Trying to Comprehend

Hello from Starbucks in the Library,

While I hope that the propensity for being thought provoking, and by extension somewhat political, in this fractured world has not merely offended, it seems increasingly more difficult to stand on the sidelines while at least two branches of our government seem intent on destroying the other. For me the jury is still out on the third, but the 5-4 split, regardless the balance, is quite indicative of the country that faces us each morning as I try to wipe the sleep from my eyes and stumble to the shower, fearful of what the latest 280 character (did Twitter really need to double that ability to spew idiocy) tiradic-tantrum might be. In the two weeks since a 19 year old young man with a difficult background found it somehow reasonable to use another AR15 style weapon to massacre numerous students, killing 17 of them, our government, at the continuing behest of the NRA’s leadership, refuses to consider that the style of weapons available all too easily had nothing to do with the outcome at Parkland. Mental illness is certainly an issue; failure of a system is still an issue: so I am not disagreeing with that. How can they not admit that having such a weapon easily available is also a contributing factor to or in the final horrific outcome? How many NRA members would be willing to admit that limiting semi-automatic weapons, bump-stocks, and eliminating high capacity clips are common sense? Few people would be inconvenienced by such limitations. Fewer yet would have to alter their gun practices. You will have more than a difficult time convincing me that our founders anticipated how some would highjack the Constitution with the 2nd Amendment as their foundational protection clause, forget the 14th Amendment. Wayne LaPierre, with his salary of over 5,000,000.00 a year from his various gun-toting positions, can espouse his ridiculous vitriol from the plush surroundings of wherever with such a salary. Heaven forbid he think critically. I am sorry, but common sense will not negate the 2nd Amendment. If I were to somehow join the NRA, or was a member, I would find his comments and his logic more embarrassing than I already do. Throughout my travels to other countries, it is not uncommon to be asked about two issues: the President and our love affair with guns. In either case, my answer is the same: I am embarrassed. That is not an easy answer for this Marine Corps veteran.

The past couple of weeks I have spent intentional time in assigning papers and speaking in my classes about the need for a person to be able to think critically. I have spoken about the importance of that critical thinking as well as the following need to analyze a situation, followed by doing careful research. I have often pondered how it is that we find ourselves in the place where if you disagree with someone they are now an enemy?  How have we lost almost all sense of civility or decorum? How is it that if we disagree with someone, rather than talking it out it is easier to pull a gun and shoot them? I would argue that we seem to be back in the early days of Christianity when if you disagreed you were a heretic and merely burned at the stake. Well our burning might be metaphorical now and the stake might be a tweet, but it seems we are back there once again. It still amazes me that some fundamentalists or conservative Christians can back what is happening in either the government or in our gun-loving society. As I write this, the Reverend Billy Graham is one his way to the Capitol to lie in honor, only one of four citizens to be given that distinction in our history. I remember his nightly television crusades growing up. My mother would sit in her recliner night after night to listen to him. I remember one of my close what we now call middle school friends who was Baptist inviting me to altar calls. I was afraid as the little Lutheran boy. I did not know what to do. What I still appreciate is that Reverend Graham consciously stayed apolitical. While his Christian message was rather conservative, he was not offensive, and yet challenged through his preaching of the gospel. He merely asked people to consider. I do not remember him leaving an overall message of do as I do or you are evil or wrong. While I had probably never considered the word “rhetoric” then, he was a brilliant rhetorician. He could reach across the aisle, pun intended, in ways most never could. I think he was the sort of quintessential person at being able to connect both the mind and the heart. He did not ask people to follow blindly. Following something blindly is to follow something without thought. As I tell my students regularly. God gave you a brain to do more than hold your ears apart. I think the Reverend Graham wanted people to read, to think, to ponder, to come to an understanding. I am often asked what my favorite Bible verse is. For me it is simple. It is Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It seems to me that helps us accept that which is not only incomprehensible, but also to have a willingness to search and believe is that which seems impossible. Without hope, we are doomed. Without hope, we have little desire to move forward. Without hope, we give up or refuse to imagine the possibilities.

That is how it is when I think about the gun issue. I do believe for the first time (and certainly in some time) people are actually standing up to their politicians or the gun lobby. The impetus is not our Congressional leaders. It certainly is not the President, though he as gone further than I imagined possible. It is the classmates of the 17 who have found and used their voices. It is some corporations like Delta, who is now threatened by the Georgia GOP to lose their tax breaks. This morning, I have heard that Dick’s Sports will stop selling semi-automatic weapons. I am stunned, but exceedingly pleased. At least some elements of our society are standing up against the NRA, and putting a stopper in their barrels.  Wayne LaPierre claims that he wants school safety and legal gun ownership. Certainly, I believe he does, but arming teachers and adding the possibility of more guns does not create more safety. Legal gun ownership has certainly demonstrated that the laws we do have are not effective. The issue of mental health is an issue, certainly, but it is access to guns period. Access (under the guise of the 2nd Amendment) to any gun regardless its ability is not in the spirit of protection. It is not in the spirit of good or reasonable sportsmanship. Semi-automatic weapons are meant to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Why does the average person need to do this? These are not hard questions. These are not questions that the NRA seems willing or capable of answering. Their other spokesperson, Dana Loesch, the conservative talk show host, argued vehemently at CPAC. “It is not our job to follow up on red flags. It is not our job to make sure that states are reporting to the background check system. It is not our job.” While I will agree with her on one level, you should think they would want to support better enforcement and use their 5 million members to push legislatures to be more intentional in all of this. It would certainly keep the heat off the NRA. To say it is not their job is to separate themselves from the very society in which they live and then provide them even more reason to hold on their own form of idolatry: love of their guns above all else. Again, amazing how they will abhor abortion as killing and hold on to weapons that can kill even more.

