The War to End All Wars

Hello from a Starbucks in Selinsgrove,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As always, thanks for reading.

Michael

What Does It Take?

Hello from about 35,000 feet and above the Colorado/Utah border, perhaps a little west.

It has been some time since I’ve made a cross-country trek, either by air or land; in fact, it is the closest I’ve been to Placerville since shortly following Lydia’s passing. I believe that is the longest stretch of time away from the vineyard since I was first there in 2006. Such a realization prompts me to think about the trips made, but also the time that has lapsed or how many things have changed from the simple and individual/personal, and the more significant and globally, if you will. While I have flown to the west a number of times, I think it is the first time I have been on a trans-continental flight from coast to coast with no intermediate plane-change. It is a 5 hour 23 minute flight and it has been for the most part smooth, though we are hitting a bit of turbulence as I am writing this (I should note that I have proofread and edited this because doing it on my phone was a bit more laborious that thought, and by what I see, not as successful).

Ironically, I found my way to Placerville-and even Tahoe eventually-because I had come to a conference about 12 years ago right now. The conference was in San Francisco and I drove up to Placerville, and the vineyard called Miraflores, to visit a sort of distant relative and her husband and their daughter. It was the most amazing day trip and I met some of the most wonderful people. Two of those people have become important friends. Marco is truly a Renaissance person, and is now married to an equally wonderful woman, named Belinda. Together they have created the most wonderful family with two of the most stunningly beautiful children that I believe I have ever met. The second person is Fernando. He is hard working, gracious, and brilliant in both what he has learned and how he understands. Since then, I have also learned a lot more about wine and how amazing it is not only as a beverage, but as the management of a simple (or maybe not so simple) fruit. I remember during the time immediately following that visit, I was fortunate to take Peter D’Souza’s “Wine and Spirits” course. I actually sat in and donated wine the second time I took that same class. Wine is a completely natural product and if you choose to minimize residual sugars and ferment methode ancienne, you have gotten back to basics about as close as perhaps possible. Wine offers the possibility of making dining an experience versus merely a meal. I remember the first time I compared how the wine tasted unadulterated, or with a clean palate and then what you received from the wine when paired with food. I was stunned that you might use a bold and hearty red wine with a grouper, for instance. Of course, I need to add that the grouper was blackened and served with a raspberry buerre rouge sauce. It was heavenly and it began an culinary affair between that gulf coast fish and me that continues to this day. Understanding or pondering our relationship with food and beverage is a complex, and generally misunderstood science/consideration/hobby/need. The reasons for our poor, or often unhealthy, interactions are a combination of simple lack of knowledge, more significantly our being too lazy to find out, and finally a lifestyle that screams more is better and faster is okay. So we gorge ourselves on processed sugars, even when the brand says “Nature’s Promise” and a label check illustrates 25+ grams of sugar per serving. Those of you who know me, know I love to eat, but not just for the sake of eating. I am all about eating for the experience.

As I have traveled to Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Austria, Slovakia, Ireland or most anywhere not in the States, going out to eat is something you do for an evening. It is an event. My students are often ready to dine and dash, not in the criminal way, but in a behavior that demonstrates a lack of etiquette or a lack of manière formelle appropriée. The difference in both portion and pace allows for such a much more appetizing experience as well as a more enjoyable interaction with everything and everyone. Think for even a moment. How often are you looking at your watch, flagging down your server or demonstrating visible frustration when you food does not arrive on your schedule? We want to “relax” by going out to eat and having our meal prepared, but we simultaneously stress out because we want to control their kitchen. It makes no sense. I think the sort of “eating as a habit or requirement” is an additional difficulty for us. Growing up we had specific times you were to be at the table to eat. Breakfast was the only one with flexibility, lunch and supper (dinner) were 12:00 and 5:00 period. If you were late, too bad. Even Sunday’s noon meal time was sacrosanct. Two of the biggest arguments my mother and I ever had were because of that time commandment. What was interesting in retrospect was my father could have been out an hour before and eaten, but it was 5:00 p.m. so you ate again. There was nothing about being hungry, or so it seemed; you ate because it was time to eat. It was a chore, an obligation or a habit, and for me, realizing that I was struggling with IBDs long before I knew what they were, eating was anything but pleasant. Learning that dining could be and memorable experience, a healthy and enjoyable opportunity is something that I am still learning.

. . . It is Sunday about 5:23 a.m. and I am sitting on the plane waiting to depart Reno and fly the first leg to Denver. I was blessed to work with a really brilliant colleague, who understands theory as if she were reading a children’s literature book. Our presentation went well and I am looking forward to the next step of writing the chapter for the book that is hopefully following. The OSCLG Conference is always a good group of people and the presentations thought provoking in a manner that compels one to look at the significance of communication in our polarized climate. I also got to see two of my mentors from graduate school, Drs. Patricia (Patty) Sotirin and Victoria (Vickie) Bergvall. They are both outstanding scholars, but more amazing people. For them to say that our presentation was important and shows promise was quite a positive reinforcement.

I am again flying, but in an aisle seat, so it is not quite so stifling or uncomfortable. In light of my post’s focus, I am unfortunately admitting that the food at the conference was not that amazing. While the food at the SF conference four years ago was superb, this food did not quite match up. Yesterday, however, I did take a bit of a respite from the conferencing and found my way down to Miraflores. What a nice thing to be back in the vineyard again. They were in the middle of crush and harvest was about two weeks from being complete. Victor happened to be there and it was nice to see him. Fernando is now in charge with Marco in Italy and there was a little barrel tasting and the Cabernet was stunning. Smooth, great black cherry fruit and a delightfully smooth finish. It will be stunning. The best thing is they have started to work with a shipping company so I can get the wine at the door. I will need to follow up with Cantiga. I think some of my best food memories have been in Placerville. The summer I spent there was stunning and I learned so much about the oenology, the viticulture of the Sierra Nevada area, and all the complexities of getting a block of grapes from vine to bottle. I need to check on Ted sometime and see if he is still bottling, making some kick-butt hot sauces and other things. I am still grateful for how he taught me to make quesadillas. Sometimes a simple twist moves a food from the category of blasé to something close to exquisite. It was his combination of cumin, coriander, and cardamom (a somewhat surprising spice usually used Scandinavian cuisine), that shocked a relatively simple Mexican stable into my nightly go-to, and better yet, it was quite healthy.

As I wing my way back East, I am reminded of the profound changes the past 12 years have sort of bestowed upon me. I was living in Wisconsin and had finished what had been perhaps my most successful year at UW-Stout. I felt like maybe the dark cloud that had enveloped my first couple years had dissipated. I had move into the little carriage house and between work and Lydia, my life was busy, but good. I had endured another surgery a year or two before and felt like I was healthier than I had been for some time, maybe since my initial diagnosis with UC, which was now properly diagnosed as Crohn’s (Preparing to land in Denver and we are bouncing as we approach on final descent). My neighbors on the other side, both Stout faculty and a couple who epitomize good parents and incredibly faithful souls sort of adopted me also. Yet, within a couple of years, there would be significant changes and I would find that being on the market for a new position would be necessary. A move to Pennsylvania after a year of playing both sides of a coin would ensue and a new life close to an old place would follow. Health things, as I have learned since my late 20s would create more needs and different concerns, but somehow I have been blessed and through a variety of doctors and other avenues, I think I am probably as healthy as I have been for a long time. As important, and in someways more so, I have been pretty successful professionally. I guess that is most apparent to me in that I am beginning my 10th year in the same location (the longest I have remained stationary geographically since childhood). So much has happened in that there are no longer relatives in Riverside or the Northside of Sioux City. I certainly have important and people dear to me in Menomonie, but Lydia has been gone almost 4 years. I have renewed some friendships in PA and lost some. I have been blessed by new people, and I have been fortunate enough to travel in ways I could not have imagined. I have met people from across Europe and learned anew that while our place in the world is certainly important, we are not as significant as we have been led to believe, and we are probably not as influential as we once were.

This morning, as I drove from Tahoe back to Reno, I listened to an hour program from the BBC, examining the global economic crash of 2008. I wondered what Lydia would have thought of how it all shook out. Her memory was waning and the dementia was ramping up during that time. What enthralled me was the comprehensive and expansive consequence of the collapse on a global scale and I learned more completely about the difference between Keynesian economic stimulus theory versus austerity. I would have loved to listen to Lydia address that practice and why it is or is not the thing to do. The program is a three part series and something I think I need to get a hold of an something to give a listen. While it might seem I have strayed from my initial point, and in addition my title of “[w]hat does it take? Perhaps the picture of the balancing dancer will clue you in that my seemingly wandering post has not gone totally awry.

Something I am still working on, and trying to master more than as simply a concept is balance. Somehow, in theory, it does not seem difficult. Imagine the extremes and try to find the place in the middle. One can eat in a healthy manner and still eat in a way that offers the experience about which I wrote in the initial part of my blog. One can find a place between being incredibly OCD and not managing anything in a organized manner. One of the things I believe has happened at Miraflores was finding the space between spending exorbitant amounts of capital on making the best wines in the Northern California region and focusing those resources in a more systematic way that did not compromise quality. That seems to have happened. Marco spoke about the winery being taken to the next level. I need to speak to Victor about a project. Listening this morning to the BBC I learned about the balance of spending and tightening when there is an economic crisis. I think I should chat with Nakul about a possible article on that. The initiating and practicing of balance is a balancing act in and of itself, and too often, our human nature gets in the way of common sense that would allow for balance to be a more incorporated life philosophy. What does it take to practice balance, it takes some of the things I spoke of in my previous post. It takes patience and a willingness to step back and think. It requires us as individuals to consider the needs of the other and how our needs affect more than ourselves. It obliges us to realize the difference between needs and wants. Too often we mistake our wants for needs. What I realize now, as some quite a bit older than I was, as a high-schooler, is that I always had what I needed growing up, but I did not always have, or immediately get, what I wanted. I did not comprehend the value of those lessons until much later in life. It was yet another example of balance. I was also afforded some special opportunities: private music lessons, involved in a special audition-only children’s choir (as an update-I have board the plane for AVP, and while we pushed back from the gate on time, 27 minutes later we are still waiting to take off). I am starting to fade from being up at 3:00 a.m two of the last three days. Again, that is the age showing me the difference yet again.

I think the simple idea, but difficult to employ, practice of a balanced life is something that was probably apparent more than I knew and certainly necessary more than I realized. Oh, if I had only understood and practiced it sooner. Maybe age and experience are what it takes.

Thank you again for reading,

Dr. Martin

Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

It is always interesting to see how people respond to the plight of their fellow humans. How is it we can be both the most caring, empathetic of all creation, and simultaneously the most cruel and ruthless? How is it we can teach our children how to respect, act graciously, and use their manners and as adults exhibit precisely the opposite? I remember the infamous parental phrase growing up: “Do what I say and not as I do.” As if that oxymoronic sentence made up for the contradictions that screamed out loud to our wondering eyes and ears. That saying, it seems to me, has come back to roost. Did we really believe that those who watched us would not learn more from our actions than our words? Did we believe that the habits we exhibited would not stick with our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, our granddaughters and grandsons more profoundly that any platitude we might have uttered? I am quite sure if any of us were to think more carefully or critically, to analyze more thoroughly or completely, we would come to the conclusion that the infamous cliché of actions speaking louder than words would be there as the third ghost in The Christmas Carol pointing out the error of our ways and perhaps offering one last chance to atone for our failings.

