Thinking Critically in a Spontaneous World

Good early morning,

It is 3:43 a.m. And I went to be around 10:00 or so, and in a pattern that is more normal than what I have done lately, I am awake though it is early. This past week I have had nights where I have slept more than 8 or 9 hours straight, which is beyond rare for me, and one night, with little more than opening my eyes and rolling over, I slept 13. That has not happened  without the help of alcohol (which was earlier in life) for probably 40 years. Yet, I do feel rested and after reading the news and pondering the rather bizarre range of events for this day, I find myself waking up on this 4-20 completely unadulterated, which again is a change from earlier in my life. Spending most of my days around late-teens and early 20-somethings, I can assure your many will consider the significance of this date in a rather fuzzy state. In spite of that fact I was in Hawaii in the service, where more potent herbal matter was available, I think our options for vegetarian smoke were not nearly as dynamic or capable or changing our day as the current green matter readily obtained for general usage. I should also note it is 8 years ago today I interviewed before and with my current colleagues. The plethora of events and significant changes in my life during this time make it seem much longer. I might also note that 4-20 was my parents’ wedding anniversary. In addtiton, if you do not know the origin of the present 4-20 celebratory rationale, it might be interesting to look it up. Fox News, ironically, had a news clip on it today.

The connection, and conversations of late, which transport me back to my Iowa town have also been reminiscent of a sort of time-warp experience (and I am not a sci-fi person – am not, nor was I ever a Trekkie), but that has been helpful, revealing, healing, cathartic, and simply enjoyable. It has taken some thinking and careful (but not difficult) reflecting. Amazing how some of our most essential traits never change, but we can understand how they affected behaviors or actions from our earlier life. While somewhat, at least initially, shocking, time and distance allows the rose colored glasses to lose their tint, thereby exposing our pitiful failures in those moments we were most vulnerable. As noted in a previous blog, the maturity aspect of my being always seemed to be bringing up the rear in my human development. Perhaps what is happening in this current situation is the opportunity for me to make amends for my earlier deficiencies or my completely irrefutable bungling. What I know is it has been helpful to accept or own that significant defalcation from 40 years ago.

Understanding or accepting our missteps or inadequacies is never easy, but I believe that is because introspection is frightening. True introspection leaves us bare before ourselves, and when we are completely, totally, unabashedly honest, there is no where to hide. We are simultaneously frightened and freed. We are allowed to come face-to-face with both the inadequacy of our humanity and yet understand the miraculous nature of what and who we are, something given by a creator, and you can understand that in whatever terms you find most helpful. It is sort of like those students who will be walking across the platform receiving degrees. The number of seniors who have come into my office a bundle of emotions and thoughts during the past few weeks is substantive. They are frightened. They are excited, but most of all they are sort of laid bare. They are uncertain of their futures and this uncertainty forces them to think a bit more intentionally than some will during this Block Party Weekend. The world into which they “launch their little barks” (and they are Huskies) is a very different world than the one I was entering in 1983 as an undergrad. We were in an economic downturn as I was graduating. In spite of the misguided belief that the Reagan White House had us economically humming, reality was something quite different. Look up the interest rates or unemployment and a few other things. What students are understanding is their missteps in that EGGS’s class, or PSYCH class, or MATH class has come back to haunt them. That GPA was hurt more than they expected or imagined. That semester where they sort of took a dive did not disappear and the long-term result of those extra beers or other mind altering issues, or perhaps the stress of external factors, took its toll.

The past couple of days there have been actual articles in the national news about the complexity of being a millennial. It is true that it is harder to be an 21 or 22 year old now compared to 1977 when I was there. An article noted that “[i]n 1975 only 25 percent  of men (which is an interesting gender note) ages 25-34 had an income less than $30,000 per year. By 2016 that share rose to 41 percent of young men” (Ali 2017). Articles I have read note that more than 1/3 of all college graduates “plan” to return to their parents house to live after graduation. This is something we would have never considered. Living at home was the worst of all possible options. I was so determined to not be at home by the end of high school graduation (1973) that I entered the Marine Corps,  not a typical decision for a 12-year-old-looking-17-year-old-barely-100-pounder-with-overgrown-ears. While there was little critical thought that went into that decision, I was fortunate that the long term consequence was much more optimal than I ever anticipated. I had opportunities because of that decision never thinkable Even to this day, that honorable discharge from the Marine Corps means something more powerful than I ever perceived possible. In my rhetoric class this week, I noted the rhetorical concept of proairesis, the power we have of “considered decision making.” That considered decision has been demonstrated to me again as I continue to manage some things that have been a long time coming. That considered decision as I watch from 1,000 miles away as my mentor and friend somehow manages to wage war against that which works so hard to take him, but he wages that war in a manner that all I see is grace, strength, and inspiration. Mary noted how they are supporting Dan in every aspect of his remaining moments. It is so difficult to read and yet, I know how important it is for them at this time. Life is the most amazing oxymoronic thing we have. We love it and hate it. We wish for it and deny it. We plan for it and we neglect it. As some of you know, my dissertation was a rhetorical analysis of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is an interesting theologian for a multitude of reasons, but when he was a pastor in London, he noted the following when speaking about death.

He wrote, “Why are we so afraid when we think about death? … Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace. How do we know that dying is so dreadful? Who knows whether, in our human fear and anguish we are only shivering and shuddering at the most glorious, heavenly, blessed event in the world? Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death” (Bonhoeffer). Can we transform it? Can we see it as an ally rather than an enemy? To make this transformation requires more than merely faith, or so it seems. It takes thinking, planning and accepting. It requires us to imagine something better than what we know in our partial and limited perspective. There is something good about knowing the hour or the time, but, if we are aware, we often retreat to denial of the inevitable. We would rather imagine anything other than our finitude. Perhaps the gift of these past months for me has been to consider the reality of beyond life as we know it. Perhaps the gift of seeming to regularly question my mortality of late is to be less frightened of what many feel is the alarming question of “what if?” Before you think I have fallen off the deep end of morbidity, please reconsider. I still have plans, and even long-term plans, but I think what the last months have reminded me of is that adage of no guarantees.

The spontaneity of our world should work to remind us of this very adage. Things are changing, progressing, or reconstructing so quickly that we are generally unprepared for what is coming. As a consequence, we will grasp onto anything we can, hoping for some sense of security. Yet through our grasping, our desperate gropings, we miss the significance of the moment; we fail to realize that it is in that very moment we need to pause and take stock of what is essential. We need to think. Too many would rather we do not think. Too many would rather we get caught up in our desperation, merely trying to survive. Without critical thinking, which requires time and effort, we are like the bottle that has been tossed into the proverbial sea. Without critical thinking, we are simply bouncing along, hoping and praying someone else will find and save us from our lack of thinking. From our obsession with needing to know everything at every instance, we have little time to step back and consider what is important. Through our capabilities to know almost everything, anywhere, anytime, we find ourselves overwhelmed with data and information. Ironically we know very little, almost any place, and at every moment. When we are overloaded with images, words, sounds, and (you can add the next thing), we have no time to think and ultimately we have even less time to realize either who or what we are. We are more interdependent than we think. We can listen to nationalistic pronouncements of putting  ourselves first, but there is a consequence. We can claim we have things under control, but seldom is that the case. While I am sure this sounds a bit cynical to some, I believe there is something within us that offers a different option. There are times when we find our way to see the bigger picture, and thank goodness we do. There are times when we realize, by thinking, that all is not lost. There are times we can be reminded that there is goodness in both the other and in our creation. Those are the moments to which I cling. Those are the moments when I am compelled to dig down and, in faith, believe there is something larger, better, and more salvific than we might readily see. Indeed, I believe in, and have, hope. I am reminded of a video and an amazing group of musicians that once remembered our responsibility to each other. That is the video I offer. It reminds me to once again think, and to think critically. In the midst of our spontaneity, take time to pause; take time to think critically, and then believe in the better. The artists here have reminded me of the amazing life I have had.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The More I Learn . . .

Hello from the house,

Sometimes, it seems just as I think I begin to figure things out, I realize how little it is I seem to know; and more profoundly, or even more frighteningly so, the miniscule number of items or circumstances  I can actually control. This past week has reminded me once again of the intricate way the negative feedback systems and the various elements of our body are so interdependent. Over the past 96 hours, I have felt more vulnerable and more overwhelmed than at most any time in my life. Even in spite of some of the dire diagnoses and battles I have faced in the last two or three years, I have thought that my life and its existence to be more tenuous than ever before. Doctors’ appointments, prescriptions and the regiment of vitamins have seemed to overtake my life. To be frank, I don’t like it. The vulnerability I have felt since December is both beyond scope and severity than with any other battle I have faced up to this time. Well, on a positive note, I do believe my doctors are in good communication with one anothe. Furthermore, logically,, it appears there’s a reasonable path forward; some of the symptoms this past week honestly had me wondering if I wake up in the morning. That has been disconcerting, at the very least and then other times I have been damn  well frightened. I know these past months helped me understand my disease as well as the complexities and consequences of it more completely than I ever have. And perhaps it’s my age and what seems to be somewhat diminished strength to fight it that has me feeling more compromised than I have ever have. Perhaps it’s because it seems to be affecting a significant number of major organs none of which you do without. Perhaps it’s because two people I know well spending years around them have  either finished their days or seem to be nearly there. Mortality has hit me in a way that I cannot escape.

It’s also reminded me that there are things to do, pieces to finish up, and realizing that I probably will never get it all done. I’ve tried to reach out to certain people and they promised to get back, but busy lives get in the way and you realize where you  lie on the priority scale. Lest one think of oneself more highly than they ought, words or promises broken can remind us that we are not as important that we might want to believe. It might seem that one wants to wallow in self-pity, but that’s not the case. Is it more my willingness to give up some idealism, something I’ve held onto my whole life, which in this case might allow me to more easily let go of things that I do not often let go of. In some cases it’s things and in some cases it’s people. I learned long ago it is easy to let go of things. Two divorces and losing most of the worldly  possessions had taught me that things don’t really matter. In fact, I’ve accumulated way too many things again. It might be easier just jettison and dispose of some of them. People, on the other hand, are something quite different. One of the things that I’ve tried to maintain in my life, but not always perfectly, is to remain loyal and to reach out to people again and again. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, or once again maybe the stark reality of seeing life for what it is, I’m ready to let go of some things. Yet, I know myself, and even when I push away, most often I feel guilty. Maybe it’s because I’m trying to minimize the hurt, but releasing someone for letting go can also hurt them. If I focus on my own heart, my own hurt, am I being selfish, or merely attempting self preservation? I’m never quite sure. I certainly know there are persons to or from whom I’ve closed myself off, but they are few and there was surely some time between one incident (or person) and the event (or the relationship) that seems to have precipitated that distance. So I certainly know this is a two-way street, and to claim otherwise will be disingenuous. I also realize that some of this is busyness, if you will, but again on both sides that only goes so far. It is just a matter of priorities and intentions. For me, at times, it is a matter of fear, which creates a sort of paralysis. It’s a matter of embarrassment and trying to overcome a path or circumstance that was created as a consequence of my failure. I remember in seminary coming home one day and quite literally crying because I had been blown off, or so it seemed, by a classmate I considered to be a dear friend. This was no average person;  this is a person who is stood up at my wedding. It was one of those times that Susan, my first wife, provided me with a stunning insight. She said, simply, “You have a sense of loyalty to others and you expect the same from them. But not everyone is like you and you can’t expect him to be so.” The second sentence is probably a bit of a paraphrase, and more grammatically correct than initially spoken, but that’s my own quirk, which, by the way, is ironic as I am going through and editing this mistake-filled posting. This editing indicated I am feeling better and can focus a bit for the first time in a week. However, what I have realized in the many years since, she was correct. While many say I am still loyal, and perhaps to a fault, I’m not sure I still deserve such a moniker. Sometimes I believe it’s just my own insecurity or fragility that gets me in trouble.

I need only look at my own current situation and realize how focused I have become and the day-to-day tasks of managing my health and the necessities at school every day, feeling that there’s always more things on the list than the things I’ve accomplished. I’m quite sure that other people’s lives are the same. But there is still questioning priorities and for some reason I’ve always attempted to make people who have blessed me or caused a profound change my life to maintain a high enough priority to stay in touch with them. Much as Susan said, I cannot expect other people to do the same thing. I know this logically.  but emotionally I struggle. And when I take pause, the reason for such a struggle is not difficult to understand. It is that need to belong  and to matter. It is fundamental to we are as humans. Even the most introverted person needs community. We need to know that somehow we matter, we make a difference, and that what we have done was not done in vain. Yes, if we depend on other people for such validation, we create quite the dilemma for ourselves. In the past couple days, it would’ve been my father’s 102nd birthday. For anyone who has read my blog for a while, you’re aware of how profoundly he has influenced my life and many of my traits come from him, in spite of the fact that he adopted me. I remember speaking at his funeral, and noting that his three families were there: his home family, his work family, and his church family. Those were the significant elements of my father’s life. He always had something to say about the conditions of the world and the world around him. That was, in part, I think because he grew up in the depression and five children slept a little two bedroom house. He took little for granted and promoted hard work and keeping one’s word. While he lived his life somewhat simply, he understood the complexity of this world. Again I would imagine that was because he had been in the service and served in the European theater in World War II. It is hard to believe this year will be 20 years that he’s been gone. . . and as I’ve said before, I will repeat, he keeps getting smarter. He never stopped reading; he never stopped listening; he never stop learning. Certainly,  the Mike and the Mechanics song that I posted in my last blog would work for him today. I still smile when I think about him singing in church. He had a terrible voice, but he loved to sing. I smile when I think of our Saturday ritual of washing cars and shining shoes. I smile when I think of how often he worked in his yard and wanted it to be perfect.

Perhaps the best part of writing and thinking about my father is it has improved my mood. While my health is still a struggle this morning and breathing without congestion or wheezing seems to be out of the question, at least for the time being, it is a beautiful day and for the moment I am sitting on my porch staring at the traffic and wondering how I missed the person with whom I was to go to dinner. I have emailed him saying please come back, but he’s not the easiest person with whom to stay in contact. So I’m not sure what will happen. But sitting and relaxing looking at the trees just beginning to bud and things finally starting to green up, has done wonders to help my spirit. For the most part, it’s a good day. It is certainly my hope, that I can see notable progress in my current health situation. I hope the end of the semester goes smoothly and productively. There is still much to do, but I need to keep plugging away. I need to thank my traveling nurse for her continued help and willingness to offer her insight and wisdom. The help means more than words can express.

It is an Easter Day shortly after noon, so I will finish and hopefully get enlightened and inspired for the coming week. If you’re with family and friends,  I hope you have a wonderful day. If you’re alone, I hope you will know that you make a difference, even in your solitude. To my father, thank you for all you did in my life and for what you taught me. I still love you. This video is for you. You loved his music. I offer this to you and others who have somehow seen me as unforgettable.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (Michael)

We all need Vacations . . .

Hello everyone (well not quite),

As a break from grading and packet reviewing, I am going to write a blog that will be posted in two different blog sites, but both sites are important. First, there is my long standing blog here, and then there is a blog that is available on the site. What is Galtin Travel you ask? Well let me tell you. It is an online travel company that my Dominican family and I have opened. Yes, you have read that correctly. It is an online travel company? Why online because it is much easier to put together and it does exactly what we want it to do without all the overhead of a brick and mortar place. So . . . why might you want to work with our little company? Let me offer some ideas and insights. First, if you are getting to this blog post by my Facebook site, you have access to my photos and there are numerous photos of my trips to Puerto Plata over the past three years, and they will offer you some idea of just how outstanding the resort there is. Second, you have access to the web site now if you use the URL I have offered above. Third, even if you are not ready to go now, but are interested in a long weekend or a week before the end of the year, if you book the accommodation in April, we are offering a 20% discount on that accommodation. That is a phenomenal offer. We are offering you an accommodation at a price that is much less than if you went there and tried to book it yourself. How and why? Well because we own property there, we have options you do not have, and the why is because we want to provide an opportunity for others to experience the fun and relaxation we experienced there.

Why the Dominican Republic? First, it is not that difficult to find your way there. There are direct flights from JFK, Newark or Philadelphia to Puerto Plata, and also to Punta Cana. The length of the flight is slightly over three hours depending on from where you fly. The costs if you plan ahead are quite reasonable. I have found flights as low as 375.00 round trip from the aforementioned airports. Certainly the longer you wait to book and peak season can be more expensive, but planning ahead is always good. In addition, as far as accommodations at our little place, we have no blackout dates (with the exception of the Christmas/New Year holiday) and as long as things are available we can create a get-away for a couple or an entire party. We have from a one-bedroom studio, as you will see if you go to the website, to a 7 bedroom villa for 14, which will have you believing you have walked into a fairytale. That is how I felt my first time there and I was not even at the member level I am now. What is nice about this change is we can offer many of those same accoutrements for those of you who might book with us. Again, all of that is explained on the web site. The people of the Dominican Republic are happy people and the people at the resort carry that degree of happiness to an entirely different level. They will greet you with their indefatigable smiles asking sincerely, ¿cómo está? And if you do not answer “bien” or “muy bien.” They will want to know why and what they can do to make your day more pleasant. If you want a relaxing dinner in a luxurious setting, we have just the place for you (in fact there are a number of places). If you want to experience cultural dancing and amazing evening entertainment, we have just the place for you. When I went the first time, I remember titling one of my blogs “From Michael Jackson to Chocolate.” The Michael Jackson revue was unlike anything I had every experienced and earlier that day I actually went to a spa and sat by a fountain and sipped cucumber water and got wrapped in chocolate, which I learned is really good for your skin. I must say, it did not hurt my feeling to smell the wafting of chocolate as I walked around later that day.