This week at school, for the second year in a row, we had a group from a Private Catholic Boys Preparatory High School on campus to protest a social issue. Last year they were demonstrating against LBGTQA rights; this year it was abortion. The school, St. Louis de Montfort Academy, is a school that was founded in 1995. There is actually something positive to be said about speaking out about your convictions and certainly these young men are doing so, but their rather pompous air that seems to be more judging than converting is a bit problematic, especially on a college campus. That is not because I see college as a sort of social moralism, but rather because it requires a person to think about audience and purpose and think about the complexity of their world a bit more inclusively. Their sort of “my-way-or-the-highway” moralism will not do well as they stand in formation and bring attention to themselves. There seems to be a struggle to demonstrate a sense of humility, which was certainly part of the Blessed Annunciation and the woman being visited. A principle trait of Mary, the mother of Jesus (one of the grounding people or tenants of this particular school) was her humility. Again, the irony or lack of consistent rhetorical strategy is a bit surprising, or maybe not. Those who claim the high moral ground often fall the farthest. As I often told my parishioners  when I was the parish pastor, it did not say pastor anywhere on my birth certificate. I am certainly not a perfect person. I was not then and I am not now. There are times I probably do or say things merely to prove I can. I know that surprises all of you who know me best. Yet, I am pretty fragile, and, in fact, much more so than most expect. I think that fragility continues to manifest itself in ways I struggle to comprehend. Nonetheless, it is there. I think that is why I am both settled in a place, but certainly not sedentary. There is always something to ponder, somewhere to explore, and some place to travel and attempt to understand. I think that is the problem to way too many people; they are content to accept something without chewing on it a bit. Too willing to swallow anything fed to them without taking the time to intentionally smell it, carefully taste it, slowly savor it. It returns me to the significance of critical thinking, of being involved in some kind of thoughtful analysis. I am struggling daily as I read the headlines and listen to so many people and all there seems to be is distrust, disrespect, dispute, discrimination, dismissal, disregard, dissidence: I guess that is enough dissing for the moment. The picture above is of the Canadian Parliament. It is quite evident to me that our Northern neighbor seems to practice much of what we believe ourselves to be. I think we could learn from them.

How did we become such a country? Again, I love what this country was founded on the basic idea that we are a government of the people, by the people. I love that we are a nation of immigrants, a nation that has been a beacon of light for a number of other places. I know that sounds idealistic. I know it sounds like there was this easy formation. I know better. The issues of class, gender, race, faith have been struggles in this country like many others. What we have been able to do is appropriately transfer power from one administration to the other. There has been a basic respect for the balance of powers and a belief that our government at least tries to do the right thing. We are a country of law and precedent, but it feels like so much of that is in a precarious position now. It seems like so much of this is what we were rather than what we are. I am trying to comprehend this. How did we become a nation of finger pointers, a nation of blamers, a nation of selfish navel gazers? I do believe we are still more than that. I see it every day among the students and others I work with. There are some incredibly giving and wonderful people who see a bigger picture and desire to do the best they can. I want to believe we can pull through this, but it will be hard work. It will take critical thinking and even more critical doing. Doing what is best for the other rather than merely what one individual wants. It will require us to be honest with ourselves and with the other. It will require the opposite of the list I noted above. We will need to be more trusting, more respectful, more willing to listen, more accepting, more accommodating. We will need to be willing to reach out to the other and believe that disagreement can lead to something other than a negative outcome. It will take thinking and being able to comprehend that which is beyond us. It will take believing in the other and comprehending difference or diversity as opportunity. I merely want to have hope that so much more can come from this current struggle, but I will turn to the scripture I believe guides me. In a different way, I offer this prayer from one of my favorite artists. This song was sung at my ordination, and it was something I wish I had done a better job of earlier in my life. How it is something I still try to do.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Understanding Heritage

Hello from the corner of my room,

Heritage is a word often used to explain from where we originate, how we understand what it is we value, or perhaps even more intimately, what we turn to when we try to explain our own particular identity. In the past I have looked at issues of ethnicity, of tradition, of patriotism, and I am sure those who have read for a while might add other words that connect them to this term. Certainly the term might include a sort of birthright or inheritance. It might be seen as a benefit or even a burden. Many have swabbed their cheek and sent that swab away in an attempt to better, or more accurately, understand their ethnic DNA. Regardless the way you define this word, for most of us understanding who we are or from where we come is important, perhaps even essential, when we begin to seriously work on ourselves and where we fit into that picture we call our lives.

I know heritage is something that causes me anxiety, and that is particularly the case when I try to understand where I am going, from where I have come, which covers my future and my past, but it even creates difficulty when I am trying to figure out how I belong to the present. What I am realizing is I feel like I fit everywhere and nowhere. What I was confronted with earlier today is as I have isolated myself, mostly out of fear, is someone I cared for deeply, and loved for the care they have provided passed away in December and I did not know. I was told by my sandbox friend. She told me that she was sorry to hear about my cousin. I had to confess I was not aware of his passing. The reasons for that gap in contact with either person are complex, but regardless, choices I made kept me out of the conversation and I had no idea this was either on the horizon or more specifically had happened. It is his picture that graces this blog entry. While he had a generation on me, he was married to my cousin. It is the consequence of being adopted by older people as an almost 5 year old. Their eldest boy is less than a year younger than me. Their eldest daughter is one of the most important people in my life, and that is part of the difficulty that created this gap in contact . . . It is early morning on the 12th of February, it is the birthdate of Martha Hannestad, the oldest of my relatives that I ever met in my life. She immigrated from Norway and was born there in 1877, barely a decade after our Civil War. It was her hundredth birthday on the day my older brother was buried, having suffered a traumatic brain injury after a rather random construction accident. I have lived almost 2/3s of my life without him around. He was an incredibly intelligent person and a fabulously talented musician. All part of my heritage. It is that side of my family that there seems to be the most connection and understanding. I do know that Diane, who would actually be my second cousin, has done some pretty extensive genealogical research on the Martin side of the family.

It seems that what connects us to our past is more than experience and memory, but what exactly is it? Is it our ability to remember the past and imagine the future? Is it the emotional part of our humanity that needs a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves? And what about our larger collective heritage? As I have listened to so many of the daily news items, be it here or in other place, they are often connected to an understanding of national identity or perhaps national expectations. Yet again, from where does it identity come? How are these expectations created? We have heard more times than one can begin to count “this is not who we are as Americans.” Or even if you want to subscribe to the four words that emblazon the hats of the President’s most ardent supporters. What does it mean to “Make America Great Again?” When were we great and if we can even begin to agree on the when, what made us great and according to whom? Certainly military might or prowess affects how others see us, but does that make us great? Certainly economic might or influence forces others to deal with us, but does that make us great? Certainly, we have basic rights and with them we buy guns legally and kill young people in schools or kill indiscriminately at concerts or kill people at nightclubs because they are different in their orientation than we are. Is this the heritage we hope to pass on to our children and grandchildren? We have a President whose attorneys pay off porn stars or playmates, who claims he can grab women by their genitals, and then preaches that no one respects women more than he does. Whether we want to admit or realize it or not, when he speaks at the President (regardless the Twitter account he uses), he speaks for all of us. He is the face of our country, and as President he is now part of our national heritage. For the first time in my six-plus decades, I have to say with both a bit of chagrin and a great deal of consternation, I am embarrassed in spite of the fact, and perhaps because, we somehow elected this malcontent. Each morning I wake and honestly worry what he has done by his latest tweet to undermine our national security apparatus or create confusion between what is real and what his self-absorbed psyche perceives to be reality. His life is certainly more fable that reality, except he is the President so every half-brained, ill-researched, pathetic, paranoiac tweet he issues has consequence both here and abroad. The Washington Post’s front page article today is titled “Top US Officials Tell the World to Ignore Trump’s Tweets.” I spend significant time looking at the headlines today from Fox to CNN and many things in between. The negative slant from all sides only supports my contention that as a country we are more fragmented than ever. The last election create an implosion of the American political system beyond anything we have seen in our lifetime. I believe the fissures in our terra firma are beyond any we have ever experienced. I would imagine some of this is reminiscent of the 1840s-1860s which culminated in Fort Sumter.

There are times I believe the battle today might be as desperate as it was then, but it hurts me to say most of the struggle has originated in our nation’s capitol as there is little to no civility or decorum and it seems to worsen by the week, or maybe the Day or hour. Certainly the struggle with slavery and the Emancipation and eventually the 13th Amendment created unbelievable dissension, but it seems the argument there was to preserve a union. What happens when the President himself seems intent on doing anything but? I know that is an extreme statement, but it seems he cares little about what the consequences of his speech or tweets might be. With no concern for consequence, I believe one has the right (and the logical concern) to question intent. He might just create a new civil war of sorts, but one with much more dire consequences. Perhaps not that ironically, but much more so unfortunately, some of the issues are paralleled 150 years or so later. Issues of privilege and justice, issues of discrimination and bigotry, issues of acceptance of the other and respect of human dignity: all of these things are under attack by so many in the world, both here and abroad. Justice is not justice if it is not equally applied. It is interesting that as someone who owned slaves, but was yet our first President, that he would write, “Observe good faith and justice toward all nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.” It did not happen for all peoples, but we know better than that now, or I would like to believe we do or should. For those who are afraid of the other, worried that those from another place will somehow sully the world in which we live, they need to realize their narrow-minded and isolationist behavior are one of the main reasons we live in such a bigoted world. Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome and charitable views of [others] and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Jeane Kirkpatrick, the first woman Ambassador to the United Nations, said the following about human dignity, “I think that it’s always appropriate for Americans and for American foreign policy to make clear why we feel that self-government is most compatible with peace, the well-being of people, and human dignity.” Dignity is central to our American heritage and it is the very thing I believe to be most under attack at the present. There is little dignity in what the President tweets or in how he responds to anyone, within his administration or outside it, when there is a disagreement or some sense of difference of view or opinion. I do not accept that he is speaking directly to the American people through his tweets. He is throwing a tantrum when he does not get what he wants to 40+ million followers of his account. He is like the baby screaming in the quietness of a church service that needs to be taken out and managed. How sad to say such of someone we somehow elected to the office of President. How embarrassing that we need to see his vitriol displayed across the newspapers globally as he launches into yet another tirade blaming anyone, anything, and anytime for the shit storm he as created.

