Teaching in a Remote, Individualized, Asynchronous, Divided World

Hello from the study, the room I am pretty much consistently occupying,

As I finally get back to this blog, it has taken me a month-plus. The new semester has me buried, but still plugging along diligently. So here was where I was a month ago and the thoughts at that time. – – – – – – As we move into a new semester, I wonder exactly what my students are imagining and feeling about being a college student. There is little doubt that our world is a significantly different place than it was a year ago. Last spring, I was walking into classrooms, welcoming students to my office, holding office hours at times in the library location of Starbucks, and both my students and I was merrily going about our lives doing what we do. Fast forward (and the year has been anything but fast), as I consider the past year, the changes are profound. My exchange student left the country (and that too was a process that had many twists and turns) sooner than planned. I found myself sitting in my house hours and days upon end, wondering what was coming next, how we were going to cope with the new found changes, including buying toilet paper, and hoping somehow I would not be exposed to this virus that sounded much more frightening than many of the things I had already faced in terms of health complications. Somehow, catching COVID seemed much more traumatizing. Indeed, only a few days beyond our first national fatality, and the difficulty that occurred in a nursing home in Washington State, we currently have over 440,000 fatalities, 26.5 million cases, and a country that is still struggling to overcome the logistical mountain of getting shots into the arms of 80% of the country’s population. As I write this, I have received my first vaccination in the past week and I am scheduled for the second before the end of February. And yet, in spite of our difficulties, the EU is in a much greater struggle to vaccinate its population, the entire continent of Africa is in a terrible predicament, and much of the world has little idea how they will ramp up to vaccinate their own populations. Much of the world, like most of what the virus has revealed, is controlled by the economics of haves and have nots. That is the reality of our planet. We are not equitable nor are we just. I am fortunate beyond words to have already received a vaccination. I understand that on a number of levels, from just that I fall into a category that has priority to the fact that our government or my health insurance is covering the vaccination. All of those things are gifts.

As I begin yet another semester of teaching, the continual effect of the pandemic requires a very different level of commitment from all, and that goes beyond students and faculty. It includes technology services, library staff and also the administration, as well as health services, counseling services, landlords and others. It is a complex puzzle, and like most things, one size does not fit all. I have spent significant time on the phone with students within the first week, trying to assure them they can manage the expectations of the semester. As seems to be the case, I probably have a dozen students who have me for two separate classes at the same time. This makes their lives busy, but mine confusing. This is particular the case when there are times they will ask a question, but they do not specify to which class they are referring. That specificity is important because I can easily forget they might be in both classes, particularly in the first couple weeks. – – – – –

Back to this and trying to make sense of our yet jumbled world. At this point, the reality of what is expected has hit all involved like the proverbial ton-of-bricks. What makes it so difficult, at least I think this is what it is, is the simple reality that most students do not know how to critically think and analyze. This is not the fault of the average 20 year old, it is that too often they have not been required to do so. The recipe card life of high school does little to prepare them for what is coming. The fact they must reach out and ask for assistance if they do not actually comprehend the nuances of their assignments, their process, or how it all fits together is complicated when they are not in a classroom. Too often they turn to Telegram, GroupMe, or some other group app to ask their questions of each other. In spite of that fact, I have created a Coffee Shop in our CMS specifically to ask these questions, they are often embarrassed or uncomfortable in asking in that forum because they somehow believe asking questions makes them look under-prepared, perhaps, not smart enough, perhaps, or . . . when precisely the opposite is true. Asking for assistance and communicating your concerns is precisely what should happen as a student. I have thought about this a great deal. What is it that makes us so fearful of admitting what we do not know? If you actually knew all of the answers to the various questions, there would be no need to be in the class from the outset. I am just looking it it logically (sorry, Melissa; I guess I am still the same). Currently, I am asking students from one of my classes to call me about their initial work on an assignment. At this point, some 36 hours later only a handful have actually done that. Of course, one called me three times at 11:30 at night, somehow believing I would still be up. My goodness!! Two have called, but did not leave messages, and I do not keep their phone numbers in my phone. Again, we are back to basic communication skills. As I try to figure out how all of this occurred (the this being an incredible loss of basic interpersonal skills), I do not think it can all be blamed on social media. I do not think it is that no parent has tried to teach their offspring basic manners. So what is it? I think perhaps it is a combination of a multitude of things that has created the “perfect storm” resulting in a profound lack of interpersonal decorum.

I believe the isolation of the last year has caused an overpowering need for us to want something with no sense of how that request or demand might affect the person on the receiving end of our missive (be it text, voice message, email, even a video chat or app). I have long argued the main deleterious effect of social media is not that we are in contact more readily or easily, but rather we have so blurred the public and private that things like decorum, civility, and appropriateness are too often forgotten. Isolation causes fear; it often causes antisocial behavior that can be significantly damaging to mental and emotional health, as well as one’s physical health (Novotney, May 2019). In the article just cited, the author noted that latest census data shows that 1/4 of the population in the United States lives alone (and that was before the pandemic) (Novotney, May, 2019). The consequence of reactive loneliness versus chronic loneliness is an important consideration, and I think this is something many of our students are struggling to manage.Reactive loneliness, to be clear, is when there is something that changes in our lives so that our social group has a profound change and we feel a degree of loneliness because of it. A death of an important friend, a spouse, a child, or such is a good example. Reactive loneliness is painful for anyone, but if that loneliness continues to occur or there is nothing there to address it, then it becomes chronic. Chronic loneliness often seems to occur when there is no visible possibility of change. This sort of loneliness can become harrowing, excruciating, even torturous.

To escape this struggle, particularly when there is some overarching circumstance that seems to predicate it, many will turn to less than proper options. Fortunately, I am not a smoker, but studies show that binge smoking, binge eating, binge watching, binge drinking are all too often the escape. I am fortunate enough to be able to stay away from those things, but there is going to the grocery store to buy more food I do not need, or fortunately it is not warm enough (yet) that the plants are out. Those of you who know me, know this can be a problem. So . . . are there positives in this isolation? For me, there have been. It has caused me to actually reach out to some I had lost contact with. That has been something unexpected, but it has helped me manage the day-in and day-out on the Acre. Additionally, it has required me to be more intentional and thoughtful about things if I am going to manage the work I need to do. That is particularly the case with an extra prep and extra section, and 26 credits of internships. All in all things are getting done. The other thing it has prompted is a really careful prioritization of what needs to happen and what can be let go. All of these things have helped me stave off that sense of isolation because things are getting accomplished.

That is another irony of all of this. Some students have more time than ever to work on their classwork, but they seem less likely to manage their requirements. I have had more students miss deadlines than ever before. I have struggled to keep students on-board, thoughtfully engaged, and ready to do their work than ever before. However, let me also say there have been some incredibly ambitious and disciplined students too. They are my saving grace at this point. There are students who have stepped up and realized this need to adapt to the world we are in is simply the way it is. I believe the ultimate consequence of this move to remote teaching is the push it has created to make all of us more accountable to each other in the educative process. The amount of work needed to manage an asynchronous remote course is exponentially more. I am not complaining because I believe it has required a great deal more intentionality on my part. I have to think about what I am asking students to do more thoughtfully. I need to be more process driven in what I do. However, it requires a great deal more intentionality from students too. This is a different world than the world of sitting in a lecture (either large or small). It is so much more evident precisely what a student does or does not do. That is also frightening, but it can be liberating if the student will claim their education. It is theirs. They are accountable to themselves first and foremost. We all know when we do something well; conversely, we know when we half ass something. I believe that is even more apparent in this remote world, which is ironic beyond anything imaginable. Everything we do is in the open. Likewise, everything we do not do is in the open. That is where the accountability piece really kicks in. It is hard to say, or even imagine, where all of this will shake out. What will happen to this generation of students? How will they take this experience and adapt to the world beyond their backpacks? It is most definitely something we will have to wait and see as far as the ramifications. In the meantime, my computer and I are best friends. Seldom can I leave the screen and the desk believing I am caught up. There is no such thing. It is simply trying to stay afloat. For my students, if you read this and comment about your thoughts, you will get extra credit.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

The Shared Experience of Struggle Creates Equity, and perhaps Empathy

Oh my – the hair

Hello from my kitchen on an early Monday morning,

It is about 5:40 a.m. and I have decided it is time to get back to a productive schedule. I had actually set my alarm for 6:45, but I woke up about 5:00 and decided to get up. I am cooking oatmeal and decided to do something productive while it simmers. It is not instant oatmeal and takes some time. This morning I have a multitude of feelings: the Packers lost 😞 and that makes me sad because they simply got outplayed. The missing of a couple of players and some just plain tough football by the Bucs’ defense kicked them out of yet another Super Bowl game. I am hoping to not fall victim to the post holiday doldrums and that is part and parcel to my decision to rise, and at least try to shine, and early start to a day. I am hoping the peppermint hot chocolate might help the shining aspect of the day. I have already put a load of laundry in the dryer and one in the washer, so caught up there too. The list of tasks on the to-do list is substantial and they are also involved and laborious, so it will be a long day. That is fine as long as I make progress on a number of fronts.

