The Fear of What If?

Good early morning,

This might be a no sleep night if the way things are going now does not change . . . and the consequences of hydration, diuretics, and vasodilators might make the attempt to sleep a moot issue. I am seriously debating getting dressed and going back to my office. “Being of some use,” in a Homer Wellsian sort of manner makes more sense to me than lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, not to say there are not times that such a practice might be reasonable. It is just that I do not generally do so. In fact, most often when my head hits the pillow, soon afterwards, I am on another plane. There have been times in my life that I struggled to rest, like my last year of graduate school, or when I went through the divorce from Susan. I believed that I was managing things well, but I know now that was pure fiction. During both times of my life, I turned to music to calm me down and make sleeping possible. To this day, the sounds of Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai, in their work, Through Windows and Walls, is my go-to listening. I used it more times than I might realize in the past 17 years as my sleep aide . . . It is still the same day and I did take an hour nap or so around 5:00 this evening. The day was busy and continuous from about 7:30 this morning until I left campus around 4:15. I got quite a lot done and wrapped my head around a couple of issues, meaning I have a plan to move forward. There are still some things to ponder moving toward that hoped for end result, but time will tell.

It is hard to believe I have known for 9 years today that I would be coming to Pennsylvania for a second time. It is 30 years ago this fall I first made my trek to the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA as a newly ordained pastor. Ironically, that is not that far from where I live now, but I was quite sure when I moved to Michigan to begin my life as a campus pastor and beginning academic in August of 1992, I believed there was little chance I would ever call myself a Pennsylvanian again. Now it is the state in which I have spent the longest continuous period since I graduated from high school almost 45 years ago. I remember being simultaneously excited and frightened each time I found myself packing to move to the upper middle Atlantic. The first time I knew little about what NEPA, as the acronym was offered, had in store for a 30-something year old pastor, who had not been married all that long. I learned about Pennsylvania Dutch, scrapple, and how the cold here, while much less frigid, was much more penetrating and uncomfortable. I learned and incorporated words into my own vernacular like tissues or sneakers, phrases that might include something like “did you outten the candles?” Or “are you goin’ with?” Then there was the ability with a little different voice inflection to make every statement an interrogative. In fact, there were moments in the 21 year hiatus that people would sort of both inquire and state, ” you used to live in Pennsylvania (you can insert either a period or question mark and be correct.). So certainly something in my speaking tipped them off to that fact.

As I came to Bloomsburg, there was a different fear the second time. I had somewhat failed in my previous tenure-track position. I had failed in not only the marriage that was part of my first Pennsylvania experience, but had gone through a second marriage also. The health issues that had manifested themselves completely the first time I was in Lehighton had wreaked havoc on my body in numerous ways over the ensuing two decades and I returned with a permanency that had been a temporary during my time in Lehighton twenty years before. In fact, when I had left Pennsylvania in August of 1992, what I believed to be my situation with UC was only beginning and what I really was fighting was a much more difficult and serious issue of Crohn’s. I still had much to learn and a great deal more I would have to experience. I have learned so much in the 1/2 my life where surgery has left me with a modified digestive system. I have learned about the struggle between the public and private. I have learned about how my image of myself so affects what I imagine others might think of me. I have learned some about the complexity that affects those who suffer from IBDs and how too many, even those afflicted, believe it is either a positive consequence or a negative consequence. It is so much more and exceedingly tougher.

I can honestly say that it has been both the questions and conscious support I have received in the last months that I can imagine life differently than I have imagined it for the last 18 years. While there have been some moments and one or two people who have made me feel accepted in the time period, nothing like I have felt in the more recent past. I do not believe I have ever taken a picture of myself with my ostomy, and while I have not shared it on any small or grand scale, the fact I could even consider a picture was to move beyond something that has frightened me since I first had that as a temporary companion. To actually take the picture is like move from looking at a ledge from across the room to walking up to the ledge. I know there are additional things one might consider, but both of these steps are beyond anything I had ever imagined a few short months ago. The power of image when it comes to our bodies is not a male, female, trans issue. It is a human issue. It is not a while, black, brown, or Asian issue; it is a human issue. It is not a rich, poor, educated, less-educated, extrovert, or introvert issue. It is something we struggle with from the time we can imagine other people’s response to us to when we are beyond our youthful wonderful eat-what-you-want, I-won’t-gain-an-ounce, to the middle age gravitational-reality faze (which is not gender specific) to being told I remind someone of their grandfather now period of my life. Regardless the point at which we find ourselves, we hope that we can somehow make a person take a second look. Part of that is physicality, but I believe much more of it has to do with simple desirability. We want to believe that somehow we matter in a personal, in possibly an intimate way (and there was many types of intimacy); we want to know that we can be remembered in a way that someone will value us when we are in a different place. Even after we are gone, be it metaphorically or in reality. I think every human fears being forgotten or trivialized to the place there seems to be little that can or needs be said.

