What is home and why?

Hello from South America.

New Year’s Eve in Nicaragua can be characterized by three things: family, fireworks, and food. Certainly there are other elements for some, the usual celebratory “necessities,” but fireworks are a central part of it all. Everyone has some and they are exuberant in their using pyrotechnics to celebrate a new year. It is not unique to them, but the degree to which it is part of the celebration is significant and intense! Perhaps some of my reaction is my own uncomfortable sense of shooting them off. Food is central to most celebrations. I have observed this on a number of levels and throughout my life. One of my earliest memories of food comes from my Grandmother’s bakery. She had a serious “from-scratch” bakery with pastry bakers and bread bakers, from cake decorating to providing incredible baked goods for diners, stores, and even hospital break rooms. I grew up in that bakery, and perhaps that is where my love of food originated. Growing up, it was the holidays dinners that the same grandmother and her elder sister, creating meals that are unequalled to this day. The food was perfectly prepared, and created with such love that this extra ingredient merely added to its scrumptiousness.

Then, because my own need for money, I fell upon my first job as a server, thank you to an RA, whose first name was Jack. That restaurant introduced me to a world of food before unimagined. There were flaming entrees and desserts; there were meals rolled out on a gueridon. Wine and food were paired, and eating was about creating an experience. This concept, this practice had never occurred to me. In the years since, working in the food and beverage industry was both a way to make ends meet, but it became so much more. Food is a medium that is a profound equalizer. We all need to eat, but the communal aspect of eating and our response to the fellowship that occurs reveals more about us than we often know. Certainly our connection to food has changed over time. Dinner time was sacrosanct in my household when I was a child. Everyone was sitting at the table at 5:00 o’clock sharp, and being late was not permitted. And yet, my mother, who could outdo any confectioner or candy maker at Christmas, could not cook an edible dinner to save her soul. Conversely, my Grandmother and her sister were kitchen mavens, long before anyone would have considered such a term. Growing up on South Dakota farms during the depression meant they could make magic from nothing. My love of vegetables began in their garden, and there was nothing thrown away, the steamed water became broth. Bones and organs became stock. Everything needed was on the farm, from main dishes and sides to homemade bread and stunning pies and cakes. It was their Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that set the standard I have to this day.

I have been fortunate to taste meals from 5 continents and my favorite meal, the ultimate comfort food for me, is simple: a half of pink grapefruit, two poached eggs (soft) and a single piece of buttered toast. Nothing ostentatious, but what my grandma made me every morning. What made it amazing, a little butter on both the eggs and the toast. I am adventurous when it comes to food, but I am also content with simple. It might seem I have strayed from my initial intent of the blog, but fear not, I have not. Home for me is about comfort and safety. Throughout the decade I have been posting, the place of safety for me was 4547 Harrison Street, my grandparent’s home, my place of residence from ages 2-5. I never felt that safety again until I created it on the Acre. That is a half century of time. That realization to stunning to me. The reality is a somewhat frightening when I ponder it in any pointed manner. Simply – seldom did I feel like I had a home for the great majority of my life. Home is essential for identity; home is foundational to security. And yet, not surprisingly, it is much more than a building, an address, a place on lays their head. It is more than ownership or being current on one’s mortgage or rent.

As I write this, I am back in Pennsylvania. It is good to be back on Sterner Avenue, the place I call the mini-Acre. It has become home to me, but the important question is how. I think there are three reasons I can say it feels like home. First, I have decorated and made it mine, both inside and out. Second, this past holiday I turned it into the Winter Wonderland. Christmas and all the decorations recreate the feeling of safety that was the acreage that was my grandmother’s house, the place I felt loved and valued. I think that is what creates a home, feeling loved and valued. The third thing that has created a sense a home is playing in my kitchen. Between waiting tables, prepping in kitchens, and being a restaurant rat and cork dork, food is a fundamental element of my being. I love what you can do when preparing a meal to change a person’s perspective, to contribute to their experiences at any given moment, to establish a connection that is both rewarding to them and personal for me. It is not altruistic, nor is it meant to be. It is in the creating a space what is welcoming and safe that everyone can be themselves. It is through tastes and conversations that we change our lives, one meal, one bite, one glass, or one sip at a time. It is through these three seemingly ordinary things that something extraordinary has occurred.

Much like the same principles I have noted in my Winter Term Technical Writing class, attention to detail and understanding expectations are what creates successful documentation. Creating a home and feeling safe to refer to a space as home is about attention to detail and understanding expectations. Detail is something easy to manage, expectations are something quite different. I have my own expectations, and as is quite evident here, my own baggage. But expectations also come from the other, from the person entering the dwelling. And those expectations come from places both realized and unrealized, from both apparent and unapparent memories. Sometimes it is about things that seem mundane or irrelevant, but our senses are unparalleled in their ability to pull something from the most extreme recesses of our mind. Sound, smell, and even a course of events can pull us back to a previous time and overwhelm the present. And yet, often it happens so unexpectedly, that we fail to process either the present moment or what caused the déjà vu moment to begin with. La prime example for me was at the Acre (my former house) one day. As I walked into my large farmhouse kitchen through what was my back door, I could sense my grandmother sitting in the kitchen on her stool one evening. It was at that moment, and not because of all the renovations I had done, that the Acre became home.

In much the same way, it was as I sat on my couch this past December, with the fireplace blazing, the large Christmas tree lit, and the home decorated in every room that I felt the warmth and serenity of Christmas, of a sense peace that I had not felt since a Christmas on Harrison Street. 239 W Sterner was more than the new place; it has become my current home. There are many details that contribute, and there is always more to do, but at the moment I am content. I am home. This piece by Mannheim Steamroller has reminded me of that serenity and the purity that I believed existed as a small boy. The goodness and safety in feeling loved and valued. In spite of this being more Christmas-based musically, being loved and valued is always in season. Enjoy!

This piece brings tears of joy. I still miss you, Grandma, and I love you. You are my hero. To everyone else, thank you for reading


When Fragility becomes a Companion

Hello from my table . . .

It is my last day in Nicaragua, and it has been a learning experience. That seems to be the way most experiences go for me, and more an more, the learning has created an increased sense of fragility. I am glad for more reasons than not I that my time here was away from the bustle of the capital. While there were some initial plans to spend a bit of time there, the first afternoon did offer some insight into the Christmas holidays, and certainly sitting along the lake that first day was quite glorious. On another day a trip to Matagalpa, the other larger town to this little valley city of Sébaco, offered yet another vision of this beautiful country. While time and its relevance to daily life is very different from Bloomsburg and much of my own experience, there is something important to realize when you are virtually at the mercy of other people’s schedules and their schedules are controlled by individuals beyond them. The consequence has been at times feeling powerless, which is for me a feeling of being unsafe, and yet, I was in control of more than realized. The silver lining of this was my class got my undivided attention over the last 8 days, and I have been able to reach out both individually and through group meetings to offer assistance. The writing of this blog has been a source of comfort and focus over this past week as it seems death is all around me. That is not specifically here in Nicaragua, in fact, it is the opposite, but between the loss of two people I have known personally, as well as the passing of a former pope, the profound injury to a 24 year old football player, and yes, even the craziness of my own country’s legislative process, I see a thread. Most of what we know and accept as (believe to be) normalcy hangs by that very tired and frayed thread.

Normalcy is, undoubtedly, a subjective term. Even in the last week I have been pushed to understand what happens when my own cultural mores are imposed on a different place, when my expectations of what are general practices are not the practices of the other. One would think a decade later I would realize the profound difference between Hispanic time and Michael’s time. And yet I am always stunned by the extreme difference between their chronos and my kairos. I have know the conceptual difference since my first Greek class, but the experiential difference still confounds me. Growing up with a father who was early for everything, and I fall pitifully short by his standards, I still believe there is significance to being on time, following a plan, and doing my level best at doing what I’ve intended. And yet, stepping back, I must realize that my own standards are being applied in such a statement. And then again, the underlying principles of normalcy, of basic human behavior wells up from somewhere. Where? As I write this, outside the borders of my place of citizenship, the country that has claimed to be a beacon of freedom, of choice, of democracy cannot, two years to the day after an unprecedented attack on the very hall of democracy, cannot come together to elect a leader of the majority party. So, the questions of where? What? How? are front and center.

