More than a Dirt Nap

Hello from my office on a Friday afternoon,

Between meetings and a couple of other things (including grading), I am considering some things in light of my Bible as Literature course and wanted to write. This past week, my Bible as Literature student have asked interesting and thoughtful questions about life (and beyond), and while it is not a religion class, when you are using the Bible as one of the central texts of the class, it is not surprising they might ponder and ask things that demonstrate they are trying to figure out questions of context, authority, and authorship and how those concerns might push them to consider what they have heard (either within their church background or without a specific church background), be taught, or as part of their own maturing and growing process. I think I have been pondering a bunch of things in response to their inquiries.

Certainly, an element of that is understanding one’s mortality. If my adoptive mother were alive, she would be 98 years old tomorrow (she lived to the age of 68). In terms of my own life, it is 32 years tomorrow that I had my first major abdominal surgery, while I was an intern pastor in Big Lake, MN, at the hospital in Coon Rapids, MN. I still remember how terrible the prep was for all of that and how I learned quite positively that I was allergic to erythromycin. Most assuredly, other things have happened since then to remind me of my own mortality, and that is more a case of reality that I would have ever imagined. Today as I searched another situation, I found that another person for whom I have an unparalleled appreciation and to whom I owe so much for their care was my cousin, Joanne Wiggs. I found out that she has passed away and joined her husband Jim, who had passed only 9 months before. They were both so good to me. I am sad more than some know that so much had changed in a situation that I was not involved in either service. They were one of the last few people I visited before leaving the Midwest to come back to Pennsylvania. They had grace and charm (both of them) in ways few people ever have, and I imagine ever will. It gets back to some of what I addressed in my last blog about civility and decorum. I remember my father thinking that Joanne was the most consummate hostess ever, and he was correct. I am sorry they are both gone. The picture at the beginning of the post is my picture of them about 9 1/2 years ago.

That was a slight digression, but an important one. It is sad to lose people. This morning what I woke up thinking about was the idea of religion and dying. It was not a morbid idea for me, but rather one of systematics. I do have students in my BAL course who claim to not believe in God, are unsure there is a higher power, and imagine nothing occurring when one passes except we bury them and continue on with our life. Hence my rather stark title. What actually happens when we die? Do we end up in some sort of purgatorial, soul-keeping holding cell until a second coming? Do we die and immediately we are away that there is something beyond, be it heaven (or some kind of eternal bliss) or hell (for me, the condition where there is an absence of anything good)? Certainly the fact that a number of students take a Bible as Literature course can be traced to a number of reasons (and some of it is getting credits to graduate), but I think for many it is their first foray into making whatever faith they come to college with their own versus it being merely what their parents tell them to believe or model for them. I think what I realized this morning in my early morning puzzling was a sort of if there is no real God and there is nothing beyond our demise, then it really is a dirt name, and nothing else need be considered. One of the students working on their paper stopped by yesterday and asked me how teaching the Bible as Literature affected my own personal faith. This is another thing I have deliberated upon a number of times. However, I think for me that is one of the amazing things about faith. From where does it come (which I, of course, have some specific thoughts ~the power of baptism), but assuredly, there are those who argue that it comes from our own human frailty. It was interesting to listen to one of my students from another class address some of that very thing this past week. Because I no longer wear a clergy shirt, and formerly being a pastor is not something I generally address, when students find out that is part of my background, I get a wide variety of questions.

Yet as I have noted, teaching the Bible as Literature class might be the thing that most affects my own piety as well as the practice of that. Faith is best described for me in Hebrews 11:1. I said this when I was in seminary; I stated it as a pastor, and now as the professor, it has not changed. I think back to when I was  a Sophomore in college and one of the freshmen students told me they could prove that God exists. They thought they would have an ally in this bit older pre-seminary student. They were not sure what to respond when I told them they were full of S____T and that I did not believe them, promptly followed by challenging them to do so. There is little one can say, calculate or demonstrate that proves God with any finality. It simply does not work. However, that sort of logic also works the other way, there is little that can be calculated or reasoned that proves there cannot or is not a God. In addition, I will go as far to say that much of the damage done to faithful people or their faithful attempts to be faithful are done by well-meaning (and sometimes less than well-meaning) Christians. I call them evangelical bulldozers. They think they can rollover or flatten any dissension about one questioning how God works. Their arrogance frustrates me (my rhetorically correct response to them). Posolutely, throughout Christian history, the role of the church by its arrogance, its abuse of power, and its dissemination of doctrine that instills fear more than most anything else, has created more questions than it has perhaps answered.

This semester I focused on the issue of contextuality in terms of the Bible being written by specific people at a particular point in history, noting that all writing is affected by the culture in which it is created. I tried to help my students see some of the things they merely accept without question because it is in the Bible and why that can be problematic for them. I think the response of a student this semester to the temptation story in Genesis 3 will be a life-long memory. Suffice it to say when I asked how it was Eve spoke “snake” or the snake spoke “human,” my student was a bit perplexed. She placed her head into her hands and shook her head overwhelmed by the indubitably unexpected consideration my question created for her. My comment to all my students is the same, but in this BAL course, the statement is a bit more profound. I tell them regularly that God gave them a brain to do more than hold their ears apart, and furthermore, they should use it. I wonder in my own piety which God would I like to meet? What I mean by such a statement is that I know the Bible demonstrates (or figuratively illustrates) both a powerful and complex God. What are those specific moments when we would hope to have our Moses-type encounter with God? Where is God at those moments? Who is the God we would hope to meet? I think for the most part, I would like to meet God and speak with him at those times when most of what I see does not make sense. I think I would like to meet (and yes, arrogantly ask) God when I am those times where things seem the most unfair. Those are the times when I question God’s power or ability to intervene. Those are the times that the consequence of our supposed sinfulness most vexes me. I wish our selfish arrogance did not have so many consequences.