As we end yet another week, he launched a new initiative on Monday past that needs to be considered. It is about the failing infrastructure of the country, and I am sure there is support on both sides of the aisle and among the American people that we need to do something. Putting 85 percent of it on the backs of anything or anyone but the federal government is a problem, but I do agree something needs to be done. Instead, we are addressing issues of domestic violence and lack of security clearances at the highest levels of the West Wing; by Wednesday we had another mass shooting and the reality that schools are becoming one of the least safe places for students to be. By Friday, we have an indictment of 13 Russians for meddling in our election, which was nothing that happened according to the White House since the President was inaugurated. It is a witch hunt and a farce. While it is another piece in the puzzle, I am afraid there is still more to come. Where it all goes, I do not know, but what I do know is Washington D.C. is a zoo. Again, it is embarrassing. I detest what I read every day; not because I agree or disagree, but there is something daily that seems to prove that our federal government is broken. I am not sure it is beyond repair, but I am concerned about the possibility. As citizens we need to be concerned. As citizens we need to somehow pull ourselves together and question the lack of civility and decorum that saturates our national identity. The brilliant experiment of American Democracy hangs in the balance. I honestly believe this. This is not a Republican Party or a Democrat Party issue, it is an American issue. The courts are questioning the actions of the President. Certainly some in Congress are questioning the actions of the President. We need to be questioning all of it. To fail to do something is to ignore our heritage. To fail to do something leaves a country where future generations will wonder what happened to the beacon of light that welcomed all to our shores and promised them a chance at a better existence where liberty was central.

Heritage is a complex term, but it is who we are either as an individual, a family, or a country. It is time we return to each and make sure we protect that ideal or that person who is so valuable. I have used this before, but it seems so important to listen to this now.


Thank you for reading as always.

Dr. Martin (a veteran, a patriotic American, a simple Midwest boy)

Unexpected Travel

Hello from the Capitol of Canada,

In spite of many travels, and a couple of previous journeys to what I have referred to as “East Detroit,” more accurately called Windsor, I have never really been to Canada. However, on a cold winter night, that seems somewhat reminiscent of a Wisconsin or Minnesota January, I am in Ottawa to help judge the CFA tournament being held over the next two days. My suitcase had little time to collect any dust, even though it was a wee bit chilly when I reclaimed it from the attic steps last evening. We are staying at a Fairmont Hotel, which is stunningly beautiful. We had three different universities represented on the bus, and one student had also just returned from the Poland winter trip, so talking a bit about our Central/Eastern European experience was enjoyable. It is interesting to listen to a student perspective on an event, especially something that lasted almost a month and covered almost 15,000 miles.

The bus trip today was pretty basic today, though we had two drivers. This necessity was because one of the drivers did not possess a passport, so entry into Canada was not an option. I know from past experience, both sides of the border have gotten more intense about their border security and I am quite sure the Americans would probably be the tougher of the two sides. Nevertheless, we arrived at our accommodations for the tournament and I was pretty stunned by the beautiful castle that appeared in front of us. The Fairmont Chateau Laurier was unlike anyplace I have ever stayed anywhere in all my travels. The picture above is one I took walking back from Friday night’s dinner. While in Ottawa we had the opportunity to visit and tour the Parliament Complex. It was beyond words in terms of beauty and the majestic aura that enveloped is as we walked the vaulted halls to the Senate Chamber or the Library of Parliament. The reverence that was shown by the people touring was also impressive. One think I could not help but notice, whether it was during our trip in Canada or throughout Central/Eastern Europe, how people stood on corners an obeyed the walk/do not walk signals. Seldom, more likely almost never did someone walk without the appropriate signal. Certainly in Bloomsburg and most anywhere I go in this country, people do what they want with little regard to what is proper or with minimal respect for what is deemed reasonable. I see it in terms of which side of the steps people walk on, which door they will exit. And heaven forbid you look at them questioningly. They will look at you like how dare you judge their actions. A couple of years ago I was walking on a campus sidewalk and a group was coming toward me. They were spread across the entire walk and all on their phones.i moved as far to the right as possible, but it was soon evident that I was going to get run into. So I stopped and stood motionless. When the young man realized he about to run into someone, he looked led up from his phone and stared at me. I merely stared back. He walked around, but muttered that I should get the fuck out of the way. My response to that was not vulgar, but I let him know that his lack of respect was neither reasonable or would it be tolerated. I asked his name and told him that I had no problem turning him into the Dean of Students. The group looked at me like I was the unreasonable or disrespectful one. One thing that continually boggles me is the growing lack of decorum that continues to become the norm rather than the exception in our society.

We are taught please and thank you from very early and I believe there are certainly few parents that would be prone to encourage disrespect in their sons or daughters. I have written before about how my grandmother impressed upon me around the age of 8 that I should always strive to be a gentleman. At eight, I thought that meant I should always remember to say please and thank you. I would learn that it would mean so much more, and there are times I failed to keep the promise of an 8 year old, but the older I have gotten, the more I realize the profound importance of that admonishment. I strive hard to be that person. As I have noted again, there are persons to whom I own an extreme and serious apology. For me it took a lot of soul searching and work to realize that I was worth more than I was told. It took a great deal of hard work – and at times I still fail – to realize I do not need to build myself up by taking advantage of others to be okay. I did not need to drink to the point of drowning my fears or hurts to be able to make it past that next crisis I could create. When I look k back, again as noted in earlier blogs, I spent probably two decades walking a fine line between managing quite well and a next time I drank way too much ending up either dead or in treatment. In a regrettable situation or maybe in jail. I am not sure I have ever stated it quite as starkly I am here, but I think perhaps it is time to do so.

I watch students and I want to warn them, but I know all too often they need to figure it out for themselves. I see stupidity, but I was that person, and long after I was 21. Sometimes it takes something tragic or life-changing. I had both instances and I still did not figure it out. I think for if it took age, some significant luck, and God’s grace. I am quite sure that there are people from my past that would be, or perhaps are, flabbergasted I have gotten to this point. I always tease I a slow-learner, but there is more that a small bit of that is true. Slow or stubborn or both. I think one of my most difficult things is admitting I am wrong, or that I have made the same mistake again. The place I am most likely to make a mistake is in trusting people. During the summer I listened again to someone who felt they wanted to reach out an share their story. Perhaps it is my narrative ethics background and my own propensity for story telling. Perhaps it is because I have this innate desire to help, particularly when it makes sense because of my own background. Again, I believed the best intentions of the other. Then they needed help, I was willing to help. When they needed an ear, I was willing to listen. As is generally the case, I will go above and beyond, but somehow I am still surprised when the same thing happens. I should begin to realize that I must be more guarded, but then I am afraid I would lose myself. Still, more often than not, people are genuinely grateful. In the case at hand, common sense, which I do not always pay attention to and that is the bane I must manage, would tell me even though they are complaining about their situation, it is their situation and it is who they are. You cannot change it or them. I do not believe I am trying to change them, but rather help them to manage whatever that issue is. Again, a learning event.

However, I did digress from the travel. Canada was amazing and the city of Ottawa was beautiful. The one thing that did catch me a bit off guard was number of homeless people I encountered on the streets. The caring part of me is always wondering what happened for a person to be in this situation. Was it their own bad choices? Was it things beyond their control? When you meet them on the street, the difference in what created their problem is not apparent. They are sitting on a cold sidewalk with a cap, a cup, and an outstretched hand. I think of a former colleague who ended up in such different place than when I first met him and how difficult it was to see and manage all the emotions and other things that created so much of our response to him. What causes the spiral? I know this in my own family. I see it in other families. Back to my initial thoughts and notes about traveling. A person told me some time ago, the best money you can spend is on travel. I could not agree with them more. Travel changes you. Travel allows you to reconsider who you are; it allows you to reimagine the world in which you live; it provides you an opportunity to learn so much more about others and yourself. Each time I go somewhere I am compelled to look more broadly, more deeply. I know that each time I am confronted with a new circumstance, a new culture or language I find myself pondering where I fit in all of this. There is so much to learn and the more we soak it all up, the more open, willing, and able we are to imagine life beyond our own little confines. I think that is what life is about. Seeing beyond. It is why I take the chance to listen to and interact with students. There are times it seems the effort is inconsequential. There are times it seems the effort is merely taken without any regard for what is given, but ultimately, it is about helping others see more than they are able to see in themselves. I believe that is a fundamental part of being a professor. It is not what I do, but who I am. It is what I profess; it is what I live it is how my life will go on long after I am gone. With that in mind, I offer the following song, part of the new Homecoming album from Celtic Woman.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Three Cities, Three Countries, One Day and Almost Done,

Hello from our bus,

I have always been amazed by outstanding drivers and our current bus driver, who has spent time in Canada, but speaks fluent Polish, might be one of the best I have ever experienced. As our group is 54 people with all included, we need a very large bus to keep people comfortable. Combine a very large bus with some incredibly narrow European city streets (remember some of these roads have been around for centuries, and long before motorized transportation was imagined) and you have a recipe for some possible tight maneuvering. Well, you would never know that to be the case because he is so capable and smooth. Whether it was making his way down a nine percent grade in the dark on snow covered roads or backing the bus down narrow confines, he managed both with relative ease. On two separate occasions he has had to make significant journeys on two lane roads, but he does it with such ease and efficiency that many of the group are able to catch some sleep along the way, and he is always on time and gracious as he managed the luggage for the entire group. Why begin a blog focusing on a bus driver? Without him, none of this would have been possible.