The thread of democracy, of decency, seems to be twisted and pulled in such a way that I cannot help but wonder if it can survive. And yet, the past two days where I am have pushed home again how desperately people still believe the American experiment has something to offer. I know my own life provides an incredible example of possibility. I know within my own family, biological or adopted, the choices made can determine long-term what might occur. Perception, as noted within my writing, is reality for the perceived, until proven otherwise. I wonder from time to time how my students perceive America and what it stands for, and not as some sound byte or tropism, but deeply, existentially? I know well the tropes used by my generation and I am pretty sure the majority of them are unbelievable to my students. And yet, there are larger concerns. What about fundamental understandings of words like freedom, privacy, decorum, or justice to name a few. There are books about these very terms, and to say there is disagreement is a serious understatement. How did we, as a country, get here? It seems the very thing we admire, or identify with, the most could become our undoing. It is one of those tropes: rugged individualism. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can do whatever we put our minds to; we have been enculturated from infancy to stand up for ourselves. I do not see anything problematic in this conceptually, but how do we connect the Lockean understanding of society to the individual? It seems we have lost that. The number of significant current examples are probably as many as I have fingers, and if I push how far I might ponder, perhaps toes.

I have caught a number of headlines lately that refer to doom-surfing. If I understand correctly, it is a preoccupation with a desire to read bad news. To be obsessed with the terrible things that we are pelted with daily seems a profoundly wrong direction to follow. While I have reasons to question, to wonder the whys, at this moment I wish to focus on something that gives me hope. I am reminded of a prayer one of my seminary professors shared at the beginning of each morning class. This was a prayer contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW).

Almighty God, Draw your hearts to you. Guide our minds, fill our imaginations, control our wills that we may be wholly yours. Use us you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(LBW 1978).

As I write this, the irony that Neil Diamond’s song “America” from the movie, The Jazz Singer is not lost on me. The memory of one of my first time hearing it I was in Europe also comes to mind. What might we do to reignite the light of the torch, to re-establish the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free . . .” My experience with those hoping for a better life are seldom looking to create trouble. They want to provide for their children and for their families. Indeed perhaps they are tired, but it is often because they have labored intensely with little hope of change. They live in poverty because their world provides almost no chance for change. They are huddled together because it is all they have. None of this makes them undesirable; in fact, I will assert it is exactly the opposite. While I am not advocating illegal immigration, I can understand how and why it happens. It gets me back to the title, and to a point in a recent blog. We need hope. Without it, we are fragile; we are frightened; and we become . There are a minuscule few who don’t wish better for their children. And yet laws (generally) have reason; without law and process we have chaos and eventually anarchy.

I am in Ecuador now (for the past two days). And ironically watching CNN world yesterday, it appears that the Brazilian version of January 6th was occurring in the Capitol of Brazil. Again, fragility is apparent. Is it perhaps our fragility is the consequence of self-centeredness? It is possible that we struggle because we seldom look toward the welfare of the larger group? Is this merely naïveté on my part or is it believing we should try for something better? These questions haunt me, and they cause me alarm. Are we in a time where the words I noted above are now but a former practice and gone in our present world? I wish I knew. I have been reminded pretty stridently the last few days that I am too kind, and I have a profound desire to have family within view. That is one of my most profound fragilities, and yet, a strength. I know how to manage both sides, but also to know who I am. I guess that is the most significant part. There is only one thing or person over which I have any real power, and that is myself. If I manage that well, I minimize my fragility in this fragile world. Guide our minds and fill our imaginations for something better.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

The Loss of a Lutheran Giant

Good morning from my corner table at La Casa de la Pradera,

While I worked on another blog extensively yesterday, this morning brought new information that has changed my focus. It seems that is how life works. I have lived it to a degree not recently experienced this past week. My reality of age is that those who were mentors to me have some significant time beyond me. That chronological truth leads to dealing with the finitude of our human lives. This morning I received an email from the President of Luther Seminary informing me that the other half of the amazing duo who taught me the fundamentals of Lutheran theology passed unexpectedly on Saturday, before the turn of the new year. It is ironic that I noted that some will not wait for the turn of the year that very day. Additionally, and perhaps as paradoxical, I wrote about him not long ago in this very platform when I spoke about the importance of Dr. Gerhard Forde. Dr. James Nestigen was the second profoundly insightful Lutheran pastor and scholar I was blessed by as a student during my time at Luther Northwestern.

Proud beyond compare of his Norwegian heritage, and noted by others, he was a consummate story teller. His voice, his eyes, and his unparalleled smile and unruly tuft of hair made every class an experience. His ability to articulate Luther’s Small Catechism and his insistence that we memorize it struck fear into more than one student, but as we worried, he would calmly inform us if we failed he would have his 5th grade son come in and show us how it was done. And he meant it. And yet after the admonishment his wry laugh and sparkling eyes would remind us of Luther’s understanding of grace. While the Nestigen and Forde show was always something to behold, what was more important was how together they would illuminate the understanding of law and gospel and the paradox of Luther’s simul justis et peccator in ways that still inform my life today. While there are many stories about Dr. Nestigen (and equally for Dr. Forde), it is perhaps the memory of an unequivocal tribute to the two of them, when a classmate, who was also a South Dakota farmer, named two of his animals Nestigen and Forde (I cannot remember if they were sheep or cattle). I also remember when we were working on our catechetic memorization and Dr. Nestigen told us about the background of Luther’s impetus in creating the Catechism. He noted that it was to be used for family devotions, and he continued that he did so in his home. He then offered an anecdotal story of an evening devotional on the Sixth Commandment with his youngest son. After asking his son what was the Sixth Commandment, his son, who had some speech issues responded, “You shall not commit dultry.” When asked in good Lutheran fashion, what does this mean? His dutiful son again replied, unabashedly, “It means we are not supposed to hump girls.” As our class burst out in laughter at the recounting his their devotion, Dr. Nestigen continued that he knew he would have to have a conversation with the older brothers. And then he broke into that undeniable laugh and his Norwegian drawl and the rapid succession of “jajaja!!” As you can see I remember that until this day.

I quote the words of my former classmate, and now the dean of the faculty at Luther, the Reverend Doctor Rolf Jacobson, when he noted in his use of Romans 3, “But now apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and it is attested by the law and the prophets . . . all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift . . . effective through faith.” While I write this abbreviated version of Paul’s important passage, the understanding of this relevance for us as sinful humans came to light through the lectures, the seminars, and the small group student meetings we would have with Dr. Nestigen. Another poignant time with him was in when he spoke to a group of about 8 of us. We were in Bockman Hall, and the then Lutheran Standard, the former magazine of the American Lutheran Church has published a piece about the appropriateness, and the growing difficulty of the use of “Our Father” as the beginning of The Lord’s Prayer. We inquired about his thoughts, and he said he did not want to speak in class about such political (and yet theological) terms in class. We noted because we were studying the prayer in class, it seems apropos. I remember him sliding his chair back and leaning back in it. He stared at the ceiling for a moment, and then he came back to earth, both in his mind and in the chair and peered at us through his glasses, and stated simply, ” You know what happens when you put pearls before swine.” Then he paused as we started back at him. Then he launched into the understanding of the term father and was quite emphatic as well as intimated. It was apparent that in spite of the significant move in the mid-80s toward inclusive language, he did not see this term as sexist. And in fact, he pretty well flat-out rejected that line of reasoning. While I do not remember all he said, what I do remember about his remarks, which were Luther-esque, earthy, and somewhat blunt, he, again, in his way shared to stories. He noted that in his home he was the person who baked bread; we was the person who did a great deal of the cooking, and it was he would spent significant time making sure the house was managed. As I remember, his wife, Carolyn, was a pretty prestigious lawyer in the metro. His second story, which was a bit more shocking, but thoroughly Nestigen, it was about his mother. He noted that his mother was in the first college class where women were allowed to attend at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. What he said next still shocks me . . . he said, “Men on campus whistled at my mother regularly, and it was not because she was attractive!” Again he peered at our speechless faces, laughed, and went back to his lecture. While he was incredibly good natured, he would be a pillar when it came to thing he believed. Perhaps I learned as much about law and gospel through his actions as I did by his words.