I have noted this in previous blogs, and because I live a very different life than my Uncle Clare did, I do not see us in the exact same position or the same light. However, I have said on more than one occasion that I feel at times I am turning into him. I am that somewhat elderly single person, who can be curmudgeonly, who people are inviting because they do not want me to be alone. Ironically, to specifically not be like him, I have turned down some invitations at times and spent a holiday alone. Treating it much like any other day. I do not confess this to illicit sympathy, but more in the spirit of disclosure. Disclosure is always frightening. I have confronted more fears of late than almost anyone knows. Surprisingly, it has not been nearly as difficult as one might imagine, and certainly more freeing than I could have ever anticipated. Yet fear never really disappears. And fear is powerful; it is also paralyzing. Henry Ford once wrote, “One of the greatest discoveries a [human] makes, one of [the] great surprises, is to find [they] can do what [they] were afraid [they] couldn’t do.” Fear can cause us to pity ourselves and it can breed a sort of complacent comfortability creating a banal reality that robs us of a more fulfilling and meaningful life. The longer we make our excuses, the harder the change to something else becomes.

I know that I am great in justifying why I did not get around to something, complete a bit more of something, or why I merely passed up an opportunity. Somehow I find myself considering possibilities or imagining what ifs with more optimism or hope than I have in some time. While that too is a bit out of my comfort zone, and it causes me some fear, I believe imagining for once in way beyond a proverbial blue moon or even a super blue moon, seems to be better than not imagining. For the first time, it is not imagining or trying to control or steer something, but is is merely managing the moment, and it is not so much managing as it is living in it. This is not how I usually do things, so I am learning as I go along. Is there a fear of the “what if?”. You can bet the bank on it. Yet, I am not afraid. I am content. I am enjoying the hypothetical, the theoretical. Sometimes it is more enjoyable than I could have ever fathomed; in fact, it is incredibly stimulating. I am pretty simple in some ways. I was even told I was a bit innocent in a recent conversation. Not a word I would generally use, but as usual, they were (and seem often to be) correct. I actually appreciate that. There is a certain comfort in when something is offered it can be believed. Especially when in the world we watch and listen to on a daily basis is more “fake” than the faker would ever understand. Having a place of truth and honesty, while always important, seems to have even more value in our post-2016 world.

So as I finish my thoughts for the moment, I am staring down 10 days of classes left. As I do not have finals in my classes, that is it. Actually I have 9 days of actual class. I have more meetings than I can shake a stick at. I have a boatload of work in these two weeks and other things to complete and manage, but a bit of focus and I should be okay. Tonight the new and old mentors for the COB LC came to the acre for a cookout. Some are graduating, some are continuing, and some are just getting started. There is so much to learn and realize from their amazing abilities and the important and honest work they do. I am so grateful for what they teach me. They are honest in their fears and address their what ifs with a sense of purpose. Some are headed into internship summers. Some are considering more school. Some are working as they always do. Yet they move forward. It is all anyone can do. For me, these past weeks and months of moving forward has been both a bit fearful, but much more exhilarating.

Good luck with the end of the academic year, and as always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Learning Begins Again

Hello from my corner of the office,

It always seems to be the case that when I believe, or begin to believe, I have in some shape or fashion figured out what my life is about, the fastball of fate whizzes by my ear. Not only did I miss it, I am not sure I saw it to begin with. The only reason I really know it happened is that I hear the snap of the ball in the catcher’s mitt and realize holy crap something just happened. I think life is much more often like that versus you see it all clearly coming down that 60′ 6″ in slow motion so you can knock it out of the park.