There is much more to say about all of this, but as we head this Sunday into the liturgical season of Advent, the paraments (the colored cloth in the chancel area) will be blue. Blue is a color of both comfort and hope. It is a season where the haunting music that foretells the Christmas story reminds us of what is coming. While I am not a proponent of Christmas in the stores at Halloween or before, after Thanksgiving the Advent season is actually one of my favorite times. I think that was something that started earlier in my life, but it was something that really was instilled in me when I traveled around Germany during the advent season in 1985. There is something about organ music and chorale music that will always life my spirit in ways few things can. Awake, Awake for Night is Flying, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Comfort, Comfort Ye My People are some of the things that come to mind. I think there is something haunting, and yet the melancholy of the season also has an undertone of hope. That returns me to my cousin, Joanne and her husband, Jim. The two of them created an amazing marriage and the love they had for each other was something all of us can only hope to find. They were married for 62 years and only apart for 9 months after his passing. The unquestionable affection and love they had was never someone could not see or feel. The way in which they made you welcome in their home was encompassing. Their home on Summit Street was more of a home to me through the years than my own. They were also people of immense and prodigious faith. They attended mass every morning and I learned much about my own faith watching them practice theirs. . . . this little exercise had me searching cemeteries back in Iowa. I remember going to Graceland Park and Floyd cemeteries before every Memorial Day growing up to clean and do yard work on the graves of the family, my father’s in Graceland and my mothers in Floyd, which for those not from my hometown is named after the only person to die on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and he is buried above the Missouri River a bit south of my hometown. So indeed, they are all in the dirt, some in caskets and vaults and some cremated. Is there a purgatory type of thing happening there on the Morningside portion of Sioux City and what was called the South Bottoms where Floyd Cemetery is? Is there something more? Is it merely a dirt resting place and there is nothing more? There are times I struggle yet to understand how it all works and what it all means, but as I enter the season of Advent and I remember the birthday of a mother tomorrow and an older brother on Tuesday, I find that for my own piety, I believe there must be something more. It is more than ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Indeed, as I once intoned, “Almighty God, source of all mercy and giver of comfort: Deal graciously, we pray , with those who mourn, that, casting all their sorrow on you, they may know the consolation of your love . . . ” (Occasional Services Book). With that I offer the following in this season of Advent. I hope you might find peace and comfort in its music.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Living on Borrowed Time

Hello on a mid-to- late Saturday evening or night,

Today time was spent helping one of my surrogate children get a new puppy. Not surprisingly, it is the same surrogate that brought a kitten into the house a few summers ago. So in continual rain, the drive was made from the acre to Elmira, New York, a little over two hours, to pick up a little black cocker spaniel puppy. My first dog at my grandmother’s was a black cocker spaniel named Penny. Some of the earliest pictures I remember in my life were feeding that dog. I also remember that she was incredibly sweet and mild mannered.

The rain and early darkness made for a little stress on the drive and on the way home this little fluff ball both pooped all over Ashley; fortunately, I had thought to bring a couple towels. We were more than 20 minutes back on our little over 2 hour ride back when that traumatic event occurred. The next exit led to cleanup and a towel going over a railing into a ditch. About 40 minutes later the food eaten before we picked her up was also up and all over Ashely. This is not appreciated, and I pulled over to a gas station and bought tissues to manage the latest gastronomic mishap. However, puppy feel asleep after that and with the exception of fog, rain, and occasional high-beams, the remainder of the trip was rather uneventful. On the other hand, I struggled a bit with my own gastrointestinal issues, but nothing showers and washing machines could not manage. The second issue for about the last 36 hours has been the sugar level, but I upped my Metformin so hopefully that will assist. Three straight reading above 200 does not make me happy.

More importantly, I want to reflect on the report released by more than 10 government agencies about the issue of climate change. In spite of its release on the day after Thanksgiving, which has angered some people, I would like to believe it has, and hopefully will, cause a variety of people from every walk of life a sense of pause. Certainly, the terms of global warming, climate change, and such are ideographic in nature. I also know that some of you will ask what I mean by this. Ideographic terms are terms or phrases that have been tossed around, for better or worse, and now have a host of things, again both positive and negative, associated with them that when employed bring the entire gamut of thoughts, understandings, and most importantly, emotions with them. This is the most straightforward way I can explain such, but if you want to consider this more deeply, look up Michael McGee, one of the foremost scholars in this area. John Lucaites and Michelle Louise Condit are two more profound scholars in this area.

We are consumers and we want to believe our consumption is without consequence. It does not matter what it is, we want it now; we want convenience and we want to live our lives with the ability to be spontaneous . . . and we would rather not be bothered with any such requirement to consider the cost, at least generally not beyond the present amount that is from our wallets or purses, our checkbooks or our credit cards. The long-term is a different consideration and we generally prefer to not be bothered with the hypothetical as we want to call it. I am not sure we can call it hypothetical any longer. I am. Not sure how long we have honestly been beyond the hypothetical, but I am quite sure it is longer than most of us wish to admit. As I live far enough away from the coast, I do not think I have a great deal to worry about, but then I did not think where I lived on a hill high above the Susquehanna River that I would ever have to worry about water in my basement, but I have learned, in spite of the French drain, and the swale in my yard, the significant hill that goes up long beyond my back yard cannot manage all the water the clay-based soil collects when we have more than 13 inches of rain in a few days. Or then after saturated soils, anymore water will just roll down the hill, and that is where I am. What I know is the water table seems to be higher than one might have thought. In addition, this is not the first time we have had such rain in the last decade. I did not live here during the previous down pour and saturation, but I did live in Bloomsburg. From a distance, (and the distance being closer than I might realize) I have witnessed two devastating floods in the Baltimore area where people have lost their lives. What has happened in California in the last decade is unprecedented, and, again, I have know people who live in those areas. In the latest and most tragic fire in terms of loss of life, I have colleagues who teach at the University of California-Chico as well as a very special person I was blessed to meet the summer I was in the wineries in the Placerville area. I was in the Battery Park area of NYC following SuperStorm Sandy, as it was called. I know people in the Dominican Republic who have had to worry about the hurricanes that have been stronger and more frequent in the past few years. If you think carefully about the list of events here, there is really no place in the country that has not felt some greater degree of Mother Nature’s wrath in the not-so-distant past.

While I am aware that everyone on either side of the aisle has something that state in this argument or discussion, there seems to be a bit of a Pascalian wager at work here. Again, if you are not sure what I am positing here, it is worth looking up. Pascal was a 17th century French mathematician (Oh those mathematicians, Dr. Kahn!!). What I am implying here is that what if the newest report is the most dire of consequences? Does that mean there are no consequences for what we do? Daily life should tell us that sort of belief process is seriously flawed. What are the consequences? How can we determine without doubt what might happen. Certainly our ability to extrapolate, which is what we do to some degree with our daily weather reports should provide us some degree of understanding, and by extension concern. I am beyond frustration with a leader who is content with the response, “maybe he did; maybe he didn’t.” May we are responsible; maybe not. What sort of imbecile is content to kick every important can down the road for the next person to manage. This sort of logic (or lack thereof) is akin to if I do not get caught then I am not wrong. Perhaps we need to send a really large Shop Vac to Washington, D.C., and much like raking the forest or having a King Kong sized Roomba, we need to empty out the White House and suck up all the dust and trash that seems to be accumulating. I know that is strong language, and to some extent, I apologize, but the logical process coming out the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will have consequences that I believe are beyond catastrophic. I remember Lydia saying regularly, “Michael, it will be a catastrophe.” Ironically, she said this most about the weather. I wonder what she would say about some of this. It is interesting that she was a strong, economic conservative when it came to monetary policy, and she was proud of her Republican registration. On the other hand, she believed strongly in the protection of the environment and was not afraid to speak out strongly about that. It makes me smile when I think about putting the “I voted Obama” sticker on her back in 2008, without her knowledge. She chased me around the yard. But I digress, The Art of the Deal seems to be anything but. I have read the book, but I found it boastful and full of hyperbole (imagine that). I have done some follow up concerning the significance of the book and what I find interesting is the co-author, which is really the author by most accounts, has given some of the royalties he has received to the National Immigration Law Center. How ironic, again!

The point is quite simple: whether or not you buy into all the conversation about climate change, when all the significant countries of the world, save one, have signed on the Paris Climate Agreement, when the great majority of science demonstrates there is a change in temperature, ocean levels, the depletion of the Arctic ice cap, and other measurable issues; when carbon emissions have been shown to be a problem in terms of greenhouse gases, why would it not be reasonable to respond in a manner that would create at the very least a slowdown of this incredibly serious problem? This is what has been on the radar of people since the 1960s. Certainly there has been fits and starts, but the Paris Climate agreement, after America bailed on the Kyoto Protocol, was something certainly be an important part of. Certainly, I am sure that not every part of it is palatable, but we have a responsibility as one of the most economically prosperous and largest consumers of energy on the planet to do something of substance. To pull out of that agreement as one of the most powerful and industrialized countries is beyond embarrassing, it is unconscionable. This is where I find what Congress has done also beyond comprehension. The Republican Party has fallen lockstep behind this sort of ridiculousness. Again, before you think I buy into everything, I do not, but to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater does not usually work. One only need to look to the French Revolution, as I noted in a recent blog. I believe we are in for our own Reign of Terror with what is happening in the executive branch of our government.

Again, I do not say these things haphazardly or lightly. In fact, it pains me to say this, but let me offer some other points that I believe take the very fabric of who we are and throw them into question. First, for the President to try to politicize the military is fundamentally against what our military has been back to the revolution. The military is for national protection; it should not be employed for the President to use to merely carry out his political agenda. That is what dictators do. I know some will question that, and probably with validity, but to try to speak with the military in a phone call and use them for political purposes in that conversation is wrong. I believe the tear gas that was used over the weekend on people seeking asylum is also beyond what I ever hoped I would see our government do. To allow military force at the border is a sort of martial law, in my opinion that is both dangerous and unnecessary. It does, however, fall in line with question both the Justice Department or the Intelligence Agencies when they do not give someone the information they want. It is in line when you call out the judiciary and get a response of the SCOTUS Chief Justice that supports the federal judiciary. Again, the reason I raise these issues is there is a pattern that seems to be occurring that fundamentally undermines how our democracy works. Once you lose democratic values and principles, what do you have? Franklin Roosevelt, the President elected four times, but who said that should never happen again, noted, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” So many of my students note they do not really like politics or they do not know enough to vote. While I was pleased to see the percentage of 18-25 year olds voting go up by double digits this a few weeks ago, I can appreciate their opinion about not liking politics. They have good reason to not like the way we are managing our political house at this time. The lack of decorum, civility, and self-centered manner in which many of our elected leaders acted should not be appreciated. In terms of the second point, not knowing enough is not acceptable. It is our responsibility to know what is happening. This is what Roosevelt is referring to in his note about the importance of elections.

While there is certainly more I could write, but I think it is enough for the moment. What I know is I believe we are on borrowed time, and that make the time we have precious. To squander it is arrogant, selfish and stupid. To not prepare and change is to play Russian roulette with one empty chamber instead of one bullet. I do not like those odds. I will leave you with this as we head into this season of Advent, this season of preparation. I think we need to consider what it is we might want to prepare for.

Thank you as always for reading.


Understanding Giving Thanks

Hello from Fog and Flame,

It is the day before Thanksgiving and I am working on a variety of things. I have pretty well completed one of my classes, at least finishing in terms of putting up any information for the remainder of the semester, and yet, I have a number of other things to manage. In spite of the hectic pace (which I have decided somewhat stubbornly to change), the holiday in its nostalgic way, has causes my thoughts to focus a great deal about Thanksgiving and what the holiday means to me. Because of some other work I need to manage, I have been pushed to consider the issue of thanksgiving even more. As I write today, the temperature is dropping and there are more things in front of me than all the things on the proverbial Thanksgiving table, but much in the same manner, I will work through them. Some of them remind me of what it means, however, to be thankful or enveloped with a sense of gratitude. More and more, I am realizing how fortunate I am. I have always been fortunate when I think about it carefully. Even in the most difficult of moments, I have had options. Never have I been told there is nothing to be done or never have I been faced with only consequences that would create more hurt than good.

As everyone has headed off to be with family or friends for our break, I am reminded and cannot help but reminisce about the amazing Thanksgiving feasts (and they were certainly that) from when I was growing up. As I have noted in other posts, my grandmother owned a bakery and there were more breads, pies and other things that graced our table than one could even begin to imagine. The aromas of bread, pies, turkey, cranberries, and all the things you want to each, but could never hope to manage (the proverbial eyes-bigger-than-stomach ~ oh if that were still the case) met you as you opened the door. Being on a 2,500 acre farm in South Dakota, Aunt Helen had a garden of perhaps a half of acre. This meant I learned to eat and appreciate vegetables in ways most could only ponder. Swiss chard is, to this day, one of my favorite veggies. I loved Brussel sprouts, any kind of winter squash, root vegetable, and most any manner you might prepare them. Certainly the food was delectable, and to this very day, there are some dishes that I believe the Thanksgiving tradition is not met without a bountiful helping of scalloped corn (as we called it) or the long-term, slowly-cooked cranberry sauce with amazing spices. Driving to South Dakota (even though it was barely an hour away) could always be an adventure. Winter storms on the prairie are quite different than what I have experienced here in Pennsylvania. I remember whiteouts and an auto accident trying to make the way back from Hot Springs, SD to St. Paul, MN. I remember barely making it to an airport to fly to Europe in 1985. I remember a 1957 Chevy blowing a piston when I was in elementary school as we traveled to Beresford, SD. Maybe it was that state. Hmmmm? What I remember more importantly, however, was the incredible love, kindness, and gratitude my Great Aunt Helen and my Grandmother Louise always showed to each and to all of us. They were so excited to have everyone gathered around the table. They illustrated in the most profound and inclusive manner what it meant to be thankful.

This now Thanksgiving morning as I walk around my house, an old farm house that has some characteristics of my aunt’s and my grad mother’s house, I cannot help but feel their presence in this place, and that gives me both a sense of joy and yet a yearning for that time when I understood and experienced unconditional love from two of the most incredible women, with whom God ever graced this earth. Together they demonstrated an amazing tolerance for others and the way the supported and loved each other was an example for all people, but especially siblings. They went through difficult times, but the love and support they had for each other everyday of their life was beyond palpable, it was fundamental to their very being.