Of course, it is easy for me to lay out such a dictum when I have never been a parent. It is easy for me to look at the students in my classes and see the good people they are, but often how woefully under-prepared they are to do college level work as I read their blogs, intros or other assignments. I see their eyes and their furrowed brows and I feel their fear of possible failure and certain struggle more than they might know. One of my students asked thoughtfully and honestly today how was it that I managed the course load I did as an undergraduate student, managed the other things I was involved in, and somehow managed to graduate pretty successfully? It was a fair and important question. My answer was also honest and simple. I had failed the first time. I got sent home and I was embarrassed. When I went back to college I was scared. Plainly put, I was not sure I could actually do it. I had never pushed myself in high school and in the service when I did well, people were amazed and actually thought I had cheated because nothing in my academic record implied I was capable of anything beyond what was deemed average. I remember once being put in the corner and screamed at and told I was stupid, only to find out I had a 100% average in a Communication and Electronics (Field Radio Operator School) course. I was petrified. I would note that I did not end up with a 100%, but I did do exceptionally well.

Again, please do not put me up on some sort of pedestal for what I have noted in the last couple blogs; please do not hold me up as some paragon of goodness, for I am anything but. I am simply a person who has learned from his mistakes. I am a person who has realized painfully how what he has done at times has hurt or created difficulty for others. For those things, I am often ashamed and struggle with the guilt dealing with the proverbial error of my ways. As I have often noted in my blog, somehow it seemed to take me longer to grow into what or where I should have been for my age. There are probably more reasons for that than I am able to figure out, but at this point, I know only a couple of things. I try to do the best I can at most anything I attempt, and second, when I fail, I do not blame someone else. The consequence of that, I believe, is that I try to be more gracious with where I find the other than I might have been at some time earlier in my life.

Graciousness, forgiveness, and empathy are perhaps three things that seem to be sorely lacking in our society at the present time. It is always interesting to listen to both sides of an argument, and there have certainly been both sides of the current Supreme Court situation spoken about on campus over the past few weeks. I would note this first. While I have my viewpoint, and certainly some of my students know what that is, I try carefully and intentionally to respect their view point also. I understand the power dynamic of a classroom, but college is where people should be allowed to speak their mind and figure out both what they think as well as why they think it. I understand well, having grown up in Iowa, attending school at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska, the more conservative viewpoint on things. I grew up where hard work and “keeping your nose clean” was not merely a saying, but it was expected. I grew up with a father, who might be honestly more liberal than I am. I am certainly more conservative than my sister (who was a biological sister) was. At this point, I know why I believe what I do. Some of it is because of my upbringing; some of it is because of my education and personal experience, but all of it is because I read, I ponder, and I think. I do not simply accept the latest sound byte that is trending, and I can be persuaded to consider something different. Why? Because I do not know everything, and I do not see all the angles of something. What frustrates me is not a difference of opinion, or even an argument over a position. What frustrates me is when someone is not willing to speak about an issue in a civil manner. What hurts me is when someone I respect is not willing to return that respect. What does it mean to be gracious? It has to do with compassion and mercy. These are not merely nouns, they are verbs. How do you comport yourself? How are you able to act when you are accused of something or questioned? How are you able to respond to the needs of another? Compassion and mercy are something that only we as humans seem capable of understanding, and not only what the words mean or how to employ them, but the consequences when we fail to do so. Forgiveness might be the most powerful thing we have in our relationships with our fellow human beings. What does it mean to forgive, and not only in a religious sense of the word, but in a community building, societal managing, interpersonal understanding from one to another? How doe it feel to say “I am sorry” to another and not receive some sort of forgiveness or absolution for the failure we have confessed, so to speak? I do not believe we can be merciful or forgiving without empathy. Empathy has to do with tenderness; it has something to do with our ability or capacity to imagine ourselves in the other person’s position or situation.

It seems to be we are severely lacking in all three of these things in terms of how we treat others in our country and the world at the present time. We have become predominately selfish. Some will say I have worked for everything I have and I should not have to share, but that is not what we were taught even as children. Before you want to run down some anti-socialist rabbit hole: stop. That is not what I am trying to argue. What I mean is the opposite of being merciful or compassionate; it is being unwilling to imagine the plight of the other. To care only about ourselves. That is selfish, and the consequence is division. Compassion is to have some empathy for the struggle of the person next to us, but that does not mean the other has no accountability. Yet, what is a reasonable expectation, and can we give care to the other versus only taking care of the other? The second thing we have become is fearful, and fear is often followed, and quickly I might add, by anger. The fear we have come to demonstrate of the other is palpable. It is unmistakable to such a degree that we have gone down a different rabbit hole, if you will. The recoil of the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other European Union countries should create serious alarm. While that is the case for some, the anti-globalism that President Trump espoused at the United Nations last week should disquiet us. It should serve as a tocsin for us, but too many see it as a positive thing. There is a lot more reason for us to work together as a world order than to turn our backs, but that does not seem to be where we are.

Most of us are not in the one-percent (hence the one-percent), and acting  as we often do creates division, dissension, and conflict. We want to believe we are so important or better than the other, but are we? Yet, we do not see the consequence of this. If we are divided and unwilling to work together, the one-percent keep their power and their money and we are given what is left over, and that is not nearly enough for the 99%. Think about it (and that is precisely what the one-percent does not want to happen). If we are so busy fighting among ourselves, we have no chance of changing what is problematic. We will continue to lose the middle class; we will fight to somehow manage the spoils, and spoiled and rotten they are. Most of us will never walk in the one-percenter’s shoes. Nor do I want to do so. I would be much more content to have a country that cares, a country that leads by an example of goodness and charity. I would much rather somehow help someone a bit less fortunate to become more fortunate. I would rather see the smile on their face and feel the warmth in my own heart. Some things can only change if we are willing to do the heavy lifting and commit ourselves to creating a more just and thoughtful world. In spite of the present situation in our government, perhaps we can make small differences in our own spaces. My former graduate department chair referred to them as small potent gestures. Perhaps that gesture needs to be more than flipping off the person with whom we have a disagreement or a struggle. Perhaps the gesture is to walk both metaphorically and literally down the street with each other shoes one (and if they do not fit, perhaps the pain of that is what you need to realize. I am reminded again of the Phil Collins song about paradise. The world seems to be anything but. However, maybe we can create a small sense of it by our graciousness, our forgiveness, our empathy. I would like to also to say thank you for your incredible kindnesses in response to my last posting.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

An Amazing Dèjá vue

Hello from the porch of the Highlights Foundation Barn and Lodge,

Earlier this afternoon I was honored to attend and witness the marriage of a former student to her love and the beginning of their lives as formally known as husband and wife. It is amazing how differently I look at the events from periods in my life that are long past. Amazing how I felt, in some way, like my own child was coming down that aisle in the Catholic Church this afternoon. Amazing how I was not that interested in how all the other people looked or who was there, in part because I know only a couple people from either the bride’s or the groom’s families, though I expect more of them have heard of me. Not because I am famous or amazing, but because a young freshman student in a writing class allowed me some sort of entreé into her life beyond merely being a student in class. It is always beyond our immediate comprehension how people might enter or (for that matter) leave our lives. Mariah, in spite of being a business, and ultimately supply chain management, student, her work in the writing center and her work in the then named Living and Learning Community (LLC) offered continual opportunities for our lives to cross paths more extensively. Phone calls on more road trips than either can count, dinners with small groups, conference photos being sent from southern beaches and a motorcycle ride on Harleys with her father allowed Mariah to become more than merely someone in a class. That is one of the richest blessings that can happen for us as professors and mentors. So to be here this day is both joyous and humbling.

The Catholic Church in Honesdale exhibited both traditional Roman iconography, but also illustrated, as I examined the sanctuary, a strong Irish presence. Almost every stained glass window was a memorial to someone with an Irish name. The statuary in the chancel and the stations of the cross were appropriately somber and neo-classical and the painting of the apostles in the upper reaches of the nave were also impressive. As the service began and Mariah entered the sanctuary with her father, she was even more radiant and beautiful than I could have imagined, and that is saying something. The sparkle in her eyes and the radiance of her smile would have brightened the entire church without a single luminary needed. The conversation as a musical number based on 1 Corinthians 13 was sung actual added the Mariah-touch I expected to manifest itself somewhere. Her being completely silent and not adding commentary (if only between the two of them) and beaming that astounding smile would have been miraculous, but also sad, and certainly not appropriate as there was no reason for sadness.

As I write this, the sun is shining, there is a nice fall breeze, and sitting outside the venue waiting for others to arrive is calming and enjoyable. I will admit knowing so few is a bit uncomfortable, but I will manage. There was an option to stay here for the evening and I have chosen to do so. I am hoping to get some work done, and I often accomplish more when I go hide away. . . . it is about 5 hours later and the meal and the people I was sitting with were so wonderful. I am about 75 yards from the barn and the party is cranking up . . . it is sort of fun to listen to them as I sit in my little cabin and do some work. It is barely 8:00 p.m. and I am actually pretty tired. I am seriously considering taking my evening meds and going to sleep. I think I would probably be asleep in less than 15 minutes. It was really quite the wonderful day. The weather was fall like, but the sun and the breeze were just cool enough to let you know there was a season change, and with the sun and the protection of the trees, it was more than pleasant. The day has been a wonderful 12+ hours of conversations with friends and colleagues at the @APSCUFLA and then a drive from Harrisburg to Bloomsburg, a quick stop, where I saw a glimpse of another former student who stayed last night even though I was not there. Unfortunately, and quite sadly, I did not have time to wait for them to get up, and had to leave for the wedding. The drive to the northern tier of counties in Pennsylvania was quite nice. There are a hint of colors beginning, but I am afraid all the precipitation we have had might mute the fall splendor. However, as noted above, the wedding was very nice. Simple and somewhat expected in terms of scripture and music, but I say that as a former pastor and one who has been in more weddings in my life than I probably have fingers and toes . The move toward barn receptions (I think this is the third one I have come to) is really quite wonderful. I was also at a barn dinner for the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble about two weeks ago. Barns are such amazing structures, and even if they are new, in a relative sort of way, there is this feeling of bygone times, of history and events that made people who they are and they were the thing that keep families together. I am reminded my visiting my Uncle Melvin’s and Aunt Helen’s farm in Southeastern South Dakota. I remember going their once with a friend and loving walking around the farm with her. It is one of my favorite memories.

At this point you might wonder what the dèjá vue part of this blog is. Well, it is quite amazing. On an October day in 1991 I was driving from Lehighton, Pennsylvania to outside of Pittsburgh to participate in a Catholic wedding for a family friend, and as I drove across the state on a Friday, I listened with almost complete attention to National Public Radio and the Senate Judicial hearing with Dr. Anita Hill and then nominee for SCOTUS, Judge Clarence Thomas. Thursday and Friday of this week, I listened to almost the entire day’s hearing between the same committee, with some of the same members, and Christine Blasey Ford and the latest nominee to be accused once again of sexual improprieties (and I use this term with a complete tongue-in-cheek manner for a reason, which I hope will become clear), Brett Kavanaugh. What pushes the repeating nature of this is again, I am at a wedding in a Catholic Church that I had to drive to, and once again, I am in Pennsylvania. The numerous parallels are striking, and astoundingly, so are the responses of the Senate, the country, and what is being debated. Certainly, it was the Senator from Pennsylvania, the late Arlen Specter, who eviscerated Ms. Hill. This time, the Republicans ran for cover when it came to questioning Dr. Ford, but did their level best to poke holes in what she had alleged happened to her. My sister-in-law and I, it seems fall on the diametrically opposite sides of this debate as I found out in a FB post earlier this evening, but I think what I find most perplexing about this current debate can be spelled out in three points.

  1. First, the fact that Dr. Ford had spoken about the attack years ago, but chose to keep his name confidential demonstrates some class on her part. The fact that she spoke on more than once occasion in the past that her attacker was a high-powered judge, who might be elevated to the Supreme Court cannot be ignored, and finally, the fact that she came forward only after being “outted,” by whomever it was, again, illustrates that she preferred to allow it to be investigated behind close doors versus what has happened. Again, there are a number of things to be considered here, but I am merely noting this as a general point. Finally, I think her testimony was calm though emotional, respectful and questioning only when she was unsure of something, and finally, done in a way that did not seem to try to overplay anything, but try to be truthful and honest. Again, I could argue a number of things rhetorically, but will not.
  2. Second, I did not see the initial part of Judge Kavanaugh’ s response, and had only watched clips, but before writing this, listened to his entire statement. What I hear is a classic version of “he said/she said.” Again, stepping back a moment, who has something to lose in all of this. Dr. Ford gains nothing by coming forward, but notes she felt it was a civil duty. She, I think, would not claim she has won anything by doing this. In fact, the denouement has required her family to move from their house and now have security guards, and that was before she testified. She will forever be a footnote in the history books regarding the confirmation, or lack thereof, of Judge Kavanaugh. On the other hand, what does he have to lose? A great deal, and I do understand he has lost a great deal already. Should the now ordered FBI investigation shed light on the more than one assault of which he has been accused in a way that deems their allegations credible, he will not be confirmed and I would imagine there could be additional consequences. One of my colleagues, who has a JD, noted that Maryland has no statute of limitation on sexual assault. If Dr. Ford was 15 years old, I would imagine there are other possible complexities. Simply put, I do believe Judge Kavanaugh could lose much more than he already has. So would it be more possible for him to feel the necessity of hiding something? No brainer. Yet, there is, for me, a much more difficult issue in his response, and it is not his denial. It is the tone and the language he used to deny. His anger, his vitriol and the partisan accusations that go back 20+ years were a bit over the top. Can I understand his frustration, probably not to the degree I should, but regardless, the demeanor he exhibited in the hearing was completely unprofessional and as much below what I believe someone serving on the Supreme Court. Of course,  I feel much the same about the the unprofessionalism and ridicule that often comes from the person who nominated him. So much more that could be said, but I will not.
  3. Third, and this is the most troubling point for me of the three. What we have witnessed in our United States Congress is also below what anyone should believe appropriate or be willing to accept from our elected leaders. I have no problem with spirited debate. I have no problem with disagreement; and finally, I have no problem with questioning the positions and ideologies of the opposition, but the manner in which it has been done over the last three decades needs to stop. For the Republicans to keep Judge Garland from even getting a hearing and then arguing a week longer to investigate when there is a serious character concern is more than disingenuous. It is unconscionable. For Lindsey Graham, for whom I have some very strong appreciation, to act as he did the other day is embarrassing. What has happened to the nomination and confirmation process of the Supreme Court will have long-term consequences that will probably last longer than I might be alive. To have so little civility or decorum among our elected leaders from the very top down only serves to tell our citizens there is no need to be civil or reasonable in their own lives. Again, common sense says something very different, but I fear for where we are headed.

The repeat of history I have experienced over the past few days does not create any sense of comfort or hope for our collective good will. Regardless of what happens with this FBI investigation, the damage done to the Congress and the Supreme Court is already being felt. If we fail to listen to yet another female, who is brave enough to come forward with nothing to gain and most everything to lose, we set back some of the progress that has been made. Yet, I do not believe we live in that same world that Professor Hill had to navigate as I was making my way across Pennsylvania almost 27 years ago to the day. We are in the different place, but we have a long ways to go. It is not easy to come out of the shadows of sexual assault. It might be even more difficult when you are a male. If you have gotten to this point of my post, I will ask you to be seated.

When I was still eighteen or maybe barely nineteen, I was stationed at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. I was younger than many in my Battery, and certainly smaller. I also did not know how to drink and had minimal tolerance. The beginning of one weekend I came back to the barracks and I was more than intoxicated. I was flat out drunk. I had gotten into the shower to clean up and then go to bed. I was naked as I walked back to my bed and at one point needed to be directed toward my rack. I crawled into bed and was about 90% passed out. That is when another Marine, a Corporal, who had been selected as the Marine of the Base for his outstanding work and character, showed up by my bed. He pulled my arm up behind my back and told me if I did not get up and dressed and come with him, he would break my arm. He was both bigger and stronger, and I was not sober. I did as told and he took me out the back steps and we ended up in his car and then down by the beach across base. At that point, he forced me to perform oral sex on him and he anally raped me. He told me if I told anyone he would kill me. This happened on one or two other occasions and I worked hard to make sure I was never alone again for months. Did I think about telling someone? Yes, but he was an awarded Marine across the base, and I was not nearly as amazing. I was also new. I said nothing, but tried to figure out how to protect myself. As noted, it did happen at least one more time and perhaps a second. I am honestly not sure. Up to this point, there are only three people who have ever heard this story. Now many more will. Do I remember everything that happened? I do not. Even when I was not intoxicated. I remember being fearful; I remember being humiliated; I remember feeling shame and rage, but also feeling helpless to do anything. This happened in 1974 during the summer, but I could not tell you a specific date or time. I could tell you the person’s name because it is burned into my memory, but I choose not to do so. I could tell you I believe he was from around Chicago, but I am not 100% sure of that.

Some of you will be shocked by this revelation. The few of you who know might be shocked that I have actually admitted this in my blog, but there is a certain sense of freedom in finally saying this happened to me. Did it have consequences? Of course it did. Do I know what all of those consequences were or are? Probably not. I remember when I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I was asked if I had ever had sex with a male (this was in the early days of understanding AIDs). I did not understand the question, but I lied at the time because I was embarrassed. I could certainly say I did not have sex with a male willingly. Since then, I have been tested more than once for general reasons, and fortunately there was no such consequence of that assault. I have also learned to forgive and move on, but this admission allows that moving on to be a bit more complete. Do not feel sorry for me as I am okay, but there is so much more to our lives than people often know.

In spite of all you have read here, I am blessed to be here and alive. I am blessed to be at the wedding of my former student, Mariah. I am blessed in so many ways. I hope we might find a way to come together as a country regardless of what happens this next week and put the good of the country before our own partisanship and difficulties. I hope we can move forward and treat each person with the civility and respect they deserve. I hope we can find the good in the other rather than work to see what we can pick on and tear down so that all that is left is a shell of a human. I think on that note, I will lay my head down to sleep and pray for a better country tomorrow. What I know for the day is it has been a wonderful one to be allowed to share in the lives of so many.

Thank you as always for reading,

#MeToo,

Michael

So Many Thoughts . . .

Hello on a late Sunday evening,

It has been an incredibly busy semester (and it feels like an entire semester had been crammed into 4 weeks and yet, the time has flown by). That is not what is causing this sense of being caught up in the middle of a tornado of sorts, it is what is still on the horizon (a sort of Kansas-twister-in-the making sky from the summer I worked wheat harvest) or merely looking at the calendar and the work to do. Sometimes I wonder if there is actually that much more to do or if this is what is telling me to consider retirement more seriously. I went to bed more than an hour ago, but there seemed to be little chance that my brain was going to slow down enough to allow for any sort of rest to occur. Therefore, much as I have noted at other times here, perhaps writing would allow my brain and body to actually unwind enough to permit for some much needed rest. While I am, to a great degree, mostly caught up with daily work, it will still be a long and busy week. I really do not mind being busy or working hard, but the inability to find any relaxation in the daily process seems to take more of a toll on me than it used to do. None of this is really complaining, but more observing my responses or reactions to life. I hope realizing the difference is both a sign of wanting to take better care of myself and some degree of wisdom. There are certainly more than enough things to keep my little brain to keep going on what seems to be my own personal hamster wheel.

It was a semi-productive weekend. I did meet with or correspond with students, and there are more to respond to, though I think that will occur in the morning (and quite early) versus tonight. I did get a number of household things done this morning and went and hid out at Starbucks in Selinsgrove for a good part of the day. Part of that was merely escaping Bloomsburg because the yearly migration of people intent on raising their Glycated Hemoglobin (A1C), subjecting themselves to mixed sensory messages to their inner ear, eyes, and other sensory receptors (motion sickness), or somehow enamored by looking at cafes of bunnies or chickens has begun. The 10 day gathering that resembles something like Walmart on steroids, turning all the Bloomsburg public school students loose for the week has once again arrived. The traffic is snarled; 487, also know as Lightstreet Road, seems like a pit entrance to Pocono Raceway, and there are already dead critters on the road. If it somehow seems I lack the appropriate appreciation for the annual Bloomsburg Fair, I stand guilty as charged. I think part of it because all that craziness creates more stress than anything else. I found it mildly interesting the first couple years I lived here, but that sense of wonderment quickly waned. I did not even go for a number of years, and then last year in a sort of about face I think I made it there three separate days. Perhaps I OD-ed for a bit. As many say, the apple dumplings with cinnamon ice cream are worth a sort of self-flagellation that I might feel from paying the entrance fee, but with my now needed dietary restriction regarding sugar, that possible hypnotic attraction is not as effective.

The weekend in terms of watching football was incredibly depressing in that Iowa lost to Wisconsin, though the game was closer than the final score indicates, and the Packers looked nothing like a Super Bowl contender against Washington. On a positive note, I was quite excited that Tiger Woods won a tournament today. While I would have spent more time in the past glued to the tube, that was not the case this weekend. I think that change is just one of the many I see in myself of late. In my pondering manner, which is center to my personality, I wonder what it is that causes such changes. I remember at one point having hats of all the NFC central teams, and feeling it was necessary to keep up on each team and try to figure out how the Packers would square up each week. I remember lying on the couch on afternoons, after Sunday morning church and preaching, switching channels between NASCAR and the Packers. I remember trying to follow every Iowa football game in real time. Now I will check my CBS Sports app, but there is no setting for hours needing to know every pass, first down, or who passed who.

I still have things I find necessary, but now it is more about news, global issues, national politics, or trying to merely manage my daily life. Is it because we have 24/7 news or is it because the world seems to be such a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction on a daily basis. As soon as the news broke a week ago about the current nominee for the SCOTUS and an accuser, my mind immediately remembered listening to the testimony of Anita Hill before the Senate Judicial Committee. I wax residing in Pennsylvania the first time and was driving from Lehighton to Pittsburgh area where I was participating in a wedding as a clergy for a family friend from Iowa. The Honorable (though he did not seem quite so) Arlen Specter, who was one of Pennsylvania’s Senators at the time, probably epitomized the old-white-men’s- network in our National Legislature by the way he grilled Ms. Hill than had been illustrated publicly since McCarthyism and probably has not happened since. I did some research today, and while he did express some small degree of remorse to Robert Reich, he never apologized and more often than not basically doubled-down on his conduct in those hearings. What happens this coming Thursday in a very different world than 1991 will be interesting to watch. The stakes are unbelievably elevated for a whole host of reasons. The fact that it will happen only 5-6 weeks before an off-year or midterm election is only another reason for the issue to be more volatile, and the fact that it occurs in the middle of the #metoo movement with a President whose treatment of women is less than stellar creates a sort of “holy s&@t sort of scenario that is hard to ignore. The entire national tenor regarding the treatment of females has so drastically changed that I cannot imagine a return to what was the status quo. Between the Harvey Weinstein response, President Trump’s comments laid out before the election and the revelations of paying off more than one woman since, as well as other accusations, and, for instance, the removal of the CEO of CBS as only the latest example of a change in what an accusation does, America has made a fundamental shift. I read in the past few days that almost 300 women are on the ballot in the election this fall. If we elect half of them, the watershed effect in Washington will be profound. The old-white-men I noted earlier will face a serious reckoning. So will the executive branch of the government.

I read a number of things over the weekend from both sides of the aisle regarding this week’s testimony. There is a lot to consider and it is much more complex than “he said/she said.” I have raised the question in all of my classes and I was somewhat surprised by the number of students (and more evenly split by gender than I anticipated) who believe that Judge Kavanaugh should not be approved to serve on the nation’s highest court. I say I am surprised because this is a seriously conservative area. I was impressed with what students had to say and some of the critical thought that went into their responses. What pleased me most is they were reading and thinking. That is what college is about: learning to think and to analyze.

Well, while I have something substantial posted, I think I will give it a few hours to sit. A clearer-minded look in the morning is in order. For the moment . . . I think I can probably fall asleep now. More in a few hours. . . .  thank you for a few hours of good sleep. I think I got about 3 or 3 1/4, but that will suffice. I have neither ducks nor squirrels as noted in the graphic at the top of my post. However, when I got to my office this morning, and in spite of the mention of some extermination efforts, the little mouse, who has decided to take up residence in my office, was particularly affectionate this morning when he ran across my desk and across my hand. Then it sat on the edge of the desk and seemed to look at me as if I had invaded the space that belonged to it. While I am not really afraid of mice, I will admit that running across my hand did startle me and cause me to question how I am feeling about its presence. Otherwise, the morning has been normal: scads of emails and students questioning options and requirements. I always think I am pretty clear about things, but evidently I need to do a bit more work. As noted, it is the beginning of the fifth week and for many students that first exam is upon them or they are getting it back. That is a stressful time. If they have not taken one yet, there is some serious concern about what to expect. If their study skills are lacking and they have spent more time socializing in that unscheduled time than studying and reading, what they will get back will be a wake-up call, or hopefully it will. There is so much to learn yet, and they are certainly often less than prepared for the expectations that are upon them. The reasons for that are legion, to use the biblical term, and some of them will feel that entire legion is staring them in the face. Back to thinking and analyzing. It is the time that is most important in the semester. It is the time when students, particularly those who are struggling, need to come for help, but all too often they run away and hide. That is for another time. So many thoughts running through my head, but I am off to a College Curriculum Committee meeting. It is a committee I chair, and I continue to learn things about myself and the university at large as I work on this committee. It is amazing how we spend our hours, days, and weeks. It flies by so quickly.

I hope your first week of fall goes well and thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Three Score and Three

carpe diem

Good early morning from the acre,

It is about 4:40 a.m. and I went to bed last night after a wonderful dinner  out and then coming home to commenting and grading. I woke up a short time ago and after lying in bed rather wide awake, I decided to get up and work on a blog and then get back to commenting and grading the same. I am always amazed by how little critical thought and careful analysis seems to go into people’s writing. It is not that they are incapable of doing so, but it seems more to be the case of rushing to fulfill an assignment and check it off the list, particularly if it involves the need to write. I have looked at 20 or more blogs and the great majority of them have no paragraphs. It is sort of one long continuous sentence, stretching along the page like a vapor trail from a jet out across the horizon of a summer sky. Unfortunately, generally it is not quite as impressive, nor as understandable. Often there are some flashes of insight, some glimpse of a pretty intelligent possible topic or path of reasoning, but too often it is not followed up. Too often it is not analyzed in a manner that demonstrates much more than the aforementioned “I just need to check this assignment off the list.” There are some who genuinely put some thought, some systematic care into their writing, and I so enjoy those times because it pushes me to think also. Why the majority never get there is a complex issue, but suffice it to say if one is never pushed to think critically, one is seldom required to analyze the content and synthesize that learning into something more than a multiple choice question or a fill in the blank, professors will continue to get the stream-of-consciousness-but-I-did-the-assignment-why-didn’t-I-get-an-A? responses that too often populate my followed box here in WordPress.

Last evening, I was taken to dinner for a pre-actual Birthday dinner, as that day was still a few hours away. More than once this past week, some of my closest friends asked what I wanted, and then informed me that I was a difficult person for whom to shop. In addition, I was asked why I did not really seem to look forward to a celebration of my birthday? The difficult person for who to shop did not catch me completely off guard, but being a person who seems to eschew birthday celebrations did catch me a bit by surprise. I pondered if that were true, coming to the conclusion that perhaps that is the case. I do know that when people surprised me for my 60th, I was pleased, but more humbled than anything. I think knowing that people were willing to take time out of their Friday evenings to specifically come and help me celebrate a day was the best present I could have received. It is probably true that I do not really need much. In fact, I am trying to remove unwanted items from my space at this point. I even long for that time when I first moved back to Houghton into the little cabin on the portage that was furnished and I barely had enough dishes or other things to cook or feed myself. Where there was more space in my cupboards and closets than there was “stuff.” I remember people telling me I was a minimalist, and my response was “But I have what I need.” I am not sure I even had all of that, but I was pretty content.

I am in the process of cleaning up some spaces, both literal and figurative ones, but it feels good to do so. I am hoping by the end of the month to have a list of things completed, and most of it has little or nothing to do with my daily work. However, completing this task so I can focus on the things I need to do on a weekly basis and plan for the times out of school accordingly will still make my life more orderly and less stressful. I am always amazed by those who have families, children,  or other duties, but still manage to be a professor. I am not sure what it is that I do differently, but I seem too often all consumed by the work and responsibilities that are my 9-to-5 position. Those of you who know me will see the irony of that statement immediately. As I move into the morning and imagine the day, I am not really sure what all in on tap, but I know that I want to walk into the week on an level playing field or at least not behind the proverbial eight ball as most of the Big 10 found itself yesterday. Speaking with others yesterday, it is amazing the clutter we collect in our lives. I am still debating a garage sale or large boxes to Salval or Goodwill.

Ponder for a moment if you will; think back in the memories of your lives and what was the happiest of birthday celebrations for you? I am not sure I have one specific birthday, though the one mentioned above sticks out. Perhaps that is because my memory is not sharp enough to remember earlier points in my life. I remember some stupidity on some birthdays from yesteryear, but I am quite sure that is not how I wish to spend my given day at this point. I think in a collective sort of way, what I remember about birthdays most from growing up was the amazing birthday cakes that would come from my Grandmother’s bakery. We always had our own specifically decorated cake, and then there was a half sheet cake, decorated in corresponding colors for everyone else. Grandma was a fabulous cake decorator, which is quite amazing, as I am realizing she had some arthritis in her hands. I am not sure what age I was, but I remember her buying me a 20″ Schwinn bicycle for a birthday. I might have been six or seven. I remember scratching the front fender in some of my rather futile attempts to ride without training wheels. I was devastated and cried as I looked at the scratched paint, and I think I had also dented the very tip of it. I am not sure if I ran into the picnic table, the garage, or the house. Yes, it is true; learning to ride on two wheels was a difficult task for me. All the sort of rite of passage birthdays for me are rather unmemorable. I am old enough that 18 was more significant than 21, but I was in Marine Corps boot camp, so I was careful to make sure no one knew it was my birthday. For that 21st birthday, I was in my first weeks of college at Iowa State.  The 25th birthday I was a sophomore at Dana College, so as you can see there was a bit of a hiatus from education at that point. I do remember a 30th where I was back in seminary, and I remember being in married student housing and I think there are even some pictures from that event with the appropriate “over the hill” wrapping paper, and a pancake breakfast that had pancakes that resembled 30. The 40th was one of those less than stellar moments in my life, even though I had returned to graduate school at Michigan Tech. By 50, I was finally finishing the route of various degrees and I had a decade/dissertation celebration at the Decker’s residence when they were still living in Menomonie. I noted the 60th above, so now I am a bit older. What do I have to show for the life I have lived?

As always there are a variety of ways to view such an existence, but for me I think what I can show this has been no easy path, but I am also not complaining. Not to sound cliche, but first of all, I am here. In spite of consistent and significant health issues since my late 20s, I have maintained and I am doing quite well. I think I am healthier today than I have been for a number of years. That has led to my being more content, more settled. In spite of some new health news that has created new challenges, I don’t feel overwhelmed or sorry for myself. In fact, the challenges have led me to precisely the opposite. I will manage them and be even healthier. I have had the opportunity this past year to travel and be a student again. I think learning for me is the most rejuvenating and satisfying thing I can do. Being immersed in another culture, even one that is not technically part of my heritage, is something that is a highlight of this 60+ years. Have I begun to consider retirement? I have, but it is not something I feel compelled to do or something necessary. Would I like to slow down a bit and perhaps putz around and do only what I want? I imagine it at times, but I think I would get bored. If I were to do it all over again, would I change much? Probably not, not even the health stuff. I think the health issues have resulted in my being grateful and feeling blessed more than my feeling afflicted or being dealt a bad hand. Perhaps it was the thoughtful, brilliant, and sort of fatherly neurologist, Dr. John Carlson who helped me understand it best. When he looked at all of my charts and heard about my birth story, he said the fact that I was a normal functioning cognitive individual was quite miraculous. That was perhaps all I needed to hear. As I was telling someone yesterday, my great-aunt Helen once told me that even as a two year old, I was happy-go-lucky, ever smiling, and wanting to be helpful. I am not sure I am always smiling, but I am generally happy. I might be a bit more understated in my emotions than I once was. I might be a bit more introverted than I once was, but most importantly, there is no “was” to me. I am. I have a job that I find fulfilling and meaningful. I have colleagues, friends, and acquaintances who make my life more interesting and enjoyable. I live in a place where people still care about the other, and though I am often surprised by some of what I read or hear, many people are genuinely good and reasonable.

So what might I change? What do I wish I might have done differently? Do I wish I had been a father? Perhaps, I think I really did miss out on something there, though some people have helped me overcome that omission: Becca, Cassie, Shiama, Ashley, Melissa, Becky, Jordan, Jeamie, Monica . . .  I think you get the picture, but they can all be sent home. I wish I would have learned more languages and traveled more earlier in my life. I wish I might have gotten my education done a bit sooner. Perhaps I wish that I might have grown up or matured a bit sooner. It seems I was often trying to catch up. I have had a somewhat itinerant life, but it has generally served me well. Perhaps, I need to say something like this. For those I have offended or hurt, for those I mistreated or harmed, please accept my most sincere apologies for my failures. For those who have blessed me, assisted me, cared for me, and there are so many: from the bottom of my heart, thank you. I am blessed to make it to another milestone day. I am truly blessed and I hope I can be as much of a blessing as you all have been to me.

With care, and thank you for reading,

Michael