Life Marches By

Hello from my office,

It is a bit after 9:00 p.m. and I have spent about 20 hours or more the last two days working on my Winter Term online Technical Writing course. It is amazing what we have available in terms of technology and how we can reach out, from either direction. It is so much more manageable now from when I first taught those online classes at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. While some things remain the same (and it is not the song), certainly technology has made bridging the gap that exists from the missing of regular lecture much more possible. I remember teaching classes from Sturgis and from California, and while I made them work, there was an intentionality demanded of everyone involved. Some of that exists still, but the ability to do things because of apps, software, bandwidth, and other options in a Course Delivery Tool, or Smartphones is exponentially ahead of where I was a decade ago. I remember when I was interviewing at Stout being asked if I had taught online. My answer then was “no,” and it became sort of basic fare there, when I arrived at Bloom, that was not the case. However, it is just now beginning to take off here like what I experienced in Menomonie. One of the things that does remain the same is the amount of upfront work that is necessary if you are going to do more than merely take a traditional class and throw some technology at it.

I had great intentions of finishing this in a day, but that did not quite happen. It is now Christmas Eve day. It has been an unpredictable week; between unexpected house guests to working on class, from shopping to organizing things for next week, it seems my days have been packed beyond anything I had planned for. A very different experience from either 20 years ago or three years ago. The idea that life passes us by, or certainly keeps marching on, whether we choose to be part of it or not, has become increasing apparent to me. I remember sitting in Lydia’s room three years ago keeping watch over her as the last days of her life were becoming more and more apparent. That Christmas Eve afternoon, as she lapsed in and out of some sort of consciousness, she began to point at the corner of her room and speak in Polish. I asked her if George was there and she shook her head yes. She understood my question; I followed up with another question, “Are you ready to go home?” She looked at me and quite emphatically shook her head no. She would live beyond the time I had to spend with her. In fact, I prayed on New Year’s Eve Day, while in Krakow, Poland, George’s homeland, that George might convince her it was okay to let go. She passed on New Year’s Day. Twenty years ago my father was quickly losing his battle to cancer. He would pass away on the 28th of December, which was barely more than a month after he had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember having three church services to officiate and preach that day. The prayers were brutal and while I had held it together during the morning service up that point, I could maintain no longer. My voice wavered as I began to tremble and I could not hold back my tears. I remember the congregation being so understanding and supportive that day.

As I am now on Christmas Day, I have come to my office to do some much needed work for both my Winter Term class and to get as squared away as possible. Last night was a long night again. I have managed to get a double ear infection and my left ear would not quit draining the entire night. It did it significant job on my stomach and I am struggling more than I certainly wish I was. In addition, the flu shot seems to have done more to my stomach than I have ever had before. I am wondering if it is a combination of the shot, the infection and 1750 mg a day of an antibiotic. I was invited to Christmas dinner, but had to decline. I did spend the morning at the Decker’s house. It is so fun to watch Caroline and Rosie; they were so excited to see things and to share their experience. I love watching Max and Mary, who are not only siblings, but good friends. They cooked the most amazing dinner for us last night. It was fabulous. What was more outstanding was their excitement in doing it. It again reminded me of what can happen when two people care about the other and are willing to cooperate and work. There seems to be so little of that in today’s world. Our selfish and self-indulgent behavior, which is modeled at all levels of our country and world, make even the most small, but kind gestures seem almost miraculous.

That is what brings me back to my favorite Christmas memories. It is simple. On Christmas morning, we loaded the car with the presents that needed to be taken to Grandma’s house and it was the beginning of a most wonderful day. My grandmother was a loving and giving person, more so than anyone I have ever met. She never seemed to give with an agenda. She gave and shared what she had out of the profound love that seemed to be instilled in every pore of her being. Walking into her simple and humble house on Christmas Day was like walking into a fairy tale. The aromas from the Christmas dinner, the smell of all the freshly baked breads, rolls, and pies (she owned a bakery) were what greeted your nose as you walked into her house. What greeted our eyes were her smile and opened arms happy that we were there for Christmas. As we carried in our gifts and our dinner offerings, there were hugs, kisses, and a feeling of warmth and joy I have seldom felt since. When we made it through the dining room that had a table and buffet that had more food than anyone could ever imagine, we would walk into the front room that was the width of the house. At the far end, always, there was the most wonderfully decorated tree and more presents and gifts than one could fathom. We would add our wrapped packages to the menagerie of presents and soon dinner would begin. We sat in our same seats generally and aunts, uncles, and cousins were there to complete the day. My grandmother and her elder sister, my (great) Aunt Helen used their South Dakota farm background to cook a meal that was unequalled to this day. There was everything you could imagine for Christmas dinner, and it was prepared to perfection. It was not flashy, it was just plain, but it set the standard for me and the rest of my days.

After dinner, my older brother, who played an amazing trombone, my younger sister, who was the vocalist, and me, a pretty decent trumpet/cornet player would do a short Christmas program where we handed out small Christmas song books and we would do a sing along where my brother and I created the music and everyone else sang. It was a sort of yearly Christmas gift back to those there for the day. The picture for this blog is that song book. As we aged and became more accomplished musicians, I think we actually felt really good about what we offered for the Christmas Day festivities. I think as I look back that we felt it was our gift to our family and beyond. I am glad to think about that. As I am typing this, I am listening to George Winston version of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” narrated by Meryl Streep. It is one of my favorite pieces; you might one to find it on YouTube. What does it mean to be real in today’s world? In the story, it is about being loved. I think that is really the message of not only Christmas, but of life. What does it mean to be real? What does it mean to be truly loved? What does it mean to be a little child? I think we need to hold on the that little child with all our might. Over these last days I have watched someone who has lost that childhood and so much more. Knowing them since they were a child, it has been difficult to watch and try to help. It has been incredibly painful to see the hurt in all of them.

It is amazing what seems so insignificant at the moment can have such profound effects on us. I have always realized that in my own background (and many of my previous blog posts address this) how some of those events still affect me and how I understand both the world and myself. What I have learned is that we always have an option. We can continued to be victimized by our past or we can learn from it. I have worked hard to do the latter. Yet, the question persists, do we ever get beyond those things? It is sort of like our ability to forgive. We are imperfect. I think our best example of forgiveness is when we no longer let the past events control our reactions to that person. That is not an easy thing to accomplish, but it is incredibly important. When we hold on to those past hurts, those difficult events, we are held back from living our lives in a healthy productive manner. I know this because of my own background. It took me literally decades to get beyond some of it. So much wasted time on hurt, sadness, and being bitter. In my last blog I noted some who have hurt me and how it is difficult to get beyond some of that, but I need to do so. To hold on is hurtful and it serves no good purpose, but to make me sad. In fact, I made myself send them a Christmas greeting because all the positive things they did more than outweigh the issue at hand. Grudges can decimate our spirit and our sense of hope. That is what I have witnessed first hand too many times during these past days. People I love deeply are hurting because of things in the past. We cannot change that, we can only move forward.