Bratislava was unlike any other city we have visited. It is the capital city of Slovakia, but it is quiet and rather small-town feeling, During out tour on a Tuesday, mid-morning and early afternoon we covered a great majority of the historic city and never ran into a great number of people. On Monday night, after arriving around 8:00 p.m., trying to find a place to eat was a bit of a chore. Yet, the city is also incredibly beautiful and the architecture stunning. Yet, there was a constant as there had been in every city we have visited. Once again, the profound mistreatment of the Jews was noticeably evident. I remember my first visit to Buchenwald over thirty years ago. A large oak tree stood outside the gate. I picked up a leaf from that tree and kept it in a Bible for many years. I tried to imagine what that tree would say if it could speak. Then I found my way to Dachau, not realizing that I would someday know someone who had both escaped and survived that place. Finally, I found my way to Auschwitz. I have been there three times, but each time I find myself as overwhelmed as the first time, perhaps more so. During the last three years, as students with either relatives who lost their lives in this hell-hole or students, who are Jewish become overwhelmed with emotion, I am forced to question on a more profound basis my own specific denominational faith background as many who belonged to what was known as the Reich Church supported this loathsome, hideous, and unpropitious plan to erase an entire people, another monotheistic faith, from reality. Certainly, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller, and others who formed the Bekennende Kirche, the Confessing Church, would stand up against the Final Solution. Some would lose their lives for that position. When asking many of the students what experience was most altering, Auschwitz comes up far an away the most profound experience of their three-plus weeks here in Central/Eastern Europe.

The second thing that comes up in their conversations is the different personalities of the countries and places they have visited. I think that was particularly evident as both L’viv, Ukraine and Bratislava, Slovakia were added to the itinerary. Each time a new place is visited, another language, another culture, another gastronomic experience is added to the tapestry of events that make each of us unique. Each time someone finds an opportunity to be that sponge, mentioned in an earlier blog, they are forever changed. Their understanding of what it means to be a student is transformed because they are now a student of the world. Their understanding of what it means to be an American will be re-examined because they are forced to see and hear that English, while still the lingua Franca, is not always going to get them by as easily as they might imagined. Their understanding of how the world works is altered because they now must consider in a new more concrete manner what it means to live in a globalized world. What all of that means is not yet apparent. There is no recipe card that will help them in making that transformation, increasing that understanding, or managing that new found perspective that must now be considered. What has occurred in a mere 25 days will take a life-time of unpacking. What might happen? For some it will create a newfound wanderlust, a insatiable desire to travel again. For others, they might never come to Europe again, but either way, they are changed.

This month-long transformation, which began with a flyer, word-of-mouth from another student, a heart-felt request of parents to travel, and eventually meeting together in Newark the day after Christmas has provided an academic altering of how they understand the history of another major faith, of what the fall of communism in the late 1980s-early 1990s did to the entire world, and to business or international relations. Some of the students have learned that film in Central/Eastern Europe is quite different than the block-buster, Academy Award, Hollywood glamour, genre they have known all their lives. At the same time, they have visited relatives, learned to try and enjoy food they have never known of, and use trams, subways, and buses in ways they never knew they would. Each of these experiences create a new person. For us as faculty, it is life-changing also. Each group is different; each group teaches us as we are fortunate enough to travel with them. Learning, changing, and growing has no age boundary. That is one of the most wonderful things about working with college-age students. Together we all change. From attempting Escape Rooms in Krakow to eating breakfasts in a Communist Kongress Headquarters in Prague, this is not your basic Winter Term course. As I complete this last blog of the trip, I want to thank an amazing group of students. Thank you for your curiosity and willingness to take some chances. Thank you for your inquires and the willingness to search for your own answers. Thank you for working together in a pretty amazing way as many new things were thrown your way. To the four student leaders: your past experience and willingness to care for others made more difference than you know. Finally, to my colleagues, Dr. P., Dr. V., Lynda, and Marc (at the end of the trip), it has been wonderful to work with you these past 25 days.

To all who have read the blog, thanks for reading and tomorrow night we will be back in Bloomsburg, different people for all we have experienced.

Dr. Martin

“On the Road Again”

Good morning from Bydgoska,

We are down to a few hours left in Poland and by day’s end, we will be in Budapest, Hungary. It requires a significant bus ride of 9 hours or so, and there will be some antsy people, but our final week in Central/Eastern Europe is visiting some of the more significant cities in four different countries (Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Czech Republic). So a lot of movement and even more to attempt to process. For me, the trip to Bratislava, Slovakia is a new experience. That is a substantive part of what has happened to each of us these past three weeks. Whether you got on a plane for the first time the day after Christmas or your experienced because you have actually lived in Europe (both Drs. P and V as they are fondly referred to) , each day creates a new awareness of how profound the influence of European history is on our American fabric.

For many Bloomsburg students, who have grown up in the anthracite region of Northeastern or North Central Pennsylvania, the chance that you have Polish, Czech, Slovakian, Ukrainian, or another background from this area of Europe is strong. Students are walking some of the same places their ancestors did, and it has not been lost to them as they have traveled. I have averaged about 7-9 miles a day hoofing it from place to place. One of the few times it is possible to say I traveled and lost weight. Yesterday, 49 students received a certificate of completion of their studies at Jagiellonian University. Those certificates were awarded by the director of the College of Polish Language and Culture, Dr Waldemar Martyniuk. That is no minor event, and to add the significance of the presentation, those certificates were awarded in the same room that Nicolaus Copernicus and St. Pope John Paul II studied. This initial part of Jagiellonian has been around for 600 years. While there is the experiential learning of soaking up the world you walk in daily, students have been involved in two substantial classes (sometimes six days a week) learning about international relations, the history of the Jewish question, the significance of post-communism for Central/Eastern Europe, or film studies in Central/Eastern Europe. To sit in on these classes and learn from some of the best scholars in their respective fields, and for them to do it on location, is a life-changing experience. To walk in the Jewish Quarter in Kraków or Prague, to visit Auschwitz as a Jewish person while you learn is beyond profound. In fact, when inquiring among the students what experience was most memorable, either Auschwitz or Schindler’s Factory are the most common answers. One student said they were so emotional at Auschwitz they could only cry. That is certainly an appropriate response when seeing how evil a place can be. It is an appropriate response when you walk where over a million people were gassed and your realize what scapegoating a particular ethnic or religious group can cause. It is an appropriate response when we realize what seeing someone different or as “the other,” or when we choose to discriminate and profile, what such speech or actions can lead to.

These students will never view the world through quite the same lens they had when they boarded a plane the day after Christmas. In barely over a week most will be back at Bloomsburg for a spring semester, but they will not be the same student; they will not be the same American citizen; they will not be the same person they were before a trans-Atlantic flight to Poland and beyond. As is always the case, there have been some coughs, sneezes and sniffles, but sometimes a day of rest or a trip to the Apteka will mange the issue. Sometimes even a trip to the doctor, which is quite simple, and very affordable, as I now know personally, takes care of it all. As noted in the first blog from this trip, my travels to Europe in January of 1981 with Dr. John Nielsen at Dana College changed my life. It is an honor and privilege to now work with amazing colleagues to help lead the same kind of experience almost 40 years later. As I am still remembering that trip around Western Europe then, I find my heart it still full of gratitude for the change it created in me. I realized that learning meant being a sponge and soaking it all in. Almost forty years later, the sponge is still at it. Why? Because there is still so much to learn. The world continues to change and the best way to keep pace is to get on that global stage and join the play. There is always room for another actor (meant inclusively). There is always a new script because each group creates their own.

Last, but certainly not least, so many of the students were helped on this trip by PEG support, Honors College support, BU Foundation support, or Alumni support. Specifically to Lynda Michaels, who is traveling with us, and others, I know that as faculty we are indebted to you for making such a magnificent opportunity available to students. To Nawal Bonomo, director of the Office of Global Studies, who works so hard to manage so much, thank you for your continued work that affects so many.

Off soon for Hungary. To my former student, when I was a Doctoral Candidate at Michigan Tech, Orsika, “I wish you were here to experience your homeland and I could see the smile on your face. Of course, I would use your language skills to help me. Tudod milyen csodálatosnak gondolom magad.”

Thank you as always for reaching and watch for one more posting before we land back at JFK.

Dr. Martin

Languages, Locations, and Learning

Hello from our traveling classroom,

We are currently on the bus after about 48 hours away from Kraków and off to the Ukraine. As we left Lviv, in the Western Ukraine today they were celebrating Orthodox Christmas. A number of students commented on how differently they celebrate the day. While we gather with family in homes and around a dinner table and tree. The people of Lviv were out on the streets in force walking around, purchasing things in the Christmas Markets, and celebrating the day. The importance of the holiday and its significance in the church year was also well noted by the music coming out of many of the churches. I am always amazed by the differences that culture and history bring to the holidays. I remember my first trip to Germany during the holidays, and the importance of Advent for Advent and Christmas for Christmas. Some things remain the same. The excitement in children’s eyes and the hope that their dreams of whatever they hoped for might come true.

What many students noted was how the Cyrillic alphabet made them feel so much more out of their comfort zone. While only a few speaking any Polish whatsoever, many feel they can somewhat figure things out. Of course, the few students taking Russian classes at Bloomsburg could barely contain themselves as we crossed the border. As they saw their first Cyrillic signs, their excitement was palpable. The second thing most will remember is the time spent at the border crossing. Friday night’s crossing took about three hours as our passports were gathered and stamped twice within about 200 meters. Today while it still took significant time, and even though we were required to get off the bus at the Polish checkpoint to have our passports stamped, we spent less time. However, I will admit, it did seem interminably long. The last time I felt so examined at a border was when I traveled to East Germany in 1985.

I think what most impressed me with our weekend was how different the atmosphere between Lviv and Kraków is. Our tour guide noted that Lviv, which has some strong ethnic connection to Poland, is about 10 years behind the post-satellite revival of Kraków. Certainly those things were evident. For students, they noticed the difference in both what I would would term infrastructure and in personality. In Poland, with attempts to greet and thank others in Polish, the people are gracious and will help the predominately English-speaking student. A few students noticed a marked difference during the weekend in Lviv, and yet others felt the people they met to be quite kind. Lesson learned? Each person who travels will have their own experiences and perceptions. That is the case with life in general, but I think the reality of that is heightened when traveling abroad. Perhaps, the more diverse the language and location, the more profound the learning will be. For James Slavinsky, a Language and Cultures major, with a concentration in Russian, the chance to meet and speak to a person with whom he has been writing for some time, the time in Lviv will be life changing. As eight of us joined together for dinner shortly after our return, the joy on his face was undeniable. He said, “I’m ready to pack my things and move there tomorrow.” One cannot promise such an experience for everyone, but creating and maintaining relationships with people you might meet can create life-long possibilities. Last night I had dinner with Robert and Katarzyna Para, the father of Bloomsburg alumnus and former student, Maria Para. For the fourth year in a row we found time to get together and share a meal and conversation. Amazing what a dinner with a student and her father at my home in Bloomsburg has evolved into. What a wonderful relationship has been developed from these journeys.