What I understand now about this amazing person was how what he taught helped me as a parish pastor. It was his understanding of the catechism and and his ability to instill it into our lives as both future pastor, as humans, that would serve me when I was to teach confirmation (affirmation of baptism as it would be called then) or when I did pre- baptismal visits that the words of this incredible duo would ring in my ears. And yet perhaps as I have continued in life, the part of the catechism that has the most profound affect on me now is that section referred to as the Office of the Keys. It is in that place that the true grace of God rings the brightest for me. It is the power of forgiveness, and not only the amazing freedom in forgiveness of our Creator, but more importantly our ability to provide forgiveness, absolution, for our brothers and sisters. The power in that loosening of the bonds of guilt or shame we have when we have wronged the other is unparalleled. Too often we dismiss an apology with a “It’s okay.” or a ‘Don’t worry about it.” and yet that is precisely when we do need to worry about it. It is at that point we have the profound ability to provide forgiveness and freedom from the burden the other carries. This is the true graciousness of God and the gift provided when we gift absolution to those around us. This is the grace I believe Dr. Nestigen understood, and the grace he taught those in his class. While I imagine his family and closest associates are still reeling at the loss of this giant of the Lutheran Church. He would not want us to be burdened. He would turn and smile at us with the incredibly infectious smile and look through his glasses and would encourage us to continue on our own faithful journeys. He would push us to see life as a gift and an opportunity to share his profound understanding of law/gospel and a loving Christ. It once again is appropriate to say to this North Dakota Norwegian . . . “we done good and faithful servant.” Jajajajaja . . . you betcha! Thank you for all you taught me and for bringing my faith to life. Thank you for keeping me steadfast, even when I feel unworthy.

It is with humility that I offer this tribute to my mentor and a incredible human.

Dr. Martin

Do You Believe In . . .

Hello from a little room in the Cathedral District,

Sometimes we want to believe in possibilities; we hope that what we have is reasonable or valuable, but it is hard to determine if that is true. Perhaps it is the reality that a good part of my life is coming to a close, and there are changes on the horizon. Perhaps it is my propensity for needing to plan. Perhaps it is even my expectation that I can make a difference in a world that seems more chaotic and unpredictable, and more hellbent on its own destruction. As I have a rather oxymoronic combination of hope and melancholia, there are times I find myself confused, struggling to make sense of others. As I look back on my life, this has been a rather constant companion of mine.

While I do not remember anything of my parents as a small child, trying to understand why they would neglect two of their children to the point, they lost them – or a mother could give a third child away to someone to never know where they are (and neither do I), is not something that makes sense to me, no matter how much I try to figure it out. In spite of a few years of living with a grandmother, a woman I still adore, the majority of my childhood and even beyond into adulthood, I made every effort to believe that I had something worthwhile. That battle was both internal and at times external. Today as I walked around, it came in an overwhelming manner once again. What I felt was demoralizing and it welled up like a beast from my past. As I walked around, I found myself examining my own worth and struggling to believe there was something of value. Perhaps most amazing was that I was able to hide it and go about the day as if it were normal, and nothing was amiss. As I sat in the Cathedral I think I felt like someone in a corner who could disappear and few would know. It was an profoundly intense and lonely feeling. Perhaps again, it was because I was trying to understand what I am trying to do, what I need, or perhaps do not need, to do. I am wondering if everyone struggles with the concept, the reality, of retirement the same way.

Sometimes I think it was because I generally felt like I was behind where I should be in terms of development, whether it was that I was smaller than everyone else, whether my starting college after everyone else my age, whether or not it was that I found my way through a maze of possibilities before I ended up in the academy. And once I figured it out or it figured me out, it seems like I have tried to make up for lost time. I have worked and worked crazy hours, but perhaps that is what kept me from taking care of my own self. I have been forced in many ways to manage my health situation. To not do so might have been fatal. So in many ways, I have been an incredible success in that area. I have done well as a professor, or at least I want to believe that is the case. There is my own struggle in believing that I can always do better. That might be my most profound demon. Not long ago, through conversations, I was pushed to understand my solitude, something that has lasted for over twenty years, with little change. How did I manage that or more significantly they asked how and why did it happen? While I think I have a reasonable handle on the external factors, I am not sure I have a clear sense of how my inner self kept that isolation possible. While I am neither female nor Muslim, their practice of purdah (living behind a veil or a curtain) might be a good metaphor of the past two-plus decades. And trying to come out from behind that veil has been a bit frightening. I am not sure how I might manage it, or if I will.

What I have been pushed to recognize is this: my work has been my escape from intimacy. The walls built, unbeknownst to the builder, are strong, and in spite of the ability of someone to see into that, there is more fear from their gaze than I sometimes realize. Today has been a day where little things pushed me to consider my place in the world. There was a young man asking for change, and I ignored his plea. As the day continued on, all I could think was I should have given him something. Do I understand the struggle and the nature of panhandling? Indeed, I do, but perhaps there was more of a struggle for this person than I realized. I felt like the person passing on the other side of the road. Phil Collins’ song “Another Day in Paradise” has been running through my head ever since. “Oh my Lord, there must be something you can say . . .” It seems too often we fail to care. These things haunt me. And even in this paragraph, I realize that I have ran away from the issue . . . thinking instead of other issues or other problems. What is in store for me? Where will I go? Will it make a difference and will it matter? What I am most afraid of, even as I often reclusively protect my solitude, is being alone. I am not sure that I have ever admitted that, even to myself.

When I find myself trying to believe that there was good in something, or in the someone, when that relationship was probably never a good thing (and I do not say that with any sense of malice), there is an issue. And I know undoubtedly, I did no better the second time, why would I even imagine wanting someone to be at my side again? Perhaps I am more clueless than I want to believe. And yet, I believe that loving someone is what makes us whole . . . it is what makes us grow and prosper. So why is it so difficult? Why is it so frightening? Much like when I tell my students how to write, and then I am reminded I should take my own advice, there is a parallel with relationships. I used to tell couples that being married would be the most difficult job they would ever attempt. I still believe that to be true, but in a much more thoughtful way than when I was that younger parish pastor half my life ago. I think, more than I want to believe, I was a failure as a spouse more often than not. I think there was so much more I could have given or have been willing to understand. I think this is my most profound failure as a person, and it now seems that it is the most consequential. I am amazed at my ability to want something and then I wonder if I unconsciously push it away at the same time? I have told some of a conversation with my graduate school counselor and his advice to me. When I called him the fall after COVID began, I told him that his advice was still ringing in my ears. We laughed about it, and there are elements that still cause me to smile, and yet today, it causes my eyes to well up in tears.

Sometimes, we are pushed when we least expect it to understand ourselves. Sometimes we are required to reassess what we have done, even in our distant past. Sometimes, we need forgiveness, which on one hand we have received, but on the other, the other will never forgive. Perhaps more importantly, can we forgive ourselves? This is where my childhood haunts me. If I was not good enough, worthy enough, valuable enough, why might I believe I am now? Again, please do not worry, I will work through it like I generally do, but on this rainy evening, it is proving to be a difficult task. I am reminded of another song that pushes me to rethink my lack of response today. It is a song by Everlast. The lyrics are tough, but honest. The reality of our inhumanity to others is front and center in this song. It haunts me as my actions did today. It haunts me as I struggle to understand my future . . . where it might happen, how it might happen, and if it will happen alone.

As always, thanks for reading.


Keep Pushin’

Hello from my front seat of Bruce, The Beetle,

I am waiting for my friends and colleagues at our appointed place for dinner. My brain is whirling for a variety of reasons, and that is when I find it most necessary to write. It is a way to clear my thoughts, to structure the chaos, and a way by which I can move forward most efficiently. This afternoon I was blessed with the opportunity to speak with my late pastor’s son. It was the first time we spoke in more than a year. We have played phone tag on more than one occasion. Over the years we have managed to stay connected and it seems too often our actual conversing has occurred at those moments we are confronted with our mortality, with the reality of life’s changes. Changes that are mortally eternal, which are profound and emotional.

David spoke about the last moments with his father, and how he had never witnessed a death before. Certainly when that experience is your parent, it is overwhelming. I read him the blog written for his father and during our conversation there were tears from both sides. Loving someone, truly loving them beyond something comprehensible, with a wholeness or totality that eludes our normal thoughts or imagination is what I heard in David’s voice and through his tears. It is not a perfect love, but it is an unparalleled love. It is a life-giving love that we all hope to achieve. And it was a beautiful love to witness even through a phone. While it was not an unexpected love to hear about, seldom does such a beautiful expression occur. I was blessed in that exchange with my friend, one who has covered my entire adult life. In spite of the moment for him two weeks ago, we also note for us life continues and there is the reality of moving on. However, there is a sort of gut-check reality that one’s own generation has become the elder. In spite of the reality that created this role, there is something privileged in becoming that, the elder. And so the reality is we keep pushin’ . . . Keep pushin’ on.

As I write this, now on Thursday morning, another week of classes is completed today for the majority of my classes. While the semester has been beyond busy, it has also been another learning experience for me. There is always something to ponder, to imagine, and yes, to be amazed from in the daily push from the first day to the semester’s final posting. For over two and a half years, when we unexpectedly received a second week of Spring break, students, faculty, and administrators at the university (and individuals around the world) have labored to manage the virus that has enveloped our globe. To say we have struggled seems to be kind at best, and regardless one’s stance on social distancing, masking, or being vaccinated, we have pushed through. Recently I received the latest of the boosters, and yes, I have been injected (for those old enough to understand, I am hearing strains of Alice’s Restaurant) for flu and pneumonia. Indeed, selected, inspected . . . Sometimes it is easy to become overwhelmed and wonder if it all matters, but I wish such moments to be bit fleeting ones – ones that remind me of my humanness, but also ones that push me to be better, imagine better, strive for better. To keep pushin’ has become a mantra that is characteristic of my daily practice. I not always as successful as I wish, but seldom do I feel I am being regressive. I think retreat or failure to move ahead is a mindset more than an actual motion.

It is easy to feel disappointed in our current world’s atmosphere; I am sure the last 50 days in the UK are somewhat unprecedented; I am sure the situation for both the Russians and Ukrainians is very untenable, but nevertheless, it continues; In spite of our own midterm elections being only a week away, I think I am both accurate and realistic (and unfortunately so) that the beat of the 2024 drum will be echoing in my ears some the following day. It is with certainly that I say I hope I am in another country before that next November election. I do wonder what the founders of the country, those on either side of that political coin would say about where we currently are? While I believe I am a patriotic American, and I actually like exploring politics, I am tired of it all. It is not the intention of the political process, it is what we have managed to do with it. Hence, my question about our founders. I am sure there was some significant rancor in the founding conversations. It is important to remember many of the founders were in their 20s, and in spite of the differences between the 18th and the 21st century, 20-something males are exactly that.

As school this week, in other places, the reality of our daily grind seems to be more profound then is often the case. Why is that? Is it a perception or a reality? Perception is reality until proven otherwise, but I am much more a person who wanted to deal with the reality of something. I am reminded of some others questioning if everything must be logical to me? My answer was a pretty straightforward yes. It is how I teach. It is how I manage; and yes; it is my version of the title, the adage, the reality of this blog . . . life is process. Life is the reality of the push and being pushed. It is something that allows for possibility and hope. There will always be the reality that we will be pushed harder than we ourselves can push. There is the reality that we can be knocked down. Th question is how successfully can we get back up? Getting up is never simple, but it is always possible. Often it is a dirty process. There are times when others might prefer we remain flat on our faces. There are three times in my life when I was ostensibly told, you might as well stay down. After a serious argument with a band director, who found out I had enlisted in the Marines, told me I would never survive boot camp. That was motivating. There was a college prescient who told me I would never have a PhD. And yet I do. And there was a bishop willing to take away something precious, and content to leave me wounded on the road like the person in the parable of the Good Samaritan. There were those who found me and tended my wounds. Through it all I was able to keep pushin’

As I finally finish this blog, it is now the first of November. It is the time to remember the Saints in our lives. It is easy to believe Saints are someone extraordinary, and extraordinary they are, but they are simultaneously human, ordinary individuals. Perhaps it is not by accident that yesterday was also the day Luther hung his 95 theses on a castle door 500 years ago. Luther’s dialectic of simul justis et peccator could be understood as keep pushin’ on. The tools to make a difference, the ability to be a light to another is within each of us. It was my grandmother who succeeded in a battle with alcoholism; it was my father who created a family of three children he did not create; it was a small diminutive woman, an only child, who came to another country and changed people’s lives in a classroom; they are three saints in my life. They were not perfect, but they loved me. None of them would consider themselves saints, but to me they were. They simply demonstrated the ability to keep pushin’ and by their actions and their love, I am but an ember of their incredible fire.

Below is the song that inspired this blog, I am reminded of more than once I saw this band in concert; am there is more than one album I probably played the grooves off from the number of times I would listen to them.

Dr. Martin

Father Fred

Fred is at the bottom left

Good morning from Rio Segundo,

It is a mixed bag morning as I am looking out at beauty, appreciating the remoteness on the one hand, but struggling with our technological dependence on the other because I cannot communicate adequately with a host of people. These are all issues to ponder in managing a move and all the other pieces of a complex puzzle I am trying to create.

The day before yesterday I saw a Facebook post that somewhat cryptically told me that the man who is probably as important to my faith journey, my piety, and my understanding of a creator as anyone in my life, has passed from this life to the next. The Reverend, and Navy Chaplain, Frederick J. Peters has finished the earthly portion of his journey. Well into his 90s, he lived a life of both faithful service (to his Lord and his family) and as an exemplar to a young clueless Marine veteran, one returning to his home town to meet the most incredible family, whose father was the pastor of my home parish. That fall, I had little idea how, or to the degree, this proud German Lutheran pastor, his Canadian wife, or, in particular, two of his four children, would change my life’s trajectory. The very fact that I am writing about it in my blog today is some indication of that profundity. I wonder what he would think of such a post.

Returning to Riverside from my enlistment was difficult; ultimately because the fractured relationship I had with my mother had not improved during my absence, and my return did little to please her. And that was merely the beginning. At that point in my life, I did not realize to the degree or the depth as well as the significance her earlier life experiences had on her or affected her. Because of that, I had little tolerance. So, even though I was an adult of sorts, I fell quickly back into the child role. I dutifully went to church every Sunday, sang in the senior choir, and worked a dead-end because I still had little idea of what I could do with my life. Yet, as I returned to the congregation that had reared by faith, I found myself amazed by the preaching and the incredible depth of the simple, and profound piety of this new pastor. Father Fred, as I would soon learn to refer to him, was a people’s pastor. He was a no-BS, earthly, and understandable pastor who was also an amazing teacher. It was my father who revealed this side of him. My father took Stephen’s Ministry classes from him; indeed, the Reverend Peters understood what it meant to have an educated laity, a parish who understood what it meant to be ministers and called in their own right. I remember my father would also teach first year confirmation for Fred. I can imagine my father welcoming him to coffee at this point.

Fred and Ruth Peters became surrogate parents to me as I found myself back in my home neighborhood from my time in the Marines. It was nothing expected by any of us. And for Ruth, bless her heart, I am not sure it was exactly what she bargained for. However, it is what a poor wandering soul probably needed. The Peters along with another surrogate church father by the name of Sheldon (Bud) Reese did more to manage my cluelessness than my own parents. To be fair, I am not sure how much I would have listen to my adoptive parents at that time. My father had been hands off most of my life, and as I understood, he had little interest I think in helping me figure myself out, and on the other hand, my mother had lost none of her disdain for a person she resented since the age of four. So as I worked full time initially at a Walgreens Superstore, I found myself attending high school football games, driving my car around, and spending time with two of the four offspring of the new pastor at my home church. The only Peters son and I became friends, along with another XC person, a wonderfully smart classmate of theirs, Bob Sandison. Between David, Barbara, the second eldest daughter, and Bob, I felt like I had a group of friends, which I now know was probably life-saving to me. It was on a October Friday evening that I ended up on the front room floor of the parsonage, playing board games with David and Barb, and some of Barb’s swimming teammates. The Peter’s parents were kind and provided drinks and snacks. Somehow we ended up playing all night. I went home about 6:00 in the morning because I needed to go to work a half-day that Saturday morning. I thought nothing much of the fact I had not let my parents know where I was. After work that day, my father asked me to go with him to do some electrical work at the parsonage, the very place I had spent all night playing board games.

As we walked into the house and toward the basement, Fred pulled me aside and calmly asked, “Why didn’t you call home and let your parents know where you were?” Amazed by the question from my pastor, as well as respecting him as such, I replied honestly, “I don’t have a good reason.” He, with a fatherly, but nonetheless stern look, said, “Don’t do it again.” And I headed down the steps with my tail seriously tucked between my legs. As I spent more and more time at the Peters’ residence, the more I understood my pastor as a human first. That would be a consequential realization later in my own life. David, Barb, and Bob, though a few years younger, became a group who did more to keep me grounded than they realized. The Peters family provided the sense of family I was missing in my own. Perhaps that exposure to faith had as much to my considering ordained ministry as anything. It would be that fall I would decide to attend college for the first time, but the year before there were concerts, camping trips, days and nights at the swimming pool, and trying to navigate relationships, a ‘71 Chevelle, which did not make Mother Ruth happy, a little yellow a Honda called Buttercup, and dog sitting a Brittney Spaniel, named Patches. Contrary to the passing glance, that year did more to develop me than I realized. The time I spend with the threesome and the Peters family helped me to develop a sense of person, albeit somewhat nascent, and begin to find a path. As I entered the academy for the first time, Father Fred, in his blunt earthly manner, prophesied correctly, “You will do just fine in college unless you fuck off.” Truer words have never been spoken. As I failed to do my work, with certainly some mitigating circumstances, I would flunk out. Additionally, that year created a serious fracturing, when I failed to manage my personal relationship within the family. Fred met me at the door and told me I was no longer welcome in their home. But as importantly, he continued to be my pastor. He was able to separate his roles and he would soon, and unexpectedly have to preach at my brother’s funeral. And he did so fabulously. For the remainder of his life, to my knowledge, he stood by the edict he issued at the front door of their Nash Street parsonage. He was a father first. As I have grown into my own elderly stature, I cannot help by admire his principled stand.

As I grew, returned to college and worked to figure out my meandering path, ironically I would end up in the Twin Cities for seminary. Fred and Ruth had relocated to the cities also as Father Fred moved into chaplaincy ministry. The first fall I was there I would be part of David’s wedding. Before I was out of seminary, as Fred moved toward his own retirement, they would move to St. Peter, MN and as I was studying on a path to ordination, I would be invited to their house for Thanksgiving. During my internship year, Susan, my first wife and I would be invited to their home again, and I remember barely being able to eat as I was preparing for my first abdominal surgery. Father Fred was a profoundly intelligent person; he was a student of both history and theology, but he was also a student of humanity. Next to my own father, I think he understood what made people tick as well as anyone I have ever met. He (as well as Barb and Dave) was (are) the only one(s) to call me Mikey. In fact, Fred preached at my ordination service; that might be the last time I saw him in person. He began by looking at me from the pulpit in that very church he had pastored me almost two decades before, and saying, “Mikey, it’s been a long journey, but you’ve come a long way.” And he was so correct. It was not inappropriate that he was there for the beginning of what would be my move into adulthood (a process in which he has a significant hand) and he was there at the beginning of my ministry in the church.

As I write this, my journey with the church, my own faith journey, has been anything but traditional, and yet it was a profound traditionalist in terms of Lutheran theology, one who understood Luther’s dialectic of simul justis et pecattor? as well as my confessions professors, who nudged me into parish ministry. When I struggled to determine if seminary was possible, if I was worthy or faithful enough to study for an Masters of Divinity, it was a letter from Father Fred who clarified my struggle. In his letter he encouraged me to be open to the call of the Spirit, “even if it meant parish ministry.” It was that letter, from someone who most taught me the complexity of being called, more than anything that led me to St. Paul to begin my seminary studies. As I consider Fred as one of the newest of the saints, I am reminded of how God uses people and circumstances to lead us on our meandering journey of life. Much like the Israelites of the Old Testament, the two years after my stint in the Marine Corps, were my proverbial 40 years of searching for a promised land. Father Fred was the equivalent of a major prophet, a Judge, and the voice of one crying in the wilderness on my behalf. He was the exemplar of the dutiful saint called to call me, to witness to me, to guide me, and yes, most importantly, to father me. If I have any regret, it is my youthful immaturity that created an estrangement from a family to whom I am so grateful. I regret that I have not been able to be more in touch with him during the past decade or so. They had moved to Oregon, and Fred’s hearing was difficult at best. The last time I did speak with him, it was difficult to get him to understand what I was saying. I have been able to keep up on the progression of his journey through both David and Barb, and I was aware of his move back to Nebraska to be closer to the youngest of his children. It is another stop, another step, if you will in my own faith journey to say goodbye to such an influential person. I am, and will be forever grateful that Father Fred was in Sioux City that fall I returned. As noted in our Lutheran liturgy, I offer this, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And perhaps more importantly, thank you for being a surrogate father to me when I most needed it. I love you.

Thanks to everyone else for reading, This is for the father who adopted me in a different way, whether he knew it or not.


Wishing I Knew, then again, Perhaps Not

Hello on a somewhat mixed bag morning,

Much like the sky this morning, I am not sure what to expect from the day. Eleven years ago today, the small town (and it is the only location in Pennsylvania that uses the word town as its official designation) where I live had a flood, which would change our entire semester and move the town to build a flood wall, a project still in process. We would be out of school for 10 days and it was like starting the semester all over. As I read the stories about Jackson or other places where floods have reminded us of nature’s power and fury.

I had intended to write yesterday on what would be the 66th birthday of my closest childhood friend, a friend whose mother and my adopted mother were life-long friends, a friend whose grandparents bought their house from my grandparents. I think you get the picture. Perhaps we were pre-ordained to be friends. We were sort of brothers of different mothers. Peter Gayle Goede was a force of nature because he created a presence wherever he went. And in spite of two older brothers who were amazing in their own rites, he was not to be outdone just because he was the youngest. He had a laugh that would fill an enormous space in an instant, and while he perhaps had a disdain for athleticism, he was as much of a superstar as anyone when it came to his theatricality and his ability to command a stage. I remember being in Sioux City Children’s Theater with him and his still one of the most amazing Jacob Marleys I have ever seen. But it would be his voice that presented an opportunity that changed his life.

We grew up in the poorer section of a town of 100,000 people (and he technically lived across the river in another town, and actually in another state). Ironically that little corner of the city was a hotbed for garage bands, and really good ones. Pete was asked to sing the classic Beatles song “Let it Be,” which was the theme of our high school’s homecoming. He blew people away with his effortless and incredible rendition of the Lennon piece. Not long following, one of those bands asked him to be their lead singer, and what followed would change their lives, and I would argue continues to influence them, even beyond his premature death. I remember the last time I visited him before he passed. He was in a care facility because he could not really do anything for himself. It was quite astounding to see what ALS had done to him in a relatively short time. As we chatted, his voice little stronger than a whisper, he asked that I might take him out for a frosty at Wendy’s, which I was glad to do. I had to put his jacket on, I buttoned it for him, I helped him get in a car and fasten his seatbelt. In some ways it was like Peter was trapped inside a mannequin of himself. As we drove to Wendy’s, he reminded me I would need to feed him, and much for graphically he explained if he needed a restroom what my duties would be. I merely responded, “That’s fine; I understand. No problem.” He stated matter of fact my, “I don’t want to wipe your a**.” I smiled and responded, “ No worries; I don’t have one.” And we both started laughing. Even now I realize how comfortable we were with each other, and I am grateful to this day I could make him laugh as he faced his inevitable mortality. While there were a number of unexpected elements to our day, it was most shocking when he said, almost as an aside, “I never expected to get old.” I had no response, and merely pondered his statement.

Even today, I wonder if individuals, relatively healthy and with little reason to suspect adversity, can by some 6th sense or intuition, have a sort of premonition of their own end of life? If so, is such a sense comforting or disconcerting? How much is reasonable to know and when is it too much? Certainly, there is an element of individuality to this answer. Additionally, it probably depends on the seriousness of gravity of the revelation. As I have turned another year older, living the first full day towards a next birthday, I am positive that age has something to do with it. Am I ready for some soon, even though the sometime eventuality of my existence as a living, breathing, cogent person is there, to happen? Most certainly not! I have much I want to still accomplish. And as an aside, I am sitting at PennDOT in the queue to get a new license. I think I might get through the queue at Westminster to view her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II quicker. I did get my license purchased and paperwork completed, but it was going no to be almost two more hours to get a photo. I will go back another day and to a center more geographically convenient. All of the additional things seem to predict a ridiculously busy coming 7 days. I think that is the reality of life until the end of the semester.

I sometimes wish those who have departed this world could come back from or a week and observe. They might need a day to contextual the present world, but there are two people I would love to sit down and listen to after their week’s observation of where we are presently. The two individuals are my paternal grandmother and my adopted father. The reason for the two of them are they are the opinions I believe to be honest. There is a difficulty because they are contemporaries, two years different in age, and actually cousins. I am pondering how similar their political stances would be. I am imagining my grandmother would be the more conservative of the two. I think this is the first time I have actually considered that. And yet, I would want to know their views and their opinions. My grandmother was a recovering alcoholic, and serious adherent of Norman Vincent Peale’s theory or positive thinking. Additionally she was a small business owner. Those things lead me to believe she was a traditional Republican. And, in spite of the fact both families were helped by Roosevelt’s new deal. Though as a farming family perhaps they did not benefit from all the Alphabet Agency support. My adopted father, on the other hand, told stories of walking with his father to collect rent payments, and taking the money to make sure it got home, ensuring Grandpa did not spend it in some bar before he got home. This, of course, reveals an entirely separate issue that is part of my family’s fabric. My father was a blue-collar, union electrician, who, I am quite sure never voted Republican in his life. He understood social programs, but simultaneously noted there are no free lunches. While my grandmother is still my hero and someone I think I understood, what I realize now is I am not sure where she would stand on some things. I am quite sure as someone who always treated the other with the utmost respect and rejected words or actions that demonstrated such unkindness, she would be mortified by our current National atmosphere. In fact, she would be angry, but note it in her own way. Her phrase was “I am so angry, I could just spit.” That was about as vulgar as she might get. I think I heard her say “damnit” once or twice. In fact, I am sure I would get lectures about my potty mouth.

Ironically, since I last worked on this blog, a few days ago, I was lectured for my potty mouth. And rightly so, perhaps. I am more like Luther personality-wise than I might have realized. To say there is an earthy element to my affect is most certainly true. As I write this, it seems it is time to begin yet another journey of sorts. I have done them before and yet each time seems more laborious. I never know if it part of what is in process or something new, but it is not a stranger to me. I know this battle and I will manage it. Seems time to post.

This is my musical mood on this October afternoon.

The layers of this song are profound

Thanks for reading,

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

Small Events with Large Implications

End of summer

Hello from my back patio on the mini-acre,

It is astounding to me that I am staring straight into the face of another semester, another academic year, and the reality of completing my career in academe, at least in a formal manner. As noted in another post, my more-than-wise father once noted how time will seem to pass so much more quickly as we age. Again he was correct. If I were keeping track, I think he has a perfect record.

As I write this, the world continues to seemingly spin out of control. In an unprecedented action, the FBI has raided the residence of a former President. I do hope this was, and is proven to be, warranted. I do believe it has the potential to create a revolution in this country. However, Attorney General Merrill Garland does not strike me as a shoot-from-the-hip person. Doubtless, the next 90 days until the election will prove interesting. I was a late adolescent person at the time of Watergate, but it is interesting that even former President Trump compared Monday to that event. Certainly, Monday’s FBI actions are no small event. The consequences are multi-faceted and it will be interesting if both our elected politicians and/or the public will allow process to occur. I doubt it as Minority Leader of the House McCarthy has already fired metaphorical shots across the bow of the sailing DOJ’s ship. I am quite sure the spin on either side will happen. I am reminded of a sign I saw in Cape Charles last week. It read: OMG -GOP-WTF. I do not believe the majority of the Republican Party follows lock-step with our former President, but I do believe that the majority of the GOP is about anyone-but-a-Democrat. I also must note that many Democrats believe the Republican Party is Trump before anyone on the left. What all of this means is simple: both parties are dysfunctional. The consequence is not good. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is it keeps the former President in the news, which is what he needs. Enough on that, but that is where I am on the large events, or at least one of them.

Small events, at least on the national or global stage, have little consequence for the immediate as they are singular in their kairotic effect. I experienced such an event over this past 24 hours. Though comparison and face-to-face experience, I was able to see how different individuals can be. Furthermore, it was helpful to compare units and backgrounds. Certainly my choices had more consequence than I expected. Another learning lesson and facing the reality of how in a big picture we are all cogs in a larger process has been clearly illustrated. What I have learned is even though meetings occurred because of the same chances and decisions, those met are individuals, and we need to allow them to be so. The more important thing, which is something I have reminded some of, we are products of our surroundings, of those who raise us. It has taken me hard work to see the good in some of my own background, but I have been able to do so. The clear reality of those influences have hit me in the face this summer. It has been yet another important lesson. As is always the case, there is both positive and negative in the experience, but what we do with all of it is a personal choice. I think more importantly I am reminded of the importance of agency. We have power in every situation. The question is if we know the best way to manage it?

As I think about my life in the academy, there is a great deal of overlap. We too often allow external factors to control not only what we do, but also control our attitudes and emotions. Various constituencies believe they understand both the external needs and the internal processes, legislating changes or mandating actions that have little or no pedagogical practicality. And yet things move forward, and the train picks up speed with little in its way to slow it down. As I have noted in the past, the reality that education is a business endeavor, like most anything else in our free enterprise system, is not lost on me, but neither is the foundational purpose of the academy, which is to teach both the liberal arts (to be a global citizen) and vocational (in Luther’s sense of vocation) understanding, to foster critical thinking skills, to develop analytical capabilities, and to thoroughly prepare students to go into the world to actually make a difference. During the past week I have observed students who arrive early to their semester. What is readily apparent is how unprepared more and more students are to enter the academy. This does not mean they are bad people, but it begs the question of why high school graduates seem more and more incapable of managing basic introductory courses? While the reasons are complex, there are two simple reasons that come to mind: standardized testing and less rigor in high school academics. Behind these points are a myriad of issues, but the small changes turned into larger issues and the issues have created a systemic and profound problem, one with generational consequences. I have former students, ones who made me proud to say they graduated from Bloomsburg University. They have left the teaching profession in disillusionment. That is a devastating thing, not only for them, but for the multitude of students who will miss out on their passion and ability, but a passion extinguished. I know of other amazing teachers who have struggled mightily with what they face daily in their classrooms. I find myself asking again and again, what happened to the best and the brightest going into the classroom? Our current systemic issues have, too often, pushed the best and brightest away because what they will face cannot be justified either by what they will experience, how they will be supported, or what they are paid for their struggles.

The misperception about what it requires to be in a classroom, to offer strong, pedagogically-sound instruction takes more than knowledge. It demands the understanding of students’ abilities and how students are varied in both their ability and learning styles within the same classroom, even in the same row. How can one individual instruction and manage the overall needs of a class at the same time? Even when I have taught a class multiple times, there is more than a few hours a preparation. Likewise, teaching the same material year in and year out become monotonous. Point is I put a lot into a course before it ever begins. I have people ask why I am willing to go to such effort. It is what I believe I owe my students. It is my own expectations to do the best I can..

All of this returns to me to the focusing title. It is all the small things that have much larger consequences when they are accumulated. The lack of critical thinking and careful analysis of a situation leads too often to shallow-thinking-knee- jerk responses. Extreme response by anyone over-simplifies an issue or currently seems to lead to a self-aggrandized belief that one is more intelligent than anyone else. One is more well-intentioned, one is more in tune with the altruistic hopes or needs of the world. In reality, all fall short and the consequence is a country on the edge of catastrophic drought, shorelines that will be swallowed up by rising water, a world where demagoguery and a thirst for power, for a bygone world, creates global instability. Where suspicion overrides cooperation and millions of people die needlessly from the next germ that enters our fragile world-wide community. Where in our communities violence, rage, and hate snuff out another life or twenty because there is so little help for those who struggle with a host of maladies or addictions. If I sound a bit cynical, please know, I am not, but I am hurting as I read about a person who had died before our semester has even begun, or when someone is unstable enough to go around a block so he can run his car into a group of people, who are already grieving, and then after hitting his mother with a car, finishes murdering her with a hammer. These tragedies occurred not somewhere else, but in our little group of towns. It can happen here, or somewhere, or anywhere. The how and why are not really answerable. It is our reality. It is who we have become.

I do believe it is founded in our lack of care and love for the other; it is in our individual failings to consider the other before ourselves. It is a lack of willingness to see ourselves as community. There is so much more we are called to do. Can we see our lives vocationally? What does that mean? Simply stated: can we see our lives as most faithfully lived when we see all we do as service to the other? That is where it all begins. As I begin another year, I hope I can both convince and support my students to be the best versions of themselves, by doing the same in front of them. It is imperative that we begin with small, but potent choices, and practice a life of charity, of providing for, or giving to the other. It is those little things that can revise our current path.

It is continually astounding that I never seem to get everything done I hope to do, be it a year, a semester, a month, week or day. I planned to complete this before the semester began and we are a week in. Currently it is a Monday morning and before 7:30 a.m., and I am sitting in the parking lot of my dentist’s office. I thought my appointment was at 7:00, but better early than to miss it. It is cloudy and humid, and another 90 degree day is in store. As I started this post, former-President Trump’s residence was searched by the FBI. Since then, details, issues both large and small have come to light. More cannot be revealed. What seems apparent is the former-President will do what he does because he can. Little deters him from whatever action or behavior he feels at the moment. Consequence, at least for others, is not generally on his radar. I am not trying to take a political position in this description, but rather to lay out the idea of action taken and consequence experienced. While I am not a particularly powerful person, actions taken, which seem unimportant or only self-consequential seldom are. How I feel, my ability to think and manage after 160 students this semester. In other words, I do not live in an impenetrable bubble, affecting no one. What astounds me, even though I believe I have some political astuteness, is the far reaching power of the Office of the President, and the extended consequence even after someone is in office. It is disconcerting to me as a 60-something that I never considered the long-term repercussions, the profound significance as carefully as I do now. Perhaps that really is wisdom setting in.

As always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Wondering how and Imagining what Happens Next

Hello from the AC of a coffee shop,

It is going to be above 90 again today and in spite of semester-low humidity, it is still quite warm. This is not a complaint because other places are worse (Europe for instance)..I have been on the Harley more than in the big, which improves my mood, but I cannot do everything on the Harley, and fortunately, the bug handles more than I expected when I bought it. As has become a habitual meeting, I met at Burger King with some other gentlemen this morning. It is quite the group, a number Vietnam veterans (all about a decade older than I am). And I might be the only Democrat in the group. You might ask why would I listen to them every day, which is a fair question, but it is helpful to hear both the what and why they believe as they do. I appreciate each of them for a different reason. I do, however listen to our President being referred to in often one-syllable words, and I am quite sure they did not appreciate our former President being referred to in similar language, which I did not do. And over the weekend I had some people for dinner and the husband of the couple noted he voted for the former-President twice. He then asked if I thought I was better off than four years ago, in a Reagan-esque manner. As I did not want to put a damper on all conversation I responded in a somewhat benign fashion, but I did not really delve into the complexity of the question. But all of that leads me to the real question, which is implied in the title. However, I asked this group, many veterans as I am but most a decade or so older, if they believed they had achieved the American Dream? The answers were informative, but their struggle to define what they achieved (or hadn’t as we watch our 401Ks take a beating) was also instructional.

I wish I might have sat with my father and the group of guys he spent every morning with up at Harvey’s. It would have been interesting to see if they had similar discussions. My father was a Roosevelt New Dealer, a consummate Union person, and a straight-talker; he was a hard worker, a believer in earning-what-you-get, and a person who often said, “There are no free lunches.” And he meant it. What I know is my father had a work ethic that informed how he went about his vocation on a daily basis. As importantly, his vocation was his life. What does that mean? First, one must define and understand vocation. It is more than the job or occupation one performs. It is a combination of what they do, how they do it, and, most significantly, why they do it. It is the why that makes it a vocation. Additionally if the why carries across from their professional to personal life, I assert that life itself is a vocation. I believe my father epitomized this reality. Later this year, it will be a quarter of a century since he passed. So much life has occurred since that time. In fact, I have spent 1/3, plus a few years of my life without his physical presence, but he remains a profound influence.

Yet, I digress. While there are numerous things that cause me concern, there are two particular elements of our present world which cause me grave concern. The first seems to be the propensity of those who hold the majority of the wealth to feel so little remorse or demonstrate any sustained concern for where our world seems to be headed (e.g. world health, distribution of resources, or climate issues). And second, and I am not sure if this is a consequence or a pre-requisite cause, it the general lack of civility or belief that decorum matters. To return to the title: with either point one is compelled to question – how did we get here? When considering the first point, it is simple of matter of short-sightedness, or is it more sinister and some innate selfishness that reveals really who we are in our brokenness? The answer to that question is more likely a book, and no singular blog entry. However, the second element of the title is more ominous, more disconcerting.

Certainly, the world (and it is perhaps most evidenced here in this country) seems to be divided between those who are sounding the alarm calling for significant changes across the board, and I will agree, those individuals fall into a more progressive camp. Then there is the other side that believes it is all hype, a chicken-little-sky-is-falling, crock to cover their socialistic agenda. As importantly, there are numerous somewhere in-between, yes, the silent majority, as once coined. What is important is the consequence of the extremes and the in-betweens. The extremes point fingers, the in-betweens generally do not speak out, and nothing (or very little) changes. And I do believe we are running out of time. Yet, this returns us to our initial question: how did we get to the point that debate, discussion, and solution fell by the wayside? Returning to my father, his character, his values, and his willingness to speak his mind, while still listening (at least I believe he still listened) were a hallmark of his generation, the generation written about by Tom Brokaw. Growing up, I looked at Senators, Representatives, and the President as someone to admire. It pains me to say that is no longer the case. And note I made no mention of party. It is with a perplexing, but serious sense of disillusionment, I believe a great majority of our federally elected or appointed people are more worried about re-election versus representing and governing “for the people.” Obstructionism has replaced governing.

I think about my students, some graduated a decade, or maybe even two ago. I met with one this past week, who was one of my students my first year at Bloom. Now living in Idaho and a mother of three, she is a teacher. She grew up in Central Pennsylvania in a small town. Probably more conservative than I in her background, her statements seemed more left than I expected her to be. How did that happen? It was probably a combination of things. What I thought most telling was her willingness to question most everything, but I should not be surprised. She has always been a questioner. I think of students who have also come from a more left-leaning background, or even a more socially dependent situation l who have become more conservative in their own actions and views. How do those metamorphic progressions occur? I think the answer is quite easy. They are exposed to new things and they are encouraged to question and think.

Enlisting into the Marine Corps as a 17 year old certainly caused some life-long changes in me. They are still a significant element of who I am. As importantly, meeting a new pastor and his family directly after my discharge was life-altering. Spending significant time with a cousin before going to Dana had consequence. And yet, it was Dana, Humanities, and Parnassus where I learned how to think, analyze, and integrate that gave me the willingness to open my mind to leaning and listening. I am quite sure I had minimal, if any, comprehension the questions posed by all those Danish named (and a few non-Danes) professors would do to change my life. Those examples inform my own teaching to this day. When my students ask how I came up with such a question or they tell me they do not even want to begin to ponder where the question might take them I know something good is happening. I am a firm believer that my main task is to teach students how to think, not what to think. It is the ability to think, ponder, and analyze the situation and consequences (both short and long term) that seem integral to democracy surviving. What happens next if we fail to have civil debate? Believing that disagreement is wrong is a way to quash democracy itself. One of the most significant things I learned at Dana was the importance of understanding the synthesis of all the elements of our world and how they created the foundation of citizenship. As one of my current colleagues argues so passionately is the importance of the liberal arts, of the humanities. She is correct; the education we received at Dana, grounded in the three-semester humanity’s sequence, prepared me to be a citizen, one who believes that globalization is world citizenship.

Part of that citizenship began with my study abroad with Dr. John W. – it was 40 years ago that occurred and I made my first pilgrimage to Denmark. The picture above is my Danish exchange student and his family who have returned to visit. They have been delightful in more ways than I can count. Another irony is Anton’s mother was a high school exchange student in Iowa decades ago with a Dana classmate, who married a floor mate. What are the chances? It is important to me for more reasons than the irony. It is an amazing example of the connections we have as a human race. What I do in Bloomsburg has consequence for someone is from Humlebaek, Denmark, and they know of someone who lives in Georgia, but who grew up in Iowa. What can we do to show this matters? Make choices that have knowledge and appreciation of the larger responsibility we all have for our world. Hard to believe we are into August this week, the summer is fleeting. This video is a reminder of our globalism.

Thank you as always for reading


Lacking Friendly Skies – Grateful for Friendly People

At the Colonial Palace Air BnB

Hello well before 5:00 a.m.,

I am in the Charlotte/Douglas Airport after arriving and waiting until almost midnight before getting to a hotel. I was asleep not quite three hours and then up for a taxi back to the airport. Originally, I was supposed to already be in Costa Rica yesterday, but as noted across the news, managing any semblance of order for a flight schedule is unlikely in our current world situation. This is not just an American airspace issue. Globalization is a reality and as humans, we are all in the same situation. In spite of the revisions to my schedule I made it to San Jose, Costa Rica in one piece. I was mad at the airport by Jamileth; she has been an incredible host. She has served as my tour guide, my driver, my translator, my problem-fixer, and a wonderful conversationalist. We have both had to work on our other language, and that has been a good thing. Mr. Galán has often said to me you must speak your Spanish, you must practice. El es correcto.

Last six days in Costa Rica have been nothing short of overwhelming. Much like my visit to Russia three years ago, I have found that age has created more caution and perhaps more trepidation. It is the bit troublesome, disconcerting, and even frustrating , but nonetheless real. In spite of the difficulties, it seems that somehow I still manage. Perhaps it is because I am honest with people about my fears and genuine with my limitations. This is, however, his significant change from even a few years ago. The first two times I went to Poland, I was more on my own, but not fearful. I have no doubt if I would not have been so cared for this time, I would not have accomplished or experienced even a quarter of what has happened in the past six days. Perhaps one of the most amazing things is meeting three people who love and care for each other deeply. There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it at that. as I read this, I am on the 21st floor of a high-rise in the capital city, San Jose. It is a beautiful site as the sun goes down and the lights begin to twinkle across the city; it is also like any bustling capital city of sounds: horns honking, sirens wailing, and the general white noise high above the streets. More importantly, it is full of people trying to live their lives and make a difference for those they love. In the past two days, I have met such a wide variety of people, from partiers celebrating the bachelor’s final days as a single women celebrating their 50th birthdays. From young people working the tourist trade in Tamarindo to two octogenarians, both Europeans, who have spent the last 16 years developing their lives in Costa Rica. They might just be the most amazing couple I have ever met in my life. I will travel to Costa Rica again just to see them. I I’m quite sure that Jami is the best driver I have ever ridden with. It doesn’t matter what kind of road it is how much traffic there is or what the weather is she will manage it and she manages it with precision, incredible ability, and grace.

And with all of that, I haven’t even touched the reason for my coming to Costa Rica to begin with. As many know, I have pondered possibility of moving here upon retirement. The reasons for that are many, and I have spoken about that quite honestly. Now, I am looking at specifics or there is not a lot to consider and plan for. There’s a great deal more rolling around between my ears at this point, but I need to think, There are still many unanswered questions, and important ones. There are long-term plans I must ponder and try to figure out. On the other hand, I have to be up and out at4:15 in the morning.. that is early, and it will come soon. Therefore, additional writing here will have to wait.I think I need to get some rest.

The morning began early, but Jami was on time and managed to get rerouted with some morning issues and get me to the airport in plenty of time. I am in the Charlotte airport at this point, and I believe it is the first in the last four or five times I have been to Charlotte and it is not a massive cluster because of storms. At least at this point, the sun is shining and everything is on time. Yay! The flight to Miami was without incident and likewise to Charlotte. I am hoping that writing such a thing does not serve to jinx me. We will see. As I ponder the trip to Costa Rica, there is so much to consider. I think I have a path forward, but there are questions to ask and things to ponder. During my last full day, my incredible driver/tour guide/translator/somewhat-security-blanket took her son and me to the Irazu Volcano. What an incredible place. In my reading about it, there was a two year period (1963-65) that the volcano was continuously active and erupting, That is incredible, but you can see the consequence some 60 years later. It is the darkest, most fertile soil I think I have ever encountered. It does note that in the placards around the place. I think the Charlotte airport is the airport I have spent the most time in during the past decade. It is a really busy place, but a well-designed, welcoming, and enjoyable airport, if airports can be such a thing.

As we are past the 4th of July holiday, it is common that the rest of the summer will fly by. I have some other things to plan yet, and more visitors to come. Additionally, there is a significant amount of school work, on a number of fronts to manage. While I did not really consider the past week a vacation, I guess it was. I did some thing that have long-term implications, but on the other hand, I had some relaxing time. Again, thanks to Jamileth, the time traveling was much less stressful. I guess that made it a time of visiting and experiencing with no real requirements. So again, I guess it was. On the home front a couple of tasks I have been hoping to have completed happened. I am excited to see it and work on that little project. It seems my plants have done well due to the excellent care of another of the Deckers. It is not the first time I have worked with one of the family members when I have been out and about. So . . . what was most amazing about Costa Rica?

I am not sure I can answer that question quite yet. I had some incredible food, which I am always up for. I had some truly exceptional experiences in Air BnBs, and I am convinced that is the way to travel. As the continuous thread in this blog illustrates, having a tour guide/driver/translator who was beyond helpful, knowledgable, and capable was foundational to making my trip successful. Being honored to meet her children was beyond anything I expected and incredibly enjoyable. Both of them are really intelligent and personable. I think there are two things that stand out at this point: first, is the diversity of the country in terms of climate and geography. Second, perhaps it was the incredible rain everyday. I did have fun from the catamaran trip to meeting Michael and Elisabeth, the octogenarian Air BnB hosts in Puntarenas, one from Germany and one from France, I think those were the highlights of the trip. I was also honored to meet the extended family of my tour guide, who is, of course, related to someone I know in Bloomsburg. The reality of six degrees of separation continues alive and well. I can say, however, I did not meet one single person I knew. That is surprising to some, I am sure. While I had heard the term Pura Vida before, but I did not know it was a central term in reference to Costa Rica. It is perhaps the equivalent to c’est la vie. I have to say that people were nice, and indeed, the vibe was pretty open and accepting. Each time I travel somewhere new, I learn so much, not only about people, but about myself (a slight delay on my flight, but all in all, manageable).

Well . . . as seems to be the norm, I have new experiences, new opportunities, and new friends and acquaintances. I am continually blessed by the people I meet. When I learn the stories of others, I am in awe of their lives and what they know, what they manage, and how they live in the moment. I am reminded of Mr. Galán’s comment to me always, “gracias por el moment.” I think the past two years have caused us to forget the moments. We have been so worried about the world, about society, about interaction, there was little time to consider the moments we experienced. My time in Costa Rica acquainted me with an amazing land, with amazing people, and with wonderful possibilities. Tomorrow, I will be back to more regular moments, but they are moments just the same. Because I often add a video to complete my post, I am doing it again. This video, while not about Costa Rica specifically is about the amazing Latin culture. And it is two years ago almost to the day, Naya Rivera passed.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin