The Comforts of Tradition

Hello from Fog and Flame,

It is a Tuesday evening and a couple of days before All Hallows’ Eve (more commonly known as Halloween here in America). This Thursday I am going to take Anton to another house so he can experience the tradition of little ones out for Trick or Treating. It is a very different holiday than it was for me as a child. Being a baby boomer, the number of children decked out as the latest hero, ghoul, goblin, or witch were legion. We did not worry about our treats being booby-trapped; we did not worry about whether or not something unpackaged was a threat to our health; and we knew the names of the people who lived in the houses whose lights and decorations beckoned us. I do not think I tricked or treated much beyond 7th or 8th grade, but I do not remember. The other night my sand box buddy and I spoke about specific houses and reminiscing about the amazing treats they handed out: popcorn balls at the Hulsts, a place that always gave out hot cider or hot chocolate. We would go trouping around with our neighborhood friends. Perhaps life was simpler then.

As we move toward the end of year holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years, the memories of both my grandmother and her elder sister, my Great-aunt Helen come rolling over as a sort of peacefulbreeze reminding me of how they made everything welcoming and pleasant. What I remember most is how their pulling out all the stops and the food they created was incredible and is incredible to this day. I remember the pies and there were so many: having a bakery in the family was a pretty good thing when it came to the holidays. The pies were lined up like Marines in formation: cherry, apple, pumpkin, pecan, mincemeat, coconut cream . . . and then then there were the breads and the rolls. More options than you could imagine. There was the normal fare, but what was amazing about the sisters’ ability to cook is they could take the most ordinary and make it anything but. Then there was the venue itself. In many ways, and I have noted this from time to time, I have tried to fashion the acre and my house much like my grandmothers. The welcoming atmosphere of her home was beyond compare. It is still my comfort place of my entire life. The three-plus acres of hills and fields was something I enjoyed and loved every time I arrived. There was a peace and safety in her house that has really never been replicated for me. Part of it was certainly the tradition and expectation of the unlimited love she had for us; part of it was that it had been my home as a small boy and it was a time that was dear to me; perhaps most importantly, it was a place that allowed me to be myself and not be afraid and the return was always welcoming.

Much of the same could be said for my Great-Aunt Helen’s home. They had 2,500 acres of land in South Dakota, owning two farms and having a garden that was probably an acre in and of itself. That garden gets credit to this day for my love of vegetables. If you could imagine it, the garden had it. And Helen could create a savory and tasteful vegetable dish that would make the most carnivorous person contemplate becoming vegetarian. Of course, they also had hogs, cattle, and chickens, so I learned as the billboard notes, “there is room for all of God’s creatures . . .  right next to the mashed potatoes.” What I know now is there are certainly some healthier ways to manage the holidays than I did once upon a time. I so appreciate the appreciation my grandmother and her sister gave me for food and that appreciation has grown to appreciate well-prepared food in general, but also to realize how amazing their cooking was. It was certainly home cooking at its finest. Thanksgiving was the beginning of what would become the favorite time of year for me. While I love the fall and the crisp mornings and warm afternoons, I love the season of Advent. I did not know the significance of that season of the liturgical year until much later in life, but I understand (and understood) the preparation for the Christmas holiday. Throughout my life I have loved the anticipation of the Christmas holiday. Why? you might ask. I think it is because people are a little kinder; people take the time to let others know they matter. People are willing to put in extra effort to somehow care for or about the other. I am always happy when I see someone reach out to the other and let them know their presence matters; that what they offer as one human to another can change the trajectory of the other person’s day.

On the other hand, growing up and working in my grandmother’s bakery, the things that were made at the holidays were a signal that the season was upon us. From Christmas breads to different pies and pastries. From lefse to krumkake I remember being excited beyond words to be able to eat these Norwegian foods. Yes, pickled herring and even lutefisk was a mainstay for my Scandinavian relatives. This year, I have to deviate a bit as the Danes have taken over my household, but there is overlap. The most important element of the Scandinavian Christmas, however, is the food, and my relatives epitomized this focus. While there was, again, traditional fare, the underlying Viking in us all was never far away. When I was fortunate enough to travel to Germany during the Advent Season in 1985, I was astonished by the Christmas Markets and the way they allowed Advent to be celebrated as a season of preparation and the understanding that the 12 days of Christmas followed the Christmas Day celebration. I have learned more about that since I have traveled to Poland over the last 5 years. In fact, this will be the first New Years I have not been in Krakow (and Poland) for some time. What is it about tradition that attracts us? What is it about tradition that comforts us? What is it about tradition and memory that provide a foundation to our identity? Those are the things that run through my mind as I write this post.

This morning at a meeting I noted the importance of understanding someone’s history and what they value before coming in and making wholesale changes. I think certainly our history is fundamental to our lives. Throughout this semester most everything my students have done in their Foundations of College Writing class has asked them to consider who they are as well as why they are. Part of that is necessary if they are going to be successful. Part of that is necessary if they are to understand why they do what they do and make the decisions they do when confronted by any situation. What I believe is most important about tradition is its ability to inform. It helps us understand both our past as well as provide a glimpse into our futures. The difficult occurs when there is a lack of tradition or nowhere towards a point one can create some sense of bearing. I think that is often what happens for my first semester freshmen. It is also something Anton is experiencing, particularly when he gets concerned or worried about a situation. I have learned he is more dependent on structure than I would have imagined. This is not a correct or incorrect thing. It is not a strength or weakness, but it merely is. It is something that all of us use foundationally. What I have learned is the foundations we create (and they occur throughout out lives) are fundamental to how we understand both ourselves as well as those around us. What I am trying to understand how is when does tradition enhance our lives and when does it hold us back? I am sure there is no simple answer and furthermore, I believe there is no one-size-fits-all possibility. We would probably like that, but after all the time with my students, I can explain they most often to not think about some of these things. Most often tradition is followed because it is  . . . . we are used to doing it and we can predict. If we can predict, we are generally happy, but then again too easily get bored.

As I prepare for another holiday season, I am trying to do some things to set up my own traditions. Once upon a time I had begun some traditions, collecting Dickens houses and going out to get my own tree. Some of those things have started again. I love the holiday season for its promise of something larger than ourselves. It is a belief and hope that the better elements of our human nature might actually come out to make a difference in our fractured and broken nation and world. This morning I asked people to think about the members of our campus and the families of the four (yes, four) students who have passed away since the first of the year. I asked them to consider and focus on the fragility of life that has hit so close to home for the campus.

Christmas can be stressful and difficult when the previous has been tormented by pain or loss. The promise of the holiday and its lights can be lost when the pain of our own existence overshadows the promise of the season. All the more reason to hold on to our tradition and see the promise of those memories that help us see the goodness of others. Again, I am not so naive to believe there is no pain or suffering, but I am just idealistic enough to believe there is a place in our hearts that can comfort that pain. I am just desiring enough to wish for something better. I am just faithful enough to pray for goodness and believe it possible.

As we enter this season of lights, this festival of trees and a season of hope out of darkness, I wish for all a world of peace, a place and hope of happiness, and a promise of comfort in our crazy and yet incredible world.

Thanks for reading as always,

Michael

Trying to Make Sense of Our Illogical World

Hello after a quick trip to Cape Charles and “Life on the Half Shell” and now weeks beyond,

It is the end of the Bloomburg Fair week and Anton has had the week off of school. He has become a fair aficionado, but I guess that is something he can always take back to Denmark. It is quite amazing to me that we have finished 5 weeks of classes already and in a day or so, Anton has been here a month. The reality and accuracy of my father’s words are once again ringing in my ears. If you think time is going faster, you have no idea of what it will be when you are my age . . . and he was about the age I currently am. He is accurate that it surely seems to go by more quickly, and what I thought being he was so old when he offered those pearls of wisdom, as he was so apt to do, does not seem so old. Anton has learned an important lesson about the conservative nature of rural Pennsylvania this past week (albeit a bit surprising in terms of the degree of cluelessness of the pettifoggers he was subjected to). While walking around the fair, some of his CC classmates decided to inquire if he were Democrat or Republican. He wisely, and accurately responded, “I am Danish.” Unfazed by such an answer, they inquired a second time, “Yes, but are you Democrat or Republican?” He again tried to help them understand,  “I am Danish, and we do not have the same political system as you have here in the states.” This mystified our budding conservative politicians, and so they once again asked, “But are you a Republican?” He noted, as he recounted the episode, that he realized as a visitor to the states he did not want to argue or create a problem so he simply tried to explain Danish politics. When he noted that Denmark is a country of Democratic Socialism, our young Central Pennsylvania Republicans decided attacking him as a socialist was the thing to do. He recounted that for the next hour they decided it was their job to convert our Danish visitor to the incredibly wonderful ideals of our current Republican party. Again, Anton noted, he did not want to create difficulties, so he listened and listened, and listened . . . and got a painful lesson in the current state of American politics. To be fair to his classmates, I am not surprised they did not understand him, I am not sure that many adults would. More importantly, I learned how astute and thoughtful, how polite and intelligent my Danish, surrogate-son-for-a-year is. Anton notes regularly that he realizes that Denmark is a small country and most people do not really understand where he is from. Part of the reason I chose Denmark as a possibility was because I have been to Denmark, because I attended Dana College, and because I have a Scandinavian heritage (Norwegian, but still Scandinavian).

Since I last blogged, which was a blog that took more than a month to complete, about half that time has passed, but it seems that my life has been consumed by school and a 16 year old. Having Anton there to keep me in line has been a busy and rewarding time. He forces me to consider something besides work, and that is not a bad thing. Another difference is that I have been required, in a way mandated, to be more efficient and effective. I know this next week will push me to see how well I have started to integrate those differences as I have a ton of grading and commenting to do, an office to move again (because of a moisture and mold issue) and simply managing all the other things that are life. My alarm now goes off at 5:45 a.m. and breakfast is on the table at 6:15 a.m. One of the unexpected side effects is that I am also eating a healthy breakfast in the morning and it seems to keep my day on track and my mornings more positive. Managing things around the house, I find myself more focused and much more organized. Some things need to happen yet this weekend, but all in all, there is a sort of two thumbs-up atmosphere around the acre. Undoubtedly, I am relearning the need to prioritize and as I write this I am finding I can do this. During the first weeks that Anton has graced my home and me with his presence, I have learned so much. Anton demonstrates an incredible intelligence and insight, but he does it with a sense of inquisitiveness and grace. His smile is affable and his willingness to help is always present. One of the things I find most enjoyable is Anton’s ability to wonder about things. He understands the world and business in ways that belie his age (of almost 17). Then there is other part of being that age and male, or so it seems in my conversations with others. I can ask things and he is so cooperative, but then he seems to completely forget there was any conversation pertaining to said issue. As I have spoken with colleagues and even the parents of his friends, I am finding he is completely normal.

I am trying to remember if I was like that. If so . . . to my parents, I am so sorry. No wonder you might have been exasperated at times. I believe it probably more true of my time than I would like to admit. I know if my grandmother wanted it I was pretty attentive, but otherwise, I was a bit remiss in my work ethic. The other night we had a conversation and I heard again the interrogative, why are you so logical about things? I do not know that I was always that way, but the more I think of it, perhaps it has always been the case. I remember as a small child trying to make sense of what it meant to be adopted and wondering why I was told some of the things I was. I remember asking more than simply why about something. I have this insatiable need to understand. I am not sure how that developed or from where it came, but it has continued even until today. I am always asking why something is not possible. I know for some of my supervisors or for some in the administration, I create some consternation from time to time. Yet, that is not my intention; rather I am trying to see how we can get things accomplished more effectively or efficiently. I am trying to understand why so many are content to not really understand the why or the possibilities. During the fall, my students have made Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities real-life for me. They are the best and the worst of times, or so it seems. I think what amazes me most is how they react to the need to put in more effort, to think more critically, or merely even to do their work and follow directions. Yesterday it was something as simple as please cut up your paper in paragraphs and put it into an envelop and bring it to class. There was a method to putting it in an envelop and not having their peers see the paper in advance, but I ended up getting 9 additional envelops for one of my sections. From time to time this semester, be it at school or in the daily news, I find myself struggling to make sense of the things that seem to happen on a regular basis. Have we become so insensitive, so narcissistic, so selfish that we cannot begin to imagine the needs or perspective of the other?

Over the last couple weeks I have been a bit obsessed with either grading or reading (and making breakfast and dinner for a 16 year old). I have four books all looking at the rhetoric of racism  . . .  or the history and the rhetoric we use to further the racial tendencies that most of us refuse to acknowledge. When I raised the possibility of white privilege the other day, the response or look from some made it hard to ignore that some believe we are in a time of what some might call reverse discrimination. What I find interesting is they are not mutually exclusive, at least in my mind. I believe there is truth to the issues of age, gender, or religious discrimination. I believe there is also white privilege at the same time. I can both benefit and be harmed by the reality of what happens in our country. What I have found as I have aged is I am much more attuned to the hardships that others face through no fault of their own. When I see a black or brown student being viewed as suspect merely because of their color in a store it hurts me. When I see a person struggle because they are an American citizen, but they are bilingual because of their background and, in spite of their hard work still struggle with their language skills, I am embarrassed that we do so little to support them in their working to achieve their own American dream. I remember my great-aunt saying her prayers in Norwegian when I was small. I remember listening to other languages from my predecessor generational relatives because they were bilingual. Perhaps I did not know they struggled, but it seemed we were much more gracious then. I know there was discrimination, but I was taught to be tolerant. And contrary to your thoughts that I might have been the product of an academic/liberal upbringing, I was a blue collar kid from NW Iowa. I grew up in one of the poorer sections of town, at least economically more depressed than some because I did not live north of 18th Street; I did not live in Morningside, the Northside, or Indian Hills as it was called. I did not live in the Country Club area, but what I know is I had stability and amazing friends. I grew up with a family where my father worked 7/12s and often 8 hours away and I saw him perhaps 36 hours very six weeks or so for three or four years. Nevertheless, I grew up working part-time jobs when I turned 16 and I was not given everything I wanted.

Perhaps what I realize again is my father was also a logical person. You did what was necessary to make it work and you treated others as you wanted to be treated. My father believed in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. He told me more than once there are no free lunches in the world and he worked hard. I think I have acquired those traits from him. As I listen to the people who occupy the inner sanctum of Washington, those inside the beltway, I find myself more and more appalled by their behavior and the rancor and vitriol that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. I believe they perhaps epitomize the selfishness and narcissism I referred to earlier. There is nothing logical about the way they behave. What is logical would be our decision to throw them out with the implementation of term-limits. This is not the first time I have argued this, and it will probably not be the last. Well, I could go on, but I have worked on this post for far too long without its completion, so I will leave you with this as we are headed into Halloween, which is also the anniversary of the reformation and Luther’s posting of the 95 thesis on the castle door at Wittenburg. What if we could come together like this video? Is it logical, perhaps not, but it should be.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

Purely Simple and Incredibly Smart (on So Many Levels)

Hello from the porch of the Acre on a wonderful summer evening),

Early this morning I received a phone call from a former student, who is now married, has a pre-school, aged daughter, and is recently beginning to prepare for a second child. I only had her in class one semester, but she would speak with me after class regularly. When I once inquired as to why she did so, she replied without hesitation, “You remind me of my grandpa. I responded graciously as I knew that was a compliment, but it was the first time I found myself referred to as a second, generation parent. Furthermore, if I had never been a parent, somehow hopping straight to grandparent was disconcerting. Nevertheless, Grandpa, Dr. Martin (aka: Norman, another story) has continued to be blessed with her presence in my life.

Almost a week has gone by and I did not finish this post, but it has, nevertheless been on my mind. Along with this amazing student, there are other students who have made my life so much richer by their presence. Yet, as I am wont to do, I ponder the topic from most every possible angle and analyze the reasons it makes me ponder in a sort of meta-analytical manner. The thing that will most impress me about a student is not their brilliance, though that is appreciated. The thing that will cause me to note a student as different is not their physical attributes, though again all of that is certainly apparent (but generally as a point of information as it makes no real difference in their classroom performance). The thing that will actually impress me and make me take notice is their character, their integrity, and simply put, I will ask, are they a good person? Is it evident that the morals and values they have either been taught or somehow learned and employ demonstrate a sense of honesty and goodness that I can trust what they say and do? To be sure, this is not some cause cèlébre asking for them to cease being a normal college student. Without a doubt, chances will be taken and mistakes made, but going beyond a certain threshold will cause some unexpected consequence and being 18 or beyond lays on a new level of responsibility many are not ready to manage. Perhaps that was the gift military service offers that is unrealized. Most of what you do has an immediate consequence and accountability is generally closely following. I am still realizing what being a veteran does in terms of allowing a sense of ethos and respect.

In the time since I last added, I had the occasion to meet with the person who is the central impetus for this post. Meeting with her daughter and her (and the father when the schedule allows) brightens my day immeasurably because of her graciousness and her simple goodness. She works hard at what she does, regardless the task. She thinks and cares about others and that is evident by the way she acts and by what she says (or does not say). As a mother she is level, firm, and consistent. Already, and actually for some time, her little one demonstrates a keen sense of what is appropriate and the manners necessary when addressing other people. She is sweet, adorable, and knows already how to question boundaries. For those who are parents, I am sure you can read this and smile when you reflect on your own offspring. Yet, even as one who had no children of my own, it is not that difficult to see how the lessons taught at home filter out into daily practice. On the other hand, too often we want to blame others for our behavior. In the days since Dayton and El Paso, there has been a spate of arrests for people posting or orally noting they want to inflict harm upon others. Over the past 24 hours I listened to a mother cry as her 15 year old was handcuffed and arrested for implying he wanted to kill at least 7 people. The weeping mother notes he is still a baby and he would not do what those crazy people are doing (this is a paraphrase). It seems parents need to have a serious conversation with their children about violence and appropriate posting. I cannot imagine trying to be in law enforcement now, not that I ever wanted to do such a thing. Likewise, it appears that the President, in spite of claiming he is not afraid of the NRA, has crumbled again about standing up for stricter background checks. As a country, as people, we need to have serious discussions that do something about violence in general. How do we get from teaching our children to be respectful and use manners to if I am angry I am going to shoot you and ask questions later. How does that happen? That evolution itself needs to be discussed. The anger and vitriolic tenor of so many that I see the headlines that tell me a 14 year old can kill five members of his family or my university’s newspaper lead story is about a gunman arrested in the little town in which we are located as he tried to force his way into another person’s apartment. Nothing seems reasonable in any of that, but then again nothing seems that reasonable in most anything I read from day to day be it in the Amazon, in Russia, Hong Kong, China, North Korea, or certainly here in most any part or at any level of the country I call home. As I walk around I overhear students noting that someone needs to be F-ed up or lit up, or in someway assaulted. Really?? That fixes the problem? No, it creates new ones.

It is difficult to believe that it is almost a month ago I began the writing of this post, but I think I have been preoccupied with a variety of issues. I will be posting about some of that soon, but for the moment, I can suffice it to say that being in the second week of a new semester has been a bit overwhelming. Add to that becoming the exchange parent to a 16 year old Danish boy, and I have a new-found respect for single parents. I will be explaining more of that soon. This evening, he is at a football game, ironically in the town where I was once a parish pastor. I will be at a dinner helping celebrate someone’s birthday. Tomorrow, there is a mandatory meeting for Anton, the student and me in Harrisburg and that will take a significant part of our day. It is also a weekend that I need to be really intentional and get a boatload of work done on a number of levels. I think I might be back in my office for a while yet tonight while he is at the game. I would like to get back to what I originally began to write about and the former student who gives me such hope. She is the epitome of goodness and a willingness to share her faithful and insightful heart and love. She is a person who under-estimates her incredible influence and beauty and how much of a difference she makes in the lives of others. She is brilliant beyond her wildest imagination, but she is also unparalleled in the depth and level of common sense she exhibits on a daily basis. As I have watched her over these years all the positive things I have noted here just seems to grow more profound with each passing year. What I think is more astonishing is how regardless what someone else does, she responds with a sense of kindness and forgiveness. This is not to say she is perfect nor that there is never a time where she might demonstrate some consternation, she does not hold a grudge and almost always she will try to figure out a way to bridge that chasm. I have had the opportunity to speak at length more than once during the past couple months and a conversation with her always lifts my spirits. Why? Because she is genuine; because she is gentle; because she is honest and thoughtful.

Those are traits we were raised to value and traits we were told we needed to embody, but so few people actually do it. She does. It is a rare gift for those of us who are fortunate enough to be around or know her. More importantly, I know that both she and her husband work diligently to instill those characteristics and actions into their daughter, and the daughter is a bit of a mini-me of her mother, both in terms of physicality and in personality. It is rather endearing (actually very much so) to watch. I am certainly the grandpa to the little one, or I guess if she was accurate to begin with I am the great-grandparent. Holy Buckets! Making me feel more than ancient. As I look at the revisions of this blog, while so many things have happened and perhaps even my view of the world has changed yet again, my view on the person about who this blogs is focused has not changed, except to appreciate her even more. We chatted not long ago and even with all the other things she has going on, she focused on what she need to do yet to improve things even more, but those improvements are to benefit those around her. She is also one of the most selfless people I have ever met. She has a heart that focuses on the needs of the other. She has a spirit that is never settled if she can provide a thought, a prayer, a care of some sort for those around her. She makes me feel selfish beyond words. I know that might surprise some, but that gives some indication of how giving she is. There are many tings I want to do, but I need to get on with some things yet this evening, including getting over to someone’s house for dinner. I began this blog with a title in which I tried to offer some sense of this most amazing year person. She has done more in a quarter century to teach me about how to live one’s love simply and purely than anyone I have ever met. She is simple, but in the most profound way, in the most incredibly deep manner. She is intuitive and smart beyond the Dean’s List grades she achieved as a student. She is a person I am blessed, humbled, and overjoyed came into my morning class some time ago.

Here is part of what she reminds me of. I could have offered this old Cat Steven’s tune as a sort of warning, but she knew so much more than I ever realized. She is so much more profound. Enjoy the song and as always,

thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

My Conflicted Love-affair with Alcohol

Good morning from the Acre,

I am back in Pennsylvania more about a month before my initial plan, but I believe it was a decision that needed to be made. As a person who plans more than some might believe, I can be flexible, but lack of control of my life or my schedule is more stressful than often imagined. As noted in a couple of my last posts, the summer has been a learning experience, and while not always pleasant, probably important in the bigger long-term. The first few days back have been a time of introspection and trying to understand how things that have been so enjoyable for most of my life seemed to be disconcerting and difficult. I have been a wanderer, a vagabond of sorts,  but perhaps it is that I have called one town home for almost a decade. This time 10 years ago (almost to the day, I was arriving in Bloomsburg on the motorcycle and embarking on a new adventure, a new position, and a new place to call home. In that decade, so many things have happened to cause me to become the person I am now. Certainly the work done to make Bloomsburg a home and place I feel a sense of belonging in is significant. While much of this has to do with the university, I have also established relationships and friendships outside, which continue to develop, and I have been able to create a space that is my safe haven. This summer work on that, which is significant, was part of my stress. It was the taking care of things vital to structural integrity that created a stress for me that was unlike anything I have ever felt. Perhaps part of the struggle is a feeling of selfishness or attachment to “stuff,” which is not something that has been typical of me. That is not to say I do not appreciate what I have nor that I do not take care of things. In fact, I have been teased for the energy put into caring for things at times, but that is more because I do not want to replace it or pay to get it again. Perhaps what most surprised me was a felt like a home-body for the first time in a profound way.

The week of introspection has caused me to consider another aspect of my life. From the time I was barely twenty-one, I began to work in restaurants. My first server position was in a restaurant in Ames, Iowa called Aunt Maude’s. It was a fine dining restaurant that had flaming desserts and entrees, we carved rack of lamb table-side and used a gueridon, not anything I had experienced in my NW Iowa meat and potatoes background. I also learned about alcohol in a different way, and actually a healthier manner than what I had done in the Marine Corps. I have noted in the past that my first experience with alcohol was literally a case of they poured it down me. It was not a positive thing. However, I did not learn from that. During my early 20s I bartended and waited tables and my abuse of alcohol was the rule rather than the exception. The consequences were some of the normal things, but the more unintended consequence was that I did foolish things. Not only would I spend money buying for others, but I got involved in some risky behavior that culminated in a friend pulling a gun on me and I grabbed that gun, which was loaded, and it discharged and shot him. There were two entrance wounds and one exit wound. This meant surgery would remove that bullet from his upper thoracic area. That no one was more injured than that was a miracle. That did get my attention, and I made some changes. Yet, both at Dana and later at seminary, while the bouts of over indulgence were not frequent they still occurred. What was it that made me drink to the point of excess? That is still something I am unsure I can answer completely. I think most often it was a need to be accepted, to fit in. I was often about 5 to 10 years behind (older) than the people I was around. That began when I returned to Dana as a 24 year old freshman. Perhaps it was if I could drink with the best of them, I could fit in. Regardless the underlying reason, I did some really stupid things. Once I became a parish pastor and campus pastor, that changed. There was about a 5 to 6 year period I drank sparingly or not at all. Then one day I decided after loosing a position to go to the bar. Unexpectedly, but by my own volition, I got trashed. That began about a 5 or 6 year period where I drank way too much again and while there was a bit of a respite in there when I had gotten married again, after that marriage I returned to graduate school and there were too many times I was well beyond legally intoxicated. Again, some of behavior during those times is something that is nothing to be proud of nor would I condone in others. It embarrasses me to this day. It is something for which I have made apologies and still feel like those apologies are inadequate. Simply put, the fact I have not died of alcohol poisoning on more than one occasion is by the grace of God. There is no logical reason I should be alive.

What is so incredibly asinine about all of that is I did my pastoral care and counseling classes in treatment centers. I remember one of my most dear friends speaking to me as well as writing me a letter about my alcohol abuse at one point. I still have that letter. I grew up with alcoholics in my life and both my siblings had significant drug and alcohol issues, to the point of treatment in one case. So what changed . . .  what is it that allows me to have an rather astronomical amount of alcohol in my house and not drink it. Somehow, I am able to see it as a way to enhance a dining experience rather than control it. Somehow, perhaps it has been watching what it has done to so many others and realizing what could have happened to me. What happens for me how is so different than what happened before. Where I once seemed to practice a theory of being able to drink with the best of them made it all better, now being around intoxicated people makes me uncomfortable. Being around someone who reeks of alcohol makes me queasy. As I noted above, I have been in Bloomsburg for 10 years. I have been intoxicated three times in that 10 years (which can be argued is three times too many). That is not to say I have only drank three times, but I have learned to be much more responsible. Can I offer a reason for that change? Not with some sense of complete clarity. Not even with the idea of it was intentional. I think rather it was a sense of what I did, or am apt to do, when I drink too much is problematic on a whole multitude of levels. Perhaps it is because I realize so much more completely now that being a professor, as I have said many other times, is not what I do, it is who I am. During the past year, I have witnessed, again, first-hand what alcohol abuse can do and the consequences of someone’s actions on those around them. It is painful to watch. It is more painful to know there is nothing you can do to change it. What I have come to realize is how our American culture glorifies the use of alcohol or sees it much like owning a gun, somehow we are entitled to be able to drink whenever or however we wish. Damned the consequence. Ironically the summer I spend working in the winery I drank less than other times. I think I owe that to both Peter D’Souza as well as Marco for helping me see the natural aspect of wine making and how it works to help create an entirely different food and taste experience for a meal. Even now when it comes to beer or cocktails, I am able to think about the art of the beverage and what it can do to help enjoy something socially versus I need to drink to get trashed or even buzzed. I love what food and beverage can do together, and I simultaneously hate what we do societally with alcohol. American culture does not seem to be able to promote social drinking. Drinking it about getting trashed. We have to pre-game before we go to the bar. We have to mix crazy shit like Red Bull and Four Loco. The results have been deadly. For instance, did you know that in 2010 31% of fatal weekend car crashes involved alcohol? That is 8 years after the 0.08 for DUI went into affect nationwide. Again, in 2010, 17,000,000 people admitted to driving intoxicated. If they had their own state, they would be the 5 largest state in the country (I did research on these statistics for this blog). Again there is this sense of we can chance it. Again, in the spirit of transparency, I received a DUI when I was lived in Wisconsin. I had a medical issue, and attempted to drive home (less than 6 blocks total). I got pulled over 72 steps from my house. That night cost me over 5,000.00. One of the things I learned in my mandatory classes was that a person will drive intoxicated a couple of hundred times before they are pulled over and actually charged. If that is accurate, it is mind-boggling, and petrifying.

So where does that leave me today? Yes, I have alcohol of various kinds in my house: beer, spirits, and wine and quite a quantity, but I can go days or weeks without drinking a drop of anything. I enjoy having a glass of wine with a meal. I enjoy a ice cold beer on a hot day, and I love experimenting with spirits to see what I can concoct that will taste refreshing and enjoyable. Yet it is an art a type of creativity that offers an opportunity to share socially in a responsible and enjoyable manner. I have somehow learned that one can be social, responsible and enjoyable all at the same time. In 2012, the alcohol industry made 162,000,000,000.00 (yes, billion) dollars (again, I looked this up through economic databases). I guess I do contribute to this amount. Where am I today as I write this? I understand why people might get intoxicated. I think most often it is to forget their own problems; it is because they have not dealt with some aspect of their past or because they do not like something about themselves. Perhaps it is an attempt to fit in. This morning I was speaking with a dear friend, who has a strong affinity for their ethnic heritage. They noted that that heritage is ensconced (somewhat of an oxymoron) with alcohol and that connection has resulted in their choosing to eliminate alcohol from their personal use. I have noted the propensity for the misuse of alcohol in my own family on many occasions in this blog. If I were to balance the misuse of alcohol on a scale to the appropriate use of alcohol in my experiences, either communally or individually, the misuse side of the scale would so far outweigh the appropriate use that you would wonder if there was any weight at all on the one side. So how do I understand this love affair? Indeed it is conflicted. Indeed it is frightening. It is such a delicate balance. How did I learn to balance? Embarrassment for my past actions is one of the greatest motivators, I believe. Realizing how much I have to lose should I lose that balance is another aspect. Somehow, for me the grace of God that has kept me alive or out of trouble or jail more times than I have fingers and toes, and even if I borrowed some of yours. I think being an example for others, and realizing the consequences and damage of some of my past, which still haunts me, has been a motivating factor. For so long, I struggled with my identity and feelings of inadequacy. I think I have managed much of that, or more importantly, I learned that alcohol does not fix that, it only complicates it. Using alcohol did not make me fit it more completely, it made me look more completely foolish. Using alcohol inappropriately enhanced inappropriate and embarrassing behavior and it damaged my relationships and my reputation. Some of that will never be repaired. To this day, I enjoy more than words can say how a great Mourvedre can enhance the spice and flavor of a good ribeye steak. I enjoy the amazing flavor of caraway seed and lime in an aquavit and tonic on a hot summer evening. Yet, it is the experience of the flavor and more than merely getting stupid.

Respect or healthy respect seems to be apt here. It is something lacking in so many areas of our societal fabric, and that, of course, is an entirely different topic. I think it is where I am, however. I have learned if you play with fire (and I have used things like Ol’ Gran Dad or 151 to flame desserts), you will get burnt. That adage is certainly true. I have been burned more than once, but it was not a burn that changed me, it was merely age and wisdom, and the observation of consequence, of both my own actions and the actions of others. I will always appreciate alcohol when used to enhance a meal or a social setting appropriately. As my former professor once said, I can appreciate alcohol, but he had no tolerance for drunken behavior. He is still an incredibly wise man, and he is entirely accurate. I have been prone to put a video at the end of my blogs that somehow connects to the topic, but almost all music videos about alcohol glorify it, so I decided on something that was about trying to make the appropriate choices and take the chance and make life better without being intoxicated. I love this video for the generational beauty in it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Fascinated or Consternated? Yes? No? Simply Regrouping

Dzień dobry z Krakowa w poniedziałek rano,

To był produktywny tydzień i czuję, że poczyniłem pewne ważne postępy w moim początkowym nabywaniu języka polskiego, ale nigdy nie jestem zadowolona, że to wystarczy (It was a productive week, and I feel I made some important progress in my beginning acquisition of Polish, but I am never really content that it is enough.). Those who know me are probably not that surprised. What I have been forced to realizing is that learning a language as an older human is so much more difficult than it was for me at a point earlier in my life (e.g. late 20s, when I crammed two years of Greek into a summer). There are the three components of language as I often noted for others. Much like a three- legged stool: vocabulary, patterns, and grammar. The first two are about memorization and the grammar is more about comprehension. When I learned German or worked to teach myself Spanish, this sort of pattern worked, though more effectively for German than in Spanish. It certainly worked for Greek and, maybe to a perhaps lesser extent for Latin. Hebrew was in a world of its own and while last summer this seemed to work generally for Polish, this summer has been a much different story. It has pushed my comfort level off the cliff and caused me fear and tears (and I mean that literally). So what is the difference in a year, particularly when last summer, while hard work, was so enjoyable?

These questions have consumed me this last week and a half and caused me to ponder the learning process in ways I never fathomed. There are a couple things that I believe have happened in the last 12 months to create this dilemma of feeling like a failure. First, I think both my ears and my eyesight have changed (and not degrees is improvement). Second, the grammar is more complex and while it is comprehendible, it takes more time to master and there is little time to manage that complexity. In other words, I am not as quick as I once was. Third, my own failure to review and reconnect with the previous work before arriving caused a lack of foundation, or more accurately the losing of the foundation I had. Each of these elements have created a perfect storm that has resulted in my failing to manage what I believed possible. What I have realized as the way I have learned in past is no longer effective. I am reminded of what Mr. Galán would note when I attempted Spanish. He said regularly, “You just need to speak and use it. You need to listen and try to understand.” He was (and is) correct. The problem becomes a much more complex and more of a struggle because I am afraid of making mistakes. My overwhelming desire to be perfect at it paralyzes me. So then the question becomes is there somewhere between using my grammatical life jacket and just jumping in the water and not being afraid when I cannot see the bottom. I use this metaphor because I know the actual fear of not knowing where the bottom is and how that paralyzes me also.

I do think I have come up with a plan. The first thing is to step back and review at my own pace the work I did last summer and to move forward with the additional work done over the last two plus weeks, which was significant. If I can create a firm foundation there, I believe I can move forward in a manner that I can feel positive and proud of. I do want to work from a couple different vantage points or entrances of sorts. I honestly believe there has been more deterioration of senses (which has affected acquisition more profoundly than expected) in the past year than I had any inkling had happened. It not only affected my classroom options, but also my studying. The most consequential seems to be the length of time I can continue to work at all of it, and that limitation frustrates me beyond words. Therefore, to compensate I must figure out something more efficient and effective. Then, and the director of the summer program, Dr. Prizel-Kania, probably can shed light on this for me, knowing what my ultimate goal to be, what is the best way forward. What I do know is that any lack in proficiency is no one’s particular fault. It is not about blaming, but rather accepting the reality of the situation. What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is the instructors I am blessed with did everything in their power to help me. My three instructors, Mikołaj, Dominika, and Sylwię are incredible at what they do. Likewise, the program works for the great majority of those enrolled, most who are in their 20s. I do know that learning a language is a special skill and I know being older offers different challenges. I am wondering if I recognize those challenges as I reflect on myself or if I am missing something. That has occupied my thoughts more than one might think since last Thursday (it is now Tuesday morning – about 4:00 am. for those of you on the East Coast). What I believe I need for my own sense of sanity is to get to a level of hearing and speaking that is comfortable, and I think there are some ways (outside of complete immersion in Krakow) that might offer such an opportunity. I think my own sense of inadequacy had more to do with most of my struggle this summer than anything else.

In addition, what I have come to realize is that learning a language you plan to speak (and maybe it is because I learned German so long ago and when I was dumped into an immersion situation with it, I was in my 20s) versus a language you read is something very different. The needs are different, but likewise the learning process is much more comprehensive. If I return to my stool imagery, I am not sure a three-legged stool will work, it is much more like a four-legged chair or perhaps table. The extra leg is needed because hearing and listening become important on a different level. Second, the idea of a table is that the area covered is much more extensive and it needs order and structure (perhaps more accurately, I need order and structure). That is another component of immersion that is, perhaps, contradictory to how learn most effectively. I need structure and order, which means I need time to think and assimilate. That is in part because I need to make sense of things, but also because I think it takes me longer and I am more frightened by feeling as if I have no control. This trip has been different from my previous trips for a couple of reasons. While I know my way around Krakow better than ever before, I have feel more isolated than I ever have. While I found a level of being comfortable in Moscow after a few days, I was not comfortable to travel on to St. Petersburg by myself. I felt vulnerable in a manner that I had not in many years. While some of that certainly disappeared here in Poland, something has happened to make me less content or calm than I have in the past. I am not sure from where that comes or how it occurred, but I do know that I do not like it. Earlier this summer I was sharing lunch with three former colleagues and the first of the three and I were waiting and I did what I always seem to do when I go into my colleague, Dr. Decker’s office. I align things and make things orderly (fortunately he humors me and merely tells me it will get messed up again). She noted my actions and asked me if I were an OCD person. I had never really thought about it (seriously, I had not), but I responded, perhaps I am. As the summer has continued, I have noted to the degree that is true. Holy Crap!!! So then I began to reflect and wondered from where that propensity had come, and how long had I been such.

I am sure my psychology colleagues would have a heyday with this, but what I realize is we were required to keep our rooms very orderly growing up. I did not struggle to do so. We dusted the house every morning (every day, but Sunday) and on Saturday we dusted, vacuumed and stripped our beds to be washed. I was not allowed to leave my room in the morning before the bed was made. It is still one of the first things I do in the morning. We were not allowed to leave clothes out on a chair unless they were folded and neat. I thought all of that was normal and that every house did things like that. I have long since learned that is not true, but those of you who know me, know I cannot even function if my space is not orderly and well kept. While there are moments I fall short of that, for the most part it is who I am. I do know that I go through streaks from time to time also. I am forced (yes, a strong word), but it is something I do to myself, to try to understand this need for structure and order. During my time here in Poland sharing the Air BnB with another person, who was there prior to my arrival and who will be there after my departure, I have been required to rethink how what I do affects the other in a different way. There are been some compromise (and most of that has to do with his smoking (and the managing of that habit), but one of the things I realized early was I was the intruder if you will. He had a pattern and my requests would change his pattern. My reason for asking for some leeway on the smoking is more of a health issue than control, but I struggled to even ask for that. What all of this tells me is that I will avoid conflict at all costs, even at my own detriment. The reciprocal nature of that is when I finally have had enough, my response is not proportionate to the issue at hand. Of course, as usual there are so many issues that are part of that puzzle. I know most of them, but managing them is something quite different. . . .

It is about two weeks after I wrote this initially and I am back in the States and have been for a week. It has been a week of decompressing and reflection. It has been a week to ponder and regroup. It has been a weekend of trying to wrap my head around the inability of our country to deal with violence and make some meaningful moves toward curbing the violence, the gun-usage, and the hate and bigotry that seems to be engrained in every region, section, state, municipality, and neighborhood of this land. How we got here is certainly a complex issue. How we move toward something different is perhaps more complex, but doing nothing accomplishes one thing: more shootings with assault style weapons and more people dying needlessly. Certainly it is a mental health issue; it is an anger management issue, but there are things we can and should do. I have written at length about all of this, so I am not going to iterate it, but damn!! 30 seconds and 9 lives lost because there was a drum magazine in a semi-automatic assault weapon. What more needs to be said if you think with any logic at all. That is undoubtedly exasperating, consternating, and simply pathetic. States have authority to make changes; so does the federal government. This senseless violence is a social epidemic and it needs to be managed and approached as such. It is a health concern in so many ways. I have nothing more to say, but the response to the Ohio governor by people in Dayton seems to cover it: DO SOMETHING!

In terms of my Polish I am doing something and working on making changes as I move forward to work on it systematically and regularly. I think that will work much better with my learning style. It will result in a foundation that is stronger and more effective. It was a tough and, at times, overwhelming summer, but I will prevail and manage this. Thanks to all who have reached out to me in the past weeks to check on me. I am grateful. As I write and finish this blog, it is the day that Lydia would have turned 95. I still love and miss her.

Dlaczego niektóre rzeczy sprawiają, że zastanawiam się

Dzień Dobry, i wiłam z Poleski,

I am not sure there is a reasonable translation for what I wanted the title of this blog to be in Polish, but what I am trying to get across is  there are things that cause me to turn my head and wonder, did that just happen? What this says, sort of, is “things that give me pause,” or things that seem so counter intuitive to common sense that I can only wonder something along the text acronym world, a sort of inappropriate and nonetheless necessary, WTF? This startling exclamation has become a rather daily mantra as I walk the streets of Poland 🇵🇱, but, but simultaneously, try to understand the brokenness that seems to characterize the country from where or which I come, a country that has been a beacon of hope (and in spite of all, somehow remains so), a country whose government of checks-and-balances has been the hallmark of regulating ourselves when common sense seems to disappear. Each day as I am here in Europe, I take the time to check the news and see what is happening at home, but I am at the point that it so frightens me, I am not sure I want to know. The daily, seemingly-never-ending, shit-show we call our national Capitol becomes more embarrassing by the day. The latest fight between “the Squad” and the President continuing to stoop lower than I imagined possible only furthers my concern. As I am six hours ahead of you, therefore, I am finishing a day, but not see that the President wants to assert, arguing that he was not supportive of the chants at his North Carolina rally. Agreed, he did not join in, but the smug and appreciative smile on his face says more than enough. What did he expect to hear as a response to what he said about the Representative from Minnesota? Does no one see the irony in what is happening here? He argues that the Squad, and please know I do not agree with everything they say or do either,  should go back to where they came from. Three of the four of them were born in the United States, so where does that say they should go? His comment about their ethnic background puts him into a discriminatory situation, plain and simple. The point is: when they say something that he believes problematic, he says they need to go back from where they came (and all the problems with that statement are a post in an of itself). So if they say something from their place in Congress or wherever, it is inappropriate, but as he wraps himself in the flag (which he has literally done) and tries to argue patriotism, he said because he is being patriotic and supporting the country he cannot be racist, regardless what he says. Bull . . .  I say. That is his basic argument. Most certainly, I do not think he has used that specific logic or stated it, but I am not sure he is the most logical President we have had in the Oval Office. In fact, I might go as far as to argue he is on the other end of that spectrum. Now he argues because he tried to speak, he was cutting off the chant. If he spoke, that would have stopped it. Period.  His rallies from the previous election cycle are certainly demonstrative of his using incendiary language and even supporting some of the violence at his event (e.g. get him out of here. Knock the hell out of him). Now he wants to feign that he would not do such things. Incredible.

What needs to happen is the Congress (and please note I did not denote a specific party) needs to do the work they have been elected to do and serve the American people. Then let the chips fall where they may . . . or will.  As we are into debates already . . . those running for the Democratic Party nomination need to explain what they will do to better serve the American people and the world should they be elected president. Lay out a strategy that demonstrates that you care about all of America . . . that the policies will do something to support the wealthy, but also give care to those who were not able to get a million dollar loan from their father. When and if you get the nomination, do not play his game of insult and detract. If you get in the mud puddle with the pig, you are going to get dirty and pigs love the mud. They are used to it. That is my thoughts about dealing with the hush-money paying, genital grabbing, bully with a 4th grade rhetorical level, the one, whom we somehow elected in 2016. He is arguing the economy is humming and certainly the stock market has been hitting records, but about 50 percent of people, who have the money to invest in the market do not (2016 Gallup Poll). That does not count the people who do not have the disposable income to begin with. Therefore, for whom is the economy humming? If it is only for those connected to the Dow and S&P, which is what is being touted by the White House, there is an issue. Then there is an example of our illustrious legislatures at the national level, who are there to serve the people. My second example of just how low they stoop or out of touch they seem to be is with former doctor (M.D.) and Senator. In a typical example of supposed fiscal responsibility, Senator Rand Paul objected to a unanimous consensus vote to support the 9/11 Fund, something that Senator McConnell noted to the recently deceased NYPD detective he would make sure a vote was accomplished. My issue with the Kentucky Senator is an issue of ethics and reality. He noted that the 10+ million dollars this would cost should be offset by other spending. Okay, but wait! This is the same Senator who voted for the Tax Reform Bill that has added a trillion dollars to our national deficit. I am not an economist, and math is not my strong suit (and it also seems that Polish is not over the last few days), but give me about a 99% break . . . because 10,000,000.00 is one percent of 1,000,000,000.00. I think more than your ribs must have been broken by your neighbor, Senator Paul. You are also reprehensible for this stoppage. This brings me to the other side of things for a moment. I think Speaker Pelosi has so much more on the ball than many think. While I am supportive of much of what AOC and other freshman Representatives are questioning, I do believe there is a way to manage both sides. I think the Madam Speaker is an astute and worthy balance to the Senator Majority leader, who I will address before this blog is complete.

My rhetorical background comes into play. While the President speaks of a 4th grade rhetorical level, his rhetorical strategy is more acute and calculating than many believe. This is where some of you might find what I write difficult, but there are two things to remember before you judge my words as they come from some careful thought and significant struggle. First, I was a history major in college (and I have loved history since middle school) and second I wrote my dissertation about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was the German Lutheran pastor involved in the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. After watching what Hitler had done in Germany from 1933 when he became chancellor, the group of well-placed individuals involved in the plot to remove him turned to their pastor and co-conspirator as they struggled with the reality of their actions. Hoping he might provide some absolution for their deeds on the Christmas holidays of 1942-43, they asked him to reflect on their situation. Absolution is not quite what they received; he wrote to them: “We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; . . .” While I do not believe the American public has been silent either before or since the President was elected, the silence of the Republican party on so many actions or words used, which are below the Office of the President, is shocking. The disregard for the judicial system, the intelligence community, the DOJ, pre-Attorney General Barr, or the granting of security clearances in a nepotistic manner (against the advice of those who had the right to advise) provides my reason for pause. Yet, the list could go on and the incredible disdain for our democracy is, once again, beyond words. I know some will ask the question if I am insinuating (or jump to the conclusion) that our President is evil? For me, that is an honestly difficult question. Is bullying evil? I believe it can be to those being bullied. Is arrogance evil? When the consequence of that arrogance is to create discord, mistrust, and fear, which I do believe is a fundamental strategy of Mr. Trump, one can argue for some sense of evil in that. Certainly, I believe the Republican Party and those who have fallen somewhat lock-step (and the similarity  or image of that term with a military is not unnoticed) with him can certainly have their actions be regarded as equivocation. Particularly when those who have not supported him are called out, ostracized, and labeled more vile things that the deplorable term (remember the election) ever indicated. The President’s response this past week for former Speaker Ryan is a good case in point. I think Ryan’s rather pathetic argument for what he tried to do to “manage” the President is another example of equivocation and pretense, and all under the guise of patriotism or democracy at work.

Bonhoeffer would go on to write: ” . . . experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical.” To  say we have become suspicious of others in a profound understatement in our present national climate. We have come to the point where disagreement with someone makes them the enemy. There is no democracy in that. There is no freedom in that. Those are profound statements, but important ones. We unfriend people; we no longer speak with them; we have become afraid to question or stand up for what we believe because it is termed unpatriotic, socialist, and something worse. Sending someone home or arguing they should go back to their shithole country is how our President finds it reasonable to speak about or to those with whom he disagrees or when they disagree with him.  He tweets his disdain on Sunday mornings almost liturgy. He name calls and again, uses his bully pulpit as the incredible bully he is. He argues for a strict interpretation of the constitution when it serves him (or more accurately his base or those who might support him) and yet he cares little about constitutional rights. His attack on checks and balances is a basic affront to the constitution. Recently, he worked to figure out a way to side-step the SCOTUS  on the census(though at the last minute someone must have gotten through to him). He argues the Bill of Rights and freedom of speech when it serves his purposes, and yet in his own actions he will block people on Twitter with whom he disagrees again (which the Federal Appeals Court just told him that is not okay). Certainly I do believe we are worn down from going on three years of continual fighting and bad-mouthing. This is not one-sided – it is the one thing about which we are truly bipartisan. Most of the public has thrown up their hands; it a national issue and it is a serious one. Certainly there is a cynicism that has become part of who we are. It is my hope, again as noted above, that someone, or some-ones, will step up and demonstrate they can argue for policy and country and not get into the garbage slinging, something the President seems incapable of doing. He calls it the “art of the deal.” I call it the epitome of being an ass. Can we return to substantive talk about the country and the things that matter versus becoming a continual us against them? That is where the cynicism is most apparent. I am not sure anyone believes we can.

This past weekend, I ended up in more back and forth that I am usually comfortable doing. The topics: immigration, health care, and a few other things that are central to our public debate. What astounds me is how so many really good people, and those who call themselves Christians, can support this person who has equivocated himself arguing for the sanctity of life, but then disrespects almost everything that is fundamental to our humanity and everyone, particularly women. Behind this Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate has flooded our judiciary with judges who will rule against woman, immigrants, those who identify as LGBTQA, or anyone who does not seem to believe as they do. I am smiling as I think of those whom Jesus chose as disciples. I am not sure any of them would fall into our category of who’s who in terms of wanting them as friends or role models. As I have noted in many of my previous blogs, I did not grow up in a particularly diverse area, but I did learn about respect for the other. Certainly my entry into the Marine Corps taught me things about people and the world that NW Iowa could not. Certainly my work beyond as a pastor and eventually as a professor has reminded me of how fortunate we are to have the diversity of opinion that I find in my classes (and is something I try to foster).  Contrary to what some accused me of this past weekend (not personally, but as they argued against the left-wing, liberal conspiracy of the academy) of indoctrinating my students. As I tell my students every semester when they ask me what I want, my response is always the same: I want to you think; I want to you to analyze; I want you to be able to make the connections, to be able to synthesize the things you learn with the world in which you live. As that former pastor, I am just enough of a smart ass to say, “I believe God gave you a brain to do more than hold your ears apart.” So the question becomes as Bonhoeffer noted so importantly: “Are we still of any use?” As I have noted in other blogs, I know what this discrimination does to people; I know what it did to my sister. There is significant time until November 2020, but there is a lot of national soul searching that needs to happen. We need to as a people stand up against all forms of discrimination and speak out when our government does things that are not true to the morals and principles that promote respect and dignity. Discourse is important; disagreement and the ability to do so in a civil manner is as important now as ever. When people are bullied into silence; when people are rounded up and treated as subhuman; when we separate families and cage children (I have been to Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz); when those we elect cannot conduct themselves in a manner befitting the office to which they are elected, we have a problem and a serious one. Are we of any use? Yes, and further more, hell, yes. It is time to read; it is time to listen and research the issues; it is time to consider who we are and how we want to conduct ourselves as individuals and as a nation. It is time to use our power at the ballot box. If we believe we want a country that finds racism and bullying in the White House as acceptable, we will re-elect this monster. If that is who we have become, I fear where we are headed. The image at the outset of this blog is of Flossenburg, the camp in which Bonhoeffer was hanged and cremated shortly before its liberation. He was hanged in April 1945. It is not again unrealized to me that I am only kilometers away from Auschwitz, perhaps the most notorious of the death camps in the Second World War.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Imagining Parenthood

Hello from Kraków,

Forty-seven years ago today, I became an uncle. I wax 16 years old and working two summer jobs. I was staying at my grandmother’s house for the summer, and while I was trying to be responsible, I still had a lot to learn. During that hot July, my older brother and his wife of only 7 months, who were now living in Lawrence, Kansas, would become parents to a baby boy. It was not the life or the place probably either of them imagined residing, but this unexpected move toward parenting had changed their college plans and the world of being a family, of parenting, was now their reality. My brother was a member of an up-and-coming Chicago/BS&T band that had made quite a name for themselves throughout the Midwest and their booking company was located in Lawrence. My sister-in-law, who was exceptionally talented in her own right, had left her New Jersey (across the River from NYC) life to attend college in NW Iowa, I am pretty sure this was not what either she or her family expected as she pursued a music degree. While she and I have spoken, and I know her moving away to college was sort of in here DNA, I am still not sure how she ended up finding Morningside College.

That was a transforming summer for me. It taught me about frailty because during the trip my parents would take to visit their new grandchild, my father would suffer a heart attack. This was before the days of bypass or catheterization, and not realizing the extend of his cardiac episode, my father would drive himself home from Lawrence to Sioux City, a distance of exactly 300 miles. Not an exceedingly long drive, but it was if you had just had a heart attack. I was not home as noted because I was working two jobs and I had to be at the bakery before 6:00 a.m. and I was not yet really driving that much and I did not have a car. In addition, I worked a second job in the evening from 5:00 p.m. until midnight and I worked 6 days a week. Therefore, it was logistically easier to stay at my grandmother’s who owned the bakery, and she was kind enough to let me borrow a work car if needed. I did, however, that summer buy my first car. It was a 1964 Impala and I purchased it for a whoppin’ $175.00. My grandmother also put me on her company insurance, so that saved me a lot of money. I was aware that my parents had gone to Kansas to visit the new parents, but I was not aware of what occurred during their visit. I would not learn that my father returned to be placed in Intensive Care until my uncle, my father’s oldest brother-in-law, would call and tell my grandmother what had happened. Suffice it to say that was overwhelming to me beyond words.

During the next weeks and months, I would eventually move back home, though not until after my senior year had begun and for some time I was driving across town in order to attend the school in the area I was supposedly living. I would move back from my grandmother’s home to my own at the request of my father, more like to plea, to come home. It was a tense and difficult time, but I did as he asked and suffered the consequences and wrath of my mother, who unabashedly told me she did not give a damn where I was or where I would come or go. It was an uncomfortable time in the house in Riverside. That would contribute mightily to my deciding to join the Marines upon graduation. While I was in the Communications School at MCRD in San Diego that fall (1973), my niece would be born. I still remember getting a phone call that she had arrived. In spite of my brother passing away a few years later, after there was a third child, I have been fortunate enough to be in contact and involved in the lives of these three for almost 50 years now. That is incredible that all of this was happening almost a half century ago. What is more incredible to me (and perhaps more of a blessing than a curse) is that I never had my own children. Through the years, I have vacillated between being sad about that and wondering if God knew better than I. I have had people say to me that I would have been a good parent and I have certainly had a rather long line of what I call my surrogate sons and daughters, but when it all comes down to it, they have their own families. At the end of the day, I go home and I am there by myself. Again, the feelings about that are as varied as the events that can occur within a week, month or even year. Perhaps some of what overwhelmed me a week ago was this sense of missing out, but then feeling afraid that I would have been a failure at parenting. Certainly, I have learned more even in the surrogate-parenting than I ever imagined possible. I have learned that allowing a person to be their own person is not always an easy thing to do. To allow them to make mistakes and not impose your values or standards on them is another thing that is difficult.

I would imagine some of that is because I have not been with them from the beginning and as noted they have their own values, traditions, expectations, and things that were formed before they were around me. I sometimes imagine what I have done with some is sort of like begin a foster parent. In addition, I have learned, for better or worse, that I have incredibly high expectations, and perhaps ones that are not entirely realistic. I have learned that I am more set in my ways about how I like things and what I believe should happen than I sometimes realize. What has caused these emotions about the lack of being a parent to surface again? Certainly having my house full for the better part of the past academic year had the parenting thing happening to some extent., but these emotions have seemed to be exponentially closer to the surface since I have been here in Europe. The strange thing is that I have never really found little children that charming. I know that sounds terrible or rather callous, at best, but it seems that the individuals that have pulled at my proverbial heart strings of late are small children, like 3-6 years old. That is an entirely new occurrence for me. I have always had a sort of soft spot for middle school age, and I am not sure that has changed, but this recent appreciation for young post-toddler, but not yet 8-10 year olds has me a bit flummoxed. I have found myself asking parents if I may take a picture of their sons and daughters, and some of them I have posted. As I try to figure out this new aspect of appreciation, there are perhaps two things to which I can attribute its coming out of nowhere. I have a former student, whose wedding I was actually the officiant. She and her husband have a four year old that I have watched grow from infancy. She (the daughter) and I have this sort of grandfatherly relationship and whenever I am blessed to be around them, she loves to have me put her on my shoulders or she loves to sit by me in the restaurant, and her mother says when they go by the Starbucks we often meet at, the question of whether they will see me is immediately being asked. I think what this amazing little person and her mother have helped me do is to not be afraid that I had no way to appropriately relate to them. There is a second little one that is the daughter of a colleague and his wife. She is so smart that it is frightening. She remembers everything and she is like a sponge that soaks up everything that happens and can process it. It must be that mathematician DNA. The other reason I think there is a change is these little ones have a sort of grace and purity that gives me a sense of hope. They have not been spoiled by our stupidity yet. They are little human sponges, whose curiosity and hopefulness provides me that same sense. As I watch the love between that child and their parents, which goes both ways, I am reminded of the goodness that I believe all of us have.

It is that goodness that provides me a sense of wistfulness also. I wonder what I might have been like had I been able to be a parent and grow to see that person eventually grow, have their own children and move into that next stage. I remember the joy my father had when those nephews and nieces, who are at the outset of this post, would come to the house. He was so happy to see them and spend time with them. I have noted in other blog posts that my grandmother was accused by my adoptive mother of spoiling me, and that was not something that my adopted mother either appreciated or had a propensity for doing (as my recent post noted). I do not believe my grandmother spoiled me as I reconsider what she did. I think she wanted to make my life easier because of my mother, but she also believed in hard work and treating others with respect and decency. The worst thing she could have said to me was “I am disappointed in you.” I know that I disappointed her as I struggled to make sense of my world after returning from the service. She would not live much longer, but I had not idea that our time would be cut short so soon after my return. I think she wished she had been my sister’s and my parent for the remainder of her life when she and my grandfather first brought us to lived at 4547 as her sister always called it. I have noted in previous blogs, that was the house where I felt safe; it was the house in which I felt loved. It was the house in which I believed I mattered. It seems to me that is what parents do. They make their children feel safe and loved. They allow their children to learn both by success and failure, but love them just the same. They support their exploration of becoming individuals, but also provide a foundation upon which decisions (both good and bad) can be made. I think perhaps the hardest part of being a parent must be allowing a son or daughter to make a mistake, knowing it is going to happen. It seems that the one of the most difficult things must be allowing each person to be their own person. I think that is something my adopted father tried to do, allow me to figure it out. The picture above is of him in his uniform during the Second World War. The thing so typical of him in this picture is his smile.

There are some people I have watched parent and they epitomize what I believe being a good parent must be. The first couple was my first host family when I was on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team. They have two children who have taken entirely different paths in life, but they love them both and support them. They take the time to visit them, which is no small task when one of them lives in Europe. The second couple have blessed me by allowing me such entre into their lives. They lived next door to me when I taught in Wisconsin and they have three amazing sons and daughter, who again are very different, but an interesting combination of both parents, which I believe to be normal. I think what impresses me most about them is they have supported and allowed each of them to follow their own paths, which are quite diverse. They again support and demonstrate that support and love in so many ways. I have told them before, and I will note it here; they give me a sense of hope because they are such incredibly good and faithful people, to their family, their faith family, and their community. I am so blessed to be allowed into their lives, and they have taught be such amazing board games to play too. Quite the bonus. It is ironic that they also introduced me to Lydia and she became a surrogate parent to me or I became the child she never had. Over the past month or six weeks I have had to step back again, considering this life and it has been both cathartic and instructive. Being a parent is consuming; it makes you both stronger and incredibly frail, it seems, simultaneously. It is so hard to walk a line between giving support and instruction, and yet making sure to not control. Sometimes, I think I missed out on so much, and to some degree, to use the words of Martin Luther, “this is most certainly true.” Sometimes, I realize I am able to offer more as the surrogate and I might even be listened to in ways the biological parent will not. What is most apparent to me as I write this is parenting in any form is both inspirational and humbling. I am conflicted by the fact that I did not experience this and what I feel I might have missed, but at the same time, I am blessed that I have other opportunities to make some difference in the lives of many more. I think the most difficult part of me is finding a balance between the two worlds when it comes to my own emotions and reflections. I am reminded of the song by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens. Father and Son is an amazing song and it is here for your listening and pondering that relationship of parent and offspring.

Thank you again to all of you who take the time to read what I write, be it once or regularly.

Michael