But I need an “A”

I need to take a walk before I get caught up in this little writing project. It is gorgeous outside and a perfect day of sun, little wind, and a moderate temperature that makes you want to lie in a hammock and do your best Rip Van Winkle impersonation. The past few days have been a veritable smorgasbord of experiences with weather from exceedingly gorgeous, a monsoon for COLA graduation, to sufferingly humid to London type fog and drizzle. I am currently sitting at a table waiting for an Amtrak to take me to Philadelphia, where I will catch a ride and get back to Bloom about 11:00 this evening. I plan to do work on the train. This is a somewhat first experience for me because I have not been on a train since 1994, and that was from LA to San Diego. I have some grading to do, but I am hopeful I can complete it today. . .  Not as much done on a blog as I would have liked, mostly because I was trying to manage some other technological issues and that was not as successful as I might have hoped. Today, which is now Tuesday, feels like Monday and I am trying to manage my grading completion, a workshop at noon and other handy things that are on my plate. Seems I have more irons in the fire than fire, but it will get done.

Over the last few days, like many of my colleagues across the nation, we have been grading, commenting, and trying to finish up a semester and another academic year. I am sure I am not speaking only for myself when I say that I am continually amazed by an increasing number of students who believe that merely coming to class and sitting in their seat most of the time constitutes participating in class and that they are engaged in the class. I am pretty sure I am not speaking only for myself when I say that many students read only a minimal percentage of the reading, the course content in the course delivery tool, or even the syllabus, but they want you to respond to them as if they are an engaged, critically thinking, or thoroughly analyzing student in your class. Finally, I am pretty sure that I am not the only person who wonders why are these basically good people willing to spend someone’s hard earned money as they sit lackadaisically hour after hour both in class and in their room more interested in their phone, the latest story additions on Snap, or posting something of great importance on Instagram. That is a really profound way to invest the 100,000.00 they will send for their Bachelor’s degree. And then, of course, as grades will be released today, I will get emails or phone calls, texts or tweets asking why they did not get the grade they need. Somehow they need an A. This past week I met with a student who is an advisee. He has managed to accumulate 89 credits (which is one credit short of being a senior), but is not really close to where he needs to be to be able to enroll in the specific program he had decided to pursue. Doing some thoughtful and careful analysis of a transcript and after a few questions, I asked the student, honestly and carefully, “Why are you in college? What do you want to do?” To his credit, he responded, ” I am not really sure what I want to do or why I am here.” This is after about 3+ years of course work. He noted that his father wanted him to have opportunities and not be like him in terms of having to break his back and knuckles at what he did everyday. First, I understand the father’s desire to have his son go beyond what the father was able to do. That is what parents do. Yet, I believe the son would have been better served, after speaking and listening, by going to a technical college and doing something with his hands and mind.

More significantly, at this point, for the son to graduate with what he hoped to do, it would take a year of classes at least, and achieving all As to get his GPA where it needed to be before he could even get into the program. In addition, if he got in, it would take two-two and a half more years to finish a degree that has very little wiggle room in terms of getting things finished. That would be three to three and a half more years another 50K minimum for an undergraduate degree that would not pay him nearly enough for the loan debt he would incur. I asked him to go home for the weekend and think about options and come back on Monday. He did and we are pursuing a different track and some different options. There are more than enough articles about the value of a college diploma, but there is certainly not enough being said about what happens when students come to college undeclared and then seem to find it so much easier to merely sleep-walk their way through that degree, hoping it all falls into place somehow. He noted that his parents were asking questions, but he did not even have anything to tell them yet. That raises an entirely different issue. What makes college worth the investment of time and money? Who decides? I believe there are some people who are not ready to come to college. Simple as that. They have no focus; they have not real plan; and they have little sense of discipline as to why they will move toward some degree in something. While some undeclared students are much more savvy about what they are doing, and, therefore, can move toward something even when they are not sure what it is, most are wasting a lot of time and money. I was such a person, and, as some know, both if you have known me throughout my life or have read my blog for some time, I flunked out of college the first time I tried to be a student. I was not ready, either mentally or emotionally, and it requires both. To get this student into a path that both he, I, and my department chair thinks will both serve him as well as allow him to graduate, it took phones calls, visits, reconsideration, a moving around of a number of pieces and more phone calls and pondering, but it appears to be a possibility. And even yet, that guarantees nothing. It will take specific hard work and focus on the part of the student and something he will have to do in every class for the remainder of his time at Bloomsburg. There are no promises of As or of even graduating. It takes discipline and hard work. To do less than that means you might end up here longer; you might (will) spend more money than you care to do; and finally, you will learn hard lessons about what happens when you merely think needing the A will result in the aforementioned A.

In conversations with my colleagues, I believe we have some similar ideas about how students fit into being a collegiate trying to finish a degree. Some are simply not ready to be in college. The age of 18 does not guarantee success; neither does the legal age of 21 guarantee that someone can drink responsibly. They should stay home and work for a year or two and realize how much better off having a degree might be. There is a second set of students who are just smart enough to be here, but they come from an underprivileged situation and an underprepared background, but they understand the opportunity, and while they will have to work hard to maintain, they are willing to put in the necessary effort to continue to improve. I love these students because they are passionate. They are academically often underprepared, but that is not their fault. This is a difficult group because they walk such a fine line between hanging in there and being overwhelmed. Yet, they are aware of the tremendous opportunity that is there for them should they succeed. These are the students who are the most gratifying in some way. Depending on the mission of the system and the support of the university, these students can make a significant difference in both their own life and the life of others. There were a number of these students who walked in graduation this past Saturday with a sash that said “First Generation.” These are some of those students. Most students I meet are capable students, but they still need discipline and they need to be willing to work hard. This is the majority of students, but the difficulty is they have never had to be that disciplined or work that hard. There are a lot of reasons for that, but that is for another time. The problem with many of these students is they are just lazy. My colleagues and I find them the most frustrating. They want something (everything) for nothing. These are the students to come to class unprepared. These are the students who wait until the last minute to attempt to write an assignment or a paper. These are the students who are unwilling to look beyond the obvious to understand or think about something. They are, to use my one of my closest colleague’s terms, phoning it in. They made an appearance, showed up, stared at me in class, and left without as much as a single um during the entire class. If that only happened in one class, I could chalk it up to a bad day. However, it seems they have a bad week or a bad semester, or a bad college career. Two years ago a student missed class for 6 weeks. No note, no email, no contact, but he managed to show up the last week. He noted that he had been sick for those six weeks, but he did not go to the doctor. When I told him he could not pass class and did not need to come back, he looked shocked. When I told him he could retake the course, I doubted he would, and he hasn’t

The point of this paragraph is to question the rationality of going to college. I know that might sound a bit stunning being as I teach college, but I do not believe everyone needs to go to college. I do not believe we can serve everyone well simply because they come into our classroom. There is another group of students I did not mention that I have. They are the smarter than average students who have a clear sense of why they are here and what it means to work toward a degree. These students have taken the values and the discipline they have from home and are willing to put it to work. I have met some of these students in class and I have met some of these students on the travels to Poland and the other Central and Eastern European countries I have been fortunate to travel to over the last four years. This past week, a student, who had worked very hard and was set to graduate, was involved in a tragic auto accident. It left her with a TBI and she has been rehabbing ever since. She was at graduation to receive her diploma. While there is not guarantee how things will go for her, it was a testament to her, her family, and her caregivers, that she was there. If only we could all realize how fragile we all are and how every opportunity we have – yes, even college – is a gift that should not be taken for granted. It is something to take on and work toward with every fiber of our being. For us on the other side of that blank stare, we realize more than you might know how important what we do is. Too often you think we are picking on you, being unfair to you, asking too much of you when we are not content with you turning in work that demonstrates less than you are capable of doing. We are not trying to be anything, but honest and fair. Too often, and even more so at private colleges, at State Universities, students and their parents are treated as customers. I apologize, but I do not see you as such. You come to college to be educated. That means you are learning how to think more critically than you have before. It means you are learning to analyze a situation more thoroughly than you have before, and it means you must be able to synthesize education and experience to be the best possible citizen and employee you can hope to be. Your money buys you the opportunity to of that, and that is all. What you do with that opportunity is entirely up to you. I will provide the best I can. I am human and so some days I will not be perfect, but I will admit when I need to improve and I will be honest when I have failed. I ask the same of you.

Sincerely,

Dr. Martin

When Geography Becomes a Place

Hello from Starbucks,

I am in another Starbucks and I know that it is more than merely another trip to the green mermaid branded coffee shop, in spite of that fact I have not been in this individual Starbucks before. As I walk in I see the familiar colors, the familiar layout, the typical board of options and even similar bathroom layout. The look is similar to one in one I have visited in PA, CA, VA, WI, UT, MN, IA, or IN. Yes, NYC, IRELAND, POLAND, CZECH REPUBLIC, AUSTRIA or CANADA. I think you get the point. They want us to feel at home, to feel familiar and welcomed, in spite of the fact that they got into some serious boiling water for their lack of welcome in the City of Brotherly Love not long ago. Branding is something all of succumb to whether we realize it or not. I believe some of the more successful branding campaigns in history include the aforementioned Starbucks; others include Apple, Microsoft, Hershey, or Harley Davidson. I am sure there are others you can name, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind for me. Terms like “the Big Three” referring to General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler once powered Detroit, but that is no longer the case. Companies that were standards of my childhood like Sears and Roebuck, J.C. Penney, or Montgomery Wards have fallen by the wayside of clothing or tools giants and now even the behemoth Walmart must be trying to figure out what to do with Jeff Bezos and Amazon as they seem destined and determined to become the one-stop-online-shop (OSOS) of everything. It seems the only thing that can rival them are the things they need like Google or other technology to support their continuing growth into most anything and everything. The reality of entrepreneurship on steroids seems to characterize what Bezos is doing. Of course, it can be argued Warren Buffet did the same thing, only 30 years earlier, and did it more by beating the pavement than wiring it together by technology. While I must admire their foresight and ingenuity, I cannot help but be concerned about the consequences. Where will the convenience and the OSOS cost us more than save us. Perhaps it is appropriate that the acronym includes an SOS.

I sort of went on a roll there, not realizing how all of that fit together for me. I think I find myself questioning more frequently and more critically some of the things I see happening on a regular basis. At times it makes me feel like a curmudgeonly aging white male, much like the uncle I have mentioned in a previous blog or two. The irony of that questioning for me is I will not have to deal with the consequences as long as my students. I will not see how the consequences might fundamentally change daily life as I have known it, or they know it now. Certainly technology has fundamentally changed how we communicate – or fail to – how we write, how we manage information – or fail to – how we shop, how we believe what we see or hear – or don’t. Again, I could go on, but you get the idea. I believe that technology must be seen as one of the profound contributors to the discord, the lack of decorum, civility or general lack of manners that seems to be plaguing us today. Or more accurately, our human addiction to our gadgets and the subsequent usage. Yet, I do subscribe to the belief that there is a rhetoric of technology. All I have to do is observe students anywhere on campus. Before they are out of a classroom as class is dismissed, their phones are out and they are consumed as they try to see what Instagram post or snap story they have missed in the last 50 minutes. They can see their way forward as if their cell phone is a seeing-eye dog (service animal) helping them get to their next class as they wander around like zombies in that 20 minute interval. They can walk up steps, down steps, between people or order without looking up as if the phone is their brain in their hand. Yesterday, I inadvertently left my phone somewhere on campus, and I realized shortly after it happened, and even had some sense as to where it was, but I did not follow up and get it until this morning. So I was without it for almost 24 hours. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did have my iPad at home and I did search out it’s location last evening and saw that it was probably where I suspected. I did get an email this morning that it had been turned in. So there was some surety that it was not stolen. That is helpful, but I did not feel like I was at a disadvantage with no phone. The continuing growth of the technological influence on communication and writing is something I ponder almost daily, and while I could say much about that, I will wait for another post to speak about that.

While I noted in my last blog I do not want a do-over, and that stands, if there is something I wish I might have done earlier, it is sort of two pronged. I wish I would have growth up in a time where learning other languages was encouraged. That was not something that was ever mentioned in my household. I had a great-aunt who could speak Norwegian and prayed in her native language, but that was the extent of any exposure I had. Related to that, I wish I had been taught about the importance of travel and experiencing other cultures. Certainly part of that ability was having the financial resources, and that definitely was not the case. What I am grateful for is that I enlisted in the Marines out of high school. That certainly offered me opportunities to learn about places outside of Sioux City, my NW Iowa town of 100,000, which I believed was a pretty big place. The second thing that did a great deal to broaden my horizons was to meet the Peters family. The pastor and family that came to Riverside Lutheran Church as I was getting out of the service. They had been in NW Iowa before, but this stop of the itinerant pastor’s existence included time in Germany before returning to the Midwest. It was their use of German in daily conversation, as well as a son who became a great friend and a serious crush and more on a younger sister, who is also still a treasured friend, that started me down the road of loving to learn language. It is now 40 years later and this summer I will enroll in the second intensive language program I have ever done. This one is a speaking language, however; the last one was Greek and I crammed two years into 12 weeks. This was much more about reading and writing. Yet, I remember the first time I heard Dr. Craig Koester read Greek in a Johannine Theology class. It was like listening to a story teller. His ability to read Greek as if we were reading English with inflection and tone, pauses, and appropriateness was unlike anything I had ever heard. I could have listened to him all day. What I learned in all of this, which I am just now really coming to terms with, is how much I was fascinated by language. I have said more than once, I wish I had gone into linguistics.

In the second half of my life, I have traveled much more frequently than in the first half. While I was 25 when I went to Europe the first time, the trip that changed my life and my perspective of what Europe was and how important it was to my understanding who I was as an American, I did not make a second trip out of the country as a civilian until I was almost 30. That trip was during the time I was in seminary and I went to then what was known as East Germany. It was a country behind the iron curtain, and it was an experience that revealed to me things I have seldom seen or experienced since. That first trip through Checkpoint Charlie is an experience that changes one’s life. While I have noted this in earlier posts, what still stuns me the most is how quickly I acclimated to the restriction of travel, ability to shop where I chose, or eat whatever or wherever I wanted. I remember how completely unprepared I was when I asked a East German seminary student I met to write me after I would leave and he said that was not possible. Perhaps more importantly, I remember when the wall came down later and he wrote to say hello and to tell me how they would have to be taught and learn about the concept of freedom. We take so much for granted. This past January, while traveling with the Eastern European Study Abroad group, we went to Lviv, Ukraine and sat at the border for 3+ hours. All of this freaked out our students a bit, but my memory of a much more serious investigation when we went into East Berlin in 1985 told me this was not nearly as ominous. Yet each experience when you live it causes a reality check that colors our understanding of the other person. What still causes me pause is how we are all human beings, but we seem so affected by our contextual situation that we can view what we deem apropos or tolerable in such profoundly different ways. It begs the question why and how? Again, I do realize some of this because of the same journey to what was then the Eastern Bloc. Thomas, the seminary student who could not write to me, noted when he could that he would have to be taught the concept of freedom. If one never has something, it is difficult to realize what it means. It is the same overall concept I am trying to convey in this post. It is one thing to see a country on a map and realize it exists. It is also something to see it in pictures or videos when another person has taken them or posted them. It is something entirely different when you have gone there and experienced it. There is an issue both in the contextual situation and then the experience of language. I think it is when the two experiences, which affect most of our senses, that we are compelled to see how we move from geography to place. It matters not whether it was German, Danish, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and most recently Ukrainian (which adds a different alphabet to the mix), there was always some point where I felt overwhelmed by the experience. It is interesting how we try to accommodate, or perhaps not for some, the other, particularly when we are in their country. I have always found it necessary to attempt to use their language and show deference to their customs. As we age, however, we are more aware of how we can Anglicize most any language with our unique American accents. I had this conversation with someone just recently as we were addressing the idea of how we  acquire another language more completely, which is so much more than learning vocabulary and managing to read and comprehend.

Too often, I hear students or others say, I took ______ (you can insert the specific language), but I cannot really use it. What they are implying is they cannot speak adequately. Yet what does that mean? For most, it is a combination of both vocabulary and accent. What does it take to sound like a native speaker versus a person who is merely trying to string some words together in another language? What happens when we struggle with the language so much that we are merely trying to pronounce the words (lacking both structure and inflection)? The first thing that happens is fear. The second thing is we no longer try because we become overwhelmed or embarrassed. As someone who has three different languages using Rosetta Stone on their computer, it has become more and more apparent to me why they manage the lessons as they do. Learning a language is all about employing all your senses because each sense affects your cognition in a different manner. It is where you begin to see the geography as a place; it where you begin to see the people as an individual. It is where you begin to see the complexity of the world in a way that makes it more about exploration and learning than comparing and contrasting. What I have realizes is the best way you can spend money is by travel. The more you travel, the more you realize how people have the same basic needs regardless of language, culture, location, or any other noun you wish to add to the list.  We want to be happy, healthy, and somehow make a positive difference. Time to grade some more as the end of the semester is upon us once again. As far as a video, I have decided to use Enrique Iglesias. Amazing how passionate the Latino/a culture is.

Thanks as always for reading and I hope your semester ends successfully.

Dr. Martin

I do not want a do-over

Hello from the corner of my room,

I am sitting in the chair in my room, which is a comfortable and thoughtful place in my home. It is a sort of safe place too. I have learned that I am a person who needs a quiet and safe place. I am not sure I have always been cognizant of that desideratum, but I am pretty sure it has been a requisite from early in my life. While I have absolutely no inkling, memory, or shadow of any recall of life with my biological parents, their neglect probably affected my sense of security or my need for contact in ways I have never connected to any particular event. It is also interesting how it affects others. Certainly, it always seemed to have affected my sister more than me. There is an irony to that because if we were at our grandparents’ house by the time I was two, Kris would have been less than 9 months old. Yet, she was entirely more obsessed than I was when it came to finding those very parents who neglected and left us alone for hours. I also imagine part of that was because our adopted mother was so much harder on her than she was on either the older brother or me. It is quite logical that she hoped somewhere else might be safer and she would be treated better. Part of reason she is on my mind is the 10th anniversary of her passing will be here in only a few days. So much has happened in the decade since I got that stunning phone call at about 5:30 a.m. that Tuesday morning. Hearing my niece sort of blurt out that they found her dead on the couch is still more clear in my mind than I perhaps wish it was. More to say about that.

I did not know I would be leaving Stout and Wisconsin at that time. I did not know that I would come back to Pennsylvania and resettle myself barely over an hour from where I first became a parish pastor, which is 30 years ago. It is also even more than that when I address my initial graduation from high school or undergrad (which have a LCD of 5 also). I wonder how that can be the case that things in my life seem to happen in years that are in multiples of 5. In a mathematical purist way, the only thing in my life divisible by 5 is the year I was born. It is also the point that in terms of family heritage, I would become the only surviving member of my immediate family. So much has happened in a decade. Yet, I believe that is how life happens if we truly try to live it with all the hope and involvement we can.

That brings me back to the title and what I have been pondering these past few days. I imagine such rumination is the yearly occasion of impending graduation, the watching of another group of students, who a few short years ago were wide-eyed freshman. Yet, now they find themselves even more unprepared, or aware of complexities of life in a more profound manner, which can feel as if they are underprepared. However this present ocular unsophistication is more about accepting responsibility for themselves in a much grander, more consequential manner, and they are realize the safety net that is college is no longer an option. There is grad school, and a few move in that direction, but with a average debt load approaching $40,000.00 for undergrad, many to not believe that adding to that is a reasonable path forward. If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you will know that I have noted I did not expect to become a college professor. I have stated regularly I had little idea what I would become or do with my life, and certainly that has not changed (which may seem like a strange admission for someone in their 60s). And, in spite of where I am, or even the path it took to find myself as a tenured professor, there is little I would change. Veritably voiced, I do not want to go back, even knowing all I do, and try it all over again. I can wish that I had not been born with Crohn’s as they now believe I was. I can wish that I had lived a more non-peripatetic sort of adulthood. I could try to imagine how it would be had I somehow been given the opportunity to have actually fathered a child. Any of those changes would have significantly altered the life I have lived. Certainly, I ponder the what ifs as I noted in my last blog, but that does not mean I need or want to go back and do it all over. It reminds me of my first host family, Lee and Judy, two of the most phenomenal people I have ever been fortunate enough to meet. They are somewhat accidental in that I ended up on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team sort of last minute. They were my first host family, which is also more random than some might realize. For me, that randomness is anything but. It is the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit does. Intercession and intervention when we are mostly or totally unaware. What Judy would share on a later visit, much after that initial week, has always remained. She once noted that relationships have more to do with context and timing than emotion. Those were not her words, but the foundational belief in her words. As I have continued to age, I have understood the profound truth in what she said. Her advice or reflection, and my father’s warning about placing expectations on something, ring true for me and serve as thoughtful and careful warnings. Warning is not a pejorative term here, but a sort of safety net.

There have probably been consequences for that sort of shying away from any kind of relationship that involves something long-term. There have been other factors that have kept me in my own sort of tower, but I have generally been comfortable in that solitude. So again, would I change any of that which has already occurred? Not in anyway that immediately seems apparent to me. I have learned that sometimes the best things happen unexpectedly. That reality aligns with my father’s wisdom about all relationships. Whatever happens with happen. This is more accurate than l often imagined possible. Perhaps that is why I have lived most or my life without expectation. Perhaps that is why I am a firm believer in grasping onto the present and not imagining the future as much as some might think I do. I also realize a sort of incongruence, but one I can somehow find comfortability with, regardless the oxymoronic presence in this situation. Perhaps some of that living in the moment has been because of health issues. Some of it harkens back to the adopted child in me. There have seldom been guarantees in my life, and while I believe that is true for most, I was told that in so many words on numerous occasions. The impact of those words created more than one existential crisis for me. Yet I am blessed to be where I am and in how my life has evolved. I know this in ways I could not have imagined. One of the things I have managed is the ability to overcome most any difficulty in my life. To learn that there are always options and learning from our life challenges is an opportunity to move beyond whatever that obstacle might be. We always have a choice: to quit or move ahead. I have noted that there are moments I seem to learn a bit slowly. More accurately, I am being stubborn. If I allow myself to realize my accountability in any situation and go beyond. I am probably going to be alright. Listening to the counsel of those we trust is an important part of that learning. Sometimes those teachers, those sages, if you will, often insight and clarity when we least expect it. Sometimes we are offered profound wisdom from another when we did not even see it as a possibility. I have been blessed to have such a person (and there have been a number of them) throughout most of my life. What is needed from such a person is the ability to trust and believe in their intent, and the willingness to be vulnerable with or before that person. That has happened again in the most unexpected way and with a sense of timing that defies logic. Yet, what I am realizing is I should not be surprised. This is because it seems that most of the things that have created a positive outcome for me were not planned, or at least did not happen in a manner that illustrates a long term structure to create said outcome. Getting into Michigan Tech or returning after I left would be two examples. Meeting a present colleague at a previous institution, which would lead to a return to Pennsylvania, is yet another. Meeting someone as a sort of by chance encounter on a sideway during a summer day seems to be the latest thing that has me scratching my head by the initial randomness, and the subsequent path it appears to have taken. I am a firm believer that something larger than I watches over me in ways too amazing for words. God, Holy Spirit, guardian Angels, something other: not sure what it is, but for it I am grateful. It is for all of these diverse and random things that I need no do overs. It is for this sort of always in the middle of things that I have no desire to start again and imagine something different. What I am quite sure of is I am more than blessed and where I am at this point is beyond what any adopted little NW Iowa boy could have ever imagined. The two siblings with whom I grew up did not have the opportunity to see such a long life. Bob, my eldest brother, died at 26. While he was a father, something I have not experienced, I am often reminded that I have a number of surrogate offspring. As I write this, it is 10 years to the day that my full biological sister passed from this world. That was a stunning day for me and I remember over the next days trying to figure it all out. So much that contributed to her being barely in her 50s when she passed on. In the time since, I have faced the reality of being the only living member of the family with which I lived my childhood on more than one occasion. I have had family members reach out and some back away. Families are living, breathing entities that get caught out in their own individual lives and time and distance can do a number of things to those relationships that they claim are thicker. I am not sure they are as thick as we might want to believe. That is not a value judgement for me, but rather experience. Certainly adoption played a significant role in all of that for me.

What I know now is I am content. I am not sure where things are going, but I am blessed by the presence of others in ways I could not have imagined. I am blessed by having a job that means more to me than I can express in words. I have people in my life, both family and friends, that remind me of what is important. I have people who have taken the time to really get to know and accept me. There are no words to express my gratitude for that gift. I have learned so much in the last weeks and months, both about myself and what I might hope to yet accomplish. There are really no do overs, but what I know is I do not want or need one. As the amazing musical, Rent, notes so well: there is no day but today.

Thank you as always for reading,

Dr. Martin

The Fear of What If?

Good early morning,

This might be a no sleep night if the way things are going now does not change . . . and the consequences of hydration, diuretics, and vasodilators might make the attempt to sleep a moot issue. I am seriously debating getting dressed and going back to my office. “Being of some use,” in a Homer Wellsian sort of manner makes more sense to me than lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, not to say there are not times that such a practice might be reasonable. It is just that I do not generally do so. In fact, most often when my head hits the pillow, soon afterwards, I am on another plane. There have been times in my life that I struggled to rest, like my last year of graduate school, or when I went through the divorce from Susan. I believed that I was managing things well, but I know now that was pure fiction. During both times of my life, I turned to music to calm me down and make sleeping possible. To this day, the sounds of Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai, in their work, Through Windows and Walls, is my go-to listening. I used it more times than I might realize in the past 17 years as my sleep aide . . . It is still the same day and I did take an hour nap or so around 5:00 this evening. The day was busy and continuous from about 7:30 this morning until I left campus around 4:15. I got quite a lot done and wrapped my head around a couple of issues, meaning I have a plan to move forward. There are still some things to ponder moving toward that hoped for end result, but time will tell.

It is hard to believe I have known for 9 years today that I would be coming to Pennsylvania for a second time. It is 30 years ago this fall I first made my trek to the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA as a newly ordained pastor. Ironically, that is not that far from where I live now, but I was quite sure when I moved to Michigan to begin my life as a campus pastor and beginning academic in August of 1992, I believed there was little chance I would ever call myself a Pennsylvanian again. Now it is the state in which I have spent the longest continuous period since I graduated from high school almost 45 years ago. I remember being simultaneously excited and frightened each time I found myself packing to move to the upper middle Atlantic. The first time I knew little about what NEPA, as the acronym was offered, had in store for a 30-something year old pastor, who had not been married all that long. I learned about Pennsylvania Dutch, scrapple, and how the cold here, while much less frigid, was much more penetrating and uncomfortable. I learned and incorporated words into my own vernacular like tissues or sneakers, phrases that might include something like “did you outten the candles?” Or “are you goin’ with?” Then there was the ability with a little different voice inflection to make every statement an interrogative. In fact, there were moments in the 21 year hiatus that people would sort of both inquire and state, ” you used to live in Pennsylvania (you can insert either a period or question mark and be correct.). So certainly something in my speaking tipped them off to that fact.

As I came to Bloomsburg, there was a different fear the second time. I had somewhat failed in my previous tenure-track position. I had failed in not only the marriage that was part of my first Pennsylvania experience, but had gone through a second marriage also. The health issues that had manifested themselves completely the first time I was in Lehighton had wreaked havoc on my body in numerous ways over the ensuing two decades and I returned with a permanency that had been a temporary during my time in Lehighton twenty years before. In fact, when I had left Pennsylvania in August of 1992, what I believed to be my situation with UC was only beginning and what I really was fighting was a much more difficult and serious issue of Crohn’s. I still had much to learn and a great deal more I would have to experience. I have learned so much in the 1/2 my life where surgery has left me with a modified digestive system. I have learned about the struggle between the public and private. I have learned about how my image of myself so affects what I imagine others might think of me. I have learned some about the complexity that affects those who suffer from IBDs and how too many, even those afflicted, believe it is either a positive consequence or a negative consequence. It is so much more and exceedingly tougher.

I can honestly say that it has been both the questions and conscious support I have received in the last months that I can imagine life differently than I have imagined it for the last 18 years. While there have been some moments and one or two people who have made me feel accepted in the time period, nothing like I have felt in the more recent past. I do not believe I have ever taken a picture of myself with my ostomy, and while I have not shared it on any small or grand scale, the fact I could even consider a picture was to move beyond something that has frightened me since I first had that as a temporary companion. To actually take the picture is like move from looking at a ledge from across the room to walking up to the ledge. I know there are additional things one might consider, but both of these steps are beyond anything I had ever imagined a few short months ago. The power of image when it comes to our bodies is not a male, female, trans issue. It is a human issue. It is not a while, black, brown, or Asian issue; it is a human issue. It is not a rich, poor, educated, less-educated, extrovert, or introvert issue. It is something we struggle with from the time we can imagine other people’s response to us to when we are beyond our youthful wonderful eat-what-you-want, I-won’t-gain-an-ounce, to the middle age gravitational-reality faze (which is not gender specific) to being told I remind someone of their grandfather now period of my life. Regardless the point at which we find ourselves, we hope that we can somehow make a person take a second look. Part of that is physicality, but I believe much more of it has to do with simple desirability. We want to believe that somehow we matter in a personal, in possibly an intimate way (and there was many types of intimacy); we want to know that we can be remembered in a way that someone will value us when we are in a different place. Even after we are gone, be it metaphorically or in reality. I think every human fears being forgotten or trivialized to the place there seems to be little that can or needs be said.

I have noted this in previous blogs, and because I live a very different life than my Uncle Clare did, I do not see us in the exact same position or the same light. However, I have said on more than one occasion that I feel at times I am turning into him. I am that somewhat elderly single person, who can be curmudgeonly, who people are inviting because they do not want me to be alone. Ironically, to specifically not be like him, I have turned down some invitations at times and spent a holiday alone. Treating it much like any other day. I do not confess this to illicit sympathy, but more in the spirit of disclosure. Disclosure is always frightening. I have confronted more fears of late than almost anyone knows. Surprisingly, it has not been nearly as difficult as one might imagine, and certainly more freeing than I could have ever anticipated. Yet fear never really disappears. And fear is powerful; it is also paralyzing. Henry Ford once wrote, “One of the greatest discoveries a [human] makes, one of [the] great surprises, is to find [they] can do what [they] were afraid [they] couldn’t do.” Fear can cause us to pity ourselves and it can breed a sort of complacent comfortability creating a banal reality that robs us of a more fulfilling and meaningful life. The longer we make our excuses, the harder the change to something else becomes.

I know that I am great in justifying why I did not get around to something, complete a bit more of something, or why I merely passed up an opportunity. Somehow I find myself considering possibilities or imagining what ifs with more optimism or hope than I have in some time. While that too is a bit out of my comfort zone, and it causes me some fear, I believe imagining for once in way beyond a proverbial blue moon or even a super blue moon, seems to be better than not imagining. For the first time, it is not imagining or trying to control or steer something, but is is merely managing the moment, and it is not so much managing as it is living in it. This is not how I usually do things, so I am learning as I go along. Is there a fear of the “what if?”. You can bet the bank on it. Yet, I am not afraid. I am content. I am enjoying the hypothetical, the theoretical. Sometimes it is more enjoyable than I could have ever fathomed; in fact, it is incredibly stimulating. I am pretty simple in some ways. I was even told I was a bit innocent in a recent conversation. Not a word I would generally use, but as usual, they were (and seem often to be) correct. I actually appreciate that. There is a certain comfort in when something is offered it can be believed. Especially when in the world we watch and listen to on a daily basis is more “fake” than the faker would ever understand. Having a place of truth and honesty, while always important, seems to have even more value in our post-2016 world.

So as I finish my thoughts for the moment, I am staring down 10 days of classes left. As I do not have finals in my classes, that is it. Actually I have 9 days of actual class. I have more meetings than I can shake a stick at. I have a boatload of work in these two weeks and other things to complete and manage, but a bit of focus and I should be okay. Tonight the new and old mentors for the COB LC came to the acre for a cookout. Some are graduating, some are continuing, and some are just getting started. There is so much to learn and realize from their amazing abilities and the important and honest work they do. I am so grateful for what they teach me. They are honest in their fears and address their what ifs with a sense of purpose. Some are headed into internship summers. Some are considering more school. Some are working as they always do. Yet they move forward. It is all anyone can do. For me, these past weeks and months of moving forward has been both a bit fearful, but much more exhilarating.

Good luck with the end of the academic year, and as always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Learning Begins Again

Hello from my corner of the office,

It always seems to be the case that when I believe, or begin to believe, I have in some shape or fashion figured out what my life is about, the fastball of fate whizzes by my ear. Not only did I miss it, I am not sure I saw it to begin with. The only reason I really know it happened is that I hear the snap of the ball in the catcher’s mitt and realize holy crap something just happened. I think life is much more often like that versus you see it all clearly coming down that 60′ 6″ in slow motion so you can knock it out of the park.

In the summer of 1968, I was going into eighth grade and I weighed all of 75 pounds soaking wet, and holding rocks. While my older brother was heading into his senior year of high school, I do not think he had thought about issues of the draft, the military, or the consequence of not going to college quite yet. He was busy being a high school student and had a girlfriend named Darlene, and she and her family went to our church. Ironically, and as an aside, I actually went out with her younger sister, Janice, once at about the same time (or age). Northwest Iowa was not a particularly diverse area, nor did it seem that particularly political during this monumental summer. Yet, on the other hand, the entire country was much more political than a soon-to-be eighth grader understood, and because college was not yet on my radar, I paid little attention to college campuses.

Some research showed that Ames was more public in their show of shock in Rev. King’s brutal killing versus Iowa City, which actually surprises me. For those of you who are not familiar with the Hawkeye state, or know of it now because of people like Representative Steve King, Johnson County, the home of the U of I, is probably 80% Democrat. On the other hand, ISU, fondly known at one time as Tractor Tech, is a bit more conservative. Ames had multiple demonstrations on that Friday, fifty years ago. What I remember is sitting in our living room of our house, in our very white, middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood. I am not sure I had ever spoken to a black person in my life at that point. The only thing I really understood about race was I should and would never use the N word. My parents were adamant that such language was strictly forbidden. I am not sure I even knew why, but I knew the consequence of such an utterance would be quite swift and it would be extreme. So on that Thursday night as Walter Cronkite announced the killing of Dr. King, and coverage began to show almost immediately the rioting in cities like Kansas City and Chicago, neither that far away or unknown to me, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., my parents did speak to us about the issues of race and safety. I do not remember much of their lecture, with the exception of being careful and being respectful. I have forgotten that we were headed into Holy Week at that time. I am sure the parallels of being a martyr for the poor and downtrodden were made (and appropriately so). At twelve I did not understand the significance of Dr. King’s place in society or what his role in civil rights was. I think there was a parallel between Dr. King for a 12 year old, white, Iowa boy and the significance in 2008, of President Obama’s election for the same basic 12 year year old, white, Iowa, boy. In both cases, I remain quite convinced the loss of one and the elevation of the other was much more profound for a 12 year old black child even with the differences in communication and coverage.

In the weeks since I wrote this first section, it seems there continues to be those moments, specific instances of memory about the significance of dates. On the 11th, my Uncle Clare would have had a 122nd birthday. My adopted father would have turned 103 yesterday. While 103 does not seem that old, 122 does. That 122 spans three centuries. Almost daily my students remind me of how small the time period they understand really is. My uncle actually served in the First World War. I think he did not seem that old because we grew up just down the block and he was always part of our Sunday gatherings. His address was 2213 and ours was 2354 and on the same street. The walk to his place was a regular event. While he had a curmudgeonly personality, he also had a good heart. He possessed a colorful vocabulary that grew more prominently distinctive as he covered the septuagenarian and octogenarian years of his life, and location created no barrier for his very earthy outbursts. When 1968 came along. He was in his 70s and had been a widower for almost a decade. I made the inquisitive 14 year old mistake of once asking him if he was dating a person he had gone to lunch with a few times. Beyond calling me a “little son-of-a-bitch,” the rest of his answer would probably require a parental warning for this blog post. It would be restricted or over 18. The last time I saw him alive in the nursing home, he had injured his hand when he punched his roommate, and he was mighty proud of that. However, he was a genuinely grateful person when people helped him. I think what most astounds me is that in the almost century and a quarter from birth until death, the profound extent or degree of change, which had occurred beyond what most might deem even fathomable. From technology on the large scale to individual realizations about the change in our social fabric, the sort of seismic scale of difference in that time period is beyond the solitary person’s ability to process. I ponder how anyone can realize the magnitude of changes one experiences in a lifetime and simply, as a general rule, I do not believe we are capable of doing it. Moving to the second of the April family birthdays, what amazes me most about my adoptive father is how much we are alike, in spite of the fact that he was not my biological parent. When people tell me I was like him, I am honored and humbled. He was a good person, a caring person, and a person who worked hard and tried to make the lives of those around him better. He was giving and thoughtful. In spite of all, I know he was not perfect. I think he believed if you worked hard and “kept your nose clean,” as he called it, things would work out. I am not much different in my outlook. What I find most important it that he accepted people; he certainly did not always understand them, and he was most definitely a product of his time. There are ways I am sure he would be shaking his head at where we are societally. He was much more conservative than I am socially and I am more conservative than he was fiscally. It is an interesting juxtaposition.

As I noted at the outset, my head is most bobbled when I think I have things figured out, but find out perhaps not. Something happens to change my perspective of get my attention once again. There are two things in particular that have happened. The first I will address, though this does not mean I believe it to be the most important, is health things once again. After a bit of regular calling and trying, I was able to get into the dermatologist. I went in for a mole that was growing and on my back, and whose placement was annoying when I tried to lay down. It seemed reasonable because of the changes to get it removed. Well, interestingly enough, while the mole was removed, it was not all that problematic. However, while examining my back, the doctor decided some other areas were suspicious. So some lidocaine shots later and the removal of 5 areas of medical concern (three on my back, one on my collarbone area, and a small one on my forehead), and some serious subsequent holes where the removal was done, I have the heard back on the pathology of the problematic places. They are all cancerous and one of the areas on my back and the one on my forehead will require some additional work. The forehead area will require MOHS surgery, which I have previously done. The area on my back will be more invasive and done at a separate time. The issue with the back area is that I was informed that cancer is quite aggressive and they will probably have to cut an area and then it will require suturing to complete. That is the one that most concerns me. I have actually just spoken with the scheduling people and I am scheduled for both procedures on June 20th. I have to go back for some other follow up before that. While there is a side of me that is able to say, “just take care of it.” There is another side that says enough is enough. In the big picture, however, I know that once again, I am fortunate.

The second thing that has sort of boggled my mind is how life continues to provide opportunities for me to better understand myself and to imagine possibilities that seem to be outside what I had planned or what I believed could happen. One of my former students from UW-Stout, one who has been part of my life since the first day I began teaching there, once asked me why my life had transpired the way it had. I told her it was because I had more pressing things on my plate that needed attention than what I wanted or what I believed necessary. In her typical way, she did not allow me off the hook quite that easily and told me rather emphatically what she thought. It would be interesting to listen to her if I told her what was happening in my life at the moment. What is happening you ask? The most truthful answer is: I am not sure what is happening, but I am merely living it each day and blessed by what happens. It is not often that you find a thinker who thinks in the same manner, appreciates many of the same things, and is about process, which I am all about. That sort of work and conversation and helped me to consider writing and publishing in ways I have seldom imagined or been motivated to do. That is an exciting possibility. There is the same rather unique sense of humor and the ability to laugh both at myself and some of the things that seemed mundane, but also humorous to me. As I go through my days I am blessed by thoughts, hypotheticals, theoreticals, and actuals. It is so astounding that in spite of whatever happens, I know that I have a better, a more blessed, life. Conversations, texts, and late night phone calls have revealed more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.

As we head into the final weeks of the semester, there is always more to do than there is time, but it gets done somehow. I am excited to finish up the semester and see what the summer brings. I have had a couple things added to the schedule that I could just as well do without, but sometimes we have no choices in all of that. There is yet another hurdle to jump in terms of health, but I do not see this one as insurmountable. Then again, nothing is really insurmountable. Part of that is because I do not really see death as an enemy. I do not say that in an attempt to be morbid, but rather merely to say I am not afraid. At least, I have not been up to this point, and there seems to be no reason to change that position now. That is a topic for another blog. As I finish the year, and this blog, life is good and I am feeling loved and blessed. One cannot ask for much more. Somehow, this video, and the original Imagine Dragons’ video of this is outrageous, but I decided this video was what I wanted to post today.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Making Sense of the Nonsensical

Hello from my office,

It has been a long day, but that is typical for Monday, but today has seemed longer than usual. I think it is because I am more worn out that I would like to admit. I think it is because I do not seem to have the stamina I once had. I think it is because I have become more dependent on B12 shots and other medications that I wish I was. I am trying to figure out how to get out of that spiral. I do need to get my shot this week and I know there is more sense to that than a lack of sense. When a certain part of your intestinal track is the only place you readily absorb B complex vitamins, and you no longer have that part of your anatomy, you are dependent on something more to help you out. For me, that has become shots. While the shot in an of itself is not that difficult, it is that I need to schedule them out and I did at least get them approved for a year in advance. There are also the regular blood tests and the vitamins that I must manage in other ways because my insides have been so altered. This past week I had to get reloaded on vitamins, prescriptions, and other necessities that characterize my basic life. I have to admit this past year has been something that has pushed my generally optimistic outlook on how all of this is managed. About a year ago I wrote about the complexity that was becoming more and more clear. Hydration is something most of us generally take for granted; while I have known this is not something I can do, I was certainly not ready for how extreme my awareness of that need would become.

I had worked on this blog a couple of times, but for some reason by various writing tools did not synchronize, so I have lost a significant amount of what I wrote, but somehow the title I originally created still seems more apropos than ever. During the past couple of weeks at most every level, there seems to be more “truth is stranger than fiction” than one could ever hope to experience. From a 60 Minutes show, where a porn star alleges she slept with the President (and there are more than a dozen other women who claim some sort of encounter with him) to daily stories of chaos at the White House, even if we are to offer some benefit of the doubt, there is little more than can be said that it is exceedingly embarrassing for our country. Even if there is some embellishment of the accounts, after his infamous taped comments, it seems unlikely that he is a choir boy in all of this. I read an article just today where it noted that more than half the country believes the President to be liar. So much for credibility. It is stunning to me that anyone can find the scads of scandal palatable. One of my students noted that the press has been incredibly unfair to President Trump. Even if I am empathetic to that claim at all, and maybe there is a jot or tittle, he has done very little to mitigate their contempt. In fact, I believe he thrives on all this discontent. Not any way to run the country. After vowing to make Mexico to pay for his “beautiful wall,” today I read that President Trump is floating the idea of having the military to pay for it. First of all, that would certainly go back on one of his signature promises of his campaign. Of course, former Mexican President Vincente Fox stated emphatically that would not happen. Over the past weekend, on another tweeting tirade, which seems to be a regular event. What seems to be lacking here is the Constitutional difficulty moving money from a military budget would cause to come up with an estimated $15-25 billion dollars is beyond what he can constitutionally spend without Congressional authorization. And you cannot just take billions earmarked in one budget and move it wherever you want. This is not the Trump Organization. It is the United States.

The second issue, which always causes an avalanche of emotion is the entire 2nd Amendment conversation, which is at least a foundational pillar of the past week’s latest march in Washington, D.C. and mirroring marches around the globe. The March for Our Lives, with estimates of 1.2-2.0 million people in the capitol alone,  makes it one of the larger protests in our history. What I do believe is most significant is that it was initiated by high school students who are saying enough is enough. It was also interesting in it was the largest youth-led protest since Vietnam. That personally gives me some hope. Again, however, I struggle with some of the backlash, and as a somewhat native Iowan, there is a United States Representative from there that continually frightens me. His bigoted vitriol should frighten more than merely his legislative district. The bigger issue here is we cannot seem to come together in most anything that has fractured us currently. I believe that the 2016 election demonstrated beyond anything most imagined how bigoted, sexist, racist, and economically how extremely discriminatory we are. That has come out in the responses toward some of the students who have stood up to say enough. We seem to allow professional athletes to do all sort of atrocious things (and I know some will argue this because there has been some change in that), but we will question the passion of 14-18 year olds and accuse them of not being genuine. Please?? Between a photoshopped picture of her tearing up the Constitution to disparaging her wearing a Cuban flag, though she is of Cuban descent, and a plethora of other criticisms, people seem to focus the entire movement on simply a 2nd Amendment struggle. If you are uncertain of some of this, please see the following article: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/parkland-students-find-themselves-targets-of-lies-and-personal-attacks/ar-BBKMqbL?ocid=spartanntp_edu.

It is also interesting that former Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens noted that the 2nd Amendment should be repealed. That will fire some people up beyond belief and there is certainly an irony that students calling for an end to gun violence would now be referred to as Nazis. Alex Jones, a conservative talk host whose methods of journalism have seemed to create much more division than anything positive, has spliced together images of Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg with Nazi war images and distributed it, arguing authoritarianism is always about youth marches. Since when does protesting for the safety of people get automatically pushed toward Nazism, but singling out all the various groups that are paramount to “the other” that our President did during the campaign or continues to do with yet another ban on transgender people in the military is not, or should not be equated to that Adolph Hitler convinced the German population to do to the Jews. Again, I am asking for a little common sense here. For a State Representative in Minnesota to refer to David Hogg as Supreme Leader Hogg  and speak about Hitler’s comments about youth, and then beg they not be connected is disingenuous at best, and plain out despicable more than likely. Again, the underlying principle here is about civility and decorum. While I do not have any specifics about the protest, there is something to be said when this protest had co-protests occurring simultaneously around the entire world. That says, in a fundamental way, that this was about so much more than a 2nd Amendment. It was about creating safe spaces and about saying what is has become almost a norm rather than an exception needs to stop. We should not be at the point where somehow a mass shooting is just another day in the life of the country. We should be outraged. We should realize that the level of killing on our city streets and our country outpaces most of the world (if not all of it), and I know I could look it up, but the very fact that I believe we are in this dubious position says enough. One of my colleague has spoken out rather vociferously against this violence with the passion she exhibits for most parts of her life. While I am not sure I am always comfortable with the degree of pathos that accompanies her arguments, I do not disagree with where she stands or the argument she presents, an argument that is deeply thought through and an argument that is based on logic and the most fundamental of our founding principles. She is under some pretty extensive pressure from a variety of fronts to stand down, but as much as I am not sure she considers audience as much as I might, her audience certainly does not seem to understand her, most in terms of the degree of pathos (logos or ethos for that matter) she brings, and they certainly do not understand the deontology of her position. My picture that is at the top of this post has a two-fold purpose. First, we are struggling to stay in, or find, spring. Second, there is not a snowball’s chance my colleague will be intimidated to the point she will back down.

Then there are simply the things you can plan and plan, but the best laid plans do go awry. I took my car in for the annual inspection. In spite of the other car issues, somehow, I had a leaking radiator. I hate car repairs. In fact, this is the longest I have owned a car for a while. Fortunately, when I purchased this one, I had also purchased an extended warranty. It certainly made 100s of dollars difference. I must say that the dealership I have worked with for 9 years here in Bloomsburg has been quite good in terms of service. As I finally finish this post, it has once again taken me longer than planned. It is now about 4:30 a.m. on an Easter morning, an April Fools’ Day. I do not remember an Easter and the prankster’s day aligning when I was a pastor, but one of my seminary classmates and I were noting it in a Facebook message yesterday. People who proclaimed the resurrection were certainly called fools beginning that first Easer morning. More than one person has spoken about what has been called the folly of the cross. The role of the church in society has certainly changed in my lifetime, and certainly the acceleration of the change has grown since I left the parish as a pastor. This past week, as I held student conferences for my rhetoric class, One of my students who is looking at Friedrich Nietzsche, as a rhetorician, stated that at least 50% of the students today or probably atheists. I’m not sure I agree with that, although I do believe probably a much higher degree are, than when I was in college, strong agnostics. I am not sure I find Nietzsche that sensical, but then again as my title suggests there is little sensical at the present time. During the past months I have listened to so much that makes little sense, either logically or emotionally, as someone who grew up where I did (in Northwest Iowa) has taken a much different path than I would. Yet, that is the profound complexity of free will. It is not about making sense; it is about merely doing as one’s own peculiar psyche sees fit. There is little sense to it often times, but then again sense is seldom common, and that seems more true today than ever before. To those who celebrate this most significant day in the church calendar, Blessed Easter; to my Jewish colleges and friends, I know you celebrated Passover on Friday and shalom on this most holy day. It is that tradition that I post my somewhat obligatory trailer or song, though the issue is a different one in the Jewish mindset, but it should be the mindset of all. In our non-sensical world perhaps we need more atonement and forgiveness for our seemingly inexhaustible ability to offend one another.

 

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Trying to Comprehend

Hello from Starbucks in the Library,

While I hope that the propensity for being thought provoking, and by extension somewhat political, in this fractured world has not merely offended, it seems increasingly more difficult to stand on the sidelines while at least two branches of our government seem intent on destroying the other. For me the jury is still out on the third, but the 5-4 split, regardless the balance, is quite indicative of the country that faces us each morning as I try to wipe the sleep from my eyes and stumble to the shower, fearful of what the latest 280 character (did Twitter really need to double that ability to spew idiocy) tiradic-tantrum might be. In the two weeks since a 19 year old young man with a difficult background found it somehow reasonable to use another AR15 style weapon to massacre numerous students, killing 17 of them, our government, at the continuing behest of the NRA’s leadership, refuses to consider that the style of weapons available all too easily had nothing to do with the outcome at Parkland. Mental illness is certainly an issue; failure of a system is still an issue: so I am not disagreeing with that. How can they not admit that having such a weapon easily available is also a contributing factor to or in the final horrific outcome? How many NRA members would be willing to admit that limiting semi-automatic weapons, bump-stocks, and eliminating high capacity clips are common sense? Few people would be inconvenienced by such limitations. Fewer yet would have to alter their gun practices. You will have more than a difficult time convincing me that our founders anticipated how some would highjack the Constitution with the 2nd Amendment as their foundational protection clause, forget the 14th Amendment. Wayne LaPierre, with his salary of over 5,000,000.00 a year from his various gun-toting positions, can espouse his ridiculous vitriol from the plush surroundings of wherever with such a salary. Heaven forbid he think critically. I am sorry, but common sense will not negate the 2nd Amendment. If I were to somehow join the NRA, or was a member, I would find his comments and his logic more embarrassing than I already do. Throughout my travels to other countries, it is not uncommon to be asked about two issues: the President and our love affair with guns. In either case, my answer is the same: I am embarrassed. That is not an easy answer for this Marine Corps veteran.

The past couple of weeks I have spent intentional time in assigning papers and speaking in my classes about the need for a person to be able to think critically. I have spoken about the importance of that critical thinking as well as the following need to analyze a situation, followed by doing careful research. I have often pondered how it is that we find ourselves in the place where if you disagree with someone they are now an enemy?  How have we lost almost all sense of civility or decorum? How is it that if we disagree with someone, rather than talking it out it is easier to pull a gun and shoot them? I would argue that we seem to be back in the early days of Christianity when if you disagreed you were a heretic and merely burned at the stake. Well our burning might be metaphorical now and the stake might be a tweet, but it seems we are back there once again. It still amazes me that some fundamentalists or conservative Christians can back what is happening in either the government or in our gun-loving society. As I write this, the Reverend Billy Graham is one his way to the Capitol to lie in honor, only one of four citizens to be given that distinction in our history. I remember his nightly television crusades growing up. My mother would sit in her recliner night after night to listen to him. I remember one of my close what we now call middle school friends who was Baptist inviting me to altar calls. I was afraid as the little Lutheran boy. I did not know what to do. What I still appreciate is that Reverend Graham consciously stayed apolitical. While his Christian message was rather conservative, he was not offensive, and yet challenged through his preaching of the gospel. He merely asked people to consider. I do not remember him leaving an overall message of do as I do or you are evil or wrong. While I had probably never considered the word “rhetoric” then, he was a brilliant rhetorician. He could reach across the aisle, pun intended, in ways most never could. I think he was the sort of quintessential person at being able to connect both the mind and the heart. He did not ask people to follow blindly. Following something blindly is to follow something without thought. As I tell my students regularly. God gave you a brain to do more than hold your ears apart. I think the Reverend Graham wanted people to read, to think, to ponder, to come to an understanding. I am often asked what my favorite Bible verse is. For me it is simple. It is Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It seems to me that helps us accept that which is not only incomprehensible, but also to have a willingness to search and believe is that which seems impossible. Without hope, we are doomed. Without hope, we have little desire to move forward. Without hope, we give up or refuse to imagine the possibilities.

That is how it is when I think about the gun issue. I do believe for the first time (and certainly in some time) people are actually standing up to their politicians or the gun lobby. The impetus is not our Congressional leaders. It certainly is not the President, though he as gone further than I imagined possible. It is the classmates of the 17 who have found and used their voices. It is some corporations like Delta, who is now threatened by the Georgia GOP to lose their tax breaks. This morning, I have heard that Dick’s Sports will stop selling semi-automatic weapons. I am stunned, but exceedingly pleased. At least some elements of our society are standing up against the NRA, and putting a stopper in their barrels.  Wayne LaPierre claims that he wants school safety and legal gun ownership. Certainly, I believe he does, but arming teachers and adding the possibility of more guns does not create more safety. Legal gun ownership has certainly demonstrated that the laws we do have are not effective. The issue of mental health is an issue, certainly, but it is access to guns period. Access (under the guise of the 2nd Amendment) to any gun regardless its ability is not in the spirit of protection. It is not in the spirit of good or reasonable sportsmanship. Semi-automatic weapons are meant to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Why does the average person need to do this? These are not hard questions. These are not questions that the NRA seems willing or capable of answering. Their other spokesperson, Dana Loesch, the conservative talk show host, argued vehemently at CPAC. “It is not our job to follow up on red flags. It is not our job to make sure that states are reporting to the background check system. It is not our job.” While I will agree with her on one level, you should think they would want to support better enforcement and use their 5 million members to push legislatures to be more intentional in all of this. It would certainly keep the heat off the NRA. To say it is not their job is to separate themselves from the very society in which they live and then provide them even more reason to hold on their own form of idolatry: love of their guns above all else. Again, amazing how they will abhor abortion as killing and hold on to weapons that can kill even more.

This week at school, for the second year in a row, we had a group from a Private Catholic Boys Preparatory High School on campus to protest a social issue. Last year they were demonstrating against LBGTQA rights; this year it was abortion. The school, St. Louis de Montfort Academy, is a school that was founded in 1995. There is actually something positive to be said about speaking out about your convictions and certainly these young men are doing so, but their rather pompous air that seems to be more judging than converting is a bit problematic, especially on a college campus. That is not because I see college as a sort of social moralism, but rather because it requires a person to think about audience and purpose and think about the complexity of their world a bit more inclusively. Their sort of “my-way-or-the-highway” moralism will not do well as they stand in formation and bring attention to themselves. There seems to be a struggle to demonstrate a sense of humility, which was certainly part of the Blessed Annunciation and the woman being visited. A principle trait of Mary, the mother of Jesus (one of the grounding people or tenants of this particular school) was her humility. Again, the irony or lack of consistent rhetorical strategy is a bit surprising, or maybe not. Those who claim the high moral ground often fall the farthest. As I often told my parishioners  when I was the parish pastor, it did not say pastor anywhere on my birth certificate. I am certainly not a perfect person. I was not then and I am not now. There are times I probably do or say things merely to prove I can. I know that surprises all of you who know me best. Yet, I am pretty fragile, and, in fact, much more so than most expect. I think that fragility continues to manifest itself in ways I struggle to comprehend. Nonetheless, it is there. I think that is why I am both settled in a place, but certainly not sedentary. There is always something to ponder, somewhere to explore, and some place to travel and attempt to understand. I think that is the problem to way too many people; they are content to accept something without chewing on it a bit. Too willing to swallow anything fed to them without taking the time to intentionally smell it, carefully taste it, slowly savor it. It returns me to the significance of critical thinking, of being involved in some kind of thoughtful analysis. I am struggling daily as I read the headlines and listen to so many people and all there seems to be is distrust, disrespect, dispute, discrimination, dismissal, disregard, dissidence: I guess that is enough dissing for the moment. The picture above is of the Canadian Parliament. It is quite evident to me that our Northern neighbor seems to practice much of what we believe ourselves to be. I think we could learn from them.

How did we become such a country? Again, I love what this country was founded on the basic idea that we are a government of the people, by the people. I love that we are a nation of immigrants, a nation that has been a beacon of light for a number of other places. I know that sounds idealistic. I know it sounds like there was this easy formation. I know better. The issues of class, gender, race, faith have been struggles in this country like many others. What we have been able to do is appropriately transfer power from one administration to the other. There has been a basic respect for the balance of powers and a belief that our government at least tries to do the right thing. We are a country of law and precedent, but it feels like so much of that is in a precarious position now. It seems like so much of this is what we were rather than what we are. I am trying to comprehend this. How did we become a nation of finger pointers, a nation of blamers, a nation of selfish navel gazers? I do believe we are still more than that. I see it every day among the students and others I work with. There are some incredibly giving and wonderful people who see a bigger picture and desire to do the best they can. I want to believe we can pull through this, but it will be hard work. It will take critical thinking and even more critical doing. Doing what is best for the other rather than merely what one individual wants. It will require us to be honest with ourselves and with the other. It will require the opposite of the list I noted above. We will need to be more trusting, more respectful, more willing to listen, more accepting, more accommodating. We will need to be willing to reach out to the other and believe that disagreement can lead to something other than a negative outcome. It will take thinking and being able to comprehend that which is beyond us. It will take believing in the other and comprehending difference or diversity as opportunity. I merely want to have hope that so much more can come from this current struggle, but I will turn to the scripture I believe guides me. In a different way, I offer this prayer from one of my favorite artists. This song was sung at my ordination, and it was something I wish I had done a better job of earlier in my life. How it is something I still try to do.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin