Prayers Answered

Hello from Costa on ulica Karmelicka,

It is always interesting to return to somewhere you have been before. The change in perception that occurs from familiarity is a difficult thing to quantify, and if the return is more than once, understanding the changes that occur go beyond mere perception to emotion. I think of how Riverside, the blue collar suburb of sorts where I grew up in Sioux City was my home for the great majority of my childhood. Yet, in a sort of reverse of what I am alluding to, it has been so long since I spent time there that some of the memories of places that no longer physically exist (like my grade school). How much of our emotional, spiritual attachment is based on the physical experience? How is it that memory is evoked by movement, sight, repetition? These are things I lay awake sometimes and ponder. I am sitting in a coffee shop I came to my first time in Kraków. However, a barista from my summer work here who worked at a Costa I had immigrated to is now at my original Costa hang out. Each Costa carries memories with it. I was unaware that Mariusz had transferred, but he saw my Facebook post and let me know. It was nice to connect a familiar face from my extended summer to the Costa of the past 5 years.

More importantly is how my geographic awareness of Kraków is so much more acute than in my previous visits. It is interesting to me how summer for me leaves more lasting impressions for me. Is it because of language? Is it because I walked so extensively and spent so much more time taking in things. I also think the light of the summer and the longer days also affect my ability to assimilate things. I think part of it is that I am happier and more energetic.

However, as I walked to Dom Profesorski this morning, the memories of students from each year I have been here came teeming back. To see some of my own students on this year’s trip as well as long-time colleagues here for the first time was quite a boost to my morning. I am only here for not quite a week, but even the few days of refacing my summer steps in the winter season has come something to assimilate this Krakówian (a sad attempt to connect Polish with an English adjectival ending) experience even more. As I sit in Costa and work on my last blog of 2018, I realize things still do not slow down.

Yet, I cannot remove the poignant memories of my first visit to Kraków and Poland. I had left Wisconsin and said an incredibly emotional final goodbye to an amazing woman who had become my mother and so much more. I was coming to the ancestral country of her husband, a person I had not met. I remember Lydia’s Christmas Eve Polish conversation with the spirits in them corner of her room. I had asked her if George (Zdzislaw) was there. She nodded in the affirmative. I then asked her if she was ready to go home. She shook her head decidedly and sternly in the negative. She knew what she wanted to the very end.

Four years ago I was wandering across center city Kraków for the first time being shown around by Robert, Maria’s father. Ironic, how a student connection created what had become an integral part of my life. It was a day much like today, a bit grey an while chilly and damp, not anywhere really cold. We went into the church where Saint Pope John Paul II had served as the Archbishop of Kraków. I lit a votive candle and prayed. I actually took the time to reach out to George specifically in the prayer. I asked him to convince her it was time to come home. It was the first time in my life I wanted to let someone I do loved go. It was the first time in my life I remember reaching out to someone I believed to be beyond the bonds of this life to request their intervention into the world I knew. In spite of my theological foundation, I wondered the how, but believed more in the reality of its possibility. As I raised my petition, i remember my eyes filling with tears, but also feeling a sense of calm, believing it was time to let her go. Again, for the first time in a very long time, I prayed for what was best for the other. I remember telling Robert what I had done as we left the confines of this holy space. The remainder of my day was preparing for a New Year’s Eve that would be spent with the Paras.

What happened in the next 24 hours or so still amazes me. I would go to sleep on the first of January, ready to imagine a new year. I had not been long when my cell rang. It was Nathan telling me that Lydia had passed away. It was still January 1st in Wisconsin. To this day, and particularly on this same day of the year, four years later, I am as convinced as ever that my being in Poland, George’s ancestral county an in the parish of the former Archbishop had consequences for the simple, yet fervent, prayer of a dutiful, surrogate son. This fall my Bible as Literature students asked me how I understood the workings of faith. When I am asked such things in that class, my default is to remind them it is not a religion class, but rather a literature class. Yet much like my confessions professor in seminary as we pushed him on his opinion about something about the Lord’s Prayer, I allowed for an answer. I said both simply and humbly that faith for me is best understood through the single verse out of Hebrews. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This has been my foundational verse for most of my life, and even more so as a seminary student, pastor, and beyond. To pray requires faith. To pray requires both a sense of assurance and of hope. To pray to that unseen requires a strong conviction (or maybe even a simple one) that your words actually are heard and make a difference. Then there is a belief that what happened in the next 24 hours were a consequence of the said prayer. The very fact that I am recounting it four years later illustrates that somehow I have the assurance of this thing hoped for.

