and some of Barb’s swimming teammates. The Peter’s parents were kind and provided drinks and snacks. Somehow we ended up playing all night. I went home about 6:00 in the morning because I needed to go to work a half-day that Saturday morning. I thought nothing much of the fact I had not let my parents know where I was. After work that day, my father asked me to go with him to do some electrical work at the parsonage, the very place I had spent all night playing board games.

As we walked into the house and toward the basement, Fred pulled me aside and calmly asked, “Why didn’t you call home and let your parents know where you were?” Amazed by the question from my pastor, as well as respecting him as such, I replied honestly, “I don’t have a good reason.” He, with a fatherly, but nonetheless stern look, said, “Don’t do it again.” And I headed down the steps with my tail seriously tucked between my legs. As I spent more and more time at the Peters’ residence, the more I understood my pastor as a human first. That would be a consequential realization later in my own life. David, Barb, and Bob, though a few years younger, became a group who did more to keep me grounded than they realized. The Peters family provided the sense of family I was missing in my own. Perhaps that exposure to faith had as much to my considering ordained ministry as anything. It would be that fall I would decide to attend college for the first time, but the year before there were concerts, camping trips, days and nights at the swimming pool, and trying to navigate relationships, a ‘71 Chevelle, which did not make Mother Ruth happy, a little yellow a Honda called Buttercup, and dog sitting a Brittney Spaniel, named Patches. Contrary to the passing glance, that year did more to develop me than I realized. The time I spend with the threesome and the Peters family helped me to develop a sense of person, albeit somewhat nascent, and begin to find a path. As I entered the academy for the first time, Father Fred, in his blunt earthly manner, prophesied correctly, “You will do just fine in college unless you fuck off.” Truer words have never been spoken. As I failed to do my work, with certainly some mitigating circumstances, I would flunk out. Additionally, that year created a serious fracturing, when I failed to manage my personal relationship within the family. Fred met me at the door and told me I was no longer welcome in their home. But as importantly, he continued to be my pastor. He was able to separate his roles and he would soon, and unexpectedly have to preach at my brother’s funeral. And he did so fabulously. For the remainder of his life, to my knowledge, he stood by the edict he issued at the front door of their Nash Street parsonage. He was a father first. As I have grown into my own elderly stature, I cannot help by admire his principled stand.

As I grew, returned to college and worked to figure out my meandering path, ironically I would end up in the Twin Cities for seminary. Fred and Ruth had relocated to the cities also as Father Fred moved into chaplaincy ministry. The first fall I was there I would be part of David’s wedding. Before I was out of seminary, as Fred moved toward his own retirement, they would move to St. Peter, MN and as I was studying on a path to ordination, I would be invited to their house for Thanksgiving. During my internship year, Susan, my first wife and I would be invited to their home again, and I remember barely being able to eat as I was preparing for my first abdominal surgery. Father Fred was a profoundly intelligent person; he was a student of both history and theology, but he was also a student of humanity. Next to my own father, I think he understood what made people tick as well as anyone I have ever met. He (as well as Barb and Dave) was (are) the only one(s) to call me Mikey. In fact, Fred preached at my ordination service; that might be the last time I saw him in person. He began by looking at me from the pulpit in that very church he had pastored me almost two decades before, and saying, “Mikey, it’s been a long journey, but you’ve come a long way.” And he was so correct. It was not inappropriate that he was there for the beginning of what would be my move into adulthood (a process in which he has a significant hand) and he was there at the beginning of my ministry in the church.