That is what Christmas and the spirit of the season is about for me. Much as my grandmother was willing to give beyond measure and then give more, she exemplified that it meant to love unconditionally. Lydia had much of the same heart, and while she did not show it as readily, it was there. She cared deeply for so many things and she was so intellectually astute about so many things. I think what saddens me the most is her fear of the unknown ( as well as things that had so influenced her understanding of the world) created a sort of reclusiveness she never overcame. As I sit in my office at a computer and listening to Christmas music, much like I did three Christmases ago, I still miss her. I miss her accent asking when I came around the corner or into the house, “Michael, is that you?” Lydia, indeed it is still me. It was such a different thing to see where you lie when I came back to Menomonie this past May. It was such a difference to see what was happening to your house. I am not sure you would approve, but I am sure that they are trying to bring the amazing house into the 21st century. They have a great dane, and I am trying to imagine you meeting him. I think his name is Sam or something like that. He weighs like 160 pounds. You could ride him. I can see the look on your face when I tell you that, but I think it is true.

I want to get this posted, but there is much more I could write. What I think I want to leave people with is the realization that life keeps moving and if we let it, it will most certainly pass us by. This is what I have tried to keep from happening. Tomorrow for the fourth year, I am headed back to Eastern and Central Europe and this time with even more students. I will be visiting two new countries: Slovakia and the Ukraine. I am excited about those possibilities. There is so much world to understand and there are even more things to learn. That is what my first trip to Europe as a sophomore in college taught me. There is so much to absorb and ponder. So much to realize that is beyond the borders of this country. So much culture and history. I am blessed to go back again to learn something new yet again. I will leave you with one of my favorite scenes from the movie On Golden Pond. Chelsea, the daughter has struggled with her father all of her life.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish each of you who celebrate this holiday a Merry Christmas. To my other faith friends, I hope you can feel the love I have for you on this day and all days.

Dr. Martin

 

Half my Life Ago

Hello on Friday Evening from my office,

I am finished with what I think my mind can manage for the evening, but I would still like to get a blog posting out before I go home. It has been a busy, but productive week, but things will now be slowing down anytime soon, probably in May . . . unfortunately that is the truth. Literally one half of my life ago, I was laying in a hospital room in Coon Rapids, MN after my first major abdominal surgery because of my Crohn’s. I was 31 years old and I had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis about two years prior to this event. I remember being so groggy and the room was dimly lit with one small light. I remember a friend had left a small stuffed animal that was hanging from the IV pole, but I could not make out what it was. I was not in pain yet, but that would soon change. It was also my mother’s birthday and she was still alive at that point. Little did I know that I had probably had Crohn’s for my entire life, or as early as when I was 7 or 8, according to those gastroenterologists who know me today. Little did I know that while that surgery seems pretty radical to me at the time, I would have so much more to come. Little did I know that my eventual surgeries would turn both my own self-image as well as what an ex-wife could manage on our heads. The picture above is me about that time a few weeks before I would have that first examination.

Today, that half my life ago seems so much more than merely a mile marker. It was the point that my life, as I have noted in a paper, “took turns I could have never imagined.” My own struggle with self image as a person afflicted with an IBD and the consequences for my digestive system still confounds me more than I can sometimes manage. It has caused me to be seemingly, endingly single. It has caused me to fear how others might be willing to accept my limitations. It has haunted me when I still can hear the voice of an ex-spouse telling me she could not feel comfortable sleeping in the same bed with me and later telling me she was tired of being married to a wimp. While I have made some important progress, I still have fears that shake me to my core. I wonder sometimes what my life would have been had this not have been my fate. I wonder at times if there might have been something earlier in life I might have done to understand what was coming. The drugs that are available today for so many were not invented when I had my initial diagnosis. There were not the options to keep me from the battery of surgeries I endured from 1996 to 2012 (11 of them to be exact). What I know is there was not a lot that prepared me for what would happen that January of 1984 when what seemed to be merely the passing of a little blood to only two months later I would land in the hospital for the better part of a month. That was not anything I expected or even really understood once it happened. Then again, I am not sure knowing at that point would have changed much.

I remember when after additional surgeries in Mayo-Scottsdale, Mayo-Rochester, I would realize that all the hope I had placed in specialized surgeries seemed dashed, I was back to the merely exist and try to imagine some other option. I remember in 1997 when I had a surgery that created permanency of an ileostomy my PCP in Houghton told me he was glad that I finally had taken that step because all the same day procedures and other issues we had tried to manage (which were unsuccessful) were never going to work. I remember when seven years later another surgery was undertaken to continue to manage all the sources of infection the earlier surgeries had probably created. My attempt at being a guinea pig had certainly been successful, but the results of the surgeries less so. As I ponder and remember all of the events that have taken up so much of this second half of my life, what I realize is somehow I have still managed to accomplish other things. I did finish two Master’s degrees and a Ph.D. I did manage to get two tenure track positions and have been quite successful in the second of the two. I have continued to manage other parts of my life and accomplished quite a bit. That being said there are places I feel I have failed, continue to fail, and wish for something I am not sure will ever happen. Part of that imagining is because we are again headed into the holidays. Part of that is wondering the what ifs and those things can always be a bit overwhelming. Generally I am quite content with what I have, and in fact, I really have more things than I need. I do know that is more truthful that I might even want to admit.

However, it is generally around this time of year, I find a particular melancholy that haunts me sneaks up again. There is both a blessing and a curse to my singleness. Much of the time I am content because it has offered me an ability to come and go without too many difficulties. It has given me the option to travel and be involved in my job, spending many more hours than are perhaps even healthy, but it has kept me content with what I do. Earlier this year one of my former students from UW-Stout asked me point-blank why I really never date anyone. I gave her the laundry-list of things that I use to explain my solitary existence. Her response, not surprisingly, if you know her, was that I am a f-ing (she did not use it in this form) chicken. While I admitted that was part of it, I do not think I was completely honest with the degree to which that is true. Perhaps that is because at times, I am not sure I even know the degree of accuracy myself. Earlier this evening, I was out with to Summer PAs and we had an interesting conversation about this. It was, perhaps, even a bit helpful to hear their perspective. What is true for me now is I am not sure I have the desire or energy to put into such a thing that would create such a significant change in my life.

Sometime ago, actually already three years ago, in the time before I was seeing someone who is an amazing lady, and I have spoken about her before in this blog. She is attractive, smart, has amazing integrity, is a wonderful mother and grandmother, and was very kind and thoughtful. Yet, it seemed there was not an option to go beyond a certain point. It is also possible that I ran away to some degree, even though I believe I was the one willing to go all in first. It is hard to believe it has been that long. We actually spent time together for some years, but I think I wanted to have more things figured out than she was ready to have figured out. Perhaps, and this is certainly a possibility, I did not pay close enough attention. I am quite sure she would not have moved to Bloomsburg, and it did not seem she was ready for me to move there. I know that my buying a house here was probably my change into what I believed to be the best long-term plan for me and my position here in Bloomsburg. To this day, I know she is an outstanding and amazing lady. What made any possibility with her seem possible is she knew all my medical issues and, in fact, had lived some of that with me earlier in my life. There were a multitude of other path-crossing, some even more ironic than one could ever believe, but they all allowed me to be unafraid.

Fear is an amazing thing. I see what it does to some of my students. I see what it does to people on a daily basis. I think overcoming fear is much about what we are seeing happen with the avalanche of revelations each day it seems over the past month or two. I had the most interesting conversation with my freshman students earlier this week. I asked them to give me their understanding of the differences between sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual assault. I was a bit shocked at how recalcitrant they were to respond. Particularly when some of them have been so conversant at times about other issues we are facing as a society. What I believe to be true is there are few adult males who can honestly say they have not been involved in some behavior that makes them guilty of one of these three terms. I realize that what is considered acceptable now and decades before might be different. I believe we have culturally turned a corner, and the ironies of that change could be an entirely separate posting. What I hope has happened is that first we are becoming painfully, but need-fully, aware of the change that needs to occur in our society. I have referred to it in a couple places as “puritanical religiosity.” What we say we believe in public and what we do in private, or in some cases, not so private, need so be more consistent that it is. We play the Christian- conservative- holier-than-thou crap in what we say, but when no one is looking, watch out. That is part of the disconnect I see in the present issue with Roy Moore in Alabama or with a President who can be recorded on more than one tape about what he is able to do, as well as be accused of sexual impropriety my more than a dozen woman, but they same Christian conservatives voted for him. Perhaps we have reached a time when we are forced to be honest with our failings, with our misogyny, our patriarchal practices, and realize that women are humans with merely a different reproductive anatomy, but they are humans that should be treated with dignity and respect. Have I always managed to do so? Simply put: I have not. There are certainly times in my early adulthood I should have behaved differently. At this point, I am not sure any male wants to have his closet cleaned out.

What I know is I certainly have worked much more diligently in the last years to make better choices 100% of the time. I mean this literally. I have worked diligently to treat others, all others, with dignity and respect. While I have had students to my house, live in my house, and spent significant time with them (regardless of gender), I have worked tirelessly to treat them with the respect I would hope anyone would treat a son or daughter with. Amazing what I have learned this second half of my life, and there is so much yet to learn. I am still working on that part. As I finish this blog, I am grateful to all the people who have supported me with such love and care this second half of my life. I wonder at times what it would have been like to have all my insides, but that option changed on a cold Minnesota December night have my life ago. The good part is I am still here. The better part is I am blessed and have a wonderful life. Lonely at times, but perhaps I will do something about that. We’ll see. Finally, Happy Birthday, Mom. I hope you are doing well wherever it is you are. On a lighter note:

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael

Disunity and Disrepect

luther 1

Good morning on a significant week in world history,

I imagine you could make this claim about almost any week, but I will offer an explanation as to why I make such a claim. A half of millennium ago, a German monk, one who had hoped to be a lawyer before a lightning bolt induced change of vocation, posted 95 points of debate on a castle door. Those points, once again fueled by a kairotic moment in printing history, created as much of a unexpected seismic change in history as perhaps an election did almost a year ago might end of being. It’s not particularly comforting for me to compare the event of something (or the someone) I admire to something (or more someone) for which I profoundly struggle, but the parallels are somewhat obvious. There are ways this could probably become an interesting political study; there are certainly ways one could argue it’s an indictment against the powers that be, and in our present dilemma, in both directions. I believe the election of the business-person-“turned”-politician (and the quotation marks are by all means intentional) has created just as much of a seismic change nationally, if not globally, and perhaps galactically. Before you think I’m just being hyperbolic allow me to explain as you read on.

As I pick this up this morning, the headlines shout out that another mass killing, this time in a church in Texas, has occurred, the most lethal event, up to this point, in the Lone Star state. Is it possible that there is a connection between the two last killing sprees and that both states have some of the least rigorous gun laws or enforcement in the country? Is it even within the realm of possibility? This morning, the headlines also note it is not a gun question. Yet guns were used yet again. I understand it is about people, and this one had a history of domestic violence (and a record of such), but was able to obtain semi-automatic weapons. So the law is in place, but it seems, yet again, that it is too easy to circumvent the law. There needs to be better enforcement, certainly, but why do we need such weapons? Why is that not a reasonable question that deserves real consideration at the Congressional level? To take General Kelly’s question  and words and push it a bit further . . .  while I believe there is no place reasonable (outside of a military confrontation) to kill another, shouldn’t a church be considered particularly sacred (pun most certainly intended)? The dearth of information about this person and the red flags that occurred, but somehow not managed is nothing new. All the checks in the world are shown to be ineffective again and again as people are able to purchase not merely a weapon, but a semi-automatic weapon that has the unparalleled ability to be tremendously deadly in a very short period of time. One can make the argument that another gun frightened him away and led to his eventual demise. Welcome to the NRA and their protection of the almighty gun. This ridiculous approach to justifying our willingness to accept yet another mass shooting as constitutional protectionism simply must stop. Taking away the ability to purchase or own semi-automatic weapons and charging anyone who has one with a felony and the loss to have any weapons would be a good start. Not having AR15s or similar weapons is not an attack on the 2nd Amendment, period. The reasons and arguments I can make to dispute any of your “right to bear arms” bullshit is ready. Merely ask. I am tired. I am tired of making excuses. Any thoughtful  NRA member should not be against reasonable gun control.

However, back to where I began. Luther, for those not aware, did not plan to break away from the Roman Catholic Church, he did not ever expect, I am quite sure, that some 80 million people would use his name to describe their faith. He would not have probably been comfortable with any such idea. In fact, after the Edict of the Diet of Worms, if you were accused and convicted of propagating Luther’s ideas, you were required to forfeit all of your property (Wikipedia). Luther questioned power, but not merely to question power. He questioned, offered arguments about, the misuse of power. When power is used unethically, to fail to question it allows for abuse. To fail to question it undermines the very fabric of human decency because it mistreats or takes advantage of those who do not have it, hoping to merely benefit those who do. As some of you know, I am a penchant for questioning this sort of power mongering. I have done it in the past with some pretty dire consequences, but this is not something I can abide. As Lord Acton, the British historian and moralist said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He certainly did not invent the idea of power creating chaos or difficulty, but he is credited with this specific quote. Ironically, for me, the first place I saw such power used was by a Lutheran bishop. Questioning the power of him at the time, and even confronting that power by my own action created an interesting result. When I tried to resign the clergy roster because of what I felt was poor leadership (and this is a simplification) my resignation was not accepted. When I made a serious mistake the bishop actually said, “Now I am in the drivers seat and I want your resignation.” Those two events were only weeks apart. Luther’s willingness to question the power of the Catholic Church was not without danger, and anyone who knows the story knows that after the Diet at Worms, he was given an imperial ban, a co-issued ban by the HRE Charles V and the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Leo X. What this meant was if you found Luther you could kill him on sight. Welcome again to a serious problem and an wonderful example of two people with the most power in the 16th century world and what they were willing to do. This is a combination of church and politics and at that time pretty well covered every element of human existence. In the Diet (another word for trial), when asked if he would step back from his proclamations which questioned authority on a number of levels, he responded, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” The more infamous words attributed to him are probably not his, but they sound impressive. They are “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” More likely after leaving the hearing room he said something more important. He pronounced, “I am finished,” However, Friederich the Wise, the elector of Saxony and his protector, had other plans and that is how Luther would end up hid away in the Castle at Wartburg.

Certainly there have been reforming movements within the Lutheran Church, and, again, anyone who knows the denomination knows it is fragmented and there are a number of issues still discussed and questioned from the beginning. There are questions about the interpretation of scripture, of the role of women in the church, of our ecumenical ties and the list can go on. In fact, I am not sure Luther would be very impressed with how fragmented we have become. There is a second Lutheran for whom I have great appreciation. He is the person on whom I wrote my dissertation, the German theologian, scholar, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is the person who not only questioned Hitler and the Final Solution, but when the church did not stand up strongly enough, he was willing to become a double agent and was eventually hanged for his role in the plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. Bonhoeffer, in 1933, still believed that authority and order were the very things needed to limit authority. Yet, what Bonhoeffer intuitively seemed to know from the outset was that Hitler would use his power as chancellor in a manner that would create (or perhaps force) the abdication of order and power that belongs to people based on their decision to form a society to begin with. Bonhoeffer would say that when such a situation occurs, the leader becomes the misleader. Paul Tillich, another skilled and renowned theologian had written (in 1932 before Hitler became chancellor) “A Protestantism which is open to National Socialism and repudiates socialism is in the process of once again betraying its task in the world. Apparently obedience to the statement that the kingdom of God is not of this world it shows itself to be . . .  obedient to the victorious powers and their demonry” (Evangeliche Kirche zwischen Kreuz und Hakenkreuz).

Questioning anything that our government does today is deemed unpatriotic, and that trend is something that has been around from the beginning of the country, but it certainly seems more infelicitous than ever to question. Arguments have been made that the 2004 election that actually elected George W. Bush to a second term (yes I realize the inference here) was a referendum on whether or not we could hold him accountable for his tax cuts that moved us from a surplus economy to a debtor economy again (hmmmmm . . . . anyone seeing a parallel with what is currently occurring) and claiming a necessity of war based on WMD, which also helped tank our economy. As I write this, it is election night and a number of my colleagues, who are full-time faculty have thrown their hats into the political realm this election and at this point, one has been elected (I cannot find results for the other two raises as this point). I am glad to hear that it seems two states’ governorships will be in hands that do not support the isolationist, fear-mongering national tenor of our politics. I believe that our President was elected for a reason, but I am not convinced the reason might be what most think. In spite of his claims, I do believe he lost the popular vote. In spite of the fact that Hilary Clinton seems to have done more to railroad the primary that we might have thought, I believe we ended up with what we perhaps deserved . . .  I know that is a bold and difficult statement, but perhaps what is most important for me is having Donald Trump as our President has forced some soul searching. It has created a degree of scrutiny that has probably never been witnessed in our national politics. I know there is both a positive and negative to all of this, but there is a certain kairos in that too. Social media, the very thing that might have elected him is now created a profound difficulty for him, and much of it is due to his own 140 character nonsensical, preposterous tantrums. Should I be surprised that he has already tweeted that the Republican candidate for Governor in VA “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for” (Fox News). Could it be that the people of Virginia are simply more supportive of Governor-elect Northam? Could it be that this election is a questioning of the direction our national politics are going and this is a way to stand up and question that direction? It is always dangerous to read more than one should into other things, but I believe the more significant danger is to become comfortable with our current politics that allow for the politics of division and hate to triumph over the believe that all people matter. I believe the more insidious danger is to become comfortable with a President who demeans and lashes out against anything or anyone who questions his position or authority. I believe we are better than that as a country. I believe the dream of the founders of this nation held on courageously and selfishly to the dream of a country where each person mattered and each voice or vote truly counted. I was unfortunately not shocked them 90% of my freshmen students did not find it important enough to vote today. I am not shocked when people do not take the time to ask questions and then complain about the consequences. I, however, cannot sit idly by and allow such a treacherous path to continue unabated or unquestioned. I will continue to be “a spoke in the wheel,” one that questions; one that squeaks; one that looks for justice in a time where justice seems to be an ideal rather than a practice. I refuse to allow the language and the rhetoric of a bully define who I am as a citizen. Perhaps we needed Mr. Trump to understand what we do not want for our country.

Thanks always for reading.

Michael (another American citizen)

Kariotic Moments and Small Potent Gestures

Good early morning,

Over the last hour or so (it’s 4:30 a.m.), the first fall wind and rain storm blew through. It was windy enough to wake me, and not totally unexpected because it was breezy as I made my home after last night’s late class to a grown wind and latte summer humidity. It was warm enough to open windows upstairs before going to bed and I might have left a door or two open also. The wind for the even cooled the house nicely. I love fall storms because they remind me of my time in Houghton and up in the Keweenaw, where the power of the largest of the Great Lakes made it readily apparent how minuscule our human strength against the fury of nature was (and is). As I listened to the gusts this morning, which were quite evident, I tried to imagine what 170 mile winds of Hurricane Maria might be like. I cannot begin to fathom it . . . the minutes turn into hours, and the hours into days, and then to weeks . . . again, I am still hoping to work on this. It is about 48 hours later and a lot has been accomplished. I am about  95% caught up in my grading. I have a bit to do tomorrow, but one of those kairotic times is upon me. Promotion materials are due next Wednesday and I am not even close to being where I need to be, so the marathon begins this evening. I got some other things done and the few remaining will be breaks as I move forward in this process to move to the next level.

I remember doing this for tenure a few years ago and just wanting it all done. It is something I need to slog through and it is simple as that. So . . . in my typical fashion, I am clearing my head before I have to concentrate on this daunting task. I know that people do it. I know people are doing as I am. There are moments that stun us, moments that leave us speechless, and moments when we are confronted with the reality of our lives (or the lives of those around us), which force us to step back and realize what matters the most. I have had two of those events this past week. I am always sad when people are dealt a hand that seems overwhelming, certainly unfair, and can only elicit one response when we hear the news . . .  something like “Shit . . . are you kidding me?” and you know deep in your gut there are no words, no emotions and quite simply nothing that is adequate in any communicative response. That was what I heard from a student this morning. It is how I felt when I read about two of my former students who have faced either illness or accident that has changed the course of their lives. It is at those times, the voice of the Psalmist rings out most clearly to me, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It seems that if such words were adequate for Jesus on the cross, perhaps they are  the best I too can utter at such a time. As we need into the fall season, I am reminded through the longer enveloping darkness that there is a coldness that will come. There is both a sense of longing for the light, but, more generally for me the appreciation, of a sort of melancholy that accompanies a windy, autumn evening. As I noted the other night it was a sort of storm . . . gusty winds and rain, but a coldness and reminder of what is yet to come in these Northern climates.

It was a milder summer than I can remember here in Northcentral Pennsylvania. The grass is still quite green and that is months longer than usual. It has also cost me much more than usual to keep things on the acre looking reasonable. Actually the leaves are just beginning to change, but the colors seem a bit more muted than usual. I guess that is okay. What I am realizing with the hectic schedule of the fall, I have not made it to Jim Thorpe once, and my somewhat yearly tradition of the Elysburg Haunted House might be broken this year too. Why? The Kairos of Promotion as I will call it. What has happened in the almost 5 weeks since Shiama left is I have used home again as a place to sleep, shower, and collect mail. It is amazing how when someone is in my house, I feel much more balanced and healthy. Those who have been reading know I had some significant vitamin issues earlier this year. I am almost two months without a B12 shot and I can tell. I just took my first Vitamin D in over a month and again, I can tell. It just seems like my office, which I love, becomes a black hole that keeps me from getting as much done as I should. I think much of it is certainly my own fault in that I need to prioritize and do what many of the other faculty do . . . guard my time a bit more carefully, but I have not really figured out how to do that effectively. I still struggle to say I cannot do anymore. I do not think it is about letting people down, but rather it is about lifting people up and trying in some small way to make a difference for them as others have done for me. This is what Cynthia Selfe, the chair of the Humanities Department at Michigan Technological University when I was a graduate student there, called “small potent gestures.” They are those thing that occur at that kairotic moment which make a profound and noticeable difference in the life of “the other.” I have been so blessed to have people do those things for  me in my life, often when unexpected and most certainly mostly when undeserved.

This past week, whether people imagine it as such, and there will certainly be discussion as to whether this address deserves such attention, but I believe it does. For a sitting Senator to question the leadership of the President of their own party in such a public way is unprecedented. I did some  research and the last time a Senator stood in such stark contrast to another within their own party was not about the President, but about another Senator. In 1950, Senator Margaret Chase Smith (ME-R) took on Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) during the Communist Accusations, which led to the filing of what was called the “Declaration of Conscience.” While I am not a Senator Jeff Flake fan, and mostly because I do not fit the AZ conservative Republican mold . . . really, you ask?? 🙂 . . . I do think some of what he said about what we need to do in terms of our discourse and the urgent need to be more civil in what happens being it individually or nationally rings true for me. It pains me to see how we have become so uncaring, so self-centered, so unwilling to look beyond our own selfish hopes and desires. Whether it being something as simple as holding the door open for the other, offering someone a hand when their hands are full, or giving out of our simple having when the other does not have, it matters. It is that small potent gesture that might give another hope when they feel hopeless. What pains me is the willingness to attack the person with whom we have a disagreement rather than be willing to understand why they might see the issue differently than we do. This rude, callous, and despicable behavior, which I must agree does seem to emanate from the very person we have elected to represent us, does more than embarrass me. It has the ability at time to leave me disillusioned. I fight that daily, but there are times I find myself questioning if we have been debased to the degree there is no return. It is interesting that two Senators used that very work this past week, both Republicans.

At the very least, Senator Flake should cause us pause. What do we hope for ourselves as a nation? What sort of world do we leave for our children or our grandchildren? I might say, it does not matter because I have no children, and hence no grandchildren. I might say it does not matter because I have accomplished so much more than I ever imagined I could. I might be tempted to say I have done my work and as such, I can leave it up to those who will follow, but that is not how I roll, to use the vernacular. It brings be back to something that has found its way into my cranial pondering as of late. What do I have yet to accomplish that is not self-serving or perhaps selfish? More important in such a question is who decides? Again, I am reminded of how lives change and paths unpredicted become the norm. On Monday when began this blog, I can recollect, and perhaps pause in anniversial (is that a word???) manner. On the 23rd of October 1988, I was ordained a Lutheran pastor. As many know, much has happened since then, but today’s encounter with a student and health reminded me of that caring role and hope that often is such a part of pastoral care. It is 29 years since that ordination. That day I was so overwhelmed with the reality of the event and what or who I was, I was physically ill. Interestingly, the 31st, it will be 500 years ago that Luther nailed his 95 thesis on the Castle door at Wittenburg. I remember it was the 500 anniversary of his birth when I was in East Germany to visit that place. Luther knew his gesture was potent, but I doubt he understood just how potent it was. That Sunday in October of 1988, I remember clearly as my fellow classmates, already ordained, as well as the Rev. Frederich Peters and the Rev. Dr. Greg Witte laid their hands on my head and I listened to those words. I remember my best friend, who is no longer alive, singing John Michael Talbot’s “Prayer of St. Francis” and my listening to those words. The kairos of that moment is not something I will ever forget.  I am grateful for my friends, particularly Susan, who has always supported my identity, even after leaving the clergy roster, to see me as someone still called. More than a small gesture on her part, more than she might begin to fathom.

This past week as I walked around, I felt a certain loneliness. I felt a certain sadness in a sort of failing way. While the creating of the map assignment for my students was difficult for some of them, it allowed me to see just how many, in spite of their imperfect and perfectly human families, cared and loved their parents so deeply. Certainly there were families in which estrangements are occurring; certainly I heard some things that cause me to see how complicated their lives often are, especially outside the confines of my class. Yet, even for those who struggle with things, the love and care I felt in some of their words give me hope. Perhaps there is more to the world than the discord that seems to cover every inch of a news source, be it online or hardcopy. Perhaps people do think beyond the 140 characters that epitomizes the verbal capacity of our somewhat frightening leader . . . to those who support him (and I support and respect the office, but I am struggling to do the same because of some of what he has said and done) please accept my apology. What I know is in spite of all the good and less than, I have been blessed and amazed by the grace of that which I do not always understand. For the moment, that is good enough. With that, I leave this version of that amazing song for you to hear. This specific video of the song generally brings me to tears.

Again, as always, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

“An American Child”

Good early morning,

It is shortly after 5:00 a.m. and as is typically the case, or so it seems, I am awake and my brain is racing along with possibilities than what seems reasonably conceivable to me. What is reasonable might be the first question to ponder. As I get up most mornings, or more accurately awaken, I read three to five different news sources,  from ones referred to by “my” President as “fake news” to the one that should be called “the President’s friends.” Why might you ask? Because I think I need to listen to a variety of voices and then decide where I stand. One does not think critically unless challenged to do so. As I work with more than 70 freshmen writing students this semester, it becomes more and more apparent to me (and this is my own opinion) that our public school system is in dire straits. We are not teaching students to think critically; we are not teaching them to think beyond the obvious and analyze the learning situation; and finally we are not teaching them how to connect their learning to something else they are learning or to make connections across disciplines and situations. We seem content to teach them to memorize or to learn to jump hoops to manage the standardized test that somehow demonstrates they are capable. The consequence is students who are very nice and want to do well, but the tool box they have from which to draw their tools or skills is pretty sparse.

Yet, I find myself conflicted. Certainly we have a requirement as their professors. We are to take what comes to us and prepare them academically, socially, and critically to enter a world that is in a most precarious position (again, my opinion). The current fight between the reality of globalism and the somewhat knee-jerk reaction of nationalism (or nativism as it was called this past week) has two incredibly powerful philosophical ideas of what we how we are to proceed to manage this complex world that is interdependent, whether we like it or not. I have witnessed this not merely here in the United States, but when I was in Ireland last year the Brexit vote was in process. When I have been in Hungary or Poland, or read about some of the neighboring countries, the struggle to become an accepting world of the other versus keeping to ourselves is dramatically apparent around the globe. Just today in Egypt there is news of difficulties; Turkey has had its own issues and some of my former colleagues from Wisconsin have been affected by that. Students in our universities are unsure of their status because of issues in their own countries or the third iteration of a travel ban, which has been challenged again by Hawaii. What is the world we are preparing our students to enter? How do we understand it? What does our obsession with technology and how it is being used as evidenced on an almost daily basis done to how we understand ourselves, our world, or what we can believe to be real or truthful. The irony of the revelation that the Trump family themselves posted information from the Russian infiltrators, which was genuine fake news, did not go unnoticed by me or many others. The overwhelming propensity to jump on anything posted and use it within our own context or for our own partisan viewpoint has made anything posted suspect. What are the consequences?

The consequence is there is no trust. There is no decorum. There is little possibility for a national conversation, or forget national, even interpersonal one-on-one conversation with someone with whom you might have some fundamental difference in opinion (please note I merely said opinion). We cannot seem to have any opportunity to discuss most anything because we have to win; we have to prove we are right. The consequence is a fragmentation beyond anything I have witnessed in my life. And yet, I am that American child. What does that mean to me? It does mean I had opportunities that many in the world did not, and still do not, have. Even though I was on a third family by the time I was less than 5; even though my biological parents were probably not the most suited to be parents; even though I struggled as an adopted child for many reasons I have laid out in earlier blogs, I had opportunities many others did not have. What I know now, as I am older and as I noted there is more of my life behind me than ahead of me, is there have always been people who were kind enough to lend me a helping hand, people caring and generous enough to offer me opportunities that would not have been available without their help. I di grow up in a time that even blue-collar, poorer kids on the Westside of Sioux City, Iowa believed in possibilities. We believed in that American dream, and I am quite sure that most of our parents hoped we might have opportunities for success that went beyond what they had experienced. I have often said that I innately understood that my parents wanted me to go to college, but they did not know how to help that occur. They thought it mean merely get good grades, but even then they were not sure what constituted good grades. I think more they saw good grades as scholarships because they did not have the money to help me get to college. In fact, they had no idea what the cost was. I remember many years later (almost 10) when I was a senior in college finally and my mother could not understand why I had to work or seemed to be broke all of the time. When I told her how much it cost me per credit hour to take classes, she told me I was lying. When I showed her the costs, her response in utter disbelief was, “How can you afford to do that?” My response was, “How can I afford not to do that?” Costs back then are a mere fraction of what students are paying now. The investment in education is astronomical, and the competition for a position after college is certainly more extreme.

Yet, most of my students believe in that dream . . .  I believe the dream is a bit more difficult to imagine for students today. I believe the dream is a bit more illusive, but is that a good thing or a bad thing? That, I believe, depends on the person. When the dream is more illusive because of one’s social economic class it saddens me; when the dream is more illusive because of someone’s birthplace or status, the color of their skin or their gender, their sexual identity, it causes me pause because then the dream is limited to the few and in contrary to whom I was raised to believe we are as a country of opportunity. Again, before you want to jump on a particular bandwagon, I am not trying to stand in opposition to our laws or points that seem to be touch-points for argument. I could certainly argue that I am one of those who had to work much more intentionally to make my way out of a blue collar neighborhood. Again, before you think I do not respect the trades or unions, you have not read much of what I have written about my journey electrician father or older brother, or two nephews. You are not aware of my summer jobs working in packing plants, co-op fertilizer elevators, harvesting wheat, waiting tables or bartending for 2o years. As I write this I am sitting in a Starbuck now, in Chantilly, VA, guests of yet another culture of people who have blessed me. Egyptian/Sudanese and as I have watched the people coming in an out I have seen Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Black, and I am probably the minority. Those things actually do not frighten me, they give me hope.

What I believe being an American child gave me was hope. It allowed me to dream of possibilities and options. It allowed me to be proud of a country that seemed to be a beacon of hope not just for an adopted middle class small boy from NW Iowa, but for the rest of the world. My first trip to Europe as a student, as I have noted before, allowed me to see the world as a place to learn, a place to explore and realize how the centuries of history in the Vatican, in Aachen, Lubeck, or Copenhagen had a connection to what I was learning in Blair, Nebraska. What I realized in that trip, which was the consequence of the generosity of Harold and Dorothy Wright, was the world was a walking history book that need to be absorbed and learned. As I have been blessed to be on the other side now and take students to Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Austria, and Slovakia this time is to realize how much Central and Eastern Europe has to offer to my understanding of our changing world. I have mentioned more than once, I am not sure I had any idea what the future would hold for me, and even at this advanced age, I am not sure. What I do know is it has been quite a journey and one that I do believe being the American child offered me a sense of perspective and opportunity I might not have had. Because of the generosity of a little tornado, I am able to now help others. I am able to offer opportunities that go beyond what I knew at that age. It is ironic that it was not an American native, but one who came to America to continues to bless me so I can bless others. Amazing how life works . . . but it continues to do so. With that, I offer this video.

As always thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin (that Riverside child)

In spite of or To Spite

Hello at what is the continuation of a brutal and crazy week.

I am trying to understand how we have become a country who has found it possible to no longer care about the less fortunate, unless it is a headlining emergency, who no longer opens ourselves up to protecting those who are placed in situations, often not of their own making; and how did we become a country who sees “the other” with overwhelming disdain and suspicion? Before you begin your conversations about executive amnesty, following the laws of the land, or some other sound-byte-piece-of-crap used by the present administration and our bigoted Attorney General Sessions, you can see how I will respond to that attempt to justify what seems to be the latest embarrassing “twitter-storm” or bullying response by the President or some of his elitist, entitled cabinet or advisors. Further it to say, in terms of DACA, President Trump believes this will force the Congress to act within the next six months on some kind of comprehensive immigration reform. I will note that I might even want to agree with that logic, if Congress could exhibit some kind of logical process in their actions regarding immigration (or anything else). Note, I actually somewhat agreed with the President on this course of action. It is actually a place where he acknowledges the balance of powers. Yet, both Presidents George W. and Obama have proven that is a tough sell (in either getting Congress to do their job or the balance question). The bipartisan Gang of Eight, as they were known, are yet one more example of reasonable attempts in Washington (there is an oxymoronic phrase) to deal with an important issue that, in typical-Washington-fashion, fell apart. I am pretty sure the President thought what he did as a business person would automatically work like it did from Trump Tower or on The Apprentice. Perhaps all those who somehow voted for him were as delusional, thinking they all collectively knew or expected the same. He continues to respond and tweet away in a manner, which to me exhibits he is either also delusional like his non-thinking, non-wavering, somehow-still ardent supporters or, more likely, he simply does not care what people think. I am getting to the point to expect the unexpected, which transforms unfortunately into nothing can be unexpected from the pumpkin-head with blonde hair, or whatever color that is. Whether it be DACA, his promise that he is draining the swamp, as his cabinet spends and then justifies 100s of 1000s of dollars on flights (yes, Price resigned, but Mnuchin justified), or blaming Puerto Rico and the mayor for the consequences of two devastating hurricanes, he is simply following up on another bigoted, racial promise or treating people with the same disdain and disrespect he campaigned on. Why are some so surprised? Even more so, why should we be surprised that  we have become more the actual nationalistic, “other-hating,” country that epitomizes the less than popular-vote winning minority that elected this ass? As I have told most people as I address this elephant in the room, I am sadly and simply embarrassed.

This week we have faced yet another tragic issue of someone using a number of guns (and many of them semi-automatic and legal along with what is called bump stock  ~ twelve of these devices were in the shooter’s hotel room – Fox News 10/3/17). As I noted on my Facebook page, I am not against owning guns and I am not trying to speak out against the Second Amendment, but I am quite sure that the authors of the United States Constitution had not an inkling of what we could come up with for firepower when they spoke about “the right to bear arms.” It is still amazing to me that what seems to be common-sense gun law restriction should be considered an attack on a person’s right to bear arms. If a semi-automatic weapon is legal, and automatic weapons prior to 1986 are legal as I understand it, why shouldn’t a 50 caliber be legal or an RPG, or a frickin’ Howitzer? It is the same logic. The point is, we do have restrictions and people still seem to own a lot of weaponry. According to research by Christopher Ingraham, a former researcher at the Brookings Institute and Pew Research as well as a reporter for the Washington Post, he estimated that in the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, the number of guns in the hands of citizens of this country actually outnumbered the population of the country (October 5,  2015 ~a bit ironic on the date). His article went on to chart by 2013, the number of guns was actually larger than the population by 40,000,000. Yes, you have read that number correctly. The article appropriately asks questions regarding attrition (which is more complex than you might think), but also noted that the increase in number of firearms produced between 2009-2013 went from 5.6 million to 10.9 million. That is astounding. The perpetrator of the Las Vegas tragedy had 23 guns in his room and he had purchased 33 rifles in the past year. I do understand some people collect guns. I had an uncle who did so. What I also know is studies indicate places that have more guns (be it municipalities, states, or countries) have more gun related violence. Seems like a somewhat reasonable cause/effect. Again, the Economist magazine in early 2015 ran the following quote on their pages.

Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard [mass shootings] the way one regards air
pollution in China: an endemic local health hazardwhich, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic andpolitical reasons, the country is incapable of addressing.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary teared up, and appropriately so, in the press conference the day following the massacre, but then said it was not appropriate to address issues of gun control at the present time. As Jimmy Kimmel, again appropriately or aptly, questioned, when is the appropriate time? Why was it not appropriate after Columbine, or Virginia Tech, or when a number of 6 year olds had their bodies pretty much blown apart at Sandy Hook? When is it appropriate? When is a good time? How many people do we need to continue to lose?Perhaps listening to the life-long, gun-toting, NRA-supporting, guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band, a person named Caleb Keeter, said it best, “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with [Concealed Handgun Licenses], and legal firearms on the bus,” Keeter wrote. “They were useless” (Emily Yahr, 2 Oct 2017). As Chris Richards, another reporter for the Washington Post wrote, “Country music aspires to tell the story of real life in America, but American life continues to feel unreal.” The headline of the piece was “Country artists have the ear of American gun culture. They need to speak up” (2 October 2017). But at what cost some will say? The NRA is powerful, powerful enough to castrate the Republicans, who have kissed the ass of the NRA as they sit the Congress, and this has been shown again and again. To consider gun control a national health hazard, like bird-flu or some more lethal kind of cancer, as noted above is asinine. And yet, that is what we seem to do. It is embarrassing (and it was difficult for me to explain to our Russian Fulbright scholar, but it is also inhuman, unconscionable, and beyond thought. For many, and a number who claim, “I am a conservative Christian” and proclaim their faith in a loving God as they line up for carry and conceal permits, it is beyond hypocritical.

Ironic that was referred to as pure evil. What is pure evil? Furthermore, the person who claimed it as such seems a bit less than trustworthy in their own right. It brings to me a larger issue and back to what I titled this particular blog . . .  I am sure that some are asking where is God in all of this? It might be easy to find myself in the position of one of my philosophy colleagues who argues there is no God. It certainly seems that God might have been on a coffee break or a vacation or something. I do not mean this to be flippant, if it sounds so, but I think we are often prone to question where is God when terrible things happen. I have my freshmen students reading The Book Thief this semester. If you have not read it, both the book and the movie are well done. I find them particularly intriguing because the omniscient author is death. Yes, again, you read that correctly. What is amazing is by the end of the book, or the movie, you find yourself sort of liking the author. Death seems almost personable. Some will argue if you are going to argue for the ultimate good, conversely, you must allow for the ultimate evil. Is pure evil death? Is there a possibility that death can be somewhat compassionate or kind? I know in times of unbelievable suffering death is considered compassionate or preferable, but is death actually an entity? Could it be this way . . . “Liesel Meminger lived to a very old age, far away from Molching and the demise of Himmel Strasse. She died in a suburb of Sydney. The house number was forty-five — the same as the Fiedlers’ shelter — and the sky was the best blue of afternoon. Like papa, her should was sitting up. In her final vision, she saw her three children, her grandchildren, her husband, and the long list of lives that merged with hers. Among them, lit like lanterns, were Hans and Rosa Hubermann, her brother, and the boy whose hair remained the color of lemons forever” (Zusak 543-44). Will death be so kind? Is God there?

What I know in my own piety is I do believe in a God and my gift of a housemate for the past weeks, for me, is the only proof I presently need. It is hard for me to imagine sometimes how this God works. It is frustrating to me that I cannot figure it out more. These might seem to be strange words for a former Lutheran pastor, but I will argue it is precisely because I was that pastor that I find much of this so inexplicably frustrating. When I saw people die and had to comfort them and promise a sense hope when that death seems completely random and unfair, I found myself questioning God. When I had to speak with the mother of a two year old diagnosed with virulent leukemia, I questioned God. When I had to explain to my 4 year old nephew and 3 year niece that their father would not be coming home anymore, after dying at 26, where was a loving God? It is not surprising that the words of the 22nd Psalm seemed more appropriate than any words I could offer. How does God work then? Back to the housemate. Little did I know that a young 18 year old beautiful brown Egyptian girl in my class would continue to be in my life. Little did I know that somehow, through twists and turns in both of our lives, we would continue to remain in touch and grow to appreciate each other more completely, trust each other more profoundly. Yet, that is precisely what happened. Little did we expect that she would need a place to live during a rotation, or that her older brother would come to check on her because this young amazing single Sudanese/Egyptian Muslim would be staying in a house with an aging single white male Christian, and he was unsure of her safety. She was not pleased, and I was amazed and humbled by the love I saw of an older brother for his younger sister. I had little idea, in spite of all my reading, about the five times of prayer for this young Muslim with her prayer carpet and shawl, but I was fascinated, and once again, humbled to know more. It is amazing to me that God (or Allah) works in spite of us . . .  yes, there is always a bigger more comprehensive thing going on, and sometimes we get in the way, but it will still come to pass. I believe now that Shiama’s accidently being in my summer class six years ago was for a much larger reason and that reason continues to manifest itself in our lives. As she left last week, I think I cried harder than perhaps I have at any time since my grandmother passed and that was 40 years ago. Perhaps it is because I am older. Perhaps it is because I am more keenly aware of what it means to have someone so blessed and beautiful in my presence. Perhaps it is because I realize my own finitude in ways I did not before. Yes, God works in spite of us, and the plans He has for this creation go beyond our understanding. As the passage says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways.” So true . . .  be it what is happening in our country, how we seem to treat those different than us, or how we continually decide that guns seem to be more valuable than human life (and yes, I am aware of the controversial nature of that statement, but it’s what I seem to see). While God might work in spite of us, I am afraid what might happen if he chooses to work to spite us. Maybe death will be more compassionate than God.

I leave you with the following video to ponder . . . the ironic nature of it is intentional

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Being Blessed

مرحبا على السبت الأول الجميل من الخريف,

or in letters more of you can read, Hello on a beautiful first Saturday in Autumn. If I were to transliterate the Arabic above it would read: marhabaan ealaa alsabt al’awal aljamil min alkharif.  Language fascinates me. I tell my students regularly, learning another language or even studying another language will change your world. It opens doors, promotes understanding and provides an opportunity to begin understanding another person, but much more than merely recognizing and translating their words. That understanding includes a more inclusive realizing how they think and seeing what they value. I have finally come to know what it is I wish I had done with my education and where I think I might have truly been most satisfied if I had studied something in particular, not saying I regret what I know or what I teach in any such way. However, if I had a chance to begin again, I would study linguistics  and I would want to be moderately fluent in as many languages as possible. If I were independently wealthy, I would travel and try to live in a country for about two years to learn their language to at least a degree in which I could communicate and speak with the native population more than just adequately and then move and do it again. I love how words, word order, sentence structure, or issues of syntax, etymology, and dialect can reveal so much about both an individual or a culture.

I have a colleague who amazes me by his ability to move seamlessly between cultures and countries because of ability to speak multiple languages. He is the most adept polyglot I have ever met. He is also a former medical doctor and specialist. That raises an entirely separate issue about people who immigrate here with professional degtrees, and their credentials are often not accepted here, and that can be anything from engineering to law to most any kind of medicine. They bring so many skills and levels of ability, talent or expertise, and it seems all too often we ignore or merely discount what they bring. This is both arrogant and foolish, or at least it appears so. Even if we required some sort of trial period or internship, which might still seem a bit elitist, at least it provides some opportunity for them to continue to use and offer their particular expertise to their new homeland. In addition, we have a skilled group who often is bi- or tri-lingual. This would be a much better use of people, and also give those who come a sense of welcome and appreciation versus an attitude of “you offer little,” and we are doing your sorry-ass a favor. How foolish can we be?

As previously mentioned in my more recent blogs, I have had the opportunity and more accurately the honor to have a house guest the past five weeks. It truly is an honor to be trusted by the extended family to have her in my home. She has brought such joy and a sense of comfort and goodness to this house. Those who know me, know I have worked diligently, and thoughtfully, to create a welcoming space for anyone who visits, be it for a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks. I have had people here for a few months. Again, I have noted there are also times when I enjoy my solitude, and my ability to close the world out, while still providing access to the outside, but only if and when I make a decision to do so. However, the last five weeks have been such a positive thing, I must say, I am not looking forward to her leaving. She has made my house feel like a home in a more profound way than perhaps I have ever known it to be. She is gracious and hard working. She is polite and thoughtful in everything she does. She asks for nothing and is instantly ready to give. She has been the ideal house guest, housemate, surrogate daughter, or blessing I could ever hope to have. We have both gotten to know each other more completely, more openly, more, profoundly, which was expected by both of us, but more effortlessly than I believed either of us could have hoped for.

This weekend, the extended family came to visit.. What a fabulous thing it has been to have three generations of her family here. Yabba, as their father or grandfather is called, is a stately, slender, and kind gentleman who loves his family with all of his being. He has thinning hair, if you can see that high because he is very tall, a gray mustache and twinkling eyes that express both wisdom and mischief. While he wears a hearing aid, do not believe for a second he is not cognizant of what is happening around him. He has stories and he was a wise, albeit too kind, businessman at times, or so it seems. It was both an honor and joy to meet him. His daughter, and the mother of my house guest, is an outstanding story in her own right. She has endured so much more than either her appearance or demeanor would ever reveal. She is the center of the family in any way you might consider. She simultaneously cares for Yabba, who has some serious issues, and is, of course, elderly, and she keeps better tabs on four offspring than I think even they realize. It is evident she relishes her role as both mother and daughter, but she is so much more. She is a faithful member of her community; when she visits, she brings enough wonderfully prepared food to feed a regiment, and she is always in control of her situation. After spending the weekend, she had purchased everything she could imagine to take to her next destination where her two sons are living. Finally, a sister and cousins were here. While they are certainly a normal family with personalities and some bumps and bruises, what was most evident was an abiding and unifying love that was the core and center of all they did. It was fund to hear so many speaking Arabic, though I understood basically nothing. They were the most gracious house guests one could ever hope to have.

It is hard to believe that a five week rotation will be ending in less than 48 hours. While I was excited to have my former summer student come back, there was a sense of surprise when it got here. Not because of the unexpected, but rather because I knew, in many ways, what to expect, but the surprises were to learn more about Islam, and, perhaps, more significantly, to see this person for whom I have such great respect, live this faith (with amazing faithfulness, I might add) and understand more fully what it means for her to be Muslim. We both believed we would learn to know each other more completely through sharing a living space together. While the truth of such a statement is obvious, the reality of what that means is still being determined. What it has meant for me is that having a person to share my house once again has made it a home. As noted, she is almost the perfect house guest (at least for me and my idiosyncrasies) because she is incredibly neat, communicates what she is thinking and doing, and totally self-sufficient, but willing to work together on things. I will miss her more than any words can express. Her rotatioN has been trying and demanding, but not surprisingly, she has managed it well, and I am quite sure her final evaluation will be quite stellar. I am glad she has felt comfortable enough to express her joys and concerns about that experience. I think my being a professor and academic has offered insight at times she might not have had. I have tried to do some little thing each day this week and through out conversations, I think we have both grown to appreciate and love the other in ways that make our surrogate father/daughter bond something all that more profound than it already was.  Ertainly a strong bond was there before she arrived in late August. Now it is beyond what I think either of us imagined. Not that we walked in imagining anything in particular, but now I think I have been blessed to become part of another family. Blessed beyond measure as the saying says. Before her grandfather left, he hugged me and thanked me for caring for his granddaughter; before she left, I was invited to accompany them to Egypt. What gifts I have been given by such amazing people.

As I write this I am reminded that 40 years ago I lost my own grandparent, the grandparent who had been my mother, my protector, my supporter. I have written about her before, but it is hard to believe that it was 2 score years ago. I am approaching the age she was when she passed. I remember at that point thinking she was not that old, but certainly old enough that death seemed to be a reasonable possibility. It is so much different as I approach that age. I noted in a recent blog about decades and one of my newer students let me know quite emphatically that I should plan to be around for more years than a decade. That is sweet of them to think that. I find myself imagining life in the more finished that ongoing manner, but that is not to say that I want to be finished. There is still much to do and much I hope to accomplish. I think the difference is I do not feel as if I have not lived life. I do not feel as if there are things I have to do, but rather they are things I hope to do. That is a good thing, or at least I think it is. I still remember receiving the call that my grandmother had passed. I was in Ames, Iowa and it was just months after the loss of my older brother. It was stunning to me, but it was also the first time in my life where I had to be accountable for what seemed to be a rather benign choice. I had promised her I would visit her the last time I was in Sioux City before I returned and then failed to do so. I did take the time to call her from a phone booth (remember those?) on Highway 71 in Carroll, IA before I got back to Ames, and I am glad I did. Before I would get home again, she passed away. I was devastated by that loss. It was warm in the cemetery that day, much like it has been this past week. I remember crying and sobbing more than I ever had before, and probably since.

Amazing how our lives move us forward and simultaneously remembering the past. I am blessed by so many things in the present, but in looking back, those blessing that have had significant influence on me in the past also come to mind. I am much like what Norman Maclean notes in his final words of his novella, A River Runs through It. He wrote what is in the video below. It is one of the most profound scenes in any movie I have ever watched. The book is equally magnificent. I am grateful to Timo Koskinen, my former colleague and friend, and somewhat of a mentor to me, for introducing me to the novella.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin