Hello, and welcome to a new blog posting year,
It is the second of January and we are enamored, if you will, at the idea of a fresh start, and in light of our past year, the hope that somehow this trip around the sun might be a bit less traumatic, a might bit less chaotic, and, finally, a return to some idea of normalcy from what the last 9 months unleashed upon our world. It is easy to want a do over, but how much would we honestly change from what we have done? Certainly, television shows and movies have taken on that theme more times than we have fingers, but how much is actually changed? In a written conversation with someone I only know through writing, they noted they are not a big New Year’s Eve celebratory sort of person because they see things as more of a continuum. I would have to agree with them on a number of levels. Part of my desiring to be more of a home body than a bar person on NYE is because I was a bartender. Most bartenders will refer to the 31st of December as Amateur Night. There are way too many people who believe the only way to celebrate a new year is to raise their BAC to a ridiculously unhealthy level and spend the next 24-36 hours feeling like trash. Not for me. That is not to say I have never been there, but it is certainly in my past.
The idea of pushing the proverbial reset button is not entirely without merit, that is for sure, but by extension somehow believing we will automatically turn over a new leaf, be healthier, atone for all of our shortcomings, or finally hit the lottery is about as likely as being able to start our lives over, mentally emotionally and figuratively. If we could even go back to the previous January 1st, I believe we might find we have become Bill Murray or Andie MacDowell in the movie, Groundhog Day, and that is if we are lucky. I have often noted this: I do wish I knew what I knew and understood now about 30 years ago. I think I would have made my life much less painful. I wish I understood the reason for my struggles with various things more clearly earlier in my life and I would not have let them be such a debilitating influence in how I thought or related to other people. One of my students from last semester, one with whom I am working through an incomplete with at the moment noted in her own blog that she wishes she had been allowed to think more independently earlier in her life and lamented the idea that they are taught to believe their parents are perfect or not allowed to be questioned. That was an important insight on her part. I remember leading a seminar for parents about thirty years ago and noting the most important thing we can teach our youth people is to be honest and admit our mistakes. I believe that even more profoundly now. If we are incapable of admitting our failings, we send a message that you must be perfect and anything less is wrong. In addition, we model that lying about something when we fail is a reasonable response. Neither is what we hope is telegraphed to or modeled for others; and yet, too often it is exactly what we do.
While I have noted this before, perhaps it is worth noting again. The word for sin in Greek is hamartia ( I wanted to write it in Greek, but WordPress will not cooperate). It means to literally fall short or miss the mark. Think of shooting an arrow and landing short of the target. That is our lives too often as we have the infamous good intentions, but we do not manage it as we should. The reason we cannot merely start over is our failed good intentions, our less than good intentions, and our simply (or complex) failings never occur in a vacuum. We affect the other. Therefore, even if we had the opportunity to start anew, the consequences of our actions or inactions are there. It reminds me of the confessional part of the liturgy. We confess both the things we have done and left undone. In both cases it is an active voice verb. We are not being made to fall short in some sort of Flip Wilson way. For those who are not old enough to manage that idea, Google away. Someone made you do it. I know of one thing I fell short on this last semester and I need to work on that yet, but I am the one who failed to get it completed. It is no one else’s fault. Mitigating circumstances? Perhaps, but it is still on me and no one else.
There is the continuum if you will. John Locke does not magically appear each December 31st at the stroke of midnight and like some sort of Santa wipe the slate clean so we can begin anew, but that does not mean we have to carry the baggage of failure forward either. While I sometimes believe there might be more deterministic to what happens than we want to admit (Clifford Hanson is probably laughing at me yet for this), we do have a brain and we have freedom of choice. How do they all fit together? In a much more complex manner than I want to delve into at the present moment. Some of my more philosophical colleagues might have a lot to say about this, but they are much better than I to take one such a difficult idea. On the idea of continuum, perhaps I should turn to my mathematics colleague, and incredibly brilliant friend, who continues on his own continuum of navigating more estrogen than he perhaps knows what go do with (and it will become more entertaining as the continuum advances, I am sure). I have thought at times of letting him speak with my cousins and they might have advice for him on a number of realms. Their father was a math professor also and he was outnumbered 7:1. There is some more math for you my dear friend. So, if I cannot get my version of tabula rasa, the chance of my being in a movie with Andie MacDowell is highly unlikely (damn it!), and my failings did not just magically disappear about 36 hours ago, what might the best option be?
