Facing Mental Illness with Compassion

Hello from a quiet table and pondering the struggle of so many,

This past week I have been confronted with two specific incidences where a person certainly struggles with some form of mental illness. Let me begin with two important facts. I am not a psychologist or a psychiatrist nor do I have an MSW. Furthermore, even though I was a parish pastor, I knew what was reasonable for the me to work with and I had no problem referring my parishioners to professionals. However, I am fascinated by the human brain and how it functions. Yet, I know very little about it from a clinical or medical viewpoint. All of that being said, it pains me when I see people who struggle in their lives because of some kind or mental or emotional malady. I try to understand why two people with similar experiences can come away from those events with a very different consequence.

As I have noted in many blogs, I know believe my adopted mother probably suffered some kind of mental illness. I know she had endured some traumatic things from early elementary school into her early twenties, things that would scar most anyone let alone a young child or first time mother. Perhaps more importantly, the early 20th century was not a time when people reached out to get help with their problems. I can still hear the phrase “you do not air out your dirty laundry in public.” For those unacquainted with this, today’s version might be “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The point is, if there are issues at home you do not talk about it in public. This was certainly the case in my immediate family. Some of the things that would have had us in front of Children and Youth in our present world were not revealed . . . period. However, I digress. The point is my mother had profound struggles and I believe the traumatic experiences she endured changed her personality and her outlook. Those events caused her (and I realize this is merely an opinion) to believe and feel she had been cheated in this world and she was angry, and that anger devolved into bitterness, something much more insidious than anger. Bitterness destroys and hollows out a person. Many times I find myself trying to understand the actions or habits of another, wondering what happened in their past to create their propensity that action or habit.

I am a firm believer, again from my own experiences and actions, that most of our responses of fear or anger come from something in our past more than what is happening at the moment. I am not saying fear or anger is wrong, but I know my own fears are usually based on a feeling of failure, a feeling of unworthiness, or a feeling of what I call “I am going to be trouble.” Most often my anger comes from being hurt by someone, and mostly someone I care about. In the past couple of weeks, I had a meeting with a superior about some of the difficulties that are inherent with remote asynchronous teaching. There is also the fact that I have a tendency to over-extend. Those two things together created dilemmas for both my students and me, but it is important to consider the students first. That might seem a bit martyristic, if I can coin such a term, but what is apparent is this move toward teaching in a way that places such incredible responsibility on students has more often than not overwhelmed them. Being overwhelmed produces fear, and fear produces tension, and tension can create unexpected (and yet expected) responses. It is such a fine line (and the placement of that line changes from student to student) when it comes to how much you can push them to stand up and when you must hold them up.

This has been a tough thing for me because I am generally a person who expects people to stand up on their own. This is not to say that I do not offer a hand, and often more . . . but the number of people calling out or needing it without realizing it has increased exponentially. And like I tell my students, I now need to realize there is no recipe card to manage it all. There is no game plan. Not surprisingly, as faculty, we seem to fall into one of two camps: repent or you’re toast or let me do it for you. Certainly some of my colleagues will argue that is not true, but I believe fervently there is more truth to my view of our dichotomous response than many want to believe. I fall into it unwittingly at times. I believe we have societally failed to instill a sense of independence, a sense of accountability, or a sense of failure is not wrong into most Gen Z (and perhaps Millennials too) members. It would be easy to end there, but that would not circle me around the reason for this blog to begin with.

When people (and I believe this is true at any age) are confronted with their unpreparedness, the reaction is palpable, and understandably so. If you have not be given the requisite skills necessary to manage the daily expectations of life, the consequence is frightening. Both for the person missing the skills and for the individuals who have to work with them. I always struggle when students tell me life is so incredibly difficult, much more so, for them than it was for my generation or earlier in time. I think about that fact that many were married at 18-20 when they were my grandparents’ or even parents’ ages. I am not convinced that made life easier. Many were parents already and working a job, and all those adulting responsibilities were upon them. I spoke with a former student in the last couple days and they lamented how little they knew about financing their world or managing taxes, or even handling a checkbook. I did not know that stuff either, but I would find out . . . and often when I had to dig myself out of my failures. I remember having my father co-sign for something and then not managing it well. That was not a wise decision on my part. I was not given a get-out-of-jail-free card on that one. I had to catch it up, and I worked two jobs to make sure it happened. I was not offered either medication to manage my anxiety nor would I have imagined getting a support animal to make sure I could cope. This is not to say that people do not benefit from those possibilities, but it was such a different world. People in my own family have been on medication at times to deal with mental health problems, and I am an advocate of careful monitoring and the employment of a variety of therapeutic possibilities, but I am also a believer in the resilience of the human body and spirit.

We are profoundly complicated creatures. It is that simple (or complex). There is no single recipe to manage all the things thrown at us. I know of numerous people who have been pushed beyond their expected limits by this lockdown, distancing, and isolation. I know student who are overwhelmed by most anything that does not fit into their limited experiential purview as an adult student. And daily, I find it arduous to figure out the best way to manage all of it, but I soldier on. I honestly feel a lot of empathy and compassion for students who know no other college experience than the last three semesters. It was a topic of conversation in a meeting this past week of how will we prepare them for face-to-face learning again. It will be yet another stressful time for all, regardless which side of the blank stare you are on. I have learned yet again, placing the onus on either side is futile. As noted above, I have struggled mightily on my side of things too. I wanted to believe if I listened weekly and responded at that point versus having all the materials in before the semester started (and this was because I revised classes in light of my pandemic experience) that it would work better for everyone. Boy, was I mistaken. I worked well for as long as I could keep up, which was not nearly long enough. The consequence was a brutal last 10-14 days, but things are much better. Where I want? Not completely, but probably over 90 percent. And yet, in two days, there need to be much more. I am reminded of a previous administrator, who in front of a faculty committee, surprisingly stated we are only contracted for 17 hours a week. I was sitting next to her and almost feel off my chair in shock. Dang . . . not even close. Not a complaint, but there are days I put in that much time.

What I know is in my own immediate family there were two people who were mentally ill. One was diagnosed as such, the other was probably more fragile than the person diagnosed. I have written about that many times in this blog, but what I wish I could have understood is how devastating that lack of diagnosis was. It changed the lives of everyone around them. It made living with them difficult at best, and it made having compassion for them nearly impossible until long after they had passed on. I wish I could have realized their pain. I was too busy feeling and sometimes, allowing in my own. How unfair it all seems when I reflect on it now. All evidence seems to point to an incredible spike in people struggling with their well-being as a consequence of this pandemic. Isolation, disillusionment, loss of job, home, schooling, simply life as we knew it . . . all of these things serve as catalysts to a gigantic struggle to maintain happiness or some sense of safety or contentment. You might ask why Lincoln as my picture for the blog. As I have watched the series Lincoln: A Nation Divided, I have learned a number of things about this person we often hold us as a paragon of justice. Perhaps one of the most important things might be how he suffered with depression.

As I began, I am not a trained anything in terms of mental health, but I am a fellow human being. I am a person who can show compassion. That is what I hope I find myself doing for anyone who comes to me needing an ear, a modicum of support, or an extension on a paper or something. This past couple weeks I have worked harder than I usually do to see things from my students’ perspectives. Hopefully, that small change will make the difference they need.

Thanks as always for reading, and seriously, if you need something, please ask . . . you have the number.

Dr. Martin


Hello from my study on the Acre,

It is hard to believe that Spring is here (and today certainly felt Spring-like) and we are almost a quarter of the way through this year. It seems like only a few weeks ago the semester began and the Christmas holidays were still visible in the rear-view mirror. When I was small, Christmas was certainly a time for dreams, and I do not think it is much different for children today, but as we plow our way through this incredibly unpredictable time the ability to dream, to hope is essential. I remember being much more of a dreamer when I was small. I am not sure of all the reasons for that, but I think it had much to do with wishing things were different. Perhaps not all that different from where we are now. We wonder and imagine what’s on the other side.Dreaming for me was always about options, possibilities, and as noted above, about hope. Hope is something I have referred to in past blogs. Though generally optimistic, I do have a melancholy bent to me. Moreover, I think this past year has been a time when optimism has probably been in short supply, even for the most polyannish of us. Sometimes lying awake, I wonder what the future will bring, not so much for me as someone who has lived a significant part of their life, but rather for many of my students. In our world of division, of profound changes, in a world where our understanding of faith (or perhaps more accurately, our appropriate practice of that faith) is decided by the few and questioned by many, or, more problematically and blindly followed by even many more, we are headed into the most apparent time of the Christian Church year for many, the time where many struggle to understand a faith that is based in love, a love demonstrated by the death of the Son of the Creator (and I realize some see Jesus as little more than a prototypical prophet, and not both human and divine). If the Christian understanding of Jesus as both/and is correct, there is an irony that many of our actions seem to destroy the very love that is foundational to Christian faith. Easter is a time where we are called to understand a God who seem determined to work against our legalities, our divisiveness, our frailty and reach into our brokenness and demonstrate an all encompassing love we too often fail to understand. What can we do to demonstrate that love? Perhaps when we choose to establish justice, practice acceptance, and provide care that goes beyond even our most fervent attempts? This Palm Sunday, I listened to two services, to two amazing sermons, and some incredible music. I thought profoundly about the idea of justice and acceptance in a world that seems too intent on mistreating the other, claiming their ways of boxing God in is the appropriate ways to believe or be faithful, and behaves in a manner that seems inherently contrary to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and ones neighbor as ones self.

This morning, in this little town of 12,000 or so, I witnessed first hand as two dear friends, one a colleague and their spouse, were subjected to a racist rant on our Main Street as someone literally came across the street toward where a group of us where sitting. He screamed Asian-centric vitriol at our group, but more specifically at my colleague and their spouse. After a couple asked him to leave, the offensive person stepped a few yards away and began again. At that point, I stood up and faced the person and asked them to leave. The disturbed, shocked, and hurt look on my colleague’s face is something I will not soon forget. I was embarrassed for them. It stuns me that people can be so juvenile, hateful, ludicrous, and while I am pretty sure the individual probably had some mental issues, that did not make the experience anymore acceptable. It seems that more and more the overpowering actuality of our divided, screw-you-if-you-are-not-white, discriminatory actions are now beyond commonplace, more apparent than I have ever realized. I dream of a world where we will accept others for their intelligence, their character, their goodness, and support them when they are hurting, struggling, or floundering. I dream of a world where the few do not hijack the Gospel realizing that the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jesus of the prophets, or the Jesus of the world oppressed by the Romans understood and preached a Gospel of humility, a Gospel of a loving, forgiving God, a Gospel that confronted and called out the inequities of society, healed those forgotten by society, and chose disciples who were not blessed with status or wealth. If one carefully considers the Jesus of the Gospels, that Jesus will make most of us uncomfortable. When we try to co-opt Jesus or the Gospel, as we are all too ready to do, the Grace of God is cheapened. There was nothing cheap or easy about the path Jesus was destined to follow. Taking on the powers of the day, be it the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or even his own disciples at time, Jesus was constantly trying to get them (and us) to see a world that was something very different than what it was. There is little changed today.