Today as I sit in Costa, I cannot help but remember the various student groups who have been here in this amazing city on the last week of December into January. My first year, there were three students in particular. Joe had been a student in my Foundations class and would go on to graduate school, not just anywhere, but in Israel. I am quite sure that what he learned from Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska had a profound influence on what we would study. The next sure I was fortunate to come along in a different way, as part of the faculty-led program. Again, some of the most amazing students were on the trip. I think of a veteran military student who would come back in Krakow the following summer to study Polish and work on his dual citizenship. I think of another student with aspirations to go to work in the Peace Corps and was accepted until his health created a difficulty. I think of a young woman who was both an outstanding student and absorbed every cultural event or exhibition we visited like a insatiable sponge. There were students the next year who are now here for the third time leading others, that is how much Krakow has influenced them. Last year, we were blessed to have the president of the Alumni Association for the university come and accompany us on part of the trip. During those years, I was fortunate enough to visit places like Budapest, Lviv, and Prague. Twice I have gone to Austria, and Lydia’s beloved city of Wein, but I need to go back on my own and spend some time. As I returned for this trip, I have met the group at their accommodations on ulica Garbarska, but I am not traveling with them. In fact, I am traveling on my own  with a most dear person and on Thursday will be flying to Italy to visit my great friends, Marco and Belinda and their two amazing children. It will be the first time I have been in Italy since 1981. After a week there, I will be going to Spain and visiting my friend, Elena, a former student at MTU, and one who visited me on my second trip here to Krakow. This visit is a promise kept. I think the important part of all of this is how the amazing connections and people I have met have changed my life and made is such a blessed one.

As I finish this blog, I am reminded of that first journey. It is now still the first of January in the States, but it is early on the morning of the 2nd here in Krakow. I walk up this morning about 2:00 a.m. It was exactly the time Lydia passed on four years ago. I did not realize it at the time, but the time corresponded to my answered prayer. It is interesting how I believe those spirits and powers outside out lives work both in ways too subtle for us to realize and sometimes in ways to obvious to miss. I know that the people who I met from Comforts of Home, Lydia’s abode for the final almost four years of her life, still influence me. Carissa, the administrator who treated Lydia as her own grandparent if you will, Angie, Breanne, Leah, Leighann, Marissa, Mindy or Stacey, and others whose names escape me at 6:00 a.m., will always be dear to me for the care you provided her. It is now the beginning of yet another year. I wonder what prayers are being offered even today as those individuals in the twilight of their lives are struggling with the most simple of tasks. I wonder about those amazing caregivers who give more of themselves than even they realize and for so little monetary compensation. I wonder about even my own existence when there are sometimes more maladies than I could have ever imagined to manage for an aging, but still small-child at heart, traveling professor who seldom grows old of learning something new. What are the prayers I will offer as I finish this blog. I think my prayer is simple and yet profoundly difficult.

As I read the news in America from here in Central Europe, I pray that our elected leaders can learn to listen to those who have elected them (and I realize the cacophony of voices is difficult and painful to hear for all the disharmonious sound) and act for the mutual benefit of the country that has elected them. I pray that a President who was duly (and embarrassingly at times) elected might realize that the tweeting that he does has consequence, whether it be some random thought or his real intention, and when he puts things in public, it is done as the President. I pray that we can see a global and civilization that needs care and mutual respect for all people, that the desire to have freedom and the ability to thrive is a human desire not a gift that belongs to only certain people on the winning side of a wall. As I travel and see students from Bloomsburg once again, I hope they will see the profound goodness of the places they visit and remember the profound evil that we as humans can unleash given the right circumstance (their visit to Auschwitz this weekend). It is all here in this beautiful country called Poland. I pray for all my friends and even those outside that realm that they might be blessed with health, with a sense of happiness or contentment, and that the things they do will be a blessing to those around them.

Welcome to a new year and bless you all. Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Out of the Darkness

Good early morning,

It is around 4:00 a.m. and I have been awake for a while. It is the shortest day of the year, the Winter solstice. It is the beginning of the break from both college and public school; it is the beginning of the excitement for small people that will end up on a Christmas morning for those who celebrate this holiday. It is the beginning of the Christmas season after tomorrow that will continue on until January 7th for my Orthodox friends, students, and others when they celebrate Christmas. It was for me that time when I would soon be spending a week or more at my Grandmother’s house for part of the Christmas holiday. I think that week was as important to her as it was fun for my sister and me. I think it was a week for my older brother where two younger and annoying siblings were away and he had a respite and the house to himself. I don’t think I ever really considered that until now. I think it is the memories of those weeks at 4547 Harrison Street between Christmas and New Years that most affected the person I would become, the person I am.