On this day of Thanksgiving, at least the American version of it, I have decided to remain at home, in a sort of solitary and reflective way. That was a conscious decision. So much like Scrooge in his childhood, everyone has left school and gone to somewhere to celebrate, before you feel sad for me, fear not. I am enjoying the time to merely remember and intentionally recollect that matters to me, to consider what (as well as who) we have become as people, as a nation. It is 55 years ago today as an 8 year old I watched as the rest of the country (and perhaps the world) did as we mourned a President assassinated at 46. At 8, I did not understand either how young that was or the magnitude of the tragedy our country was feeling. I remember spending hours and days in front of the television. I remember being amazed by the pomp and solemnity that characterized the casket in a Rotunda, the procession of a horse-drawn caisson, a riderless horse and a 3 year old saluting his father’s flag-draped casket. I remember watching an assassin being assassinated on live television. All of this was shortly before Thanksgiving that year. Even for an 8 year old, I knew the world had changed. I would not understand the change then and I am not sure I understand it now. However, much like 911 changed our understanding of American and the world at the turn of this century, I feel 112263 did the same. Perhaps the loss of a President was profound in a different way because many felt America had come into her own as a power and democratic force for good and this fairytale existence of helping the world and the world being a better place was shattered. Again much like 911 burst our bubble of aqua-security, we were forced to see alternative forces in the world in which we live.

I am sincerely concerned about our democracy and the forces in our world once again (and yet even though the forces, while in plain sight) are more insidious than ever. The issue is too many do not want to pay attention, content with the latest sound byte or 280 character epistle. Instead of working on our mutual humanity, the seeds of division, mistrust, and suspicion are being sown at every chance. Before you think I am pointing fingers at only one person, or one branch of government, I am not. I will certainly not absolve that person or branch, but the problem began long before 2016. For the better part of the last 25 years, since the Contract for America, which I believe was a Contract on America, the tone and conversation that has come out of Washington has been anything but civil, anything but grateful. Ironically, at least for me particularly as a current Pennsylvania resident, the braintrust (and I was this term both as oxymoronic and terribly intentional) or person responsible for this collapse in civil discourse was born in Pennsylvania, and even in our state capitol, of Harrisburg. A state that was founded on tolerance and good will seems to have birthed someone who was hell-bent on implementing the opposite. A hypocritical person, who was instrumental in pushing an impeachment for lying about sexual impropriety was simultaneously doing the same thing while his wife was in the hospital with cancer, and yet he was held up as a moral paragon. Again, I do not condone was WJC did in this way as President. I believe (and others more astute than I have written formal pieces about this) that the 50th Speaker of the House of Representatives did as much as anyone to start us down the path that has led to the election of the outsider, would-be-politician. Again, I can understand why people of all backgrounds from every corner of this country are fed up with the politics as usual. There is a significant part of me that can understand how we have elected what I believe to be the worst grand experiment the country has every started or employed. As the attacks on the judiciary, the intelligence community’s conclusions, and on anyone who seems to disagree continue, what have we become on a day when we pause to give thanks?

What I hope is happening is that people are actually listening, paying attention and questioning, on both sides of the aisle. What I hope is that people will continue to question our elected leaders and hold them accountable. That is what democracy is all about. That is why we have the opportunity to go and cast our votes every couple of years. The turn out for this immediate past election gives me something for which to be thankful. While I am not into blue or red waves, I am into the waves of democracy rolling down like righteousness as noted in the Old Testament book of Amos. I know that was not what Amos was referring to, but he was referring to justice, and the importance of justice and equality in this world is what we believed in from the outset . . . I also realize we did not do it so well, in spite of the Hallmark version many want to believe in about those first Thanksgivings. What we did have in that first couple years was Native American people reaching out to assist, protect, and support those huddled on the Mayflower because they could not stand the winter. What we had was the Native Americans teaching the Pilgrims how plant and survive . . . as noted in an article I read from the History Channel earlier today, it was, unfortunately, the only time Native Americans and we immigrants really treated each other with dignity and respect. Ironic that it was the immigrants that created the heartache and problems for those already here. Seems we believe much the same today. Ironic that we were all immigrants at one time hoping for something better, but we have lost track of what it means to hope for something better and seem to have little empathy or compassion for those who want nothing more than we did.

So . . . for what am I thankful when it seems there is so much to be concerned about? First, I am grateful that I have a job that I love. I am grateful that I have colleagues and friends who bless me with their presence in my life. I am grateful for a family that raised and supported me, even though it was not always as I thought it should be, I know I am much more fortunate than many. I am grateful that I can merely write this blog and question the path I believe we are taking as a country and it is okay to do so. I am grateful that in spite of more things that I could have ever anticipated in terms of my health, I am still fortunate enough to have good health care and manage those issues. I am incredibly humbled that I have been able to meet so many astounding people from around the world in my 60+ years and I have memories that I will treasure for every day I am blessed to still walk this earth. Happy Thanksgiving to all, be you in America or somewhere else. I wish you each a time to ponder and realize what gifts you have been given.  In light of us growing and trying to manage a better world with gratefulness and moral courage, I offer this. My thanks to a Lieutenant General for his moral courage and patriotism.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

The War to End All Wars

Hello from a Starbucks in Selinsgrove,

Hiding away and working, but trying to imagine the feelings of not only the important players on the stage in France 100 years ago, but also the simple people, those in France where much of the carnage of a trench war was fought to the families who lost loved ones in a war that was fought to stop war. Were we as countries that idealistic a century ago? Certainly I write on the Centennial of that event with the privilege of hindsight, but did we have a more optimistic spirit a century ago? Did we simply believe the nationalism that was prominent that day would recede into a historical footnote and cooperation would prevail? Was the title of this blog something that was a sincere hope or merely a slogan for a weary and war-torn world? By the time I would be born less than 40 years later, we would already fight another World War, one that this time would encompass the globe. The nationalism of Germany, which occurred with perhaps some justification in light of Article 231, the Fascism of Italy and the imperialism of Japan certainly speak to the consequence of nationalism, which is certainly rampant today.

During the last five years as I have traveled to Central and Eastern Europe, the rise of nationalism in Hungary and Poland or the division in Ukraine has demonstrated that nationalism is alive (and as an oxymoron, well). Brexit in England and the, what I deem as troublesome, red MAGA caps are both examples of globalistic rebellion. Today, the French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the consequences of these current nationalistic moves that sweep our world. He said, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism” (11Nov18). He noted that such actions threaten the very democracy two World Wars fought to preserve (11Nov18). He went even further calling nationalism treason (Breitbart). I do wonder what those WWI veterans would think about the wars we wage now. Certainly the equipment would boggle their minds. The firepower and the way we use our strength and might. What would they think of the bravado of people like Kim Jung Un, who should be seen as an adversary, Rodrigo Duterte, who is an ally, but somewhat dubious, or Vladimir Putin, who certainly rules Russia with a stronger iron fist than our President seems to believe? What would they think of not only our military technology, but our personal technology and how it is used?

Before you believe I somehow see a century ago as preferable to now, I do not, and there are numerous and significant reasons to feel that way. I do believe the Americans, those perhaps born in the recent shadow of our own civil war, were, however, at least beginning to realize the need for a world who gave more than a rat’s ass about other countries. I also believe our government was quite imperialistic, but the consequence of being pulled into WWI would push some to see the significance of a need for at least some global care, and mutual concern. I also realize there were still a number of social and political battles that would take another half century to begin to confront. Many are still being confronted and perhaps we have backslid a bit or a lot, depending on your viewpoint. It is interesting to me that I find I am much more accepting of the other than I was as a child growing up in NW Iowa. I do not think it was that I did not accept, but I had little to no exposure to the other, and most of what I knew I saw on television. I did grow up knowing there were certain terms I was forbade to use, but I just this week in corresponding with an high school classmate, she noted the struggle one of our Native American classmates had and how it affected him for years following high school. I remember him well, and while I merely thought he was quiet, I had no idea he was so bullied because he did not fit our WASP neighborhood and high school. I do not believe I even had a black person in my school until I was in 12th grade and we had redrawn the boundaries of our city high schools. What I realize now is how we are privileged as whites, and even more so as white males. I remember writing a blog about this around four years ago. I wanted to defend my white privilege because I had worked so hard for where I was. There are some remnants of that thought process, but at this point, I mainly want to see all people valued and respected. I find myself believing more and more that when one of us is discriminated against, it hurts all of us. I find myself believing more and more that we need to see our place in the world as important, as significant, but not as the moral/political exemplar. In fact, it seems as if we are anything but presently, and that is not a comment pointed only at the executive branch of our government. As I have noted lately, the lack of civility and the unwillingness of our legislative branch to work in a bipartisan manner is unconscionable. I listened to a GPS episode in which Fareed Zakaria interviewed the French President after the commemoration of WWI, to which I referred earlier in this post. I find myself agreeing with most everything the French President asserted, and his contention that Europe needs to care for Europe and not see America as the primary fall-back for the EU made a lot of sense to me. I find President Macron’s approach to be moderated and thoughtful, but also realistic in the present world.

There is little doubt that the last two years have created some concern for our European allies. There is little doubt that the MAGA doctrine has had consequences that push the United States off the pedestal and has made the torch of the Statue of Liberty lose some of its luster, if you will. I am not saying that having all of NATO work together a bit more thoughtfully, both in terms of finances and non-financial resources, is wrong, but the manner in which the message has been delivered (tweeted, which is an entirely separate problem) has serious rhetorical issues. You cannot go around threatening the rest of the world and then believe they want to work with you or will trust you to work with them. Again, I find all of this a bit embarrassing, but it seems there is little our President finds embarrassing. Over the past few days, I have had both my Russian students and my American students ask me what I thought about our elections. I think the elections did little more than illustrate what any thinking person should already realize. We are as divided and polarized as ever. While I am a bit hopeful because we have a better checks and balances in our legislature, I am not convinced that the probably next (and former) Speaker of the House is the best way to proceed (and it pains me to say that). I believe she did a pretty good job as speaker the first time, but it seems that we are in such a different world now, and she is almost as polarizing as Sec. Clinton was. I have little doubt that President Trump will blame the House for everything he can for the next two years. If the Democratic-led House does not manage things that demonstrate a clear sense of caring for things that go beyond the beltway, I believe the damage that will be done to the Democrats will have generational consequences, but the immediate consequence will be an additional term for the current occupant of the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and that causes me more concern than I even have words.

The reasons for concern are legion, and it is not by accident that I use that term. I do not think the Democrats have a good plan for the next two years or beyond, and no matter how carefully I look, I see little in terms of a plan that demonstrates how we can move the country forward in a manner that respects all of us. The lack of respect that has been revealed in the last two years goes beyond what I ever thought possible. I will also say that I do not believe President Trump is responsible for all of that. I read an article recently that points a finger (at least legislatively) at Newt Gingrich. I think there is a lot that rings true in that argument. I think there are certainly ways to govern that do not have to make the opponent the enemy, but somehow we have forgotten that, or perhaps we no longer believe it. I am all about being passionate about one’s beliefs or positions, but as I note for my students, the reason for argument is to reach consensus. One can point out the differences of a position without making the other out to be an idiot or the enemy. It seems the wars we wage today are class wars, and speaking of the French, that has disastrous consequences for them following their revolution of 1789. It was not called the Reign of Terror for no reason. It seems the wars we wage today are about education, location, or even occupation. We pit the educated (whom we now vilify or certainly those who teach are vilified) against those we deem uneducated. My father did not go to college, but he is one of the wisest people I have ever met. Education is about more than higher education (and I say that as a college professor). We seem to continually pit those in urban or suburban areas against the rural parts of our country. Again, seeing the rural folk as uneducated or parochial. Having grown up in NW Iowa, I know rural and many of those who live on or work on farms or in our agricultural sector or doing manual labor should not be treated as somehow less because they do not wish to have the hustle and bustle of the ‘burbs as a way of life. On the other hand, those who live in the ‘burbs or in the city have certainly valid concerns about what is happening in many of their neighborhoods and the violence that seems to plague our inner-city locales. I have both groups of students in my classes and I see how differently they understand the world in which they live and both hope to grow old. Then there is the issue of what someone does to make their life manageable. This is also complicated. From issues of job security to job availability, how do we make it possible for everyone to live a life that has meaning and quality. The complication of this question goes far beyond what I can do in a blog post, but it is significant. I see too many students who come to college and waste money and time. I seem too many people who are told that if you do not go to college you cannot be successful. Again, this might prove to be surprising for some.

I do believe there is a lot of positive consequences to a college education, but that is not just about a job. On the other hand, I do not believe that everyone needs to, or should, go to college. I do believe that working in the trades, which has a long history (and a successful one) in my family, is certainly a valid and thoughtful vocation, one that can make a difference in other people’s lives. What makes someone successful? What is success? It is more than money; it is more than prestige; it is more than collecting the most or biggest toys. There is so much I could say, but I need to do some other work, so I am off, but I leave you with one of my favorite scenes from my favorite move, Dead Poets Society. The amazing Robin Williams, as Mr. Keating, speaks to his students about the importance of thinking and learning. Perhaps we can all learn something from what is said here.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

So Fifty Years Ago . . . Or Thirty . . . Or Twenty . . .

Hello on a chilly and somewhat sobering (and not of the alcohol persuasion) Friday evening,

I am wishing I was in front of a roaring fireplace and sort of tucked in for the evening. It was a long week and it seemed as if there were no easy or slack minutes, or even moments in the day. It seems the weeks of the semester are beyond the cliché of flying by, I am not sure what metaphor I might use. Suffice it to say being at this point of the semester is beyond overwhelming with the work left, and yet necessary to complete it successfully. I also realize for many, it is merely stating the obvious as their lives are no different. Yesterday I took my Bible as Literature class to the United Lutheran Seminary – Gettysburg Campus to do research for their papers. It was really an outstanding day, albeit incredible long when my alarm went off at 4:15 a.m. to be ready to be on the road an hour later. Their day was filled with research and study, many went to an optional chapel service, which had its own sort of redux moment for me and more of a “did-that-really-happen” moment for my students. More about that to come, but it was quite amazing for me to watch, listen, and ponder to their thoughts and reactions. This is the fourth time I have taken students to ULS as it is now titled, for a research day, and it might have been the most productive and successful visit yet. The students all sat in one particular study room, at it certainly appeared that they found that space, camaraderie, and mutual focus helpful. As with every trip, they have eaten in the seminary refectory and that too went well when I got the entire refectory audience to sing happy birthday to one of the students. Finally, a visit to the Seminary Ridge Museum (Seminary Ridge )seemed to captivate the students’ minds before we returned to Bloomsburg by supper time.

I am not sure if it is because of my love of history, or perhaps my penchant for remembering things (sometimes important and more often seemingly mundane), that causes me to remember dates, times, places, or events with a kind of clarity that can almost haunt me, but the title of this post demonstrates some of that. This time the years all end with the number eight. I think in light of the trip to the seminary, I will begin as a sort of in media res. This past week I remember rather vividly that it was thirty years ago the 23rd that I was ordained as a pastor. That was a celebratory day for my little congregation in Riverside because another of their sons or daughters had become a pastor. It was one of the few times I ever saw my father cry, and I think somehow even my mother was proud of me that day. I was married to Susan at the time and I think she was happy and proud too, though being the spouse of a pastor and moving halfway across the country would prove to be much more difficult than either of us would realize. I think being a pastor’s spouse probably did as much to doom our marriage as some of my own mistakes. I remember the service pretty clearly. When I consider the participants in my ordination, it is a bit startling to reflect on what has happened in the interim period from October 23rd, 1988 to now. My ordaining and presiding pastor, the Reverend Doctor Greg Witte, left the clergy roster not that many years later. My quasi-brother-in-law, Rev. Randy Kasch, has just retired from parish ministry. The preaching pastor, and person who most influenced my belief that I might be called to parish ministry, the Rev. Frederich Peters, is still living out his elderly years in Oregon. I can still hear him call me Mikey. One of the three people (all from that family) who can refer to me as such, and I actually appreciate it. The Reverend Karsten Nelson is still in parish ministry on the suburbs of the Twin Cities and the Reverend Linda Johnson-Prestholt is a pastor in NE Iowa. The people who were there to sing, including my best friend in life, Peter, has passed away, but I wrote of that in my blog at other times. For me the day was beyond overwhelming, disconcerting, and incredibly frightening. I remembered the stories of Martin Luther, himself, and how at his first mass he felt paralyzed with fear at the awe of the calling to be a priest. I felt much the same. The vows I had taken only hours before pushed me toward feeling under-prepared, incapable, and even unworthy. I remember as everyone felt excited and supportive, I went to bed early because I was literally sick. While I believe the Holy Spirit helped me accomplish some amazing things as a parish and campus pastor, and there are some profound things I miss by no longer being on the clergy roster, the Holy Spirit continues to bless and direct my life more completely than I am often cognizant of. Again, perhaps some of my most significant ministry has occurred since I resigned from the roster. I certainly made mistakes as a pastor and my humanity and childhood baggage affected me more than I would anticipate.

That brings me to the 20 years ago. That is when I would resign. By that time I was in a different place, a different state, a different marriage, and even a different sort of call. I would realize more profoundly than I ever had, the power that some are given, some believe they have, and perhaps most acutely, the power they will use. I have written about this before. However, while I struggled mightily at that time, and sometimes still do, I have realized that the church is nothing more that a human institution that too often falls short of its own calling. My dissertation on Bonhoeffer reminds me of this fact on a regular basis. The church once had a more profound role in American culture, and I believe the church could, and perhaps should, still have such a role. Where I struggle with the church is in how it maintains what it deems scriptural integrity, but too often support societal positions that discriminate, support the powerful at the expense of the poor, and claim the moral high ground when the actions of its membership demonstrate anything but . . .

It is barely 24 or maybe 36 hours since I wrote on my blog and we have managed to arrest a person described as a everyday guy who went to church and lifted weights. In less than a day later, a hate-filled, bigoted, anti-Semite walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire on worshiping men and women, killing a couple in their 80s, brothers in their 50s and a 97 year old woman, and he has been posting anti-Semitic rants for some time. And my struggle is profound! While I support our Constitutional rights and freedom of speech, where are the boundaries? While I know some will find this difficult, what is the influence of, or to what degree can we connect, the Tweets and tone of a particular Tweeter-in-Chief to the seeming continued downward spiral in our national conversation? Putting more armed guards at schools, churches, public places in general only supports a culture that argues only a gun can keep us safe. What have we become (and I use what purposely)? All of this will give me yet another opportunity to reflect, but I will return to my initial blog intent. I do believe the place we were 50 years ago, the year 1968, has incredible connection to this weekend, but I will not go completely down road in this blog.

I was all of 12 years old that spring and summer of that fateful year in our national history. From the beginning of the year I heard the word Tet, but I did not know what it meant. I knew we were in Vietnam, but I had little idea that I would someday go there too. By April, Dr. King would be assassinated, and I realized that was both terrible and important, but had no idea nor the degree to which those things would be true. In June, another assassination and the 3rd grade memory of my parents and I watching the television for three long days on a late November weekend came rushing back. This time a younger brother would be laid to rest and the world I knew as a middle schooler would tragically become more violent as riots and tensions across the country about justice and equal rights, civil rights, and a war in a far away land would boil over in Chicago, Detroit, Newark, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and in other places. I remember being warned by my parents even in my relatively small NW Iowa community to be careful and to not say anything that could be construed as inflammatory. What I know now is that year would lead to a profound change in how we saw “the other,” something I would not realize for decades, or after a lot of growing and even more significant changes in my viewpoint about both the world and the people in it.

Certainly the 60s is complex and there are amazing books authored about that time. One of my colleagues noted a book about this very year, it is titled 1968: The Way We Were. I think many of the positive consequences, and certainly some of the more profound negative, come from that period, and are possibly directly connected to that traumatic moment, the 525,600 minutes that were 1968, in our history. We believed (perhaps not corporately or societally, but enough in individuality) somehow the way to stop political movements or individual political ambition was through assassination. We (certainly many) believed the way to respond to violence was with violence. We believed as a country we could impose our political desires and practices on people and cultures through money and military. Unfortunately, little has changed, and, at least in my humble opinion it is now more pronounced, more extreme and more hateful. However, lest you think I only see negative consequences, certainly concern for our planet, our environment, issues about feminism certainly come to the fore in that time. Without a doubt, all of them have gone through various iterations, as the political powers change, the way in which we respond seems to sway in those proverbial winds. The issue is profoundly more complex than what I offer here in a small blog post, but the point is 50 years ago changed the trajectory of our country. I am not sure I see that consequence as a positive thing from my station in life. There had been an appeal to our better angels as of late. I think we need every angel we can summon.

As always, thanks for reading.