When the more conservative Americans want to pray for those who invaded the Capitol and call them Patriots, they distort the Gospel. Why might I argue this? While there are a multitude of reasons, I will suffice it to say this. You might remember the story where the Jewish Leaders came to Jesus and asked him whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asked them for a coin, and when the coin was produced, he asked whose image was on the coin? They noted, accurately, Caesar’s. He responded, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” This is a pretty accurate quote of Matthew 22, though I did not look it up. Storming the Capitol and entering is not patriotic. It is breaking the law. For me, it is that simple. I realize there are others who disagree, but to claim God’s providence or support of that is an abomination of the Gospel, and I am willing to sit down and have coffee or something on my porch with anyone who wants to debate that, and I will fix the coffee free of charge. But come prepared, for I will probably be tough to convince of anything other. As I listened to the Reverend Heidi Peterson this morning, she noted this also, but took it ever further. If the greatest of the commandments is to love your neighbor, and this is my paraphrase of her preaching today, and it was spot on, then all the things we do to disenfranchise the other (be it voting, owning a house, walking down the street) is against this commandment. When we can decide who can love whom, when we believe those who identify differently then we do are somehow wrong or less of a person, we distort the Gospel. The Gospel is not a conservative cookie-cutter just-follow-this and you’re alright. The Gospel of Jesus was not cookie-cutter; in fact, it was precisely the opposite. The Gospel of Jesus (the Good News) was not always good news to those who believed they had it figured out. Jesus questioned the appropriateness of the religious scholars’ practice in worship. He questioned their interpretation of the law. He questioned their heart and how their practices disenfranchised others. Those who want to use Scripture as a yardstick misunderstand the basic message of that very Scripture. If you want to understand the Bible (Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament) imagine it as an anthology that demonstrates an incredible love story between Creator and Created. What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? What does it mean to love one’s neighbor as themselves? It seems simple, but it is anything but. We find it so much harder to love than criticize. Our anger compels our emotional and physical response much more often than our love does. This is the truth. How many times does your love for the other (a caring or compassionate love), and one who is not a spouse, decide your actions? How often does your anger or frustration with the other (and you can include spouse or significant other here) decide your facial expression, your tone, your body language with some almost immediacy? If you are like most humans (and like me), we reveal our frustration and anger much more quickly than we respond out of love or care. When we do, we break this commandment. It is that straightforward.

Our own Protestant theology (for those who are not Roman or Orthodox) struggles with the idea of loving God with such totality. However that command to love God in such a way permeates the Old Testament. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and therefore you shall love the Lord your God.” There is an all encompassing love that is necessary if you and God are to be one. It is a commitment that requires every ounce of who we are. Too often we forget the trinitarian aspect of this commandment. It requires both our mental and spiritual faculties be in the same place, and together this love cries out to our heart, our soul, and our mind. When they bind together in their own triune manner, we find out what it means to love and be loved. I dream of being such a loving person. As noted by Klaus Bockmuehl, a German theologian, too often we fail to understand the comprehensive requirement of such love. As he notes, the love we are affected by needs to be the love we have as an effect. It is both a verb and a noun. It is a state of being and a state of acting. Perhaps we too often (at least as Lutherans) believe in the grace of God, the forgiveness of God. But it reminds me of what I often asked by confirmation students once upon a time, or even my Bible as Literature students now. Do you do what you do so your parents will love you or because your parents love you? The same question could be asked, but instead of parent substitute the word God. We are dependent on the graciousness of God, but again, as Paul notes so well in Romans, we are also called to move beyond the evil we hate. We are to believe in the ideal that the love God gives is sufficient and we are called upon to love as God loves us. That does not mean it we are simply allowed to half-heartedly try, but instead we are called to love with all of our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual selves. That is much more work. And yet I dream of being that person.

Today’s experience with my friends, my colleagues, and with this sad, miserable, and, perhaps, mentally struggling person, reminded me of the pain that can occur when someone is treated in a manner that is discriminatory, a manner that is flat out hurtful, or a manner that demonstrates a profound lack of human respect. I wish that person no harm or ill will, but I am not sure I want to be in a position where I have to deal with that person again. I am grateful to my two female colleagues as well as one male colleague that asked him to leave. I am grateful for a call to the local police department and their response as they did find him down the street and probably had an interesting encounter of their own. I wish we could learn to be more accepting, more open, and simply try more intentionally to live that greatest of the commandments. I hope we can in this Holy Week try to be more intentionally holy, doing whatever that takes. I am reminded of the music of John Michael Talbot. I have used his work before, but I offer it again now. There are times I need to retreat to the quiet and think. There are times I need to believe in the possible. There are times I need to dream.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you a blessed Holy Week. To my Jewish friends, chag kasher v’same’ach.

Dr. Martin

Our Notional Nation

Hello from the Acre, sitting yet again in front of the computer,

It has been a beautiful week, enticing us to believe Spring is here, but it is mid-March, and my past experience, from a variety of places, has taught me to avoid the enticement. Take pleasure in the days offered, get outside and manage to enjoy, but know too well that Winter is still on the calendar, and it is around any unsuspecting corner. In fact, to illustrate that reality, the weather outlook on my phone has a snow flake option for two different days next week. St. Patrick’s Day blizzards are part of my history.

One of the things age does (and perhaps requires of us) is to create an awareness of what happens around us as well as (at least for me) consider my part in or responsibility for it. That is not always an easy or enjoyable thing, but I find it necessary. Perhaps an example of what I am positing is a simple thing (or at least what I thought was a simple thing growing up) like voting. This past election, and I guess for many a number of elections, the process has never been simple. I think of the first scenes in the movie Selma, and the struggle black Americans had to go through to vote. In my naiveté, in my basic middle class white upbringing, I would have never imagined such a thing. Even in my own town in NW Iowa, I am now aware that there were struggles for black, brown, and native peoples that occurred regularly but I had no idea. As I have noted in previous writing, too often we see the world through our own version of rose-colored glasses, believing our experiences are typical of those our age, of those who are contemporaries, of those who are perhaps American, but I believe we push that even further to anyone we believe we know. As I have traveled, moving much beyond my NW Iowa cocoon, I have been required to come to terms with all the things I take for granted. Even in the past year, in spite of so many people I know who have been furloughed, laid off, lost a business, it is too easy for me to simply go about my life because beyond some inconvenience I have not been hurt or even really much affected. Certainly, my teaching requires more time, more work, more careful consideration, but there is little about which I can honestly complain. I did get the first to stimulus payments, and I will not receive a third, but that indicates that financially, as a single male, I am doing quite well. That is not to brag, but rather to say I am incredibly fortunate. Things could be much different.

What astounds me, and it seems to occur almost daily, is the rather schizophrenic postering that goes on with so many people. I understand we are not nearly as consistent as we want to believe, but dang. Senator Ron Johnson, someone who seems more unhinged by the week, stated that he felt no angst or fear when the United States Capitol was overrun earlier this year, but then goes on to say if it had been Black Lives Matter or Antifa, he would have been concerned. Really? Incredible . . . preposterous . . . embarrassing . . . or maybe, you need to go . . . go back to Wisconsin and disappear. You are an affront to anything a United States Senator should be or how they should act. The racist, white nationalistic, inappropriateness of that goes beyond the pale. A more simple, but equally as problematic instance happened in my town over the last couple weeks. A middle-aged male stated with the dictional accuracy of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor what he felt about wearing a mask in public. Suffice it to say, he was not supportive an any mask mandate. Within barely a minute, he proceeded to note how he believed they needed to get vaccinations out and available to people more readily. Most certainly, I can look at those two statements (sentiments) from a number of angles, but it seems he dislikes the mask mandate because it is inconvenient, but I think it is probably fair to say he dislikes it because it is a mandate . . . it imposes on his individual freedom, and by extension the government has no right to tell him what to do. Simultaneously, he demands that this same government make sure to protect him through vaccination. Then, of course, there seems to be no realization that you are asking the same entity to do two completely different things or allow him both freedom and support (when both things are meant to protect or provide safety to him). This is what my title is implying. We seem to be divided in a manner that is not just from person to person, but even within ourselves.

I think the reality is that too often we do not see our inconsistencies, and therein lies the crux of the problem. I have spent the last few days doing some introspection and trying to see where might have these inconsistent behaviors. And I know I have them. We all do. One of the things apparent for me is in spite of how hard I think or work to be inclusive, to be understanding of the other, to speak or engage with someone where there is some significant disagreement, the biases I have come along with me, but I seldom realize the degree to which those differences, those biases, those inabilities to see beyond affect my attitudes or my conversations. I think my work as a professor has pushed me to see beyond my simple, but rather basic WASP background. This is, in no way, disparaging my Midwest upbringing, but it is my attempt to be honest with the unrealized acceptance of many things I have been compelled to reconsider. I would also know my own time in seminary was the beginning of that. When I was a seminary student, feminism and the importance of inclusive language was a central element of many discussions. It falls into the sort of intersection of what many would call second and third wave feminism. While I had little idea of what that was in the late 1980s, I was aware of how important this conversation was. And yet, in spite of that awareness, I must be honest that my understanding beyond language issues was limited at best. My behavior was nowhere near where it needed to be.