Perhaps it gets back to the idea of honesty and self-reflection. On the backside of one of our campus buildings above a main entrance on that side, the phrase Wisdom is the Fruit of Reflection stands there for all who approach. Reflection requires honesty if it is to truly reflect our situation. I know when I am honest and take accountability, it is both painful and freeing. It is not possible to change our past, but taking the time to reflect and understand is the beginning of wisdom, but it is a process. It seems anything worth reaching or achieving is a process. That makes our impatient selves a bit more frustrated, to be sure, but like most things that mature, once you are there, it is worth the time. All of this sounds cliche to some degree, and perhaps that is why it seems both logical and easy, and yet, it is anything but either of those. The first person to help me understand that was Dr. John W. Nielsen (The Pope). He had this particular way he would peer at you when he inquired about something of substance, and a sly smile would slowly appear on his face, and he would stand or sit quietly as he allowed you to come to your senses. I remember a night in our Eurail coach as he asked me questions about my background and listened intently to every story I told him. When I told him about my older brother’s passing and my exclamatory response of “Fuck!” when the doctor informed us they had lost him. My eyes filled with tears as I recounted that story as it was only a few years in the past then. He looked empathetically and knowingly as only he could, and said, “That might be the most profound prayer you ever uttered.” All I could do was stare. He compared my vernacular despair to the 22nd Psalm and asked me how it was different? It was at that point, I realized both the brilliance and saintliness of that man. Now, exactly 40 years later, I find myself respecting and admiring him all the more. He as much as anyone in my life taught me to think, to ponder, to imagine the possibilities. There is no amount of thanks I can offer for that life-changing teaching. Thank you to Robert Coffey for the picture used at the beginning of this post. The amazing replacement cross above the Dana Campus is a reminder of our faith is something beyond our pain and laments.
As I have reached a mile-stone age, I am continually asked what next, again like there is some new direction or new beginning I need to consider. I am not sure I will ever stop being a professor, a teacher, a pastor, and for some a character. There are certainly things I have failed at in my lifetime. Being a husband comes to mind or is at the top of the list, and I must take my part of the blame for that failure. That failure has created a much different life than I expected. It has kept me from ever being a biological parent, but on the other hand it has allowed me to have an incredible number of surrogate children, and one exchange son. It has created times of loneliness, and simultaneously provided the opportunity to travel and meet people all around the world. It has made times of solitude, but that solitude has offered moments or occasions to reflect and understand things more fully, more completely, more accurately than if I was merely flying by each thing. It made it possible to care for things and people in ways that would have never happened, and even now it allows me to spend time on working to be the best professor I can.
There seems to be a sort of oxymoronic quality. There are times I am melancholy, I remember I student at Stout using that word to describe me, and yet, I am generally optimistic at the same time. Perhaps it is because I see the continuum of things. Perhaps it is because I have no need to start over. I am honest about things, but I believe we continually have an opportunity to reflect and learn from our circumstances, but I simultaneously understand there is no quick fix for much of anything. I think that is some of our struggle now. The continuum we are in seems to be at a nadir level, but if that is so, there is room for optimism. Each day I read about more division, and while I know our current President will neither disappear nor will a new President simply pull us together, I am buoyed by the reality that Congress, in spite of some struggles, will do its job and continue to demonstrate there is at least a hint of sanity inside the Beltway. Our judiciary has listened to an incredible number of questions and as I read today the current tally is 60-1. Our nation is also a continuum, we cannot undo what has been done. We can reflect, be honest with what has occurred and try to learn, regardless our political leaning. Another of my former students, one with whom I have had significant conversations and messages, asked, honestly and inquisitively, if there wasn’t just a simple way to look at all of this. While my answer to her was no, that our political situation is undoubtedly complex beyond words, there is a simple answer. We are selfish. We want our way. We do not want to see the other side. Those are the simple answers, but then there is the question of why we have become so? Then it gets complicated once again.
So I will continue on my continuum and try to make appropriate and thoughtful adjustments to make the lives of those around me as well as my own life better, believing if I do so, the consequence will generally be positive. I wish you each a blessed New Year. May we all be kind in our reflections both of others and ourselves. May we believe that falling short is not the final answer, and may we feel a newness in this year that makes our world a better place for all people.
Bless you and thank you for reading,