As I write this, my journey with the church, my own faith journey, has been anything but traditional, and yet it was a profound traditionalist in terms of Lutheran theology, one who understood Luther’s dialectic of simul justis et pecattor? as well as my confessions professors, who nudged me into parish ministry. When I struggled to determine if seminary was possible, if I was worthy or faithful enough to study for an Masters of Divinity, it was a letter from Father Fred who clarified my struggle. In his letter he encouraged me to be open to the call of the Spirit, “even if it meant parish ministry.” It was that letter, from someone who most taught me the complexity of being called, more than anything that led me to St. Paul to begin my seminary studies. As I consider Fred as one of the newest of the saints, I am reminded of how God uses people and circumstances to lead us on our meandering journey of life. Much like the Israelites of the Old Testament, the two years after my stint in the Marine Corps, were my proverbial 40 years of searching for a promised land. Father Fred was the equivalent of a major prophet, a Judge, and the voice of one crying in the wilderness on my behalf. He was the exemplar of the dutiful saint called to call me, to witness to me, to guide me, and yes, most importantly, to father me. If I have any regret, it is my youthful immaturity that created an estrangement from a family to whom I am so grateful. I regret that I have not been able to be more in touch with him during the past decade or so. They had moved to Oregon, and Fred’s hearing was difficult at best. The last time I did speak with him, it was difficult to get him to understand what I was saying. I have been able to keep up on the progression of his journey through both David and Barb, and I was aware of his move back to Nebraska to be closer to the youngest of his children. It is another stop, another step, if you will in my own faith journey to say goodbye to such an influential person. I am, and will be forever grateful that Father Fred was in Sioux City that fall I returned. As noted in our Lutheran liturgy, I offer this, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And perhaps more importantly, thank you for being a surrogate father to me when I most needed it. I love you.

Thanks to everyone else for reading, This is for the father who adopted me in a different way, whether he knew it or not.

Mikey

Wishing I Knew, then again, Perhaps Not

Hello on a somewhat mixed bag morning,

Much like the sky this morning, I am not sure what to expect from the day. Eleven years ago today, the small town (and it is the only location in Pennsylvania that uses the word town as its official designation) where I live had a flood, which would change our entire semester and move the town to build a flood wall, a project still in process. We would be out of school for 10 days and it was like starting the semester all over. As I read the stories about Jackson or other places where floods have reminded us of nature’s power and fury.

I had intended to write yesterday on what would be the 66th birthday of my closest childhood friend, a friend whose mother and my adopted mother were life-long friends, a friend whose grandparents bought their house from my grandparents. I think you get the picture. Perhaps we were pre-ordained to be friends. We were sort of brothers of different mothers. Peter Gayle Goede was a force of nature because he created a presence wherever he went. And in spite of two older brothers who were amazing in their own rites, he was not to be outdone just because he was the youngest. He had a laugh that would fill an enormous space in an instant, and while he perhaps had a disdain for athleticism, he was as much of a superstar as anyone when it came to his theatricality and his ability to command a stage. I remember being in Sioux City Children’s Theater with him and his still one of the most amazing Jacob Marleys I have ever seen. But it would be his voice that presented an opportunity that changed his life.

We grew up in the poorer section of a town of 100,000 people (and he technically lived across the river in another town, and actually in another state). Ironically that little corner of the city was a hotbed for garage bands, and really good ones. Pete was asked to sing the classic Beatles song “Let it Be,” which was the theme of our high school’s homecoming. He blew people away with his effortless and incredible rendition of the Lennon piece. Not long following, one of those bands asked him to be their lead singer, and what followed would change their lives, and I would argue continues to influence them, even beyond his premature death. I remember the last time I visited him before he passed. He was in a care facility because he could not really do anything for himself. It was quite astounding to see what ALS had done to him in a relatively short time. As we chatted, his voice little stronger than a whisper, he asked that I might take him out for a frosty at Wendy’s, which I was glad to do. I had to put his jacket on, I buttoned it for him, I helped him get in a car and fasten his seatbelt. In some ways it was like Peter was trapped inside a mannequin of himself. As we drove to Wendy’s, he reminded me I would need to feed him, and much for graphically he explained if he needed a restroom what my duties would be. I merely responded, “That’s fine; I understand. No problem.” He stated matter of fact my, “I don’t want to wipe your a**.” I smiled and responded, “ No worries; I don’t have one.” And we both started laughing. Even now I realize how comfortable we were with each other, and I am grateful to this day I could make him laugh as he faced his inevitable mortality. While there were a number of unexpected elements to our day, it was most shocking when he said, almost as an aside, “I never expected to get old.” I had no response, and merely pondered his statement.

Even today, I wonder if individuals, relatively healthy and with little reason to suspect adversity, can by some 6th sense or intuition, have a sort of premonition of their own end of life? If so, is such a sense comforting or disconcerting? How much is reasonable to know and when is it too much? Certainly, there is an element of individuality to this answer. Additionally, it probably depends on the seriousness of gravity of the revelation. As I have turned another year older, living the first full day towards a next birthday, I am positive that age has something to do with it. Am I ready for some soon, even though the sometime eventuality of my existence as a living, breathing, cogent person is there, to happen? Most certainly not! I have much I want to still accomplish. And as an aside, I am sitting at PennDOT in the queue to get a new license. I think I might get through the queue at Westminster to view her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II quicker. I did get my license purchased and paperwork completed, but it was going no to be almost two more hours to get a photo. I will go back another day and to a center more geographically convenient. All of the additional things seem to predict a ridiculously busy coming 7 days. I think that is the reality of life until the end of the semester.

I sometimes wish those who have departed this world could come back from or a week and observe. They might need a day to contextual the present world, but there are two people I would love to sit down and listen to after their week’s observation of where we are presently. The two individuals are my paternal grandmother and my adopted father. The reason for the two of them are they are the opinions I believe to be honest. There is a difficulty because they are contemporaries, two years different in age, and actually cousins. I am pondering how similar their political stances would be. I am imagining my grandmother would be the more conservative of the two. I think this is the first time I have actually considered that. And yet, I would want to know their views and their opinions. My grandmother was a recovering alcoholic, and serious adherent of Norman Vincent Peale’s theory or positive thinking. Additionally she was a small business owner. Those things lead me to believe she was a traditional Republican. And, in spite of the fact both families were helped by Roosevelt’s new deal. Though as a farming family perhaps they did not benefit from all the Alphabet Agency support. My adopted father, on the other hand, told stories of walking with his father to collect rent payments, and taking the money to make sure it got home, ensuring Grandpa did not spend it in some bar before he got home. This, of course, reveals an entirely separate issue that is part of my family’s fabric. My father was a blue-collar, union electrician, who, I am quite sure never voted Republican in his life. He understood social programs, but simultaneously noted there are no free lunches. While my grandmother is still my hero and someone I think I understood, what I realize now is I am not sure where she would stand on some things. I am quite sure as someone who always treated the other with the utmost respect and rejected words or actions that demonstrated such unkindness, she would be mortified by our current National atmosphere. In fact, she would be angry, but note it in her own way. Her phrase was “I am so angry, I could just spit.” That was about as vulgar as she might get. I think I heard her say “damnit” once or twice. In fact, I am sure I would get lectures about my potty mouth.

Ironically, since I last worked on this blog, a few days ago, I was lectured for my potty mouth. And rightly so, perhaps. I am more like Luther personality-wise than I might have realized. To say there is an earthy element to my affect is most certainly true. As I write this, it seems it is time to begin yet another journey of sorts. I have done them before and yet each time seems more laborious. I never know if it part of what is in process or something new, but it is not a stranger to me. I know this battle and I will manage it. Seems time to post.

This is my musical mood on this October afternoon.

The layers of this song are profound

Thanks for reading,

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

Small Events with Large Implications

End of summer

Hello from my back patio on the mini-acre,

It is astounding to me that I am staring straight into the face of another semester, another academic year, and the reality of completing my career in academe, at least in a formal manner. As noted in another post, my more-than-wise father once noted how time will seem to pass so much more quickly as we age. Again he was correct. If I were keeping track, I think he has a perfect record.

As I write this, the world continues to seemingly spin out of control. In an unprecedented action, the FBI has raided the residence of a former President. I do hope this was, and is proven to be, warranted. I do believe it has the potential to create a revolution in this country. However, Attorney General Merrill Garland does not strike me as a shoot-from-the-hip person. Doubtless, the next 90 days until the election will prove interesting. I was a late adolescent person at the time of Watergate, but it is interesting that even former President Trump compared Monday to that event. Certainly, Monday’s FBI actions are no small event. The consequences are multi-faceted and it will be interesting if both our elected politicians and/or the public will allow process to occur. I doubt it as Minority Leader of the House McCarthy has already fired metaphorical shots across the bow of the sailing DOJ’s ship. I am quite sure the spin on either side will happen. I am reminded of a sign I saw in Cape Charles last week. It read: OMG -GOP-WTF. I do not believe the majority of the Republican Party follows lock-step with our former President, but I do believe that the majority of the GOP is about anyone-but-a-Democrat. I also must note that many Democrats believe the Republican Party is Trump before anyone on the left. What all of this means is simple: both parties are dysfunctional. The consequence is not good. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is it keeps the former President in the news, which is what he needs. Enough on that, but that is where I am on the large events, or at least one of them.

Small events, at least on the national or global stage, have little consequence for the immediate as they are singular in their kairotic effect. I experienced such an event over this past 24 hours. Though comparison and face-to-face experience, I was able to see how different individuals can be. Furthermore, it was helpful to compare units and backgrounds. Certainly my choices had more consequence than I expected. Another learning lesson and facing the reality of how in a big picture we are all cogs in a larger process has been clearly illustrated. What I have learned is even though meetings occurred because of the same chances and decisions, those met are individuals, and we need to allow them to be so. The more important thing, which is something I have reminded some of, we are products of our surroundings, of those who raise us. It has taken me hard work to see the good in some of my own background, but I have been able to do so. The clear reality of those influences have hit me in the face this summer. It has been yet another important lesson. As is always the case, there is both positive and negative in the experience, but what we do with all of it is a personal choice. I think more importantly I am reminded of the importance of agency. We have power in every situation. The question is if we know the best way to manage it?

As I think about my life in the academy, there is a great deal of overlap. We too often allow external factors to control not only what we do, but also control our attitudes and emotions. Various constituencies believe they understand both the external needs and the internal processes, legislating changes or mandating actions that have little or no pedagogical practicality. And yet things move forward, and the train picks up speed with little in its way to slow it down. As I have noted in the past, the reality that education is a business endeavor, like most anything else in our free enterprise system, is not lost on me, but neither is the foundational purpose of the academy, which is to teach both the liberal arts (to be a global citizen) and vocational (in Luther’s sense of vocation) understanding, to foster critical thinking skills, to develop analytical capabilities, and to thoroughly prepare students to go into the world to actually make a difference. During the past week I have observed students who arrive early to their semester. What is readily apparent is how unprepared more and more students are to enter the academy. This does not mean they are bad people, but it begs the question of why high school graduates seem more and more incapable of managing basic introductory courses? While the reasons are complex, there are two simple reasons that come to mind: standardized testing and less rigor in high school academics. Behind these points are a myriad of issues, but the small changes turned into larger issues and the issues have created a systemic and profound problem, one with generational consequences. I have former students, ones who made me proud to say they graduated from Bloomsburg University. They have left the teaching profession in disillusionment. That is a devastating thing, not only for them, but for the multitude of students who will miss out on their passion and ability, but a passion extinguished. I know of other amazing teachers who have struggled mightily with what they face daily in their classrooms. I find myself asking again and again, what happened to the best and the brightest going into the classroom? Our current systemic issues have, too often, pushed the best and brightest away because what they will face cannot be justified either by what they will experience, how they will be supported, or what they are paid for their struggles.

The misperception about what it requires to be in a classroom, to offer strong, pedagogically-sound instruction takes more than knowledge. It demands the understanding of students’ abilities and how students are varied in both their ability and learning styles within the same classroom, even in the same row. How can one individual instruction and manage the overall needs of a class at the same time? Even when I have taught a class multiple times, there is more than a few hours a preparation. Likewise, teaching the same material year in and year out become monotonous. Point is I put a lot into a course before it ever begins. I have people ask why I am willing to go to such effort. It is what I believe I owe my students. It is my own expectations to do the best I can..