This is my own personal experience with the idea of a “notional nation.” While I work hard to get beyond that, the only way that individual transformation can occur is when we are honest with ourselves. When you ask that of 330,000,000 souls, the equation is a bit more complex. When we are built on, seeming dependent on our foundational belief of individual freedom, the likelihood of people being introspective is a bit (ironically) hypothetical. Some of you will get that irony immediately, others it might take a bit more consideration. The reason I find this so consequential is because of our current global health crisis, which some argue is no crisis at all. I am fortunate enough (again, and some will disagree) to get both of my vaccinations at this point. As many, I am reflecting upon the last year and the changes we have made, either because we were mandated to do so, or because we choose to continue to do so. I fall into the category of both/and. There are moments I detest these masks, and I have purchased some to offer me some levity in the wearing requirement. I have people, even some for whom I have deep appreciation, who are adamantly opposed to following any guidelines that “infringe” upon their supposed individual freedoms. I can write an entire blog on that misguided notion, but that is for another time. I will leave it to this idea “social contract.” It is incredibly difficult to admit selfishness, particularly when it pushes us to re-examine our core values or identity, and yet that is exactly what I have been pushed (and in someways pushed myself) to do. Again, let me put into a different realm, and one that struck me deeply when I heard it the other evening. As that privileged white male, if someone questions whether or not I am being racist, why might I get so defensive? Would it not be better or more productive to understand racism versus merely get defensive? I think most of us answer in the affirmative, and yet few of us could hear that without getting defensive (and I know this because of an amazingly intelligent and intuitive former student who questioned my understanding of privilege once upon a time in my office). I have noted this before. There is so many ways we want to believe our innate sense of right and wrong will guide us, but that buys into an inadequate, simplistic impression or stance that we are correct in our assumptions; we are omniscient in our limited understanding of the complexities of our world; or that we have some moral superiority, which is ultimately based on our own incredible asinine arrogance.

All of this comes from where? I think that is the most difficult thing for me to figure out. It is the opposite of most everything we are taught in terms of how we should treat another person as a small child. We are taught to be polite; we are instructed to treat others with respect. We have all heard of the Golden Rule, and taught about its significance in terms of how we should interact with other human beings. As a former pastor, I am well acquainted with the idea of our falling short, of our innate connection to the Greek word hamartia (the word for sin). And yet, where we seem to be now as a society is a great deal beyond the idea of falling short; for those old enough, it falls far beyond the Flip Wilson adage of “the devil made me do it.” For me it falls back to a quad-fecta of the seven deadly sins: the four are greed, envy, wrath, and pride. Pride, according to some is the most problematic. In fact, C.S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, asserts that pridefulness is an “anti-God” state where we are in direct conflict with the creator. Lewis goes on to say it is the basis for every other sin. It seems pretty self-evident to me . . . because of our pride, we believe we are entitled. It leads to a sense of greediness, which is a cause of envy, and that envy leads to our wrath toward others, which leads to hate, anger and rage. I do not think we need to ponder very hard to find an infinite number of examples of that in our present world. It is easy to merely write it off to human sinfulness and call it a day, but that is the easy way out. For me it is also indicative to Paul’s question in Roman’s when he asks in his diatribal formula, “What are we to say to this? Should we sin all the more that grace may abound?” His answer to that question is a forceful, “Certainly not!” As an imperative. Another way to say that is “Are you frickin’ crazy?” I am saddened by where we are, as a country and beyond. And it would be easy to say, “I quit; there is nothing we can do,” but I refuse to do so. I want to believe, in whatever faint breath of idealism I still have that we can do better. I can do better. I cannot impose that requirement upon another, but I can impose it on myself. I want to live a life that shows others matters, and beyond immediate family. I want to be remembered as someone who thought about others as well as himself. I want to be a person who makes my small corner of the world a better place. So I keep on keeping’ on to return to my 70s roots. If someone else decides to take such a path for themselves, the writing of this blog served a purpose. I have used this song before, but it is where I am on this Ides of March.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Teaching in a Remote, Individualized, Asynchronous, Divided World

Hello from the study, the room I am pretty much consistently occupying,

As I finally get back to this blog, it has taken me a month-plus. The new semester has me buried, but still plugging along diligently. So here was where I was a month ago and the thoughts at that time. – – – – – – As we move into a new semester, I wonder exactly what my students are imagining and feeling about being a college student. There is little doubt that our world is a significantly different place than it was a year ago. Last spring, I was walking into classrooms, welcoming students to my office, holding office hours at times in the library location of Starbucks, and both my students and I was merrily going about our lives doing what we do. Fast forward (and the year has been anything but fast), as I consider the past year, the changes are profound. My exchange student left the country (and that too was a process that had many twists and turns) sooner than planned. I found myself sitting in my house hours and days upon end, wondering what was coming next, how we were going to cope with the new found changes, including buying toilet paper, and hoping somehow I would not be exposed to this virus that sounded much more frightening than many of the things I had already faced in terms of health complications. Somehow, catching COVID seemed much more traumatizing. Indeed, only a few days beyond our first national fatality, and the difficulty that occurred in a nursing home in Washington State, we currently have over 440,000 fatalities, 26.5 million cases, and a country that is still struggling to overcome the logistical mountain of getting shots into the arms of 80% of the country’s population. As I write this, I have received my first vaccination in the past week and I am scheduled for the second before the end of February. And yet, in spite of our difficulties, the EU is in a much greater struggle to vaccinate its population, the entire continent of Africa is in a terrible predicament, and much of the world has little idea how they will ramp up to vaccinate their own populations. Much of the world, like most of what the virus has revealed, is controlled by the economics of haves and have nots. That is the reality of our planet. We are not equitable nor are we just. I am fortunate beyond words to have already received a vaccination. I understand that on a number of levels, from just that I fall into a category that has priority to the fact that our government or my health insurance is covering the vaccination. All of those things are gifts.

As I begin yet another semester of teaching, the continual effect of the pandemic requires a very different level of commitment from all, and that goes beyond students and faculty. It includes technology services, library staff and also the administration, as well as health services, counseling services, landlords and others. It is a complex puzzle, and like most things, one size does not fit all. I have spent significant time on the phone with students within the first week, trying to assure them they can manage the expectations of the semester. As seems to be the case, I probably have a dozen students who have me for two separate classes at the same time. This makes their lives busy, but mine confusing. This is particular the case when there are times they will ask a question, but they do not specify to which class they are referring. That specificity is important because I can easily forget they might be in both classes, particularly in the first couple weeks. – – – – –

Back to this and trying to make sense of our yet jumbled world. At this point, the reality of what is expected has hit all involved like the proverbial ton-of-bricks. What makes it so difficult, at least I think this is what it is, is the simple reality that most students do not know how to critically think and analyze. This is not the fault of the average 20 year old, it is that too often they have not been required to do so. The recipe card life of high school does little to prepare them for what is coming. The fact they must reach out and ask for assistance if they do not actually comprehend the nuances of their assignments, their process, or how it all fits together is complicated when they are not in a classroom. Too often they turn to Telegram, GroupMe, or some other group app to ask their questions of each other. In spite of that fact, I have created a Coffee Shop in our CMS specifically to ask these questions, they are often embarrassed or uncomfortable in asking in that forum because they somehow believe asking questions makes them look under-prepared, perhaps, not smart enough, perhaps, or . . . when precisely the opposite is true. Asking for assistance and communicating your concerns is precisely what should happen as a student. I have thought about this a great deal. What is it that makes us so fearful of admitting what we do not know? If you actually knew all of the answers to the various questions, there would be no need to be in the class from the outset. I am just looking it it logically (sorry, Melissa; I guess I am still the same). Currently, I am asking students from one of my classes to call me about their initial work on an assignment. At this point, some 36 hours later only a handful have actually done that. Of course, one called me three times at 11:30 at night, somehow believing I would still be up. My goodness!! Two have called, but did not leave messages, and I do not keep their phone numbers in my phone. Again, we are back to basic communication skills. As I try to figure out how all of this occurred (the this being an incredible loss of basic interpersonal skills), I do not think it can all be blamed on social media. I do not think it is that no parent has tried to teach their offspring basic manners. So what is it? I think perhaps it is a combination of a multitude of things that has created the “perfect storm” resulting in a profound lack of interpersonal decorum.

I believe the isolation of the last year has caused an overpowering need for us to want something with no sense of how that request or demand might affect the person on the receiving end of our missive (be it text, voice message, email, even a video chat or app). I have long argued the main deleterious effect of social media is not that we are in contact more readily or easily, but rather we have so blurred the public and private that things like decorum, civility, and appropriateness are too often forgotten. Isolation causes fear; it often causes antisocial behavior that can be significantly damaging to mental and emotional health, as well as one’s physical health (Novotney, May 2019). In the article just cited, the author noted that latest census data shows that 1/4 of the population in the United States lives alone (and that was before the pandemic) (Novotney, May, 2019). The consequence of reactive loneliness versus chronic loneliness is an important consideration, and I think this is something many of our students are struggling to manage.Reactive loneliness, to be clear, is when there is something that changes in our lives so that our social group has a profound change and we feel a degree of loneliness because of it. A death of an important friend, a spouse, a child, or such is a good example. Reactive loneliness is painful for anyone, but if that loneliness continues to occur or there is nothing there to address it, then it becomes chronic. Chronic loneliness often seems to occur when there is no visible possibility of change. This sort of loneliness can become harrowing, excruciating, even torturous.

To escape this struggle, particularly when there is some overarching circumstance that seems to predicate it, many will turn to less than proper options. Fortunately, I am not a smoker, but studies show that binge smoking, binge eating, binge watching, binge drinking are all too often the escape. I am fortunate enough to be able to stay away from those things, but there is going to the grocery store to buy more food I do not need, or fortunately it is not warm enough (yet) that the plants are out. Those of you who know me, know this can be a problem. So . . . are there positives in this isolation? For me, there have been. It has caused me to actually reach out to some I had lost contact with. That has been something unexpected, but it has helped me manage the day-in and day-out on the Acre. Additionally, it has required me to be more intentional and thoughtful about things if I am going to manage the work I need to do. That is particularly the case with an extra prep and extra section, and 26 credits of internships. All in all things are getting done. The other thing it has prompted is a really careful prioritization of what needs to happen and what can be let go. All of these things have helped me stave off that sense of isolation because things are getting accomplished.

That is another irony of all of this. Some students have more time than ever to work on their classwork, but they seem less likely to manage their requirements. I have had more students miss deadlines than ever before. I have struggled to keep students on-board, thoughtfully engaged, and ready to do their work than ever before. However, let me also say there have been some incredibly ambitious and disciplined students too. They are my saving grace at this point. There are students who have stepped up and realized this need to adapt to the world we are in is simply the way it is. I believe the ultimate consequence of this move to remote teaching is the push it has created to make all of us more accountable to each other in the educative process. The amount of work needed to manage an asynchronous remote course is exponentially more. I am not complaining because I believe it has required a great deal more intentionality on my part. I have to think about what I am asking students to do more thoughtfully. I need to be more process driven in what I do. However, it requires a great deal more intentionality from students too. This is a different world than the world of sitting in a lecture (either large or small). It is so much more evident precisely what a student does or does not do. That is also frightening, but it can be liberating if the student will claim their education. It is theirs. They are accountable to themselves first and foremost. We all know when we do something well; conversely, we know when we half ass something. I believe that is even more apparent in this remote world, which is ironic beyond anything imaginable. Everything we do is in the open. Likewise, everything we do not do is in the open. That is where the accountability piece really kicks in. It is hard to say, or even imagine, where all of this will shake out. What will happen to this generation of students? How will they take this experience and adapt to the world beyond their backpacks? It is most definitely something we will have to wait and see as far as the ramifications. In the meantime, my computer and I are best friends. Seldom can I leave the screen and the desk believing I am caught up. There is no such thing. It is simply trying to stay afloat. For my students, if you read this and comment about your thoughts, you will get extra credit.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

The Shared Experience of Struggle Creates Equity, and perhaps Empathy

Oh my – the hair

Hello from my kitchen on an early Monday morning,

It is about 5:40 a.m. and I have decided it is time to get back to a productive schedule. I had actually set my alarm for 6:45, but I woke up about 5:00 and decided to get up. I am cooking oatmeal and decided to do something productive while it simmers. It is not instant oatmeal and takes some time. This morning I have a multitude of feelings: the Packers lost 😞 and that makes me sad because they simply got outplayed. The missing of a couple of players and some just plain tough football by the Bucs’ defense kicked them out of yet another Super Bowl game. I am hoping to not fall victim to the post holiday doldrums and that is part and parcel to my decision to rise, and at least try to shine, and early start to a day. I am hoping the peppermint hot chocolate might help the shining aspect of the day. I have already put a load of laundry in the dryer and one in the washer, so caught up there too. The list of tasks on the to-do list is substantial and they are also involved and laborious, so it will be a long day. That is fine as long as I make progress on a number of fronts.

Over the weekend, I worked diligently to put into practice the words and call for reaching across the aisle I have espoused in some of my latest posts. In one instance, I have some history with the person, though not necessarily with the couple people with whom I had some posting interaction. In the other case, I certainly know the person upon whose page I responded, but again no specific knowledge with whom I had an extensive give and take. What did happen was after some initial sort of disregard or discounting, the people had to step back and reconsider that perhaps it was possible that someone who thought differently or claimed a different political bent than they might actually listen to them. This is not to say I am not passionate about my positions or beliefs, but as I have noted we need to begin to reach out on an individual level if we are going to make a change in our currently national dialogue. There were two things that stood out in our discussion. There was the idea that one should not waste their breath on the other. If we choose to hold our breath and not use it, it might be argued we will wither and die. The second point was about changing the other person’s mind. This buys into the idea that the only goal of an argument or debate is to win. Again, as I have noted in the past, this is not true. The goal of an argument is to come to consensus. If I am to debate thoughtfully with another, I have to understand their concerns and their fears. Eleanor Roosevelt once said this concerning fear. “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Fear is incredibly powerful, but more importantly, fear creates anger. Think about this for a moment. If someone jumps out and frightens you, after that momentary fear, we almost always follow up with a sense of anger. Damn it! You scared me! And we might refer to them with some disparaging moniker.

When I graduated from Dana, I went to St. Paul and the seminary to enroll in a summer intensive Greek program. This was because I felt incapable of managing Delvin Hutton’s Greek class at Dana. It was an really laborious summer, but I loved it and I thrived in that situation. And yet, looking back, I know how difficult it was. I did not feel that at the time, but what I know to this day that the colleagues, classmates, I endured the summer with became some of my dearest friends and colleagues beyond. The struggle of that summer class was an incredible equalizer. All of us where thrown into the same process and we needed each other to survive it. Our study sessions, our 10:00 p.m. trips to Poppin’ Fresh pie shop, which would lated be called Baker’s Square, or our post-exam evening to El Torito’s where we would consumer incredibly large margaritas because there was no assignment for the next morning’s class are rather legendary among that group. We did not worry about grades as much as we believed it was our duty to hold each other up and make sure no one was left behind. That summer was an interesting one for me because I was told by someone I was not academically or intellectually smart enough to manage the rigor of that course. That only served to motivate me, and motivate me it did. I would eventually teach that very class a few years later.

It is now later in the week, and as my blogs indicated, my plans got way-laid by my health issues, but I have managed to make progress. The expensive eyedrops are doing some very helpful things for my vision and my ability to focus. It is now Saturday, and earlier today I got my first Covid vaccination. It is about 10 hours later and there is some very slight discomfort at the injection site, but otherwise, no issues. Earlier this evening I spoke with a long-time friend, one questioning the efficacy versus the fear of getting vaccinated. I spent some time explaining why I was willing, even with, and particularly because of, the various maladies. While I want to protect myself, for me it is as much about being safer for others. One of the things, at least in my view, about being vaccinated is we are in this viral morass together and we will only get out of it together. I try to think about the logic of it all. None of these companies want to do something on a global scale that will come back and bite them. They will lose their company. I do believe it is that profound. And again, I do not mean this as a political statement, which we are prone to take everything as, but I do believe the things I have listened to this past week from either the more well-known Dr. Anthony Fauci, or the new head of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who served as Chief of Infectious Diseases as Mass General and a Medical Professor at Harvard, as well as a degree in Public Health, I have learned more about what the vaccine does than I did in numerous briefings in the past year. Again, this is not meant to be a slam against anyone, but it is that I have listened throughout. I did not ignore the briefings in the previous administration because I wanted to understand.

I am hopeful that we are at the bottom of the inverted bell curve, although the variant issues concern me. I do believe that issue was explained this past Friday that vaccination is the best way to minimize variants. All of this made sense to me as it was explained. It would be easy to focus on just my little corner of the world (that being PA at the moment), but I believe that is short-sighted. This is a global health crisis and I do believe unless we figure out a way to get as much of the global population vaccinated in as timely a manner as possible, we will be doing the proverbial one-step-forward, and two-steps-back, but the consequence of that will be more than a struggle. It will be catastrophic. Death is an incredible equalizer. That has been often said, and I believe it is one of the more profound truths we must face as humans. Social class, gender, age, economic status, none of it matters, and the reality is this virus cares nothing for any of that nor is it confined by space, geography, or time. We are in this together, regardless language, single or with a partner, small town or urban dweller. What is evident is countries with money has much more access to the vaccine than poorer countries, but when there is an outbreak in places who have not had an opportunity to purchase the vaccine in levels of millions of doses, that outbreak will not remain there. It is a long ways from South Africa to South Carolina, but the variant got there. The Atlantic is wide, but 29 states have that variant as of earlier today. This is where we need to be more than empathetic we need to be fair and thoughtful. In our own country, it has been well documented that poorer communities are significantly more likely than some other places to have exponentially more cases within their population.

I remember preaching the week after Princess Diana was tragically killed. The entire world stopped and mourned for the week after her passing, and I am not lamenting that outpouring of grief and care. There were hundreds of others who passed away that week we never heard of, but their loss was as profoundly felt by their own families as much as the highly publicized passing of the People’s Princess. I remember noting that in my sermon that next Sunday. Death cares not about what you have, who you have touched, or what you have done. It is final, at least in what happens to your physical body and how your loved ones will understand your actual presence in their lives. As of this moment as I write this, 435,151 people have died in 12 months from this virus. As a sort of measurement, that would be about 75% of the population of the entire state of Wyoming. If want to look at it in terms of infections, 26,000,000 is almost the entire state of Texas. Again, these are simplistic connections and I know what some will say, the death rather is minimal, but those who have long-term consequences and what all those consequences are is so beyond what we know at the moment.

The point of all of this is we need to realize the equity (and the inequity) of this crisis. I see it among my students and how moving to remote learning affects them differently. I see it in how the culture of some and their options make them more vulnerable. I see how our distrust of so many things from people to information has made us suspicious of almost everything. We cannot live and thrive as a country when we fail to see a common purpose. Again, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt (I think it would have been an incredible thing to meet her or listen to her speak), she asked, “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” Illness is also an equalizer, but this time it has too often been suffered in isolation. It is time for us to allow our consciences to be tender, to be forgiving, to be unselfish. The struggles we are facing are not merely our own, they are our world’s and it is time we reach out our hand to make the world a better place. This is not a socialistic endeavor, it is a human endeavor. Caring for the other is a faithful thing, regardless the faith you call your own. Every major religion addresses the idea of caring for those less fortunate than one’s self. It is in that reaching out that equity and empathy occur. I was fortunate enough because I am an American, over 65, with health issues, and a job that falls into an important category that today I could be vaccinated. There are many of my friends from both here and abroad that have not been so fortunate. I think about each of them and I pray for their safety. This past week has been a rollercoaster and the next week will be a blur from beginning to end. That is my individual reality, but I am constantly reminded that our world reality has paramount ramifications for me, even though I am in a little town tucked away in North Central Pennsylvania. To the literally hundreds of people who reached out this week, thank you. I am doing better. I am blessed in many ways and as such I am called be a blessing back. Thanks for reading this. I am reminded of a time when a number of influential musicians got together in the 1980s and reminded us of our human global community. Perhaps it is time to remember that and see our equity and use our empathy in this time. Take about a who’s who of musicians. And if you will take the time, the video that follows is a reprise of it with another group at the time of Haiti. Perhaps we need to do it again.

Thank you as always for reading. Bless you in this time.


When it Seems There is only One Empty Chamber

Wearing my Luther Hoodie

Hello from my office or study on the Acre,

Let me begin with an incredible word of thanks. I am humbled beyond measure at the kindness shown during the past three days in response to my previous blog. I am honored that somehow my willingness to share my private, difficult, and atypical health struggles were helpful. That is a bit unbelievable to me, but, again in my piety, that is what the Holy Spirit does when we cannot find the ability to make sense of our lives. Indeed, I wrote the words, but those words were inspired by something larger than me. In this COVID world, finding our way to doctor’s appointments has been a bit different. Fortunately, through both our online patient portal and because of COVID (ironically), there were cancelations with my ophthalmologist. I wrote her a message on Tuesday evening, as I was working on the blog, and she responded within hours. I called on Wednesday, and was able to get in today. I will talk more about the appointment, and there are some issues with my vision, but nothing that cannot be managed. Not surprisingly, it appears my eyes, like everything else, are dehydrated too. In addition, I have to get prescription reading glasses rather than simple readers any longer. That is the simple explanation for the moment.

All of the other issues that were noted in the last blog are just simply how my body manages and the way I have to go about daily life. The constantly moving target of hydration will never go away. That is not a good thing nor it is an easily managed thing, but it is manageable. It takes constant supervision on my part; it requires me to monitor (not in terms of some sort of process like my Diabetes), and requires me to pay attention. There is little room for ignoring or pretending there are no issue. It is a lifestyle, but I work diligently to act like I am much like any other person. I have been told, even by my doctors, or by those I now lecture in my position as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medical Education at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, that I look healthy. I guess that is a good thing, but it too has some consequences. In fact, some of my latest scholarly writing considers things rather unexpected because of the appearance versus reality discontinuity. It is not by accident that I have noted (as indicated in the title) that I often feel I am playing Russian roulette with one empty chamber rather than one bullet. It is not how I like to play the odds, but somehow it seems I have been rather fortunate each time it has been my turn to spin that magazine. Somehow, scenes of The Deer Hunter come to mind, and that was tense enough watching the movie. It is not something I planned to live.

And yet, as I write this, I have some important friends who are in the process of one losing the other to cancer. In fact, as I spoke on the phone earlier this evening, the one cried at the stark reality of losing a partner. They had to hang up the phone because the hospital was calling (and they are not allowed to be there because of COVID). This is beyond traumatic to me. Even earlier, I spoke with a spouse of a former colleague and they spoke of the range of emotions felt during the past holiday season as they continue life alone. And yet, again, still this evening, I reached out to a high school classmate who has lost a spouse and a father during this past year. It is in those conversations, I am pushed to remember how incredibly lucky I am. I have options and, even though I have hurdles (and short legs), somehow I get over them and keep trucking along. In addition to the prescription readers, I have been placed on a prescription eye drop, Fortunately, I have health insurance. The cost of these amazing little drops without insurance would be almost 850.00. Yes, you read that correctly. Holy Buckets . . . make sure every drop gets into your eyes and you do not miss. That is incredible. There is more than once I have stated, “If I have known what the last thirty years would bring, I might have asked what is behind door number two?” However, I am not convinced that door would have been better. It is easy to wonder what if . . . it is undeniable that we wonder how things might have been different from time to time, but, for me, those conversations, with God or myself , are rather pointless. They are subjunctive mood conversations, conditions contrary to reality. I have generally been the person who simply says, “Tell me what the situation is and let me deal with it.” Some who know me well will shake their collective heads, but life is a process. There is no recipe card; there are no promises; and I am owed nothing. The last blog was my humanness in all its frailty coming to the fore. I do have those moments, and I guess, gauging the responses I received, it was a good thing to reveal that. That it was helpful for anyone, I am, again, humbled, but as I noted God will work through me and in spite of me.

It would be easy to turn inward when I have those days, but that is not really the best way for me to manage things. Reaching out and paying attention to others is an infinitely more helpful way for me to manage life. It is not difficult to see we have a hurting world. The divisions among us and some of the things I have read not only in the last week or beyond, but really for some time seem to have us running our world in much the same way that my blog title states. And yet with more extreme repercussions. As I think about the words of unity, fairness, justice, hope, kindness, or decency, they seem like things impressed upon us as children, but as concepts or ideals we somehow have lost as adults. One of the things I have learned as a patient is to advocate for myself and believe in my own agency, but I need to see my doctor, a nurse, those who have knowledge I need as advocates and allies, not as someone to mistrust. As I consider that, I am struck by something it seems we have forgotten. We elect people to represent us and is that what is happening? It seems with what is happening in our streets and in the halls of Congress, we are being represented. They are as divided and disrespectful as we are. Why are we surprised? I do not want to make this blog a political blog, but I am thinking about the COVID situation right now. With all of my issues, I describe myself as a blue-light special for germs. Fortunately, I get my first COVID vaccination on Saturday. I realize this is not some get-out-of-jail-free card. However, I do believe I will feel at least a bit less stress about leaving the house than I have. I know not everyone agrees, but we need to get this virus stuff managed. Herd immunity achieved by mass casualty does not seem like the best plan. I know of more people than I have fingers at this point who have lost their lives to this. Some in their 40s, and they did not have a boatload of co-morbidities. I know former students who are nurses and are running themselves emotionally and physically to exhaustion because of the COVID cases they face every day. This does more than alarm me. There are times it infuriates me because we are so incredibly self-centered, all based on the argument of individual freedom. That individual freedom is again leaving one empty chamber.

As humans, we do not live an a vacuum. We are not hermits, though COVID has worked hard to push us there. What this past week has reminded me yet again, is how apparent our past is part of our present and preparing us for our futures. We are a tapestry, a fine amazing coat of incredible thread, woven by experience and the singular stitching is not always evident, but each stitch is profound, important, and relevant. So many people have blessed me with the stitches they have contributed to my my tapestry or my coat. It has kept me safe or warm through so many elements. It has made it possible for me to weather many storms. It has taught me to be open and honest with my strengths and my frailties. Yes, again this week, the blessings heaped upon my table were beyond anything expected or deserved. It is incredible how each of you have helped mend the coat of the threadbare places and lifted my spirits to heights I have not felt for some time. There is so much for me to do in the next days and I was frightened because I felt physically incapable. My eyes are essential to my work, especially now. I was overwhelmed and defeated, at least for a bit, but to each of you for your thoughts, prayers, posts, acknowledgements, you have lifted me beyond anything I deserve. Bless you all and I wish you a safe, sound, healthy, and blessed 2021. I am humbled. Perhaps, I have a couple of empty chambers or hopefully even more.

Thank you again and bless you all.


Wondering When or How it Ends

As a student at Dana

Hello from my study,

I have another blog in process, but this past week I have struggled with other possibilities and concerns. I have always been pretty open about my health issues. They are complex, all related, but still unpredictable. It is a consequence of being born a bit too early (26 weeks and 17 ounces). That is a pretty amazing statistic, particularly in 1955, but somehow I managed most of it through childhood and never considered any of my childhood maladies to be anything out of the ordinary. I had some intestinal things, mostly chalked up to a peptic ulcer syndrome. In fact, when I was working at Sodrac Park, I had milk in a refrigerator to coat my stomach and manage the cramps and pain. Otherwise, there was little that seemed all that abnormal. Into my mid-twenties, there were some small issues, but I chalked it up to working a bit more intensely than I should have. I made it through college with a double major and double minor, worked 20 hours a week, and somehow transferred and transferred back and managed to graduate on time. I knew there were times it seemed I could not gain weight, but I figured that was a gift.

Then came a day in January of 1984 and a simple trip into the bathroom changed my life. After spending more time in restrooms in a month than I had in probably a year, and the loss of 25 pounds in three weeks, I would be diagnosed with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Without going through every complication since, suffice it to say that with surgeries, abnormal biopsies and other treatment, it has been a path that I would not wish on most people. And yet, I have been blessed to manage life pretty well in spite of all those issues. A great majority of the time I feel blessed that I have always had options and, regardless the difficulties, there has always seemed to be a light ahead. I have been told I am a miracle more times than I have fingers. I have been told part of the reason they do not know what to do with me is most people do not live this long. I have been told I am like an upside-down jigsaw puzzle. The analogies are numerous and most of the time I find them hopeful, but that is getting more and more difficult to do. When I was diagnosed with an IBD, I was still afforded the best treatment by some of the best doctors in the world, but biologics for IBDs did not exist then. That means the treatments for me, when medication did not work, regardless the dosage, more surgery was in store. I am grateful for all of those things because at the time, it was the only thing they knew to do as my body worked diligently against itself. The first surgery was in December of 1986. My last surgery was in August of 2012. That is a long time to keep cutting away on one body. It fact, there is really no more they can remove. I guess that is a good thing. However, all of those removals and all of that medication has had consequence. In fact, ironically, currently, the Crohn’s, which was the final diagnosis, is not currently active. That too is a good thing because it makes life much more manageable. However, the consequences, they are numerous, and they are complicated.

The removal of an entire large intestine and a significant part of the ileum has had some serious ramifications. The large intestine is the most consequential organ in terms of hydration for the human body. Missing it creates problems. There is an area of the ileum that does all your B complex vitamin absorption for the body. Not having that part of my intestine means I do not absorb. I did not know that until about 4 years ago. So for almost 25 years I went without adequate levels of B Complex Vitamins. By the time we realized the problem, my levels were under 80. The consequence when I finally found that out had caused me all sort of difficulties. At least that was remediated. The use of sulfur-based antibiotics, hydrocortisone, and extreme doses of prednisone for years also had repercussions. So where am I now? Hydration or dehydration has resulted in a variety of maladies. First, I dehydrate all the way to the cell level. That has resulted in Diabetes Type II. I make insulin fine, but I do not absorb it. Dehydration has had a deleterious effect on my kidneys because they cannot figure out what to do. Currently I am in what is called Stage III Chronic Kidney Disease, which is connected to the Diabetes. In addition, I have something called NonAlcoholicSteato-Hepatitis (NASH), which is liver damage as a long-term outcome of steroid usage. One of the times my kidneys decided to shut down it elevated my potassium to the point it was affecting my heart. That resulted in bradycardia as illustrated in an electrocardiogram. I have also had multiple strokes (which I think can be again pushed back to dehydration). So . . . where am I . . . a walking time bomb of sorts. Most of the time I can ignore it, but the past week or month, the diabetes is affecting my vision, which is not uncommon, but they tried to do a retinopathy exam on me recently, and it could not even be read. So . . . fortunately I have reached out to my ophthalmologist and she is going to try to get me in yet this week to see what we can do. My eyes are an important part of my livelihood at this point, and that is even more the case when I am teaching online, asynchronous remote.

As I have noted, I know how fortunate I am, but today I am feeling a bit overwhelmed and defeated. Generally I know that being here is a blessing and I am blessed to have a job and do something I love. I love when the light goes on for students and they understand something they did not, be it about writing, working with someone while managing their internship and to see how they begin to develop their professional identities, or seeing how they move from being a freshman to a graduate student and professional (when I am fortunate enough to be there for the process, it is such a wonderful experience). One of the things I am well aware of is how blessed I have been to be there at those moments of poignancy. Sometimes it was a funeral, sometimes it was when a life seemed to be crumbling around them. Sometimes it seemed insignificant like someone was looking for a class or meeting someone on a sidewalk. It is interesting how, in my piety, I believe God work’s through us, for us, and yes, even in spite of us. During the past couple years, I have been fortunate enough to experience things I never expected like having an exchange son, traveling back to sort of retrace my roots and see many of my childhood friends, or reconnecting with both family and friends from the beginning of life. During the past half dozen years, I have been blessed to travel and experience things I could not have imagined and see countries and beautiful people who have made my life so much richer. I am grateful beyond words. From the people at Costa Coffee who blessed me with their kindness to a musical quartet from Ukraine; from my Russian student and her family to one of the administrative staff at UJ, I continue to see how incredible people are. Today is one of those days I wish my grandmother was still here and I could speak with her. She could always help me to see the positive in things. She would be quite old at this point, and it would be interesting as I have, as noted recently, lived longer than she did.

I seldom think about this, and perhaps I should consider it more carefully, but I imagine (and I am not trying to be morbid) one day the homeostasis in my body, which is so incredibly fragile because it has had to adjust on the fly will fail to adjust and that will be it. That is not something I want to happen soon, but it is something I am comfortable in realizing. I still have a lot I want to do, not just in this very calendar year, but beyond. I am not willing to quit, that is for sure, but it is tiring, and today, I will admit, I AM TIRED. I think earlier in my life, much as anyone, and in spite of the multitude of things that seemed stacked against me, I took life for granted. Contrary to my best friend, who passed over 5 years ago, and shocked me when he, shortly before he passed and the last time I saw him, said, “I never expected to get old.” I am not sure what I expected, but I did not think about passing as a young man. Well, I am certainly not that now, but I do not consider myself old either. I am reminded of the words in the funeral liturgy that state “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I am not ready to hear this words, if we hear them when they are spoken for us. I am not ready to simply stop, I have too many things I still want to accomplish. Perhaps the problem is I do not want to slow down. I guess that was the case from the outset. I could not even wait to make it to 40 weeks. I simply needed to get going. Perhaps pacing might be reasonable. Perhaps, slowing down is prudent, but I do not want to. There is so much to see and learn, and experience. There is so much I think I can still do in the classroom or beyond. At this point, I can certainly say, I do not know when or how it ends, but I hope it is still some time in the rather distant future. I hope this blog did not sadden anyone. I will be okay. Regardless what happens, I am blessed in so many ways. Thanks to all of you who take time to read this blog in the various venues or here in WordPress. I am blessed by your thoughts, your wishes and your responses. Steve Walsh, the former lead singer for the group Kansas, did his own album once upon a time and there was a beautiful song there he wrote about his grandparents. He was blessed to have Robby Steinhart the amazing violinist for Kansas work with him on this album (Schemer Dreamer). We are part of our generational process, and I will always be grateful to the Grandmother, who was the first mother I remember. She loved me deeply and unconditionally and I am still fortunate that she was my Grandmother and first mother.

Thanks as always for reading,


Being an American . . . Not as Easy as Perhaps We Thought

Storms are a Reminder of our Insignificance

Hello from my study on the acre,

As I grew up in the early 6os and into the 70s, certainly our country was coming of age, so to speak. We were in a different world and the United States was understood quite differently than it had been certainly up through the First World War and coming out of the Second. We were a world power in a different way and the 48 contiguous states that were America when I was born the country was still figuring out what and who we were. That might sound a bit unreal to many who are coming of age today, but it is true. In my life, in terms of a national identity, as a younger elementary student, we had elected our first Roman Catholic President and yet, this young vibrant person (or at least that is how we understood him) would be President less than three years before he was assassinated. There have been attempts on Presidents’ lives since, but fortunately, we have not lost another President to assassination. However, that was a turning point for our country and certainly for the Democratic Party. Much has been written about that (e.g. President Kennedy was not as civil rights minded as we might think, until he had no choice; he was a hawkish President in terms of the military and Vietnam, Cuba, and the Russian Missile Crisis bear that out; and many of today’s social issues would have been non-starters for the Catholic President, partly because he was just that, and also because those issues were criminal at that point in our country.), but I believe the fact that the next non-incumbent to run on the Democrat’s ticket was Senator George McGovern and he probably ushers as many of the liberal traits of even present day Progressivism as anyone. It might also be worth considering that the next two Presidents after JFK were both forced from office – Johnson by Vietnam and Nixon by Watergate. By the time President Carter is inaugurated in January of 1977, America is a very different place. We no longer trust our government; we no longer believe we are undefeatable (both from Vietnam and from the soon to occur hostage crisis in Iran) and the Cold War with Russia has many in the country wondering if we are headed to an unwinnable war with our Soviet adversary. By the time I was in my 20s, it seems our vision of our country as a place to be proud of had taken some significant hits. As I move forward, this is in some rather broad strokes, but

I remember by the early 80s being told when we were in other countries as tourists it was not a bad idea to have a Canadian flag lapel pin on your jacket for safety. I can say I considered it, but I could never bring myself to do it. That is not a slap against our Northern neighbors in anyway, but rather as a Marine veteran, I could not do it. I remember being told that we would stick out as Americans as we stood on the corner in East Berlin without saying a thing and that we needed to be careful (this was 1985). I found myself wondering why being American was problematic, but then for the first time I wondered what is the image of America? The 1990s had some elements that were a somewhat redux of the 1960s though we do not perhaps see it as clearly as we should. I have read and watched a number of news pieces and videos the also put the events of the last four years squarely unto what happened in 1995. Again, there are a number of news stories across the political spectrum that have made connections between Timothy McVeigh and what happened in Washington DC in these past weeks. Likewise, 1994 makes the benchmark when the GOP captured the Southern White vote, and that has not really been pushed until Georgia in this past election. I have noted this in a number of posts, but I know that most of my generation believes we are strong, patriotic, faithful, hardworking, caring, and fair people (and I will note that would be white people, which of course, identifies me). And yet, let me put it in a different situation, and one I know personally.

Kris, my younger biological sister, and the one adopted with me into our new family, was a lesbian. She did not identify as such until 1978, but that was still much earlier than many people, and she was forced to do so because someone was going to out her in her unit in the Army. So she left the service, having served with distinction, and was, in fact, the Outstanding Service Person on her base the year before. She never really managed life with that degree of success the rest of her life. Neither of our parents were prepared nor were they capable of accepting her for who she was. I know looking back that this was something she struggled with from puberty on although growing up I did not understand why she seemed so different to me. My mother’s way of facing Kris’s sexual orientation was to not face it. If you did not speak about it, it did not exist. What my mother did not realize is that her unwillingness to face Kris’s reality was an unwillingness to accept Kris. On the other hand, my father, somehow believing he was being a faithful Christian, was determined to get her to repent of her sin and be a heterosexual. He thought he could somehow convince her to change. Again, what that did was create a sort of bifurcation of their relationship that was untenable.

Back to the GOP and the South. The white takeover of the South was nothing new; the difference was a certain arrogant honesty about the racism that the 1960s questioned and (as I post this at the end of a week celebrating the Reverend King and the inclusion of an incredible 22 year old poet laureate.) even the progress of the 1960s Civil Rights could not overcome. It is interesting to realize that both Jesse Jackson and David Duke ran as Democrats in 1988, but by the 1990s Duke, the former KKK Grand Wizard would be a force in Louisiana politics. I believe the 1990s is as schizophrenic a time in our politics as we might have ever faced, but because the economy was doing well, and there was still some modicum of bipartisanship, we failed to see what America was becoming as most of us were content in our little bubbles. In the 1990s, some of the people who found their way into the establishment of politics were campus agitator Bernie Sanders, the late Congressman John Lewis, Bill Ayers gets a PhD, and William Jefferson Clinton was an anti-war protestor who becomes President (Pulver, 12Jan2019). By the time 2000 comes along, I believe we have entered a new political situation that creates a tension in this country that most Americans are incapable of understanding or managing. The rise of specific events that asked/required white America to face their marginalization of non-whites, and primarily blacks (e.g. Black History Month, MLK Day, as well as the significant change in the music culture). The Conservative Right as well as the Evangelical Christian movement combined to fight back. Pat Robertson, and evangelicals like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Bakker create difficulties for the Christian Right and that continues even today with the fall of Jerry Falwell Jr.. It is amazing to me how many people argue conservative Christian ideals, but subscribe to as well as practice a Puritanical Religiosity. I realize that phrase might be a bit surprising to you, but consider what each terms means and think about how often what we profess in public and practice in private do not correspond. When I raise this issue with many of my students and then offer an example of how it might work, they are generally shocked by the truth of the argument.