While I have spoken of my Grandmother Louise Lynam on a number of occasions in this blog, I am not sure I have every written a blog just about her. She has been an integral part of my life for most of the 60+ years I have been alive. A portrait of her, which graces this post, sits on my desk in my office to this day. It is an 8×10 picture that was probably colored or tinted after the fact. I believe it is a picture taken in her late teens and possibly a picture that was created when she went to college at what is now the University of Northern Iowa, I believe then Iowa State Teacher’s College and the Normal School for the State of Iowa. I think she hoped to be a teacher, but having graduated from high school in 1931, the depression made it impossible for this South Dakota farm girl from remaining in college and she returned to the farm. She was the youngest child I do believe. I think she was also perhaps the free spirit in the household. This sort of free-spiritedness, if I can make that a word, would be both a blessing and a curse to those who loved her. At least that is what I imagine. She was an incredibly talented and brilliant woman, and I believe she was also quite beautiful. One did not really think that of their grandmother, but looking back, I see an elegance and beauty that was enhanced by her wonderful love and care. As a little boy, I only knew she loved me deeply and I believe I was probably spoiled a bit by her. Some would say that is a profound understatement, but I only know she loved me unconditionally. I have spoken of that before. It is now Christmas Day and I am back at this.

What I realize now, as a person who has lived almost as long as she, is she had some difficult times. My grandfather, Stanley, would die of cancer in his forties. She would be a widow at the age of 43. She owned a business, which they ran together, and somehow she needed to take it all over and manage it in her grief. They had also taken on two children (my sister and me – aged perhaps infant for my sister (less than six months) and 18 months for me. They were serving as surrogate parents because my father and mother had less than ideal parenting skills. Before I would turn 3, my grandfather would die of cancer, and I vaguely remember how ill he was. So now, she was a widow, caring for two pre-schoolers at a time when there was no such thing as daycare or in-home babysitting, and trying to manage a bakery business. I cannot imagine how she must have felt. Her decision at that time to turn to alcohol to assuage her pain is understandable, but that too would have consequences. It is probably what (the third time I have edited this word . . . what the heck?) pushed her to consider the adoption of my sister and me, which would change the trajectory of our lives. It was also a decision she regretted for the remainder of her life, for a number of reasons. What I realize is that her incomparable love for others created a person that would give first and ask questions later. Her desire to make other’s lives better was often done at her own expense; and when she was devastated and hurting by loss, with the exception of an older sister, who had an incredibly giving husband herself, she felt alone and overwhelmed. Yet, she soldiered on and try to manage what life had presented her. Again, I think her decision to allow for our adoption was because she wanted what was best for my sister and me. Then when I was about 7, she turned to AA and she never drank again. She would throw her life into her business, loving her family and Eastern Star. She would eventually be the Worthy Matron of her the Azure Chapter of Sioux City, Iowa. Her best friend, who ironically had the surname of Martin, would become Worthy Grand Matron of the State of Iowa some years later. I remember going to installations of officers and watching them all move around in a ritualistic way in their flowing grown and reciting their pieces. She was always overjoyed when we attended these events.

To manage this all, over the next 17 years of my life, she became the person to whom I could turn regardless the circumstance. She was my confidant, my protector, my heroine, my mentor, and the person who taught me as much above giving, being loving, and being a good person as anyone. I remember at the age of approximately 8, she stated rather succinctly, “Michael, always be a gentleman.” As noted above, she made Christmas, what I still believe Christmas to be. Going to her house on Christmas morning was like walking into that magical space where “all your troubles (honestly) seemed miles away.” It is still amazing to me that a mere 25 minute ride could transport me to a world where I could feel safe and happy. Her three acres of land had hills for tobogganing and an old barn at the edge of the property that served as a garage. I think at one time it had been a horse barn. When you walked into her house, it was not ostentatious or stunning in its décor. It was homey and inviting. It was a wonderful place that did not even have a full bathroom now that I think about it. Somewhere I have pictures of my sister and me in a large sort of horse trough metal tub, which was how we took baths. Memories of eating breakfast, of playing in a yard, or listening to a great horned owl hoot from a telephone line in the dusk of a fall evening are things that stream into my consciousness and cause me to smile and feel the safety I once felt as a child. I think that is what Christmas at my Grandmother’s created for me most importantly. The love and safety felt when I entered her house has never been replicated for me ever again in my life. Yet, as I ponder and analyze, it is something I believe I have tried to replicate in my own house now. The house I am blessed to live in was built around 1905 and it is a modest, but nice farmhouse. It would have been outside of town at the point it was built, and it had a similar barn and not quite as much property. It added what would have been a summer kitchen at some point and it has an amazing wrap-around front porch. I am not sure how long the street in front of the house has been a state highway, but that is the one drawback; there is significant traffic, especially twice a day. However, the view across the Susquehanna River Valley is quite spectacular. I have done some substantial work inside the house, but I have also tried to maintain the old farmhouse ambiance. If you follow me on Facebook, you have observed some of what I have done. This past year, it received a bit of a sprucing up, and it has been a joy to come home to in the evening.

What Christmas is for me, even yet, was established by how my grandmother invited people into her house and how she welcomed them once they were there. She had an amazingly large kitchen that could host enough people on its own, but it was moving into her dining room that made you feel most welcome. Her wonderful dining room table, with more chairs at Christmas than I had fingers, as well as the matching buffet and the lace doilies and table cloth were both simple and exquisite. Her dishes were simple and elegant and she had all the appropriate serving dishes and utensils to make managing the meal no chore at all. Then there was the food. The South Dakota farm girl, along with her elder sister, my Great Aunt Helen, could out cook any Food Channel celebrity chef of today. There were the staple items, but there were also relish trays, breads, rolls, and other delights from her bakery, and it you could imagine a pie, it was there. There was no rush in eating because everyone chatted, shared, laughed and smiled, filled with the joy of simply sharing a meal. If there had been hand-held technology at the time, I can assure you it would not have been at the table. My grandmother believed in sharing and conversation. She was a wonderful listener and she cared deeply about what we did and our success.

My older brother was an outstanding trombone player and I held my own as the younger brother/trumpet player. My younger sister, the one who was actually my sister, had a wonderful singing voice and we would lead the entire family in a musical concert of Christmas carols following dinner. It was something I realize was more important to all than I might have understood. We all sang together as I would play the melody and my brother, on his trombone, played an alto or tenor line. Sometimes I might even do a descant and he would do the melody. It is something we practiced before we would arrive on Christmas Day. I realized later how important that all was when he had grown beyond being there for Christmas and the concert stopped. We would often hear even then the wistful comments of “remember when . . . .” I think what I know now it was our giving back for what we were about to once again receive. It was the giving, the loving, the going beyond the expected that epitomizes what happened at my Grandmother’s house. It was her wanting people to be happy and carefree for at least a day that I believe is the most important gift she gave, and she loved to give gifts. Her living room spanned the width of the house and the Christmas tree at one end would be surrounded by more presents than I would even begin to imagine possible. And she was an excellent gift giver. I do not remember one gift that she gave in all of my life that I was ever disappointed in. Clothes, toys, books, coloring books, early technology (I remember getting a cassette/radio from her one year), you name it and she would find it. It is amazing, but I can tell you the last Christmas I spent there (1976), and it was as special to me as the ones spent as a little child. I had no idea, of course, it would be the last. The next year would bring stunning changes in my family, but that seems so long ago now.

I think what is important for me is the memories she created, the love she demonstrated and the unequalled ability to give without expectation that have most affected me. Even as I write this, I realize how much she affects me even now. I realize  how much I try to emulate the life she lived in my own life. I miss her to this day. She would be 105 if she were alive today. She has been gone for four decades, but her legacy lives because she taught me so well by her selfless example of love. As you gather this Christmas, I hope memories of peace and joy can come wafting back to you like the smell of her amazing baked goods and Christmas pies. As you gather this Christmas in a world that seems more bent on discord than harmony, you can take pause and realize the goodness we all have in ourselves if we only let it shine forth out of the darkness. Much like the lights on a Christmas wreath or tree shine out in the darkness of our present difficulties, I wish to show something that provides hope, that provides an experience that will create a memory of goodness and joy. Thank you, Grandma, for being that beacon of light that shined in my life for 22 years while we walked the earth together. Thank you even more for continuing to be a beacon upon which I can reflect. Realizing the love you had still exists in and through me today, and for that I hope I can be even a smidgen of the gracious and wonderful person you were. Bless you all this Christmas. I offer this Mannheim Steamroller Christmas piece that most reminds me of her.

Thank you for reading and Blessed Christmas to all,

Michael (What she always called me)

Walking and Wondering

Good early (sort of) evening

My intentions of writing more this month have been hijacked by the end of a semester, managing my health yet again (I know it has daily requirements, but it has created yet another dilemma), and attempting to get ready for some holiday things, which have all gone by the wayside as the health issues have taken center stage yet again.  As I write this I am in my at home office upstairs between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. trying to get some things accomplished before the day gets hijacked by other requirements. IF I am to be completely candid, parts of what followed began last summer, and I will try to work them into this entry, but then again, doing so might reveal how randomly my brain seems to work, and that might not be the best thing into which I should offer insight being as some of my followers here are my students.  One of the times I was working on this blog was while students were filling out evaluations; I actually do not worry about evaluations and there is so much that can be learned by them. I also realize the difficulty in the use of such instruments on a variety of levels, but there is no simple way to have students respond to an opportunity to give some sort of response when it is one of the few times they have power (and they really do). They believe all too often they are the customer in what has become our business-based educational system. It is not by accident that we have an Education Secretary, one who is immersed in the Republican Party, charter schools and voucher programs, and has made her fortune with her husband through Amway, perhaps the most Ponzi-ed of all companies in American history. I do know people in Michigan who have directly benefited from the charter schools she has specifically implemented, so I need to also be truthful in that disclosure. However, the idea that students are customers-first is fundamentally flawed for me (another blog posting).

As is the case for most of us, the end of the year creates a time where we often reflect, ponder or imagine what might be in the future. There is so much I have pondered as I have considered the year that is almost over. I began the year in Europe and I will end it there. Yet that is not anything particularly new; it is, I realize, how I have begun every year for the last four, and a few earlier in my life also. On this day four years ago, I began a journey of a different sort. It was the day when I began a final journey with Lydia. It was the day she crawled into bed and really did not get up or eat again. It was the day when I began a watch that I could not finish. Thank you even today to Nathan Langton and his family for doing that. I think about the life you lived and how your life of travel and destiny took you places that you perhaps never imagined. Traveling has become my second education, and integral to my life. I know that some of you will say that seems to be a normal process for me, but it has not always been so. I grew up not knowing much outside my own little town of Sioux City, Iowa. Travel for me was across town and a big trip might be 50 miles away to Beresford, South Dakota. Seldom did I get beyond the tristate area of Sioux City, South Sioux City, NE or North Sioux City, SD, one could be driven to in 10 minutes and one could be walked to in 10 minutes. My first plane ride was to MCRD, San Diego.

One of the times I attempted to create this post, I had just returned from a leisurely three-plus mile walk around the Mayberry of the Eastern Shore. Cape Charles, VA, also known as Cape Chuck or simply by its zip code of 23310, is a sleepy, but waking-from-its-slumber town that offers a place with beautiful scenery, quaint little businesses and a changing landscape that seems to illustrate that its ability to stay off the radar day has perhaps come to an end. Through the graciousness of a colleague and another mutual friend, I have had the opportunity to visit here four times over the last 2+ years. Even in that time the development had picked up and businesses have sprouted up in once abandoned store fronts from a post-WWII era. Once a harbor on the Chesapeake, it no longer had the influx of people and commerce and got a bit forgotten. Somehow the rediscovery has changed both the view and the visitors. I think that is how life works. We discover ourselves and we are discovered by others, sometimes in spite of ourselves. I am still, at times, trying to figure out who I am and what I want. What I believe more and more is we are a somewhat dichotomous, contradictory, paradox (how is that for redundancy, but done intentionally). We both want and push away; we both yearn for and reject the very thing we desire. I think this is the thing I have most realized about myself. Is my life little more than a phase, traveling, both literally and figuratively, from one thing to the next, seldom cognizant of where we will end up? Certainly we can breakdown our lives into phases or segments. Surely we can imagine those what if?moments where a single decision could have moved us in a very different direction than what has occurred. My first philosophy professor is probably smiling from wherever he is as I wonder how much determinism is actually who we are.

This morning up early, I have been working on multiple things as I write this: a winter term class, a Facebook post, course content, managing recommendations. There are those who believe we are on break now so there is nothing to do. I have done some relaxing (mostly sleeping and recuperating) this past week, and there will be some more, but there are so many things I still want to accomplish and explore. I think that has always been my difficulty. It is more than merely a cliché phrase of “too much to do and too little time.” It is not an imperative that is imposed upon me, it is me wanting to do what Robin Williams noted for his students in Dead Poets Society . . . it is about believing I have something to contribute. I am not always sure what that is, but I am passionate about figuring it out. This past week I received in the mail my offering to the Facebook empire through the form of a picture album of the time I have been on this social media country. I had inscribed on the first page: “If I make the lives of others more meaningful, I make my own life more meaningful.” It is something I have said for quite sometime, and I can say without hesitation, it is my life. There are times I have lost sight of that. There are times when I have helped others expecting something back. That is a problem and something I have noted in these posts, before. Help with expectation is not really help, it is self-serving. It is something I am trying to change in myself. It is also about boundaries and there again is another post. We are certainly the products of our past. The baggage we carry from all sorts of ways can keep us from reaching or even attempting to reach our potential. More significantly, it can keep us from imagining such potential.

I see this on a daily basis when students are either not willing or incapable of seeing beyond the immediate. When I hear something like “but I tried really hard,” and their work does not demonstrate an end product that even reaches mediocre. Some might question my standards and expectations, and that is fair, but I expect little less than the best they can do. Why? It is all about what my previous provost noted is potential. She noted that all people have potential, and on that I will agree. It is encouraging, motivating, requiring them to use that potential that I believe education is about. Again all three of those adjectives are necessary if potential is to be even within the realm of becoming reality. I think this is what John Keating (Robin William’s character) was trying to get his students to realize as he asked them to gather round. There is an irony when he asks what verse will they contribute a Ethan Hawke was in his first real starring role. Robert Sean Leonard, who plays the tragic character of Neil Perry (and is almost 50, what the heck??), has done quite amazing things from that first acting gig. Gale Hansen, who played Charlie Dalton (Nuwanda), has gone on to be a film executive. I took the time to look up some of the others as it was known to some that Robin Williams wanted to work with beginning actors in this amazing film. I have read that there was a grave concern about the movie even being accepted and I listened to a funny quip when the screenwriter was told by someone the title was made up of three terrible words. The significant part of the movie for me has always been Keating’s push to make the students think for themselves. Something outside the norm in the crackerjack 50s where everything was to be predictable and measured. I am not sure we are that different now. While there are certainly a lot of things that are open for consideration that were beyond the imagination in 1959, there are still too many cookie-cutter ideas that control who we are and what we think. Go to college! Study the right things! Do what is successful and will make you money! As I have asserted in other posts, there is so much in our system that screams out . . . just do what you know works. Do not think for yourself, merely jump through the educational hoops and it will all work. I know students who do remarkably well in college and they hate their lives. They are studying something because their parents told them this is what they will do if they want their parents to foot the bill for their education.

As someone who straddles the line of a liberal arts background, and with apologies to my dear colleges in Mathematics or Sciences, and as someone who wants to puke every time I hear STEM at the expense of the liberal arts. I teach writing for the real world, a world in desperate need of qualified individuals from every background who are necessary if we are to have a cooperative and thoughtful world. I teach students how to become people who will use their communicative skills in vocations across the spectrum. The importance and use of critical thinking and thorough analysis is not the property of the STEM academics. It is a liberal arts foundational principle. Sorry! I guess my rant side came out for a moment. I was blessed to teach a Bible as Literature course this fall and I had a terrific group of students. More importantly, a number of them spoke about how much they learned in the class and how they will take what they learned about both study and critical thought with them long after the course. That is what I hope happens in all of my classes. I tell them regularly, I do not want them to memorize things; I want them to synthesize things. I want them to think and analyze things. I want them to question, albeit respectfully, but I do expect them to use their brains, their voices, and their determination to become something more than they were when they came into my class. As I write this, I just heard that General James Mattis has submitted his resignation as the Secretary of Defense. This four-star Marine General certainly has a widely considered history as a Marine officer, but he demonstrated today that he is principled. He is considered an intellectual combat officer and one who is both thoughtful and eager to engage and defeat enemy. It will be interesting to see what follows in terms of replacement and the condition of the Pentagon. The reason I raise this issue is we live more and more in a world that seems to have lost its direction, either in terms of a moral compass or in sense of any consistency.

All of this has me walking, wondering, and weighing what might happen next. I am concerned because there is little long-term consideration of the consequences. I speak regularly about the importance of understanding what it means to claim something, to be actively involved in it, to determine some of the possible outcomes, but also to understand what others might do in response. This is what I study most. How does what we do affect the audience for whom it is intended? Those of my student who might read this are probably rolling their collective eyes. As you consider this over next few weeks, I hope you have a blessed and memorable holiday season.

With that I leave you this scene from Dead Poets . . . enjoy.

Thanks as always for reading,

Dr. Martin