In the summer of 1968, I was going into eighth grade and I weighed all of 75 pounds soaking wet, and holding rocks. While my older brother was heading into his senior year of high school, I do not think he had thought about issues of the draft, the military, or the consequence of not going to college quite yet. He was busy being a high school student and had a girlfriend named Darlene, and she and her family went to our church. Ironically, and as an aside, I actually went out with her younger sister, Janice, once at about the same time (or age). Northwest Iowa was not a particularly diverse area, nor did it seem that particularly political during this monumental summer. Yet, on the other hand, the entire country was much more political than a soon-to-be eighth grader understood, and because college was not yet on my radar, I paid little attention to college campuses.

Some research showed that Ames was more public in their show of shock in Rev. King’s brutal killing versus Iowa City, which actually surprises me. For those of you who are not familiar with the Hawkeye state, or know of it now because of people like Representative Steve King, Johnson County, the home of the U of I, is probably 80% Democrat. On the other hand, ISU, fondly known at one time as Tractor Tech, is a bit more conservative. Ames had multiple demonstrations on that Friday, fifty years ago. What I remember is sitting in our living room of our house, in our very white, middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood. I am not sure I had ever spoken to a black person in my life at that point. The only thing I really understood about race was I should and would never use the N word. My parents were adamant that such language was strictly forbidden. I am not sure I even knew why, but I knew the consequence of such an utterance would be quite swift and it would be extreme. So on that Thursday night as Walter Cronkite announced the killing of Dr. King, and coverage began to show almost immediately the rioting in cities like Kansas City and Chicago, neither that far away or unknown to me, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., my parents did speak to us about the issues of race and safety. I do not remember much of their lecture, with the exception of being careful and being respectful. I have forgotten that we were headed into Holy Week at that time. I am sure the parallels of being a martyr for the poor and downtrodden were made (and appropriately so). At twelve I did not understand the significance of Dr. King’s place in society or what his role in civil rights was. I think there was a parallel between Dr. King for a 12 year old, white, Iowa boy and the significance in 2008, of President Obama’s election for the same basic 12 year year old, white, Iowa, boy. In both cases, I remain quite convinced the loss of one and the elevation of the other was much more profound for a 12 year old black child even with the differences in communication and coverage.

In the weeks since I wrote this first section, it seems there continues to be those moments, specific instances of memory about the significance of dates. On the 11th, my Uncle Clare would have had a 122nd birthday. My adopted father would have turned 103 yesterday. While 103 does not seem that old, 122 does. That 122 spans three centuries. Almost daily my students remind me of how small the time period they understand really is. My uncle actually served in the First World War. I think he did not seem that old because we grew up just down the block and he was always part of our Sunday gatherings. His address was 2213 and ours was 2354 and on the same street. The walk to his place was a regular event. While he had a curmudgeonly personality, he also had a good heart. He possessed a colorful vocabulary that grew more prominently distinctive as he covered the septuagenarian and octogenarian years of his life, and location created no barrier for his very earthy outbursts. When 1968 came along. He was in his 70s and had been a widower for almost a decade. I made the inquisitive 14 year old mistake of once asking him if he was dating a person he had gone to lunch with a few times. Beyond calling me a “little son-of-a-bitch,” the rest of his answer would probably require a parental warning for this blog post. It would be restricted or over 18. The last time I saw him alive in the nursing home, he had injured his hand when he punched his roommate, and he was mighty proud of that. However, he was a genuinely grateful person when people helped him. I think what most astounds me is that in the almost century and a quarter from birth until death, the profound extent or degree of change, which had occurred beyond what most might deem even fathomable. From technology on the large scale to individual realizations about the change in our social fabric, the sort of seismic scale of difference in that time period is beyond the solitary person’s ability to process. I ponder how anyone can realize the magnitude of changes one experiences in a lifetime and simply, as a general rule, I do not believe we are capable of doing it. Moving to the second of the April family birthdays, what amazes me most about my adoptive father is how much we are alike, in spite of the fact that he was not my biological parent. When people tell me I was like him, I am honored and humbled. He was a good person, a caring person, and a person who worked hard and tried to make the lives of those around him better. He was giving and thoughtful. In spite of all, I know he was not perfect. I think he believed if you worked hard and “kept your nose clean,” as he called it, things would work out. I am not much different in my outlook. What I find most important it that he accepted people; he certainly did not always understand them, and he was most definitely a product of his time. There are ways I am sure he would be shaking his head at where we are societally. He was much more conservative than I am socially and I am more conservative than he was fiscally. It is an interesting juxtaposition.

As I noted at the outset, my head is most bobbled when I think I have things figured out, but find out perhaps not. Something happens to change my perspective of get my attention once again. There are two things in particular that have happened. The first I will address, though this does not mean I believe it to be the most important, is health things once again. After a bit of regular calling and trying, I was able to get into the dermatologist. I went in for a mole that was growing and on my back, and whose placement was annoying when I tried to lay down. It seemed reasonable because of the changes to get it removed. Well, interestingly enough, while the mole was removed, it was not all that problematic. However, while examining my back, the doctor decided some other areas were suspicious. So some lidocaine shots later and the removal of 5 areas of medical concern (three on my back, one on my collarbone area, and a small one on my forehead), and some serious subsequent holes where the removal was done, I have the heard back on the pathology of the problematic places. They are all cancerous and one of the areas on my back and the one on my forehead will require some additional work. The forehead area will require MOHS surgery, which I have previously done. The area on my back will be more invasive and done at a separate time. The issue with the back area is that I was informed that cancer is quite aggressive and they will probably have to cut an area and then it will require suturing to complete. That is the one that most concerns me. I have actually just spoken with the scheduling people and I am scheduled for both procedures on June 20th. I have to go back for some other follow up before that. While there is a side of me that is able to say, “just take care of it.” There is another side that says enough is enough. In the big picture, however, I know that once again, I am fortunate.

The second thing that has sort of boggled my mind is how life continues to provide opportunities for me to better understand myself and to imagine possibilities that seem to be outside what I had planned or what I believed could happen. One of my former students from UW-Stout, one who has been part of my life since the first day I began teaching there, once asked me why my life had transpired the way it had. I told her it was because I had more pressing things on my plate that needed attention than what I wanted or what I believed necessary. In her typical way, she did not allow me off the hook quite that easily and told me rather emphatically what she thought. It would be interesting to listen to her if I told her what was happening in my life at the moment. What is happening you ask? The most truthful answer is: I am not sure what is happening, but I am merely living it each day and blessed by what happens. It is not often that you find a thinker who thinks in the same manner, appreciates many of the same things, and is about process, which I am all about. That sort of work and conversation and helped me to consider writing and publishing in ways I have seldom imagined or been motivated to do. That is an exciting possibility. There is the same rather unique sense of humor and the ability to laugh both at myself and some of the things that seemed mundane, but also humorous to me. As I go through my days I am blessed by thoughts, hypotheticals, theoreticals, and actuals. It is so astounding that in spite of whatever happens, I know that I have a better, a more blessed, life. Conversations, texts, and late night phone calls have revealed more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.

As we head into the final weeks of the semester, there is always more to do than there is time, but it gets done somehow. I am excited to finish up the semester and see what the summer brings. I have had a couple things added to the schedule that I could just as well do without, but sometimes we have no choices in all of that. There is yet another hurdle to jump in terms of health, but I do not see this one as insurmountable. Then again, nothing is really insurmountable. Part of that is because I do not really see death as an enemy. I do not say that in an attempt to be morbid, but rather merely to say I am not afraid. At least, I have not been up to this point, and there seems to be no reason to change that position now. That is a topic for another blog. As I finish the year, and this blog, life is good and I am feeling loved and blessed. One cannot ask for much more. Somehow, this video, and the original Imagine Dragons’ video of this is outrageous, but I decided this video was what I wanted to post today.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Making Sense of the Nonsensical

Hello from my office,

It has been a long day, but that is typical for Monday, but today has seemed longer than usual. I think it is because I am more worn out that I would like to admit. I think it is because I do not seem to have the stamina I once had. I think it is because I have become more dependent on B12 shots and other medications that I wish I was. I am trying to figure out how to get out of that spiral. I do need to get my shot this week and I know there is more sense to that than a lack of sense. When a certain part of your intestinal track is the only place you readily absorb B complex vitamins, and you no longer have that part of your anatomy, you are dependent on something more to help you out. For me, that has become shots. While the shot in an of itself is not that difficult, it is that I need to schedule them out and I did at least get them approved for a year in advance. There are also the regular blood tests and the vitamins that I must manage in other ways because my insides have been so altered. This past week I had to get reloaded on vitamins, prescriptions, and other necessities that characterize my basic life. I have to admit this past year has been something that has pushed my generally optimistic outlook on how all of this is managed. About a year ago I wrote about the complexity that was becoming more and more clear. Hydration is something most of us generally take for granted; while I have known this is not something I can do, I was certainly not ready for how extreme my awareness of that need would become.

I had worked on this blog a couple of times, but for some reason by various writing tools did not synchronize, so I have lost a significant amount of what I wrote, but somehow the title I originally created still seems more apropos than ever. During the past couple of weeks at most every level, there seems to be more “truth is stranger than fiction” than one could ever hope to experience. From a 60 Minutes show, where a porn star alleges she slept with the President (and there are more than a dozen other women who claim some sort of encounter with him) to daily stories of chaos at the White House, even if we are to offer some benefit of the doubt, there is little more than can be said that it is exceedingly embarrassing for our country. Even if there is some embellishment of the accounts, after his infamous taped comments, it seems unlikely that he is a choir boy in all of this. I read an article just today where it noted that more than half the country believes the President to be liar. So much for credibility. It is stunning to me that anyone can find the scads of scandal palatable. One of my students noted that the press has been incredibly unfair to President Trump. Even if I am empathetic to that claim at all, and maybe there is a jot or tittle, he has done very little to mitigate their contempt. In fact, I believe he thrives on all this discontent. Not any way to run the country. After vowing to make Mexico to pay for his “beautiful wall,” today I read that President Trump is floating the idea of having the military to pay for it. First of all, that would certainly go back on one of his signature promises of his campaign. Of course, former Mexican President Vincente Fox stated emphatically that would not happen. Over the past weekend, on another tweeting tirade, which seems to be a regular event. What seems to be lacking here is the Constitutional difficulty moving money from a military budget would cause to come up with an estimated $15-25 billion dollars is beyond what he can constitutionally spend without Congressional authorization. And you cannot just take billions earmarked in one budget and move it wherever you want. This is not the Trump Organization. It is the United States.

The second issue, which always causes an avalanche of emotion is the entire 2nd Amendment conversation, which is at least a foundational pillar of the past week’s latest march in Washington, D.C. and mirroring marches around the globe. The March for Our Lives, with estimates of 1.2-2.0 million people in the capitol alone,  makes it one of the larger protests in our history. What I do believe is most significant is that it was initiated by high school students who are saying enough is enough. It was also interesting in it was the largest youth-led protest since Vietnam. That personally gives me some hope. Again, however, I struggle with some of the backlash, and as a somewhat native Iowan, there is a United States Representative from there that continually frightens me. His bigoted vitriol should frighten more than merely his legislative district. The bigger issue here is we cannot seem to come together in most anything that has fractured us currently. I believe that the 2016 election demonstrated beyond anything most imagined how bigoted, sexist, racist, and economically how extremely discriminatory we are. That has come out in the responses toward some of the students who have stood up to say enough. We seem to allow professional athletes to do all sort of atrocious things (and I know some will argue this because there has been some change in that), but we will question the passion of 14-18 year olds and accuse them of not being genuine. Please?? Between a photoshopped picture of her tearing up the Constitution to disparaging her wearing a Cuban flag, though she is of Cuban descent, and a plethora of other criticisms, people seem to focus the entire movement on simply a 2nd Amendment struggle. If you are uncertain of some of this, please see the following article: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/parkland-students-find-themselves-targets-of-lies-and-personal-attacks/ar-BBKMqbL?ocid=spartanntp_edu.

It is also interesting that former Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens noted that the 2nd Amendment should be repealed. That will fire some people up beyond belief and there is certainly an irony that students calling for an end to gun violence would now be referred to as Nazis. Alex Jones, a conservative talk host whose methods of journalism have seemed to create much more division than anything positive, has spliced together images of Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg with Nazi war images and distributed it, arguing authoritarianism is always about youth marches. Since when does protesting for the safety of people get automatically pushed toward Nazism, but singling out all the various groups that are paramount to “the other” that our President did during the campaign or continues to do with yet another ban on transgender people in the military is not, or should not be equated to that Adolph Hitler convinced the German population to do to the Jews. Again, I am asking for a little common sense here. For a State Representative in Minnesota to refer to David Hogg as Supreme Leader Hogg  and speak about Hitler’s comments about youth, and then beg they not be connected is disingenuous at best, and plain out despicable more than likely. Again, the underlying principle here is about civility and decorum. While I do not have any specifics about the protest, there is something to be said when this protest had co-protests occurring simultaneously around the entire world. That says, in a fundamental way, that this was about so much more than a 2nd Amendment. It was about creating safe spaces and about saying what is has become almost a norm rather than an exception needs to stop. We should not be at the point where somehow a mass shooting is just another day in the life of the country. We should be outraged. We should realize that the level of killing on our city streets and our country outpaces most of the world (if not all of it), and I know I could look it up, but the very fact that I believe we are in this dubious position says enough. One of my colleague has spoken out rather vociferously against this violence with the passion she exhibits for most parts of her life. While I am not sure I am always comfortable with the degree of pathos that accompanies her arguments, I do not disagree with where she stands or the argument she presents, an argument that is deeply thought through and an argument that is based on logic and the most fundamental of our founding principles. She is under some pretty extensive pressure from a variety of fronts to stand down, but as much as I am not sure she considers audience as much as I might, her audience certainly does not seem to understand her, most in terms of the degree of pathos (logos or ethos for that matter) she brings, and they certainly do not understand the deontology of her position. My picture that is at the top of this post has a two-fold purpose. First, we are struggling to stay in, or find, spring. Second, there is not a snowball’s chance my colleague will be intimidated to the point she will back down.

Then there are simply the things you can plan and plan, but the best laid plans do go awry. I took my car in for the annual inspection. In spite of the other car issues, somehow, I had a leaking radiator. I hate car repairs. In fact, this is the longest I have owned a car for a while. Fortunately, when I purchased this one, I had also purchased an extended warranty. It certainly made 100s of dollars difference. I must say that the dealership I have worked with for 9 years here in Bloomsburg has been quite good in terms of service. As I finally finish this post, it has once again taken me longer than planned. It is now about 4:30 a.m. on an Easter morning, an April Fools’ Day. I do not remember an Easter and the prankster’s day aligning when I was a pastor, but one of my seminary classmates and I were noting it in a Facebook message yesterday. People who proclaimed the resurrection were certainly called fools beginning that first Easer morning. More than one person has spoken about what has been called the folly of the cross. The role of the church in society has certainly changed in my lifetime, and certainly the acceleration of the change has grown since I left the parish as a pastor. This past week, as I held student conferences for my rhetoric class, One of my students who is looking at Friedrich Nietzsche, as a rhetorician, stated that at least 50% of the students today or probably atheists. I’m not sure I agree with that, although I do believe probably a much higher degree are, than when I was in college, strong agnostics. I am not sure I find Nietzsche that sensical, but then again as my title suggests there is little sensical at the present time. During the past months I have listened to so much that makes little sense, either logically or emotionally, as someone who grew up where I did (in Northwest Iowa) has taken a much different path than I would. Yet, that is the profound complexity of free will. It is not about making sense; it is about merely doing as one’s own peculiar psyche sees fit. There is little sense to it often times, but then again sense is seldom common, and that seems more true today than ever before. To those who celebrate this most significant day in the church calendar, Blessed Easter; to my Jewish colleges and friends, I know you celebrated Passover on Friday and shalom on this most holy day. It is that tradition that I post my somewhat obligatory trailer or song, though the issue is a different one in the Jewish mindset, but it should be the mindset of all. In our non-sensical world perhaps we need more atonement and forgiveness for our seemingly inexhaustible ability to offend one another.

 

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Trying to Comprehend

Hello from Starbucks in the Library,

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Unexpected Travel

Hello from the Capitol of Canada,

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

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

Hello from our bus,

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Martin

“On the Road Again”

Good morning from Bydgoska,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Martin