Just an Academic Christian

Hello on a damp and chilly January evening,

Today I had the opportunity to chat with a colleague from another department in my college and one who researches a number of issues and aspects about rhetoric, religion, politics, and culture. We have talked briefly before and I have read some of his work, so the opportunity to do more than casually address the possibility of doing some research together was exciting, even motivational because it got me thinking. I found myself pondering where I stand in terms of my own faith and how my background colors my perspective on both religion in general and then more precisely how I try to find some tittle of logic in the evangelical’s support of a person that occupies the 1600 address.

Certainly we have some similar views and equal astonishment that those who claim a particular conservative dogmatic can find most anything this President does to represent any kind of Christian systematic. From his inappropriate, sexual innuendo to his outright explicit Hollywood insider tape, from his demeaning of most anyone not like him to his most recent retweet of Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer in Muslim attire, and a White House Press Secretary who could not seem to realize the bigotry of such a post itself, the idea of turning the other cheek or disregarding the log in their own eye seems to go beyond the pale. It is simple, too simple. to argue it is merely the idea of being profoundly one issue (which is overturning Roe v. Wade). It is even more complex than a liberal versus an evangelical. In fact, my conversation with my colleague offered some really nice insight into the the complexity of the ideograph “liberal,” particularly when we allow the political and the religious understanding of that word to intermingle and then do not realize the homogenization we have performed or live. The understanding of conservative or liberal  is not what I understood it to be growing up in the 1960s and early 70s. The understanding of evangelical is also quite a bit more complex. Certainly the Protestant tenet of salvation by grace through faith was significantly changed with a sort of born again works-righteousness that seems to saturate many evangelicals. It is ironic that evangelical is related to the Greek word angellos or the word euangellion (sorry, I wrote them in Greek, but WordPress does not seem amenable to letting me use that font). The first word is the Greek word for angel and the second is the word for Good News. The real foundational understanding of evangelical is to provide the message of Good News, but it seems it has been co-opted by a particular group of believers. Certainly the term evangelical dates back to the Reformation when it was used to refer to those who were not Roman Catholic. To this day, the German Protestant Church, which is what Luther prompted, is called the Evangelische Kirche. Certainly in the English speaking world, the quadrilateral of priorities is indicative of what it means to be evangelical. Yet, for me much of this seems to be dependent on action or demonstration rather than heart. I know that is a difficult statement and will perhaps anger some who read this, but hear me out. I believe one can be passionate about their faith and simultaneously compassionate. I see too little of this. Too often my experience has been that when the chips are down and people are questioning faith or where God is, the evangelical sees is as an opportunity for conversion. If that is the case then their compassion has a price and I will argue it is not compassion, but manipulation. In terms of another part of their quadrilateral, to understand the Bible as inerrant or infallible makes the Bible a recipe card. I believe in the divinely inspired word, but I also believe it was written by humans at a particular point in time in a particular context. The writers were influenced by the lives they were living as they wrote, just as any author is. If you find the Bible so unquestioningly authoritative, it seems you might be worshiping the book and not the one who inspired it. That is idolatry. While Lutherans are often accused of being second article dominant, crucicentrism or the importance of atonement is not unique to evangelical Christians. It is central to Christianity for all. Without atonement, the crucifixion has little purpose. The issue of rebirth or born again and a conversion is perhaps the most difficult for me. As a person who sees God as the primary actor in any sacramental act, infant baptism is logical. It is God’s grace; it is not our doing that makes the baptismal act salvific. Therefore, we cannot decide to claim God, rather God claims us. What is interesting, to return to my initial thought, is giving God such ability is seen as liberal. Because I do not feel a re-baptism or conversion is necessary, believing that God’s mercy is something that comes to us through the sacraments and the Holy Spirit, I would be a liberal theologically focused person.

For me that is fine. While I am not as regular in my attendance to worship as I should be (says the former Lutheran pastor), I believe Luther completely understood our human condition. He understood the struggle most have to be faithful. That is not to say that we can just do whatever we want and repent, though technically that works if your heart is true, but rather he would say this if we are going to focus on our works and our belief in that conversion is all that is needed and good, salvation is dependent on this: be perfect. Then you are all good. Follow the recipe and you are all good. That is the problem; there is no recipe. For me, and yes, note that I said for me, the quadrilateral is a recipe book. It reminds me of a simple, but important question: do you do what you do so your  parents will love you? or do you do what you do because your parents love you? The side you fall on in your answer of that question is an important one. The same could be asked about your understanding of God. If you have to do what you do to get God to love you, there is little compassion; there is only a rule book. There is no real atonement because you still have to earn your salvation. Gerhard Forde, my confessions professor in seminary, wrote in his book, Justification: A Matter of Death and Life, “The answer to the question what must I do to be saved is nothing.” Then he went on in the next sentence to write, “Shut up and listen for once in your life.” I can still hear his voice when I read or remember those words. Forde, one of the people to whom I owe my theological basis spoke about a radical Lutheranism, in someways like Bonhoeffer questioned the role of the church as he decided to participate in the plot against Adolf Hitler. Forde would write, “We should realize first of all that what is at stake on the current scene is certainly not Lutheranism as such. Lutheranism has no particular claim or right to existence. Rather, what is at stake is the radical gospel, radical grace, the eschatological nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen as put in its most uncompromising and unconditional form by St. Paul. What is at stake is a mode of doing theology and a practice in church and society derived from that radical statement of the gospel.” The gospel is inclusive and as such, it calls on us to reach out to all people, regardless of race, creed, orientation, identity, faith, or social economic class. Inclusivity is synonymous with Gospel; it is what makes it Good News. When we put our human conditional expectations on the love of a creator, we diminish that creator (or at least the understanding of the creator). This is something Dr. Nielsen tried to get us to see in his Christian Thought class or when he spoke to you one on one about faith matters.

