Wishing for and Believing in Better

Hello from my office,

It has been an incredibly busy Monday (it is about 2:15 p.m.) and I have another 7 hours to go. I got to my office before 8:00, but there is still more to do than it seems possible in terms of managing it all. I will do it, but I know before the day is out, I will be a bit tired. I smile at those (too often state legislators) who argue we only work 17 hours a week, which is our 12 hours of teaching and our 5 hours of office hours) and that we are paid way too much for what we do. I would love for them to follow me around for a week or so. . . . I did not get far on this yesterday, and the morning has also gotten away from me, but I continue on. It has been a busy morning and the positive is students are coming in for help. Sometimes I think things are clear and logical and then I find out not so much. I assume they realize and make sense of so much more than they do. It gets me in trouble. This struggle can be about something as simple as an assignment; it can be as important as paying attention to how they pay attention to directions that are constant from semester to semester, but affect their graduation. Yet, the lack of careful attention to detail sometimes exasperates me, but then I feel curmudgeonly. The more difficult thing is we can tell students what is necessary; we can meet with them, but then when they wander down their own particular path, we are called upon to fix it. And I do not necessarily mind that, but when I get in trouble for things about, or over, which I have no control then I get more than curmudgeonly. I have often said, (and it is quite easy to prove) that I can get in enough trouble on my own, I do not need help.

As I wrote these words the other day, the day would improve. Amazing what a walk and some classical music can do to lower the blood pressure. Later that evening as I glanced at the calendar and the time, I realized it was 43 years ago almost to the minute since my older brother had passed away after a five week struggle from a TBI and lying in a coma.That evening is one I can run through my head as a sort of slow-motion movie. It was also the first time I ever witnessed my father crying. It was the first time I really understood the finality of death. It was the first time I believed I had prayed unselfish prayers or shed unselfish tears, but to no avail. I had experienced death once not long before that, but the death of a person I did not know as a family member did not affect me in such a comprehensive, overwhelming manner.

Back then I had only started my meandering academic hike, with little preparation, and even less sense of where or why? Much like a person who decides to wander up a trail with no idea of where it goes or what the path holds in terms of difficulty or danger, I had enrolled as a forestry major at Iowa State University. I was not a stellar high school student. I had little discipline and even less focus. Those ingredients were a recipe that could only end in failure, and that is what happened. Yet, at that time (1977) the cost attending a state university as an instate student was so minimal that I actually made money as a college student. How foolish I was to squander that opportunity. Perhaps what I learned, and learned appropriately, I might add, is how not to be a student if I wanted to succeed. When I came some to Sioux City from Ames that February night, I would be forever changed by the death of my older brother. I would return to Ames only to leave college and secure my first job in the food and beverage industry. I would work harder and perhaps more professionally, and more disciplined, than anytime I had ever done in the civilian world. While the Marine Corps had certainly taught me discipline, I could not really see where that brand of intentionality fit in the world where the primary color was olive drab. Of course, I was wrong, but I was also arrogant and foolish. Again, quite significant how 40 years of life changes one’s perspective.

It is that 40+ years that allows me to both worry, and simultaneously, find a sense of optimism in the daily truth-is-stranger-than-fiction reality of our current national conversation. As I listen to my students when they actually put the energy into thinking and analyzing, I find incredible hope that we might survive the narcissism that seems to characterize our President’s daily twitter feed. I have mentioned in other blogs, I do not believe he is stupid nor do I believe he is evil, but I do believe his foundational, egotistical, belief that his intellect and power provide the opportunity for him to do anything and everything he desires without consequence causes me grave concern. The fact that he has the political right following after him like the legion in the New Testament running off the cliff is more astounding. The actions of the Senate, and within the last 24-36 hours of the Justice Department regarding the Stone case should be another canary-in-the-mine moment, but I am unsure that can help under the spell of the Party of Trump. While there might be an element of awe in what he had pulled off in a little over 4 years, I am more concerned with the long-term consequence of the transformation I see from this period. Retired Marine 4-star General, and former Chief of Staff, John Kelly has been pretty vocal about the firing of Lt. Col. Vindman. What is most difficult for me as a Marine veteran is the way the President thinks he can use his office as Commander in Chief. He continually demonstrates how little he knows about decorum, esprit de corps, honor, country and yes, all those things that Jack Nicholson said so passionately in For a Few Good Men. Before you think I agree with all aspects of the military, I do not, but I can tell you that my time in the USMC made me a better person. It instilled in me an incredible sense of patriotism, but not a blind sense of follow at any cost. It provided me with a discipline, that sometimes I fail to employ, but nonetheless taught me to manage things  I would have never be able to without that Marine training.

As I listen, read, and ponder the daily news (and I will note that I listen to things I find repugnant, but I need to know what is being said), I cannot help by struggle about the depths to which it seems we have fallen as a populace. While just this afternoon, the Attorney General has noted the President is making both  his job and the job of the DOJ more difficult, he has supported way too many of the President’s outrageous positions about our judiciary. You cannot have it both ways, particularly with our current President. The acquittal of the President by the Senate has given him a green light, and he seems to have gone from 0-60 in about 3 seconds flat. Incredible! and yet why should this be surprising? When you have a narcissistic ego-maniac who has spent his entire life bullying people now located in the Oval Office, which gives him only more power (as well as a Republican party that has sold out to Trumpism), how could you imagine anything different? As I have worked with the students in the rhetoric class, I have asked them to hold their own impeachment trial. I can state unequivocally they have been  been more professional and thoughtful than anyone I listened to whose address is currently in the 20003 neighborhood. Last week, two of the three who spoke were incredibly measured, thoughtful, and structured in their arguments for where they stood. I will hear more from the third tomorrow, but I know that person to be capable and thoughtful if they do their work.

Perhaps the more important point to consider is what is necessary to get better as I argue I am wishing for? What constitutes better? I think better for me is more polite, more accepting, more reflective, more beholden, more benevolent. Each of these terms speaks about how we treat or consider the other. There is that term again: “the other.” Everyone is the other if you think about it. There is no one quite like me, and that is probably a good thing for many and various reasons. More polite would go a long ways in changing the tenor of our conversation and how we respond. Accepting would give the other an opportunity to demonstrate the gifts they have to share. Wisdom is the fruit of reflection: this saying is on the back of one of the buildings here on campus. Nothing could state it better and we are certainly in dire need of wisdom in a world of 280 character philosophy. Thinking and reflecting a bit more before spouting off might eliminate much of the furor that seems to be flying in a tornadic manner on a daily basis. To be beholden to the other means we are our fellow person’s keeper. That does not mean we are completely unfettered in our responsibility, but we do have to consider how what we do has consequences beyond ourselves. None of us lives in a vacuum. None of us has the right to do whatever we believe possible merely because we can. This seems to be the 1600 mantra with a second article cape for protection, but that is not what the framers of the Constitution would have believed. The profound selfishness of someone we elected to such a position should tell us something about our own reflection, or lack thereof. Finally, what does it mean to be benevolent. It seems, at least for me, begins with a pure and humble heart. It is about our willingness to put the needs of the other on par with our own. It is about generosity and being altruistic, at least to whatever level we can.

There is so little of that in our society today. It seems we are all about what is in it for up. I will go as far as to say the MAGA theme has done little more than perpetuate selfishness and malevolence. I am not proposing someone allows themselves to be run over, but I do believe one can be benevolent and still use some common sense, which might seem a bit oxymoronic. Common sense certainly is that. I do believe I have much of this sort of “treating the other” as a foundational beginning of my life. Once when speaking to my great aunt, she noted that from the time before I was two, I was always kind and I was regularly happy to be around others. She said I seldom pouted or had a bad day. Perhaps that was because I knew as that two year old my grandparents, with whom I was living, loved me. They cared for me. I remember once rooming with a relatively well-off housemate. He was used to getting his own way. When he exasperated another housemate one day, the second housemate asked him if he had not been hugged enough as a child. I remember cracking up at the time, but lately that comment has come back to me again and again. Are all these angry people angry because someone did not love them enough at some developmental moment of their lives? Perhaps getting a million dollars as a loan was not what someone needed. Perhaps they needed to be disciplined and loved. Being a bully either individually, societally, or nationally is not a good plan. I somehow believe we can do better. I wish we would do so. I still miss having my brother in my life and I wonder what he would think of today’s world. He did not have much appreciation of the government control of that pivotal time of 1968-69, when he graduated from high school . . .  and yet the year 1977, was a difficult one. Between the death of Bob and also of my grandmother, two people who had a lot to do with who I am would depart this world. This song reminds me of my grandmother because she loved listening to David Gates. I took so much for granted at that time . . . it seems we are doing it again, and the consequences will be with us for generations.

Thanks to them and thank you to you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Liberal Arts: A Life of Fulfillment

 

half full

Hello from my office on a Sunday afternoon,

Over the past 36 hours or so, I have spent my time on two things. First, managing the initial blogs that have come in and second, moving beyond the holiday season at my house, both inside and out. The outside is pretty well completed, including a serious cleaning of my garage, and the inside will be completed today, much to Anton’s chagrin, though he has been a big help. Throw in a quick trip to the ER for fluids and I am in good shape. I must say, the initial blogs I have read in my three sections of class have been some of the most thoughtful and engaged initial blogs I have read in my 10 years here at Bloomsburg. I am beyond pleased. There is still work to do, but that is always the case with writing. There is no perfect writing piece; there has never been a time that I have not gone back and wished I had written something a bit differently than what is there for all to see. It might seem you have found a new site with the different appearance, but no, I merely played a bit with the interface. I needed a lift in the midst of a bit of a struggle.

In the spirit of transparency, I am frustrated with my colleagues, my college, and the direction I see post-secondary education heading, for a variety of very complex reasons. That being said, maybe it is my idealism that has been such an important part of my life was hit in a sort of a smack-down, both in a departmental meeting and in a college meeting this past week. On the other hand, it merely means I need to rethink a bit; it means I need to figure out a way to work both within and with the system as well as think of ways to manage that same system. During the weekend, I had an opportunity to speak with one of the best students I have ever been blessed to have in class. She is a middle-school English or Language Arts teacher and addressed the problem with the system at their level. They are not allowed to fail students. They are not allowed in many ways, if I understood her correctly, to make students accountable at most any level. She also addressed the abject disrespect that is part of her daily existence. It seems too often she is asked to do what the parents should have done, and she is at fault for what the parents did not do.

I would like to say things are different at the college level, but more and more I find little difference. That being said, I understand the importance of a college education and why it is such an important, but expensive commodity in our present society. I also believe that some students should go to a technical training program. I do not believe that college is the best path for every 18 year old. I have noted before I would favor a two-year national service requirement of all citizens (and this is not necessarily the military, although that would be an option). That requirement would provide a job and a living wage and at the end of two years, and successful completion, two years of community college or technical college would be free, as long as the student maintained a C+ average. If the student does not do that, they have one semester to recover or they lose the free option. They they would come to the university with an Associates degree and begin a four year Master’s. The first two years would be in a major and then they would go on and do graduate work in that or a related field. That is a simple overview, but I think it would change much of the difficulties we currently see at the freshman level of post-secondary education and the idea that you should go do college just because you should.

What I heard in meetings this past week was beyond disappointing in that almost everything is reduced to how many students and a continual addition of minors and majors that are as simple as possible to keep students in seats, regardless their work. I know there is more than that to it, but that is what it seems to a large degree. We were told as a department that we cost the university too much money. Simply put we are not worth the work or education we have because we do not have enough students studying English in some track. Of course, if we expect too much in our classes, we are penalized in some manner because we create an easier way for them to get a major or minor in a related program. What happened to rigor? What happened to wanted to create a scholarly populace that is also skilled and therefore competent? This is particularly frustrating for me when it seems it is being propagated by the very entities that are supposedly supporting us. While I am frustrated, I know that I have to figure out a reasonable response and keep working.

What does it mean to have a liberal arts education. As I noted in a recent blog, I was supported when I interviewed here because I had a liberal arts background. I received that unparalleled education at Dana. From my liberal arts classes to humanities, from two majors and two minors, I found that there was little I did to studied that did not have something of interest for me. Our current global climate makes it seem that the only worthwhile, or economically feasible path to take is in STEM. This is not to say that the sciences, engineering or math are not noble or valuable, but that does not take away from the value of understanding what makes us uniquely human or what is necessary in terms of philosophy, art, music, religion, or the breadth of communication. Recent pieces in the New York Times noted the long term value of the liberal arts. Learning to think critically and analyze thoroughly are fundamental to the study of literature or philosophy. The trivium was the foundation of the medieval education. Grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric were the three courses first needed. Why? Can you write in a reasonable manner and follow standard conventions? Can you think logically and realize the complexity of any situation, thereby being able to manage a logical argument? And finally, it is possible to communicate effectively understanding the audience and purpose (both to whom are you speaking and what are your trying to persuade them of)?  Eventually, they would add arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. Why those? Can you calculate and manage numbers? Can you think logically or sequentially? Can you see the understanding of a universe beyond yourself and perhaps in disagreement with the church (thank you. Galileo and Copernicus)? And finally, as Luther would eventually state, “Next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” Music and math are not that disconnected. When I consider the classes I took as a student at Dana, I continually realize what an incredible gift I was provided by such a dedicated faculty at such a small college. If you think about the size of the faculty and the student body, what they did for us (and this gets back to some of what I noted at the outset of this post) is beyond astounding. How many of you who attended Dana realized that what the humanities program did was give us an education that ranked in the top two or three in the country? I have done the research earlier in my life. What Dr. Nielsen and others put together provided us a liberal arts (humanistic) foundation that rivaled Ivy League schools and stood on par with places like Stanford, Notre Dame, and others. Yes, at little Blair, Nebraska. I remember having a visiting professor my senior year named Sister Mary McCulley. She had served as an academic dean at Notre Dame, and we were fortunate enough to serve as a visiting professor. Dr. Delvin Hutton had graduated from Harvard. Dr. Richard Jorgensen is a Woodrow Wilson Scholar and holds a PhD from Duke. Dr. Nielsen completed his PhD at Oxford. Those are some incredible credentials and we sat at their feet daily. Dr. Larrie Stone was one of the most brilliant and ethical scientists you will ever meet, but he chose to teach at Dana College. He would have made a lot more money somewhere else.

Perhaps that is where my idealistic nature comes from. Those of us fortunate enough to be at Dana in the 125 years it was a college were provided an outstanding education at an incredibly reasonable price for private school by an unparalleled faculty. A faculty who went without pay raises and sabbaticals for many years. Perhaps that is what I need to realize as I focus on the beginning of this post. It is reasonable, I believe to be frustrated with what we have done to education as a country. In the past three years, we have spent 2.4 trillion dollars on defense and 300 billion on all levels of education (at all levels). I live in the 5th most populace state, but we rank 48th-50th in the three main metrics regarding state spending on education. That is unconscionable. As my one, and closest colleague says, “Heavy sigh.” I wish that would take care of it, but it won’t.” Perhaps after my rant, I merely need to get back to what I have been doing pretty much all weekend. Working on my classes and trying to provide my students the best feedback I can to demonstrate that my classes have value, that the liberal arts education and the connection of that to writing in the professional work is something worthwhile. For those of you reading this as a student, please know how valuable you are to the class you are in. Please remember the mutual “response-ability” we have to make each class the best it possibly can be (this is both about individual classes as well as the semester).  Off to more work in BOLT ( our course delivery tool) and to more blogs. I think there is so much more to what we are about than numbers, and I know we all know that, but sometimes we get lost in the weeds. There are so many things true and problematic about this video about school, but I thought I would leave the blog on a sort of simplistic view of the world when I was born (as in when this would have been high school in the 1950s). The world is no longer simple, perhaps it never was, but we certainly believed it to be so. I need to see it as half-full.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Books For My Bedside Table

Hello from my office at home,

It has been a good week; there is so much on my table, but I keep plugging away. One of the interesting things about the current typical college student might be shocking to some, to others perhaps maybe not so much. The traditional 18-23 year old college student actually writes more than any other generation in history. Much of it might not be academic or letter writing, but with the variety of social media options and the fact they their hand-held devices have been a sort of prosthetic appendage, they are writing in some form almost constantly. By extension, and perhaps again to the surprise of many, they are generally more rhetorically astute than we often give them credit for being. They understand issues of audience and manage it well as they move from platform to platform. They also understand the consequences of multiple media more profoundly then perhaps they realize themselves. Certainly the dynamic nature of writing and literacy is beyond what people of my generation might be able to comprehend, but that does not mean students of today cannot or will not try to use it. Yet, on the other side of the traditional literacy dualism, there is a very different story occurring. They also read less than any modern generation, or post-print generation. The juxtaposition of the two elements is ironic, but more importantly, it has far-reaching, and problematic ramifications.

Reading is something a great majority of students do not engage in regularly, and if they do, it is often through social networking and little that pushes them to undertake a critical viewpoint. To engage with any reading critically is something I struggle in getting my students to do in any regular basis. If I had a dollar for each time I have heard “I don’t like to read.” Or “I will only do it if it interests me.” Retirement would be a breeze. Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center, which focuses on Teaching Excellent & Educational Innovation, has specifically addressed the issue of critical reading and its importance for preparing people to be problem-solvers in their life long work (cmu.edu/strategies). The amount of time I spend on stressing critical thinking and analysis is significant. I am often told that I ask things and question in ways they have never imagined. In fact, I have had some Dana classmates say they would never want to take my class because it would be too difficult. I do not believe I am difficult. Thorough, expecting one’s best work, wanting to to reach beyond what they might realize they can do, to all of this I would say, Yes!! The cost of an undergraduate degree and the value when there are 19 millions 18-23 year olds doing it creates a serious dilemma. If you degree is going to serve you well, it is not the piece of paper or the GPA, it is what you can do as an employee that matters. How hard did you work and push yourself to learn? What sort of critical thinking and problem solving skills do you bring to the table? They want to know if you can do the job without being babysat. Can you ponder, analyze, communicate?

I remember when I was first at UW-Stout, leading a discussion on a summer reading book; something that was common in the early 2000s. I asked a new freshman student about a particular theme in the book, and he unapologetically told me he hadn’t read it. When I inquired why? Again, his candor surprised me, but he said, “I am not going to read anything someone tells me I have to,” Some 17 years later, I can say that no one has been quite so stunningly arrogant, but I know that I have had students who probably did not open their text for my class a single time. Perhaps I am still enough of an idealist to believe students will generally do their work, but I am also painfully aware of how little many students engage with their texts or regularly complete their reading assignments. I was a student who read the great majority of my assigned texts, and would underline, highlight, or write comments in the margins. I remember one summer cramming an entire class on Romans (the book from the Bible) into three weeks. It was brutal; there was little grace, ironically. We had three significant texts to manage; we had to translate the entire Book of Romans from English to Greek; we had a major paper to write; and we had both an oral translation final and a written final. Dr. Stanley Olson was the nicest man, and one of the tougher professors I ever had. Yet, somehow I have always been a reader. I think I must give the credit for that to my adopting parents. They were the ones who never limited my access (either by number of visits or quantity of time) to our little neighborhood library. I did have scrapbooks full of certificates for reaching reading goals, especially in the summer. What reading did for me was allow me to escape. It allowed me to imagine and it took me away, at least for the period of time I was engrossed in those pages.

When I got to Dana, and the humanities program something clicked in a new and more complete way as I read my assignments. I was reading the poems, the plays, the literature that formed the basis of how we understood our Western Society, but I was also asked to consider the art, the music, and the philosophy that created the foundational artistic or philosophical corpus of who we were (and still are). I have written about (and still tell of) Dr. John W. Nielsen, fondly known as “The Pope,” on a number of occasions. It was his Intro to Religion course what was my first introduction to him. The text, Religion: What is it?, by William Tremmel influences me to this day. I would eventually take 5 or 6 of his classes; I would travel to Europe with him; and he became one of my two advisors (which can be spelled with an e or an o). In his lectures or his presentations in Parnassus, be it for the Humanities 107, 205, 206 classes or for Sights and Sounds of Christmas, a yearly campus celebration of the season, which served as a gift from the Dana Community to Blair and beyond, he would note from time to time there was a book we used that should be on our bedside table. If I had all my notes, I could probably come up with quite the list. Incidentally, I do have all of my humanities study guides and notes in my office even now, and I still use them. It is clear to me how much what we learned in those humanities classes prepared me for much more than chapter exams and a final.

I have been trying to ponder all of those texts that the Pope noted we should have on our bedside stand. Some we were required to read for the humanities sequence; some we were required to read in the various individual classes we were fortunate enough to take with him; some were books we read in our LARP sections. What I remember is he would usually introduce the book or reading with some important facts about both the author and the significant points about that book. Then we would discuss what the text did to help us understand both our world and ourselves. Often those texts, books on politics, on culture, on philosophy, on religion, on the labor of humans provided a window to gaze through. It provided insight into how the world was the world we were experiencing. It provided an opportunity to learn and realize how things that might have seemed long past still had relevance. The books that made the list were to be read and pondered; they were to move us beyond the allegorical cave that we too often choose to reside in. From books like The Communist Manifesto to Mein Kampf, we were provided insight into how diverse the political theories of our world could be, but also how those authors changed the world because of those beliefs. From Augustine to Bonhoeffer, we were pushed to understand how faith and the world in which we lived might struggle to connect or move from the  head to the heart so to speak. From pieces from the Greeks to the French Philosophes of the Enlightenment, we were introduced to things that created a foundation for what America had become and even valued.

What I know from being a humanities major that many students detested the amount of work those three courses required, and I will admit the workload was nothing simple, but it was manageable. It required discipline and it required some critical thought and analysis. Two pre-requisite skills every employer hopes their employees possess. I have noted this at other times, but what I realize about education at this point in my life and having taught at the post-secondary level for 27 or 28 years is quite simple. We have lost our edge because we want to offer recipe cards rather than skills. We want simple answers and what I believe Luther would have referred to as cheap grace. While we have all sorts of gadgets to make our lives more convenient, life is not easier. The complexity of globalism has created a need to understand our world in ways more profound than perhaps anytime in human history. Nationalism will not put our global interdependence back into the proverbial bottle. The use of technology is not going to be hindered by walls, either physical or psychological. We will not return to our sort of post-WWII American dominance that was the world into which I was born. It would be interesting to me to sit down with Dr. Nielsen today and ask what books he might tell me to add to my bedside stand now?  Certainly authors like Hannah Arendt, Maya Angelou, perhaps Junot Diaz, Neil Gaiman, and Amy Tan might be on the list.

What is it reading does? Again, beyond allowing the ability to escape, it offers the opportunity for someone to engage with language and think. It can create a space by which someone is offered an opportunity to learn in a profoundly intimate manner. When we engage with the words of another, we are provided a venue in which we can reflect in a safe space and imagine the what ifs that the text offers. I have never been the same person after working in this sort of processing manner. What do I need to know? What should I take with me? These are basic questions. Even when I have re-read something (I think I have re-read Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison four times. Each time I learn something new. The words affect me in a different way. That is the wonder of the written word. It is time to return to my bedside table and see both what is there and what needs to be added. I am so grateful for what I learned from so many through those Humanities classes and beyond. My bedside table is more than a group of books, it is my window to both the world and my soul. It allows me to find a different relationship with both my world and my God. With that in mind, I offer this:

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

Just an Academic Christian

Hello on a damp and chilly January evening,

Today I had the opportunity to chat with a colleague from another department in my college and one who researches a number of issues and aspects about rhetoric, religion, politics, and culture. We have talked briefly before and I have read some of his work, so the opportunity to do more than casually address the possibility of doing some research together was exciting, even motivational because it got me thinking. I found myself pondering where I stand in terms of my own faith and how my background colors my perspective on both religion in general and then more precisely how I try to find some tittle of logic in the evangelical’s support of a person that occupies the 1600 address.

Certainly we have some similar views and equal astonishment that those who claim a particular conservative dogmatic can find most anything this President does to represent any kind of Christian systematic. From his inappropriate, sexual innuendo to his outright explicit Hollywood insider tape, from his demeaning of most anyone not like him to his most recent retweet of Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Schumer in Muslim attire, and a White House Press Secretary who could not seem to realize the bigotry of such a post itself, the idea of turning the other cheek or disregarding the log in their own eye seems to go beyond the pale. It is simple, too simple. to argue it is merely the idea of being profoundly one issue (which is overturning Roe v. Wade). It is even more complex than a liberal versus an evangelical. In fact, my conversation with my colleague offered some really nice insight into the the complexity of the ideograph “liberal,” particularly when we allow the political and the religious understanding of that word to intermingle and then do not realize the homogenization we have performed or live. The understanding of conservative or liberal  is not what I understood it to be growing up in the 1960s and early 70s. The understanding of evangelical is also quite a bit more complex. Certainly the Protestant tenet of salvation by grace through faith was significantly changed with a sort of born again works-righteousness that seems to saturate many evangelicals. It is ironic that evangelical is related to the Greek word angellos or the word euangellion (sorry, I wrote them in Greek, but WordPress does not seem amenable to letting me use that font). The first word is the Greek word for angel and the second is the word for Good News. The real foundational understanding of evangelical is to provide the message of Good News, but it seems it has been co-opted by a particular group of believers. Certainly the term evangelical dates back to the Reformation when it was used to refer to those who were not Roman Catholic. To this day, the German Protestant Church, which is what Luther prompted, is called the Evangelische Kirche. Certainly in the English speaking world, the quadrilateral of priorities is indicative of what it means to be evangelical. Yet, for me much of this seems to be dependent on action or demonstration rather than heart. I know that is a difficult statement and will perhaps anger some who read this, but hear me out. I believe one can be passionate about their faith and simultaneously compassionate. I see too little of this. Too often my experience has been that when the chips are down and people are questioning faith or where God is, the evangelical sees is as an opportunity for conversion. If that is the case then their compassion has a price and I will argue it is not compassion, but manipulation. In terms of another part of their quadrilateral, to understand the Bible as inerrant or infallible makes the Bible a recipe card. I believe in the divinely inspired word, but I also believe it was written by humans at a particular point in time in a particular context. The writers were influenced by the lives they were living as they wrote, just as any author is. If you find the Bible so unquestioningly authoritative, it seems you might be worshiping the book and not the one who inspired it. That is idolatry. While Lutherans are often accused of being second article dominant, crucicentrism or the importance of atonement is not unique to evangelical Christians. It is central to Christianity for all. Without atonement, the crucifixion has little purpose. The issue of rebirth or born again and a conversion is perhaps the most difficult for me. As a person who sees God as the primary actor in any sacramental act, infant baptism is logical. It is God’s grace; it is not our doing that makes the baptismal act salvific. Therefore, we cannot decide to claim God, rather God claims us. What is interesting, to return to my initial thought, is giving God such ability is seen as liberal. Because I do not feel a re-baptism or conversion is necessary, believing that God’s mercy is something that comes to us through the sacraments and the Holy Spirit, I would be a liberal theologically focused person.

For me that is fine. While I am not as regular in my attendance to worship as I should be (says the former Lutheran pastor), I believe Luther completely understood our human condition. He understood the struggle most have to be faithful. That is not to say that we can just do whatever we want and repent, though technically that works if your heart is true, but rather he would say this if we are going to focus on our works and our belief in that conversion is all that is needed and good, salvation is dependent on this: be perfect. Then you are all good. Follow the recipe and you are all good. That is the problem; there is no recipe. For me, and yes, note that I said for me, the quadrilateral is a recipe book. It reminds me of a simple, but important question: do you do what you do so your  parents will love you? or do you do what you do because your parents love you? The side you fall on in your answer of that question is an important one. The same could be asked about your understanding of God. If you have to do what you do to get God to love you, there is little compassion; there is only a rule book. There is no real atonement because you still have to earn your salvation. Gerhard Forde, my confessions professor in seminary, wrote in his book, Justification: A Matter of Death and Life, “The answer to the question what must I do to be saved is nothing.” Then he went on in the next sentence to write, “Shut up and listen for once in your life.” I can still hear his voice when I read or remember those words. Forde, one of the people to whom I owe my theological basis spoke about a radical Lutheranism, in someways like Bonhoeffer questioned the role of the church as he decided to participate in the plot against Adolf Hitler. Forde would write, “We should realize first of all that what is at stake on the current scene is certainly not Lutheranism as such. Lutheranism has no particular claim or right to existence. Rather, what is at stake is the radical gospel, radical grace, the eschatological nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen as put in its most uncompromising and unconditional form by St. Paul. What is at stake is a mode of doing theology and a practice in church and society derived from that radical statement of the gospel.” The gospel is inclusive and as such, it calls on us to reach out to all people, regardless of race, creed, orientation, identity, faith, or social economic class. Inclusivity is synonymous with Gospel; it is what makes it Good News. When we put our human conditional expectations on the love of a creator, we diminish that creator (or at least the understanding of the creator). This is something Dr. Nielsen tried to get us to see in his Christian Thought class or when he spoke to you one on one about faith matters.

Before you wander down the road of thinking I am saying we have no response-ability. Indeed we do. In Romans 6, Paul specifically asked the question, “Should we sin all the more that grace may abound?” He goes on to say, “Certainly Not!” And it is written in the Greek as an imperative. Yes, I grew up attending church weekly. It was expected and I did it. And most of the time I enjoyed it because most of my school friends and I attended the same church. As I have noted in other blogs, it was my social group and it was a place I could feel validated, a need I noted in a recent post. We were fortunate to have some incredible group leaders, those older than me, as well as a pretty incredible pastor in the Reverend Paul Ofstedal. As I would return to Dana College and eventually through ordination after my MDiv at Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, my understanding of Lutheranism would grow. As a parish pastor, I remember being awed by the idea and power of baptism and what God bestows upon us. I think it was there I began to understand the graciousness of God, the real grace of God. As I would move toward my doctoral work and my own personal struggle with the power structure of the ELCA, and particularly with a bishop, I began to understand how those in authority abuse that authority in the name of the church. It was then I knew that faith was about more than belonging to or attending a specific denomination, synod, or congregation. What does it mean for me to be Lutheran or claim Lutheran theology as my go-to? It means that I am to act in the same compassionate and gracious way I believe God accepts me. In spite of my flaws, my failures, and my unsuccessful attempts to do this, somehow, for some reason, God still loves me. I have often said if there is such a thing as a guardian angel, I am sure mine is feeling quite worn out at times. In fact that angel might have gone as far as to ask for a new assignment. Much of what I have written here might seem obtuse, complex, or as one once said, “They pay you to study and talk like that?” Yes, indeed, they do. But I think there is more to all of this. I often tell my students that I believe God gave them a brain to do more than hold their ears apart. It is true. I believe God wants us to look at the world in which we live and see the difficulties. I think that God wants us to question and struggle with what it means to be faithful. Does that include studying and questioning. In my piety, I believe it does. Life is not a recipe and neither is faith. The simple statement to love your neighbor as yourself is straightforward. It is a command, an imperative. The doing it is the hard part, but when we systematically exclude, refer to people in disparaging terms, or somehow believe we have the inside track on God, we are not following the command to love. It is also as simple as that.

Our current lack of civility, decorum, and most anything else that pits us against them is contrary to a gospel that calls all. We are asked to reach out in a sense of compassion first. The fifth commandment address the issue of murder, but if we take Jesus’s words to heart in the Sermon on the Mount, he notes that if you hate someone you have already broken the commandment. Luther noted that this meant we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs. Sounds a bit socialist to some, I imagine. When it comes to bearing false witness (the eighth commandment), Luther again noted, “we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.” Yikes, do not read any Twitter posts if you want to abide by that. Perhaps I am an academic Christian, but for me that means I read, I think, I ponder, I use my brain. I refuse to merely follow the crowd and I will not believe by recipe card. I know this post will raise some hackles among those who read, but I am not telling you either what to believe or how. I am merely saying what works for me, and sometimes it does not work because I fail it, not the other way around. I have not posted a video the last couple times, but this was a song sung at my ordination by my best friend, and someone we lost too soon, Peter Goede.

Thank you for all the reads and for the comments, I am humbled by all of you.

Dr. Martin

Is it Stars Aligning or?

Hello from Danville,

I am in the town where I do the great majority of my medical appointments waiting on a lunch appointment. I have noted from time to time that I have lived my life with not much of a strict sense of where or why. Suffice it to say there was no grand plan or scheme. That might seem counter-intuitive for a person so process driven, but I am quite sure the most significant things in my life came about in a sort of happenstance manner. Let me offer some events that seem to support that contention. They begin with my very birth.

Again, as previously noted, I came into the world at 26 weeks of gestation and weighing only 17 ounces. No one expected or planned such an entrance into this world. No one planned a move before 2 to the grandparent’s house, so much so that we (my younger sister and I) were taken from our parents after yet another phone call. I am pretty sure the only full family member I possibly have does not know of my existence. You do not plan such things. Quite assuredly, there was no plan, at least in my 4 year old mind, that I would be sent off to another family, albeit adopted, and begin with a new family name, trying with all the brain power my little pre-school mind could muster to understand why I had a new last name. Certainly, the next years brought many lessons; I worked as hard as I could to be worthy of the new house and family, but to the contrary, I was told that I did not deserve to be there. I was told I would not grow up to amount to much. I was told at times I was worthless. It was difficult to understand how I could find my way clear of that, but I found a resilience and stubbornness to manage. I was blessed to have others who counteracted that philosophy of nihilism. A grandmother, who loved, demonstrated, and taught me I had value. Parents of some of my childhood friends who made me feel welcome and valued. By the time I was ready to graduate from high school, again I had no real plan for my life. Adoption had given me some stability in spite of the abuse, but the age of those who adopted me was not conducive to their support continuing past my own age of 18. In fact, because I graduated from high school at 17, that support would end even sooner. I had already lived out of the house most of the summer before and the fall of my senior year in high school. So, on one morning I skipped school and found myself at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in downtown Sioux City. Within a couple of months, I would enlist in the Marine Corps and, at least for the time being, I would have some plan for my life. Yet, the growing up that occurred in the Corps is drastic and the experiences I would encounter took me far beyond anything I might have expected in NW Iowa.

As I came back chronologically an adult, and perhaps grown beyond my years in other ways, a significant part of me needed to catch up. I did not understand much about who I was or how I fit into much of anything. It seemed that my life was caught between two worlds, as was most of my own inner being. A GI Bill certainly offered some opportunities, but I had little idea even yet why I would attend college or university. However, there was little other I wanted to do, and working at Walgreens or some other such dead end job was not what I hoped for myself. Perhaps what happened in those years beyond my service helped me more than I knew. What I do know is again, I found an outside support because there was no support in my Home of Record (HOR). To be completely fair, however, at least they did let me live there, and that offered stability again that was essential. My first foray into higher education was an abject failure on a number of levels. I did have a good time, but I wandered rather aimlessly around the streets of Ames. Perhaps the most important thing I learned there was to wait tables and to serve as a bartender. Those skills have served me most of my life and that has been a fallback more than once. As I have noted in other blogs, the year 1977 was a difficult one. The death of both my brother and my grandmother would devastate me, particularly when the woman who had given me a sense of safety and hope my entire life was gone. Looking back, she was only 64, the age I am now. That is much too young to leave this world. Somehow, either by the grace of God, and some encouragement from a best friend, I would find myself on yet another journey. This one would take me around the Midwestern part of the country, from as far north as Birnamwood, WI to as far south as Houston. Forty-eight thousand miles in 9 months with four other people would change my life. How all those changes would manifest themselves is still happening. The long and short of that year traveling in an 1978 Ford Econoline Van, which we named Elmer, introduced me to the hills of Blair, NE and the campus of Dana College. It was those four years that created the first foundation that was bedrock solid. Up to that point, I had little sense of why or how. When I told my first host family during the travel year that I wanted to be a hair dresser, they encouraged me to think a bit more broadly. If they are reading this, I am sure they are smiling. It was not the first, but the second trip to Dana and the meeting of Merle Brockhoff and Gary Beltz, of Mimi Kotovsky (I think that is a correct spelling) and Mary Rowland, who would change my life path.

What made Dana work for me? That is a simple and complicated answer all at once. It was simple because I was allowed to thrive and find support, both students and faculty. It was complex because I had much to learn and a previous failure at college to overcome. Singing in the college choir was invaluable. Working with the campus ministry teams continued to create networks of people. In the classroom, I had Dr. Jorgensen for Freshman Writing. I think it was the only semester he ever taught it, but I was in his class. All the lectures from various professors, each in their field, in that Humanities class as a second semester freshman was a turning point for me academically. My Intro to Religion class with Dr. Nielsen blew me away. His intelligence and ability to engage his students was like nothing I had ever experienced. I was hooked, but more importantly, I found a place I wanted to be. That was no minor issue. Again, colleagues like Michael (Mike) Keenan, Robert (Bob) Schmoll, who were both veterans, were invaluable to my being able to acclimate to a place where most students were the normal freshman age. Yet, some of those freshman classmates like Shelly (Peterson) Grorud, Leanne (Danahy) Bruland, and Monty Scheele accepted me and made me feel like I had value. They had no idea how important they were and to this day how much I appreciate them. A student named Pamela Poole and her friend were important to my first year also from the very first weekend meeting them. To be in touch with Pan to this day means more than she realizes. There was a young incredible and brilliant student, who did not even finish high school before coming to Dana; her name was Sarah (Hansen) Jacobs and she taught me to value so many things that influence me to this day, particularly classical music and its importance in our world history. She was a special person to me in a number of ways. Because I was older and had an wonderful roommate named Peter Bonde, I was introduced to some more senior level students. Barbara Kalal Hawkins is still a valued friend. Others like Lynn Hohneke, who was so quiet and yet wonderfully sweet and caring, and whom I remember coming over with some others one Saturday night to get me out of my room as I was once again studying, made my first year at Dana such a profound blessing. Those relationships would continue and others developed as I continued my time in Blair. A project in a European Cix class on the French Revolution with Kristy Swenson, one of the smartest people I ever worked with, and Dixie Frisk was a highlight of my academics at Dana. A wonderful dinner with Kristy afterwards at Tivoli is still etched in my mind. What has continued to amaze me is the enduring nature of those relationships. I am no into my 60s and some of the people I appreciate the most yet today entered my life when I was a student.

I think what is so profoundly unique is that characteristic of maintaining is something that crossed every facet of the campus. Whether it was the women who worked in Parnassus, the people in the business office, the registrar’s office, students from any class and most certainly the professors, the idea of family was not merely something that served as an appropriate sound byte. The idea of an experience, the Dana experience was something that became part of our DNA, if you will, and as such, it was not limited to the time we were students. As a Marine, and anyone who has served knows this, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” I believe for a great many of us, something quite similar could be said about our Dana roots. Those roots run deep and true. They were cultivated by every single person we met while there. Shortly before Dana would close, I had created a letter of application and was putting together a packet to apply to teach there. While I am blessed to be here at Bloomsburg, and it would have been a terrible shock had I applied to have the college close a year later, I guess that is another way that my taking what comes rather than planning served me well.

Even while at Dana, I struggled with where I should go. Was I called to parish ministry? What about being an attorney? What about maybe being a professor? I remember walking to my commencement at Dana with my father. He asked appropriately, “What can you do with your degree?” With a double major and a double minor, I told him, “Nothing; but go to more school.” He was speechless, proud of his college graduate son, a first generation college student, but stunned at my answer. I was headed to summer Greek class in barely two weeks. Seminary would follow because I believed with all my heart that is where I was called. What I know now is it were merely another step along the way. It was that first couple of quarters at LNTS that I would find a new battle to fight. A fight that has consumed much of my life since; a fight that would change both my understanding of myself as well as how I believed others would understand me. Crohn’s disease or its consequences have been a major component of my life since 1984, less than a year following my graduation from Dana. That battle has taken me to the edge of life and beyond. It has changed my understanding of wellness, my understanding of things like masculinity, pain, and so much more. It has been the one constant in my life since that January, and I have battled and fought it on a number of fronts before realizing it is not something to fight, but rather something to embrace and understand. It was a significant element in the failure of my first marriage and my struggle with what it did to my body and its affect on my identity and belief that I could be desirable would be a manor consequence in my second. I understand that now.

Again, could I have planned that? Most certainly not. Would I have wanted to know its plan for me? Again, definitely not. In the times that followed I ended up in a second Master’s and eventual PhD because of some of those consequences. Leaving the clergy roster and trying to figure out what next was a difficult time. Again, not something I expected nor wanted to experience, but experience it I did. In the times since, I have found myself in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula’s of Michigan, Texas, back to Houghton and then Wisconsin. From Wisconsin I have returned to a merely 70 miles from where I was following seminary. I can say quite assuredly that is anything I planned. I can say without reservation, when I left Pennsylvania the first time I was quite sure I would never return. Yet, this is where I have lived the longest since graduating from high school. It is the place I have felt the most settled and successful. It is the place I have been continually blessed by wonderful friends, colleagues, and students. It is the place I finally feel like I have battled long and hard enough to no longer need to battle. That is not to say there are not things I still wish could be different, but it is probably the firs time since I was at my grandmother’s house at the age of 2 1/2 that I feel safe and happy. I did not plan any of this, but that does not mean I took no agency or advocacy for where I am or who I have become. How is it we get where we go? How much of it depends on us and how much is merely that whimsical hand of fate moving us? Is it God or something else? I am not sure I have an adequate answer to all of that. What I do know is I continue to move forward, sometimes with at least a modicum of a plan, but most often with a sense of merely wanting to do the best in whatever circumstance confronts me. I am not sure that will change. I do have some plans for this year. A sabbatical will have me back in Poland this next fall teaching at the second oldest university in Eastern Europe. I am busy making plans on both sides of the ocean to manage that time. Now people are asking when do you plan to retire? I am not sure if that is out of concern or hope. Again, that will take a plan . . . I am thinking about the options, but I cannot say I am planning anything at the present time. I am merely living the life I have been blessed to have. It is the blessings that have been part of my entire life that have often moved me from one place to the next, from one possibility to another. It is the blessings and love of so many that have kept me optimistic and willing to take on whatever comes next. I guess it is how I will continue to live. It has served me well thus far. The picture is from my senior year at Dana.

Thanks as always for reading. Thanks for the many blessings so many of you have been part of.

Michael

Wondering: What Have I Learned? It is a Holy Love

Hello on a Saturday night from my study/home office/Apple TV room,

Yes, this upper room is for me my getaway place. It is the place I do work, practice various languages, try to keep my home in order and I will listen to music. It is one of the places I have Bose speakers for a third time. When I purchased my house, it was the room I somewhat splurged on in terms of creating my little home theater. As I have been working on my Spring classes and reading about digital literacies, I have been reminded of how our access to music has changed so drastically from when I bought my first 45 rpm vinyl record or my first 8-track tape. I had purchased my first CD shortly before coming to Pennsylvania in the fall of 1988. I remember have a lot of vinyl and a pretty serious stereo when I was at Dana College. Music has been both my way to escape and yet my way to remember. Groups like Heart, Fleetwood Mac, Kansas, Styx, the Eagles, or Boston bring back memories that can remind me of the 70s to today. Sometimes I find myself YouTubing the original versions of some music to remember what the musicians looked like when I was attending their concerts. Sometimes the memories of the people who were in my life at those times. And as demonstrated recently, those places and times can cause reactions, not always expected, but simultaneously not surprised by the consistency. The two sides of pulling and pushing remain intact. I can see Don, my grad school counselor, still shaking his head at my optimistic desire to always hope for the best. While my idealistic nature is no longer unfettered, it is still in place.

As I walked down a musical memory lane for a while this evening, I am prompted to ask what have I learned in the 31 1/2 year since I first stepped in Pennsylvania. Certainly, the hair is thinner and grayer. The beard, or whatever form of facial hair is white, so much so that small children mistaken me for Santa on a regular basis. The thing that might best reveal what I have learned the second half of my life is the following statement. Things I thought important at 30 seem less so now and things I deemed unimportant then have more significance than I would have ever imagined. I would like to believe there is at least an inkling of wisdom in that metamorphosis. A couple of blogs back I noted rather openly some of my failings. Amazing how that touched something unexpectedly, and more profoundly (on a number of levels). Undoubtedly, my memories of that time are multifaceted. It was a time of difficulty from so many directions, and regardless what I tried there was little i could do to fix what I believe now was broken. And while you might believe I am referring to the other, I am referring to myself and where I was in life. It can be amazing how our past, and things we have left in the past come back to haunt us.1 am still aware from time to time how the abuse experienced as I grew, especially from someone who I had believed was supposed to love and protect me, has colored or affected by response in particular circumstances. Earlier today, when I was lamenting some of this to an important friend, she noted quite quickly, you have changed that so much from where you must gave been. That is a paraphrase, but her words to me were invaluable and reassuring that even now I continue to evolve.

There are certainly a couple traits that I know I have left behind and likewise some circumstances I refuse to subject myself to. In the first, I do foolish things; in the latter, I am often so fragile that I feel powerless to manage them well. I will not drink alone and I will not drink to excess. That has been something (with two exceptions) I have managed well since I returned to Pennsylvania. More importantly, if I feel that I am being hurt by someone who supposedly cares for me, I know I need to step back, either temporarily or possibly permanently and completely. While we as humans generally respond to hurt with anger, I do so perhaps more profoundly. More significantly, I now realize, when the hurt was over a period of time and recommitted again and again, I did foolish things to try to manage that hurt. It is also possible that I have moved too far at times to respond only through logic, and that is en entirely different issue. What I am quite sure of now is I abhor drama in my life at all, but particularly when it deals with the daily ins and outs of relationships. I remember my counselor again noting that I do have a penchant for trying to argue things logically, and my expectation was that everyone would do so. The first part of that is probably an attribute, the second not so much.

What I find most interesting at this point of my life is that in my most recent relationship, in spite of it ending, is the person said to me recently that the most difficult thing about not continuing a relationship or thing that is most confusing, perhaps, is there was not really anything terribly wrong, and while we were both angry at moments, there is nothing that is sad about how we managed that time. It is just that what we needed from the other was not necessarily what happened. Again, it is a sort of strange and yet successful non-relationship at this point. I think what I feel most positive about is that it demonstrates, undoubtedly, really important growth in where I was and who I was to where and who I am now. There is nothing promised in how growth or change occurs. There is no roadmap in how you move from pain and discord. The impetus for that movement is, perhaps, not even understood. What allows two people to stay committed and involved in a relationship where 25, 50 years or beyond? My students asked me that in a argumentation class last year at some point. I had to think some. As I am prone to do, both think and offer a tongue-in-cheek answer, I said it was because they got married at 13. Then I said, more thoughtfully, “I think it requires an ongoing ability on the day your are angry and you do not like them at all, to be able to dig deep and realize you believed you loved them enough to want to spend your life with them.” To perhaps love them beyond all understanding. It is not by accident that I return to that phrase. It is a holy love, but I think it takes time to learn how to love in that manner. To be the recipient of such a love is both life-altering and life-giving. It is incredibly freeing because it begins with and is grounded in forgiveness. It require an ability to be sure in one’s own self and not be afraid of being less than hoped. I was not at that point in my life when I was married. Of that I am quite sure. If I had been would it have been enough?

I am not sure it would. It would have certainly been an important element toward our being more successful than I was (or we were). The parenthetical here is important. Being two people who can be allowed to be their imperfect selves is essential if a better sense of perfection is to result. While that seems obvious and might sound a tad cliché, it is anything but. I used to say that being in a committed all-encompassing relationship is the hardest job one can have. As I age I realize so more fully how true that statement is. We bring so much baggage to whatever we do; in the case of our relationships, it is not about merely two people it is about all the people in both our present and those from our past. How will all of that influence our responses or dictate our emotions? There is little to really provide that picture more than dimly. There is also is getting set in our ways or having patterns to our lives. There is the realizing that we are all unique characters, but also knowing that being able to share and integrate our jumbled up basket of experiences is an admirable and helpful thing to do. Certainly, the appearance of an ex-spouse has been a complicated walk down memory lane. It would have been 25 years had we celebrated an anniversary last June. Maybe that is, in part, what prompted this act of habituation. What I do know is I do not dislike, reject, or have any negative feelings, in spite of some profound mistakes. In fact, perhaps this intermittent demonstrated an important regularity for me. It also required a time for me again to be accountable. Not so much to the other, though I hope they perhaps experienced my doing so, but rather that for me that accountability offered reflection and honesty to myself. Not in a self-serving or selfish manner, but in a manner that might help anyone who reads this to feel a sense of hope that learning and growing never stop. That love, when healthy, survives incredible odds. It is integral to our being all we can be. Additionally, perhaps another thing I have learned is one can demonstrate and provide love to another without being married to them. One can be intimately involved and supportive of other without being sexually involved with them. All of that takes thought, commitment, and reflection. It requires an ability to be selfless, and yet not losing one’s autonomy or self worth. I think of one who told me I have loved a number of people, but I did not marry them. This was a giving and thoughtful love that taught them how to love. They are still married and in their 70s. They still inspire and teach me. Thanks Lee and Judy.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.

Michael

Higher Education Today

Hello from my kitchen,

There is a lot I need to accomplish and I am in the midst of preparing for another semester. While the use of Course Delivery Tools makes some aspects of managing a class, lectures, grades, and information easier, to do it well is laborious and a never ending proposition. Yes, on one hand I have been finished with the fall semester since about 11:47 a.m. on December 18th, but I was, and am, not finished. I started teaching a distance Technical Writing course on December 16th and complete it in January 19th. Second semester begins on January 21st.

A quick glance at the calendar would note there are not many free days. In addition, I do need to work through some new texts for two of my classes. While there may be a few professors who recycle things. In addition, I am working to manage a second appointment to the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. This work is a connection to both my scholarship and my life in general. The latest two articles or conference papers as well as some currently in process are all related to issues of gender and being chronically ill with Crohn’s, one of the silent diseases, a category of things where someone can look healthy on the outside, but not so much on the inside. One of the things I have realized is that the integration of life and practice is central to what I do. It is also probably connected to my penchant for process. In terms of being a composition theorist I fall into the category of process composition also. I am a process and product person and sometimes in today’s world, students will come to me with a substandard assignment and want to argue, but I tried really hard. They do realize that the world they are headed into is product driven and being nice does not always keep a person employed.

I do not think that requiring a student to go above and beyond what is require to merely get it done is wrong. In fact, I would argue allowing substandard or “but I tried really hard” work to be acceptable is to set them up for failure. As I have noted more than once, I want them to think, analyze and always be willing to work a bit harder, a bit more critically. It is also amazing that the push to get them to think or analyze and question or go beyond what our society deems good enough is suspect. I am always amazed, but no longer surprised, when I hear others accuse me of proselytizing or indoctrinating my students to accept or adopt some liberal ideology. Particularly in our present political atmosphere (and that is an entirely separate blog post). What I have noted for them or even to some who have questioned whether or posited that every college professor is a socialist, is while I am more liberal socially than some, I am probably much more conservative fiscally than many. I am that middle of the road, pragmatist. This is not because I do not know where I stand, but it is precisely the opposite. I am the product of a union-bearing, New Deal democrat, father who grew up and graduated at the height of the depression (1933). He is a person who even today would probably accuse me of being a Republican. I am the brother of a sister who once quit a job because she could collect more unemployed than working and I blew a gasket on her, so to speak. I remember retorting to her decision rather unabashedly, “So I can pay for your lazy ass.” That did not set well in all sorts of ways from either side of the equation. What I realize now is there was more going on to her struggle to work than I realized at the time. I am the professor of a student who is currently, or so it seems, being bullied as she is on a trip because she is not white. This sort of news disturbs and confounds me. This sort of nationalism that is playing out across the world right now is frightening on all sorts of levels. From my own campus to the White House, from England to Eastern Europe, from almost every African country, the hate that is espoused under the guise of nationalism is something that will destroy the world in which we live.  I am a professor who will bend over backwards for my students regardless their ethnicity or economic background to help them succeed, but they, nonetheless, still have to do their work. I am told that students either love my class or find me too incredibly difficult, and I know that people have been told to not take my Technical Writing class because it is too much work. The requirements of basic writing, communication, and having standards are not wrong. If I had a dollar for every time I have been told “but your class is hard.” I could take a really nice vacation at some point. Standards and making a person work does not make it hard, it makes it labor intensive. There is nothing hard about thinking, it is merely something someone does or should do. In spite of having labor intensive courses, I am also told they have learned or thought more than ever before. I think that is why they pay the money they do, to be challenged and to leave as someone who is competent at what they should have learned. As I have noted at other times, I both expect and give a lot.

When I look back at my time as an undergraduate at Dana, as noted in my last blog, I sat at the feet of brilliance. I also sat at the feet of professors who demanded, but generally in a grace-filled manner, our best. I remember sitting in the larger third floor room in Pioneer Memorial and taking the freshman essay writing exam. You had to pass two of three writing exams to pass freshman composition regardless what you did during the semester. When I tell my students if you had more than a couple of errors per page (and I think it was actually only one) the writing was deemed unacceptable, they tell me that is ridiculous. Oh my goodness, standards and expectations! Our world is full of them.  I can tell you that it prompted us to do our best work, even in stressful circumstances. I remember a person falling asleep in the hum lecture during art slides (imagine that??) in the large lecture hall in the Dana Hall of Science and Jim Olsen telling us all to get up quietly and leave and we all left the student there. Imagine his shock. I remember the expectations of King Rich as he would smile in his gracious and eloquent way and say, “How wonderful.”, but you knew you had better do your work and do it well. It mattered not the class, from LARP to humanities, from New Testament to German, from the Pope’s Christian Thought class to Dr. Stone’s A&P, each and every professor I had gave their all in our classes and expected us to do the same. I am not sure I ever remember a class cancelled because the professor was ill. While I know that the humanities sequence was the bane of many a student’s life, it was, is, and will forever be the class that helped me be a scholar. Adrienne Rich. the feminist poet, addressed the graduates at Rutgers University some years ago and asked what it meant to “claim an education.” She noted that your tuition is not a guarantee of being admitted to the scholarly community that is there (this is a paraphrase of her words).  The way such a group of professors worked together to help us actually understand the world in which we lived was a novel approach. They were creating scholars and I cannot thank them enough. I cannot even imagine that happening today, unfortunately. Not that we do not want our students to be scholars, but the interdisciplinary nature of that one class would be difficult to replicate in today’s academy. They worked in concert to help us understand the connectedness, the complexity, and the awe of the world we had inherited from those before us. The importance of the liberal arts has waxed and waned throughout the ages, but a recent study showed that the long-term mobility, increased satisfaction, and even the monetary gain of those with the liberal arts degree outpaces that of IT or STEM graduates (Weise, Hanson, and Sentz, January 2019). Too often I think many who think more conservatively, find liberal, even when it refers to arts, is a suspect work to be viewed with disdain and suspicion. I have often wanted to created a bumper stick that says: Liberal, Christian, and Patriotic and see how confounded people might be. If connecting things and understanding that thinking and analyzing is a product of some liberal indoctrination, what does that say about being conservative. I believe college or university is about teaching people to think in general and come to their own conclusions. I actually like having students who disagree with me in class because if forces me to consider things more thoughtfully and find a way to understand why I might have the view I do. Teaching people to think beyond what they know is essential to creativity; it is essential to becoming a productive person.

One of the students for whom I have the most appreciation in the time I have been at Bloomsburg is a student who comes from a very conservative area in Pennsylvania. The student is from their own words (paraphrased more appropriately than written) was a person who was willing to tell people with whom they disagreed where to get off and how to get there. In addition, the person did all the things and played all the roles of the dutiful offspring in spite of their own internal struggle. They struggled to accept the views and actions of those around them while one part of them was in anguish. During the various times they ended up in my class as a professional writing minor, they began to learn to lean on their own inner-voice to come to terms with their sexuality, the struggle that belief held, and what they needed to do to be happy with who they were and are. This coming out was not easy initially and it is not easy for them even now, but when they graduated, they presented me with a certificate for being the person that allowed them to feel supported in their journey. I still chat with them often and they know they are welcome in my house at anytime. Yes, even as a former Lutheran pastor, which would for some seem in-congruent  I am proud of that certificate more than perhaps anything I have been given in my decade here at Bloomsburg. I did not indoctrinate or convince them to be or say anything, I merely accepted them for who they were and walked and listened as they proceeded through their journey of figuring it out. I remember being asked to speak at that event and I noted how my sister (one of three full or half siblings who are gay or lesbian) would be astounded at how far we have come in acceptance of and going beyond the idea of binary sexuality. In my sister’s case, that lack of acceptance contributed to what would result in her mental illness and premature death. Some of my more conservative friends would say that I am going against the Bible; they would say this is an abomination. One of our major denominations is struggling with this very issue as I write this. I am continually saddened by those who believe they can play God and know how God will judge better than God does. I had that very conversation with my father about my sister when he struggled with what he believed would happen to my sister in terms of salvation. Certainly there is more that can be written here, but my point is through both my college and seminary education, I have found that God is more compassionate than we are. At least I hope so.

It is difficult when sons and daughters move beyond their parents’ positions or understandings of the world in which we live, but I believe that is what is supposed to happen. If parents have done their jobs well, they work themselves out of a job. Again, that is what Dana and beyond taught me. The professors I had at Dana were profoundly faithful and good people, but they were also intelligent and driven to share what I think Luther understood as vocation. Does the work you do make a difference in the world and may the lives of other people better? If you go about your work in this manner than it is never merely a job, it is a vocation. Again, a word that is often maligned. If someone goes to a vocational high school today it is because they are not as smart or capable. I hear this regularly. I only went to vo-tech. People who go to Penn College of Technology are sometimes thought to be less intelligent or capable, but I can tell you that the beauty and comfort of my home is the product of some of their work. They are more intelligent and capable in those areas than I could ever hope to be. I am not sure where I learned to be as open to possibility as I am. I know that not all of it came from my own upbringing, and that is not to speak ill of my blue collar background. Those who have read my blog with any consistency will know that. Perhaps where I learned to be more open and accepting is because of that woman who served as a mother to me from about 18 months until I was almost 5.

I have written about my Grandmother Louise on numerous occasions in the past. I have referred to her as my hero, her home as the one place I remember happiness and safety. I have noted the similarity between her and Lydia at times, or the fact that some of the things in my own home today are connected to that early childhood home and memories of that place (sometimes consciously, but more often unconsciously). I think much of my acceptance and attempts to be gracious and giving come from her. Education is about giving and teaching. It is about offering insight and allowing the student to take it and figure it out. It is allowing them to become adults and citizens. That is what Dana did for me. That is what I try to do for my students now. If I can be half the professor those in Blair were to me, then Dana’s legacy does continue to live. It is appropriate that I remember my Grandmother Louise today because it is the 107th anniversary of her birth. I still miss her and I wonder what she would think of where I have ended up. I love her beyond words. This was actually one of her favorite songs.

I think of her often when I hear songs by Bread or Simon and Garfunkel, and I can see her standing at her bakery table decorating cakes and listening to and singing along with the music on the radio. Indeed her legacy also lives in me.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Why Does Dana Live On?

Hello from my study,

It is the end of New Year’s Day and for the first time in 5 years I am not in Europe or Kraków the first day of the year, and more significantly in a half a decade. Of course, as I have noted in other posts, this NW Iowa boy never really imagined he might be considered a bit of a world traveler. I know there are people who travel much more than I do, but undoubtedly, much more has happened through the past five years than I ever expected possible. From traveling around much of Central and parts of Eastern Europe to making it to Russia this past summer, I continually realize that people are people and we all hope for much the same things.

My travel started as a 17 year old boy, leaving home while believing he was an adult through an enlistment in the United States Marines. It would take less than 24 hours and my hiding my head under my pillow as tears streamed down my face to know that I had not made it to adulthood yet. That, what they now call adulting thing, undoubtedly had not yet happened. One might hope that my time in the Corps would have developed an adult, and in certain ways, it most definitely did, but there was so much yet to learn. I would come back to Sioux City hoping I had grown up, but moving back into my parents’ home probably erased most of the progress I had made. All of the responsibility I had seemed to disappear and if it were not for my pastor, his family, and the Reeses, I think my regression could have been even more problematic. As I noted in other blogs, traveling for a year on the LYE team did a great deal of good because it exposed me to living with others and realizing there was much more to life, particularly in terms of learning and culture. Yet the travel that changed my life was a trip that I have noted in other posts. As a sophomore at Dana, the trips to Europe with Dr. Nielsen were already legendary. His incredible interest in all things cultural offered some new possibility to connect our nascent world view of literature, art, architecture, and world languages to the theme and itinerary he would develop. His ability to integrate our world still astounds me.

That interim was titled Auguries of Loneliness and we read books and stories by Earnest Hemingway and Thomas Mann. That reading and the travel the last days of the year 39 years ago and into January are still etched into both my memories and my very being. The incredible group of students like Doug Lemon, Alison Nichols, Gay Gordon, Lisa Hanson, Lisa Bansen, and many others I would remember from pictures created quite of cadre trouping along after Dr. Nielsen. I never realized just how much energy he had or the length of his inseam when I tried to jump from footprint to footprint in the snow as we experienced Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I remember sitting in the cathedral in Lübeck, listening to an organist play pieces by Buxtehude in the classic Baroque style. And I was in the very place he had played some of his compositions. That is not a daily occurrence. Standing on the balcony of Hamlet’s castle in Helsingør. as the cold wind blew across the North Sea, would change the way I read Hamlet for the rest of my life. Standing before Raphael’s paintings or walking into St. Peter’s Basilica is simply a life-changing proposition. I think you get the picture, but it was not what happened while I was there, which included my leaving the group in an attempt to return to America for health reasons (that is an entirely another story). It is what the trip did to change me.

Like too many of students I see in my own classrooms yet today, I had been taught or encouraged to memorize and regurgitate what I had put into short-term memory. The humanities sequence as a freshman and sophomore at Dana required something much different. It required, thought, analysis, and most importantly, integration or synthesis. My professors at Dana, and particularly all who lectured in 107, 205, and 206, wanted us to understand the complexity of the world we would enter, and furthermore, they believed in the concept of citizenship, harkening back to the Greeks and Romans we had studied. My trip to Europe took those lessons out of the Western Civilization book and the plethora of study guides and handouts and made my life a walking classroom. I would never see a class or classroom the same again. Education became a life-work; learning became a philosophical process. I am still a process person, trying to soak up as much as I can. Even when I left Dana, I had little idea I would become a college professor. I had thought of a PhD, but was content that I had been called to be a parish pastor.

I learned at Luther (then Luther Northwestern) that my education at Dana was as robust, if not more so, than many of my classmates who were on what I referred to as the Norwegian pipeline to ordination. In fact, there is more Norwegian heritage in my family tree than Danish, but Dana had prepared me well. I had learned to integrate and analyze better than many. And realizing that my education had not cost nearly as much was a sort of frosting on the proverbial cake. I saw the same in my Dana classmates. Classmates like Merle Brockhoff, Scott Grorud, or Wilbur Holz were not only intelligent, but they understood the rhetorical nature of being a parish pastor. That is, in my estimation, part of what we had learned at Dana. We were encouraged to be scholars, but also thoughtful and benevolent individuals; those things that would serve us well as pastors and caregivers. As I would return to graduate school to eventually obtain my doctoral degree, I found myself thinking back to the words of Larrie Stone, Milt Olson, Richard, Jorgensen, and all of the Nielsens. They pushed me to never be content. They encouraged me to reach out and work to understand and interpret more carefully. It is the same thing I try to instill in my own students now. Thinking critically and analyzing thoroughly are essential to being an educated, thoughtful, and informed citizen. All of those astounding individuals we saw as our professors were exactly that. What they professed they lived. I believe we often underestimated and under-appreciated the brilliance and goodness in front of us. That is not because we didn’t care or pay attention, but it is because wisdom comes after time and through reflection.

Certainly people, who continue Dana’s legacy through the archives, the committed individuals in the immediate Blair area who give so much to creating the October events, the work through social media, and those who provide the hard physical labor to manage the care of the physical place we know as Dana, particularly after a decade of emptiness, provide important gifts of time, talent, and resources to provide a possible legacy to the community of Blair, which is etched in the memories of 1,000s of alumni. Dr. Heinrich’s magnificent new cross on the bluff above campus shines a light worthy of so many of those memories. We are blessed by that continued creative spirit.

Indeed, the “spirit lifts another throng,” another generation of individuals who will understand the motto of enduring truth and what it means to each individual who claims the Viking tradition as their own personal legacy. Perhaps it is age; perhaps it is a sense of reality; whatever it is, I know that Dana will continue to live through me and beyond me. Those four years from 1979-1983, with a semester away at the University of Iowa, were the most influential of my three score plus four years. There were professors who supported, pushed, and even frustrated me. Dr. Delvin Hutton was probably tougher for, and on, me than any individual my entire time at Dana. He told me once I was not capable of managing something. To this day I am not sure if he believed that or merely wanted to push me to work harder and go further in my level of work. Regardless his motivation, he motivated me. I was determined to succeed and prove him wrong in ways I seldom knew. As I have noted in other blogs, Dr. Larrie Stone tried his best to dissuade this history/humanities major from taking Anatomy and Physiology. He eventually allowed it, but with the caveat that I had to withdraw after 4 weeks if I was tanking the class. Instead, I was taking anesthesia exams before I was allowed to do an adrenalectomy on a rat. I was doing basal metabolic rate experiments. I was pulling all-nighters like no class ever before required. All to pull a C+ in that class, but damn, I was proud of that. Dr. Stone cared about my GPA and for me as a student, but he was still willing to offer me an opportunity to work outside my comfort zone. He called me in a couple times and asked how I was doing. Thanks to Monty Scheele, Troy Knutson, and Edie Myer as my study group, I did pretty well. Thank you to . Christine Barton and Deb Dill for helping me in lab. They all kept this liberal arts student afloat. That was the camaraderie typical of those at Dana when I was a student.

Dana lives on because of each of them. They made me a more complete person. Their care and example still inspires me today. This past week I took a December graduate from my university to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He and Anton, my Danish exchange student experienced three of the five Great Lakes. They saw more snow on the ground than they have ever seen. Micheal (spelled correctly) will be an outstanding graduate student. He told me when we returned at traveling 2,100 miles in less than 96 hours that I have done something for him no one ever had. My interest in helping to the next step is nothing more than what so many at Dana did for me. While most of my students do not know the name Dana College, they experience it through me. My Bible as Literature midterm is formatted exactly like a Humanities unit exam. My final is not quite as long, and I allow them to write the major final essay ahead of time, so they have to use sources and cite appropriately, there are still sections of matching. 107, 205, and 206 live on. Shortly after graduating from Dana, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. My first bout with it was brutal. I had lost almost 20 pounds in less than 30 days. As I came back to Blair to visit, Dr. Nielsen looked at me and told me he was concerned for me. He said, at the time, “Let me say something you might understand more fully. Your theology of grace works fine for everyone but yourself.” He was spot on. It has taken many years and more tough lessons than one might ever care to attempt, but that grace is never ceasing. What I know now is the amazing grace we were blessed by as students at Dana College. It continues to boggle me to my very core each time I stop and reflect on those four simple and wonderful years. Yes, daily we were graced by some outstanding people at every turn. Many from little Iowa or Nebraska towns. Some from other lands, and I remember with incredible fondness Lena Pedersen, one particular Danish exchange student. There will never be enough mange taks for all I leaned. What I know now is I am merely thankful to claim my status from an incredibly strong little college. Here is a version of Amazing Grace that reminds me of choir and singing in the mask for Paul Neve so many afternoons in AMA. The version here includes bagpipes and is the newest rendition of the Irish ensemble, Celtic Woman. I have been fortunate enough to see this group (and this lineup in November. I was in Ireland four years ago and it is on my bucket list to see this wonderful group there. My apologies to Monty and Peter for using this picture from my sophomore year as we were on choir tour.

Thank you always for reading.

Michael Martin

The Blessings (perhaps) of Memory

Good very early morning.

As is often the case, I have slept for a while, but I am awake after 1,036 miles of driving over two days and falling asleep at 7:45 earlier this evening. It is now a few minutes after midnight. The drive was long, but generally uneventful, which is also a very nice thing to say. Currently, I am in Chassell, blessed by the generosity of a mentor, and tomorrow is a day to take Micheal (spelled correctly) and Anton to see things that will hopefully be significant for one as a future place to call home and as yet another part of an American year for the other. During the trip here and back, they have been subjected to meeting former classmates as well as other people I am blessed to still call friends, to eating at some of my former haunts and places I worked, and walking the streets and pathways of a place that fundamentally changed my life.

Over two short, but incredibly, profound periods, I lived in the Keweenaw Peninsula and moved from what I believed I had been called to do to a something quite unexpected, but yet another calling nonetheless. When I arrived in Hancock in 1992, I would find myself in a professional situation that I realize now was untenable. Three full-time positions that created overlap that was unmanageable were not what I realized I would do, but I jumped into it full steam ahead. As I look at it now, I am painfully aware of how many ways I failed to do it well. Of course, going through an expected divorce at the time did little to contribute to my stability or capability to manage. Perhaps the distance made me believe I could manage this change, but looking back I realize I failed miserably. While I know I did some really good things in the classroom as a pastor, and even when I came to larger church relations issues, I stumbled in all three areas at the same time. What I realize now is going through the divorce consumed me much more than I could ever imagine. I think much of that realization came through watching an incredible friend, colleague, and someone I value beyond words experience a similar struggle. As I left that position I had little idea what I would do and I remember someone telling me as I headed back to the one thing I knew how to do, which was to bartend and serve, that I was probably the most educated waiter or server they had ever had, The next months, I headed back to the food and beverage industry and that’s a difficult time. While I did not drink a single drop of alcohol the whole time I was at Suomi, I still exhibited many of the behaviors that people who drink too much regularly do. I can see that so much more clearly now. However, once I began to drink again, it seems I made up for lost time.

Over the next year, there were way too many times the consequences of my drinking caused me problems; I would say that being involved with the person who would become my second wife would help keep me on track. As I waited tables again,   working at The Library, I had the fortune of waiting on a table of two couples. One of the women at the table that evening was a professor by the name of Dr. Carol Berkenkotter. The upshot of that meeting would be my interview in and being interviewed by various people in the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University. Accepted into a second Master’s program would lead me down a very different path, an eventual PhD and becoming a college professor. While my professional life was beginning to take shape my personal life was still struggling. It was during that time that I found myself in a relationship, which to this day still confounds me. While I had known this person when I was a campus pastor, I did not really get to know her until after I had left that position. She is smart, capable,  attractive, and profoundly complex. She is probably the person I loved as deeply as anyone I have ever loved. I have said many times in my life and even today if she showed up on my doorstep I would be a basket-case. I know that I would manage because I am much more thinking than perhaps I was. I remember a friend warning me to not get married (which happened before both times I was to become a husband). So many things happened in the four years we were married. I ended up in jail after pleading no contest to a domestic violence charge. The story is complex and my counselor, who told me he had work-shopped my case throughout the office, told me how ironic it was that I would be the one to end up in such a circumstance. Simply put, he noted I had been in an abusive relationship for some time. While I will not get into all of the particulars, it was probably a low point of my life. To call it The Tale of Two Cities is so far beyond an understatement there is little to try to explain. Even my counselor of 6 years continually asked what I was thinking. It is not easy to admit he said I was the smartest man he ever met that could be so clueless about women and relationships. What I must say, however, is I failed miserably and completely in my attempt to be a husband. I am not asking for pity or anything, but rather attempting to take accountability for my failure. We would leave Houghton and move to Oakland County and attempt to salvage and repair the damage done. I have spoken of my failings more specifically in other blogs, but the truth is I still could not manage the things like I should have. There are problems and some struggles both ways, but I am only responsible for my part.

I have learned much about myself since then. In fact, there is so much I manage much differently today. However, this would begin my third part of the Houghton puzzle. The move to Oakland County would not be as life altering as either hoped. When I went back to Houghton in 2000, a divorce was almost completed. The way I have often described that time is everything I owned fit in a pick-up truck and I did not own the truck. I would head back to Houghton on my own to finish my education. I continued to do counseling for the next three years. It is hard to believe it is almost 20 years ago all this happened. I had spoke with my ex-wife a couple of times, but the last time I had heard from her, in spite of the fact she had initiated the contact, she told me she never wanted to speak to me again. I spoke again with my counselor at the time and he asked if I was surprised. He had a way of making me looking at the complexity of most everything that occurred. I think I am still alive because of him. In fact, I know that is the case. Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in that two decades is that I am comfortable at being on my own. Certainly during the past two years, things have occurred to make me wonder if I could be involved in a long-term relationship ever again. I think I’ve learned that I can be rather selfless, and I am able to care much more about the other person than myself.  and yet that is not always a healthy thing to do either. I am also much more thoughtful and committed to what I say I will do now. I have not always been as successful at that as I am now. What I know now about myself is simply I am content, at least the great majority of the time. I am much more matter-of-fact about my life; I am much more dependent on logic and thought than emotion and worrying about what if. Perhaps that’s what age has done. More likely it is that I have no immediate family or that I have had to manage more health things, which will continue to be part of my life.. All of the surgeries and all of the changes to my gastrointestinal track have created consequences, but I just learn to manage and keep going. I am simply blessed to be here, have a job I love, and live in a lovely house and do mostly what I want. Certainly, my position as an associate professor and as a program director keeps me more busy than I sometimes wish, but I actually love my work. The move this past year that has been in the process of being appointed as an Associate Adjunct Professor of Gastroenterology at the Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine is a new thing that will push me to connect my health and my academics. As I tell my students often, being a professor is not what I do, it is who I am. It reminds me again of a time when I tried to explain the difference between a PhD and other degrees. Again I failed miserably in my attempt and my rhetorical strategy was a complete flop. To this day I’m not sure I’ve been forgiven for that.

As we finish yet another year and this time, another decade,  it seems that I wonder about where things will go and how long I will be part of this a bit more carefully than I did once upon a time. 20 years ago was the beginning the Millennium and I would have to work New Year’s Day because of Y2K, Cell phones were a new thing and technology was just really beginning to take off. There was no idea, at least generally of apps and all the things that permeate our lives. Little did we know where it would all go. Even now little do we know where it will go. The world seems so much more precarious today than it did at the beginning of the century. One decade ago I had just moved here to Bloomsburg and I was busy running back-and-forth from here to Wisconsin to take care of Lydia.

As I write this it was 22 years ago today that my father passed away. I can remember that morning as if it was yesterday. It was early and I would have to preach three church services yet that morning after receiving my phone call. Being in charge of my father’s estate would reveal a number of things and many of them difficult. Ironically I think it was also the beginning of the end for the marriage, which I believe we both desperately wanted to hold onto. It is always interesting to me how we can look back and understand to a more complete manner how foolish we were and how shortsighted. for the first time in about six years I’m not in Europe for a New Year’s Eve. Anton is out with friends and the driving 2100 miles in less than 96 hours has taken its toll on this aging body.  definitely the return to the UP has conjured up a number of memories. The memories are always simultaneously a blessing and a curse, but that is the nature of our frail, fractured, and imperfect existence. As I complete a decade, I’m not sure that I live through another one. What I do know is that I have learned from my mistakes, I have been blessed in so many ways and by so many different people. Even when things didn’t work out because of my failures. I can only hope to do better and learn. I wish all of you will read this peace and health as you move into a new year. I am grateful to so many people for the blessings they have given to this extraordinary life. Over the past days I have been reminded of all of the people we have lost from where I went to high school, including my own sibling. This song by Dan Fogelberg is an incredible song about our memories and this version was posted the day following his passing.

 

Thank you as always for reading. 

Dr. Martin

Imagining And Pondering Christmas

Hello from my living room,

It is late afternoon or early evening and I am sitting quietly; the tree is lit and the snow people and Santas are inhabiting the space to remind me of what is to come. I hear the traffic whizzing by the house and John Ritter’s carols are playing on my Google home device. It is a somewhat sleepy day, but that is fine as I am readying myself for the morning trip to Geisinger for a routine procedure. I love the season of Advent and the idea of preparing for Christmas. Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza are all celebrations of different faiths and backgrounds, but they have very different meanings. That is for another time. Christmas is as much about our various cultures as it is about the Christian celebration of Jesus’s birth. Certainly the Christian celebration is engrained in my background, from growing up attending Sunday School Christmas programs standing as a shepherd in my bathrobe or reading Luke’s Christmas gospel. It is a time that I remember the incredibly long day as one of the pastors at Trinity Lutheran in Lehighton and spilling communion wine on the fair linen at a Christmas Eve service. I was sure the industrious and reverent altar guild women were going to kill me. Another year, not long after the first Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Album, I used their music for a Christmas monologue sermon. I think to this day it might have been one of the top two or three sermons I ever preached. What made it a memorable service was how it seemed to touch the heart of the people who attended that service we called “The Animals’ Christmas.” As I write this I think of all my clergy friends who put so much energy into that evening and the organists and choirs. There is something magical about the carols, the candles, and the seemingly one time of the year when people think more about giving than receiving.

I think that spirit of giving is what gives Christmas such a prominent place on my radar. It is rather amusing, and at time a little embarrassing, how many times little children have called me Santa, and not just at Christmas time. When I was out at the tree farm picking out a tree, some small children smiled and pointed in my direction as we rode the wagon out to the fields of trees. I merely smiled and asked if they had been good. Last summer I was in Kraków, Poland and sitting in a Costa on Ulica Florianska and small children smiled and pointed. Their parents noted they thought I was Santa down for a visit I guess. Earlier I spoke with my former church organist; while I have been gone from Trinity for many years, she is still there. She is an incredible woman. She paid me a very profound compliment. It was a compliment to both my colleague and senior pastor, the Rev. Guy Grube, and me. He was an talented administrator and pastor/preacher/teacher. She noted that worship and preaching had a quality and skill not matched since we left, and that was 25 years ago. While I think we did a number of things well, I believe the work the three of us did on worship was extraordinary, and Christmas Eve services were perhaps the pinnacle of what we achieved and the spirit that occurred. Even though it has been so many years ago, that was a really significant thing for me to hear.

There are times I wonder and imagine what I might do were I still ordained? I struggle with worship even today because much of the preaching I hear is substandard. I do not mean to sound judgmental or arrogant, but Luther stated emphatically, “The word of God is powerful; and both law and gospel have moral force.” For me, that is the power of the Christmas story. It is the breaking through or the breaking into our dilemma-ed existence with a sense of giving that undoubtedly passes our understanding. Yet, we are back to the sense of giving, but this is no easy pick-it-off-the-shelf or hitting Walmart on Thanksgiving night or a cyber-Monday-sitting-at-the-computer. The giving of one’s self for the other without expecting something in return is something few are capable of. I know this pain too keenly when I have offered help, be it emotionally or financially and the emotion or care is not reciprocated or the money is never paid back. Too often I have found myself feeling hurt, and that hurt is followed by anger and the anger by a sense of betrayal which leads to bitterness. Regardless the expectation, the giving was not really giving with a spirit of selflessness. I am sure some will argue with me on aspects of that assertion, and you are welcome to do so. What I am realizing, sometimes too late, and many times too often, is that truly giving means that I cannot expect something in return. If it is financial, and this one has been particularly difficult, if I can not afford to lose that resource, it is probably best not to give it in the first place. Even then, I struggle if I am only giving what I can afford to lose, how deeply am I giving? This is something I am still trying to wrap my head around.

The spirit of Christmas for me is when I am willing to go without so that others may have. There is something about the humility of the Gospel story in Luke that speaks to me in ways I did not realize when I was a parish pastor. Perhaps I caught a glimpse of it when I focused on the animals for that Children’s service. Perhaps it is those we call the dumb beasts that we can learn the most about sharing. If Jesus was born in a cattle stall, I am quite sure the animals were not consulted about sharing their sleeping chambers. I am sure if all the commotion that occurred as we read it did indeed happen, the animals got little or no sleep, but I wonder if they held a grudge because their peaceful night existence was interrupted? I wonder if they will willing to give up their feeding trough to provide a bed for a young mother’s newborn child?

Too often we ask those with little to nothing to somehow give more and yet, we selfishly hold on to our abundance. Over the past two weeks through the hard work of four or five people we were able to make sure a student was able to travel on the Central/Eastern European Study Abroad trip. It was interesting to me how thoughtfully and willingly we all communicated to make something happen that will change that student’s life. It was much like what a couple did for me all those years ago. I believe with all my heart that their gift and that study abroad experience is fundamental to my becoming a professor. To walk in, but not nearly fill, the footprints of the Nielsen family, and there were many of them at Dana, is humbling and beautiful.

Dr. John W. sent out a Christmas greeting (a poem, a verse, something memorable) that he usually composed himself and his keen insight into our complex world was at times hopeful, at times reflective, at times much like another John’s voice crying in the wilderness, but whatever it was it was always profound. It was instructive and illuminating. As I reach an age that I thought once to be the age of old people, I find how much I still am learning about that education I received on the Nebraska bluffs along the Missouri River. Little did I know I would be at the feet of giants as I sat in Pioneer Memorial, Old Main, or the Old AMA. Little did I realize the spirit of giving they provided or instilled in so many of us.

I know now how blessed and fortunate I was to be on the receiving end of such a giving faculty. They had gone without raises, without sabbaticals, and incredible professors with PhDs from Oxford, or Duke, or Harvard were on that hill in Blair. And there were people like Phil Pagel, Verlan Hansen, and so many workers who day in and day out worked to support us. Talented, brilliant, classmates, who were also good people and created a cohort of people who still matter in my life. I think of 5 people, my fellow Dyaks, all successful and giving to this day. I think of talented and good people like Monty and Troy, who helped a history and humanities major survive Anatomy and Physiology. I think of those who were seniors or upper class men when I was an older freshman: Barb, Nettie, Tim, Peter, Mary, Lynn, Merle, Jim, Tom, who welcomed and accepted me. They gavel so much more than they realized. Dana had a spirit of giving that permeated every aspect of that little college on the hill.

I believe with all my being that Dana built on the foundation my grandmother had created for me when I was small. She was the most selfless and loving person I could have ever met. She loved unconditionally. I understand that so much more clearly now. Dana taught be how to take that sense of giving and make it a lifestyle, a life philosophy if you will. How often is it we fail to realize the blessings we are provided daily because they are all around us? How often is it we forget to thank those who give to us so selflessly? Too often we take the giftedness of our daily lives for granted or we fail to reflect on the profound things we believe to be mundane, taking them for granted. As I imagine Christmas this year, having a Danish exchange student has transported my thoughts back to choir rehearsals and preparing for Sights and Sounds. As I have the Danish hearts on my Christmas tree and Anton’s parents have sent Danish treats, my thoughts are wondering up to the cross and down to the barn below campus. As I prepared a Danish Christmas dinner with roasted duck, stuffed with dates, apples, and lemon and Anton and I made Risalamande for dessert, the spirit of Veritas Vincit is not far removed.

Christmas is the time to imagine and ponder. It is a time to remember and give thanks. I am so thankful that I found my way to that small college on the hill. I can only hope to give in the same fashion it gave to me. I wish each of you who read this a sense of hope, peace and joy as we celebrate this season of real giving.

Blessings to you all and thank you for reading.

Dr. Michael Martin ’83