Being open to the possibilities is essential. As Dr. P (his moniker or perhaps term of endearment, and I do mean it is used fondly) noted during our walk back to Bydgoska yesterday, it is about the experience and the big picture. As someone who gets caught up in the details and needs to understand things too completely at times, it was good to be reminded of this. Going with the proverbial flow is the rule of the trip. This is particularly the case when there are 50 people scurrying from place to place and country to country. As this is written, I am sitting in a little breakfast place we discovered two years ago. It is the best place for breakfast in all of Kraków, and that is saying something in a town of fabulous restaurants and over a million people. Called Castor, it is a bit understated, a bit nouveau, a bit hipster. But the food, which you can watch being made in the little kitchen, is astounding. These are all experiences one can have during the time outside of classes. Oh yes, the classes, more about those in the next posting. In the meanwhile, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (the traveling professor and foodie)

So Much in Seven Days

Hello from Kraków and from Oświęcim,

Our traveling group has spent a busy week listening intently in classes, learning their bearings around Kraków, and attempting some simple greetings in Polish. At the same time, trips to Wawel Castle, the salt mine in Wieliczka, the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz, or today to Oświęcim (known to most of the world as Auschwitz) provide each person not only the opportunity to walk through a metaphorical history book, but to come face to face with a side of our humanity that pushes the limits of our very understanding. It is one thing to read about the Shoah (perhaps the more appropriate word for Holocaust) or watch a movie, but it is an entirely different matter and experience to stand in Block 11, enter the gassing showers, or see first-hand the scale and scope of how 1.5 million people were systematically killed over a four year period. It is some quite different to watch the movie, Schindler’s List, and to walk in the very space those events occurred. Tomorrow as students visit the museum, one which provides a stunning, multi-sensory, and unforgettable walking exhibit, most will never forget that 48 hour period of their lives. It is such a profoundly different set of circumstances when you realize that most of what you see, touch, or feel has been in existence long before Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, or America for that matter was founded.

That is what happens for most students when they push the boundaries of their experiences, either geographically or educationally, and, of course, a study abroad allows for both. As we walked 4 kilometers in the Wieliczka Salt mine, Joe Davis, a sophomore Supply Chain Management major and ZCOB LC mentor, noted the mine was the most amazing sight of his life. As we stood in the expansive chapel, which is both 85 meters below the surface of the earth and 50 meters high, students stood speechless and in awe of what they were experiencing. I would encourage you to go online and look at the mine, but be ready to sign up for next year’s trip. Remember that people have been working in the 9 levels of the mine for a millennium. Remember that much of it was excavated and carried out by hand for centuries. Consider the fact that the Nazis used it as an armament factory during the Second World War because no one could see it. Consider the fact that at one point, 70% of Polish national wealth was based on this commodity we pour on our food.

How do you manage 50 people? Dr. Julie Vandivere, professor of English and director of the BU Honors Program, and four student mentors have Telegram down to a science. The group has also done things to enable communication and cohesiveness. The entire group, divided into subgroups, spent part of New Year’s Day attempting to escape game rooms. Some were more successful than others, and for the sake of transparency, the faculty leaders also participated on their own and failed miserably. So having a Ph.D. is no guarantee of success, and having multiple Ph.D. in one room might be a disadvantage, but those of us who had never experienced Escape Rooms before learned a great deal. Each day brings a new experience or challenge, but being someone familiar for at least some of us, makes anything manageable. While I have not personally been to the mecca of NYE experiences in the states, Krakow’s City Centre surely does the last night of the year well. The revelry of 70,000 people from all over Europe is certainly festive and something anyone in attendance will not soon forget. However, you do not have to be out for NYE to experience something very different as you walk the streets of the Middle Ages city. Snippets of conversation overheard have included responses like “They park on the sidewalks; people actually pay attention to the ‘don’t walk’ signs; or the food is amazing.”  . . .  and I can attest to that. Food is flavorful (even street food), well prepared, and very affordable. If you are hungry in Poland, it is your own fault.

Today students have reflection papers as well as outlines for their final papers due in most of their classes. They are working hard, but learning that creating appropriate and thoughtful documentation is more demanding than they expected. I have found this to be a common experience as I have returned for  a fourth year. Focus and critically thinking to synthesize their own majors into what they are being asked to examine takes some work, but analysis and synthesis are critical components of being a global citizen. That might be the most important metamorphosis that is occurring, 24 hours at a time. As I read news back in America and simultaneously glance at the headlines here in Kraków, somehow 140+ characters do not illicit the same importance for the occupants of Eastern/Central Europe. That is not a political statement, merely an observation. As one student noted last year, “It is a big world.” Each day as we travel, the reality of that statement is more completely understood by our varied little group of Bloomsburg students. On Friday, the 5th of January, we will board the bus for a weekend trip to Lviv, Ukraine. In spite of being a somewhat traveled-person, this will be my first time to the Ukraine. I am excited to travel farther eastward in Europe. Central/Eastern Europe has an important historical connection to our immediate area of North Central Pennsylvania. This is also an important learning moment for many students who have those connections. Each day is a new osmotic experience and when we return, the cumulative effect of our shared time will make each of us  thoughtfully different people, but much of that difference will only be realized as we continue our individual journeys in the months and years ahead.

Thanks for reading. More from the Ukraine.

Dr. Martin