Some of you might ask why the shameless self-promotion? Well, certainly it is hoping to make our little company successful and that is, in part, a financial thing, but that is not the main impetus. It is to share something I believe will make a difference in people’s lives. Experiencing another culture and finding the time to relax are central to being healthy. What I have learned through my travels, be it with my students, on my own, or with others, each trip changes me. I learn about other people, but I have also learned about myself. Sometimes, it is about language, and learning or trying to communicate in another language is both a bit frightening and amazingly gratifying. Experiencing that communicative process makes a difference in both people’s lives, and even if your attempt is less than perfect, it matters. Second, learning about their food is always a wonderful experience. Dominican food is wonderful. It is flavorful, and it is generally very healthy. The pineapple, the mangos, the coconuts, the plantains, and many of the meats are phenomenal. The grounds of the resort are unparalleled and with your VIP status for the stay, you will be able to experience care that is beyond your wildest dreams. This is not something I think, it is what I have experienced in my trips there. The sights and the sounds of the ocean beaches, the pools (and your own private pool if you have a villa) are spectacular. If you can get a group of 6 or more, the villa is certainly the way to go. There is more about that on the web site,  but you are always welcome to contact me and ask questions. I have visited Puerto Plata three times, and because of getting to know some of the workers and other Dominican people, I had the opportunity to visit some of the little towns outside the resort. There is a wonderful restaurant called El Cocinero in the neighboring little village called Maimon. The food is wonderful. It is a seafood restaurant that has freshly caught fish available daily. The family who operates this restaurant are hard working and hospitable and they are delighted to have you in their little establishment. Best of all, the cost of the food is beyond affordable, and when you return (because you will) they will remember you. Do you need to know Spanish? No, but learning a little is always helpful, and it is fun.

Why do you go on vacation? Often it is to get away or just have a change of scenery, but what if you could go where every little thing is taken care of and your all-inclusive fee means exactly what it says, “It takes care of EVERYTHING?” This is what we are offering you, and if you book it before the end of the April, the accommodation fees are discounted. Why not have an international experience that is not that far away? Why not actually experience a beach paradise that you thought was only available for people with more money in their accounts? Why not plan a trip that will have you wondering if somehow “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” found their way into your existence? That is what I felt after my first visit. It was not like anything I had ever done. I have spoken to some of you about this, but now I am putting it all out there. Those of you who know me know that I am more about giving than taking. This is really about offering you something that creates an experience that will be a life-long memory. This is about sharing with others what I was fortunate enough to experience myself. I should note that I did go to another resort in the DR the second time there. Somehow, I was fortunate enough to run into someone who was from the resort I went to the first time and we ended up back at the LVHC. I have not looked back and I am glad I didn’t. I want to offer the same thing to you. Please come see what you are missing. If you only have time for a long weekend, that is fine. I promise you that if you go once, you will want to go again. If you want to have a family reunion or a larger party, we can work on that with you too. We are certainly focusing on the smaller things at the moment, but that is because we want to make your trip as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Please check out our website again: From there you can look at our Facebook page, please look at and like our page. There is also an Instagram page that we would like you to tag and help us get your experiences out there.

Again, if you have more questions, please let me know. I hope you might find your way to book a vacation with us. Thank you as always for reading.

Michael (the travel agent and co-owner of a company)

SGS – Short Once Again

Hello from the GI/Nutrional Center at Geisinger,

I am currently waiting for a recopying of paperwork that I managed to misplace before I even got out of the hospital today. I am not sure how I managed that, but I did. I have been diagnosed with something called Short Gut (or Bowel) Syndrome, which is a direct consequence of the surgeries I have endured because of Crohn’s. It is primarily an issue of malabsorption of the intestinal tract. In my case, it is the combination of the removal of the large intestine (or total colectomy, which began in 1986) and the eventual removal of a significant portion of the ileum or part of the small intestine (which occurred completely in 1997, after reconstructing it in 1991 and again in 1993). For me the malabsorption is really no absorption because those parts of the intestinal tract are no longer present. The present treatment as it appears will include shots, vitamin supplements (of or for a number of things), a change in fluid intake, and a different diet. At least for the time being, I will not need parenteral nutrition (which would be vein feeding). The significant point in all of this is pretty simple. Once again, I have some sense of what is happening and why. Now I merely have to make the changes necessary to manage all of it. Most of my life has been about managing a situation where it seems things might have come up a bit shorter, smaller, or earlier than imagined.

Throughout high school and even into, and for most of, the service, I was the younger one, the shorter one, the smaller one, and probably, though difficult to say, the more immature one. All of those things had consequences for me. Being shorter created what might some call in today’s world bullying, but I saw it as a sort of teasing, and, indeed sometimes it had negative consequences. On the other hand it taught me how to cope; i learned how to manage difficult situations with both decorum and a sense of humor. That was significant because if I had been inclined to fight over most of it, I would have spent most of my childhood getting my ass kicked. My Great-aunt Helen once told me that I had developed a pleasant and pleasing disposition early in life (like before I was 2). Being shorter meant I was always in the front row in those group elementary school pictures. Being shorter meant that I was not going to be a basketball player and the fact I did not weigh three digits until I was senior in high school meant football was probably not a healthy choice. Instead, running and such were much more suited for my shorter, lighter physique. Then there was the fact that I looked even younger. Where I went to school, we had a junior/senior high school. Seventh (7th) graders were initiated, sort of like college freshmen and beanies back in the day. Looking as young as I did, I was still be initiated when I was in 10th grade. I remember going to a youth event for my church and being embarrassingly mortified when one of the older members of my youth group made fun of my minimal body hair when I was in 9th or 10th grade. Maybe that is why to this day, I have only been clean shaven twice since I was perhaps 23. I never really thought about that or made that connection. Starting school at the age of 4 seemed like a good idea to my parents, and probably to me, when I began kindergarten, but it had consequences when I got older, but was still one of the younger ones. Amazing that for the first third of my life, I was always that person: younger, shorter, smaller, and yes, still the immature one. That continued through my time in the Marine Corps. When I tried to enter the Marines, I did not pass the physical because I was too light. When I got to boot camp, I was named Private Chicken Body because I was so small. I was told if I lost weight I would be dropped to PCP (not a drug, but Physical Conditioning Platoon). Even when I got out of the Marines, I did not look like your typical veteran.

When I got to Dana, for the first time I was not the younger one, but actually one of the older. I was 24 when I entered as a freshman at Dana. While I had been to college before that first foray into higher education was less than stellar. When I started Dana, I was more immature than most realized, or more accurately, I was more frightened. I was afraid of failing again, and I was determined to not make the same mistake I had made previously. While those four years did a lot to shape the person I am today, there was still so much to learn. There was the need to believe in myself. There was the necessity of believing that I was worth something, that I was capable, that I belonged. Those maladies affected me more than most will realize. The maturity aspect of this is what I believe has been more inopportune for me than the shortness, smallness, or being younger. It seems, particularly into my 40s, that I was behind my peers. In my 20s that gap seemed to be 4 or 5 years, even when I was chronologically older. When I got into my 30s, and especially when I was a parish pastor, there was the necessity to catch up. In some ways, I did, but emotionally, not so much. This created more adversity. I remember having to work with so many people and so many things. I was theologically and practically prepared, but the little person, who was still such a profound part of me and that few saw, felt totally unprepared and inept. It created more problems that I have probably admitted in my personal life also. While there were ways I was ready to be married (and by that time I had been married for 5 years or so), there were other ways I really was not as prepared as I believed. There is an irony in that because while I was certainly older and more prepared in some ways, I was probably not any more prepared than she was, but I was viewed as older and wiser. It was not always true.

What I am forced to admit is that my immaturity certainly did things to doom that marriage. I know some who know both of us will say that I am being a bit hard on myself, and perhaps that is true, but I am not shouldering all the blame. It seems I must merely try to be more honest about my part in that failing. The other day I was talking about that period in my life and I have known for some time that while I believed I was handling things well, again, not so much. What I know is taking a position at Suomi at that time, while it seemed to be a good fit was anything but. Living in the dorm as I went through that divorce was problematic and even being in my own apartment the second year was less than ideal. Those two years also set a course with a bishop, to whom I referred in an earlier blog, that would be terminal for my calling as a pastor, at least in terms of ordination. Then I moved onto graduate school again, and toward a second marriage. The year between leaving Suomi and getting accepted to Michigan Tech was a brutal one, working as “the most educated server in the Keweenaw” did little for my self esteem, and probably damaged my liver more than I knew. I have often said all food and beverage staffs are dysfunctional families. That along with returning to being involved with the fraternity I had pledged as an undergraduate was a blessing and a curse to me. While I somehow managed grades and such, I did not manage responsible behavior and simply put, I tried to catch up on all the things I somehow believed I had missed. In terms of a rhetorical strategy, it did little for my ethos. Certainly, some probably thought me mentally ill or schizophrenic, and quite possibly, rightly so. I made mistakes in that time that I still regret. To get back to the theme for this posting, I fell short of what was expected and I was certainly a smaller person for it. By now I was into my 40s and honestly, I there were times I acted like an undergrad socially. Somehow academically, I did substantially better. Not surprisingly, I was in counseling this entire time. One might think a second marriage might have created a better situation, and in some ways, it did, but when the marriage created more issues, life was still a problem.

As I moved into the 21st century, I was still trying to figure out where I fit and who I was. That is a bit ridiculous for a person in their mid 40s, but it was who I was at the time. While again, I was successful in my professional life at this point, my personal life was in a shambles. In fact, my counselor at this point and I had this specific discussion. There is, as I noted a second marriage during this time, but I will address that in another blog at some point. I will say that I have had contact with my second wife recently and apologized to her for my failures. I am glad I was able to do that because it is about taking accountability for those choices. There are always ways to justify our mistakes, and certainly as humans we are prone to do so, but I think I am beyond that point. Simply put, I am a person who had (and still has) good intentions. The difference from the earlier Michael and the Michael of today is I allowed my immaturity and my things that I missed out on as a younger person to cloud my judgment. I wanted to experience some of the things I missed out on. With the older Michael, I somehow had my maturity  catch up with my chronology. I think perhaps the place that finally happened was in Menomonie, not in the first couple of years, but when I suddenly found myself caring for a new sort of adopted parent. I realized that I needed to do things better than I had earlier in my life. I needed to make up for what I felt was the failure of not being there for my own father.

I think I have always had some insightfulness into the needs of others and could see things that would help them, while failing to see the same exact thing in my own life. Again, somehow, my caring for the “little tornado,” as I still fondly call her, changed those things for me. Simultaneously, being in a new place professionally, and feeling a need to begin over, offered opportunities for me to finally close the gap. Interestingly, reconnecting with some and seeing things from a different perspective was helpful. Even in that reconnecting and exploring possibilities, I learned more about myself and what I needed if I am to care for myself. That was a new experience also. Most of my life I have probably vacillated between completely one side of the other, which is never good. What I am forced to admit it being short on one side or the other creates a situation that is seldom manageable. During the past 8 years I have been in Pennsylvania, I have finally closed the gap and I am probably where I need to be for the first time in my life. What I realize is I owe many people apologies for the failings, the mistakes, the inadequacies that permeated much of my life. I am sure I will make mistakes in the future, but it is my hope the failings will not cause others discomfort and struggles.

For the time being, it seems that I have a structure for my life and a structure for my health. Both things are helpful, and they are important. As I have told people, currently I have more doctors than I have fingers on one of my hands, but they are in touch with each other; as such I have an amazing team caring for me. During the past month, the care of others from students and colleagues to friends near and far, I am been blessed. Having the insight of a health professional who is also a dear friend has been my unexpected gift in all of this. The ability to ask questions and receive caring insight and advice has been both comforting and created a sense of security I am not sure I would have were the help not available. Speaking of other health things, as noted in a previous blog, one of my colleagues has passed on and the other is certainly in the closing days of his fight. Together they created a footprint on the English and Philosophy Department at Stout that cannot be replicated. In both cases, the loss is profound and life-changing, not only for their families, but for the scores of people they have touched across the country, and even the world. This is not hyperbole; it is the simple truth. As Dan has signed off on each of this letters to those of us honored to walk this journey with him, I leave you with this. Hug the ones you love. What amazing advice and what an important thing to remember.

While I have shared this video before, it seems appropriate in this time as I think of my mentor and treasured friend, Dr. Daniel Riordan.



To everyone else, thank you for reading and again, thank you for your thoughts and comments. I am blessed by you all . . . if I have offended or caused you harm in my earlier life, please forgive me.

Michael (Dr. Martin)

Show me the Way

Hello from my upstairs,

It has been a day of reflection and a day of feeling I am too far away from where I  believe  I should be. As I was telling my colleague, Mark, this morning as we shared our thoughts about Dan and Mike, or Drs. Riordan and Levy, a bishop might have demanded the resignation that removed me from a clergy roster, but he could not, did not, and cannot take away the profound and central part of my piety and soul that still has me providing pastoral care to so many people I meet. Certainly, I no longer wear the funny turned-around shirt and I’m no longer called, or referred to as, Pastor, but perhaps, just perhaps, some of the most significant and poignant ministry I have done has occurred in the Bible as Literature course, happened when I emotionally supported or demonstrated care for a struggling student, or lived the gospel in the manner that made someone reconsider God rather than ignore, or run from, God. In fact, it was 19 years ago this past week I was given a new commandment by an earthly person, one who enjoyed playing God, demanding I resign and forfeit my ordination. I certainly did some things to make him question, and for that I am accountable, but as many have said, he did not have to do things the way he did. Ironically, I had tried to resign the clergy roster only two weeks prior, but he would not accept it. I know now it was because I had taken his power away if I resigned on my terms and he couldn’t allow that. I have been asked more than once to consider applying to be reordained or reinstated, but having the title of pastor or the ability to do sacraments once again is not something I need, if I am to be fulfilled. There are certainly times I wish someone would just show me the easiest way to move forward, or as I tell my students, “please just give me the recipe card.” All too often that’s what we what. But there is a simple and profound problem with getting a recipe card; we are prone to blame whomever it is giving the card, especially when things don’t work out exactly like we thought. What does it actually mean to be shown the way?

I spent a good part of the day doing schoolwork @FogandFlame. When I was by myself I had my earbuds in and I can just disappear into my work. Part of the time was spent however again being somewhat of a surrogate father or providing some sense of pastoral care without ever really mentioning God. It’s not really that I am particularly brilliant or even very amazing, but I think I’m honest and genuine and the advice I give for the most part is accepting and pragmatic. It’s not a matter of rocket science it’s a matter of being honest with the situation and accepting accountability for the choices we make. I believe many times it is merely showing a person’s pathway, making it clear to them that there are options.  To help them believe they have a right, even in the midst of difficulty, to make a choice that is hopefully in their best interest and in the interest of those around them. seems to be the right thing to do. Too often we are paralyzed, unsure if there is the best option, and by our paralysis we lose our own way. This happens way too many times. One of the things I most admire about my former colleague and forever- mentor, Dr. Daniel Riordan, is how he has managed his diagnosis with prostate cancer from the very beginning. He faced, and fought, this disease gallantly, honestly, and on his terms, to the best of his ability. Through his letters, his emails, his posts, and his indutibly beautiful spirit he has shown many of us the way to move forward and live life as it is meant to be lived. In his fabulous gift of photography and his willingness to share it with others, he reminded, and will continue to remind, us of the beauty, which is often directly in front of us on a daily basis. I still remember the first time coming to Dan’s and Mary’s house I was introduced to the newest hatchlings of bald eagles. I remember looking out from their amazing view what a town that woukd change my life. I have often said that the job at Stout prepared me for my job now. My being in Menomonie introduced me to Lydia and the consequence of Lydia can never be overstated. Little did I know the way I was being shown. I should note that the Riordan house was always a point of refuge for me, and that has been a wonderful gift. Mary and Dan are an amazingly wonderful couple. It was apparent, even the last time I was in their house this past January how much they loved and supported each other.

This morning I wished a belated Happy Birthday to someone who turned 23 years old. It reminded me of when I was 23 and I wondered momentarily what I was doing. It is an easy year to remember because of the consequential nature of it. That was the year I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team called Daybreak. It was the year I was blessed to meet the Swenson family, my first host family. Through breakfast conversations and return visits, somehow I did not quite follow my intended path, or the one I was imagining at the time. Indeed, Lee and Judy Swenson persuaded me to consider other options. Perhaps the most important thing they taught me was about family and sharing and the willingness to open themselves up to other people. To this day I am grateful for their involvement in my life. And yes, for more years that I want to admit (and only because it will reveal age),  we are still friends. We still chat on the phone and those conversations are so treasured. Hard to believe the four-year-old I first met is now also a college professor just as I am. I do not want to tell you how old that makes me feel. I am pretty sure that is not what either one of us saw at that time. How do we determine the way? I am a firm believer that life is not deterministic. While I am certainly a cause and effect person, a process and product person, as I’ve grown older I’m quite sure that there’s more left to chance than we could ever imagine. Is that a bad thing? I’m not sure it is, but it certainly creates many more questions. For us as individuals, perhaps it is a reminder that we have less control than we think and we should exert less control over others then we often want. For me, what is more frightening is what it does to us societally, or as a country. By our votes we give power, and yet we have very little control. I already know that someone say we can just vote differently next time, but two years is a long time, and four years might change the course of history. What is the way and how are we shown a reasonable path when there are so many visions? And of course everyone wants to believe theirs is correct. Theirs is the way, just ask them.

Well, I have laid in bed working on this a bit longer than planned. I need to get some more things off my plate. I have gotten up, cleaned up and now back to @FogandFlame. As long as the day is productive, the week will go well. I have a number of student conferences this week for my Freelancing class and I need to do some things to prepare for that. Then there is just the grading that still needs to happen. Grading is such a difficult thing. I am reminded of the conversation with and for students that tries to help them understand the difference between evaluation and assessment. Students are so grade driven, they forget that classes and education are about learning and competency. When I ask students the difference between education and work I get some interesting answers. Education is for the sake of learning and understanding; it is not about skills, it is about what you have incorporated into who you are. If someone is learning, comprehending, analyzing, the grade will generally take care of itself. There is no one way; there is no recipe card. When students ask what I want them to do or implores me to tell them what to do, there is an issue? When they are more interested in the number of words, pages, or sources, they are asking for a recipe card. They want someone to not only show them the way, they want someone to walk it with them. That is an interesting struggle between being independent and dependent. That is an entirely separate issue and something that seems to be an oxymoronic process for most of my students. Of course, we did not have the communicative options students now do. I remember the last time I spoke with my Grandmother. It was from a phone booth just outside of Atlantic, Iowa, late in the morning as I pulled over on my motorcycle and called her because I had failed to stop and see her. Of course, I did not know this would be my last words with her. There is that uncertainty again. We have no way of knowing what lies ahead. How do we know the way forward? Perhaps it is not the path, but rather the direction.

What I am painfully aware of today is the tenuousness of life and that those who are alive ahead of me are fewer in number than those who are behind me . . .  I am not elderly, though there are moments, and I am certainly beyond middle aged, so what am I? How do I understand the way or the direction forward? I know that I have some things squared away and in place, but there is still more to do. To whom do I turn for direction and advice? This is a tougher question than some might imagine because I am using giving advice rather than taking it (I can already hear some of you, so stop!!), but truthfully, the position of being an advisor, of being a surrogate parent, of being the elder, and of having a number of experiences has created a sort of interesting position for me. How do I reach out when I am uncertain, and to whom? I guess that will be the thing to ponder today, but for now, it is back to work. In the meanwhile, here is another video that offers some sense of my dichotomous struggle with being part of the church and being tired of the institutional aspects of this needed community. I guess it is not surprising that I find Bonhoeffer so compelling for many reasons.

As always, thank you for reading my blog. I have appreciated your comments and what you have shared with me . . . you all show me the way more than you know.

Bless you,


Feeling Better . . . And Feeling Blessed

Hello from the Acre,

It is amazing what technology does; it matters not whether we are talking social media and our daily obsession or whether we are referring to what happens in a dctor’s office, an X-ray room, or a same-day surgical suite. This past week I have been a willing participant in all of them. I was in early adopter of social media, but if I’m to be completely honest I had no idea how it would eventually affect my life, my teaching, and certainly my scholarship. For some it might be difficult to understand how Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram might be related to what I did in graduate school. On the other hand, for some of my graduate school colleagues and for my intellectual and academic soulmate, Dr. Timothy Oleksiak, and hopefully certainly the case for many of my students, the connection is like peas and carrots as noted so skillfully by Forrest Gump. It is also, in my opinion, a significant component in what had created the nationalistic fervor that seems to be so prominent in the world as we currently experience it. There is certainly much more that could be said about this but I will hold off. And I know that surprises some of you because I generally don’t hold off on much. . . . A week or so has passed and I cannot get this finished because so much is been on my plate. I have been in a doctor’s office daily for my B 12 shots, and for the most part, that has been rather non-eventful. The same can’t be said for an attempt for starting IV yesterday while I was getting an MRI. Honestly, I do not remember such difficulty growing up, but somewhere around my 35th birthday there seems to have been a change. At that point, my veins got a mind of their own and as soon as I walk into a medical facility, they decide to dive and roll. Yesterday,  however, might be a new record: four different people attempted nine times total. And some of those attempts were excruciatingly painful. Yet, all the same, by the time we’re done the tasks were accomplished. Today except for a few bruises and some telltale signs of a stick, I am OK.

Blessings come in many forms, but perhaps the most profound blessings are given through the people that we meet and the realization of how much they have influenced or blessed our lives. It is been almost 8 years since I left the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and more specifically the Department of English and Philosophy (and yes I know that is strange pairing within an academic department; I thought the same when I was there). During the past eight years, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on many things. Putting aside much of the hurt that was inflicted by one person in particular, and through the ripple effects of that person by those within the department. The starting elements of that healing began at a KOA campground in Paducah, Kentucky, as I drove my Harley from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania. And the times I’ve gone back to Wisconsin over the years I kept in contact with whom it seemed reasonable. There in the past 36 hours two significant people in that department with a long history of scholarship and teaching have both entered hospice. One is my former chairperson, who is an amazing scholar in his own right, and is also genuinely a kind and gentle person.  The other is the person of whom I have spoke in past blogs (or more accurately wrote), as well as my mentor, the person who help me navigate that last difficult and painful year I served there.  Together they have well over a half a century within that department, and the numbers of students and colleagues they have affected is profound. One of my most important colleagues here in Bloomsburg, preceded me both at Stout and as he and I like to say, he poached me away from there. More truthfully, he saved me. Yesterday we spoke about both of these people and how we had a somewhat reversed reciprocal relationship with them. His closer relationship was with the chair and as such this time and the loss of that person for him is much more personally profound. For me, it is the latter of the two. It was interesting for me, and helpful, to have that conversation, on a whole variety of levels. He and I had our own time to reminisce and get ready to mourn from a distance this change. To my former colleagues who read this blog, and with whom I’ve stayed in contact, please know that both of us hold you all in our prayers and in our own ways our hearts break with yours from a 1000 miles away.  To Sandy and Mary, as you prepare to say goodbye to someone whom you love so deeply, I pray that you might find strength and comfort in knowing that you do not walk this journey alone. That is one of the blessings we are given in community.

In terms of my own health issues and things that I’ve noted very specifically in the last couple blogs, we continue to do testing,; I continue to walk through appointment after appointment, hoping for and determining a plan on how my teams of doctors and my homeopath will manage my struggling yet resilient body and the long-term consequences of Crohn’s disease. Today I have begun wearing a heart monitor for the next month. As it is about 2:00 a.m. that I am composing this, my timeline is technically correct when I say last night, I was at an annual event that might be one of my social highlights of the year. The LBGTQA Comission on campus, had their annual gala and silent auction. It is the 9th year that I see many more of my colleagues from across the University’s campus than perhaps any other night. Last night they collected over $10,000 to support students on campus. That’s a wonderful thing.  However, as I walked around last night socializing and sharing stories,  it was impossible to not marvel at how amazing, committed and hard-working so many people are on a daily basis, and damn, this reminds me that somehow I forgot to fill out my Snyder amendment this past week. Oops. Another thing to add to my list. But again I am so blessed by so many people. A person with whom I seldom get to spend time, but I was blessed enough to have dinner with one night at the beginning of my third year here, was at the event with his wife. He is our athletic director and I respect and adore them both. I don’t think I’ve actually spoken to them with much more than a hello since they were over to my house for dinner last summer. It was a poignant reminder of how quickly things go and how little time it seems we have to be with those who matter. I had the opportunity to speak with the person, who is a newer faculty member, and she and her husband are the most wonderful couple. She recently gave a recital, and while I knew  she was a significantly talented musician, I have not been transported into another place while listening to music like that since I was in the Thomas Kirke in Leipzig in 1985.  Or listening to music air cathedral in Lubeck, listening to the music of Buxtehude in the very church he had played in and that was in January of 1981. And then there was the surprise of running into the niece of a colleague, who unbeknownst to me, had returned from a year in Spain. She is such a phenomenal young lady. Again, the opportunity to be among such astounding people should never be taken for granted, and to give thanks for such tremendous gifts seems so inadequate. And all of these gifts are just in my little corner of the world.

It is unfathomable that we are already to April 1st, and that is no joke, but the passage of time certainly fools us. It is also the day that my Dominican family and I are launching our little travel company. Called Galtín (Gaul TEEN) Travel, we are specializing in vacations to the Dominican Republic. In fact if you followed by this blog long enough, I have written a number of entries from there on more than one occasion. If you want to know more, please go to and check things out (If you get a password protected issue, that will change within the next few hours as we had it protected until launch). I can promise you an amazing time in a fairytale setting. An all-inclusive long weekend or week or 10 days, it is all up to you. You can go by yourself or with another person; you can take the family or group of friends and we can accommodate your needs. Yes, this is my unabashed advertisement. And if you book during the month of April and travel before the end of 2017, we are offering a 20% discount.  It is possible to get straight flights reasonably priced from JFK, Newark, or Philadelphia. You need to book your flight and have a passport. We’ll help you with the rest. I have traveled there three times now, and each time was more amazing than the first. It is honestly like walking around in a fairytale world for a few days where every need is cared for and every desire pampered. The current strength of the American dollar does not hurt a bit. Between that strength and the discount, there might never be a better time to book your travel.

If you go to the site, I have blogged there also about why I might undertake such a venture with my Dominican family. Together we hope to make a difference for others offering something that might seem impossible. In some ways it is sharing how we have been blessed together with others. Working with them on this process has been a learning experience, and there have been some minor bumps, but that is always the case when you do something the first time or when you try to move dreams into realities. It has been the hard work and many hours of pondering the actual doing. I must give credit to the two younger persons for getting things actually into a place where we can actually do this. Then there was additional rethinking, revising, and reconsidering that has gotten us to this point.  Once again, I have realized for most of my life, I’ve never really known what I expected or even where I was going. All I know is that I’ve been blessed in many and various ways, but many and various people. People enter and leave our lives sometimes because of our own changes and sometimes because of their’s. Two people who have profoundly influenced me, and my development as a scholar and a professor, are, in their own ways, preparing to leave and by similar paths. To both Mike and Dan, thank you for mentoring me and sharing what you have. To Sandy and Mary, my wish for you is a sense of comfort and strength in your time of sorrow. To all the children and the grandchildren, I’m sorry for your loss. I know all too well how difficult it is to lose a parent. I cannot help but feel both deeply sorrowful in their passing, yet profoundly blessed by their influences in my life. The interesting thing about being blessed by something or someone is that it is almost always unexpected and probably even more undeserved. These gifts actually occurs more often than we might ever know because we simply don’t realize how simply blessing are provided. It could be a gas station; it could be coming home and finding new people. It could be leaving and moving and losing and gaining at the same time. It has happened again these last few weeks as an unexpected reintroduction has come to pass. The conversations,  the sharing, the reminiscing, and the relearning has brightened up my days, lifted my spirits, and reminded me of how deeply I loved someone. It has transported me back to a time in my life where I was searching desperately trying to figure out who I was and where I was headed. It has been good just see how another person perceived me at that time. It has been helpful to know that what I felt, I did not feel alone. As I was blessed by their presence then I am blessed by their presence now. Once again I’m reminded that I never know what to expect in my life and the twists and turns it might take. But through it all, it is evident to me again that we do not walk alone. We do not fail to influence, or be influenced, by the other. So yes, I am feeling better, but more importantly, I am feeling blessed. The picture above is of a car I once owned. The video below is of a group whose concert I once attended. I still think Nancy Wilson might be one of the most attractive guitar players in the world. Just sayin’

Thanks as always for reading.