Before you wander down the road of thinking I am saying we have no response-ability. Indeed we do. In Romans 6, Paul specifically asked the question, “Should we sin all the more that grace may abound?” He goes on to say, “Certainly Not!” And it is written in the Greek as an imperative. Yes, I grew up attending church weekly. It was expected and I did it. And most of the time I enjoyed it because most of my school friends and I attended the same church. As I have noted in other blogs, it was my social group and it was a place I could feel validated, a need I noted in a recent post. We were fortunate to have some incredible group leaders, those older than me, as well as a pretty incredible pastor in the Reverend Paul Ofstedal. As I would return to Dana College and eventually through ordination after my MDiv at Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, my understanding of Lutheranism would grow. As a parish pastor, I remember being awed by the idea and power of baptism and what God bestows upon us. I think it was there I began to understand the graciousness of God, the real grace of God. As I would move toward my doctoral work and my own personal struggle with the power structure of the ELCA, and particularly with a bishop, I began to understand how those in authority abuse that authority in the name of the church. It was then I knew that faith was about more than belonging to or attending a specific denomination, synod, or congregation. What does it mean for me to be Lutheran or claim Lutheran theology as my go-to? It means that I am to act in the same compassionate and gracious way I believe God accepts me. In spite of my flaws, my failures, and my unsuccessful attempts to do this, somehow, for some reason, God still loves me. I have often said if there is such a thing as a guardian angel, I am sure mine is feeling quite worn out at times. In fact that angel might have gone as far as to ask for a new assignment. Much of what I have written here might seem obtuse, complex, or as one once said, “They pay you to study and talk like that?” Yes, indeed, they do. But I think there is more to all of this. I often tell my students that I believe God gave them a brain to do more than hold their ears apart. It is true. I believe God wants us to look at the world in which we live and see the difficulties. I think that God wants us to question and struggle with what it means to be faithful. Does that include studying and questioning. In my piety, I believe it does. Life is not a recipe and neither is faith. The simple statement to love your neighbor as yourself is straightforward. It is a command, an imperative. The doing it is the hard part, but when we systematically exclude, refer to people in disparaging terms, or somehow believe we have the inside track on God, we are not following the command to love. It is also as simple as that.

Our current lack of civility, decorum, and most anything else that pits us against them is contrary to a gospel that calls all. We are asked to reach out in a sense of compassion first. The fifth commandment address the issue of murder, but if we take Jesus’s words to heart in the Sermon on the Mount, he notes that if you hate someone you have already broken the commandment. Luther noted that this meant we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs. Sounds a bit socialist to some, I imagine. When it comes to bearing false witness (the eighth commandment), Luther again noted, “we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” Yikes, do not read any Twitter posts if you want to abide by that. Perhaps I am an academic Christian, but for me that means I read, I think, I ponder, I use my brain. I refuse to merely follow the crowd and I will not believe by recipe card. I know this post will raise some hackles among those who read, but I am not telling you either what to believe or how. I am merely saying what works for me, and sometimes it does not work because I fail it, not the other way around. I have not posted a video the last couple times, but this was a song sung at my ordination by my best friend, and someone we lost too soon, Peter Goede.

Thank you for all the reads and for the comments, I am humbled by all of you.

Dr. Martin

Is it Stars Aligning or?

Hello from Danville,

I am in the town where I do the great majority of my medical appointments waiting on a lunch appointment. I have noted from time to time that I have lived my life with not much of a strict sense of where or why. Suffice it to say there was no grand plan or scheme. That might seem counter-intuitive for a person so process driven, but I am quite sure the most significant things in my life came about in a sort of happenstance manner. Let me offer some events that seem to support that contention. They begin with my very birth.

Again, as previously noted, I came into the world at 26 weeks of gestation and weighing only 17 ounces. No one expected or planned such an entrance into this world. No one planned a move before 2 to the grandparent’s house, so much so that we (my younger sister and I) were taken from our parents after yet another phone call. I am pretty sure the only full family member I possibly have does not know of my existence. You do not plan such things. Quite assuredly, there was no plan, at least in my 4 year old mind, that I would be sent off to another family, albeit adopted, and begin with a new family name, trying with all the brain power my little pre-school mind could muster to understand why I had a new last name. Certainly, the next years brought many lessons; I worked as hard as I could to be worthy of the new house and family, but to the contrary, I was told that I did not deserve to be there. I was told I would not grow up to amount to much. I was told at times I was worthless. It was difficult to understand how I could find my way clear of that, but I found a resilience and stubbornness to manage. I was blessed to have others who counteracted that philosophy of nihilism. A grandmother, who loved, demonstrated, and taught me I had value. Parents of some of my childhood friends who made me feel welcome and valued. By the time I was ready to graduate from high school, again I had no real plan for my life. Adoption had given me some stability in spite of the abuse, but the age of those who adopted me was not conducive to their support continuing past my own age of 18. In fact, because I graduated from high school at 17, that support would end even sooner. I had already lived out of the house most of the summer before and the fall of my senior year in high school. So, on one morning I skipped school and found myself at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in downtown Sioux City. Within a couple of months, I would enlist in the Marine Corps and, at least for the time being, I would have some plan for my life. Yet, the growing up that occurred in the Corps is drastic and the experiences I would encounter took me far beyond anything I might have expected in NW Iowa.

As I came back chronologically an adult, and perhaps grown beyond my years in other ways, a significant part of me needed to catch up. I did not understand much about who I was or how I fit into much of anything. It seemed that my life was caught between two worlds, as was most of my own inner being. A GI Bill certainly offered some opportunities, but I had little idea even yet why I would attend college or university. However, there was little other I wanted to do, and working at Walgreens or some other such dead end job was not what I hoped for myself. Perhaps what happened in those years beyond my service helped me more than I knew. What I do know is again, I found an outside support because there was no support in my Home of Record (HOR). To be completely fair, however, at least they did let me live there, and that offered stability again that was essential. My first foray into higher education was an abject failure on a number of levels. I did have a good time, but I wandered rather aimlessly around the streets of Ames. Perhaps the most important thing I learned there was to wait tables and to serve as a bartender. Those skills have served me most of my life and that has been a fallback more than once. As I have noted in other blogs, the year 1977 was a difficult one. The death of both my brother and my grandmother would devastate me, particularly when the woman who had given me a sense of safety and hope my entire life was gone. Looking back, she was only 64, the age I am now. That is much too young to leave this world. Somehow, either by the grace of God, and some encouragement from a best friend, I would find myself on yet another journey. This one would take me around the Midwestern part of the country, from as far north as Birnamwood, WI to as far south as Houston. Forty-eight thousand miles in 9 months with four other people would change my life. How all those changes would manifest themselves is still happening. The long and short of that year traveling in an 1978 Ford Econoline Van, which we named Elmer, introduced me to the hills of Blair, NE and the campus of Dana College. It was those four years that created the first foundation that was bedrock solid. Up to that point, I had little sense of why or how. When I told my first host family during the travel year that I wanted to be a hair dresser, they encouraged me to think a bit more broadly. If they are reading this, I am sure they are smiling. It was not the first, but the second trip to Dana and the meeting of Merle Brockhoff and Gary Beltz, of Mimi Kotovsky (I think that is a correct spelling) and Mary Rowland, who would change my life path.

What made Dana work for me? That is a simple and complicated answer all at once. It was simple because I was allowed to thrive and find support, both students and faculty. It was complex because I had much to learn and a previous failure at college to overcome. Singing in the college choir was invaluable. Working with the campus ministry teams continued to create networks of people. In the classroom, I had Dr. Jorgensen for Freshman Writing. I think it was the only semester he ever taught it, but I was in his class. All the lectures from various professors, each in their field, in that Humanities class as a second semester freshman was a turning point for me academically. My Intro to Religion class with Dr. Nielsen blew me away. His intelligence and ability to engage his students was like nothing I had ever experienced. I was hooked, but more importantly, I found a place I wanted to be. That was no minor issue. Again, colleagues like Michael (Mike) Keenan, Robert (Bob) Schmoll, who were both veterans, were invaluable to my being able to acclimate to a place where most students were the normal freshman age. Yet, some of those freshman classmates like Shelly (Peterson) Grorud, Leanne (Danahy) Bruland, and Monty Scheele accepted me and made me feel like I had value. They had no idea how important they were and to this day how much I appreciate them. A student named Pamela Poole and her friend were important to my first year also from the very first weekend meeting them. To be in touch with Pan to this day means more than she realizes. There was a young incredible and brilliant student, who did not even finish high school before coming to Dana; her name was Sarah (Hansen) Jacobs and she taught me to value so many things that influence me to this day, particularly classical music and its importance in our world history. She was a special person to me in a number of ways. Because I was older and had an wonderful roommate named Peter Bonde, I was introduced to some more senior level students. Barbara Kalal Hawkins is still a valued friend. Others like Lynn Hohneke, who was so quiet and yet wonderfully sweet and caring, and whom I remember coming over with some others one Saturday night to get me out of my room as I was once again studying, made my first year at Dana such a profound blessing. Those relationships would continue and others developed as I continued my time in Blair. A project in a European Cix class on the French Revolution with Kristy Swenson, one of the smartest people I ever worked with, and Dixie Frisk was a highlight of my academics at Dana. A wonderful dinner with Kristy afterwards at Tivoli is still etched in my mind. What has continued to amaze me is the enduring nature of those relationships. I am no into my 60s and some of the people I appreciate the most yet today entered my life when I was a student.

I think what is so profoundly unique is that characteristic of maintaining is something that crossed every facet of the campus. Whether it was the women who worked in Parnassus, the people in the business office, the registrar’s office, students from any class and most certainly the professors, the idea of family was not merely something that served as an appropriate sound byte. The idea of an experience, the Dana experience was something that became part of our DNA, if you will, and as such, it was not limited to the time we were students. As a Marine, and anyone who has served knows this, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” I believe for a great many of us, something quite similar could be said about our Dana roots. Those roots run deep and true. They were cultivated by every single person we met while there. Shortly before Dana would close, I had created a letter of application and was putting together a packet to apply to teach there. While I am blessed to be here at Bloomsburg, and it would have been a terrible shock had I applied to have the college close a year later, I guess that is another way that my taking what comes rather than planning served me well.

Even while at Dana, I struggled with where I should go. Was I called to parish ministry? What about being an attorney? What about maybe being a professor? I remember walking to my commencement at Dana with my father. He asked appropriately, “What can you do with your degree?” With a double major and a double minor, I told him, “Nothing; but go to more school.” He was speechless, proud of his college graduate son, a first generation college student, but stunned at my answer. I was headed to summer Greek class in barely two weeks. Seminary would follow because I believed with all my heart that is where I was called. What I know now is it were merely another step along the way. It was that first couple of quarters at LNTS that I would find a new battle to fight. A fight that has consumed much of my life since; a fight that would change both my understanding of myself as well as how I believed others would understand me. Crohn’s disease or its consequences have been a major component of my life since 1984, less than a year following my graduation from Dana. That battle has taken me to the edge of life and beyond. It has changed my understanding of wellness, my understanding of things like masculinity, pain, and so much more. It has been the one constant in my life since that January, and I have battled and fought it on a number of fronts before realizing it is not something to fight, but rather something to embrace and understand. It was a significant element in the failure of my first marriage and my struggle with what it did to my body and its affect on my identity and belief that I could be desirable would be a manor consequence in my second. I understand that now.

Again, could I have planned that? Most certainly not. Would I have wanted to know its plan for me? Again, definitely not. In the times that followed I ended up in a second Master’s and eventual PhD because of some of those consequences. Leaving the clergy roster and trying to figure out what next was a difficult time. Again, not something I expected nor wanted to experience, but experience it I did. In the times since, I have found myself in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s of Michigan, Texas, back to Houghton and then Wisconsin. From Wisconsin I have returned to a merely 70 miles from where I was following seminary. I can say quite assuredly that is anything I planned. I can say without reservation, when I left Pennsylvania the first time I was quite sure I would never return. Yet, this is where I have lived the longest since graduating from high school. It is the place I have felt the most settled and successful. It is the place I have been continually blessed by wonderful friends, colleagues, and students. It is the place I finally feel like I have battled long and hard enough to no longer need to battle. That is not to say there are not things I still wish could be different, but it is probably the firs time since I was at my grandmother’s house at the age of 2 1/2 that I feel safe and happy. I did not plan any of this, but that does not mean I took no agency or advocacy for where I am or who I have become. How is it we get where we go? How much of it depends on us and how much is merely that whimsical hand of fate moving us? Is it God or something else? I am not sure I have an adequate answer to all of that. What I do know is I continue to move forward, sometimes with at least a modicum of a plan, but most often with a sense of merely wanting to do the best in whatever circumstance confronts me. I am not sure that will change. I do have some plans for this year. A sabbatical will have me back in Poland this next fall teaching at the second oldest university in Eastern Europe. I am busy making plans on both sides of the ocean to manage that time. Now people are asking when do you plan to retire? I am not sure if that is out of concern or hope. Again, that will take a plan . . . I am thinking about the options, but I cannot say I am planning anything at the present time. I am merely living the life I have been blessed to have. It is the blessings that have been part of my entire life that have often moved me from one place to the next, from one possibility to another. It is the blessings and love of so many that have kept me optimistic and willing to take on whatever comes next. I guess it is how I will continue to live. It has served me well thus far. The picture is from my senior year at Dana.

Thanks as always for reading. Thanks for the many blessings so many of you have been part of.

Michael

Wondering: What Have I Learned? It is a Holy Love

Hello on a Saturday night from my study/home office/Apple TV room,

Yes, this upper room is for me my getaway place. It is the place I do work, practice various languages, try to keep my home in order and I will listen to music. It is one of the places I have Bose speakers for a third time. When I purchased my house, it was the room I somewhat splurged on in terms of creating my little home theater. As I have been working on my Spring classes and reading about digital literacies, I have been reminded of how our access to music has changed so drastically from when I bought my first 45 rpm vinyl record or my first 8-track tape. I had purchased my first CD shortly before coming to Pennsylvania in the fall of 1988. I remember have a lot of vinyl and a pretty serious stereo when I was at Dana College. Music has been both my way to escape and yet my way to remember. Groups like Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Kansas, Styx, the Eagles, or Boston bring back memories that can remind me of the 70s to today. Sometimes I find myself YouTubing the original versions of some music to remember what the musicians looked like when I was attending their concerts. Sometimes the memories of the people who were in my life at those times. And as demonstrated recently, those places and times can cause reactions, not always expected, but simultaneously not surprised by the consistency. The two sides of pulling and pushing remain intact. I can see Don, my grad school counselor, still shaking his head at my optimistic desire to always hope for the best. While my idealistic nature is no longer unfettered, it is still in place.

As I walked down a musical memory lane for a while this evening, I am prompted to ask what have I learned in the 31 1/2 year since I first stepped in Pennsylvania. Certainly, the hair is thinner and grayer. The beard, or whatever form of facial hair is white, so much so that small children mistaken me for Santa on a regular basis. The thing that might best reveal what I have learned the second half of my life is the following statement. Things I thought important at 30 seem less so now and things I deemed unimportant then have more significance than I would have ever imagined. I would like to believe there is at least an inkling of wisdom in that metamorphosis. A couple of blogs back I noted rather openly some of my failings. Amazing how that touched something unexpectedly, and more profoundly (on a number of levels). Undoubtedly, my memories of that time are multifaceted. It was a time of difficulty from so many directions, and regardless what I tried there was little i could do to fix what I believe now was broken. And while you might believe I am referring to the other, I am referring to myself and where I was in life. It can be amazing how our past, and things we have left in the past come back to haunt us.1 am still aware from time to time how the abuse experienced as I grew, especially from someone who I had believed was supposed to love and protect me, has colored or affected by response in particular circumstances. Earlier today, when I was lamenting some of this to an important friend, she noted quite quickly, you have changed that so much from where you must gave been. That is a paraphrase, but her words to me were invaluable and reassuring that even now I continue to evolve.

There are certainly a couple traits that I know I have left behind and likewise some circumstances I refuse to subject myself to. In the first, I do foolish things; in the latter, I am often so fragile that I feel powerless to manage them well. I will not drink alone and I will not drink to excess. That has been something (with two exceptions) I have managed well since I returned to Pennsylvania. More importantly, if I feel that I am being hurt by someone who supposedly cares for me, I know I need to step back, either temporarily or possibly permanently and completely. While we as humans generally respond to hurt with anger, I do so perhaps more profoundly. More significantly, I now realize, when the hurt was over a period of time and recommitted again and again, I did foolish things to try to manage that hurt. It is also possible that I have moved too far at times to respond only through logic, and that is en entirely different issue. What I am quite sure of now is I abhor drama in my life at all, but particularly when it deals with the daily ins and outs of relationships. I remember my counselor again noting that I do have a penchant for trying to argue things logically, and my expectation was that everyone would do so. The first part of that is probably an attribute, the second not so much.

What I find most interesting at this point of my life is that in my most recent relationship, in spite of it ending, is the person said to me recently that the most difficult thing about not continuing a relationship or thing that is most confusing, perhaps, is there was not really anything terribly wrong, and while we were both angry at moments, there is nothing that is sad about how we managed that time. It is just that what we needed from the other was not necessarily what happened. Again, it is a sort of strange and yet successful non-relationship at this point. I think what I feel most positive about is that it demonstrates, undoubtedly, really important growth in where I was and who I was to where and who I am now. There is nothing promised in how growth or change occurs. There is no roadmap in how you move from pain and discord. The impetus for that movement is, perhaps, not even understood. What allows two people to stay committed and involved in a relationship where 25, 50 years or beyond? My students asked me that in a argumentation class last year at some point. I had to think some. As I am prone to do, both think and offer a tongue-in-cheek answer, I said it was because they got married at 13. Then I said, more thoughtfully, “I think it requires an ongoing ability on the day your are angry and you do not like them at all, to be able to dig deep and realize you believed you loved them enough to want to spend your life with them.” To perhaps love them beyond all understanding. It is not by accident that I return to that phrase. It is a holy love, but I think it takes time to learn how to love in that manner. To be the recipient of such a love is both life-altering and life-giving. It is incredibly freeing because it begins with and is grounded in forgiveness. It require an ability to be sure in one’s own self and not be afraid of being less than hoped. I was not at that point in my life when I was married. Of that I am quite sure. If I had been would it have been enough?

I am not sure it would. It would have certainly been an important element toward our being more successful than I was (or we were). The parenthetical here is important. Being two people who can be allowed to be their imperfect selves is essential if a better sense of perfection is to result. While that seems obvious and might sound a tad cliché, it is anything but. I used to say that being in a committed all-encompassing relationship is the hardest job one can have. As I age I realize so more fully how true that statement is. We bring so much baggage to whatever we do; in the case of our relationships, it is not about merely two people it is about all the people in both our present and those from our past. How will all of that influence our responses or dictate our emotions? There is little to really provide that picture more than dimly. There is also is getting set in our ways or having patterns to our lives. There is the realizing that we are all unique characters, but also knowing that being able to share and integrate our jumbled up basket of experiences is an admirable and helpful thing to do. Certainly, the appearance of an ex-spouse has been a complicated walk down memory lane. It would have been 25 years had we celebrated an anniversary last June. Maybe that is, in part, what prompted this act of habituation. What I do know is I do not dislike, reject, or have any negative feelings, in spite of some profound mistakes. In fact, perhaps this intermittent demonstrated an important regularity for me. It also required a time for me again to be accountable. Not so much to the other, though I hope they perhaps experienced my doing so, but rather that for me that accountability offered reflection and honesty to myself. Not in a self-serving or selfish manner, but in a manner that might help anyone who reads this to feel a sense of hope that learning and growing never stop. That love, when healthy, survives incredible odds. It is integral to our being all we can be. Additionally, perhaps another thing I have learned is one can demonstrate and provide love to another without being married to them. One can be intimately involved and supportive of other without being sexually involved with them. All of that takes thought, commitment, and reflection. It requires an ability to be selfless, and yet not losing one’s autonomy or self worth. I think of one who told me I have loved a number of people, but I did not marry them. This was a giving and thoughtful love that taught them how to love. They are still married and in their 70s. They still inspire and teach me. Thanks Lee and Judy.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Michael

Higher Education Today

Hello from my kitchen,

There is a lot I need to accomplish and I am in the midst of preparing for another semester. While the use of Course Delivery Tools makes some aspects of managing a class, lectures, grades, and information easier, to do it well is laborious and a never ending proposition. Yes, on one hand I have been finished with the fall semester since about 11:47 a.m. on December 18th, but I was, and am, not finished. I started teaching a distance Technical Writing course on December 16th and complete it in January 19th. Second semester begins on January 21st.

A quick glance at the calendar would note there are not many free days. In addition, I do need to work through some new texts for two of my classes. While there may be a few professors who recycle things. In addition, I am working to manage a second appointment to the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. This work is a connection to both my scholarship and my life in general. The latest two articles or conference papers as well as some currently in process are all related to issues of gender and being chronically ill with Crohn’s, one of the silent diseases, a category of things where someone can look healthy on the outside, but not so much on the inside. One of the things I have realized is that the integration of life and practice is central to what I do. It is also probably connected to my penchant for process. In terms of being a composition theorist I fall into the category of process composition also. I am a process and product person and sometimes in today’s world, students will come to me with a substandard assignment and want to argue, but I tried really hard. They do realize that the world they are headed into is product driven and being nice does not always keep a person employed.

I do not think that requiring a student to go above and beyond what is require to merely get it done is wrong. In fact, I would argue allowing substandard or “but I tried really hard” work to be acceptable is to set them up for failure. As I have noted more than once, I want them to think, analyze and always be willing to work a bit harder, a bit more critically. It is also amazing that the push to get them to think or analyze and question or go beyond what our society deems good enough is suspect. I am always amazed, but no longer surprised, when I hear others accuse me of proselytizing or indoctrinating my students to accept or adopt some liberal ideology. Particularly in our present political atmosphere (and that is an entirely separate blog post). What I have noted for them or even to some who have questioned whether or posited that every college professor is a socialist, is while I am more liberal socially than some, I am probably much more conservative fiscally than many. I am that middle of the road, pragmatist. This is not because I do not know where I stand, but it is precisely the opposite. I am the product of a union-bearing, New Deal democrat, father who grew up and graduated at the height of the depression (1933). He is a person who even today would probably accuse me of being a Republican. I am the brother of a sister who once quit a job because she could collect more unemployed than working and I blew a gasket on her, so to speak. I remember retorting to her decision rather unabashedly, “So I can pay for your lazy ass.” That did not set well in all sorts of ways from either side of the equation. What I realize now is there was more going on to her struggle to work than I realized at the time. I am the professor of a student who is currently, or so it seems, being bullied as she is on a trip because she is not white. This sort of news disturbs and confounds me. This sort of nationalism that is playing out across the world right now is frightening on all sorts of levels. From my own campus to the White House, from England to Eastern Europe, from almost every African country, the hate that is espoused under the guise of nationalism is something that will destroy the world in which we live.  I am a professor who will bend over backwards for my students regardless their ethnicity or economic background to help them succeed, but they, nonetheless, still have to do their work. I am told that students either love my class or find me too incredibly difficult, and I know that people have been told to not take my Technical Writing class because it is too much work. The requirements of basic writing, communication, and having standards are not wrong. If I had a dollar for every time I have been told “but your class is hard.” I could take a really nice vacation at some point. Standards and making a person work does not make it hard, it makes it labor intensive. There is nothing hard about thinking, it is merely something someone does or should do. In spite of having labor intensive courses, I am also told they have learned or thought more than ever before. I think that is why they pay the money they do, to be challenged and to leave as someone who is competent at what they should have learned. As I have noted at other times, I both expect and give a lot.

When I look back at my time as an undergraduate at Dana, as noted in my last blog, I sat at the feet of brilliance. I also sat at the feet of professors who demanded, but generally in a grace-filled manner, our best. I remember sitting in the larger third floor room in Pioneer Memorial and taking the freshman essay writing exam. You had to pass two of three writing exams to pass freshman composition regardless what you did during the semester. When I tell my students if you had more than a couple of errors per page (and I think it was actually only one) the writing was deemed unacceptable, they tell me that is ridiculous. Oh my goodness, standards and expectations! Our world is full of them.  I can tell you that it prompted us to do our best work, even in stressful circumstances. I remember a person falling asleep in the hum lecture during art slides (imagine that??) in the large lecture hall in the Dana Hall of Science and Jim Olsen telling us all to get up quietly and leave and we all left the student there. Imagine his shock. I remember the expectations of King Rich as he would smile in his gracious and eloquent way and say, “How wonderful.”, but you knew you had better do your work and do it well. It mattered not the class, from LARP to humanities, from New Testament to German, from the Pope’s Christian Thought class to Dr. Stone’s A&P, each and every professor I had gave their all in our classes and expected us to do the same. I am not sure I ever remember a class cancelled because the professor was ill. While I know that the humanities sequence was the bane of many a student’s life, it was, is, and will forever be the class that helped me be a scholar. Adrienne Rich. the feminist poet, addressed the graduates at Rutgers University some years ago and asked what it meant to “claim an education.” She noted that your tuition is not a guarantee of being admitted to the scholarly community that is there (this is a paraphrase of her words).  The way such a group of professors worked together to help us actually understand the world in which we lived was a novel approach. They were creating scholars and I cannot thank them enough. I cannot even imagine that happening today, unfortunately. Not that we do not want our students to be scholars, but the interdisciplinary nature of that one class would be difficult to replicate in today’s academy. They worked in concert to help us understand the connectedness, the complexity, and the awe of the world we had inherited from those before us. The importance of the liberal arts has waxed and waned throughout the ages, but a recent study showed that the long-term mobility, increased satisfaction, and even the monetary gain of those with the liberal arts degree outpaces that of IT or STEM graduates (Weise, Hanson, and Sentz, January 2019). Too often I think many who think more conservatively, find liberal, even when it refers to arts, is a suspect work to be viewed with disdain and suspicion. I have often wanted to created a bumper stick that says: Liberal, Christian, and Patriotic and see how confounded people might be. If connecting things and understanding that thinking and analyzing is a product of some liberal indoctrination, what does that say about being conservative. I believe college or university is about teaching people to think in general and come to their own conclusions. I actually like having students who disagree with me in class because if forces me to consider things more thoughtfully and find a way to understand why I might have the view I do. Teaching people to think beyond what they know is essential to creativity; it is essential to becoming a productive person.

One of the students for whom I have the most appreciation in the time I have been at Bloomsburg is a student who comes from a very conservative area in Pennsylvania. The student is from their own words (paraphrased more appropriately than written) was a person who was willing to tell people with whom they disagreed where to get off and how to get there. In addition, the person did all the things and played all the roles of the dutiful offspring in spite of their own internal struggle. They struggled to accept the views and actions of those around them while one part of them was in anguish. During the various times they ended up in my class as a professional writing minor, they began to learn to lean on their own inner-voice to come to terms with their sexuality, the struggle that belief held, and what they needed to do to be happy with who they were and are. This coming out was not easy initially and it is not easy for them even now, but when they graduated, they presented me with a certificate for being the person that allowed them to feel supported in their journey. I still chat with them often and they know they are welcome in my house at anytime. Yes, even as a former Lutheran pastor, which would for some seem in-congruent  I am proud of that certificate more than perhaps anything I have been given in my decade here at Bloomsburg. I did not indoctrinate or convince them to be or say anything, I merely accepted them for who they were and walked and listened as they proceeded through their journey of figuring it out. I remember being asked to speak at that event and I noted how my sister (one of three full or half siblings who are gay or lesbian) would be astounded at how far we have come in acceptance of and going beyond the idea of binary sexuality. In my sister’s case, that lack of acceptance contributed to what would result in her mental illness and premature death. Some of my more conservative friends would say that I am going against the Bible; they would say this is an abomination. One of our major denominations is struggling with this very issue as I write this. I am continually saddened by those who believe they can play God and know how God will judge better than God does. I had that very conversation with my father about my sister when he struggled with what he believed would happen to my sister in terms of salvation. Certainly there is more that can be written here, but my point is through both my college and seminary education, I have found that God is more compassionate than we are. At least I hope so.

It is difficult when sons and daughters move beyond their parents’ positions or understandings of the world in which we live, but I believe that is what is supposed to happen. If parents have done their jobs well, they work themselves out of a job. Again, that is what Dana and beyond taught me. The professors I had at Dana were profoundly faithful and good people, but they were also intelligent and driven to share what I think Luther understood as vocation. Does the work you do make a difference in the world and may the lives of other people better? If you go about your work in this manner than it is never merely a job, it is a vocation. Again, a word that is often maligned. If someone goes to a vocational high school today it is because they are not as smart or capable. I hear this regularly. I only went to vo-tech. People who go to Penn College of Technology are sometimes thought to be less intelligent or capable, but I can tell you that the beauty and comfort of my home is the product of some of their work. They are more intelligent and capable in those areas than I could ever hope to be. I am not sure where I learned to be as open to possibility as I am. I know that not all of it came from my own upbringing, and that is not to speak ill of my blue collar background. Those who have read my blog with any consistency will know that. Perhaps where I learned to be more open and accepting is because of that woman who served as a mother to me from about 18 months until I was almost 5.

I have written about my Grandmother Louise on numerous occasions in the past. I have referred to her as my hero, her home as the one place I remember happiness and safety. I have noted the similarity between her and Lydia at times, or the fact that some of the things in my own home today are connected to that early childhood home and memories of that place (sometimes consciously, but more often unconsciously). I think much of my acceptance and attempts to be gracious and giving come from her. Education is about giving and teaching. It is about offering insight and allowing the student to take it and figure it out. It is allowing them to become adults and citizens. That is what Dana did for me. That is what I try to do for my students now. If I can be half the professor those in Blair were to me, then Dana’s legacy does continue to live. It is appropriate that I remember my Grandmother Louise today because it is the 107th anniversary of her birth. I still miss her and I wonder what she would think of where I have ended up. I love her beyond words. This was actually one of her favorite songs.

I think of her often when I hear songs by Bread or Simon and Garfunkel, and I can see her standing at her bakery table decorating cakes and listening to and singing along with the music on the radio. Indeed her legacy also lives in me.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Why Does Dana Live On?

Hello from my study,

It is the end of New Year’s Day and for the first time in 5 years I am not in Europe or Kraków the first day of the year, and more significantly in a half a decade. Of course, as I have noted in other posts, this NW Iowa boy never really imagined he might be considered a bit of a world traveler. I know there are people who travel much more than I do, but undoubtedly, much more has happened through the past five years than I ever expected possible. From traveling around much of Central and parts of Eastern Europe to making it to Russia this past summer, I continually realize that people are people and we all hope for much the same things.

My travel started as a 17 year old boy, leaving home while believing he was an adult through an enlistment in the United States Marines. It would take less than 24 hours and my hiding my head under my pillow as tears streamed down my face to know that I had not made it to adulthood yet. That, what they now call adulting thing, undoubtedly had not yet happened. One might hope that my time in the Corps would have developed an adult, and in certain ways, it most definitely did, but there was so much yet to learn. I would come back to Sioux City hoping I had grown up, but moving back into my parents’ home probably erased most of the progress I had made. All of the responsibility I had seemed to disappear and if it were not for my pastor, his family, and the Reeses, I think my regression could have been even more problematic. As I noted in other blogs, traveling for a year on the LYE team did a great deal of good because it exposed me to living with others and realizing there was much more to life, particularly in terms of learning and culture. Yet the travel that changed my life was a trip that I have noted in other posts. As a sophomore at Dana, the trips to Europe with Dr. Nielsen were already legendary. His incredible interest in all things cultural offered some new possibility to connect our nascent world view of literature, art, architecture, and world languages to the theme and itinerary he would develop. His ability to integrate our world still astounds me.

That interim was titled Auguries of Loneliness and we read books and stories by Earnest Hemingway and Thomas Mann. That reading and the travel the last days of the year 39 years ago and into January are still etched into both my memories and my very being. The incredible group of students like Doug Lemon, Alison Nichols, Gay Gordon, Lisa Hanson, Lisa Bansen, and many others I would remember from pictures created quite of cadre trouping along after Dr. Nielsen. I never realized just how much energy he had or the length of his inseam when I tried to jump from footprint to footprint in the snow as we experienced Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I remember sitting in the cathedral in Lübeck, listening to an organist play pieces by Buxtehude in the classic Baroque style. And I was in the very place he had played some of his compositions. That is not a daily occurrence. Standing on the balcony of Hamlet’s castle in Helsingør. as the cold wind blew across the North Sea, would change the way I read Hamlet for the rest of my life. Standing before Raphael’s paintings or walking into St. Peter’s Basilica is simply a life-changing proposition. I think you get the picture, but it was not what happened while I was there, which included my leaving the group in an attempt to return to America for health reasons (that is an entirely another story). It is what the trip did to change me.

Like too many of students I see in my own classrooms yet today, I had been taught or encouraged to memorize and regurgitate what I had put into short-term memory. The humanities sequence as a freshman and sophomore at Dana required something much different. It required, thought, analysis, and most importantly, integration or synthesis. My professors at Dana, and particularly all who lectured in 107, 205, and 206, wanted us to understand the complexity of the world we would enter, and furthermore, they believed in the concept of citizenship, harkening back to the Greeks and Romans we had studied. My trip to Europe took those lessons out of the Western Civilization book and the plethora of study guides and handouts and made my life a walking classroom. I would never see a class or classroom the same again. Education became a life-work; learning became a philosophical process. I am still a process person, trying to soak up as much as I can. Even when I left Dana, I had little idea I would become a college professor. I had thought of a PhD, but was content that I had been called to be a parish pastor.

I learned at Luther (then Luther Northwestern) that my education at Dana was as robust, if not more so, than many of my classmates who were on what I referred to as the Norwegian pipeline to ordination. In fact, there is more Norwegian heritage in my family tree than Danish, but Dana had prepared me well. I had learned to integrate and analyze better than many. And realizing that my education had not cost nearly as much was a sort of frosting on the proverbial cake. I saw the same in my Dana classmates. Classmates like Merle Brockhoff, Scott Grorud, or Wilbur Holz were not only intelligent, but they understood the rhetorical nature of being a parish pastor. That is, in my estimation, part of what we had learned at Dana. We were encouraged to be scholars, but also thoughtful and benevolent individuals; those things that would serve us well as pastors and caregivers. As I would return to graduate school to eventually obtain my doctoral degree, I found myself thinking back to the words of Larrie Stone, Milt Olson, Richard, Jorgensen, and all of the Nielsens. They pushed me to never be content. They encouraged me to reach out and work to understand and interpret more carefully. It is the same thing I try to instill in my own students now. Thinking critically and analyzing thoroughly are essential to being an educated, thoughtful, and informed citizen. All of those astounding individuals we saw as our professors were exactly that. What they professed they lived. I believe we often underestimated and under-appreciated the brilliance and goodness in front of us. That is not because we didn’t care or pay attention, but it is because wisdom comes after time and through reflection.

Certainly people, who continue Dana’s legacy through the archives, the committed individuals in the immediate Blair area who give so much to creating the October events, the work through social media, and those who provide the hard physical labor to manage the care of the physical place we know as Dana, particularly after a decade of emptiness, provide important gifts of time, talent, and resources to provide a possible legacy to the community of Blair, which is etched in the memories of 1,000s of alumni. Dr. Heinrich’s magnificent new cross on the bluff above campus shines a light worthy of so many of those memories. We are blessed by that continued creative spirit.

Indeed, the “spirit lifts another throng,” another generation of individuals who will understand the motto of enduring truth and what it means to each individual who claims the Viking tradition as their own personal legacy. Perhaps it is age; perhaps it is a sense of reality; whatever it is, I know that Dana will continue to live through me and beyond me. Those four years from 1979-1983, with a semester away at the University of Iowa, were the most influential of my three score plus four years. There were professors who supported, pushed, and even frustrated me. Dr. Delvin Hutton was probably tougher for, and on, me than any individual my entire time at Dana. He told me once I was not capable of managing something. To this day I am not sure if he believed that or merely wanted to push me to work harder and go further in my level of work. Regardless his motivation, he motivated me. I was determined to succeed and prove him wrong in ways I seldom knew. As I have noted in other blogs, Dr. Larrie Stone tried his best to dissuade this history/humanities major from taking Anatomy and Physiology. He eventually allowed it, but with the caveat that I had to withdraw after 4 weeks if I was tanking the class. Instead, I was taking anesthesia exams before I was allowed to do an adrenalectomy on a rat. I was doing basal metabolic rate experiments. I was pulling all-nighters like no class ever before required. All to pull a C+ in that class, but damn, I was proud of that. Dr. Stone cared about my GPA and for me as a student, but he was still willing to offer me an opportunity to work outside my comfort zone. He called me in a couple times and asked how I was doing. Thanks to Monty Scheele, Troy Knutson, and Edie Myer as my study group, I did pretty well. Thank you to . Christine Barton and Deb Dill for helping me in lab. They all kept this liberal arts student afloat. That was the camaraderie typical of those at Dana when I was a student.

Dana lives on because of each of them. They made me a more complete person. Their care and example still inspires me today. This past week I took a December graduate from my university to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He and Anton, my Danish exchange student experienced three of the five Great Lakes. They saw more snow on the ground than they have ever seen. Micheal (spelled correctly) will be an outstanding graduate student. He told me when we returned at traveling 2,100 miles in less than 96 hours that I have done something for him no one ever had. My interest in helping to the next step is nothing more than what so many at Dana did for me. While most of my students do not know the name Dana College, they experience it through me. My Bible as Literature midterm is formatted exactly like a Humanities unit exam. My final is not quite as long, and I allow them to write the major final essay ahead of time, so they have to use sources and cite appropriately, there are still sections of matching. 107, 205, and 206 live on. Shortly after graduating from Dana, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. My first bout with it was brutal. I had lost almost 20 pounds in less than 30 days. As I came back to Blair to visit, Dr. Nielsen looked at me and told me he was concerned for me. He said, at the time, “Let me say something you might understand more fully. Your theology of grace works fine for everyone but yourself.” He was spot on. It has taken many years and more tough lessons than one might ever care to attempt, but that grace is never ceasing. What I know now is the amazing grace we were blessed by as students at Dana College. It continues to boggle me to my very core each time I stop and reflect on those four simple and wonderful years. Yes, daily we were graced by some outstanding people at every turn. Many from little Iowa or Nebraska towns. Some from other lands, and I remember with incredible fondness Lena Pedersen, one particular Danish exchange student. There will never be enough mange taks for all I leaned. What I know now is I am merely thankful to claim my status from an incredibly strong little college. Here is a version of Amazing Grace that reminds me of choir and singing in the mask for Paul Neve so many afternoons in AMA. The version here includes bagpipes and is the newest rendition of the Irish ensemble, Celtic Woman. I have been fortunate enough to see this group (and this lineup in November. I was in Ireland four years ago and it is on my bucket list to see this wonderful group there. My apologies to Monty and Peter for using this picture from my sophomore year as we were on choir tour.

Thank you always for reading.

Michael Martin