Over the weekend, I worked diligently to put into practice the words and call for reaching across the aisle I have espoused in some of my latest posts. In one instance, I have some history with the person, though not necessarily with the couple people with whom I had some posting interaction. In the other case, I certainly know the person upon whose page I responded, but again no specific knowledge with whom I had an extensive give and take. What did happen was after some initial sort of disregard or discounting, the people had to step back and reconsider that perhaps it was possible that someone who thought differently or claimed a different political bent than they might actually listen to them. This is not to say I am not passionate about my positions or beliefs, but as I have noted we need to begin to reach out on an individual level if we are going to make a change in our currently national dialogue. There were two things that stood out in our discussion. There was the idea that one should not waste their breath on the other. If we choose to hold our breath and not use it, it might be argued we will wither and die. The second point was about changing the other person’s mind. This buys into the idea that the only goal of an argument or debate is to win. Again, as I have noted in the past, this is not true. The goal of an argument is to come to consensus. If I am to debate thoughtfully with another, I have to understand their concerns and their fears. Eleanor Roosevelt once said this concerning fear. “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Fear is incredibly powerful, but more importantly, fear creates anger. Think about this for a moment. If someone jumps out and frightens you, after that momentary fear, we almost always follow up with a sense of anger. Damn it! You scared me! And we might refer to them with some disparaging moniker.

When I graduated from Dana, I went to St. Paul and the seminary to enroll in a summer intensive Greek program. This was because I felt incapable of managing Delvin Hutton’s Greek class at Dana. It was an really laborious summer, but I loved it and I thrived in that situation. And yet, looking back, I know how difficult it was. I did not feel that at the time, but what I know to this day that the colleagues, classmates, I endured the summer with became some of my dearest friends and colleagues beyond. The struggle of that summer class was an incredible equalizer. All of us where thrown into the same process and we needed each other to survive it. Our study sessions, our 10:00 p.m. trips to Poppin’ Fresh pie shop, which would lated be called Baker’s Square, or our post-exam evening to El Torito’s where we would consumer incredibly large margaritas because there was no assignment for the next morning’s class are rather legendary among that group. We did not worry about grades as much as we believed it was our duty to hold each other up and make sure no one was left behind. That summer was an interesting one for me because I was told by someone I was not academically or intellectually smart enough to manage the rigor of that course. That only served to motivate me, and motivate me it did. I would eventually teach that very class a few years later.

It is now later in the week, and as my blogs indicated, my plans got way-laid by my health issues, but I have managed to make progress. The expensive eyedrops are doing some very helpful things for my vision and my ability to focus. It is now Saturday, and earlier today I got my first Covid vaccination. It is about 10 hours later and there is some very slight discomfort at the injection site, but otherwise, no issues. Earlier this evening I spoke with a long-time friend, one questioning the efficacy versus the fear of getting vaccinated. I spent some time explaining why I was willing, even with, and particularly because of, the various maladies. While I want to protect myself, for me it is as much about being safer for others. One of the things, at least in my view, about being vaccinated is we are in this viral morass together and we will only get out of it together. I try to think about the logic of it all. None of these companies want to do something on a global scale that will come back and bite them. They will lose their company. I do believe it is that profound. And again, I do not mean this as a political statement, which we are prone to take everything as, but I do believe the things I have listened to this past week from either the more well-known Dr. Anthony Fauci, or the new head of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who served as Chief of Infectious Diseases as Mass General and a Medical Professor at Harvard, as well as a degree in Public Health, I have learned more about what the vaccine does than I did in numerous briefings in the past year. Again, this is not meant to be a slam against anyone, but it is that I have listened throughout. I did not ignore the briefings in the previous administration because I wanted to understand.

I am hopeful that we are at the bottom of the inverted bell curve, although the variant issues concern me. I do believe that issue was explained this past Friday that vaccination is the best way to minimize variants. All of this made sense to me as it was explained. It would be easy to focus on just my little corner of the world (that being PA at the moment), but I believe that is short-sighted. This is a global health crisis and I do believe unless we figure out a way to get as much of the global population vaccinated in as timely a manner as possible, we will be doing the proverbial one-step-forward, and two-steps-back, but the consequence of that will be more than a struggle. It will be catastrophic. Death is an incredible equalizer. That has been often said, and I believe it is one of the more profound truths we must face as humans. Social class, gender, age, economic status, none of it matters, and the reality is this virus cares nothing for any of that nor is it confined by space, geography, or time. We are in this together, regardless language, single or with a partner, small town or urban dweller. What is evident is countries with money has much more access to the vaccine than poorer countries, but when there is an outbreak in places who have not had an opportunity to purchase the vaccine in levels of millions of doses, that outbreak will not remain there. It is a long ways from South Africa to South Carolina, but the variant got there. The Atlantic is wide, but 29 states have that variant as of earlier today. This is where we need to be more than empathetic we need to be fair and thoughtful. In our own country, it has been well documented that poorer communities are significantly more likely than some other places to have exponentially more cases within their population.

I remember preaching the week after Princess Diana was tragically killed. The entire world stopped and mourned for the week after her passing, and I am not lamenting that outpouring of grief and care. There were hundreds of others who passed away that week we never heard of, but their loss was as profoundly felt by their own families as much as the highly publicized passing of the People’s Princess. I remember noting that in my sermon that next Sunday. Death cares not about what you have, who you have touched, or what you have done. It is final, at least in what happens to your physical body and how your loved ones will understand your actual presence in their lives. As of this moment as I write this, 435,151 people have died in 12 months from this virus. As a sort of measurement, that would be about 75% of the population of the entire state of Wyoming. If want to look at it in terms of infections, 26,000,000 is almost the entire state of Texas. Again, these are simplistic connections and I know what some will say, the death rather is minimal, but those who have long-term consequences and what all those consequences are is so beyond what we know at the moment.

The point of all of this is we need to realize the equity (and the inequity) of this crisis. I see it among my students and how moving to remote learning affects them differently. I see it in how the culture of some and their options make them more vulnerable. I see how our distrust of so many things from people to information has made us suspicious of almost everything. We cannot live and thrive as a country when we fail to see a common purpose. Again, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt (I think it would have been an incredible thing to meet her or listen to her speak), she asked, “When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” Illness is also an equalizer, but this time it has too often been suffered in isolation. It is time for us to allow our consciences to be tender, to be forgiving, to be unselfish. The struggles we are facing are not merely our own, they are our world’s and it is time we reach out our hand to make the world a better place. This is not a socialistic endeavor, it is a human endeavor. Caring for the other is a faithful thing, regardless the faith you call your own. Every major religion addresses the idea of caring for those less fortunate than one’s self. It is in that reaching out that equity and empathy occur. I was fortunate enough because I am an American, over 65, with health issues, and a job that falls into an important category that today I could be vaccinated. There are many of my friends from both here and abroad that have not been so fortunate. I think about each of them and I pray for their safety. This past week has been a rollercoaster and the next week will be a blur from beginning to end. That is my individual reality, but I am constantly reminded that our world reality has paramount ramifications for me, even though I am in a little town tucked away in North Central Pennsylvania. To the literally hundreds of people who reached out this week, thank you. I am doing better. I am blessed in many ways and as such I am called be a blessing back. Thanks for reading this. I am reminded of a time when a number of influential musicians got together in the 1980s and reminded us of our human global community. Perhaps it is time to remember that and see our equity and use our empathy in this time. Take about a who’s who of musicians. And if you will take the time, the video that follows is a reprise of it with another group at the time of Haiti. Perhaps we need to do it again.

Thank you as always for reading. Bless you in this time.

Michael

When it Seems There is only One Empty Chamber

Wearing my Luther Hoodie

Hello from my office or study on the Acre,

Let me begin with an incredible word of thanks. I am humbled beyond measure at the kindness shown during the past three days in response to my previous blog. I am honored that somehow my willingness to share my private, difficult, and atypical health struggles were helpful. That is a bit unbelievable to me, but, again in my piety, that is what the Holy Spirit does when we cannot find the ability to make sense of our lives. Indeed, I wrote the words, but those words were inspired by something larger than me. In this COVID world, finding our way to doctor’s appointments has been a bit different. Fortunately, through both our online patient portal and because of COVID (ironically), there were cancelations with my ophthalmologist. I wrote her a message on Tuesday evening, as I was working on the blog, and she responded within hours. I called on Wednesday, and was able to get in today. I will talk more about the appointment, and there are some issues with my vision, but nothing that cannot be managed. Not surprisingly, it appears my eyes, like everything else, are dehydrated too. In addition, I have to get prescription reading glasses rather than simple readers any longer. That is the simple explanation for the moment.

All of the other issues that were noted in the last blog are just simply how my body manages and the way I have to go about daily life. The constantly moving target of hydration will never go away. That is not a good thing nor it is an easily managed thing, but it is manageable. It takes constant supervision on my part; it requires me to monitor (not in terms of some sort of process like my Diabetes), and requires me to pay attention. There is little room for ignoring or pretending there are no issue. It is a lifestyle, but I work diligently to act like I am much like any other person. I have been told, even by my doctors, or by those I now lecture in my position as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medical Education at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine, that I look healthy. I guess that is a good thing, but it too has some consequences. In fact, some of my latest scholarly writing considers things rather unexpected because of the appearance versus reality discontinuity. It is not by accident that I have noted (as indicated in the title) that I often feel I am playing Russian roulette with one empty chamber rather than one bullet. It is not how I like to play the odds, but somehow it seems I have been rather fortunate each time it has been my turn to spin that magazine. Somehow, scenes of The Deer Hunter come to mind, and that was tense enough watching the movie. It is not something I planned to live.

And yet, as I write this, I have some important friends who are in the process of one losing the other to cancer. In fact, as I spoke on the phone earlier this evening, the one cried at the stark reality of losing a partner. They had to hang up the phone because the hospital was calling (and they are not allowed to be there because of COVID). This is beyond traumatic to me. Even earlier, I spoke with a spouse of a former colleague and they spoke of the range of emotions felt during the past holiday season as they continue life alone. And yet, again, still this evening, I reached out to a high school classmate who has lost a spouse and a father during this past year. It is in those conversations, I am pushed to remember how incredibly lucky I am. I have options and, even though I have hurdles (and short legs), somehow I get over them and keep trucking along. In addition to the prescription readers, I have been placed on a prescription eye drop, Fortunately, I have health insurance. The cost of these amazing little drops without insurance would be almost 850.00. Yes, you read that correctly. Holy Buckets . . . make sure every drop gets into your eyes and you do not miss. That is incredible. There is more than once I have stated, “If I have known what the last thirty years would bring, I might have asked what is behind door number two?” However, I am not convinced that door would have been better. It is easy to wonder what if . . . it is undeniable that we wonder how things might have been different from time to time, but, for me, those conversations, with God or myself , are rather pointless. They are subjunctive mood conversations, conditions contrary to reality. I have generally been the person who simply says, “Tell me what the situation is and let me deal with it.” Some who know me well will shake their collective heads, but life is a process. There is no recipe card; there are no promises; and I am owed nothing. The last blog was my humanness in all its frailty coming to the fore. I do have those moments, and I guess, gauging the responses I received, it was a good thing to reveal that. That it was helpful for anyone, I am, again, humbled, but as I noted God will work through me and in spite of me.

It would be easy to turn inward when I have those days, but that is not really the best way for me to manage things. Reaching out and paying attention to others is an infinitely more helpful way for me to manage life. It is not difficult to see we have a hurting world. The divisions among us and some of the things I have read not only in the last week or beyond, but really for some time seem to have us running our world in much the same way that my blog title states. And yet with more extreme repercussions. As I think about the words of unity, fairness, justice, hope, kindness, or decency, they seem like things impressed upon us as children, but as concepts or ideals we somehow have lost as adults. One of the things I have learned as a patient is to advocate for myself and believe in my own agency, but I need to see my doctor, a nurse, those who have knowledge I need as advocates and allies, not as someone to mistrust. As I consider that, I am struck by something it seems we have forgotten. We elect people to represent us and is that what is happening? It seems with what is happening in our streets and in the halls of Congress, we are being represented. They are as divided and disrespectful as we are. Why are we surprised? I do not want to make this blog a political blog, but I am thinking about the COVID situation right now. With all of my issues, I describe myself as a blue-light special for germs. Fortunately, I get my first COVID vaccination on Saturday. I realize this is not some get-out-of-jail-free card. However, I do believe I will feel at least a bit less stress about leaving the house than I have. I know not everyone agrees, but we need to get this virus stuff managed. Herd immunity achieved by mass casualty does not seem like the best plan. I know of more people than I have fingers at this point who have lost their lives to this. Some in their 40s, and they did not have a boatload of co-morbidities. I know former students who are nurses and are running themselves emotionally and physically to exhaustion because of the COVID cases they face every day. This does more than alarm me. There are times it infuriates me because we are so incredibly self-centered, all based on the argument of individual freedom. That individual freedom is again leaving one empty chamber.

As humans, we do not live an a vacuum. We are not hermits, though COVID has worked hard to push us there. What this past week has reminded me yet again, is how apparent our past is part of our present and preparing us for our futures. We are a tapestry, a fine amazing coat of incredible thread, woven by experience and the singular stitching is not always evident, but each stitch is profound, important, and relevant. So many people have blessed me with the stitches they have contributed to my my tapestry or my coat. It has kept me safe or warm through so many elements. It has made it possible for me to weather many storms. It has taught me to be open and honest with my strengths and my frailties. Yes, again this week, the blessings heaped upon my table were beyond anything expected or deserved. It is incredible how each of you have helped mend the coat of the threadbare places and lifted my spirits to heights I have not felt for some time. There is so much for me to do in the next days and I was frightened because I felt physically incapable. My eyes are essential to my work, especially now. I was overwhelmed and defeated, at least for a bit, but to each of you for your thoughts, prayers, posts, acknowledgements, you have lifted me beyond anything I deserve. Bless you all and I wish you a safe, sound, healthy, and blessed 2021. I am humbled. Perhaps, I have a couple of empty chambers or hopefully even more.

Thank you again and bless you all.

Michael

Wondering When or How it Ends

As a student at Dana

Hello from my study,

I have another blog in process, but this past week I have struggled with other possibilities and concerns. I have always been pretty open about my health issues. They are complex, all related, but still unpredictable. It is a consequence of being born a bit too early (26 weeks and 17 ounces). That is a pretty amazing statistic, particularly in 1955, but somehow I managed most of it through childhood and never considered any of my childhood maladies to be anything out of the ordinary. I had some intestinal things, mostly chalked up to a peptic ulcer syndrome. In fact, when I was working at Sodrac Park, I had milk in a refrigerator to coat my stomach and manage the cramps and pain. Otherwise, there was little that seemed all that abnormal. Into my mid-twenties, there were some small issues, but I chalked it up to working a bit more intensely than I should have. I made it through college with a double major and double minor, worked 20 hours a week, and somehow transferred and transferred back and managed to graduate on time. I knew there were times it seemed I could not gain weight, but I figured that was a gift.

Then came a day in January of 1984 and a simple trip into the bathroom changed my life. After spending more time in restrooms in a month than I had in probably a year, and the loss of 25 pounds in three weeks, I would be diagnosed with an Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Without going through every complication since, suffice it to say that with surgeries, abnormal biopsies and other treatment, it has been a path that I would not wish on most people. And yet, I have been blessed to manage life pretty well in spite of all those issues. A great majority of the time I feel blessed that I have always had options and, regardless the difficulties, there has always seemed to be a light ahead. I have been told I am a miracle more times than I have fingers. I have been told part of the reason they do not know what to do with me is most people do not live this long. I have been told I am like an upside-down jigsaw puzzle. The analogies are numerous and most of the time I find them hopeful, but that is getting more and more difficult to do. When I was diagnosed with an IBD, I was still afforded the best treatment by some of the best doctors in the world, but biologics for IBDs did not exist then. That means the treatments for me, when medication did not work, regardless the dosage, more surgery was in store. I am grateful for all of those things because at the time, it was the only thing they knew to do as my body worked diligently against itself. The first surgery was in December of 1986. My last surgery was in August of 2012. That is a long time to keep cutting away on one body. It fact, there is really no more they can remove. I guess that is a good thing. However, all of those removals and all of that medication has had consequence. In fact, ironically, currently, the Crohn’s, which was the final diagnosis, is not currently active. That too is a good thing because it makes life much more manageable. However, the consequences, they are numerous, and they are complicated.

The removal of an entire large intestine and a significant part of the ileum has had some serious ramifications. The large intestine is the most consequential organ in terms of hydration for the human body. Missing it creates problems. There is an area of the ileum that does all your B complex vitamin absorption for the body. Not having that part of my intestine means I do not absorb. I did not know that until about 4 years ago. So for almost 25 years I went without adequate levels of B Complex Vitamins. By the time we realized the problem, my levels were under 80. The consequence when I finally found that out had caused me all sort of difficulties. At least that was remediated. The use of sulfur-based antibiotics, hydrocortisone, and extreme doses of prednisone for years also had repercussions. So where am I now? Hydration or dehydration has resulted in a variety of maladies. First, I dehydrate all the way to the cell level. That has resulted in Diabetes Type II. I make insulin fine, but I do not absorb it. Dehydration has had a deleterious effect on my kidneys because they cannot figure out what to do. Currently I am in what is called Stage III Chronic Kidney Disease, which is connected to the Diabetes. In addition, I have something called NonAlcoholicSteato-Hepatitis (NASH), which is liver damage as a long-term outcome of steroid usage. One of the times my kidneys decided to shut down it elevated my potassium to the point it was affecting my heart. That resulted in bradycardia as illustrated in an electrocardiogram. I have also had multiple strokes (which I think can be again pushed back to dehydration). So . . . where am I . . . a walking time bomb of sorts. Most of the time I can ignore it, but the past week or month, the diabetes is affecting my vision, which is not uncommon, but they tried to do a retinopathy exam on me recently, and it could not even be read. So . . . fortunately I have reached out to my ophthalmologist and she is going to try to get me in yet this week to see what we can do. My eyes are an important part of my livelihood at this point, and that is even more the case when I am teaching online, asynchronous remote.

As I have noted, I know how fortunate I am, but today I am feeling a bit overwhelmed and defeated. Generally I know that being here is a blessing and I am blessed to have a job and do something I love. I love when the light goes on for students and they understand something they did not, be it about writing, working with someone while managing their internship and to see how they begin to develop their professional identities, or seeing how they move from being a freshman to a graduate student and professional (when I am fortunate enough to be there for the process, it is such a wonderful experience). One of the things I am well aware of is how blessed I have been to be there at those moments of poignancy. Sometimes it was a funeral, sometimes it was when a life seemed to be crumbling around them. Sometimes it seemed insignificant like someone was looking for a class or meeting someone on a sidewalk. It is interesting how, in my piety, I believe God work’s through us, for us, and yes, even in spite of us. During the past couple years, I have been fortunate enough to experience things I never expected like having an exchange son, traveling back to sort of retrace my roots and see many of my childhood friends, or reconnecting with both family and friends from the beginning of life. During the past half dozen years, I have been blessed to travel and experience things I could not have imagined and see countries and beautiful people who have made my life so much richer. I am grateful beyond words. From the people at Costa Coffee who blessed me with their kindness to a musical quartet from Ukraine; from my Russian student and her family to one of the administrative staff at UJ, I continue to see how incredible people are. Today is one of those days I wish my grandmother was still here and I could speak with her. She could always help me to see the positive in things. She would be quite old at this point, and it would be interesting as I have, as noted recently, lived longer than she did.

I seldom think about this, and perhaps I should consider it more carefully, but I imagine (and I am not trying to be morbid) one day the homeostasis in my body, which is so incredibly fragile because it has had to adjust on the fly will fail to adjust and that will be it. That is not something I want to happen soon, but it is something I am comfortable in realizing. I still have a lot I want to do, not just in this very calendar year, but beyond. I am not willing to quit, that is for sure, but it is tiring, and today, I will admit, I AM TIRED. I think earlier in my life, much as anyone, and in spite of the multitude of things that seemed stacked against me, I took life for granted. Contrary to my best friend, who passed over 5 years ago, and shocked me when he, shortly before he passed and the last time I saw him, said, “I never expected to get old.” I am not sure what I expected, but I did not think about passing as a young man. Well, I am certainly not that now, but I do not consider myself old either. I am reminded of the words in the funeral liturgy that state “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I am not ready to hear this words, if we hear them when they are spoken for us. I am not ready to simply stop, I have too many things I still want to accomplish. Perhaps the problem is I do not want to slow down. I guess that was the case from the outset. I could not even wait to make it to 40 weeks. I simply needed to get going. Perhaps pacing might be reasonable. Perhaps, slowing down is prudent, but I do not want to. There is so much to see and learn, and experience. There is so much I think I can still do in the classroom or beyond. At this point, I can certainly say, I do not know when or how it ends, but I hope it is still some time in the rather distant future. I hope this blog did not sadden anyone. I will be okay. Regardless what happens, I am blessed in so many ways. Thanks to all of you who take time to read this blog in the various venues or here in WordPress. I am blessed by your thoughts, your wishes and your responses. Steve Walsh, the former lead singer for the group Kansas, did his own album once upon a time and there was a beautiful song there he wrote about his grandparents. He was blessed to have Robby Steinhart the amazing violinist for Kansas work with him on this album (Schemer Dreamer). We are part of our generational process, and I will always be grateful to the Grandmother, who was the first mother I remember. She loved me deeply and unconditionally and I am still fortunate that she was my Grandmother and first mother.

Thanks as always for reading,

Michael

Being an American . . . Not as Easy as Perhaps We Thought

Storms are a Reminder of our Insignificance

Hello from my study on the acre,

As I grew up in the early 6os and into the 70s, certainly our country was coming of age, so to speak. We were in a different world and the United States was understood quite differently than it had been certainly up through the First World War and coming out of the Second. We were a world power in a different way and the 48 contiguous states that were America when I was born the country was still figuring out what and who we were. That might sound a bit unreal to many who are coming of age today, but it is true. In my life, in terms of a national identity, as a younger elementary student, we had elected our first Roman Catholic President and yet, this young vibrant person (or at least that is how we understood him) would be President less than three years before he was assassinated. There have been attempts on Presidents’ lives since, but fortunately, we have not lost another President to assassination. However, that was a turning point for our country and certainly for the Democratic Party. Much has been written about that (e.g. President Kennedy was not as civil rights minded as we might think, until he had no choice; he was a hawkish President in terms of the military and Vietnam, Cuba, and the Russian Missile Crisis bear that out; and many of today’s social issues would have been non-starters for the Catholic President, partly because he was just that, and also because those issues were criminal at that point in our country.), but I believe the fact that the next non-incumbent to run on the Democrat’s ticket was Senator George McGovern and he probably ushers as many of the liberal traits of even present day Progressivism as anyone. It might also be worth considering that the next two Presidents after JFK were both forced from office – Johnson by Vietnam and Nixon by Watergate. By the time President Carter is inaugurated in January of 1977, America is a very different place. We no longer trust our government; we no longer believe we are undefeatable (both from Vietnam and from the soon to occur hostage crisis in Iran) and the Cold War with Russia has many in the country wondering if we are headed to an unwinnable war with our Soviet adversary. By the time I was in my 20s, it seems our vision of our country as a place to be proud of had taken some significant hits. As I move forward, this is in some rather broad strokes, but

I remember by the early 80s being told when we were in other countries as tourists it was not a bad idea to have a Canadian flag lapel pin on your jacket for safety. I can say I considered it, but I could never bring myself to do it. That is not a slap against our Northern neighbors in anyway, but rather as a Marine veteran, I could not do it. I remember being told that we would stick out as Americans as we stood on the corner in East Berlin without saying a thing and that we needed to be careful (this was 1985). I found myself wondering why being American was problematic, but then for the first time I wondered what is the image of America? The 1990s had some elements that were a somewhat redux of the 1960s though we do not perhaps see it as clearly as we should. I have read and watched a number of news pieces and videos the also put the events of the last four years squarely unto what happened in 1995. Again, there are a number of news stories across the political spectrum that have made connections between Timothy McVeigh and what happened in Washington DC in these past weeks. Likewise, 1994 makes the benchmark when the GOP captured the Southern White vote, and that has not really been pushed until Georgia in this past election. I have noted this in a number of posts, but I know that most of my generation believes we are strong, patriotic, faithful, hardworking, caring, and fair people (and I will note that would be white people, which of course, identifies me). And yet, let me put it in a different situation, and one I know personally.

Kris, my younger biological sister, and the one adopted with me into our new family, was a lesbian. She did not identify as such until 1978, but that was still much earlier than many people, and she was forced to do so because someone was going to out her in her unit in the Army. So she left the service, having served with distinction, and was, in fact, the Outstanding Service Person on her base the year before. She never really managed life with that degree of success the rest of her life. Neither of our parents were prepared nor were they capable of accepting her for who she was. I know looking back that this was something she struggled with from puberty on although growing up I did not understand why she seemed so different to me. My mother’s way of facing Kris’s sexual orientation was to not face it. If you did not speak about it, it did not exist. What my mother did not realize is that her unwillingness to face Kris’s reality was an unwillingness to accept Kris. On the other hand, my father, somehow believing he was being a faithful Christian, was determined to get her to repent of her sin and be a heterosexual. He thought he could somehow convince her to change. Again, what that did was create a sort of bifurcation of their relationship that was untenable.

Back to the GOP and the South. The white takeover of the South was nothing new; the difference was a certain arrogant honesty about the racism that the 1960s questioned and (as I post this at the end of a week celebrating the Reverend King and the inclusion of an incredible 22 year old poet laureate.) even the progress of the 1960s Civil Rights could not overcome. It is interesting to realize that both Jesse Jackson and David Duke ran as Democrats in 1988, but by the 1990s Duke, the former KKK Grand Wizard would be a force in Louisiana politics. I believe the 1990s is as schizophrenic a time in our politics as we might have ever faced, but because the economy was doing well, and there was still some modicum of bipartisanship, we failed to see what America was becoming as most of us were content in our little bubbles. In the 1990s, some of the people who found their way into the establishment of politics were campus agitator Bernie Sanders, the late Congressman John Lewis, Bill Ayers gets a PhD, and William Jefferson Clinton was an anti-war protestor who becomes President (Pulver, 12Jan2019). By the time 2000 comes along, I believe we have entered a new political situation that creates a tension in this country that most Americans are incapable of understanding or managing. The rise of specific events that asked/required white America to face their marginalization of non-whites, and primarily blacks (e.g. Black History Month, MLK Day, as well as the significant change in the music culture). The Conservative Right as well as the Evangelical Christian movement combined to fight back. Pat Robertson, and evangelicals like Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Bakker create difficulties for the Christian Right and that continues even today with the fall of Jerry Falwell Jr.. It is amazing to me how many people argue conservative Christian ideals, but subscribe to as well as practice a Puritanical Religiosity. I realize that phrase might be a bit surprising to you, but consider what each terms means and think about how often what we profess in public and practice in private do not correspond. When I raise this issue with many of my students and then offer an example of how it might work, they are generally shocked by the truth of the argument.

There is a theology noted as liberation theology and certainly elements of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestant faiths, and more recently, the black AME Church or others, have raised the importance of the social justice element of faith. Jesus regularly took on the powers of the church and their own religiosity. Most of the Sermon on the Mount has a strong liberation theological bent to it. We are more comfortable in hearing a warm fuzzy God, if you will in the Beatitudes, but they were not meant to be comforting nor should they be today. I believe there is a strong parallel in what is happening politically and religiously at this moment. And all of those who want to shout “separation of church and state” need to come to the simple reality that that phrase is nowhere to be found in the constitution. We cannot march God out when God serves our purposes and put God way when we do not want to hear or listen to the prophetic words that might convict us in our arrogance. The same is with our politics. We cannot argue we hate socialism when we have Medicare, Medicaid, stimulus checks, PPP, unemployment, SNAP, or a host of other things. Some of those including Federal or State Financial Aid for college or any other things that are distributed by our governmental agencies. We too often want all the benefits, but wish not to pay for them. We are too often simply selfish. That is our human nature, and our sense of entitlement, something we accuse young people of, is engrained in our America First attitude that was so supported in our recent past. We are not better than anyone else, nor are we worse. We are simply a nation to whom much has been given and earned, but we are also accountable because of that. That is scriptural also. The words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer again come to mind for me. As Bonhoeffer was knee deep (or what would be neck deep) in the assassination plot of Hitler and imprisoned, he began to consider the role of the church in a profoundly serious manner. On the occasion of Hitler’s 50 birthday, the Reich Church swore an oath of allegiance. Loyalty to Hitler was paramount. Bonhoeffer and members of the Confessing Church would do no such thing, but Bonhoeffer saw the church as a servant community and one that needed to be involved in the secular issues of human life, not as a “dominating” or I would add a policy seeking entity, but rather as a calling to servanthood, existing for the good of others. That is not an easy calling, and I believe it is one we too often mistake as believing it is our duty to lead rather than serve. The same can be said about our politics. Leading in the world is not dominating the world, but serving as a resource and, perhaps, yes, that beacon or lantern that is part of our incredible Statue of Liberty. Liberty is not liberty if it only provides to the few. I heard this on NPR the other morning, so the words are not mine, but they are important. Someone said, “A great experiment takes great determination.” And so it is. If we are going to come together, we will not agree on everything, but we can still respect and realize that an election of another President in part of what our country has done for over 240 years. There will always be a winner and a loser in our elections. That is how America was formed and developed. I know that I felt kicked in the gut both in 1980 and in 2016, but I accepted the result. I would question when I believed it necessary and I will not agree with everything President Biden does. As I have noted in a number of my recent blogs, I want to reach across the aisle. It is important to realize that Congress has its same people, with some difference in the power structure. Will the two branches of our government really work for the good of the people? That is a difficult question because I do not believe that has happened for the better part of 20 years. Perhaps we need to as people model for them. Perhaps, we need to consider what we want in all branches of our government and not just in the Oval Office. It is difficult being an American because it is complex. Or so it seems, but perhaps being decent, thoughtful, and fair with everyone we meet might be a start. I know some of my former classmates and students are not happy with the change in administration, but it is where we are. Can we see if a Biden administration really does get a pandemic under control? Can we see if the Congress might work in a more bipartisan manner than they have over the last decade plus? Can we believe, regardless who appointed the Associate Justices, they will adjudicate in a thoughtful and fair manner considering all the complexities of a case? If we are willing to treat each other with the sort behavior we would hope of them, perhaps it could set an example. It is difficult to be an American, but I am glad I am. I think of a song by Styx way back in their early time where they were considering the Bicentennial of our country and what 200 years meant in terms of responsibility. We do have a responsibility to ourselves and the world . . . in the terms of Bonhoeffer, we need to live together.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you a blessed time as we work together for a better world.

Dr. Martin

“Life is hard, but so very beautiful”

Hello from my office at the University,

It is a difficult day in the history of our country. This is not a partisan statement nor is it meant to be political; it is a simple statement of fact – because the House of Representatives has voted, for a second time, to impeach President Trump. This vote was more bipartisan than any other impeachment vote in our history, but that is not to say there is some great bipartisan effort to move in this direction. Let me begin by saying this. I believe that every person who stood outside the Capitol and protested the counting of the Electoral Vote had the right to do so. It matters not whether I agree with them that the election was somehow fraudulent, for they believed it to be so. A number of people believed what was provided by certain members of both the Congress, the media, and by President Trump himself, and they stood up to argue this part of our electoral process. Again, the comments made by all people since November 3rd have had some effect on what culminated as the event at the Capitol on January 6th. It is for those reasons indeed our national life is hard. We are divided and we are hurting, but there are some things to consider in all of this. I am not a Constitutional Scholar though I have spent a lot of time considering the role of argumentation as a Rhetorical Scholar. The arguments made on both sides of the political divide have consequence. If there is anything I struggled with today is how many Congressional people today voted as they did because of fear. I note that because some of the 10 Republicans who chose to join the Democrats noted they chose to not be intimidated. There is also what is being reported about soon-to-be Former Senate Majority Leader McConnell position and what he is saying about an impeachment and trial. There is so much more, but I have just listened to the video statement of President Trump. I have only one word: yes! It was one of the most Presidential statements he has made in four years. Under duress? Yes, and are there things still missing? Yes, but for the moment, it is what we have. Perhaps we can hope for more. Maybe that is my idealism that seems to always appear. However, I agree . . . no more violence. We can make arguments about timing, but I am fine with where we are. This statement was important. I want to say this for those who believe I cannot support him, I completely support what he said about violence and will leave it at that.

Now comes the difficult part. Can we move beyond him? Can we move toward being citizens, regardless political persuasion, who are willing to consider country before party? Of course, some will, and to some degree appropriately, ask what does that mean? For me it means this. Our elected people in the Legislative Branch will have to do what they do. We have elected them and what they do is supposed to be in the interest of all of us. I understand the difficulty of that statement at this present time. I need to focus on what I can to do reach across that aisle for those I care about, but who see things differently than I do. I need to ask their opinion and be willing to listen before I speak. I need, when necessary, to disagree, but do so kindly, carefully, thoughtfully. I need to think about the country it seems we want our young people to have. Certainly, where we are now with the lack of decorum, respect, or simple decency is not what we need. I am not afraid of honest debate about where we are as a country. I am willing to say we have a serious problem. The lack of trust, be it in the other, in the media, or by the willingness to see conspiracy behind every blade of grass creates a dangerous atmosphere. It undermines more than trust in something, be it the individual or the social fabric, it destroys hope in something positive or the possibility of anything better. It would be easy to give up; the actions of our country for more than just the last five years seem to indicate we have lost our ability to work together for the mutual benefit for either ourselves or our children and their children, but I refuse to believe that. Why? – – because I know the beauty of people if we allow them to do what is in their better heart of hearts. I have been the recipient of that goodness more than once in my life. One of the most important things I understand in my life at this point is our mutuality, our interdependence. We do not accomplish anything of substance without the help or input of others. That is a fact. If anything good is to come from our lives it is through our interactions with others. It is through our willingness to work with the other. This does not mean that all of those interactions are planned, expected, or even necessarily pleasant. That is how complex this idea of beauty is. Sometimes it is out of the depths that our cries fall upon the ears of another, a person kind enough, wise enough, courageous enough to lift us and listen to our pleas for help. Sometimes, it is us being willing to be attentive enough, kind enough, and yes unselfish enough to see the needs of the other before our own. If this past year and our battle with COVID has revealed anything to me, it is our interdependence and the profound reality that we are in this fight against this invisible enemy together.

Earlier, while listening to a statement from the World Health Organization and the critical things occurring all around us, the running comment thread had numerous comments about COVID being a hoax; that no one has really die; that everything about the virus is a lie. These comments absolutely stun me; I am simply speechless. If it is not true and there is a hoax, or no one has died, how does that square up with the obituaries, the refrigeration trucks, the nurses, doctors, and anyone else working within the medical sector who merely goes to work each day? . . . can you honestly in some bizarre stretch of imagination say they are all in on the hoax too? For God’s sake?? I am beyond words. I am convinced we have entered a time where most things we have held dear, reasonable, or appropriate are suspect. The time-honored traditions of being thoughtful, discerning, and open to possibility have been trampled, but the how and why are not as clear to me. So many times I have listened to students say they believe life was easier or it used to be and my general argument has been that is a just a perception, and we know the significance of perception. And generally I was not convinced they were accurate. However, as I write this today, I find myself reconsidering that statement. Perhaps it is more difficult, but why? That is a very different question. I think it is, in part, the consequence of information overload. This has been of concern for some time, but is it really there is too much? I think it gets back to something I speak with my students about every semester. When you are researching something, it is important that you look behind the sources themselves. Who wrote it? What makes that person credible? Who is paying for their information (and that is not necessarily money paid to the writer, but also to who is bankrolling the site)? What is the purpose of the article and who is the intended audience? All of these questions need to be considered before you are willing to post that somewhere. That is why there is so many issues with what is posted. So it is not the voluminous pages as much as it is the quality or veracity of it.

In the aftermath of our Epiphany Day (January 6th)- and it seems so ironic that the attack on the United States Capitol happened on Epiphany – there is so much that has happened, and it seems we are only getting started, but the suspension of President Trump from a variety of platforms is an incredible double-edged sword. I understand the rationale of the platforms in our national situation at this moment, but the role of social media and its power is currently immeasurable. That is the reality of the social media-verse. Therein lies the problem because they are private companies. They have the right as a private company to do what they do, but that makes the Zuckerbergs, the Dorseys, the Bezoss, the Torbas, the Matzes each the ultimate puppet masters of sorts. Once they decide and do what they do, is there any reconsideration, and how is that decided? This is a serious concern. This makes life much more difficult because we have become so dependent on their platforms. The internet developer noted that he was not particularly pleased with what was created, and I can certainly appreciate that reticence. Yet, we are certainly not putting that genie back in the bottle, but can we step back from our technological dependence and once again fathom writing in a more “old-school” manner? I took the time to write and send Christmas cards this year, the first in quite some time. It was a labor of love because it required me to think about each person who whom I send a card and understand why they were important in my life. I should have sent more, but I ran out of cards. And I made two trips to the post office for more stamps.

I should return to the quote that I have chosen to use for this blog post. This is a quote from Abraham Lincoln. It might not be one of his most famous, but it is perhaps one of the most substantive when you consider what his Presidency was trying to manage. What I appreciate as I read more and more about Lincoln is this rather meek, or at least introverted, man had an incredibly strong sense of principle. If you research his presidency, you will see he was trying to balance a desperate world and a profoundly difficult personal life. I can imagine there were moments he had no place to turn except to his God. I can imagine this tall and somewhat formidable person falling to his knees wondering if divine intervention might be possible. The struggles of the Union in 1860 have more parallels to our world now than some might realize. If you take the time to do some research, you might be stunned at the parallels. We have a divided country, one between rural and urban America. We are divided between those who believe we have a right to a white society and those who believe we are a much more complex tapestry today. That was slavery in the 1860s and it is a remnant of Civil Rights still not realized today. That is the reality of our racial divide. We are racially divided, plain and simple. That is a difficulty and it is something we must figure out as a country. It is something we must figure out as humans. It is something we must be honest about. I believe the most profound consequence of COVID is many of our inequities have been exposed to a degree never before seen. There is no where to hide. There is no carpet big enough to sweep it under. And that is good, but it is simultaneously painful. We must step back and consider what it means to be a country of equity, fairness, justice, and yes, a country of law and principle. Each of those terms are ideographic, which means they are complex and they have immeasurable baggage behind them. We need to understand more completely what they mean if we are to move beyond this difficult time.

This is where Lincoln was, and is still, so profoundly wise. In difficulty there is beauty. What does that mean? It means it is necessary to see the goal and understand that the path to things like equity, fairness, and justice are necessary to create something that makes it possible for people to dream and believe in hope. It means that we are truly a society of human beings who desire a society that allows all who put an honest effort in to see progress. This is not simply some idealistic end game. It is building on the belief that we are all equal in the sight of something bigger, a Creator if you will. Scripturally it goes like this: “To whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). This is a tough verse. It does not begrudge your success or your wealth, your talents or your abilities, but simply says if you have it, you are expected to be gracious with it, even more you are required to be gracious period. We have lost that attribute too often. In our propensity to reach our ideal of individual freedom, we believe what we have accumulated is ours. Our incredible selfishness is contrary to the gospel. That is simply the way it is. The beauty of our lives is to be shared. That is something I believe Lincoln had somehow figured out. In spite of the difficulties he faced as our nation’s President, he was able to find the beauty in life. Can we step back in the midst of this difficult time and find the beauty in our lives? And then can we share that beauty with those around us no matter who they are? I know it is easy to become disillusioned, but I refuse to give in and not search for the beauty. I know it is there because I experience it daily. As America we must realize we have been given much, but much is required. It is interesting to me as I listened to an old song by REO Speedwagon the other day, it seemed like it could have been written during the past year. From their live album a song called “Golden Country.” I remember blaring this out of the widows in Holling Hall many an afternoon.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you peace.

Dr. Martin

Why argument/debate/questions are crucial

Hello from my office (at home that is),

It is almost 10:30 in the evening and I am beginning a new post. First that is abnormally late for me to begin, and I am quite sure I will not finish, but I have also just finished dinner, which is also uncharacteristically late for me because I seldom eat late at night. So how did this happen? I got my second shingles shot on Friday and it has turned me pretty upside down. It is not as much a pain thing, which is what happened the first time, but it has caused me to be lethargic, feeling run-down, and caused me more indigestion (almost like a flu) than anything I have ever experienced from a vaccination. I am not regretting the two-part process, but getting through it has not been enjoyable. So, I have taken multiple naps each day, which has thrown my entire sleep pattern out of kilter. If you thought I ran crazy hours before, it is now beyond that. One of my former students, debate and forensics team members, and generally all-round good guy texted me at about 4:00 a.m. this morning and I was awake. The student called and we spoke until after 5:00 a.m. That is not the first time someone has tried to contact me in the last week at 0-dark-thirty and I was awake to take their phone call. So as I spoke with another former Wisconsin colleague this evening while cooking dinner, we commiserated our national atmosphere and we spoke honestly and thoughtfully about where we are, trying to come to terms with both the where and the how. I am not sure that we came to any earth shattering conclusions, but we did agree that these are difficult and desperate times.

Today, in a continued thread between, and with, a former colleague classmate and me, I saw something I have realized, but finally saw it more clearly for what it is. We grew up in the same area of the state of Iowa, in terms of both in the Western third, though I was more northern and he more southern. We are similar in age, and I believe he probably grew up more affluently than I. I do not know that for sure, but knowing his family background, it is a relatively safe assumption. We have disputed a number of issues over the last few years and at one point, we were no longer connected on Facebook, and I believe I reached out to him. Since reconnecting, our conversations have been cordial at times, respectful of the other, and then in terms of politics not so much. In fact, he argues that my requirements for writing correctly, thoughtfully and carefully smack of academic elitism and that because I ask him to be clear, I am being disrespectful or unfair. As a writing professor, I guess I can argue it is an occupational hazard, but that is not really what I feel. What I do feel is something I say to my students regularly, and this is true particularly in my professional and technical writing classes. Unclear writing or communication is unethical. I believe this because it affects the person reading it and trying to make sense of it in ways that have consequence. The same can be said about argument in general. The reason – and this is often the case – there is a struggle when debating another is you are at a point of stasis. What is that? It is where you have a point where little can be accomplished because you are not really arguing the same point. For instance, let’s remember when we were younger (or if you are college age now) and your parents argued when you came back home you needed to be in the house at a certain time. Coming home, returning from college, it is always difficult to be back under the rules you were earlier in your life. So your parents tell you to be home by such and such a time. You are restricted like when you were in high school, and you believe you are beyond that. What is the rationale you use to disagree with their requirement? What is the reason they use for the requirement? Let me begin with them. After you disagree with their request, they might argue something like “as long as you live under our roof and we are paying your college tuition, you will do as we say.” Is that a valid argument? Well, no, but not for the reasons you might think. The reason it is not a valid argument is it is not an argument at all. It is a statement from a position of power, and it has nothing to do with the reason they want you home at a certain time. Likewise, if you say, I do not come home to some curfew at college, so I am old enough to not have to do it at home is also not an argument. It is you trying to exert your power. There is no winning an argument from other side because it is about power, and as parents, particularly if they are still supporting you, you do not win. But then there is that issue too. What is the purpose of an argument, it is not about winning, it is about coming to consensus. It is about the facts of something and seeing where there is commonality, where you can from a place from which to move forward. Arguments are based on fact, and in our national debate right now, there are sound-bytes, inaccurate telling of facts, and little listening to the other, regardless which side of the argument you seem to fall right now. Honest, even passionate, debate is essential at this point in our national conversation, but honest debate requires research and backing one’s self up with carefully and thoughtfully structured debate. That is time consuming, but it is beyond just necessary at the moment. The fabric of our democracy hangs in the balance. I do not believe that to be a hyperbolic statement. This past week has revealed that in an overwhelmingly desperate way. Someone sent me a video yesterday, which I guess has been making the rounds. It was the video of Ashli Babbitt,. the Air Force veteran, who was shot and died inside the Capitol. It was stunning to me. It was tragic to me. It was perhaps even life-changing for me. I have listened to some of her Twitter rants and read some of her material and I certainly do not agree with much of her political leanings, but this is a 30-something veteran who has now lost her life. I understand what she was doing was dangerous, and I believe incredibly ill-advised, but I am still devastated that a young woman died at the hands of the very law enforcement those many in that building probably believe they support. That is a pitiful irony of her death.

My college classmate wants to argue that because I come back with facts and arguments based on research that I am an elitist, and by that implies that I disrespect them. I would assert precisely the opposite. Because I believe arguments need to be challenged and any argument I put forth needs to be challenged I try to make sure that my position is based on fact, but I am simultaneously passionate about it. There are times I have had to concede points and that is what true argument accomplishes. It moves us to a place of consensus and establishes a position from which all involved believe they were heard and valued. It is always difficult to admit when you are passionate about something that you are misguided or misinformed, but that is because we have been trained to win at all costs. Independence is not about winning and neither is individualism. Independence comes at a high cost, but that is what democracy allows. Individualism is based on support of the collective whole as well as the trust that individualism does not erode the collective good. There are a number of ironies that are inherent in the struggle we are currently engaged in as a country. I also realize that is from my viewpoint, and there are many who will disagree with me. I continue to struggle with the reality of last week’s Capitol siege, but I struggle with the aftermath as well. And that is on a number of levels. Currently, my thoughts about the reason it occurred are all over the place, and I am not currently willing to put that into writing. I need to keep thinking and listening to both sides. Just as importantly, where we go now is just as muddled for me. I understand the validity to some extent in almost every argument that is currently posited in terms of what is the best course of action in the next 10 days, the next 100 days, the next four years, and the list could go on, While I have never been interested in political office, I am surely not interested now. My heart goes out to anyone who must deal with the consequences of last Wednesday.

It was not lost on me that it was the actual day of Epiphany when all of this occurred. The day where light shown into the darkness. Nothing could be more accurate. There is a darkness in our nation and there is a hatred that we are all guilty of, that is not a political thing, it is a human thing that uses politics to express it. I have read pretty vociferously since last week and I made myself read Newsmax to understand more from those I do not generally hear from. It was an important thing for me to do. I have read FoxNews for some time, because I enjoy reading it? NO, but I need to read, listen and think. I read things from people I respect and have known for years, but I wonder how they are where they are, and I believe they probably think the same of me, but as I noted in my last post, it is imperative that we find out individually how to listen to the other and be willing to engage. Argument and debate are fundamental to democracy, but respect and decency are foundational to being able to argue or debate. How have we become so disrespectful and hateful? That is not as difficult a question as one might think. If one feels disenfranchised, devalued, disrespected, and ignored, they become angry. They believe they have little to lose in their vitriol. However, none of us are righteous enough to believe we have the moral high ground for some righteous indignation. None of us. What I learned as a student at a number of levels, undergraduate, seminary, or working on a PhD is the more I knew the more I realized I do not know. There is so much more to any argument that what is initially revealed. There is so much more to the other side than we are generally willing to hear. We are in a difficult position as a country. That is true. We are divided in ways perhaps not as extreme since the election of 1860. Abraham Lincoln faced an untenable choice in his desire to preserve the Union. His standing on principle split the country and a Civil War ensued. And yet, we know, and at least I hope we know, that was the correct choice. Some images from this past week are evidence that not everyone agrees, and more accurately, they never have. My classmate identified as a white nationalist today, rather than disagree with them, I asked what they believed that identification meant or implied? I asked the consequences of that identification. I want them to come to terms with that moniker. I know what I believe, and I am quite sure I know what many of my Black, Latino/a, or Asian, Middle Eastern, Indian, Bengali, or Turkish students might respond. My whiteness gives me privilege, but it does not give me the right to abuse that privilege. In fact, I will argue it gives me more responsibility to be fair because I am afforded things undeserved because of my skin color. I will assert there has not been a more profound moment in my life to speak out on behalf of those who are not given privilege for no other reason than they do not fall into the place of privilege.

I believe we need debate; we need heart-wrenching soul searching. I watched a number of videos today of arrests all over the country in response to last week’s events. Again, the irony of law and order arguments as they were on the receiving end of that were quite stunning. It cannot be swept away with all the other things left behind that 5 people died in the process of that day and the next. It should not be ignored that a veteran of the Capitol Police took his life later that week. The video of the black police officer allowing himself to be chased up flights of steps to lead them away from an unguarded door should not be ignored. There are numerous people who were heroes that day, and that cannot be argued. We will never know most of it. The argument of who we are and what we have become is certainly up for debate, but as important is the debate of who we want to be, who we hope to become from all of this. I know there are good people on both sides of this political divide. And while we are divided, I believe there are many more of us, regardless of party who hurt deeply by what is happening. It is time for all of us to listen first, ponder and then try to figure out a way forward that includes the greatest number of people working for the greatest good. It is not an easy task, but it is a worthy one. I am reminded of the Prayer of St, Francis and its significance for now is palpable.

I wish you all peace and comfort in this difficult time.

Michael

Out of the Depths, O Lord . . .

Weathering the Storm

Hello from my study,

There are a multitude of thoughts, emotions, concerns, and fears as I reflect on the pictures of our national Capitol yesterday. I do not mean that to be a political statement, it is a statement of one single individual, a former pastor, a Marine Corps veteran, a person who has Republican leanings (particularly in terms of finances, fiscal policy, and what has been typical defense policy), and yet, in his practice with others, more Democrat and a strong supporter of social justice, caring for the other, and in terms of our environment and education. I lay all that out because I want to be as honest as possible as I try to compose this blog post. One of my long-time friends noted that I have become more political in my speaking and more pointed in my commentary. And while I will agree with him, to some degree, I do work hard to see the other side. There is one former classmate who regularly accuses me of hatred, but I really am not a hateful person, nor am I a bitter person. I know all too well what either of those emotions do, both to the person expressing them as well as to the people around them.

It is easy to point fingers at the other side at this moment, but I choose not to do that. There are processes and things that will have to play out in response to yesterday from at a number of points as well as in considerations of a multitude of levels. What I do hope is that the majority of the American people find what happened yesterday, at the point they broke into the United States Capitol, unacceptable. I noted here, and in other social media, that the violence or looting that occurred last summer was unacceptable. I would note when others do things that are violent, hijacking what was peaceful, that too is unacceptable. At no point, have I condoned violence either toward law enforcement or by law enforcement. I lost what was a significant friendship because I was unwilling to engage in a shouting match about this. I realize that my opinion about the election does not square with everyone else’s, but it is an opinion that has been supported by former Attorney General William Barr, by Republican Governors, Republican Secretaries of State, and by a number of Federal and Supreme Court Justices, a number appointed by President Trump himself. Again, I offer this as a way to be as transparent about my biases as possible.

So where are we? It would be easy to point fingers, lay blame, and explain, or attempt , why I believe my position is reasonable, correct, valid, and you can insert the next work to provide justification, but I choose not to do that. Instead, I want to look at the consequence of a long list of difficulties I believe we face, again, I do not want to put out a laundry list. Let me merely say something that I believe most can attest is accurate. We are hurting as a county, regardless your political persuasion; we are mistrustful as a people, again, regardless your background, education, or economic status; and finally, we have little sense of how to fix it, arguing too often about why it is the other person’s or side’s fault. And unfortunately, we want to believe this problem is something that is on relatively recent in terms of our country’s persona or fabric. Our struggle with equity, justice, and liberty for all (and I mean all) is an aspiration and yet, seldom more than that. Much like the Israelites as they attempted to follow their role as God’s chosen, they were temporarily faithful at best. If you look carefully at the prevalent pattern in the historical books of the Old Testament, they were faithful when they were happy, when they believed they were getting what they wanted or deserved. The lament Psalms are there or a reason. It is what happens when things do not go so well, or they are held accountable for their selfishness, their desires to be God’s chosen, but on their own terms. Throughout scripture, we are reminded how hard it is to be faithful when our faith is tested, how difficult it is to be charitable when we feel we have been maligned or mistreated. We are pushed to forgive when the people we need to forgive have hurt us and mistreated us, and seem to have little desire to change.

While there is more than enough blame to cast on the events of this past week, I choose to stay away from blame, and I would wish instead to consider my own struggle with what it means to be faithful to God, a God who is the God of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and not more or less to any of them, and second what it means to be a citizen of a Constitutional (Federal) Republic. I have realized for some time, even back to when I was on the clergy roster that I was more universalist in my understanding of the Creator than many. To this day, I find it difficult to believe the Creator who is responsible for all of us, is capricious enough to doom the Taoist who might have never heard of Jesus, but practices their faith more profoundly than I could ever hope. If that is the God we have, we are in some serious trouble. Think about it logically for a moment if you will. Even when our country was in the gripes of the Civil War, both sides prayed to their same Christian God, many believing in their heart of hearts they were being faithful. The arguments that have been appropriately made about how many actions of Jesus would fall into what a number of people would deem social justice (and by extension, socialist) are legion, and not in some demonic sense. The Creator will not be put into a box and be used by either side and thinking it is possible is not only foolish, it is dangerous. The righteous indignation on either side of the political aisle at this moment has some appropriateness, but it also has its limits. Perhaps, the greatest of all the commandments needs to be reconsidered carefully, completely, and literally. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. That is an extreme commandment. It requires some serious reconsideration of our personal requirements. It is difficult to love others; it is difficult to forgive others; it is difficult to see beyond our own personal blinders. Before you believe I am asking for some naive kumbaya manner, which is not as naive as we might think, I am not. I am asking us all to step back and be willing to listen before we act.

There is little doubt that a significant number of people believe our government has left them behind, and for a multitude of reasons. And yet, how many of us struggle with the role we want the government to play in our lives? Again, before you discount the question, think about it. What do we want our government to do? Social Security, Medicare, any Social Welfare programs that fall under the Federal Government are socialism. That is not a value statement it is merely statement of fact. If you have collected unemployment, assistance of some sort, federal grants for education, it is socialism. It is the government uses the taxes they collect for the social good of the Republic. This is simply what is happening. If you have ever filed for unemployment, if you have received any Federal assistance for your college degree you did not have to pay back, you have been willing to act in socialist manner. Again, I received grants for my education (and there were loans that were paid back). There was a period in the early 1990s where I received unemployment, and I was encouraged by my employer to seek it. Again, I offer these points to try to be transparent in my own participation. When Government offers some Federal program to help the masses, it is socialism. You can justify it however, but it is for the social good, which is the distribution of goods or services regulated by the whole (the Federal Government). Certainly, one can argue they are not part of the Federal whole, but your citizenship eliminate that argument. Certainly there are those who refuse to pay taxes and participate, but they use the things taxes help establish, so again, their house of cards is in danger of falling. What I am trying to say here is pretty simple. We are in this together. We are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Conservatives, Progressives, and somewhere along the spectrum throughout. Our States’ Rights versus Federalism complicates it all, but it is what we have.

I do believe a number of Americans, even within the almost 71 million who voted for President Trump are aghast at the events of this last week. I am sure that there are those who wonder where we go from here, and I am among them. One of my most ardent trollers, a college classmate, believes I hate Republicans and the President. First of all, I do not hate Republicans, and I believe we need probably more than two parties, but we certainly need a strong, thoughtful, and principled Republican Party. The same can be said for the Democrats, as well as those who find it difficult to claim membership in either party. I’m back to where I began some of this. All American citizens who believe in the power of the ballot box, and I am not trying to get into the arguments of this election, but rather that the argument that the ballot still matters. Again, personally, I do not believe the election was stolen and I am glad that every single case (86 of them at this point) was adjudicated. Again, to be honest, I have found President Trump’s actions difficult to stomach on a number of levels, but this is not about him either. It is about us as citizens, as humans faithful to a Creator, one I believe cares for all people. For the good of the country, for the good of the world, we must step back and cry out as the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?” If you believe in the power of prayer, I believe it is time we fall on our collective knees and ask forgiveness for our arrogance, for our selfishness, for our own usurping of a gospel that is about all people. Can you pray for the good of all the citizens of the nation and ask that God’s will might be done versus our own? While it is easy with the all the video that has bombarded us, to point fingers and blame. Again, I understand the need for laws, and for consequences, but let’s try to allow all the members of Congress to be heard. While I certainly do not support the entrance of the Capitol Building or the actions therein, I am hurt to my core that a woman, a veteran, lost her life. I am sad beyond words that a Congressional Police Offers was bludgeoned by a fire extinguisher, and subsequently lost his life. If he had a badge on that said I voted for the President would it have saved his life? Just today (and it is now Sunday) a second CPO, has died of suicide. Tragic! Violence begets violence. This is an example of a balanced equation.

There is nothing that can bring anyone who lost their life this past week back to life. Their families will deal with the aftermath of Wednesday’s events for the remainder of their own collective lives. Their Psalms or cries of anguish and lament are justified and understandable. Those who believe that armed insurrection is the way to manage our differences are, in my opinion, wrong. Do I understand frustration? I do, and for more reasons than I need to enumerate. Do I believe we need to step back and reconsider how we debate, how we speak, how we post, how we come to our own conclusions? Without a doubt. But in each of these things, it begins with us, with a careful, honest, and thoughtful inventory of who we are, and the acceptance that we are accountable for everything we say or do. That has never been more apparent than it is now. At this point, we are our own huddled mass. We are wretched refuse in more ways that we would ever hope to admit. When I grew up as a small child in NW Iowa, I was taught some very simple rules: be honest, be polite, be respectful. Those rules might serve us well now. I had many adults in my neighborhood who served as surrogate parents. They all watched out for us kids in the neighborhood. That was the reality of my life. My father would have put it this way: keep your nose clean. That had nothing to do with my nose, it had to do with my actions and how I acted on a daily basis. As I became a student at Dana College, what I know now much more clearly, and appreciatively, was our Professors pushed us to see beyond the words and lessons. They wanted us to take that liberal arts education and become citizens, and actually global citizens. They prepared us to make a difference in a world that has struggled for equity and justice since creation. It is all connected. Nothing happens in a vacuum. In a conversational thread this past week, one of my FB connections asserted it is too late, we are beyond repair (that is a paraphrase, but it is the substance). My response was I am not willing to give up on us. But it has to begin with me and with introspection. Certainly, I have felt some indignation at some of what I have listened to, read, or watched, but I have my own blind spots. As I cry out with my own lament for the world, I pray I can open my heart and mind to those I do not understand and try to see the validity in their view. As I cry out for the hurt we feel as a country, may I find ways to bind up the wounds of others, particularly the ones I may have caused. It is not too late, if we can dig deep and believe we can create a better world. Again, this is not some polyannish wish. I am not hoping with some idealistic sense of miracles. What I am hoping for, willing to work toward is exponentially difficult, but I wish it for my friends’ children and their future children. I am reminded again of a video I have used before, but out of respect for what my parents taught me. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

The Beauty of Art: It Reveals Our Humanity

Hello from my study,

It seems a bit more than ironic that has I have spent the last 5 days writing all day long, finishing a chapter for publication that I would need to write, but I do. My brain is fried with sentences about gender, chronicity, stigma, IBDs, CRC, hegemonic masculinity, and the list could go on. So I want to write about something more enjoyable, and perhaps as important as this just completed chapter. When I arrived at Dana College the fall of 1979, I was already a few years (or more) out of high school, and even though I had some life experience, I knew very little beyond the basic Three Rs of the educational process, and I am not sure I knew them nearly as well as I had believed. After my first semester, I found myself in the first of a three semester Humanities sequence (Hum 107) and in lectures about early Western Culture that changed my life. It was not only the content of those lectures that fascinated me, it was how the various professors who lectured us helped us synthesize the world of the past, but connect it to the thoughts and actions of our present. That is an incredibly difficult thing to accomplish, but it is a profoundly necessary thing if you are to create a carefully thinking, critically reflecting, and appropriately active citizen of the world in which they live. That is what this almost daily three semesters of humanities did for me.

Yet, as importantly, it exposed me to elements of our life that were not common place in my simple blue collar upbringing in NW Iowa. That is, in no way, to say the education or life I had was lacking for most of the basics, but things like painting, architecture, classical music, or philosophy were not a part of my upbringing. The program developed by Dr. John W. Nielsen, and supported by so many brilliant faculty members as well as the incredible Parnassus staff, provided an education that was literally rated 2nd in the country at one point. Yes, that is true. We were afforded access to a class, a series of classes, or a program that rivaled any Ivy League program in the United States. The title of the class was more than apropos. Humanities are essential if we are to be a society of civilized reasoning people. Those twenty Humanities points required every semester allowed us access to cultural opportunities that helped us see how our lectures occurred in real life. Again, that is synthesizing what you learn, but it also influence who you become and how you perceive the world around you.

What I remember is it was a rigorous class, and because of that rigor, some people treated it with a certain disdain, arguing they did not need to know those things. Little could be further from the truth. If you are going to do more than be an automaton, you need to be part of as well as be able to reflect and comprehend the world in which you live and work. The gift of being an advisee of both Drs. Nielsen and Jorgensen was their ability to both challenge and support you in that challenge at the same time. They taught me how to learn, not what to learn. It is something I work hard to achieve with my own students today. They probably epitomized and lived Luther’s law/gospel dialectic as well as anyone I have ever met. In addition, there were profoundly talented faculty like Jim Olson and Alan Brandes or Sid Kieger. My appreciate for art, music, and theatre was informed by their lectures and their classes. Alan Brandes was a prodigy and one of the most profoundly brilliant, and yet tormented souls, I have ever met. And yet, it was not only the faculty.

We had students around us who exhibited brilliance and talent beyond what most might believe would be at a small liberal arts college on the bluffs of the Missouri River. There was an incredible talented and brilliant student who pushed me in ways more important than I realized, both as I struggled with Greek and hope to retain more for my Brandes’s Music History class. She was more of a blessing than I ever realized for more reasons than I have fingers. There were the men on the floor of the Promethians, they were thinking, capable students, engaging and simultaneously supportive of this 24 year old freshmen trying to figure out his life. I remember getting to know one of our Danish exchange students, between my trip on interim and her, I believe I can trace a line to the fact that Anton was my exchange son last year. She was smart, personable and beautiful, but she taught us all so much more than she realizes. I remember studying in the library with another on my humanities packets regularly. I still have some of the notes we wrote back and forth as I have all those Humanities materials in my office yet.

Art is such a complex, but essential part of who we are. I tell my students that all art reflects the culture that creates it. This is simply the way art works. Our creative minds are influenced by what we see, hear, feel, imagine, or believe. When I teach my Bible as Literature course, one of the things I stress, besides that it is a literature course and not a religion course, it that the Bible is contextual. It was written by real people at a particular point in time, and they were influenced by the world around them. One of the most mind-blowing things for my students to see is a timeline of when things were written and what was happening in other places at the same time. It is again, teaching them to synthesize their world. It is something we need to do regularly, daily, thoughtfully. I think of some of the music I listened to as a high school/ early 20-something person. I remember my mother’s unfavorable attitude toward things like Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath, James Gang, or Led Zeppelin. I wonder what she would have done if I chosen to listen to Beethoven, Bach, Prokofiev, or sometime atonal like Bartok or Schoenberg? I think she would have been more worried, but it was my fellow student who pushed me to be able to identify things like Berlioz or the other classic B named composers with a sort of name that tune. More was done to create an appreciation than they ever knew.

When I went to Europe that January of 1981, it was the time of a new President, it was the time when after 444 days hostages were released from Iran. As I had walked through the crypts of St. Peter’s Basilica or viewed the Raphael paintings in the Vatican, my head and heart raced. I was living Art Through the Ages, the art history text used for so much of our class. Almost 35 years later I would do it again, but this time I would be the professor. It was amazing to me how the feelings of walking in Garmisch-Partenkirken some decades before would return as I walked in the snow of Kraków and spoke with students about the world they were experiencing that day. As Anton came to live with me in August of 2019, I could not help by think back to the Danish exchange students who attended Dana, or my German exchange student friend from high school. I also tell my students that after education, the best or most incredible way to spend your money is to study or travel abroad. It is a cultural, as well as profoundly personal, education. As you work to find your way around, as you take the time to learn to converse in another language, as you eat the food, or sit in a church and listen to the music, your life is changed. You cannot be the same person. Again, I remember when I went to Europe in Seminary and we listened to the incredible organ music of Holm Vogel, the East German, who played Bach’s organ concertos for us in the very church where Bach is buried. While the music was phenomenal, it paled when one realized the person playing it was blind from birth. To this day, I do not believe I have been so overcome with emotion by what I experienced. I remember sitting in the cathedral in Lübeck in Northern Germany and listening to the music of Dietrich Buxtehude, played in the very church where he had served as an organist. There is nothing that can prepare one for such an experience.

Luther once said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” I think it is true. And yet the architecture of Europe, of all of Europe, and certainly in Moscow, provides such an insight into the engineering ingenuity of humans. There was no rush to build things, but as that humanities class questioned in a unit essay once, just how did the architecture of the cathedrals reflect the view and reverence people had for God? Certainly, the astounding size, the detail, the geometry and physics involved is mind boggling. The incredible writing of those from Greek and Roman times to the authors of today, it is impossible to not reflect on the world about which they write. Today photography and the eye of the photographer astounds me. They can take the mundane and it is no longer that. Artistry from the kitchen to those who brew or create beverages, there is so much beauty in what we experience, if we will merely take the time to ponder and examine it.

This past month has been a time for me to reconnect as some of my blog posts have noted. That reconnection continues to various degrees, but I am grateful and blessed by each one who has offered that chance or accepted that invitation. I am who I am today because of each of you, and you have blessed me beyond measure. As I write this is it the 11th day of Christmas. This week brings Epiphany and Orthodox Christmas. Each of those events provide a time to again take stock in who we are and what we value. As I write this, here in America, the week will move us forward toward the next step in our tattered democracy. I do not write that with any sense of pleasure, and I am not sure where I currently stand in terms of hope. As one of my mentors from graduate school noted so accurately and aptly. Being a Democrat and practicing democracy are not the same things. The same can be said for Republicans. It really returns us to the idea that we are first and foremost Americans in a Constitutional Democracy. How we make that democracy work will always be at question, but making it work is what we have done for 244 years. It is my hope we can step back and ponder, believe that we are in this together and move forward and do it again. I am not naive and believe it will just happen, it will take every branch of our government, and it will take all of its citizens.

To those who have reached out anew this week: thank you. To my beautiful cousins, family, and friends from all times in my life, I am blessed to have you in my life. Blessed Epiphany. May the light enlighten us all.

Thank you as always for reading and blessings to each of you.

Michael

Something New or Merely Continued

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,

Dr. Martin