There is a theology noted as liberation theology and certainly elements of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant faiths, and more recently, the black AME Church or others, have raised the importance of the social justice element of faith. Jesus regularly took on the powers of the church and their own religiosity. Most of the Sermon on the Mount has a strong liberation theological bent to it. We are more comfortable in hearing a warm fuzzy God, if you will in the Beatitudes, but they were not meant to be comforting nor should they be today. I believe there is a strong parallel in what is happening politically and religiously at this moment. And all of those who want to shout “separation of church and state” need to come to the simple reality that that phrase is nowhere to be found in the constitution. We cannot march God out when God serves our purposes and put God way when we do not want to hear or listen to the prophetic words that might convict us in our arrogance. The same is with our politics. We cannot argue we hate socialism when we have Medicare, Medicaid, stimulus checks, PPP, unemployment, SNAP, or a host of other things. Some of those including Federal or State Financial Aid for college or any other things that are distributed by our governmental agencies. We too often want all the benefits, but wish not to pay for them. We are too often simply selfish. That is our human nature, and our sense of entitlement, something we accuse young people of, is engrained in our America First attitude that was so supported in our recent past. We are not better than anyone else, nor are we worse. We are simply a nation to whom much has been given and earned, but we are also accountable because of that. That is scriptural also. The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer again come to mind for me. As Bonhoeffer was knee deep (or what would be neck deep) in the assassination plot of Hitler and imprisoned, he began to consider the role of the church in a profoundly serious manner. On the occasion of Hitler’s 50 birthday, the Reich Church swore an oath of allegiance. Loyalty to Hitler was paramount. Bonhoeffer and members of the Confessing Church would do no such thing, but Bonhoeffer saw the church as a servant community and one that needed to be involved in the secular issues of human life, not as a “dominating” or I would add a policy seeking entity, but rather as a calling to servanthood, existing for the good of others. That is not an easy calling, and I believe it is one we too often mistake as believing it is our duty to lead rather than serve. The same can be said about our politics. Leading in the world is not dominating the world, but serving as a resource and, perhaps, yes, that beacon or lantern that is part of our incredible Statue of Liberty. Liberty is not liberty if it only provides to the few. I heard this on NPR the other morning, so the words are not mine, but they are important. Someone said, “A great experiment takes great determination.” And so it is. If we are going to come together, we will not agree on everything, but we can still respect and realize that an election of another President in part of what our country has done for over 240 years. There will always be a winner and a loser in our elections. That is how America was formed and developed. I know that I felt kicked in the gut both in 1980 and in 2016, but I accepted the result. I would question when I believed it necessary and I will not agree with everything President Biden does. As I have noted in a number of my recent blogs, I want to reach across the aisle. It is important to realize that Congress has its same people, with some difference in the power structure. Will the two branches of our government really work for the good of the people? That is a difficult question because I do not believe that has happened for the better part of 20 years. Perhaps we need to as people model for them. Perhaps, we need to consider what we want in all branches of our government and not just in the Oval Office. It is difficult being an American because it is complex. Or so it seems, but perhaps being decent, thoughtful, and fair with everyone we meet might be a start. I know some of my former classmates and students are not happy with the change in administration, but it is where we are. Can we see if a Biden administration really does get a pandemic under control? Can we see if the Congress might work in a more bipartisan manner than they have over the last decade plus? Can we believe, regardless who appointed the Associate Justices, they will adjudicate in a thoughtful and fair manner considering all the complexities of a case? If we are willing to treat each other with the sort behavior we would hope of them, perhaps it could set an example. It is difficult to be an American, but I am glad I am. I think of a song by Styx way back in their early time where they were considering the Bicentennial of our country and what 200 years meant in terms of responsibility. We do have a responsibility to ourselves and the world . . . in the terms of Bonhoeffer, we need to live together.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you a blessed time as we work together for a better world.

Dr. Martin

“Life is hard, but so very beautiful”

Hello from my office at the University,

It is a difficult day in the history of our country. This is not a partisan statement nor is it meant to be political; it is a simple statement of fact – because the House of Representatives has voted, for a second time, to impeach President Trump. This vote was more bipartisan than any other impeachment vote in our history, but that is not to say there is some great bipartisan effort to move in this direction. Let me begin by saying this. I believe that every person who stood outside the Capitol and protested the counting of the Electoral Vote had the right to do so. It matters not whether I agree with them that the election was somehow fraudulent, for they believed it to be so. A number of people believed what was provided by certain members of both the Congress, the media, and by President Trump himself, and they stood up to argue this part of our electoral process. Again, the comments made by all people since November 3rd have had some effect on what culminated as the event at the Capitol on January 6th. It is for those reasons indeed our national life is hard. We are divided and we are hurting, but there are some things to consider in all of this. I am not a Constitutional Scholar though I have spent a lot of time considering the role of argumentation as a Rhetorical Scholar. The arguments made on both sides of the political divide have consequence. If there is anything I struggled with today is how many Congressional people today voted as they did because of fear. I note that because some of the 10 Republicans who chose to join the Democrats noted they chose to not be intimidated. There is also what is being reported about soon-to-be Former Senate Majority Leader McConnell position and what he is saying about an impeachment and trial. There is so much more, but I have just listened to the video statement of President Trump. I have only one word: yes! It was one of the most Presidential statements he has made in four years. Under duress? Yes, and are there things still missing? Yes, but for the moment, it is what we have. Perhaps we can hope for more. Maybe that is my idealism that seems to always appear. However, I agree . . . no more violence. We can make arguments about timing, but I am fine with where we are. This statement was important. I want to say this for those who believe I cannot support him, I completely support what he said about violence and will leave it at that.

Now comes the difficult part. Can we move beyond him? Can we move toward being citizens, regardless political persuasion, who are willing to consider country before party? Of course, some will, and to some degree appropriately, ask what does that mean? For me it means this. Our elected people in the Legislative Branch will have to do what they do. We have elected them and what they do is supposed to be in the interest of all of us. I understand the difficulty of that statement at this present time. I need to focus on what I can to do reach across that aisle for those I care about, but who see things differently than I do. I need to ask their opinion and be willing to listen before I speak. I need, when necessary, to disagree, but do so kindly, carefully, thoughtfully. I need to think about the country it seems we want our young people to have. Certainly, where we are now with the lack of decorum, respect, or simple decency is not what we need. I am not afraid of honest debate about where we are as a country. I am willing to say we have a serious problem. The lack of trust, be it in the other, in the media, or by the willingness to see conspiracy behind every blade of grass creates a dangerous atmosphere. It undermines more than trust in something, be it the individual or the social fabric, it destroys hope in something positive or the possibility of anything better. It would be easy to give up; the actions of our country for more than just the last five years seem to indicate we have lost our ability to work together for the mutual benefit for either ourselves or our children and their children, but I refuse to believe that. Why? – – because I know the beauty of people if we allow them to do what is in their better heart of hearts. I have been the recipient of that goodness more than once in my life. One of the most important things I understand in my life at this point is our mutuality, our interdependence. We do not accomplish anything of substance without the help or input of others. That is a fact. If anything good is to come from our lives it is through our interactions with others. It is through our willingness to work with the other. This does not mean that all of those interactions are planned, expected, or even necessarily pleasant. That is how complex this idea of beauty is. Sometimes it is out of the depths that our cries fall upon the ears of another, a person kind enough, wise enough, courageous enough to lift us and listen to our pleas for help. Sometimes, it is us being willing to be attentive enough, kind enough, and yes unselfish enough to see the needs of the other before our own. If this past year and our battle with COVID has revealed anything to me, it is our interdependence and the profound reality that we are in this fight against this invisible enemy together.

Earlier, while listening to a statement from the World Health Organization and the critical things occurring all around us, the running comment thread had numerous comments about COVID being a hoax; that no one has really die; that everything about the virus is a lie. These comments absolutely stun me; I am simply speechless. If it is not true and there is a hoax, or no one has died, how does that square up with the obituaries, the refrigeration trucks, the nurses, doctors, and anyone else working within the medical sector who merely goes to work each day? . . . can you honestly in some bizarre stretch of imagination say they are all in on the hoax too? For God’s sake?? I am beyond words. I am convinced we have entered a time where most things we have held dear, reasonable, or appropriate are suspect. The time-honored traditions of being thoughtful, discerning, and open to possibility have been trampled, but the how and why are not as clear to me. So many times I have listened to students say they believe life was easier or it used to be and my general argument has been that is a just a perception, and we know the significance of perception. And generally I was not convinced they were accurate. However, as I write this today, I find myself reconsidering that statement. Perhaps it is more difficult, but why? That is a very different question. I think it is, in part, the consequence of information overload. This has been of concern for some time, but is it really there is too much? I think it gets back to something I speak with my students about every semester. When you are researching something, it is important that you look behind the sources themselves. Who wrote it? What makes that person credible? Who is paying for their information (and that is not necessarily money paid to the writer, but also to who is bankrolling the site)? What is the purpose of the article and who is the intended audience? All of these questions need to be considered before you are willing to post that somewhere. That is why there is so many issues with what is posted. So it is not the voluminous pages as much as it is the quality or veracity of it.

In the aftermath of our Epiphany Day (January 6th)- and it seems so ironic that the attack on the United States Capitol happened on Epiphany – there is so much that has happened, and it seems we are only getting started, but the suspension of President Trump from a variety of platforms is an incredible double-edged sword. I understand the rationale of the platforms in our national situation at this moment, but the role of social media and its power is currently immeasurable. That is the reality of the social media-verse. Therein lies the problem because they are private companies. They have the right as a private company to do what they do, but that makes the Zuckerbergs, the Dorseys, the Bezoss, the Torbas, the Matzes each the ultimate puppet masters of sorts. Once they decide and do what they do, is there any reconsideration, and how is that decided? This is a serious concern. This makes life much more difficult because we have become so dependent on their platforms. The internet developer noted that he was not particularly pleased with what was created, and I can certainly appreciate that reticence. Yet, we are certainly not putting that genie back in the bottle, but can we step back from our technological dependence and once again fathom writing in a more “old-school” manner? I took the time to write and send Christmas cards this year, the first in quite some time. It was a labor of love because it required me to think about each person who whom I send a card and understand why they were important in my life. I should have sent more, but I ran out of cards. And I made two trips to the post office for more stamps.

I should return to the quote that I have chosen to use for this blog post. This is a quote from Abraham Lincoln. It might not be one of his most famous, but it is perhaps one of the most substantive when you consider what his Presidency was trying to manage. What I appreciate as I read more and more about Lincoln is this rather meek, or at least introverted, man had an incredibly strong sense of principle. If you research his presidency, you will see he was trying to balance a desperate world and a profoundly difficult personal life. I can imagine there were moments he had no place to turn except to his God. I can imagine this tall and somewhat formidable person falling to his knees wondering if divine intervention might be possible. The struggles of the Union in 1860 have more parallels to our world now than some might realize. If you take the time to do some research, you might be stunned at the parallels. We have a divided country, one between rural and urban America. We are divided between those who believe we have a right to a white society and those who believe we are a much more complex tapestry today. That was slavery in the 1860s and it is a remnant of Civil Rights still not realized today. That is the reality of our racial divide. We are racially divided, plain and simple. That is a difficulty and it is something we must figure out as a country. It is something we must figure out as humans. It is something we must be honest about. I believe the most profound consequence of COVID is many of our inequities have been exposed to a degree never before seen. There is no where to hide. There is no carpet big enough to sweep it under. And that is good, but it is simultaneously painful. We must step back and consider what it means to be a country of equity, fairness, justice, and yes, a country of law and principle. Each of those terms are ideographic, which means they are complex and they have immeasurable baggage behind them. We need to understand more completely what they mean if we are to move beyond this difficult time.

This is where Lincoln was, and is still, so profoundly wise. In difficulty there is beauty. What does that mean? It means it is necessary to see the goal and understand that the path to things like equity, fairness, and justice are necessary to create something that makes it possible for people to dream and believe in hope. It means that we are truly a society of human beings who desire a society that allows all who put an honest effort in to see progress. This is not simply some idealistic end game. It is building on the belief that we are all equal in the sight of something bigger, a Creator if you will. Scripturally it goes like this: “To whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). This is a tough verse. It does not begrudge your success or your wealth, your talents or your abilities, but simply says if you have it, you are expected to be gracious with it, even more you are required to be gracious period. We have lost that attribute too often. In our propensity to reach our ideal of individual freedom, we believe what we have accumulated is ours. Our incredible selfishness is contrary to the gospel. That is simply the way it is. The beauty of our lives is to be shared. That is something I believe Lincoln had somehow figured out. In spite of the difficulties he faced as our nation’s President, he was able to find the beauty in life. Can we step back in the midst of this difficult time and find the beauty in our lives? And then can we share that beauty with those around us no matter who they are? I know it is easy to become disillusioned, but I refuse to give in and not search for the beauty. I know it is there because I experience it daily. As America we must realize we have been given much, but much is required. It is interesting to me as I listened to an old song by REO Speedwagon the other day, it seemed like it could have been written during the past year. From their live album a song called “Golden Country.” I remember blaring this out of the widows in Holling Hall many an afternoon.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you peace.

Dr. Martin

Why argument/debate/questions are crucial

Hello from my office (at home that is),

It is almost 10:30 in the evening and I am beginning a new post. First that is abnormally late for me to begin, and I am quite sure I will not finish, but I have also just finished dinner, which is also uncharacteristically late for me because I seldom eat late at night. So how did this happen? I got my second shingles shot on Friday and it has turned me pretty upside down. It is not as much a pain thing, which is what happened the first time, but it has caused me to be lethargic, feeling run-down, and caused me more indigestion (almost like a flu) than anything I have ever experienced from a vaccination. I am not regretting the two-part process, but getting through it has not been enjoyable. So, I have taken multiple naps each day, which has thrown my entire sleep pattern out of kilter. If you thought I ran crazy hours before, it is now beyond that. One of my former students, debate and forensics team members, and generally all-round good guy texted me at about 4:00 a.m. this morning and I was awake. The student called and we spoke until after 5:00 a.m. That is not the first time someone has tried to contact me in the last week at 0-dark-thirty and I was awake to take their phone call. So as I spoke with another former Wisconsin colleague this evening while cooking dinner, we commiserated our national atmosphere and we spoke honestly and thoughtfully about where we are, trying to come to terms with both the where and the how. I am not sure that we came to any earth shattering conclusions, but we did agree that these are difficult and desperate times.

Today, in a continued thread between, and with, a former colleague classmate and me, I saw something I have realized, but finally saw it more clearly for what it is. We grew up in the same area of the state of Iowa, in terms of both in the Western third, though I was more northern and he more southern. We are similar in age, and I believe he probably grew up more affluently than I. I do not know that for sure, but knowing his family background, it is a relatively safe assumption. We have disputed a number of issues over the last few years and at one point, we were no longer connected on Facebook, and I believe I reached out to him. Since reconnecting, our conversations have been cordial at times, respectful of the other, and then in terms of politics not so much. In fact, he argues that my requirements for writing correctly, thoughtfully and carefully smack of academic elitism and that because I ask him to be clear, I am being disrespectful or unfair. As a writing professor, I guess I can argue it is an occupational hazard, but that is not really what I feel. What I do feel is something I say to my students regularly, and this is true particularly in my professional and technical writing classes. Unclear writing or communication is unethical. I believe this because it affects the person reading it and trying to make sense of it in ways that have consequence. The same can be said about argument in general. The reason – and this is often the case – there is a struggle when debating another is you are at a point of stasis. What is that? It is where you have a point where little can be accomplished because you are not really arguing the same point. For instance, let’s remember when we were younger (or if you are college age now) and your parents argued when you came back home you needed to be in the house at a certain time. Coming home, returning from college, it is always difficult to be back under the rules you were earlier in your life. So your parents tell you to be home by such and such a time. You are restricted like when you were in high school, and you believe you are beyond that. What is the rationale you use to disagree with their requirement? What is the reason they use for the requirement? Let me begin with them. After you disagree with their request, they might argue something like “as long as you live under our roof and we are paying your college tuition, you will do as we say.” Is that a valid argument? Well, no, but not for the reasons you might think. The reason it is not a valid argument is it is not an argument at all. It is a statement from a position of power, and it has nothing to do with the reason they want you home at a certain time. Likewise, if you say, I do not come home to some curfew at college, so I am old enough to not have to do it at home is also not an argument. It is you trying to exert your power. There is no winning an argument from other side because it is about power, and as parents, particularly if they are still supporting you, you do not win. But then there is that issue too. What is the purpose of an argument, it is not about winning, it is about coming to consensus. It is about the facts of something and seeing where there is commonality, where you can from a place from which to move forward. Arguments are based on fact, and in our national debate right now, there are sound-bytes, inaccurate telling of facts, and little listening to the other, regardless which side of the argument you seem to fall right now. Honest, even passionate, debate is essential at this point in our national conversation, but honest debate requires research and backing one’s self up with carefully and thoughtfully structured debate. That is time consuming, but it is beyond just necessary at the moment. The fabric of our democracy hangs in the balance. I do not believe that to be a hyperbolic statement. This past week has revealed that in an overwhelmingly desperate way. Someone sent me a video yesterday, which I guess has been making the rounds. It was the video of Ashli Babbitt,. the Air Force veteran, who was shot and died inside the Capitol. It was stunning to me. It was tragic to me. It was perhaps even life-changing for me. I have listened to some of her Twitter rants and read some of her material and I certainly do not agree with much of her political leanings, but this is a 30-something veteran who has now lost her life. I understand what she was doing was dangerous, and I believe incredibly ill-advised, but I am still devastated that a young woman died at the hands of the very law enforcement those many in that building probably believe they support. That is a pitiful irony of her death.

My college classmate wants to argue that because I come back with facts and arguments based on research that I am an elitist, and by that implies that I disrespect them. I would assert precisely the opposite. Because I believe arguments need to be challenged and any argument I put forth needs to be challenged I try to make sure that my position is based on fact, but I am simultaneously passionate about it. There are times I have had to concede points and that is what true argument accomplishes. It moves us to a place of consensus and establishes a position from which all involved believe they were heard and valued. It is always difficult to admit when you are passionate about something that you are misguided or misinformed, but that is because we have been trained to win at all costs. Independence is not about winning and neither is individualism. Independence comes at a high cost, but that is what democracy allows. Individualism is based on support of the collective whole as well as the trust that individualism does not erode the collective good. There are a number of ironies that are inherent in the struggle we are currently engaged in as a country. I also realize that is from my viewpoint, and there are many who will disagree with me. I continue to struggle with the reality of last week’s Capitol siege, but I struggle with the aftermath as well. And that is on a number of levels. Currently, my thoughts about the reason it occurred are all over the place, and I am not currently willing to put that into writing. I need to keep thinking and listening to both sides. Just as importantly, where we go now is just as muddled for me. I understand the validity to some extent in almost every argument that is currently posited in terms of what is the best course of action in the next 10 days, the next 100 days, the next four years, and the list could go on, While I have never been interested in political office, I am surely not interested now. My heart goes out to anyone who must deal with the consequences of last Wednesday.

It was not lost on me that it was the actual day of Epiphany when all of this occurred. The day where light shown into the darkness. Nothing could be more accurate. There is a darkness in our nation and there is a hatred that we are all guilty of, that is not a political thing, it is a human thing that uses politics to express it. I have read pretty vociferously since last week and I made myself read Newsmax to understand more from those I do not generally hear from. It was an important thing for me to do. I have read FoxNews for some time, because I enjoy reading it? NO, but I need to read, listen and think. I read things from people I respect and have known for years, but I wonder how they are where they are, and I believe they probably think the same of me, but as I noted in my last post, it is imperative that we find out individually how to listen to the other and be willing to engage. Argument and debate are fundamental to democracy, but respect and decency are foundational to being able to argue or debate. How have we become so disrespectful and hateful? That is not as difficult a question as one might think. If one feels disenfranchised, devalued, disrespected, and ignored, they become angry. They believe they have little to lose in their vitriol. However, none of us are righteous enough to believe we have the moral high ground for some righteous indignation. None of us. What I learned as a student at a number of levels, undergraduate, seminary, or working on a PhD is the more I knew the more I realized I do not know. There is so much more to any argument that what is initially revealed. There is so much more to the other side than we are generally willing to hear. We are in a difficult position as a country. That is true. We are divided in ways perhaps not as extreme since the election of 1860. Abraham Lincoln faced an untenable choice in his desire to preserve the Union. His standing on principle split the country and a Civil War ensued. And yet, we know, and at least I hope we know, that was the correct choice. Some images from this past week are evidence that not everyone agrees, and more accurately, they never have. My classmate identified as a white nationalist today, rather than disagree with them, I asked what they believed that identification meant or implied? I asked the consequences of that identification. I want them to come to terms with that moniker. I know what I believe, and I am quite sure I know what many of my Black, Latino/a, or Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Bengali, or Turkish students might respond. My whiteness gives me privilege, but it does not give me the right to abuse that privilege. In fact, I will argue it gives me more responsibility to be fair because I am afforded things undeserved because of my skin color. I will assert there has not been a more profound moment in my life to speak out on behalf of those who are not given privilege for no other reason than they do not fall into the place of privilege.

I believe we need debate; we need heart-wrenching soul searching. I watched a number of videos today of arrests all over the country in response to last week’s events. Again, the irony of law and order arguments as they were on the receiving end of that were quite stunning. It cannot be swept away with all the other things left behind that 5 people died in the process of that day and the next. It should not be ignored that a veteran of the Capitol Police took his life later that week. The video of the black police officer allowing himself to be chased up flights of steps to lead them away from an unguarded door should not be ignored. There are numerous people who were heroes that day, and that cannot be argued. We will never know most of it. The argument of who we are and what we have become is certainly up for debate, but as important is the debate of who we want to be, who we hope to become from all of this. I know there are good people on both sides of this political divide. And while we are divided, I believe there are many more of us, regardless of party who hurt deeply by what is happening. It is time for all of us to listen first, ponder and then try to figure out a way forward that includes the greatest number of people working for the greatest good. It is not an easy task, but it is a worthy one. I am reminded of the Prayer of St, Francis and its significance for now is palpable.

I wish you all peace and comfort in this difficult time.