Understanding Identity in our Technological World

Hello from my corner of the Little Bakery,

It is Wednesday, but it seems like it should be Friday. I have spent more time working: prepping, grading, Zooming, interpreting, studying and believing in myself, yes believing I want to do the best work I have ever done with my classes, be a class I have taught before, whether it be a class that has one student or many, a class that I was assigned or I inherited. There is so much to do, but there is more I wish I knew how to do. I am never content with the work I have done. Is that a good thing? I am honestly not sure. What I know is I want to improve each and every day at what I do.

Teaching, professing, is such an amazing thing to be blessed to do. Every day I am offered possibilities to make some small difference in the life of someone who has bought into the idea that a college degrees a reasonable thing to pursue. Even that reality has changed so much since I graduated in the first class of West High School in Sioux City, IA. I grew up in a seriously blue-collar area of my town of 100,000 people. Most of the people in my section of town did not attend college for two reasons: it was expensive, and they did not have the money, and second, college was not considered essential or required. If my figures are still accurate, 40% of my students are first-gen students. They come to college both excited and fearful. They hope with all their strength that they will one day walk across that stage to receive a diploma, serving up a dream they one day only imagined. They fear and tremble with much more trepidation then they perhaps even realize, wondering if they are prepared, but not wanting to go home saying they did not make it. And yet, the world of academy is changing rapidly. That change is necessary, but it too is alarming.

I have noted for my students the consequence of technology, and what my mentor, Dr. Daniel Riordan, called the rhetoric of technology. He was an incredible mentor to me, helping me navigate a difficult time in my own career as well as supporting me after I left Wisconsin. What I realize is he became another academic advisor of sorts, and I have embarrassed his curiosity and zeal for trying new things. His philosophy was simple: “Be curious! What you learn is yours forever” (Olson Funeral Home). Technology offers opportunities to learn in ways we seldom fathom. When I relate my experience of buying my first computer (A Tandy whose memory topped out at 640K) and what it would cost in today’s dollars (between 5 and 6K) and that it was on 1987, they are stunned by what little I received as well as how much it would cost. And the reason I asked to borrow money from a Great Aunt and Uncle was also surprising to them. I already felt like I could not compete with my classmates who were technologically ahead of me. That poor Riverside boy did not have extra money, and even though he was married, we barely had enough money to live. I think Susan made 5-6 dollars an hour. That computer made my senior year in seminary much more manageable. And more importantly, it pushed me into the technological world that was barely beginning, and it changed how I understood my abilities as a student. It changed my identity.

From graduate school, as I moved into parish ministry, our church was trying to understand how to create a computer-based office, and how would we get information from one terminal to the other. Networking?? Oh my . . . by the time I would return to do a second masters and soon a PhD, the computer lab in the Walker Building on the MTU campus had a Mac side and a PC side. It was called CCLI. I learned so much about technology in that lab. A summer of Computers in Writing Intensive Classrooms (CIWIC) with Drs. Cyndi Selfe and Gail Hawisher would change my relationship and understanding of technology in a way that was mind and life altering. Those changes would be fundamental and be important in my obtaining a tenure track position with my first application. Nothing I expected to happen. Technology has created more than a profound change in daily life; it has created an identity for its users. However, one must ask about the accuracy of the identity created, and at what cost? While my late 20th and early 21st century technology usage was role changing perhaps, I am not sure I allowed to to change who I understood myself to be. Social media would establish another layer of usage, but again, I am pretty sure I did not wish or attempt to change the image or the person I believed myself to be.

Perhaps that is because I did not have to navigate my world online as the prepubescent, undersized, and frightened junior high school (now middle school) person I was. We managed things face-2-face with those around us. I did not have to worry that what happened in school would be broadcast far and wide. I was rocked to my core as I read about and watched the video of a 14-year-old girl pummeled in her school halls, and subsequently committed suicide. Certainly, there are many pieces unknown; undoubtedly, the number of levels this story is tragic or wrong are legion. I have since listened to the clips of a school board meeting where parents and students seem to indicate this sort of behavior is commonplace at this New Jersey district. I think there is more of a connection between our technology-laden existence and this tragedy than we are willing to consider. Let me offer a couple of observations. When you text someone in the house rather than call out to them or even walk up the stairs to speak with them: stop it. When you are in the same hall, the same house, the same building (within a bit of reason), go to the person rather than text, snap, or TikTok them. The importance of communicating face-2-face seems to continually lose its value, but that is an incredible mistake. As I tell my students, we are more connected now than ever before and simultaneously more isolated, and the past three years have only complicated that reality. From quarantines and isolation, from closed schools and businesses, my students admit they do not know how to interact with each other, even in class. They lament the fear they feel when required to be in a class or a social situation. Even as I write this, my brain is filled with ideas and concerns.

Those who know me well know that I am not against technology, and for the most part, I embrace it; but what have we created and what are the consequences? It is not by accident that two of my blogs lately have posted on technology. I am wise enough to know that it is not going backwards. As I write this a few days later after its inception, banks have failed, questions about how we manage our lives, things like AI and Chat GPT are on the minds of students and professors alike. Daily I read something about the consequences and concerns of this newest technology that will affect the masses. For those unaware, Chat GPT is an open source AI software (more than software I believe) that creates “a language model [and is] developed by OpenAI, [which is capable of] . . . respond[ing] to text-based queries and generat[ing] natural language . . . ” (chatgpt.org, 13March23). The concern about this ability is palpable. And yet, we should be afraid of it . . . fear generates anger, and anger generates rejection. We cannot merely reject technology because we are not sure what it will do. We cannot unplug from the world we have created. That is the verity of where we are, but is there a way we can manage it more thoughtfully? Too often it seems we have shiny object syndrome (and that is an SOS), chasing after whatever comes believe it is some panacea. I do believe what we have accomplished in the area of education has been primarily positive; however, I am willing to admit there have been unexpected consequences that have created pain, often straining the ability to achieve the outcomes that serve both student and professor most efficiently. For the most part, that efficiency, that effectiveness, is hampered by our willingness to no longer communicate effectively. When I ask students to come and see me during office hours, too often that invitation is interpreted as merely that, an invitation, something they can RSVP to or ignore. I do not believe they are impertinent; and, conversely, I believe most of them are good people, but they do not know how to be a student. That is an incredible statement, particularly in this country where being a student is what they do for 14 of the first 18 years of their lives. In my conversations with colleagues, it is apparent that my view is not unique to me. There is a great deal that makes us social animals, and the importance of our ability to socialize has been severely hampered by the limitations placed on us by COVID.

Before you think I am against all of those restrictions, I am not. On the other hand, it is possible we made mistakes individually, as a country, or as a globe . . . there is no doubt that is the case, but we did not know what to do. As I think about our world three years ago, we were stunned by what occurred in a very short period of time. We were stunned by the idea of being isolated, masked, locked-down, afraid to go anywhere. And yet, our government did what they believed best. The number of articles I have read in the last two weeks about consequence all have something in common. We perhaps went too far . . . we perhaps still needed to do much of what we did, but perhaps for not as long . . . we still do not have it all figured out. The world is different as a result. Technology and its effect on our life is much more profound than we might have anticipated. There is so much more we will continue to realize as we analyze what the global response to COVID was. It is my hope that we learn for the next time. There will be a next time; I believe this with all my heart and head.

In the meantime, I wonder what we will be as a society. I wonder how we will continue to integrate technology or it will begin to integrate us, perhaps. I wonder who we will understand the world to be as we are affected by the technology we use and develop. Perhaps the Styx song from 1983, Mr. Roboto. The song caused significant controversy when it was released, and its intention was the topic of a great deal of conversation. Perhaps it was more prophetic than we want to realize.

Thank you for reading, and I hope all is well.

Dr. Martin

Critical, Thorough, and Intentional

Hello as I wonder yet again,

It is shortly after midnight, and feeling exhausted earlier, I laid down. I feel asleep and awoke more than once listening to the news of the day. Now I am as wide awake as if it was time to get up in the morning, after a restful night’s sleep. As I’ve laid here, my mind has thought of one person after another, wondering how they are, and, in some cases, if they are. I reached out in a couple of cases. I am cognizant of how life seems to continue on, much like a rambling running post-winter stream — cold, and yet beautiful in its own way. We have not had much of a winter thus far, with it feeling more like late March for a couple weeks. I think I have had the shovel out only once the entire season. And yet perception and experience can be so varied. My two young, kind, and intelligent Ecuadorian house guests noted earlier how much they hate the weather. And that was their word at dinner this evening. Of course, I learned when there in early January, it is almost always 28-30 degrees Celsius and humid. So 0 degrees Celsius for them is quite a departure from their continual equatorial experience.

This week we will finish the first third of the semester, and after having an additional class added to my plate a week ago, I am feeling like I started over. I am working diligently to get up to speed, but managing another person’s class with no relational context and no sense of how their CMT was designed as it is has proven to be a challenge, and that is an understatement of gargantuan proportion. And at this point, my want to figure it out is more about the students depending on me than my personal desire to place this jigsaw puzzle into some recognizable image. Later this morning, it is my plan to drive to Mansfield, another of the branch campuses to our new Commonwealth University. It’s a 90 mile drive, and there is a chance the weather could be a bit dicey. So we’ll see what happens. Should make for an adventure. . . the adventure of Mansfield was a adventure of snow-covered highways on my return trip. It was a wonderful trip there, and our (my) colleagues on that campus are wonderful. It has been a wonderful beginning of the semester overall, and I feel like I am just managing whatever gets thrown my way.

What continues to alarm me, however, is how many people struggle with language and writing, but more so that such struggles are just to be expected. The number of students who note the following, with little sense of a need for change, confounds me. The most common statement I hear about writing from my students, at almost every level is: “I am not a very strong writer.” or something to the effect, “I don’t really like to write, and I have never been very good at it.” Either statement is difficult, but what is more consequential is they are not readily aware of what such a lack can create. I do understand some of the reason for their difficulty, but I do not really understand the belief that it is not really something they should be concerned about. Writing is one of the things that make us uniquely human, and I believe writing is what offers us an opportunity as humans to make sense of our thoughts, of our emotions, and even of our hopes. The more I witness our commitment to writing in daily life, in our public schools, in our universities, and even within our professional situations the greater concern I have. Writing is the way we move beyond the surface. Writing is how we make sense of complexity. And yet, even in my daily world, the amount of difficulty expressed by people when you ask them to write thoughtfully, analytically, and with an eye toward some sense of integration, the amount of trepidation that comes from such a request is beyond palatable. What allows someone to claim they are educated? Is it a piece of paper? Is it because they attended classes? It is because they have a particular position? Personally, and with a serious sense of conviction, I will assert it is none of these. I believe education is about what we did with our brains. I think it falls back on the ability of someone to think critically in any given situation; I believe it is the realization that one must engage in thorough analysis of that situation; and finally, I believe it is a commitment to intentionally integrate what is learned into the larger body of knowledge that makes the individual who they are. Sometimes their fear is not wanting to make a mistake. In the beginning of February is the birthday of the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the person who is the basis of my dissertation. That is the reason for his quote at the outset of this post, as well as it is germane.

An ability to think beyond the obvious requires someone to push themselves into that place unknown, proceeding with some fear, but also with some assurance that this is necessary. Thorough analysis comes from thinking, and realizing there is more than meets the eye; there is more than what initially comes to our minds. Again, it is being willing to realize the initial limits of something and wonder how we can achieve more. Too often we are content to take whatever comes, failing to imagine possibilities. And after the fact, we move quickly onto the next thing, seldom considering how it all fits together. I think it is at the minimal some appraisal of what has happened that allows for a different choice the next time. It is contemplating what my responsibility in the outcome is. We have become a world of blamers, of victims, abdicating our own free will when it is convenient and then complaining that we have it or we someone is taking it away when we want to claim it. It is the proverbial “wanting-the-cake.” When I think of some things I have done earlier in life, and then lamenting the outcome, I needed to step back and ask myself honestly what was my responsibility in that situation. Let me be brutally honest about the concept of accountability: it sucks! However, more importantly, it is real.

I remember arguing quite adamantly with my younger sister at one point. She really should have gone back to college as a veteran. She was a brilliant person, much smarter than I am. I believe that with every fiber of my being. However, when she graduated from high school (barely, but knocked her ACTs out of the park), she attended college. But it was private school and she had loans. She dropped out and went into the service, and probably could have received deferments on her loans, but failed to do the paperwork. When she got out of the service, she could not get Federal Financial Aid because of her delinquent loans, but she did nothing to fix it. Her SSN made her accountable. That number makes you easy to trace. In fact, a few years ago, I read an article about people whose SS payments were being garnished to pay their student loans. Consider what that says . . . things have a way of finding us, and with what we can do with technology, the idea of hiding is really quite impossible. Even today conversations with students, comments from students, demonstrate the reality of accountability in our lives. The reality of the legal age of accountability is different than the drinking age . . . 18 opens the floodgates of responsibility in a manner that many are not ready to face. One of the ways I see this on a college campus is with drinking. It is a different world, but if one thinks critically and honestly analyzes the consequence of that beer, that bong, or that briefly pondered action, I believe that many would take a different path. Our willingness to ponder any sort of reverberation of our actions is not something most of us are able to do. And yet, perhaps that is not avoidance as much as it is we are not well versed in how. We are so coddled. Perhaps too often, believing we are protecting the other, we actually make them more susceptible to getting their proverbial come-upense . . . consequence should not be something we fear, but rather something we understand. What does it take? “How many times will it take to get it right?” Luther in his Small Catechism seemed to understand this in the way he offered explanation. His mantra “We are to fear and love God so that . . . ” looked at both the difficulty being the saint and sinner that Luther believed us to be. Indeed, considering the Apostle Paul, he understood the issues of accountability. He understood the concept of hating the sin, but still loving the sinner. What happens in this reality is profound; it is freedom, the incredible freedom to be human. If we have the freedom to make mistakes to learn, then the critical, the thorough, the intentional offers safety. We have an opportunity to push the envelope of being incomplete, imperfect, but willing to make a difference. How do I allow my students the freedom to fail, to make the mistakes without judgment? What can I do to open the doors to growth, growth that does not merely happen, but happens intentionally . . . completely? If I can figure this out, I allow them to be educated, world-changing, individuals. I help in some small way to make the world a better place. That is the most profound pay one can offer. This video reminds me of how hard it is to be true to ourselves at times. Understanding who we are is where it all begins.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin

Rethinking, Reimagining, Revising

Hello from Starbucks at the Library,

As I sit in my corner, when I look up all I see is students waiting for their morning caffeine. Certainly, I am not one to argue one’s intake and their need for caffeine, particularly earlier in my life (I remember too many late nights in Perkins during my seminary years). I have limited my intake of coffee or other caffeinated beverages for some time, and my sleep process has been much more consistent over the last two years, mostly since I moved into the Mini-Acre. I do still hold office hours in Starbucks one morning a week, and I think my students generally appreciate that opportunity to meet on the Quad versus my office, though I get compliments about my office also.

Since returning from Central and South America during the holidays, I have been rethinking my retirement process, project, and the idea of what I want pretty extensively. What is reasonable? That is an unanswerable question at some level. The idea of reasonable is a moving target, even when who you are considering is constant. If you are looking at multiple entities, understanding reasonable is nigh impossible. Perhaps my hesitancy is parallel to one’s cold feet prenuptial. Perhaps it is as much about never feeling prepared, feeling stable enough; believing I can manage anything that might occur, landing on my feet regardless the circumstance.

If I step back and look at the reality of being able to imagine the variables of a decade plus, that is a tall order, even in the best circumstances. I would not have expected it of my younger self, but perhaps therein lies the problem. I did not plan well enough. I did not imagine the possibilities. And yet am I merely speaking about a revision or it is something more? As I ponder this idea my thoughts go back to my teaching, and one element of my teaching, which is being a compositionist. One of the most difficult concepts for most writers (and student writers) to practice is revision. Revision is a global process that requires a writer to step back and reimagine their paper. It means one needs to restructure and literally re-vision their paper, reconsidering purpose, audience, and adding or throwing things away. When my students hear they might need to throw something away, they are stunned. I work carefully to help them realize that revision is about improvement.

I also work diligently to help them realize they revise their lives more than they know. When they decide to transfer from one university to another; when they decide to change their major or area of study (and sometimes quite drastically); even when they breakup with someone, they have chosen to revise their life. I could carry this metaphor even farther when arguing perhaps those paper revisions are not as clearly thought through as carefully as they should be, and, in fact, many times student do not know how to approach revision. The same is true when it comes to revising life. We sometimes fail; we fall down unexpectedly, and we are not sure how to get up. I think of two particularly painful moments in my life. The first is sort of a two-part event. I did not manage a situation well with a former spouse, and the consequences of our inability to work through a death, the reality of my own health situation, and the actions of my own family would result in my losing my ordination. The snowball effect of all of that almost crushed me. There were some dark days. While I had something to hold on to in that moment, even that was uncertain. The second incident was when I had to move from Wisconsin back to Pennsylvania. Leaving Lydia, whom I had promised to care for, and knowing that change would be incredibly stressful for us both, caused tremendous guilt and fear.

While there is significantly more one could write about in each situation, the point is each event would cause significant revision, profound reimagining, and unexpected reconsideration of both my life and my ability. I am not aware of anyone who has not be had something unforeseen occur, some perhaps mind boggling event that flew out of left field, knocking the sense of what was planned into oblivion. Sometimes it’s not that plans fall apart; it’s more there was no plan from the outset. That reality characterizes my life more often than not, and yet, as important as the truth in that statement, is asking the question why? I believe it returns me to that foundational, underlying, aspect of my childhood, the feeling of never knowing who I was, of where I belonged. I believe now to reimagine something is always possible, but to believe the revision, the reconstruction of one’s actuality requires some sense of knowing what the revision will do. This is not to say some new path will not unfold, will not occur, but rather there is no clear vision or goal. The goal is often change for the sake of change. Additionally, this view is not necessarily some pejorative sense of said process, but rather it cannot be cast in some pollyannaish alls-well-that-ends-well. In fact, it is precisely that in-between place of neither positive or negative, and as such flys in the face of our Western dualism.

One of my graduate school mentors tells me regularly that they’re astounded by both my resilience and my optimism. I wonder about this assessment because I am not always sure about this supposed idealism or elation; is it something feigned or is it some perceived positivity? Even as I compose this at 4:20 in the morning, I am unsure. What I am sure of is my determination to continue on, hoping to do something to make life fuller, happier, and more meaningful. It is perhaps that resolve, that certain implicity (is that a word? Am I allowed to coin it if it isn’t?) that pushes me forward, even in the midst of uncertainty. That would be my supposed optimism (the very thing my mentor believes about me) working its magic. I would like to simply leave it at that, but that would be too easy. So, remembering the inquisitional aspect of one of my counselors, who asked in a very first meeting, “[d]o you do anything the easy way?” I find myself wondering if my optimism is simply cosmetic (returning to a recent post’s thematic concern). I can see one particular person reading and relating to this more than I wish they might. Perhaps it is something different; just possibly it is still continuing attempt to figure out where I belong, where I will find contentment, or in a more profoundly, existential way, where I can accept God’s grace. What’s a much more significant question then I expected to come out of this missive. Once again, I am standing in Parnassus, 2/3s of my life ago, listening to and standing before the all-knowing gaze of “The Pope.” Much like my own father, he continued to remind me of what seem to be important truths, “as immutable as gravity,” to use a line from a recent movie.

So perhaps my penchant for revision is merely my way of trying to find my individual path, my infamous destiny, if you will. I have often compared my life to the cartoon, Family Circus. I am so much the little boy trying to get from Point A to Point B. And along the way I’ve been distracted. Some of those distractions, as significant as they were (and perhaps still are) filled in a significant number of squares to my personal quilt, my own technicolored dreamcoat. I am certainly not Joseph, though I might have some aspects of him. Some of those iterations in my path were ill-advised, but to use the words of John Ylvisaker’s amazing hymn, “I rushed off to find where demons dwell.” And praise to God for omnipresent protection, I survived. Perhaps my reality is life is revision; it is reimagining. Perhaps the lack of a foundation provided my openness to possibilities. As I have written in my own Google map/memoir, “life has been unpredictable and never boring.” Falling down is inevitable, but getting up is not. Resilience is the power that allows me to get up. Hope is my revision.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

It Simply Fades Away

Hello from another Saturday of Working,

What is becoming my new semester weekly process, I am back in Panera, although this time in Buckhorn, sitting at my corner table where there is an outlet. However, I am missing my Panera study-buddy, and reflecting on how many mornings, afternoons, and sometimes a weekend we accomplished so much sitting here. Last evening, I found my memories flashing back to the 10th of February in a hospital waiting room. It was even about the same time in the evening. My sister-in-law, my mother and I had been asked to leave my brother’s hospital room as he endured yet another seizure, a serious Grand Mal seizure. They were happening regularly I was informed. I had come back to Sioux City earlier that day; it was the first time I saw my brother after his fall at work and subsequent brain hemorrhage. It had been almost 5 weeks, but I had remained in Ames, where I was supposed to be going to class. I remember the lines of stress and the incredible fatigue I saw on my sister-in-law’s face. She was 25, and I was 21. She epitomized the sort of hold-over hippie of the late-sixties. In spite of birthing three children, she looked as if she had no children. Her willowy stature, her long hair, and her incredible eyes were all still there, but she looked dazed and overwhelmed, and I felt inadequate. For many reasons, I had no ability to be the support she needed.

In less than an hour after leaving his room, he passed away . . . I was even more inadequate now. How could a simple fall of less than 10 feet end up in this way? I remember struggling to understand God in that moment; I found it difficult to believe that the God of love I had heard about all my life existed. My feeling fluctuated and moved from anger to remorse, from confusion to sadness, from selfishness to despair. I knew I was flunking out of college; I knew I had not spent the time with my brother I should have. I knew that I had little idea of where I was headed or even why I might if I had an idea. He was barely 26, and he had a wife and three small children. There was nothing fair in what was happening. I knew such things were possible; I had read about them or heard about them, but this was not merely reading or hearing about it. This was my family . . . one of the immediate consequences (and to this day most profound) was seeing my father cry. That had never happened. Seeing his tears stunned me, not in someway that said he was finally human, but instead, it was the first time I ever saw him vulnerable to something. The year was 1977 . . . that is a long time ago. As the decades pass, it is difficult for me to remember as much about my brother’s intricacies . . . his mannerisms. I certainly remember his general traits, his abilities, and somewhat what it was like when I was in his presence, but so many things fade away . . . we did not have the ability to take photos, videos, or other things to capture the moment as we do now.

I wonder what it would be like to chat with him today, almost a half century later. He and Kris were much closer to each other, or at least that is how I see it now. They had the ability to stand up against things they disagreed with much more immediately and intensely than I did. I had the same feelings, but I was more hesitant to express them. My fear of my mother was powerful and many times created a paralysis. What I thought and what I did were very different. I think he would still be disgusted with many things that have become commonplace in our world. I think he had a sense of social justice that was much more developed than many would have understood at the time. I know my sister did, and I think that might have been one of their many connections. The other thing I would love to do is talk to him about so many things that I understand so much more at this point in my life. I wonder what he would think about my being where I am. I remember he was stunned when his little brother enlisted in the Marine Corps. I have noted in other blogs that if he had been drafted, I am sure he would have migrated north.

I remember standing in the cemetery at his committal service and sobbing. I was overwhelmed and felt lost. Fortunately, my grandmother held me in her arms as I stood there in the Iowa winter. I remember this day, the 11th of February, she and I were at my brother’s house caring for three children as Carolyn and my father worked to make arrangements for a funeral that would occur the next day. Carolyn’s father would arrive from New Jersey later this day, all those years ago. There was the attempt to explain to three children that their daddy would not be coming home again. Two of them will make it to their 50s this year. That too is stunning to me. It is easy to understand why some things fade into the background as we fill our lives with more things than needed. In the time since, there are experiences, emotions, and parallels that keep some things from fading away however. There is more of my brother in his eldest son than that son probably recognizes. His love for mathematics, for things that require order and thought, and yes, even his proclivity for being a bit reclusive come from the father he hardly knew, the father he does not really remember. Those memories were not cemented into his life, and so it is impossible to fade away. My experience is completely different. His daughter is such a profound blend of her parents. I sometimes wonder what it was that attracted Carolyn to my brother. Was it his unwillingness to play by the rules in the Music Department at Morningside College? He would fail his sophomore jury because he was too busy (I am assuming) with his extracurricular gig playing in the rock n roll band, the Board of Directors. I have little doubt why my brother was attracted to her. She was smart, personable, and beautiful. My niece sounds so much like her mother (which has also continued to the third generation of a daughter, my great-niece). So . . . what keeps things from fading away?

Perhaps it is when multiple senses are affected by something, but additionally, and more significantly, there is repetition. Every time I hear Carolyn’s voice, I hear her daughter and vice versa. Every time I hear Rachael’s disarming laugh, I know exactly from where that comes. Every time I see Jennifer’s alluring smile, her eyes which are magnetic, I see the generational connections. Therein is the repetition, albeit from different entities. One of the other things that connects me to all of them is their similar and incredible vocal ability. They all have musical ability inherent in their DNA. Carolyn and my brother studied music for a reason. My brother was an excellent trombonist. Carolyn excelled both in piano performance and in vocal acumen. Again, in the recesses of my memory, I remember he and I practicing our instruments regularly. And there were even a few times we tried to do something together. That was a special time for me because I was the pain-in-the-behind younger brother. When he took time for me, I was both stunned, but grateful. Somehow, my propensity to remember random dates stuns me too. As I sat here working on this post, and perhaps unconsciously connecting the idea of music to somewhere in my ridiculous memory for things, I looked up and connected that in the date between my brother’s passing and his burial, yes, today, 11 years ago, Whitney Houston passed away. I never connected that to my own significant dates until this moment. How is it things can fade into the recesses of our memory only to come to the surface when least expected?

Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with my Dominican brother about faith, Luther, and God . . . is it God’s incredible omniscience that makes us that “crown of creation, little less than angels,” the creature that can remember the past and imagine the future? It is God’s protection that allows some things, albeit significant things, to fade into the recesses of our memory. Perhaps. For if the pain of loss did not recede, how would we continue on? Perhaps this is why our memories of that person also become more opaque. And yet I long to imagine how different my nephews and niece would be if their father would still be alive. I wonder how Carolyn’s life might have been different. I believe that would be the most profound difference. Would there have been more nephews or nieces? Indeed there were, and I have relationships with additional people, and there were two more children. Are “what if” imaginations helpful or are they simply another thought that fades away? What allows some things to remain and others to disappear: thoughts, people, events, experiences? As I find myself at a time my brother never realized; as I find myself at a time when half of my siblings did not reach; when I look for answers to the why, and I walk away knowing there is no answer, I realize three generations of incredible ladies have blessed my life in ways too countless to enumerate. Carolyn, Jennifer, and Rachael, thank you for keeping things from simply fading away. I imagine singing this song with and to each of you. I love you all.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

My Relationship with BOLT

Hello from the corner of Panera,

It is after 5:00 p.m., and I have been in the corner here in Hazleton’s Panera since around 8:30 this morning. I have been just plugging away at work all day. If you are wondering what BOLT is, it is the Bloomsburg University’s name for their Course Management System, which is part of the Desire to Learn platform, which is a Canadian-based software company that is global. The company has received numerous awards, and I have worked with it off and on for almost 20 years. It was used at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and in my second year here at Bloomsburg, they move from Blackboard to it, so I was back to it. I must admit, the widgets and functionality of it has been quite impressive on a number of levels. Certainly, it is a much more robust and capable tool then when I was first using it in the two-thousand-aughts. I am still grateful to a couple of former Stout employers for making me much more capable than I would have been . . . Lexi and Sasha, I am forever indebted to you both. At my current institution, Renee and Jon, during my time here, you are the duo who have made me a much better user of this tool. Thank you.

Undoubtedly, COVID had significant consequences for our online presence, and my use of BOLT during that time transformed how I used this particular CMS to this day. One of the things that I have done to make my shells more effective is a weekly road map that connects things by links (making it easier to navigate) and being more thoughtful about how it all fits together. One of the things that I have noticed, which is not a surprise is how students will interact with what is in the course. Students confess unabashedly they do not read, so putting in more course content to help them is not as effective or useful as it might be, but their engagement does have a marked effect on their grade. During my winter course, the person who accessed and used 100% of the course content had the highest grade in the course. Not surprisingly, those who accessed less than 70% had similar grades, and it was similar the lower one engaged with the course content, the lower the grade. I remember a student back in Wisconsin who came to me because they were failing a class. When I showed them they had not logged in for the last 4 weeks, I asked, if you did not go to work for 4 weeks, what would happen? He noted he would get fired. That was the first time I used the phrase, “It is not by accident that fire and fail begin with the same letter.” What has technology done for all of us? It has made us more transparent and more accountable to each other. When we first left into our isolated world of COVID, I actually liked it. It allowed me to focus, to be more intentional, to think more carefully. And yet, it also forced me to think about how what I wrote was useful, engaging, or helpful. It is often the case that what I believe and what my students believe are not the same. The reasons for that are varied, but I think much of it has to do with their waning desire to read or engage. I do not believe this is all their fault. Additionally, I do not believe it is the result of technology. I believe there is a lot more complexity to this . . . to the point, I am not sure I can articulate it. Suffice it to say reading is not at the top of their priority list, which is fundamentally different now from when I was that age. I had a public library only two blocks down the street, and it was one of my favorite places to walk. The number of certificates I had for reading the requisite number of books every summer was quite impressive, or at least I thought so. I loved to read because it helped me escape some of the difficulties that were my childhood. What I know now is it prepared me for much of what my future life would require. Communication is key to managing any part of our life. Technology has only made that more significant, and more immediate, which means thinking on the fly is more likely than it was when I was a child.

Technology and our dependence on it has changed how we understand ourselves and how we understand our place in the world. Globalism is here to stay, much at the chagrin of some, and with a backlash from others. It is often the case that young people are immersed in their technology, busily trying to define themselves online, influenced by the latest fad, and struggling to spend any time introspectively because their hand-held device beckons them 24/7. And yet, if they are victims of our technologically immersed world, as educators, even in the postsecondary world, we are no different. Perhaps victims is not quite accurate because we have bought it more readily than we would like to admit. From ACUE certifications to Zoom, from acquiescing to the requirements of administrators to the requests of our students to Zoom them versus meeting them face-2-face, we have jumped on a SOS bandwagon with the utmost speed. And, yet, as I noted earlier, there is a part of me that was beyond comfortable with our “pivot,” the term used at my university when we have had to run back to a week of online delivery in a previous semester. The significance, at least for me individually, is to understand why I found it so comfortable. Perhaps it is not that different from when I would disappear into my books as a child or middle-schooler. It was safe. It was me and my words (and now images, design, and thoughts). There is something to be said for focusing on each element of what goes into my courses. There are also drawbacks for the OCD side of me, but more on that to come. The puzzle, the image of the course that is created is like a type of art. There is so many rhetorical aspects to ponder. I wish there were something to speak back to me before it is released to my students. Much has been written, both online and among my colleagues about ChatGPT, and how it will revolutionize what we do. This sort of artificial intelligence that will permeate our world is yet another unleashing of technology. I have read the pros and cons, and, at least presently, I am not worried. It is because I am 67 and in the twilight of a professional career in the academy or is it because I have always been able to walk the line between my technological usage and that SOS that I referred to already?

While I cannot claim to be a science-fiction lover by any stretch of the imagination, I am reminded of a presentation by three of my mentors at a Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender (OSCLG) Conference. Looking at the “linear narratives” and the “illegibility of familiar embodiment,” their work examined the consequence or involvement of technology on relationships. There were two specific elements of their presentation that amazed was their ability to deconstruct what we find typical. I have started to watch her, a movie about a 20-something who found himself fascinated by his AI assistant, who he has named Samantha. In fact, in spite of beginning twice, I have still not finished it. I remember thinking it was bizarre, but as we continue to create AI that is capable of changing, learning, evolving, are such things that far-fetched? Strange is certainly true; unconventional? Without a doubt is probably an understatement. And yet, as I see more and more people creating an identity by what they post, are we doing anything all that differently? As my students sometimes ask: Dr. Martin, where do you come up with these ideas? My response is: this is what happens when I wake up at 2:00 a.m. . . . what are the consequences of our obsessions with our machines (as Dr. Michael Wesch, the KSU anthropologist questions)? As I walk across campus today, there is little acknowledgement of the person coming toward me because their heads are buried in their phones. Between air pods, ear buds, or other listening devices, even if you greet someone, they might not hear you. As we seem to extend and broaden our solitude, in spite of our interconnectivity, what are the consequences on our relationships. As someone who has been continuously single for two decades, I find myself wishing for, while simultaneously avoiding, any kind of relationship that knocks me off my solitary perch. Even in spite of imagining the possibility, it seems I have little idea how to venture into such a situation. Indeed, I find myself being more comfortable in front of my screen doing my school work. More than I perhaps realize, I feel a connection through my writing for the class, for my responding through my fingers and the keys than being physically involved with other humans. That is a profound thing to say. While the daily interaction with BOLT, our CMS is expected, the amount of time spent is not mandated. Why and how did my use of this system become both habitual and comforting? Am I more connected to my work because of the technology or because because the technology has its own rhetorical possibilities? To use Dr. Wesch’s query, am I using the machine or is it using me? I cannot honestly answer that question as I write this blog on yet another piece of technology. As I compose yet another blog, I am connecting through what I hold in my hands. I wonder if the time will come when my devices, like Samantha, will find some other way to exist. Will retirement, a change of usage, a modification of daily routine leave me wondering who I am? Will some significant revision in my life create a sense of solitude that pushes me to imagine life differently? Certainly, I am not where Tom is in the clip from her posted here, but where will AI take us? Will we be willing to go or will we have a choice?

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Reaping and Sowing

Hello at the end of Winter Break and Winter Term,

I am home and my mind is flying filled with thoughts of no particular order, for no specific reason, and with such randomness and speed that sleep, at least presently, is unlikely. How does this happen? Why does it happen? And what comes from it? All questions without answers. It was a good day overall; I accomplished more than I expected, and all in spite of a trip to Philly’s airport. And before turning in, or going to my room, I even diced potatoes and have them boiled for the beginning of potato soup, which is on the menu tomorrow. I saw people that matter and spent time with two incredible people, those whom I was with in Ecuador 10 days ago; they are now here. They both give me a sense of hope. Marco y Andrea, este pequeño párrafo es para ustedes dos. Gracias por honrar mi hogar con tu presencia. Disfruté mucho nuestro día juntos en Guayaquil, y estoy muy feliz de que hayamos hablado sobre su viaje pendiente aquí a Bloomsburg. Como les dije antes, es un honor recibirlos a ambos en mi casa. Estoy entusiasmado con las conversaciones que podríamos tener, y espero que el tiempo que pasen aquí, en las próximas semanas y meses, sea productivo, memorable y tal vez, un cambio de vida.

Last night in an effort to be ready for today, and in spite of working diligently this past week as well, there is a feeling I have a foot in two worlds; I got up at 1:00 a.m, and I worked until about 5:15. Then I went to sleep for an hour and a half – and then I was back at it. I was in my office at 8:00, have met with a dozen different students today, and there will be more tomorrow. There is one last three hour class tonight and then the main part of the day is done. Office hours over the next couple of days, and the sort of tweaking housekeeping that I am prone to manage for my sense of being on track. I do feel more prepared and focused this semester than I have for a while, and it is a nice space to be in. Sometimes it is safe being here in my office, hiding to some extent on the hill here in Bloomsburg. It is easy to seem like the rest of the world is out there, and there is little that can penetrate this world at 400 East Second. However, I know better, and that dream is certainly not true. When I listened to my students today, it is hard to not wonder what all the things they are trying to manage are as they begin another semester. Do they have their books? Do they have the finances? Do they have food? Do they have support from their family or friends? I understand this more than they might believe. When I was first at Iowa State, I had no idea how to manage what I was doing. I had a GI Bill, but that did not really teach me anything. This is not to undervalue what that check did, but there was so much more to what I needed to understand.

And then in the spirit of what I noted at the outset, I find myself wondering why a 72 year old man would choose to kill 10 people on the Eve of perhaps the most important day of the year for Asian people? I think about the issue of tanks and whether or not the Ukrainian people (or their military) will receive what is honestly needed to manage their situation with Vladimir Putin? It seems each day, there is another decision or counter-decision. And yet when I think of the consequence for the Russian people, I cannot help by think of the family I care for so much who are there in Russia, and how their daughter is like my own. We have chatted recently, and there is much to worry about. What have we sown in our world in the last century since the end of the First World War? It seems we could be characterized as egocentric, arrogant, and parochial in so many ways. Certainly, the country I call home is both a beacon for hope, and a country that imposes its will on others, through either military assistance or financial manipulation, often under the misguided notion that we have some corner on moralism or faith. Our quest for, and our belief in our spirit of self-determination too often has led us into a path of selfish individualism. I read an article recently on the concept of Christian Nationalism. This philosophy is an abomination of what a life of faithfulness is truly about.

While I was not an Elvis fan by any stretch of the imagination, I remember the day he passed as I was headed to Kansas City with my sister-in-law, her friend, and her three children. This was shortly after my brother had passed. We heard the news on the radio as we drove south on Interstate 35 from Ames. Some years later, I remember watching Dallas as a student in seminary, and being enthralled with Priscilla Presley and her beauty. Yet again, while I do not regularly use Elvis as someone I listen to, I remember a video that I saw with Elvis and his daughter, who now has been the latest of tragic losses for that family, where they remastered and dubbed them as if they were singing together. The first time I heard it I was amazed by the brilliant way they intertwined their voices so effortlessly, but when I saw the video I was stunned even more. Using Elvis’s well-known song “In the Ghetto,” the harmonies created are haunting, but the images are heart breaking. Why? Because they have pushed us to see how the society we have created, a society that seems even more divided than every, has a dark and tragic side that seems to be part of what we have sowed because of our obsession with our rights. The video was released to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Elvis’s passing (Elvis Australia). The proceeds were used for transitional housing, and it was filmed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (Elvis Australia). It would be one of three songs that would be recorded, but it is the most profound of the three, at least for me. The lyrics are about a child growing up in Chicago, which still suffers from some of the most profound violence of any American city. Over 3,000 people were wounded in gun violence in Chicago through the first 10 months of 2022, and those totals were actually down 20% from the previous two years. That is staggering. Most 600 people died in gun violence during the same ten months. Again, I am not against gun ownership, or more accurately, I am not anti-Second Amendment, but what in the world? And that is one city. When a six year old (and I realize he has difficulties) can get to a gun on the shelf and take it to school, and shoot his teacher, I am at a loss. I know all the arguments on both sides. Enough!! How did we become so cavalier in our response to gun violence? I am sorry, but this has to stop. I have some incredibly important people to me who will argue the 2nd Amendment side, and I know their rationale, but more guns in more hands does not equal less violence. You cannot convince me that this is what will happen. We are reaping what we have sown . . . the right to own a gun with inadequate control, be it background checks, mental health issues, red flag laws, and whatever else you want to add to this list. The consequence is two fold: more dead bodies and hand-wringing about how does it happen. Yes, I have heard it more times than I have fingers and toes,”It’s the people and not the gun.” The problem with that is still the gun. If the person did not have such ready access to the gun, perhaps a few more people would be alive. This is not a rocket science question or understanding for me.

As I write on the next morning, the news notes that a person used a registered gun, and did not have any red flags. This raises for me the question that I believe our 2nd Amendment is really asking: do you want a gun or do you need a gun? When guns and violence with guns is so prevalent, it is not surprising that more people want a gun to protect themselves, but what is not asked is why do we believe resorting to guns is the answer? This week I asked my students in their writing for their introduction to one of my classes what is their biggest fear in the world? The great majority of them noted safety and gun violence. That is, in part, the impetus for this post. When the majority of my 19-22 year olds believe the most fearful thing in the world is begin the victim of gun violence, what does that say? Who have we become? What have we become? In 24 days there have been over 2,000 gun violence injuries, and there have been 1,200 killings (and that does not include suicides, which are even higher) (Gun Violence Archive). That is incredible. There is so much more one could write, but who will listen? Does it matter? Have we become incredibly numb? Perhaps. I leave you with the video that stunned me the first time I watched it. It still does. It is an incredible commentary on who and what we are. What have we sown?

Thanks for reading, and I am willing to listen to other’s thoughts. I will buy the coffee.

Dr. Martin

What is home and why?

Hello from South America.

New Year’s Eve in Nicaragua can be characterized by three things: family, fireworks, and food. Certainly there are other elements for some, the usual celebratory “necessities,” but fireworks are a central part of it all. Everyone has some and they are exuberant in their using pyrotechnics to celebrate a new year. It is not unique to them, but the degree to which it is part of the celebration is significant and intense! Perhaps some of my reaction is my own uncomfortable sense of shooting them off. Food is central to most celebrations. I have observed this on a number of levels and throughout my life. One of my earliest memories of food comes from my Grandmother’s bakery. She had a serious “from-scratch” bakery with pastry bakers and bread bakers, from cake decorating to providing incredible baked goods for diners, stores, and even hospital break rooms. I grew up in that bakery, and perhaps that is where my love of food originated. Growing up, it was the holidays dinners that the same grandmother and her elder sister, creating meals that are unequalled to this day. The food was perfectly prepared, and created with such love that this extra ingredient merely added to its scrumptiousness.

Then, because my own need for money, I fell upon my first job as a server, thank you to an RA, whose first name was Jack. That restaurant introduced me to a world of food before unimagined. There were flaming entrees and desserts; there were meals rolled out on a gueridon. Wine and food were paired, and eating was about creating an experience. This concept, this practice had never occurred to me. In the years since, working in the food and beverage industry was both a way to make ends meet, but it became so much more. Food is a medium that is a profound equalizer. We all need to eat, but the communal aspect of eating and our response to the fellowship that occurs reveals more about us than we often know. Certainly our connection to food has changed over time. Dinner time was sacrosanct in my household when I was a child. Everyone was sitting at the table at 5:00 o’clock sharp, and being late was not permitted. And yet, my mother, who could outdo any confectioner or candy maker at Christmas, could not cook an edible dinner to save her soul. Conversely, my Grandmother and her sister were kitchen mavens, long before anyone would have considered such a term. Growing up on South Dakota farms during the depression meant they could make magic from nothing. My love of vegetables began in their garden, and there was nothing thrown away, the steamed water became broth. Bones and organs became stock. Everything needed was on the farm, from main dishes and sides to homemade bread and stunning pies and cakes. It was their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that set the standard I have to this day.

I have been fortunate to taste meals from 5 continents and my favorite meal, the ultimate comfort food for me, is simple: a half of pink grapefruit, two poached eggs (soft) and a single piece of buttered toast. Nothing ostentatious, but what my grandma made me every morning. What made it amazing, a little butter on both the eggs and the toast. I am adventurous when it comes to food, but I am also content with simple. It might seem I have strayed from my initial intent of the blog, but fear not, I have not. Home for me is about comfort and safety. Throughout the decade I have been posting, the place of safety for me was 4547 Harrison Street, my grandparent’s home, my place of residence from ages 2-5. I never felt that safety again until I created it on the Acre. That is a half century of time. That realization to stunning to me. The reality is a somewhat frightening when I ponder it in any pointed manner. Simply – seldom did I feel like I had a home for the great majority of my life. Home is essential for identity; home is foundational to security. And yet, not surprisingly, it is much more than a building, an address, a place on lays their head. It is more than ownership or being current on one’s mortgage or rent.

As I write this, I am back in Pennsylvania. It is good to be back on Sterner Avenue, the place I call the mini-Acre. It has become home to me, but the important question is how. I think there are three reasons I can say it feels like home. First, I have decorated and made it mine, both inside and out. Second, this past holiday I turned it into the Winter Wonderland. Christmas and all the decorations recreate the feeling of safety that was the acreage that was my grandmother’s house, the place I felt loved and valued. I think that is what creates a home, feeling loved and valued. The third thing that has created a sense a home is playing in my kitchen. Between waiting tables, prepping in kitchens, and being a restaurant rat and cork dork, food is a fundamental element of my being. I love what you can do when preparing a meal to change a person’s perspective, to contribute to their experiences at any given moment, to establish a connection that is both rewarding to them and personal for me. It is not altruistic, nor is it meant to be. It is in the creating a space what is welcoming and safe that everyone can be themselves. It is through tastes and conversations that we change our lives, one meal, one bite, one glass, or one sip at a time. It is through these three seemingly ordinary things that something extraordinary has occurred.

Much like the same principles I have noted in my Winter Term Technical Writing class, attention to detail and understanding expectations are what creates successful documentation. Creating a home and feeling safe to refer to a space as home is about attention to detail and understanding expectations. Detail is something easy to manage, expectations are something quite different. I have my own expectations, and as is quite evident here, my own baggage. But expectations also come from the other, from the person entering the dwelling. And those expectations come from places both realized and unrealized, from both apparent and unapparent memories. Sometimes it is about things that seem mundane or irrelevant, but our senses are unparalleled in their ability to pull something from the most extreme recesses of our mind. Sound, smell, and even a course of events can pull us back to a previous time and overwhelm the present. And yet, often it happens so unexpectedly, that we fail to process either the present moment or what caused the déjà vu moment to begin with. La prime example for me was at the Acre (my former house) one day. As I walked into my large farmhouse kitchen through what was my back door, I could sense my grandmother sitting in the kitchen on her stool one evening. It was at that moment, and not because of all the renovations I had done, that the Acre became home.

In much the same way, it was as I sat on my couch this past December, with the fireplace blazing, the large Christmas tree lit, and the home decorated in every room that I felt the warmth and serenity of Christmas, of a sense peace that I had not felt since a Christmas on Harrison Street. 239 W Sterner was more than the new place; it has become my current home. There are many details that contribute, and there is always more to do, but at the moment I am content. I am home. This piece by Mannheim Steamroller has reminded me of that serenity and the purity that I believed existed as a small boy. The goodness and safety in feeling loved and valued. In spite of this being more Christmas-based musically, being loved and valued is always in season. Enjoy!

This piece brings tears of joy. I still miss you, Grandma, and I love you. You are my hero. To everyone else, thank you for reading


When Fragility becomes a Companion

Hello from my table . . .

It is my last day in Nicaragua, and it has been a learning experience. That seems to be the way most experiences go for me, and more an more, the learning has created an increased sense of fragility. I am glad for more reasons than not I that my time here was away from the bustle of the capital. While there were some initial plans to spend a bit of time there, the first afternoon did offer some insight into the Christmas holidays, and certainly sitting along the lake that first day was quite glorious. On another day a trip to Matagalpa, the other larger town to this little valley city of Sébaco, offered yet another vision of this beautiful country. While time and its relevance to daily life is very different from Bloomsburg and much of my own experience, there is something important to realize when you are virtually at the mercy of other people’s schedules and their schedules are controlled by individuals beyond them. The consequence has been at times feeling powerless, which is for me a feeling of being unsafe, and yet, I was in control of more than realized. The silver lining of this was my class got my undivided attention over the last 8 days, and I have been able to reach out both individually and through group meetings to offer assistance. The writing of this blog has been a source of comfort and focus over this past week as it seems death is all around me. That is not specifically here in Nicaragua, in fact, it is the opposite, but between the loss of two people I have known personally, as well as the passing of a former pope, the profound injury to a 24 year old football player, and yes, even the craziness of my own country’s legislative process, I see a thread. Most of what we know and accept as (believe to be) normalcy hangs by that very tired and frayed thread.

Normalcy is, undoubtedly, a subjective term. Even in the last week I have been pushed to understand what happens when my own cultural mores are imposed on a different place, when my expectations of what are general practices are not the practices of the other. One would think a decade later I would realize the profound difference between Hispanic time and Michael’s time. And yet I am always stunned by the extreme difference between their chronos and my kairos. I have know the conceptual difference since my first Greek class, but the experiential difference still confounds me. Growing up with a father who was early for everything, and I fall pitifully short by his standards, I still believe there is significance to being on time, following a plan, and doing my level best at doing what I’ve intended. And yet, stepping back, I must realize that my own standards are being applied in such a statement. And then again, the underlying principles of normalcy, of basic human behavior wells up from somewhere. Where? As I write this, outside the borders of my place of citizenship, the country that has claimed to be a beacon of freedom, of choice, of democracy cannot, two years to the day after an unprecedented attack on the very hall of democracy, cannot come together to elect a leader of the majority party. So, the questions of where? What? How? are front and center.

The thread of democracy, of decency, seems to be twisted and pulled in such a way that I cannot help but wonder if it can survive. And yet, the past two days where I am have pushed home again how desperately people still believe the American experiment has something to offer. I know my own life provides an incredible example of possibility. I know within my own family, biological or adopted, the choices made can determine long-term what might occur. Perception, as noted within my writing, is reality for the perceived, until proven otherwise. I wonder from time to time how my students perceive America and what it stands for, and not as some sound byte or tropism, but deeply, existentially? I know well the tropes used by my generation and I am pretty sure the majority of them are unbelievable to my students. And yet, there are larger concerns. What about fundamental understandings of words like freedom, privacy, decorum, or justice to name a few. There are books about these very terms, and to say there is disagreement is a serious understatement. How did we, as a country, get here? It seems the very thing we admire, or identify with, the most could become our undoing. It is one of those tropes: rugged individualism. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can do whatever we put our minds to; we have been enculturated from infancy to stand up for ourselves. I do not see anything problematic in this conceptually, but how do we connect the Lockean understanding of society to the individual? It seems we have lost that. The number of significant current examples are probably as many as I have fingers, and if I push how far I might ponder, perhaps toes.

I have caught a number of headlines lately that refer to doom-surfing. If I understand correctly, it is a preoccupation with a desire to read bad news. To be obsessed with the terrible things that we are pelted with daily seems a profoundly wrong direction to follow. While I have reasons to question, to wonder the whys, at this moment I wish to focus on something that gives me hope. I am reminded of a prayer one of my seminary professors shared at the beginning of each morning class. This was a prayer contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW).

Almighty God, Draw your hearts to you. Guide our minds, fill our imaginations, control our wills that we may be wholly yours. Use us you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(LBW 1978).

As I write this, the irony that Neil Diamond’s song “America” from the movie, The Jazz Singer is not lost on me. The memory of one of my first time hearing it I was in Europe also comes to mind. What might we do to reignite the light of the torch, to re-establish the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free . . .” My experience with those hoping for a better life are seldom looking to create trouble. They want to provide for their children and for their families. Indeed perhaps they are tired, but it is often because they have labored intensely with little hope of change. They live in poverty because their world provides almost no chance for change. They are huddled together because it is all they have. None of this makes them undesirable; in fact, I will assert it is exactly the opposite. While I am not advocating illegal immigration, I can understand how and why it happens. It gets me back to the title, and to a point in a recent blog. We need hope. Without it, we are fragile; we are frightened; and we become . There are a minuscule few who don’t wish better for their children. And yet laws (generally) have reason; without law and process we have chaos and eventually anarchy.

I am in Ecuador now (for the past two days). And ironically watching CNN world yesterday, it appears that the Brazilian version of January 6th was occurring in the Capitol of Brazil. Again, fragility is apparent. Is it perhaps our fragility is the consequence of self-centeredness? It is possible that we struggle because we seldom look toward the welfare of the larger group? Is this merely naïveté on my part or is it believing we should try for something better? These questions haunt me, and they cause me alarm. Are we in a time where the words I noted above are now but a former practice and gone in our present world? I wish I knew. I have been reminded pretty stridently the last few days that I am too kind, and I have a profound desire to have family within view. That is one of my most profound fragilities, and yet, a strength. I know how to manage both sides, but also to know who I am. I guess that is the most significant part. There is only one thing or person over which I have any real power, and that is myself. If I manage that well, I minimize my fragility in this fragile world. Guide our minds and fill our imaginations for something better.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

The Loss of a Lutheran Giant

Good morning from my corner table at La Casa de la Pradera,

While I worked on another blog extensively yesterday, this morning brought new information that has changed my focus. It seems that is how life works. I have lived it to a degree not recently experienced this past week. My reality of age is that those who were mentors to me have some significant time beyond me. That chronological truth leads to dealing with the finitude of our human lives. This morning I received an email from the President of Luther Seminary informing me that the other half of the amazing duo who taught me the fundamentals of Lutheran theology passed unexpectedly on Saturday, before the turn of the new year. It is ironic that I noted that some will not wait for the turn of the year that very day. Additionally, and perhaps as paradoxical, I wrote about him not long ago in this very platform when I spoke about the importance of Dr. Gerhard Forde. Dr. James Nestigen was the second profoundly insightful Lutheran pastor and scholar I was blessed by as a student during my time at Luther Northwestern.

Proud beyond compare of his Norwegian heritage, and noted by others, he was a consummate story teller. His voice, his eyes, and his unparalleled smile and unruly tuft of hair made every class an experience. His ability to articulate Luther’s Small Catechism and his insistence that we memorize it struck fear into more than one student, but as we worried, he would calmly inform us if we failed he would have his 5th grade son come in and show us how it was done. And he meant it. And yet after the admonishment his wry laugh and sparkling eyes would remind us of Luther’s understanding of grace. While the Nestigen and Forde show was always something to behold, what was more important was how together they would illuminate the understanding of law and gospel and the paradox of Luther’s simul justis et peccator in ways that still inform my life today. While there are many stories about Dr. Nestigen (and equally for Dr. Forde), it is perhaps the memory of an unequivocal tribute to the two of them, when a classmate, who was also a South Dakota farmer, named two of his animals Nestigen and Forde (I cannot remember if they were sheep or cattle). I also remember when we were working on our catechetic memorization and Dr. Nestigen told us about the background of Luther’s impetus in creating the Catechism. He noted that it was to be used for family devotions, and he continued that he did so in his home. He then offered an anecdotal story of an evening devotional on the Sixth Commandment with his youngest son. After asking his son what was the Sixth Commandment, his son, who had some speech issues responded, “You shall not commit dultry.” When asked in good Lutheran fashion, what does this mean? His dutiful son again replied, unabashedly, “It means we are not supposed to hump girls.” As our class burst out in laughter at the recounting his their devotion, Dr. Nestigen continued that he knew he would have to have a conversation with the older brothers. And then he broke into that undeniable laugh and his Norwegian drawl and the rapid succession of “jajaja!!” As you can see I remember that until this day.

I quote the words of my former classmate, and now the dean of the faculty at Luther, the Reverend Doctor Rolf Jacobson, when he noted in his use of Romans 3, “But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and it is attested by the law and the prophets . . . all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift . . . effective through faith.” While I write this abbreviated version of Paul’s important passage, the understanding of this relevance for us as sinful humans came to light through the lectures, the seminars, and the small group student meetings we would have with Dr. Nestigen. Another poignant time with him was in when he spoke to a group of about 8 of us. We were in Bockman Hall, and the then Lutheran Standard, the former magazine of the American Lutheran Church has published a piece about the appropriateness, and the growing difficulty of the use of “Our Father” as the beginning of The Lord’s Prayer. We inquired about his thoughts, and he said he did not want to speak in class about such political (and yet theological) terms in class. We noted because we were studying the prayer in class, it seems apropos. I remember him sliding his chair back and leaning back in it. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, and then he came back to earth, both in his mind and in the chair and peered at us through his glasses, and stated simply, ” You know what happens when you put pearls before swine.” Then he paused as we started back at him. Then he launched into the understanding of the term father and was quite emphatic as well as intimated. It was apparent that in spite of the significant move in the mid-80s toward inclusive language, he did not see this term as sexist. And in fact, he pretty well flat-out rejected that line of reasoning. While I do not remember all he said, what I do remember about his remarks, which were Luther-esque, earthy, and somewhat blunt, he, again, in his way shared to stories. He noted that in his home he was the person who baked bread; we was the person who did a great deal of the cooking, and it was he would spent significant time making sure the house was managed. As I remember, his wife, Carolyn, was a pretty prestigious lawyer in the metro. His second story, which was a bit more shocking, but thoroughly Nestigen, it was about his mother. He noted that his mother was in the first college class where women were allowed to attend at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. What he said next still shocks me . . . he said, “Men on campus whistled at my mother regularly, and it was not because she was attractive!” Again he peered at our speechless faces, laughed, and went back to his lecture. While he was incredibly good natured, he would be a pillar when it came to thing he believed. Perhaps I learned as much about law and gospel through his actions as I did by his words.

What I understand now about this amazing person was how what he taught helped me as a parish pastor. It was his understanding of the catechism and and his ability to instill it into our lives as both future pastor, as humans, that would serve me when I was to teach confirmation (affirmation of baptism as it would be called then) or when I did pre- baptismal visits that the words of this incredible duo would ring in my ears. And yet perhaps as I have continued in life, the part of the catechism that has the most profound affect on me now is that section referred to as the Office of the Keys. It is in that place that the true grace of God rings the brightest for me. It is the power of forgiveness, and not only the amazing freedom in forgiveness of our Creator, but more importantly our ability to provide forgiveness, absolution, for our brothers and sisters. The power in that loosening of the bonds of guilt or shame we have when we have wronged the other is unparalleled. Too often we dismiss an apology with a “It’s okay.” or a ‘Don’t worry about it.” and yet that is precisely when we do need to worry about it. It is at that point we have the profound ability to provide forgiveness and freedom from the burden the other carries. This is the true graciousness of God and the gift provided when we gift absolution to those around us. This is the grace I believe Dr. Nestigen understood, and the grace he taught those in his class. While I imagine his family and closest associates are still reeling at the loss of this giant of the Lutheran Church. He would not want us to be burdened. He would turn and smile at us with the incredibly infectious smile and look through his glasses and would encourage us to continue on our own faithful journeys. He would push us to see life as a gift and an opportunity to share his profound understanding of law/gospel and a loving Christ. It once again is appropriate to say to this North Dakota Norwegian . . . “we done good and faithful servant.” Jajajajaja . . . you betcha! Thank you for all you taught me and for bringing my faith to life. Thank you for keeping me steadfast, even when I feel unworthy.

It is with humility that I offer this tribute to my mentor and a incredible human.

Dr. Martin

Do You Believe In . . .

Hello from a little room in the Cathedral District,

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading.