I am Haunted by Humans

Hello from Manassas, Virginia,

It has been an incredibly taxing year on all involved in higher education. From students to faculty, from staff to administrators, the consequence of the pandemic has been felt by all. While that is perhaps an obvious statement, what is not as obvious is the degree to which it has affected the world of academe. This is in no way meant to underestimate the difficulties of the rest of society, but rather to focus on the world where I spend the majority of my time. I know too well that some of my former classmates believe being a professor is an easy, part-time, no-accountability, proselytizing venture where I am paid to do as little work as possible. I can assure those in that camp that this past year, more than any in the time I have taught, has been more demanding and laborious. It has been more overwhelming and frustrating, and more of a learning experience than any of my previous years spent in the classroom (and ironically, I was not in a classroom the entire year). The best way to describe asynchronous, remote learning is as a time I was never scheduled to be in class and simultaneously, unless I was sleeping, never out of class. It was like having 75 independent studies or more each semester.

Am I glad I experienced it? Yes, I learned an incredible amount about myself as well as about my students. Do I want to do it ever again? That is an emphatic “hell no!” While I might have worked harder than I ever have, I can tell you I felt more ineffective, more like a failure than anytime I have taught. I can also tell you I got more trashed (taken to task) by students than ever before . . . and some of their complaints and concerns were valid (but they had little willingness, it seemed, to see the other side of what happened.) I should note that it was not every student. Most certainly, there were students profoundly understanding. Bottom line seems to be I certainly failed to do the best job ever done in classes, and that is in spite of the extraordinary time spent trying to manage this asynchronous world. Am I frustrated by that? Without a doubt. Why? Simply – I take a lot of pride in what I do, and I do believe I owe students the best I can give them. On the other hand, pedagogically, it was evident that asynchronous remote learning is not the best delivery method for some classes, and that is for a variety of reasons. However, the world of education (and this goes back to our public school systems for starters) seems content to treat students as customers. This is not something to which I willingly subscribe. I cannot be convinced such a plan is helpful. Can I do the checks and balances of tuition and fees as well as state or federal support that make a university education financially solvent? Yes, I probably can. Yet, if we only see our students as dollar signs or retention objects as the be-all, end-all of what we do, what does it mean to profess, to learn, to reflect, to become a scholar? When students become the consumer (e.g. the boss) of their classes, I become a substitute, the purveyor of information. I become a person whose worth or value is determined by someone who brain is not fully developed. I am evaluated by the whims and preferences of someone’s attitudes versus what they have actually done or learned.

I was told recently (and by someone for whom I have incredible respect) that I am too metacognitive and that my students do not want to be pushed in that manner. There are two struggles with that statement. First, I believe the person who told me this is undoubtedly correct (I always want to know the why about the why). And second, and perhaps more importantly, to believe that education is a recipe card or a rubric, which is what this implies. Such an understanding is foundationally wrong. As one of my undergrad colleagues (who is now a professor as I am) reminded me, our advisor, the late Dr. John W. Nielsen once quoted the three word phrase from the Upanishads, “”Tat tvam asi.” Or to put it another way, “the essence are (and this grammatical difficulty is intentional) you.” It is about reflection and understanding who we are as well as the what we are; it is about understanding the manifestation of ourselves and how we (or it) is part of something so much larger (and I would add also important). If we can only see our students as some dollar sign, as having their value determined by the tuition they generate, we lose sight of our role as educators. As noted, I am as well aware of the business aspect of our system as anyone, but I would like to believe that my argument is about more than some idealistic belief in being the professor.

Allow me to put it in a different context, view it from a different perspective. As noted more than once, I am that first generation college student. My parents did not pay for my education, nor did they plan to do so, and the reason for that was simple. They could not afford to do so. When I first went to Iowa State University, I flunked out. When I eventually ended up at Dana College, I was petrified I was not smart enough to be there, Fortunately, with hard work, some wonderful classmates, and an incredible faculty, I learned that I could do the necessary work. Yet, during my first year, I did not know how to learn. I knew well how to jump through hoops. The Marine Corps had taught me this if nothing else. I remember an Introduction to Business Management course. We had multiple choice, take-home, open-book exams. Those exams were written so intricately, that it would take three of us, each working diligently through the book together more than an hour to manage the 25 multiple choice questions. However, we did it (and after notating our exams with where we found our answers) we generally received an A on the exam. However, that was not, nor is it education. I can say with no reservation that I remember nothing from that class. It was actually through my Humanities sequence, I learned the concept of integration and synthesis. Those three semesters and my interim in Europe reflecting on the works of Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Mann, my being in a cultural classroom 24/7 for a month with Dr. Nielsen compelled me to rethink everything. I finally understood what it meant to study or learn (theoretically, conceptually, and practically). It was soaking every drop up. It was looking beyond the obvious, and it was not by following a rubric or recipe card. The integration required to become a professional is not a dichotomous process, one separating classroom and experience. For too much of my schooling, especially back in own public school upbringing, we had two kinds of teachers. First, rote memorization was what we did. There was little difference from English to history, biology to geography. The difference was whether the teacher figured out how to keep me interested or made the process enjoyable. What that admission means is telling. We have been stymied by the process of learning most of our lives. We had (and perhaps still believe we need) to be mollified. I struggle when my students say, “I only want to read what I am interested in.” I balk at the idea that somehow I need to give them every element as if they are trained responders.

So what is the answer? I am not quite sure, but whatever it is, I am quite sure it is neither simple nor will some conceptual response manage it. Why? Because in the words of the feminist poet, Adrienne Rich, it is the students’ response-ability that matters. It is the agency we take as humans to be accountable, and through which we claim an education versus receive one. However, we are selfish. We want things on our own terms. As I write and ponder, I am intrigued by what it was our professors at Dana seemed to do so effortlessly, so seamlessly. If you speak with Dana alumni from education to science, from humanities to the arts, it seems there were outstanding faculty, those who inspired student to take charge of their education. That small college on the bluffs of the Missouri had already created the scholarly community Rich speaks of in her commencement address to Rutgers University (some 25 years later). This does not mean there were never shenanigans. What? No one ever drank on our dry campus, certainly not! Ha! I remember two characters on my floor when I was an RA, somehow believing that having half the campus on our floor and two 16 gallon kegs in their room would not be noticed. They were quite sad when I made them open the taps and pour the rest of the beer down the drain. I remember when one floor on campus decided to make a swimming pool out of the shower. When a faculty person’s daughter knocked the barrier down a flood ensued down the hallway, and, of course, they were not on the first floor. Oh, the memories. And yet we survived . . . all the time afforded an incredible education at that Danish Lutheran College. In spite of being known as the “Holy Dane” campus, there were certainly times when we put Luther’s quote of “if you are going to sin, sin boldly.” into action.

What does it mean to be educated? Yet again another difficult question, but at this point I believe it is about thinking, analyzing, and integrating. It is not memorization; it is not a recipe; it is, however, something different for each person. It is being honest with one’s self and knowing in their heart if they really did the best work possible. It is the wisdom of self reflection. I can still see Dr. Nielsen’s lecture on the “allegory of the cave.” As my floor-mate, and incredibly brilliant professor, Dr. Langholz noted, it is remembering the times we were pushed to ponder the complexities of our humanity by the likes of Drs. Nielsen and Jorgensen, be it philosophically or in light of our national history. Dana taught me to go beyond what was average. Dana taught be to listen and reflect, to ponder and imagine, to never be satisfied to merely complete an assignment. I miss that in some of my students. That is not to say all. I have some really good students; I have some who want to go beyond, but it is difficult for me when they merely want to know what to do without pondering the why they are doing it. For me, it is seldom enough to merely get something done. It is that very nature that is also sometimes to my own detriment. I realize I am seldom satisfied, even with my own work. I want it to be better. I want it to be more thorough; and I want it to be meaningful above all else. Perhaps that is why I am where I am.

In my last blog, I noted the passing of an incredible influence in my personal and academic development. Since that time, it has come to light that another classmate, and ironically a mutual traveler on that Interim trip also passed from our grasp. Lisa (Hansen) Madsen, who was a year ahead of me in terms of our time at Dana, passed, even more ironically, the same day as Dr. Nielsen. I note that because she was an incredibly kind and thoughtful person and an important part of our traveling group that winter term. I note it because her husband was my head resident and also a profoundly important part of my Dana experience. It is always stunning when we lose people we have known most of our lives. She had the most radiant smile and she brightened any room she entered. I am saddened beyond words to learn of her passing. Perhaps, in my own piety, she and Dr. Nielsen met at the gates and began yet another journey, this time as two humans beyond the grasp of our understanding.

Our lives are complex and more unpredictable than we often realize. Perhaps it my age; perhaps I am becoming the curmudgeonly Norman Thayer from the movie On Golden Pond. Perhaps I am realizing I have much less time left than what I have lived and I want to somehow make a difference. Sometimes I feel there is so much left to do. Sometimes I wish I knew what I knew now, except I had realized it half my life ago. As Markus Zusak wrote in his novel, The Book Thief, “I am haunted by humans.” I wonder about the reflection in the cave more often than not. As I post this, I cannot help but remember it was 48 years ago today I graduated as the first graduating class of West High School in Sioux City, Iowa. Amazing what I understood life to be then and now.

The glory days were well beyond then. Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

From a one-room Schoolhouse to Oxford: Learning from a Humble Giant

Hello from the coffee shop on a sunny morning,

There are other things I must do today, but I am a bit in shock this morning. Much like Grandparents or Parents, we see them as immortal as we do not know life without them. I am feeling much the same with another parallel occurrence yesterday. The professor who was my undergraduate advisor, the person who taught me more about learning, about Western Civilization or religion and the person I wish to emulate more than any in my own teaching has finished his mortal journey in this world. Dr. John Wolter Nielsen, fondly know to Dana students as “The Pope,” finished an incredible journey of over 95 years. The stories and memories, the tributes that continue to be written on the Dana Facebook page are numerous and I am sure will continue to multiply in the days to come.

As I told a Dana classmate, Dr. Nielsen epitomized the medieval idea of learning and the Greek/Roman understanding of citizenship. I could tell enough stories to create a book, and even that could never do justice to this intellectual giant who chose to spend his life at a college that came from his same ethnic roots. His appreciation for his Danish heritage was infectious. In my first trip abroad (January 1981), spending time with him in Copenhagen, Roskilde, Østerbro was almost magical. His eyes sparkled and his step, which was quick to begin with, quickened as he showed us around the city. A number of people have remembered his classroom lectures, the breathing of breath into Adam comes to mind. There was his love of books and his reminding us of certain books we needed to have on our bedside stand (table). I remember going to his house the first time and seeing his own library. I still wish I had written them all down. There are three things I hold particularly dear in our numerous conversations (and it is likely I have referred to them in previous blogs, but not as a sort of Papal trivium of life-changing statements). The first happened during that very trip to Europe. I was blessed to spend some time in the same first class railcar as we travelled from one location to another. He, as was is way, asked about my background and my family. I was recounting the story of losing a brother at the age of 26 (I was 21 when he passed) a few years prior. I told him about the night in the hospital when he had passed. I told him about my looking out the window as we found he was gone and uttering simply, but emotionally, “Fuck!” As my eyes filled with tears yet again, he calmed replied in his knowing way, “That might be the most profound prayer you have ever uttered.” I stared at him and nodded without really understanding. He continued, “How different is your vernacular plea out of desperation from the lament of the Psalmist? And then he recounted the 22nd Psalm. I have never looked at the F word in the same manner. The second occurence was when we were talking about his being a professor. I think we were sitting in Parnassus, the learning center for the Humanities program. We were talking about my future aspirations, which at that time were rather confined to being an eventual parish pastor. I asked him about being a teacher and his answer was profound. He said, I am not just a teacher, I am a professor. It is who I am; it is what I profess. It encompasses my entire being. It is what I do, I profess it; I live it.” This might not be word for word, but it is close. I walked away that day in awe of this incredible man, one who walked the same sidewalks, hills, and halls I did. The third, and equally profound statement was spoken in late February or early March of 1984, after I graduated. I had come back to Dana to visit someone, and I had lost signifiant weight because of what would eventually be diagnosed as Crohn’s. Back then, I weighed maybe 150 and I was down to about 125-130. I did not look great and when I saw him, he was more than willing to tell me so. He said, “Michael, you do not look well.” I told him a bit about what was happening. He paused, pondered, and then said, again knowingly and with care, “Michael, I am going to say this to you in a different way, but you will understand. Your theology of grace works fine for everyone but yourself.” The number of times I have struggled with my health, looked in the mirror, and stared at the gaunt or struggling person is more than I have fingers, and each time I can still hear his voice in my head. He pushed me that day, and still does now to accept God’s grace.

Dr. Nielsen was almost mystical, and he had a way of pulling people in and teaching them how to think. That is perhaps the most significant thing he did. He never told people what to think, but he was intent on teaching them how to think, analyze, and integrate life. This is the lesson I have taken from him. Any of my students reading this – they now know from where that came. As I read his obituary yesterday, these words came across louder than most any of the amazing things he did. He “implemented and directed an innovative humanities program involving experiential learning, centered in the Parnassus Room. Many Dana students were introduced to opera, theater, classical music, poetry and drama as well as national and international travel through this program (Facebook).” My commitment to experiential learning continues today. It is not easy to maintain that work, and it is not always appreciated. He knew this, and I know it today. Pushing people to think, analyze, and look beyond the obvious requires commitment. The fact that every student at Dana was required to take this course was not always appreciated, but that three semester sequence did more to prepare me for life, and now a life in the classroom than I could have ever imagined. Those Hum study guides are still in my office. Learning is experiential. We are not vessels merely to be filled and then pour out whatever was dumped in. Working with Dr. Nielsen in his RELIGION 342 Christian Thought class was still one of the most important classes I took in terms of understanding what it meant to be faithful. Little did I know that reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison would eventually come back as an essential element of my own dissertation. Certainly my work later with Dr. James Burtness, in seminary and his scholarship on Bonhoeffer would be also important. Then there was Dr. Dale Sullivan in my doctoral work, but it started with the Pope. As I write this and ponder, what I realize so much more clearly is even Bonhoeffer was an experientialist, if I can make that a word. It is in the actual doing that we learn. One of my students this semester wrote that they wanted the professor to teach them; they did not think experiential learning had any benefit. I was somewhat shocked by their admission, and even more alarmed when I considered their career path. Perhaps someday, they will see it differently.

This past year has been a year of adaptation. I think this is another thing Dr. Nielsen was incredibly adept at managing. Even as a person of profound principle, he always understood the circumstances of the world around him. His poetry, his Christmas messages, and his unparalleled brilliance at articulating his world were beyond insightful. What was it that made his mind so masterful of anything and everything? What was it that established such humility in spite of such ingenuity? His ability to gather such prodigious people around him as co-partners in the Humanities program is no small feat. I understand this more now that I am in the academy. The ability to get other faculty to co-teach is like creating harmony in a sandbox of four-year olds, but somehow he did it. The legacy and benefit of that program for 1000s cannot be overstated. As I read one of my favorite classmate’s comments about Hum, as we called it, I could not help by smile. My appreciation for art, music, architecture, politics, religion, poetry, philosophy, theatre, travel, opera, all of it, comes from that three semester sequence. And all of this comes from the brainchild of a person who began his education in a one-room Minnesota schoolhouse. It reminds me of much of the Laura Ingalls Wilder beginnings we learned about as children. He is a real-life version of that, a person whose insatiable thirst for knowledge and the willingness to share that passion changed generations of students. Seldom does one make such a difference at a small liberal arts college. Seldom is one content to remain in that same small Nebraska town.

There is so much more to write, and there are so many more feelings that well up within me as I write this. The Pope taught me more about life and goodness than he will ever know, or perhaps now he will. Whenever I spoke with him and complemented him for what he had done, he would respond along the lines of “how nice of you to say that.” I remember tromping through the snow with him in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I realized how tall he was as I tried to almost hop from footstep to footstep in the waist-high snow. He was much taller and his long legs certainly outpaced this person who has never made it beyond 5’10”. As I attempt to write something faintly sufficient about this wonderful man, I know it is impossible to do so. I spoke with a former classmate from Dana who is at the Danish American Archives and Library this morning. After our wonderful conversation, she said, “Thanks, Pops,” which is what she called me when we were at Dana. It brought back such wonderful memories. Thank you, Jill. Dr. Nielsen epitomized that spirit at Dana. His scholarly influence, his pastoral care, and his principled life leave a legacy that he would always underplay. His bark might no longer be heard in the physical reality of our lives, but the incredible echo of that bark will remain in our lives until our own journey’s end. Well done good and faithful servant. I have a feeling that people like Plato, Aristotle, Niebuhr, and Bonhoeffer have a space at their table for you. Thank you for being that person in so many lives, but particularly to me. When I hear this song, I will forever remember you in yet another way.


Thanks for reading,

Dr. Martin

Another Year and Some New Thoughts

Bockperson Hall . . . as we called it

Hello from Panera Bread,

While I am usually writing from home, I am banned from my home and the Acre for a bit because the house is being shown. There has been some genuine interest this week, or so it seems. I am to an expert at these things, so I am depending on my realtor to help me navigate this world. It is always interesting how we depend on others around us. One of the things I tell my students is not a single person gets to where they are without some help along the way. I think of times when I was first starting out my life, whether it was my first time in college, my first time as a married person, my first time as a graduate student, my first time as a tenure-track professor, there was someone who helped me along the way. I think of when my mother passed away and we had to get back to Iowa from Minnesota, and we needed to fly . . . we did not have the extra money as I was a married seminary student and someone helped us financially. I remember when Susan, at the last minute, decided she wanted to go to Europe with my seminary class and my Great Aunt and Uncle helped us financially or again when they purchased my first computer for me as a senior seminary student.

But not all help is financial . . . Cristina Matthews, a former talented colleague here at Bloomsburg, did so much to make my navigating paperwork or finding the correct place to answer questions much easier my first year. Some of my professors/mentors at Michigan Tech are friends to this day because they helped this older non-traditional doctoral student manage the rigors and expectations of a doctoral program. Drs. Patty Sotirin, Elizabeth Flynn, or Victoria Bergvall have all continued to support me as a colleague in the academy and their care and support means more to me than they could ever know. Just this morning, I have the opportunity to speak with an incredible undergraduate colleague I met my first fall at Dana College. As I told her, I was frightened and unsure I had the ability to be a college student. I had already failed and dropped out once. Fortunately, Peter Bonde, a junior, was my roommate. He introduced to me a wonderful group of upper level students and they were my social support as much as my same year classmates were support in my classes. Earlier today I was inducted into a First Generation College Student Honor Society. That is still astounding to me that when I started college I had little support from my home. I know my father was proud of my path, but I remember him asking me what I could do with the 164 credits, two majors, and two minors I had earned as I walked to my commencement. I remember the look of shock on his face when I answered nothing, but go on to graduate school, which is what I did. I remember my mother telling me I lied when I told her what it cost me to attend college and I had to show the catalog to her to prove the veracity of my statement.

It is not uncommon for me to be questioned by my students about being a professor and they ask if I always knew this is what I would do. My answer is honest and simple. I tell them I had no idea this would be where I might be or what I might do. In fact, there are still times I must ask myself, “How did I get here?” As some of you know, I have a 2.8 as a GPA out of high school. What I know now is I was capable of much more, but I had little discipline or understanding of why doing better mattered. I grew up with the blue collar understanding the I neither had the brains nor the money to go to college. As I noted in a recent blog. People from Riverside, my section of Sioux City, seldom went to college. A few years ago, when back in town for a benefit for my best and closest childhood friend, I found myself at a table with my high school classmates. It was the first time I was with most of them in 40 years. After we figured out who each other was, one asked me what I did. I answered honestly, “I am a college professor.” His response took me back a bit, but knowing our backgrounds, there was some appropriate surprise. He said, “No fuckin’ shit?” I looked at him calmly, and answered, offering his terminology right back to him, “Yes; no fuckin’ shit.” He smiled and said, “Cool.” End of conversation.

This past year and a half, post-shutdown, has been a trial for most. Regardless your position in higher education, administrator, staff, faculty, or student, working through managing, supporting, teaching, or learning, little prepared us for the demands COVID has placed on all of us. What is profoundly apparent to me is we have all floundered at times. We have all risen to the occasion and did amazing work at times. However, the most important thing realized is this: we are so dependent on each other if we are to succeed in these times. That is always the case, as noted above, but for me the intentionality of that support and the importance of seeing others before myself has never been more apparent. This semester, I struggled in ways I do not generally struggle. To put it simply and honestly, I have been hanging on by my fingernails most of the semester. I have noted numerous times, they are not long, but they are strong. I am not sure that was even enough this spring. Fortunately, with some conversations and some retooling, with listening to my students and my chair, we are in a place I can feel better about things. Students are struggling because they have been placed in circumstances they do not always expect. Faculty are struggling because in spite of best intentions and plans, sometimes we fail. Staff keep plugging along and doing the best they can as the terrain shifts around them. And while we might like to point fingers at administrators, I do believe they are trying to manage the changing terrain, world, and demands from all of us and more the best they can. It moves us back to the place I began. We are dependent on each other. There is no way around that. We are trying to do the best we can with what we have and what we believe. I certainly do not mean that in some polyannish kumbyah sing and it will all be good way. This year as been a struggle. What happens on the other side is still uncertain. When do we actual get to the other side? What will that look like? What will be forever changed? None of these questions have answers at the moment, but I have to believe we are in it together.

As I noted with my chair last night, it was only a few days over 12 years ago that I interviewed at Bloomsburg. Little did I know what Bloomsburg as a professional stop would do for me, but I knew I wanted to do it well. Little did I know there would be so many profound changes in my life, but there should be no surprise in that. I did know this would hopefully be my last professional position. Of course, I have picked up a second one along the way, as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Medical Education. What I know is I could have not come to a better place than Bloomsburg. It was exactly what I needed, though I did not know that when I rode my Harley from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania by way of Tennessee and up through the Shenandoah Valley. My colleague, and now chair, Dr. Mark Decker gave me a simple statement of advice. He said, “Michael, be the plumber.” At the time, I stared blankly at him, mystified. He explained, “Plumbers are needed. Make yourself needed.” He would elucidate a bit more, but it was the best advice he could have offered. It is about being helpful. It is about being unselfish. From the beginning of my collegiate career, I have been blessed by selfless mentors: Drs. Nielsen (all of them), Jorgensen, Stone, or Bansen. In seminary, Drs. Tiede, Fretheim, Juel, Koester, Debner . . . and I have noted others earlier. Seldom do we realize their importance at the time. Someone once told me if you profoundly affect five people in your life, you can consider your life successful. Certainly there are two elements and questions to ponder about this statement. What does it mean to be successful, and, as importantly, how does one measure profundity? I do not believe either term is easily defined, for a variety of reasons. Too often we equate success materially; too often we understand the profound nature of something by its uniqueness or perhaps by the understanding it is unparalleled in our daily existence. If that is correct, we seldom realize such a person in our life until after they or we have moved beyond that time or space.

Perhaps I should note five people I believe profoundly affected my life, and I will focus on those outside my family. I should note this is not in any particular order. Dr. John W. Nielsen, one of my two undergraduate advisors. He might be one the most intelligent, mystical, and incredible people I have ever met. He is the truest example of a Renaissance person. Brilliant, principled, and influential beyond anything he would ever imagine because of his humility. Dr. Donald Juel, my New Testament professor at LNTS. He taught me as much about being a scholar and reaching for my potential as anyone. He pushed me and influenced my theology as much as anyone. I wish he would have lived longer. Sheldon (Bud) Reese, a church member and surrogate father to a young man afraid to grow up and take accountability. He had no idea how important he was at the time, but perhaps later, as I would stop to visit and check in with him every time I came home to Sioux City there was some inkling. He was, and would be, there at a moment’s notice – like when he bailed me out of jail one night at 3:00 a.m. The Reverend Fred Peters, my parish pastor, the father of one of my best friends as well as the father of the first girl I liked after coming home from the Marines. He is the person I chose to preach at my ordination. He was the man who taught me accountability like no other. He was an incredible pastor, the person who most influenced me to attend seminary and the man who was an amazing preacher, parish pastor, and surrogate father to me, even when I wasn’t ready for him. Lee and Judy Swenson, and yes, I realize there are two, but they are a couple, and my first host family during my year travels for Lutheran Youth Encounter. They are not old enough to be my parents, so they are the most like older siblings. They have been part of me for two-thirds of my life, and I am still blessed by them. They are simply the kindest, most supportive, and sort of perfect people you will ever meet. I could write a book about how important they have been in their support and love toward me for over four decades. None of these people might be aware of their incredible influence and the ways they influenced me to improve and strive to be better. There are more people who could be here and certainly should be here, but I promised to only do five (and even then I snuck in six). I could probably do different areas or groups.

Simply put, as I began, we do not get where we are without help. We do not accomplish much individually when it comes to who we become in the long term. I am continually humbled by the people around me. Their work, their brilliance, their dedication inspire me. Life is really an astounding opportunity if we will avail ourselves to it. Even in the midst of the crazy pandemic, in the divisiveness and mistrust, there is so much to be grateful for. As you go about your days, remember the people who have influenced your life. Give thanks for them. If they are still in your life, reach out to them and let them now how much they matter and how blessed you are for knowing them. You will make their day as well as your own. It is not rocket science as my friend has a habit of saying. It is simple gratitude. It is selflessness, and it makes us all better. To all who have reached out to me in various ways as I write these posts, thank you. To all of my students who make me a better person, thank you. There are so many songs that remind me of some of these times in my life, but remember when I first learned to play this song. I was so excited to share it. Amazing those times in Rasmussen Hall my senior year at Dana.

Thanks as always for reading . . . remember to thank those who made a difference.

Dr. Martin

Why Would Someone Adopt?

Good Morning on an early Thursday morning,

It is about 4:30 a.m. and I am at the computer working. I went to bed around 9:30 last evening and woke up around 3:00. I realized I had not finished up some thing in the kitchen last night and decided it is time to get up and manage those issues. Then after 15 minutes, being wide awake, it seemed more productive to stay up. Now after some work in BOLT (our University CMS) on a couple classes, it seemed that writing about my adopted father on the occasion of his birthday might be a reasonable tribute to the one man who has been a father to me. There are times, particularly as I continue to age, I am astounded that Harry and Bernice Martin, my adoptive parents decided to take on a 3 and 4 year old at the time they were almost old enough to be grandparents. My father was 45 as he started parenting that almost 5 year old boy (yes, that was me). I did not realize the age difference, and I did not think about the fact that when they might have gone to parent/teacher conferences they would have been older than most. Most times it did not occur to me that my cousins were what would have been my biological parents’ ages or that those I called cousins were actually second cousins. I merely saw them as cousins (and in my recent reconnecting with them, I still do).

What I am compelled to see is the Martins somehow decided to bring two preschoolers into their homes and be parents when they should have been preparing to allow their children to be adults. That is a pretty incredible task, a profound lifestyle change, to manage. Yes, there was another older adopted son (in fifth grade as I would be in kindergarten), and perhaps it was they did not want him to be an only child. It was at the height of the baby-boomer generation, and there was an expectation that you would be a parent; you would have a family. Perhaps it is some of all of that, and yet, I think this adoption and the choice of this Norwegian, English, Irish, German, Welsh middle-aged couple was much more complex than what meets the eye. As noted in other posts, I am not sure this was a willingly-joint decision. As noted in a recent blog post, I believe my adoptive mother would have been content with one child. It is possible she would have been content with no children. I do not believe parenting was something she enjoyed, but it was something societally expected. On the other hand, both of them as the youngest, perhaps, there was pressure from their older siblings to have a family. Additionally, I believe that Harry, my father actually liked being a father. It might be that being a parent offered a sense of purpose he might not have been able to create as a childless adult. There are also a number of other things that might have influenced his decision. While this was never a topic of conversation, there are two particular statements he made, both when I was an adult that provide some insight into his reflection on what his life choices had done.

When I graduated from Dana College (in 1983), I was ten years out of high school. While I was proud of that accomplishment, I felt very far behind where the world said I should be (and I realize the problems with that statement, but it is what it is). Between graduation and my leaving for Summer Greek, I was painting the trim on my cousin’s house. He would come up every day and spend hours just wanting to chat, almost to the point, it hampered my work. I was recently engaged, and I asked him about being married to my adoptive mother. This was a difficult question because I sensed that while they have been married over 40 years, there was not a lot of happiness or romance in their relationship. As someone newly engaged, I wondered how that worked. After some conversing, I asked, “If you had it to do over, would you marry her again?” He looked at me rather sadly, and stated quite succinctly, “No f-ing way.” He did not raise his voice, and it was the first (and maybe only time) I ever heard him use that word. He simply said it and then looked off into the distance. I had no answer. The second time was only a few months before he passed away. He was 81 and I was married to my second wife. She recounted this event to me, so I did not hear it, but as she told it. She told him as they were on a walk that he had raised quite a son. That was a nice thing for her to say. She told me that his response was something like “[h]e actually raised himself. I wish I would have been there to do more to help him.” She was a bit shocked by his answer and asked me what it meant. I told her that he had been away much of the time during. my elementary and middle school (as it is called now) years. I think it was his way of apologizing he had not been there more. I think it was his feelings of remorse and sadness that he was not around to protect us from the abuse we experienced at the hands of our mother. Ironically, it did not make me feel sad for myself, but for him.

These two incidences were indicative of how profoundly different my adoptive parents were. While there is nothing concrete I can point to, I believe my father might have told my mother in 1959-1960 that if she was not going to support our adoption he might have left. I think he so desperately wanted to have a family that he was willing to take on preschoolers in his 40s. I also do not believe he ever looked back and said it was a bad decision. I think my sister and I complicated their lives to be sure, but he always loved us as his own. That is a significant thing to say. I remember at his funeral saying never once did he treat me as an adopted child. He treated me as his own. More importantly, I think he wanted to defend us from the other side of that when our mother would tell us we did not deserve to be there. The distance between those two positions created a chasm that was difficult to navigate, particularly when he was away from home for much of the time.

Again, as I have blogged before, I understand all of this so much more now. Part of that understanding has occurred because of a lot of counseling. Some of that acceptance has come from my realizing the importance of forgiveness. Some of it has come as recently as through my own experience of hosting Anton a year ago and being the closest thing to a father (there was being a step father in my second marriage to a high schooler also) that I have really ever done. Parenting takes skill and a wellness to be vulnerable. It requires patience and selflessness. It demands an ability to admit when we are wrong, and the perseverance to pick one’s self up and try again. Unexpectedly, I think I learned most of this from being a professor. While I certainly am not signing on to be a parent to the last 11 years of students per se, there are more times than I have fingers and toes that students have come to me for advice outside of the realm of assignments. There are times where mentoring them in life to support their studies, it seems I am the surrogate parent. Perhaps I have adopted more sons and daughters than I could have ever been able to support. I remember one student in particular who received their Master’s degree. I had been their undergraduate advisor and they must have put up with me for 6 or 7 classes. At their graduate, the student’s father hugged me and said, “You are as much of a father to her and I am.” That statement caught me off guard and my eyes welled up in tears. It might be one of the most profound compliments I have ever received. I remember two times in particular my father cried, which seldom happened. The first was when I received my Masters of Divinity degree, and the second was when I got married.

As I have told parents and students alike, I work to treat anyone with the respect I would hope they might give my own son or daughter if I had ever had them. In just the last day, I asked a childhood friend if they ever regretted not having children and they noted yes. I imagine I am the same, but that regret was more real 25 years ago. Now I am content. Content to be a surrogate parent of sorts. What I realize now, almost 25 years after my adopted father’s passing, that he is still here with me in more ways than I often realize. There are those who will tell me from time to time, you are so much like your father. What a humbling compliment. He was selfless in many ways. He was hopeful and optimistic, in spite of the sadness he endured in other ways. He was generous and always had a smile on is face (and he had perfect teeth). I remember when I saw him in the casket and pondered why he did not look himself. It was because he was not smiling. If he was awake, he was smiling. I think he adopted because he wanted a family in that time of families. I think he adopted because he wanted to be a father. I think he adopted because he had an endless amount of love he needed to share. On this date, the day he would be 106, it seems appropriate that once again, I say simply. Thank you for adopting Kris and me. Thank you for being willing to take on two little people when there was little reason to begin your life as a mid-20-something when you were mid-40-something. Happy Birthday. I love you; I miss you; and I hope I have made you proud of the child you raised.

To all the rest of you, thank you for reading.


Imagining What He Would Say after 125 Years

Hello from my study on a Sunday night,

It has been a busy, hectic, productive, with too much yet to do, weekend. While I have met with a covey of students through Zoom, there is more to do. While I have gotten more things packed and staged, there is still more to do. While I have gotten most of a chapter revised for publication, there is still more to do. While I have gotten some of the paperwork for selling the house completed, there is still more to do. While I have both fertilized the yard and managed some other yard things, there is probably more to do. Do you see a pattern? When I feel overwhelmed or need to allow my brain a chance to regroup, as you who read here know, I write. It actually lowers my stress level, and it provides me an opportunity to consider things that need to be pondered.

As I changed the calendar this morning, I realized it is the birthday of my adopted father’s eldest brother-in-law, a man known to the entire neighborhood and beyond as Uncle Clare. If you ever met him, you would remember. He was colorful, opinionated, knowledgeable of all things our natural world, owned an arsenal, swore beyond what any service person should be able, and was the kindest curmudgeon you might ever met. Experiencing him as a child growing up, which occurred regularly because he both lived only about 8 houses down the street and he was our perpetual Sunday dinner guest, he taught me things, many which would cause my mother to cringe. Possibly the best example that is appropriate to share in this venue was the last time I saw him alive. To make a long story short, he had gotten into some fisticuffs with his roommate in the nursing home and he had injured his wrist and hand. As a 90 year old (yes, 90), his skin as frail and his wrist watch had caused some cuts because of his shenanigans. My father was his POA, and as such he was called. I happened to be visiting, so my father asked if I might go check on him.

As I arrived at the facility, I heard his voice before I had ever approached the door. His normal four-letter vocabulary was on 78 rpm speed. As I stood in the door watching for a moment, he turned to see me, asking “What the F&$* are you doing here?” To which I responded, “That is a good question.” Then I said, “You got in a fight with your roommate?” He nodded, while still swearing at the poor CNA there trying to help him, and retorted, “I knocked the c*&^!#!@er out!” Not good . . . I asked him to behave so the woman attending him could finish her work. He told me, “The bitch is trying to kill me.” And so it went until I convinced him to settle down. This was typical Uncle Clare. He had quit school in first grade and yet taught himself to read. He was a bugler in WWI, and in spite of being supposedly legally blind, there were regularly dead starlings around his Martin birdhouse, which he picked off with the pellet gun. Almost every family has that colorful character who has more stories than you can find in the Bible, well Clare was ours. Any yet, in spite of all his bluster, when you did something for him, he was genuinely grateful. He had a bottle of Ol’ Grandad on the top of his refrigerator and a 38 snub-nose pistol under his pillow, which was used one night when people tried to rob him in his late 80s. Indeed, he was like no other person. He had worked on an armored car in the 1920s, when Sioux City was known as little Chicago, and that Thompson sub-machine gun was still in his basement. I remember him one time telling me that Chester Gould, the cartoonist who created Dick Tracy, must have drank squirrel whiskey. I did not really know what that meant, but I never asked either.

What a remember most about him was his insatiable interest in plants, animals, flowers, and yes, guns. He could identify tracks, feathers, as well as name off almost any flora you would find in our state park. He had the most incredible asparagus and rhubarb garden in the world. He spent his days puttering in his yard, driving up to the grocery store, or listening to the television, which sat at the front end of his living room. It was on so loudly, you could hear it outside. There were elements of his house he never changed from 1960 until he moved out of that house in the late 1980s. His wife, Gladys, my father’s eldest sister had passed away tragically in the hospital in 1960. I do not remember her, though I was told I met her as a small child. She was quite eloquent from what I know, but as many in those days, she smoked, and that habit would lead to her death. Uncle Clare often said she was the best thing that ever happened to him. As someone who taught himself to read, he read voraciously, and he listened to the news. He was generally up on all things important and he had an opinion about most of it.

In his latter years, my cousins and my father, as well as myself, did what he needed to have done to make him as comfortable as possible. He loved to sit by the kitchen window and look at this flower garden and the asparagus and rhubarb patch, which he always gave away. It is also the same window from where he would assassinate unsuspecting starlings or any other varmint that got into his yard. He loved to read Field and Stream and National Geographic and when we came to visit he would tell us about his newest facts from whatever he had recently read. He was as pleased as anything as he relayed his handy facts. He was a rather short, stocky person, around 5’6″, and probably 180 pounds. He was bald, clean shaven, with small eyes covered by his horn-rimmed glasses and a noticeably large nose. He looked the same the thirty years I knew him and he never seemed to age. He remained by in large the same. He ate his breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same table. He played solitaire daily, and he drank his coffee out of the same cup. He was a creature of habit to be sure.

As he aged he worried less about appearance or cleanliness and both my cousin, Joanne and I would go to his house and clean and throw away food that would have killed him or washed linens and clothes so he would not seem homeless. This was not done with ease because he did not want people fussing over him, so we would sneak things out. At one point we had to buy a new coffee cup, but one that looked the same because the old one was simply too nasty. He had something to say about anything and everything, and on this day of his 125th birthday, it seems appropriate to imagine what he would say about our present day world. Much like I have noted about Lydia, I cannot even begin to imagine getting him to mask-up. Doubtful at best, and with much kicking, swearing, and gnashing of teeth. I think he was a Democrat, but I am not sure. However, I am pretty sure going through the Great Depression made many middle class people Democrats. I wonder what he thought of Germany in WWII as he was a German himself. Things we never spoke of, but I have no doubt he would have little patience for the gridlock and the bickering that characterizes Washington today. I think he would have more than strong words for our national politicians.

I have tried to think how I would describe his philosophy, but he was a someone self-made person. I think he worked the railroad for a number of years. He asked for nothing and he expected nothing from others. He did have a philanthropic bent to him because he was 32nd Degree Mason and a Shriner. The more I think about him, the more amazing he is to me. He was always willing to give and he was generous and appreciative at Christmas times. There have been moments when I have noted I might be more like him than I ever realized. He understood so much more than I believe most gave him credit for knowing. He was loyal and loved his family, but he stayed to himself. I remember a couple of times when I was struggling as I grew and he would offer encouragement to me. He always accepted me, regardless what I did. He was a conduit for me at times when I was distant because of my struggles with my mother. What I know as I write this about him this evening is I admired him more than I was ever conscious of. I know when my Grandmother struggled, I think he was there to help her. When we struggled with issues of simply growing up, he was always there to be supportive in whatever way possible. I once compared him to a penny that when one took the time to shine it would see his luster. I think he might be more valuable. He might be worth a bitcoin into today’s world. I would love to hear what he might say about today’s world on his 125th birthday.

Love you Uncle Clare. Thank you for all the things you taught me in a sort of osmotic manner. If you have that story-telling curmudgeon win your family. Let them know how much they mean.

Thank you to the rest of you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Facing Mental Illness with Compassion

Hello from a quiet table and pondering the struggle of so many,

This past week I have been confronted with two specific incidences where a person certainly struggles with some form of mental illness. Let me begin with two important facts. I am not a psychologist nor a psychiatrist, nor do I have an MSW. Furthermore, even though I was a parish pastor, I knew what was reasonable for the me to work with and I had no problem referring my parishioners to professionals. However, I am fascinated by the human brain and how it functions. Yet, I know very little about it from a clinical or medical viewpoint. All of that being said, it pains me when I see people who struggle in their lives because of some kind or mental or emotional malady. I try to understand why two people with similar experiences can come away from those events with a very different consequence.

As I have noted in many blogs, I know believe my adopted mother probably suffered some kind of mental illness. I know she had endured some traumatic things from early elementary school into her early twenties, things that would scar most anyone let alone a young child or first time mother. Perhaps more importantly, the early 20th century was not a time when people reached out to get help with their problems. I can still hear the phrase “you do not air out your dirty laundry in public.” For those unacquainted with this, today’s version might be “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” The point is, if there are issues at home you do not talk about it in public. This was certainly the case in my immediate family. Some of the things that would have had us in front of Children and Youth in our present world were not revealed . . . period. However, I digress. The point is my mother had profound struggles and I believe the traumatic experiences she endured changed her personality and her outlook. Those events caused her (and I realize this is merely an opinion) to believe and feel she had been cheated in this world and she was angry, and that anger devolved into bitterness, something much more insidious than anger. Bitterness destroys and hollows out a person. Many times I find myself trying to understand the actions or habits of another, wondering what happened in their past to create their propensity that action or habit.

I am a firm believer, again from my own experiences and actions, that most of our responses of fear or anger come from something in our past more than what is happening at the moment. I am not saying fear or anger is wrong, but I know my own fears are usually based on a feeling of failure, a feeling of unworthiness, or a feeling of what I call “I am going to be trouble.” Most often my anger comes from being hurt by someone, and mostly someone I care about. In the past couple of weeks, I had a meeting with a superior about some of the difficulties that are inherent with remote asynchronous teaching. There is also the fact that I have a tendency to over-extend. Those two things together created dilemmas for both my students and me, but it is important to consider the students first. That might seem a bit martyristic, if I can coin such a term, but what is apparent is this move toward teaching in a way that places such incredible responsibility on students has more often than not overwhelmed them. Being overwhelmed produces fear, and fear produces tension, and tension can create unexpected (and yet expected) responses. It is such a fine line (and the placement of that line changes from student to student) when it comes to how much you can push them to stand up and when you must hold them up.

This has been a tough thing for me because I am generally a person who expects people to stand up on their own. This is not to say that I do not offer a hand, and often more . . . but the number of people calling out or needing it without realizing it has increased exponentially. And like I tell my students, I now need to realize there is no recipe card to manage it all. There is no game plan. Not surprisingly, as faculty, we seem to fall into one of two camps: repent or you’re toast or let me do it for you. Certainly some of my colleagues will argue that is not true, but I believe fervently there is more truth to my view of our dichotomous response than many want to believe. I fall into it unwittingly at times. I believe we have societally failed to instill a sense of independence, a sense of accountability, or a sense of failure is not wrong into most Gen Z (and perhaps Millennials too) members. It would be easy to end there, but that would not circle me around the reason for this blog to begin with.

When people (and I believe this is true at any age) are confronted with their unpreparedness, the reaction is palpable, and understandably so. If you have not be given the requisite skills necessary to manage the daily expectations of life, the consequence is frightening. Both for the person missing the skills and for the individuals who have to work with them. I always struggle when students tell me life is so incredibly difficult, much more so, for them than it was for my generation or earlier in time. I think about that fact that many were married at 18-20 when they were my grandparents’ or even parents’ ages. I am not convinced that made life easier. Many were parents already and working a job, and all those adulting responsibilities were upon them. I spoke with a former student in the last couple days and they lamented how little they knew about financing their world or managing taxes, or even handling a checkbook. I did not know that stuff either, but I would find out . . . and often when I had to dig myself out of my failures. I remember having my father co-sign for something and then not managing it well. That was not a wise decision on my part. I was not given a get-out-of-jail-free card on that one. I had to catch it up, and I worked two jobs to make sure it happened. I was not offered either medication to manage my anxiety nor would I have imagined getting a support animal to make sure I could cope. This is not to say that people do not benefit from those possibilities, but it was such a different world. People in my own family have been on medication at times to deal with mental health problems, and I am an advocate of careful monitoring and the employment of a variety of therapeutic possibilities, but I am also a believer in the resilience of the human body and spirit.

We are profoundly complicated creatures. It is that simple (or complex). There is no single recipe to manage all the things thrown at us. I know of numerous people who have been pushed beyond their expected limits by this lockdown, distancing, and isolation. I know student who are overwhelmed by most anything that does not fit into their limited experiential purview as an adult student. And daily, I find it arduous to figure out the best way to manage all of it, but I soldier on. I honestly feel a lot of empathy and compassion for students who know no other college experience than the last three semesters. It was a topic of conversation in a meeting this past week of how will we prepare them for face-to-face learning again. It will be yet another stressful time for all, regardless which side of the blank stare you are on. I have learned yet again, placing the onus on either side is futile. As noted above, I have struggled mightily on my side of things too. I wanted to believe if I listened weekly and responded at that point versus having all the materials in before the semester started (and this was because I revised classes in light of my pandemic experience) that it would work better for everyone. Boy, was I mistaken. I worked well for as long as I could keep up, which was not nearly long enough. The consequence was a brutal last 10-14 days, but things are much better. Where I want? Not completely, but probably over 90 percent. And yet, in two days, there need to be much more. I am reminded of a previous administrator, who in front of a faculty committee, surprisingly stated we are only contracted for 17 hours a week. I was sitting next to her and almost feel off my chair in shock. Dang . . . not even close. Not a complaint, but there are days I put in that much time.

What I know is in my own immediate family there were two people who were mentally ill. One was diagnosed as such, the other was probably more fragile than the person diagnosed. I have written about that many times in this blog, but what I wish I could have understood is how devastating that lack of diagnosis was. It changed the lives of everyone around them. It made living with them difficult at best, and it made having compassion for them nearly impossible until long after they had passed on. I wish I could have realized their pain. I was too busy feeling and sometimes, allowing in my own. How unfair it all seems when I reflect on it now. All evidence seems to point to an incredible spike in people struggling with their well-being as a consequence of this pandemic. Isolation, disillusionment, loss of job, home, schooling, simply life as we knew it . . . all of these things serve as catalysts to a gigantic struggle to maintain happiness or some sense of safety or contentment. You might ask why Lincoln as my picture for the blog. As I have watched the series Lincoln: A Nation Divided, I have learned a number of things about this person we often hold us as a paragon of justice. Perhaps one of the most important things might be how he suffered with depression.

As I began, I am not a trained anything in terms of mental health, but I am a fellow human being. I am a person who can show compassion. That is what I hope I find myself doing for anyone who comes to me needing an ear, a modicum of support, or an extension on a paper or something. This past couple weeks I have worked harder than I usually do to see things from my students’ perspectives. Hopefully, that small change will make the difference they need.

Thanks as always for reading, and seriously, if you need something, please ask . . . you have the number.

Dr. Martin


Hello from my study on the Acre,

It is hard to believe that Spring is here (and today certainly felt Spring-like) and we are almost a quarter of the way through this year. It seems like only a few weeks ago the semester began and the Christmas holidays were still visible in the rear-view mirror. When I was small, Christmas was certainly a time for dreams, and I do not think it is much different for children today, but as we plow our way through this incredibly unpredictable time the ability to dream, to hope is essential. I remember being much more of a dreamer when I was small. I am not sure of all the reasons for that, but I think it had much to do with wishing things were different. Perhaps not all that different from where we are now. We wonder and imagine what’s on the other side.Dreaming for me was always about options, possibilities, and as noted above, about hope. Hope is something I have referred to in past blogs. Though generally optimistic, I do have a melancholy bent to me. Moreover, I think this past year has been a time when optimism has probably been in short supply, even for the most polyannish of us. Sometimes lying awake, I wonder what the future will bring, not so much for me as someone who has lived a significant part of their life, but rather for many of my students. In our world of division, of profound changes, in a world where our understanding of faith (or perhaps more accurately, our appropriate practice of that faith) is decided by the few and questioned by many, or, more problematically and blindly followed by even many more, we are headed into the most apparent time of the Christian Church year for many, the time where many struggle to understand a faith that is based in love, a love demonstrated by the death of the Son of the Creator (and I realize some see Jesus as little more than a prototypical prophet, and not both human and divine). If the Christian understanding of Jesus as both/and is correct, there is an irony that many of our actions seem to destroy the very love that is foundational to Christian faith. Easter is a time where we are called to understand a God who seem determined to work against our legalities, our divisiveness, our frailty and reach into our brokenness and demonstrate an all encompassing love we too often fail to understand. What can we do to demonstrate that love? Perhaps when we choose to establish justice, practice acceptance, and provide care that goes beyond even our most fervent attempts? This Palm Sunday, I listened to two services, to two amazing sermons, and some incredible music. I thought profoundly about the idea of justice and acceptance in a world that seems too intent on mistreating the other, claiming their ways of boxing God in is the appropriate ways to believe or be faithful, and behaves in a manner that seems inherently contrary to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and ones neighbor as ones self.

This morning, in this little town of 12,000 or so, I witnessed first hand as two dear friends, one a colleague and their spouse, were subjected to a racist rant on our Main Street as someone literally came across the street toward where a group of us where sitting. He screamed Asian-centric vitriol at our group, but more specifically at my colleague and their spouse. After a couple asked him to leave, the offensive person stepped a few yards away and began again. At that point, I stood up and faced the person and asked them to leave. The disturbed, shocked, and hurt look on my colleague’s face is something I will not soon forget. I was embarrassed for them. It stuns me that people can be so juvenile, hateful, ludicrous, and while I am pretty sure the individual probably had some mental issues, that did not make the experience anymore acceptable. It seems that more and more the overpowering actuality of our divided, screw-you-if-you-are-not-white, discriminatory actions are now beyond commonplace, more apparent than I have ever realized. I dream of a world where we will accept others for their intelligence, their character, their goodness, and support them when they are hurting, struggling, or floundering. I dream of a world where the few do not hijack the Gospel realizing that the Jesus of the New Testament, the Jesus of the prophets, or the Jesus of the world oppressed by the Romans understood and preached a Gospel of humility, a Gospel of a loving, forgiving God, a Gospel that confronted and called out the inequities of society, healed those forgotten by society, and chose disciples who were not blessed with status or wealth. If one carefully considers the Jesus of the Gospels, that Jesus will make most of us uncomfortable. When we try to co-opt Jesus or the Gospel, as we are all too ready to do, the Grace of God is cheapened. There was nothing cheap or easy about the path Jesus was destined to follow. Taking on the powers of the day, be it the Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or even his own disciples at time, Jesus was constantly trying to get them (and us) to see a world that was something very different than what it was. There is little changed today.

When the more conservative Americans want to pray for those who invaded the Capitol and call them Patriots, they distort the Gospel. Why might I argue this? While there are a multitude of reasons, I will suffice it to say this. You might remember the story where the Jewish Leaders came to Jesus and asked him whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus asked them for a coin, and when the coin was produced, he asked whose image was on the coin? They noted, accurately, Caesar’s. He responded, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” This is a pretty accurate quote of Matthew 22, though I did not look it up. Storming the Capitol and entering is not patriotic. It is breaking the law. For me, it is that simple. I realize there are others who disagree, but to claim God’s providence or support of that is an abomination of the Gospel, and I am willing to sit down and have coffee or something on my porch with anyone who wants to debate that, and I will fix the coffee free of charge. But come prepared, for I will probably be tough to convince of anything other. As I listened to the Reverend Heidi Peterson this morning, she noted this also, but took it ever further. If the greatest of the commandments is to love your neighbor, and this is my paraphrase of her preaching today, and it was spot on, then all the things we do to disenfranchise the other (be it voting, owning a house, walking down the street) is against this commandment. When we can decide who can love whom, when we believe those who identify differently then we do are somehow wrong or less of a person, we distort the Gospel. The Gospel is not a conservative cookie-cutter just-follow-this and you’re alright. The Gospel of Jesus was not cookie-cutter; in fact, it was precisely the opposite. The Gospel of Jesus (the Good News) was not always good news to those who believed they had it figured out. Jesus questioned the appropriateness of the religious scholars’ practice in worship. He questioned their interpretation of the law. He questioned their heart and how their practices disenfranchised others. Those who want to use Scripture as a yardstick misunderstand the basic message of that very Scripture. If you want to understand the Bible (Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament) imagine it as an anthology that demonstrates an incredible love story between Creator and Created. What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind? What does it mean to love one’s neighbor as themselves? It seems simple, but it is anything but. We find it so much harder to love than criticize. Our anger compels our emotional and physical response much more often than our love does. This is the truth. How many times does your love for the other (a caring or compassionate love), and one who is not a spouse, decide your actions? How often does your anger or frustration with the other (and you can include spouse or significant other here) decide your facial expression, your tone, your body language with some almost immediacy? If you are like most humans (and like me), we reveal our frustration and anger much more quickly than we respond out of love or care. When we do, we break this commandment. It is that straightforward.

Our own Protestant theology (for those who are not Roman or Orthodox) struggles with the idea of loving God with such totality. However that command to love God in such a way permeates the Old Testament. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, and therefore you shall love the Lord your God.” There is an all encompassing love that is necessary if you and God are to be one. It is a commitment that requires every ounce of who we are. Too often we forget the trinitarian aspect of this commandment. It requires both our mental and spiritual faculties be in the same place, and together this love cries out to our heart, our soul, and our mind. When they bind together in their own triune manner, we find out what it means to love and be loved. I dream of being such a loving person. As noted by Klaus Bockmuehl, a German theologian, too often we fail to understand the comprehensive requirement of such love. As he notes, the love we are affected by needs to be the love we have as an effect. It is both a verb and a noun. It is a state of being and a state of acting. Perhaps we too often (at least as Lutherans) believe in the grace of God, the forgiveness of God. But it reminds me of what I often asked by confirmation students once upon a time, or even my Bible as Literature students now. Do you do what you do so your parents will love you or because your parents love you? The same question could be asked, but instead of parent substitute the word God. We are dependent on the graciousness of God, but again, as Paul notes so well in Romans, we are also called to move beyond the evil we hate. We are to believe in the ideal that the love God gives is sufficient and we are called upon to love as God loves us. That does not mean it we are simply allowed to half-heartedly try, but instead we are called to love with all of our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual selves. That is much more work. And yet I dream of being that person.

Today’s experience with my friends, my colleagues, and with this sad, miserable, and, perhaps, mentally struggling person, reminded me of the pain that can occur when someone is treated in a manner that is discriminatory, a manner that is flat out hurtful, or a manner that demonstrates a profound lack of human respect. I wish that person no harm or ill will, but I am not sure I want to be in a position where I have to deal with that person again. I am grateful to my two female colleagues as well as one male colleague that asked him to leave. I am grateful for a call to the local police department and their response as they did find him down the street and probably had an interesting encounter of their own. I wish we could learn to be more accepting, more open, and simply try more intentionally to live that greatest of the commandments. I hope we can in this Holy Week try to be more intentionally holy, doing whatever that takes. I am reminded of the music of John Michael Talbot. I have used his work before, but I offer it again now. There are times I need to retreat to the quiet and think. There are times I need to believe in the possible. There are times I need to dream.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you a blessed Holy Week. To my Jewish friends, chag kasher v’same’ach.

Dr. Martin

Our Notional Nation

Hello from the Acre, sitting yet again in front of the computer,

It has been a beautiful week, enticing us to believe Spring is here, but it is mid-March, and my past experience, from a variety of places, has taught me to avoid the enticement. Take pleasure in the days offered, get outside and manage to enjoy, but know too well that Winter is still on the calendar, and it is around any unsuspecting corner. In fact, to illustrate that reality, the weather outlook on my phone has a snow flake option for two different days next week. St. Patrick’s Day blizzards are part of my history.

One of the things age does (and perhaps requires of us) is to create an awareness of what happens around us as well as (at least for me) consider my part in or responsibility for it. That is not always an easy or enjoyable thing, but I find it necessary. Perhaps an example of what I am positing is a simple thing (or at least what I thought was a simple thing growing up) like voting. This past election, and I guess for many a number of elections, the process has never been simple. I think of the first scenes in the movie Selma, and the struggle black Americans had to go through to vote. In my naiveté, in my basic middle class white upbringing, I would have never imagined such a thing. Even in my own town in NW Iowa, I am now aware that there were struggles for black, brown, and native peoples that occurred regularly but I had no idea. As I have noted in previous writing, too often we see the world through our own version of rose-colored glasses, believing our experiences are typical of those our age, of those who are contemporaries, of those who are perhaps American, but I believe we push that even further to anyone we believe we know. As I have traveled, moving much beyond my NW Iowa cocoon, I have been required to come to terms with all the things I take for granted. Even in the past year, in spite of so many people I know who have been furloughed, laid off, lost a business, it is too easy for me to simply go about my life because beyond some inconvenience I have not been hurt or even really much affected. Certainly, my teaching requires more time, more work, more careful consideration, but there is little about which I can honestly complain. I did get the first to stimulus payments, and I will not receive a third, but that indicates that financially, as a single male, I am doing quite well. That is not to brag, but rather to say I am incredibly fortunate. Things could be much different.

What astounds me, and it seems to occur almost daily, is the rather schizophrenic postering that goes on with so many people. I understand we are not nearly as consistent as we want to believe, but dang. Senator Ron Johnson, someone who seems more unhinged by the week, stated that he felt no angst or fear when the United States Capitol was overrun earlier this year, but then goes on to say if it had been Black Lives Matter or Antifa, he would have been concerned. Really? Incredible . . . preposterous . . . embarrassing . . . or maybe, you need to go . . . go back to Wisconsin and disappear. You are an affront to anything a United States Senator should be or how they should act. The racist, white nationalistic, inappropriateness of that goes beyond the pale. A more simple, but equally as problematic instance happened in my town over the last couple weeks. A middle-aged male stated with the dictional accuracy of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor what he felt about wearing a mask in public. Suffice it to say, he was not supportive an any mask mandate. Within barely a minute, he proceeded to note how he believed they needed to get vaccinations out and available to people more readily. Most certainly, I can look at those two statements (sentiments) from a number of angles, but it seems he dislikes the mask mandate because it is inconvenient, but I think it is probably fair to say he dislikes it because it is a mandate . . . it imposes on his individual freedom, and by extension the government has no right to tell him what to do. Simultaneously, he demands that this same government make sure to protect him through vaccination. Then, of course, there seems to be no realization that you are asking the same entity to do two completely different things or allow him both freedom and support (when both things are meant to protect or provide safety to him). This is what my title is implying. We seem to be divided in a manner that is not just from person to person, but even within ourselves.

I think the reality is that too often we do not see our inconsistencies, and therein lies the crux of the problem. I have spent the last few days doing some introspection and trying to see where might have these inconsistent behaviors. And I know I have them. We all do. One of the things apparent for me is in spite of how hard I think or work to be inclusive, to be understanding of the other, to speak or engage with someone where there is some significant disagreement, the biases I have come along with me, but I seldom realize the degree to which those differences, those biases, those inabilities to see beyond affect my attitudes or my conversations. I think my work as a professor has pushed me to see beyond my simple, but rather basic WASP background. This is, in no way, disparaging my Midwest upbringing, but it is my attempt to be honest with the unrealized acceptance of many things I have been compelled to reconsider. I would also know my own time in seminary was the beginning of that. When I was a seminary student, feminism and the importance of inclusive language was a central element of many discussions. It falls into the sort of intersection of what many would call second and third wave feminism. While I had little idea of what that was in the late 1980s, I was aware of how important this conversation was. And yet, in spite of that awareness, I must be honest that my understanding beyond language issues was limited at best. My behavior was nowhere near where it needed to be.

This is my own personal experience with the idea of a “notional nation.” While I work hard to get beyond that, the only way that individual transformation can occur is when we are honest with ourselves. When you ask that of 330,000,000 souls, the equation is a bit more complex. When we are built on, seeming dependent on our foundational belief of individual freedom, the likelihood of people being introspective is a bit (ironically) hypothetical. Some of you will get that irony immediately, others it might take a bit more consideration. The reason I find this so consequential is because of our current global health crisis, which some argue is no crisis at all. I am fortunate enough (again, and some will disagree) to get both of my vaccinations at this point. As many, I am reflecting upon the last year and the changes we have made, either because we were mandated to do so, or because we choose to continue to do so. I fall into the category of both/and. There are moments I detest these masks, and I have purchased some to offer me some levity in the wearing requirement. I have people, even some for whom I have deep appreciation, who are adamantly opposed to following any guidelines that “infringe” upon their supposed individual freedoms. I can write an entire blog on that misguided notion, but that is for another time. I will leave it to this idea “social contract.” It is incredibly difficult to admit selfishness, particularly when it pushes us to re-examine our core values or identity, and yet that is exactly what I have been pushed (and in someways pushed myself) to do. Again, let me put into a different realm, and one that struck me deeply when I heard it the other evening. As that privileged white male, if someone questions whether or not I am being racist, why might I get so defensive? Would it not be better or more productive to understand racism versus merely get defensive? I think most of us answer in the affirmative, and yet few of us could hear that without getting defensive (and I know this because of an amazingly intelligent and intuitive former student who questioned my understanding of privilege once upon a time in my office). I have noted this before. There is so many ways we want to believe our innate sense of right and wrong will guide us, but that buys into an inadequate, simplistic impression or stance that we are correct in our assumptions; we are omniscient in our limited understanding of the complexities of our world; or that we have some moral superiority, which is ultimately based on our own incredible asinine arrogance.

All of this comes from where? I think that is the most difficult thing for me to figure out. It is the opposite of most everything we are taught in terms of how we should treat another person as a small child. We are taught to be polite; we are instructed to treat others with respect. We have all heard of the Golden Rule, and taught about its significance in terms of how we should interact with other human beings. As a former pastor, I am well acquainted with the idea of our falling short, of our innate connection to the Greek word hamartia (the word for sin). And yet, where we seem to be now as a society is a great deal beyond the idea of falling short; for those old enough, it falls far beyond the Flip Wilson adage of “the devil made me do it.” For me it falls back to a quad-fecta of the seven deadly sins: the four are greed, envy, wrath, and pride. Pride, according to some is the most problematic. In fact, C.S. Lewis, in his book, Mere Christianity, asserts that pridefulness is an “anti-God” state where we are in direct conflict with the creator. Lewis goes on to say it is the basis for every other sin. It seems pretty self-evident to me . . . because of our pride, we believe we are entitled. It leads to a sense of greediness, which is a cause of envy, and that envy leads to our wrath toward others, which leads to hate, anger and rage. I do not think we need to ponder very hard to find an infinite number of examples of that in our present world. It is easy to merely write it off to human sinfulness and call it a day, but that is the easy way out. For me it is also indicative to Paul’s question in Roman’s when he asks in his diatribal formula, “What are we to say to this? Should we sin all the more that grace may abound?” His answer to that question is a forceful, “Certainly not!” As an imperative. Another way to say that is “Are you frickin’ crazy?” I am saddened by where we are, as a country and beyond. And it would be easy to say, “I quit; there is nothing we can do,” but I refuse to do so. I want to believe, in whatever faint breath of idealism I still have that we can do better. I can do better. I cannot impose that requirement upon another, but I can impose it on myself. I want to live a life that shows others matters, and beyond immediate family. I want to be remembered as someone who thought about others as well as himself. I want to be a person who makes my small corner of the world a better place. So I keep on keeping’ on to return to my 70s roots. If someone else decides to take such a path for themselves, the writing of this blog served a purpose. I have used this song before, but it is where I am on this Ides of March.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Teaching in a Remote, Individualized, Asynchronous, Divided World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

The Shared Experience of Struggle Creates Equity, and perhaps Empathy

Oh my – the hair

Hello from my kitchen on an early Monday morning,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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