All of this returns to me to the focusing title. It is all the small things that have much larger consequences when they are accumulated. The lack of critical thinking and careful analysis of a situation leads too often to shallow-thinking-knee- jerk responses. Extreme response by anyone over-simplifies an issue or currently seems to lead to a self-aggrandized belief that one is more intelligent than anyone else. One is more well-intentioned, one is more in tune with the altruistic hopes or needs of the world. In reality, all fall short and the consequence is a country on the edge of catastrophic drought, shorelines that will be swallowed up by rising water, a world where demagoguery and a thirst for power, for a bygone world, creates global instability. Where suspicion overrides cooperation and millions of people die needlessly from the next germ that enters our fragile world-wide community. Where in our communities violence, rage, and hate snuff out another life or twenty because there is so little help for those who struggle with a host of maladies or addictions. If I sound a bit cynical, please know, I am not, but I am hurting as I read about a person who had died before our semester has even begun, or when someone is unstable enough to go around a block so he can run his car into a group of people, who are already grieving, and then after hitting his mother with a car, finishes murdering her with a hammer. These tragedies occurred not somewhere else, but in our little group of towns. It can happen here, or somewhere, or anywhere. The how and why are not really answerable. It is our reality. It is who we have become.

I do believe it is founded in our lack of care and love for the other; it is in our individual failings to consider the other before ourselves. It is a lack of willingness to see ourselves as community. There is so much more we are called to do. Can we see our lives vocationally? What does that mean? Simply stated: can we see our lives as most faithfully lived when we see all we do as service to the other? That is where it all begins. As I begin another year, I hope I can both convince and support my students to be the best versions of themselves, by doing the same in front of them. It is imperative that we begin with small, but potent choices, and practice a life of charity, of providing for, or giving to the other. It is those little things that can revise our current path.

It is continually astounding that I never seem to get everything done I hope to do, be it a year, a semester, a month, week or day. I planned to complete this before the semester began and we are a week in. Currently it is a Monday morning and before 7:30 a.m., and I am sitting in the parking lot of my dentist’s office. I thought my appointment was at 7:00, but better early than to miss it. It is cloudy and humid, and another 90 degree day is in store. As I started this post, former-President Trump’s residence was searched by the FBI. Since then, details, issues both large and small have come to light. More cannot be revealed. What seems apparent is the former-President will do what he does because he can. Little deters him from whatever action or behavior he feels at the moment. Consequence, at least for others, is not generally on his radar. I am not trying to take a political position in this description, but rather to lay out the idea of action taken and consequence experienced. While I am not a particularly powerful person, actions taken, which seem unimportant or only self-consequential seldom are. How I feel, my ability to think and manage after 160 students this semester. In other words, I do not live in an impenetrable bubble, affecting no one. What astounds me, even though I believe I have some political astuteness, is the far reaching power of the Office of the President, and the extended consequence even after someone is in office. It is disconcerting to me as a 60-something that I never considered the long-term repercussions, the profound significance as carefully as I do now. Perhaps that really is wisdom setting in.

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Wondering how and Imagining what Happens Next

Hello from the AC of a coffee shop,

It is going to be above 90 again today and in spite of semester-low humidity, it is still quite warm. This is not a complaint because other places are worse (Europe for instance)..I have been on the Harley more than in the big, which improves my mood, but I cannot do everything on the Harley, and fortunately, the bug handles more than I expected when I bought it. As has become a habitual meeting, I met at Burger King with some other gentlemen this morning. It is quite the group, a number Vietnam veterans (all about a decade older than I am). And I might be the only Democrat in the group. You might ask why would I listen to them every day, which is a fair question, but it is helpful to hear both the what and why they believe as they do. I appreciate each of them for a different reason. I do, however listen to our President being referred to in often one-syllable words, and I am quite sure they did not appreciate our former President being referred to in similar language, which I did not do. And over the weekend I had some people for dinner and the husband of the couple noted he voted for the former-President twice. He then asked if I thought I was better off than four years ago, in a Reagan-esque manner. As I did not want to put a damper on all conversation I responded in a somewhat benign fashion, but I did not really delve into the complexity of the question. But all of that leads me to the real question, which is implied in the title. However, I asked this group, many veterans as I am but most a decade or so older, if they believed they had achieved the American Dream? The answers were informative, but their struggle to define what they achieved (or hadn’t as we watch our 401Ks take a beating) was also instructional.

I wish I might have sat with my father and the group of guys he spent every morning with up at Harvey’s. It would have been interesting to see if they had similar discussions. My father was a Roosevelt New Dealer, a consummate Union person, and a straight-talker; he was a hard worker, a believer in earning-what-you-get, and a person who often said, “There are no free lunches.” And he meant it. What I know is my father had a work ethic that informed how he went about his vocation on a daily basis. As importantly, his vocation was his life. What does that mean? First, one must define and understand vocation. It is more than the job or occupation one performs. It is a combination of what they do, how they do it, and, most significantly, why they do it. It is the why that makes it a vocation. Additionally if the why carries across from their professional to personal life, I assert that life itself is a vocation. I believe my father epitomized this reality. Later this year, it will be a quarter of a century since he passed. So much life has occurred since that time. In fact, I have spent 1/3, plus a few years of my life without his physical presence, but he remains a profound influence.

Yet, I digress. While there are numerous things that cause me concern, there are two particular elements of our present world which cause me grave concern. The first seems to be the propensity of those who hold the majority of the wealth to feel so little remorse or demonstrate any sustained concern for where our world seems to be headed (e.g. world health, distribution of resources, or climate issues). And second, and I am not sure if this is a consequence or a pre-requisite cause, it the general lack of civility or belief that decorum matters. To return to the title: with either point one is compelled to question – how did we get here? When considering the first point, it is simple of matter of short-sightedness, or is it more sinister and some innate selfishness that reveals really who we are in our brokenness? The answer to that question is more likely a book, and no singular blog entry. However, the second element of the title is more ominous, more disconcerting.

Certainly, the world (and it is perhaps most evidenced here in this country) seems to be divided between those who are sounding the alarm calling for significant changes across the board, and I will agree, those individuals fall into a more progressive camp. Then there is the other side that believes it is all hype, a chicken-little-sky-is-falling, crock to cover their socialistic agenda. As importantly, there are numerous somewhere in-between, yes, the silent majority, as once coined. What is important is the consequence of the extremes and the in-betweens. The extremes point fingers, the in-betweens generally do not speak out, and nothing (or very little) changes. And I do believe we are running out of time. Yet, this returns us to our initial question: how did we get to the point that debate, discussion, and solution fell by the wayside? Returning to my father, his character, his values, and his willingness to speak his mind, while still listening (at least I believe he still listened) were a hallmark of his generation, the generation written about by Tom Brokaw. Growing up, I looked at Senators, Representatives, and the President as someone to admire. It pains me to say that is no longer the case. And note I made no mention of party. It is with a perplexing, but serious sense of disillusionment, I believe a great majority of our federally elected or appointed people are more worried about re-election versus representing and governing “for the people.” Obstructionism has replaced governing.

I think about my students, some graduated a decade, or maybe even two ago. I met with one this past week, who was one of my students my first year at Bloom. Now living in Idaho and a mother of three, she is a teacher. She grew up in Central Pennsylvania in a small town. Probably more conservative than I in her background, her statements seemed more left than I expected her to be. How did that happen? It was probably a combination of things. What I thought most telling was her willingness to question most everything, but I should not be surprised. She has always been a questioner. I think of students who have also come from a more left-leaning background, or even a more socially dependent situation l who have become more conservative in their own actions and views. How do those metamorphic progressions occur? I think the answer is quite easy. They are exposed to new things and they are encouraged to question and think.

Enlisting into the Marine Corps as a 17 year old certainly caused some life-long changes in me. They are still a significant element of who I am. As importantly, meeting a new pastor and his family directly after my discharge was life-altering. Spending significant time with a cousin before going to Dana had consequence. And yet, it was Dana, Humanities, and Parnassus where I learned how to think, analyze, and integrate that gave me the willingness to open my mind to leaning and listening. I am quite sure I had minimal, if any, comprehension the questions posed by all those Danish named (and a few non-Danes) professors would do to change my life. Those examples inform my own teaching to this day. When my students ask how I came up with such a question or they tell me they do not even want to begin to ponder where the question might take them I know something good is happening. I am a firm believer that my main task is to teach students how to think, not what to think. It is the ability to think, ponder, and analyze the situation and consequences (both short and long term) that seem integral to democracy surviving. What happens next if we fail to have civil debate? Believing that disagreement is wrong is a way to quash democracy itself. One of the most significant things I learned at Dana was the importance of understanding the synthesis of all the elements of our world and how they created the foundation of citizenship. As one of my current colleagues argues so passionately is the importance of the liberal arts, of the humanities. She is correct; the education we received at Dana, grounded in the three-semester humanity’s sequence, prepared me to be a citizen, one who believes that globalization is world citizenship.

Part of that citizenship began with my study abroad with Dr. John W. – it was 40 years ago that occurred and I made my first pilgrimage to Denmark. The picture above is my Danish exchange student and his family who have returned to visit. They have been delightful in more ways than I can count. Another irony is Anton’s mother was a high school exchange student in Iowa decades ago with a Dana classmate, who married a floor mate. What are the chances? It is important to me for more reasons than the irony. It is an amazing example of the connections we have as a human race. What I do in Bloomsburg has consequence for someone is from Humlebaek, Denmark, and they know of someone who lives in Georgia, but who grew up in Iowa. What can we do to show this matters? Make choices that have knowledge and appreciation of the larger responsibility we all have for our world. Hard to believe we are into August this week, the summer is fleeting. This video is a reminder of our globalism.

Thank you as always for reading

Michael

Lacking Friendly Skies – Grateful for Friendly People

At the Colonial Palace Air BnB

Hello well before 5:00 a.m.,

I am in the Charlotte/Douglas Airport after arriving and waiting until almost midnight before getting to a hotel. I was asleep not quite three hours and then up for a taxi back to the airport. Originally, I was supposed to already be in Costa Rica yesterday, but as noted across the news, managing any semblance of order for a flight schedule is unlikely in our current world situation. This is not just an American airspace issue. Globalization is a reality and as humans, we are all in the same situation. In spite of the revisions to my schedule I made it to San Jose, Costa Rica in one piece. I was mad at the airport by Jamileth; she has been an incredible host. She has served as my tour guide, my driver, my translator, my problem-fixer, and a wonderful conversationalist. We have both had to work on our other language, and that has been a good thing. Mr. Galán has often said to me you must speak your Spanish, you must practice. El es correcto.

Last six days in Costa Rica have been nothing short of overwhelming. Much like my visit to Russia three years ago, I have found that age has created more caution and perhaps more trepidation. It is the bit troublesome, disconcerting, and even frustrating , but nonetheless real. In spite of the difficulties, it seems that somehow I still manage. Perhaps it is because I am honest with people about my fears and genuine with my limitations. This is, however, his significant change from even a few years ago. The first two times I went to Poland, I was more on my own, but not fearful. I have no doubt if I would not have been so cared for this time, I would not have accomplished or experienced even a quarter of what has happened in the past six days. Perhaps one of the most amazing things is meeting three people who love and care for each other deeply. There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it at that. as I read this, I am on the 21st floor of a high-rise in the capital city, San Jose. It is a beautiful site as the sun goes down and the lights begin to twinkle across the city; it is also like any bustling capital city of sounds: horns honking, sirens wailing, and the general white noise high above the streets. More importantly, it is full of people trying to live their lives and make a difference for those they love. In the past two days, I have met such a wide variety of people, from partiers celebrating the bachelor’s final days as a single women celebrating their 50th birthdays. From young people working the tourist trade in Tamarindo to two octogenarians, both Europeans, who have spent the last 16 years developing their lives in Costa Rica. They might just be the most amazing couple I have ever met in my life. I will travel to Costa Rica again just to see them. I I’m quite sure that Jami is the best driver I have ever ridden with. It doesn’t matter what kind of road it is how much traffic there is or what the weather is she will manage it and she manages it with precision, incredible ability, and grace.

And with all of that, I haven’t even touched the reason for my coming to Costa Rica to begin with. As many know, I have pondered possibility of moving here upon retirement. The reasons for that are many, and I have spoken about that quite honestly. Now, I am looking at specifics or there is not a lot to consider and plan for. There’s a great deal more rolling around between my ears at this point, but I need to think, There are still many unanswered questions, and important ones. There are long-term plans I must ponder and try to figure out. On the other hand, I have to be up and out at4:15 in the morning.. that is early, and it will come soon. Therefore, additional writing here will have to wait.I think I need to get some rest.

The morning began early, but Jami was on time and managed to get rerouted with some morning issues and get me to the airport in plenty of time. I am in the Charlotte airport at this point, and I believe it is the first in the last four or five times I have been to Charlotte and it is not a massive cluster because of storms. At least at this point, the sun is shining and everything is on time. Yay! The flight to Miami was without incident and likewise to Charlotte. I am hoping that writing such a thing does not serve to jinx me. We will see. As I ponder the trip to Costa Rica, there is so much to consider. I think I have a path forward, but there are questions to ask and things to ponder. During my last full day, my incredible driver/tour guide/translator/somewhat-security-blanket took her son and me to the Irazu Volcano. What an incredible place. In my reading about it, there was a two year period (1963-65) that the volcano was continuously active and erupting, That is incredible, but you can see the consequence some 60 years later. It is the darkest, most fertile soil I think I have ever encountered. It does note that in the placards around the place. I think the Charlotte airport is the airport I have spent the most time in during the past decade. It is a really busy place, but a well-designed, welcoming, and enjoyable airport, if airports can be such a thing.

As we are past the 4th of July holiday, it is common that the rest of the summer will fly by. I have some other things to plan yet, and more visitors to come. Additionally, there is a significant amount of school work, on a number of fronts to manage. While I did not really consider the past week a vacation, I guess it was. I did some thing that have long-term implications, but on the other hand, I had some relaxing time. Again, thanks to Jamileth, the time traveling was much less stressful. I guess that made it a time of visiting and experiencing with no real requirements. So again, I guess it was. On the home front a couple of tasks I have been hoping to have completed happened. I am excited to see it and work on that little project. It seems my plants have done well due to the excellent care of another of the Deckers. It is not the first time I have worked with one of the family members when I have been out and about. So . . . what was most amazing about Costa Rica?

I am not sure I can answer that question quite yet. I had some incredible food, which I am always up for. I had some truly exceptional experiences in Air BnBs, and I am convinced that is the way to travel. As the continuous thread in this blog illustrates, having a tour guide/driver/translator who was beyond helpful, knowledgable, and capable was foundational to making my trip successful. Being honored to meet her children was beyond anything I expected and incredibly enjoyable. Both of them are really intelligent and personable. I think there are two things that stand out at this point: first, is the diversity of the country in terms of climate and geography. Second, perhaps it was the incredible rain everyday. I did have fun from the catamaran trip to meeting Michael and Elisabeth, the octogenarian Air BnB hosts in Puntarenas, one from Germany and one from France, I think those were the highlights of the trip. I was also honored to meet the extended family of my tour guide, who is, of course, related to someone I know in Bloomsburg. The reality of six degrees of separation continues alive and well. I can say, however, I did not meet one single person I knew. That is surprising to some, I am sure. While I had heard the term Pura Vida before, but I did not know it was a central term in reference to Costa Rica. It is perhaps the equivalent to c’est la vie. I have to say that people were nice, and indeed, the vibe was pretty open and accepting. Each time I travel somewhere new, I learn so much, not only about people, but about myself (a slight delay on my flight, but all in all, manageable).

Well . . . as seems to be the norm, I have new experiences, new opportunities, and new friends and acquaintances. I am continually blessed by the people I meet. When I learn the stories of others, I am in awe of their lives and what they know, what they manage, and how they live in the moment. I am reminded of Mr. Galán’s comment to me always, “gracias por el moment.” I think the past two years have caused us to forget the moments. We have been so worried about the world, about society, about interaction, there was little time to consider the moments we experienced. My time in Costa Rica acquainted me with an amazing land, with amazing people, and with wonderful possibilities. Tomorrow, I will be back to more regular moments, but they are moments just the same. Because I often add a video to complete my post, I am doing it again. This video, while not about Costa Rica specifically is about the amazing Latin culture. And it is two years ago almost to the day, Naya Rivera passed.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin