Imagining Decades and Connecting the Dots

Hello from my upstairs study,

It is Sunday evening and even though it is barely 8:00 p.m., it seems so much later when it gets dark so early. Over the last couple of days, I was so aware of that rapidly setting sun and when it is cloudy, it is even more apparent. I do not remember this sort of darkness as a child. In fact, I think the first time I remember it was when I was in seminary and would be walking from campus back to the Burntvedt Apartments. It was always dark on the way home shortly after 4:00 p.m. during the winter. Of course, then there was living in Hancock/Houghton and even Laurium in the Upper Peninsula. While the summer was glorious for the incredibly long days, the converse was the case in the winter. I remember driving up the hill past Quincy Mine and you could see the sun setting in the rearview mirror, but by the time I got eleven miles north, it would be dark as if it were midnight. I think this is the first time since then I felt it got dark so quickly. Perhaps it is just the cumulative effect of what 2020 has done to all of us. It is hard to believe that we are 3/4 of a year into this new world.

As I write this, it is less than two weeks until Christmas, but that too will be different. I know there are a lot of people who are trying to figure out how to manage all of this. This weekend, Pennsylvania just reimposed some restrictions on public places and public gatherings. I know there are people all over the board on these things, but I choose to keep myself pretty locked down and do what is necessary to keep myself as safe as possible. . . . As is often the case, I got some things started the other day, but I am behind. It is Wednesday and as predicted a significant snowstorm is baring down on Central Pennsylvania. It has been snowing for about 5 hours and as I sit in my study again, within the last 24 hours I did significant work outside to get things ready for what was coming. I also got all my Christmas decorations out, both inside and outside, made sure the snowblower will work, and finally turned the heat on upstairs during last night. I work up and it was about 63 degrees, so I figured it was probably time. So at this point, I am pretty hunkered down and ready to ride this 18-22 inches of snow out and see what happens about 24 hours from now. I remember when I was small, living in NW Iowa and we got incredible snowstorms. We would build tunnels throughout the yard and with our snowsuits, boots, mittens, hats, and scarves, we could play for hours. We would come in long enough to warm up and our clothes would be thrown in the dryer. After the clothes dried and were warm, we would be at it again. We were heartier people then or what? I cannot imagine that now. Of course, then there was living in the Upper Peninsula, and that is where I really learned about snowfall. I remember someone asking when I moved there if I liked snow. I said, “Yes, it’s nice.” They responded, “No; do you LIKE snow? Because we get a lot of it.” They were not kidding. My first year at Michigan Tech, and I had been in the U.P. for three years then, we received about 346 inches of snow. I lived in Laurium, about 11 miles north of Houghton, and I did not own a snowblower. It was incredible. I remember having a front-end loader in the yard to push snow back because I could not scoop it any higher. And yet, the snow was generally light, fluffy, lake-effect, but it snowed almost every day. Then, as noted above, it got dark very early. There were times I shoveled more than 4-5 hours a day. It was a pretty strenuous workout.

It has already been over 20 years ago that happened. As I have reached out to my cousins these past weeks, I have been keenly aware of the time and the length of time that has passed since we were last in touch in any manner. It is stunning to me how months turned to years, turned to decades. We were kids or young adults and somewhere we missed the entire middle portions of our lives. We are now in 50s and 60s, older than our parents were when we would see each other regularly. That is a shocking reality, but more importantly, we are here to do it, though on both sides of the family there is an entire two generations gone and now even some of our generation. There is the line from On Golden Pond, which again comes hearkening back: “Don’t you think that everyone looks back on their childhood with a certain amount of bitterness and regret? It doesn’t have to ruin your life!” And so it is . . . Do I have regrets? Of course, but when I take the time to connect the dots, I am compelled to remember that I hav been so profoundly blessed throughout my life. I did not take the normal childhood route. Being on my third family before the age of five, struggling too find my place as someone who felt unwanted or frightened more than I allowed people to know, and trying to manage both my professional and personal baggage throughout my life was not an easy task, but I refuse to focus on that. In this season where we hear words like hope, peace, and joy, it is hard to overlook those people who have been there throughout my life. I think of people like Frank and Margaret Sopoci, of Bud and Janet Reese, or Jacob and Marge Goede. These three couples were, along with my grandmother and the cousins that were central in my last blog, were the people who helped me see beyond the things I heard too often. They provided the sense of hope that is essential for human existence. Following high school and the service, I again struggled to find my place. I had returned home, but it was not a place that was ready for me, nor was I ready to be back in it. It was then my pastor and his family that would have such an essential influence on my life. Between having a close friend, being enamored beyond words with his sister, and then having their parents be as much of parent to me as anyone, I had less than an inkling of how important they were. Father Fred, as David and I called him, made me accountable. It is an accountability that has lasted four over decades to some degree, but it might be one of the most important lessons in my life. It is astounding how hurt from someone can create the consequence in a completely different circumstance. I think that is the lesson that has finally become clear to me. What I am aware of in these past couple weeks is how individuals, families, our own family, and those who come into our lives by chance can be influences far beyond what we realize. We absorb their lessons and our mutual experiences into the fabric of who we are, seldom realizing the influence the significance they have become in our own journey. This past couple of weeks in reconnecting with my cousins has been a most unexpected and profound gift. From texts to messages, from Zoom calls to phone calls, the catching up on decades of our lives has been an incomparable joy. It causes me pause and compels me to ask what was it about these cousins? Was it their beauty and comprehensive personalities that were so different among the six of them? Yes, that was part of it. Was it the enjoyable times we shared as children whenever we were together? Yes, again, that is part of that picture. Yet is that enough to connect the dots after decades of losing touch? Perhaps, but I think there is more. It is what has come through in our conversations during these past weeks. They accepted and loved me. They accepted their undersized, rather nerdy cousin with his butch haircut, glasses, and over-sized ears who would not become comfortable with his image until he was in his thirties. That is where the gorgeous might come in. They were so beautiful, but they were also kind, accepting, and gracious. That was what it was. Now, decades later, they are still beautiful. The twins look decades younger than what they are. Kim, the current eldest, is as beautiful and kind as I remember, and conversations with her are such a joy. I have gotten a bit of an idea about Martha and Josh and Mary is stunningly beautiful, but seems to be an observer more than a talker. That is part of what makes all of them so incredible, both individually, but also collectively.

As I sit in my study, listening to Christmas instrumentals, looking out at the snow as the sun sets, my heart is full and my life seems to be blessed beyond measure. It is a very different Christmas than a year ago with Anton, and I miss him, but I know he received his package today. That makes me very happy. I have another one, but it will go out after the first of the year. The other package to Russia should be available tomorrow. I miss Anastasiia also; I remember taking her to JFK about this time to go home for the holidays. It was a time when having people around for the holidays helped make the acre more homey. I love decorating the house, both inside and out. The people here in Bloom tell me they wait to see what I will do. I do not feel that profoundly different in what I do, but I know that I do believe in the magic of the season that seems to bring out people’s better angels. We desperately need all of those angels. In spite of the unparalleled sorrow this year has brought, there is hope. There is an opportunity for peace, and if we search our hearts there is room for joy. That is what the Advent season is for. It is to prepare our hearts. I am reminded of Bonhoeffer’s words when he wrote to his co-conspirators during that December of 1942. In the midst of a regime that disregarded the Jewish people or anyone who did not fit their Aryan profile, engaged in a propaganda campaign that convinced people that the Reich was doing what was best for the German people, and co-opted a good part of the church, Bonhoeffer noted that their actions would need to be judged by history. Instead of absolution he wrote, “Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call” (After Ten Years). Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to remain in America, but returned to Germany believing he had little right to be there after the struggle, a different battle than Hitler had written about, if he did not go through the trial with them. In a letter to Bishop Bell in London, Bonhoeffer would lament honestly and bleakly. He wrote, that “freedom is not something that occurs just within the church, but it attacks the very roots of National Socialism. The point is freedom. . . .” He was one of the few in his church to demand protection for the persecuted as a necessary political step the church must take. Confronting the consequences of that alliance would put Bonhoeffer at odds with his church and it was a struggle of conscience. Bonhoeffer would question the role of the church and its relationship to the Jews. This was not a rejection of Judaism as much as it was about the unfinished questioning of the Christian Church itself. The tragedy of the plot to rid Germany and the world of Hitler was not just that they failed in their execution, but that their failure revealed the extent to which they were incomplete in a much larger sense.

In spite of the recalcitrance of many to accept this election outcome, I believe there is much more at stake as we watch those on both sides of the political divide, be it here in our country or in other countries. Freedom and disagreement, even passionate disagreement, are part of our democratic process. My understanding of the Christian message, and by extension the Advent message is simple. We have a Creator that meets us where we are in our brokenness and bids us to come. As I say in my Bible as Literature course, do you do what you do so God will love you or because God loves you?” I choose to be the person I am now with all the dots beginning to demonstrate a pattern, with the decades of loss in contact being erased. Indeed because of so many people I am blessed beyond message. The message in the midst of difficulty for Bonhoeffer was a message of honesty and hope. The message of all Advent is about preparing for each day of our lives with a sense of purpose, a sense of hope, and with that a sense of peace. To my cousins, Kim, Julie, Paula, Mary, and Martha: thank you for the hope and joy you have brought back into my life. I wish you each a sense of peace in this time as we mourn the loss of such an incredible elder sister. To Randy: you remain in my thoughts and prayers and it was wonderful to speak with you too. I wish you all a sense of comfort in knowing how special you were to each other. To our parents and our families from the generations. I hope you are proud of the work you did and the amazing people you created. I leave this song with reminds me of how blessed I am and how I wish I might have shared that better earlier in my life.

To all; as always thank you for reading and I wish you all a blessed conclusion of this most extraordinary Advent season.


Memories: A Hurting and Yet Joyful Heart

My gorgeous and amazing cousin, Suzanne

Hello on a chilly December morning,

It was a bit of a lazy morning to begin with, but as usual, I seem to wake up some during the night and then fall asleep again somewhere around 4:00 a.m. to sleep for a few hours. So this morning it was after 8:00 before my feet hit the floor. It has been a bit of a pulling the loose ends together and then focus for the remainder of the day. I have managed a few emails, reached out to a couple of birthday people, and texted with one of my cousins again. Holidays are such poignant times, emotionally intense for a variety of reasons, and yet a time if we allow that our better angels might take flight and make a small difference for those we come in contact with through our various subjectivities we all manage, often without realizing it.

In my texts with my now eldest sister of my amazing cousins, she noted the pain and how the absence of her elder sister is such a significant part of her holiday psyche this year . . . and rightly so. I am feeling that pain also, but mine, along with a sense of loss is the years lost where we were really not in contact as well as there is not an option for the eldest of my wonderful, beautiful, talented, and profoundly amazing cousins. It has been a week of reminicsing in my own way about them. I have been able to reflect on why their visits to South Sioux City and their grandparent’s house was so important. There are a few pertinent things that continually surface as I think of them. First, the love amongst them was evident. They squabbled to be sure, but each had their own personality (even the twins), and they were allowed to be themselves. What I know now is I think I desired to be their elder brother as much as they longed to have a brother. And yet, most probably, I would have been overwhelmed by them. They were as talented and enjoyable as they were beautiful. Suzanne, to this day, might be the most soft-spoken person I have ever met, but do not let her shy and quiet demeanor or her simple profound beauty lull you into thinking she was not fierce or brilliant. I am sure each of her sisters can tell of a time when she let them know she was the eldest. What I remember most is her sort of ethereal presence in any situation, an almost omnipotent ability to see what was up and what needed to be done. Yet, from my perspective, she was also profoundly private about her life. She was a see-it-all and say-little sort of a person. I think that was part of her beauty and elegance, but on a deeper level it was the way she chose to treat others with a respect and decency that was so typical of her parents.

Kim, the next eldest, had a different beauty to her; she was the one who could dazzle you with her elegance and the next minute take you down in a rough and tumble sort of way that illustrated a total person. She was intelligent, gentle and aware of things that were well beyond the ordinary scope of daily thought. I refer to her as the earth muffin of the family. I think my affinity for her was because she was incredibly honest and kind, a sort of wholesome goodness we could only hope to emulate. Over this past week, my conversations, both through phone and text have brought be a sense of joy and comfort that are too profound for words. I remember one night while visiting their home in Decorah, she and I sat up until the wee hours of the morning listening to Rick Wakeman and the album Journey to the Centre of the Earth. We marveled not only at the music, but at the long-flowing, almost white-blonde hair of this incredible keyboardist who had played with Yes, as he stood in the middle of numerous keyboards surrounding him in the midst of a full orchestra with long flowing white robe with a rather supernatural aura about him. We were mesmerized as we watched and I remember feeling so comfortable and appreciated in their home. If I remember correctly, I might have even hitchhiked up there to spend some time with them. Somewhere I recall that in the recesses of my ancient memories. I remember another time when they were visiting me in Sioux City and we attended a high school basketball game together. People asked me later who my beautiful date to the basketball game was and I simply said, “Not a date, just my cousin.” But boy was I proud to be seen with her.

Then there was Julie and Paula, an immeasurable amount of energy. As identical twins, they were a force with which to be reckoned. They were boundless in their willingness to engage my older brother and me, begging for horsey-back rides until I could have worn holes in the knees of my jeans. Their parents would try to save our backs with breaks, but in no time, they were ready to go again. And yet they were grateful and kind, enjoyable and always ready for a new adventure. They too were beautiful, but this time you had a double-dose. Incredible in probably the only word I could use to describe the sort of third personality the two of them created. It was impossible to not be caught up in their joy for life. I remember as small children they had their own communicative language only they understood. It was fascinating to me listening to and observing the love they had for each other. Years later, as I had just graduated from Dana and was in my first intensive summer Greek program, I was honored to sing in Julie’s wedding. It was one of the most special times singing in my life. In the past week, as we have reconnected, Julie graciously blessed me with a short snippet of my song in their wedding. As I first listened, not sure what she had sent, I heard my voice and wondered, “who was that?” It was a profound thing to hear my own voice from that time. It was even more emotional to remember those connections. To be with Julie and Paula was the only time in my life I have been around twins, but it brings me such joy to think of the two of them. As I have looked at pictures of them this past 10 days, their beautiful personalities still radiate from their pictures and they look two decades younger than the age they are.

Then there is Mary and Martha, they were young enough that I was well out of high school and trying to figure out the life of graduate school and being newly married that I lost track of them and all the family for that matter. While many things could be offered to make excuses for that path, what I now know is I missed out on so much. Martha has reached out my Facebook messenger and what I know is she is living in the vicinity of where her parents retired after Don left his position as the head of the math department at Luther College. I know she has been in places I want to learn so much more about, so I am hoping to catch up more intentionally. I have not heard from Mary yet, but my searching seems to indicate we might have lived in a similar area at one time. There is so much more I could write about each of them, but suffice it to say that there are new stories to create in some distant manner. Our lives have taken their divergent paths, and families have grown older and members of them are no longer here, so tragically and recently, some longer ago, but nonetheless important. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, parents, brothers, sisters: none of us are the same people we were.

In the cases of my cousins (and it seems all of them) they have established families and shown the amazing resilience they must have had to manage six girls in one household in their non-ostantaious house just below the college in Decorah. I remember just simple hospitality and welcoming every time I entered their home. Virginia and Don were beyond gracious and kind. They accepted you where you were without judgment and they were willing to share whatever they had to anyone who came to their door. What I realize as I reflect, they were much like my own grandmother, who I have often referred to as my hero. Even more importantly, I see some of those qualities of graciousness, positivity and acceptance in my cousins, which is not really surprising. What I realize more importantly is how much we have missed out on over the years. The discovery that my eldest beautiful cousin lost her life so tragically is still hard for me to fathom, but more importantly, the failure to reconnect with the rest of this amazing group of cousins would be unconscionable to me at this point. It is not just for me, but for generations of Olsons, Pilgrims, Martins, and beyond. I am quite sure that Don and Virginia did much for my sister Kris, as she would have allowed when she was a freshmen at Luther College. I know they invited her for dinner and probably did what they could to help her that year. For Kris, unfortunately, I think there was little that could have comforted her at this time in her life.

It is always a double-edged sword when a family member leaves this world. I remember watching it again and again when I was a parish pastor. The difficulty of changing dynamics and all of the humanity of families comes to the fore, but at the same time we are pushed to remember our humanity and frailty. That is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one. If we allow we can find the goodness in each of us and recall the things that have been the most profound influence in our lives, most often an influence we took for granted, never realizing the goodness and grace we were in the presence of. For me that is all of the Pilgrim daughters, but certainly Suzanne was the model of that for her sisters. In the words of one of her sisters, she was a passionate warrior about justice (and particularly social justice). This is no surprise to me and perhaps why I see such an incredible goodness in her memory. She was kind and gracious, but she was also profoundly tough and resilient. She was also brilliant and fun. She epitomized goodness to me. It is painful and simultaneously joy-filling to remember these things about her. It is also convicting to know that I did not do my part to stay in touch over these years. Again, there are countless excuses for those choices, but the choice to lose touch is a mistake, a mistake that I hope to remedy moving forward. It is not possible to bring anyone or anytime back; I know this all too well, but I can make a different choice moving forward. God is never-ending in his grace and willingness to provide us a second, third chance when it comes to making a change. The words, voices, texts, and pictures from some of my beautiful cousins brings me comfort and hope beyond words. Again, in this season of Advent, the season of the church year I where I find the most meaning, as the candles of hope and peace are lit at this point, I am reminded of those in our families who have left and cling to the belief in a resurrection that this season points toward. Suzanne, forgive me for losing touch with you; forgive me for not making a better choice to stay in touch with all of you. Kim, Julie, Paula, Mary and Martha, thank you for reaching out these past days and reminding me of your incredible love, goodness, and beauty. There is much to share and catch up on. Kris and Bob, we were blessed with so many visits from these amazing ladies. I hope you see from wherever you are that I choose to rekindle that fond memories of Christmas visits, summer visits, Easter visits and move forward with a sense of purpose. Suzanne, I hope you see us all too. I hope you forgive me for losing track of all of you. In the spirit of some music that Kim and I shared, this is from the appropriately named album Fragile by the group Yes, and their induction into the Roll and Roll Hall of Fame. Rick Wakeman, as usual does his keyboard magic. Indeed we are all fragile, but we are resilient and we will hopefully find a joy in each other that provides a sense of memory, of hope and of peace.

I wish you all a sense of hope, comfort, and peace in this blessed season. To my remaining cousins, Kim, Paula, Julie, Mary, and Martha, I love you.

To everyone else, thank you for reading.


When there are no Words

Hello from my study at home.

As we are almost midway through the month of December, the reality of winter and its inevitable arrival is in the air here in North Central Pennsylvania this evening. There has been a couple of nights in the mid-20s and a dusting of snow; yet it is not terribly cold. However, the reality of those falling temperatures are always a stinging slap in the face. And then for me, there is the difference in the cold here versus the cold I grew up in or spent time in (particularly in Houghton, the Twin Cities, or Menomonie). While the temperature will most likely never reach the frigidity of the Upper Midwest, the cold here in Columbia County Pennsylvania is more malicious than the temperatures back there in the years of my growing up, 20s or 30s. The cold here is a more penetrating cold; it is more humid and all the clothes in the world will not protect you. For that reason, and perhaps it is because I am aging, I find it more unbearable. The thoughts of staying inside where there is a fire and better heat or sitting in my sauna for many minutes longer than recommended seems like a much better plan than going outside. Perhaps I have outgrown my appreciation for that idea of some outdoor invigoration from the nip on my nose and all that sort of wonderful holiday music that so romanticized me freezing my toes off.

And yet this Winter we are being told it might be in our best interest to be outside and learn to manage the outside because being inside around more than our little pod could be problematic for our health. The simple fact is there is very little that is normal at this point in terms of what we must do to manage our health, our individual lives, our country or the world at this point. The fight against the virus is a Tale of Two Cities at the moment. Certainly the news from both Pfizer and Moderna in terms of a vaccine and possible options to fight Covid-19 sound promising. Certainly the continued determination of the incredible heath care professionals across the country, those who put their lives on the line every single day for their neighbors and others are examples of walking saints among us. Those people who work diligently to protect others through their own acts of thoughtful management of trying to not spread this virus are to be commended for their continued attempts to stop the spread of a virulent virus we are still figuring out. These are some, but not all, of the positive things occurring. Of course, there is the other side, the words, actions, or denial of the reality of 275,000 people who have died and counting. I have read this morning, we added a million more cases in 5 days. I understand the number of deaths in that million are lower because of therapeutics, but it appears more and more are having long-term consequences from contracting this virus. I cannot understand why protecting each other from getting it at all seems so unreasonable. There is an administration who continues to deny the reality of an election where they have lost by 7 million votes and the same electoral margin as the last election, and therefore argue they do not have to offer briefings, support for, and critical information about where they are. The consequence of their tantrum is the likelihood of many unnecessary additional deaths from this global pandemic. The lack of a national strategy from the outset has, in my opinion, put us where we are. The President’s prophecy that come November 4th the virus would disappear has seemed to be a false prophetic utterance. This is not the first failure for him viewing into his crystal ball and proclaiming like the savior he purports to be that “Y’all are saved! It’s a miracle!” At this point I know people in every part of the country and from the age of 4 to 80+ who have tested positive. Just on our campus alone, we have had almost 400 cases this semester. It is time to come to grips with the reality of what is happening. It is time for health professionals, State Officials, Governors, and yes, both the President and the President-elect to work toward the same end. It is time to be honest with the what the virus is capable of doing and combat it in a thoughtful, careful, and forceful manner so that both the population and the economy can survive and become a world where we might find some modicum of normalcy on the other side.

Shutting down everything again for weeks into months will probably destroy us, both economically and mentally, but minimizing the chance for transmission until we have a vaccine that is being delivered, administered, and results in measurable positive results seems like a thoughtful way forward. I understand the inconvenience and the “uncomfortableness” of mask wearing. I understand the struggle of consequences when it changes how we act or communicate, both organizationally and interpersonally. I wish it could just go away, but that is not how the virus works. It is not going to “just disappear,” no matter how much I wish or even try to pray it away, and as a former pastor, I do believe in the power of prayer. I know that our local hospitals are at capacity. I know if I were to contract it, there might not be a reasonable expectation I could even be admitted. Step back for a moment and ponder that reality. This is not the American I grew up in. It is not the world I expected to find myself living in at the end of 2019. The last 9 months have profoundly, and unreturnably (if I can create this word), changed who we are as a country, and as a world. That is not an easy admission. It is frightening. It would be easy to give up hope in the midst of a public that seems pitted against one another in some dichotomous manner, most seeming to argue foul from one side and a sort of Kuum-bye-yah from the other. I realize that sounds dichotomous on it’s own, but that is my point. There is no easy way forward. I have people I care for deeply who will go in unmasked just to prove they can and somehow believe that is normal behavior, on the other hand a family that is dear to be beyond words is locked down in ways that go beyond most, but I understand their rationale. I know that change has been difficult to implement and it has been painful. What is a reasonable response?

As the people in Debate and Forensics know, first you have to define the terms and agree on their meaning and implications. Let me begin with the easier or the two: response. I believe response in its simplest form is the reaction to some kind of input or stimulus. Much like Wartenberg’s first dimension of power. If a cue ball hits another ball on the billiard table, the ball which is hit moves, and we understand why. Responding to the other is not some autonomous deterministic reaction. There is always something behind it. There is an impetus, a reason, but we seem, even more often in today’s world, to response in some of sort of knee-jerk, sound-byte (lack of) logic manner, honestly believing we have responded in a proportional manner to whatever prompted our response from the outset. While there is so much in our current national and global situation that begs our thoughtful, critical, and analytical attention, we seem destined to live drinking our conspiracy-laced, kool-aid, believing that if someone disagrees with us, they are deluded, inebriated by whatever flavor the news of the day offers like some sort of cotton-candy or snowcone. To further Wartenberg’s power theory, the second dimension of power is when we do things because we deem them (oops, there is that other word) reasonable. They are part of what we have accepted as an utilitarian option for societal sake or benefit. An example is when I walk into a classroom, and within a week, even though I do not require a seating chart, students will normally sit in almost the identical seat daily (at least that was the case when we were in the classroom). Likewise, generally when I begin to speak, other voices will stop (that is not always the case, but generally). That is what Wartenberg refers to as the second dimension of power. Now certainly, some people will rail against that on general principle. Some will color outside the lines to prove that can. And undoubtedly, there are times doing so might be necessary, even preferable. On the other hand, living your life to confront the status quo, simply because you can, has consequences. Often the problem for the outlier, particularly when they are hit with those consequences, is to scream about the unfairness of their plight. This is where reasonable might come in. Certainly we all have our own set of parameters in which reasonable works or functions. Reasonable, and rightfully so, begins with the idea of reason. The sort of reflexive or self-correcting that demonstrates we are able to consider options, learn from experience, and move forward with a purpose that shows we understand ourselves to be something more than an individual, unresponsive, uncaring, and unfeeling about the other.

Often, I have been the consternation of some of my friends because I seem to be intrinsically logic-bound. One of my former students, the first of many to live on the acre, regularly pushed me to explain my propensity for needing to make sense of everything, and yes, that is a problem, but there are times (and Lord knows, we are living them now) when the course of action seems to have no logic, no reason, and certainly no positive possible result. I am trying to understand anti-vaxers right now, and honestly working to be as open minded as possible. I am trying to understand the consequences of the President, yes, one who detests losing with every molecule of his being, but cannot concede an election, in spite of almost four dozen lawsuits filed on his behalf, only to be told by his own appointees at the Federal Appeals Court level that he has nothing to argue because there is no widespread proof. I am trying to understand how one individual has been able to cow an entire Republican establishment in Washington, DC, save a remnant few who believe country matters more than party. As I began to write this, it was the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. That did not go unnoticed to me. The sort of devotion the Japanese Kamikaze pilots had to the emperor are not that much different from those cruising around in their trucks with their red flags flying like wings not all that different from the rising sun on the wings of the zeros. Blind devotion to a business person, pretending to be a politician, propped up by the power of his office, is exactly that: blind. What President Trump is doing through his inability to admit defeat goes much beyond his simple, but dangerous narcissism. It brings out into plain view the very things the framers of the Constitution worked so hard to curb, a despot who believes himself to be the best thing to happen to a country he has pushed exponentially further down a dangerous rabbit-hole. The Republican party promotes conservative principles in the context of culture and a civilization that was built on a particular moral code of individual freedom. I know much can be argued here, but this is my working definition. Certainly Edmund Burke, who railed against the French Revolution for its excess, but supported the American Revolution only 13 years before. He believed in limiting the power of the monarchy and making sure there was an informed parliament. He spoke out forcefully against those put in place by mere appointment by the crown. The conservative movement of today has little in common with Burke or by extension even Ronald Reagan. There is much to be said about the current struggle between the Democrats and the Republicans, or when looking at the more extreme edges, the progressives and the populists. However, that was not the point of this blog. It is about what I noted in the title: when there are no words. There are no words for what President Trump is doing because it is unprecedented in more ways than I have fingers. It takes most of our national heritage, our traditional democratic ideals, and the role of our country on the world stage and sets them all on their ear. What is a reasonable response? I am not sure; and as such, I am concerned. I do believe we have taken the first step and that was a national election that saw a turn out not matched in a century. Even after today, next week on the 14th and even should we get to January 20th, the role of consequence of President Trump will forever change this country. It is a profound price to pay for believing a self-serving, egomaniac could somehow help us as President. He has been more successful than most of us realize. He will not go away and should we believe he will, we are fooling ourselves. And for that reason, I am back to where this started: there are no words, but I do hope reason might come back as a rule and a response. As I have reached out to my incredible cousins, it seems appropriate I offer something from Luther College where their father, Dr. Donald Pilgrim was a professor. In this Advent Season, I hope we might indeed find ourselves awakened to a more compassionate and peaceful world.

Thank you for reading.


Imagining a Century

Hello from my office at school,

It has been a “manage-the-details” day. I am the chair of our department sabbatical committee, director of departmental internships, and an advisor to a couple of student groups. Each area needed attention today. I think I have about 95% of all the issues answered, but there is always something more to manage. In addition, I want to come up with a pretty locked-down schedule of how I will manage the time between now and February to get all the things accomplished I believe need to be done to walk into next semester as prepared as possible. While the pandemic has created a number of differences in my daily life, some of them are really pretty helpful. I remember saying that last spring in a department meeting and some of my colleagues were flabbergasted. What I have found is I am focused and more structured and intentional. In part, the focus is being able to isolate and just work on what needs to be accomplished. It has been a good thing because I feel fewer things have gotten lost in the cracks, which is something I often have to confess to. I think there are always ways to be more effective, but it seems I have been able to take this isolationism and make something positive, much more than expected. It is always amazing to me how we can, if we choose, find the positive in any situation. Some will argue with me in the midst of our unprecedented world being turned upside down, but I do believe there are still many positive things.

My adopted mother, Bernice (actually Alene Bernice) Martin was born 100 years ago today. I wonder what the world was like in Sioux City, Ia, when she was born the youngest of 10 children to a very poor family in an area of Sioux City called the South Bottoms. It was a section of town that was inhabited by mostly first generation immigrants (including Bohemian, Irish, Scandinavian, and Mexican families). [They] made their homes in the area along with Native Americans and African Americans. Most did not have transportation and lived close to the factories and packing plants where they worked. Both sides of my adopted family worked in the packing plants and the stockyards industry at some point. The stockyards, which was the third largest in the world in size, often was the largest in terms of yearly receipts. I was small, living in a different area of town in the latter 1950s and into 1960. My grandmother’s bakery was actually a block north of the South Bottoms area, but only a few blocks away from where my adopted mother would have grown up. By 1962 or 1963, that area of town, the area my mother would have called her neighborhood, was no longer there because of the creation of Interstate 29 as well as the rechanneling of the Floyd River. I wish I might have taken time to know some things earlier. What I do know is having an alcoholic, abusive father and ten children did not work well. What I do know is there were times the older brothers were as much more a father to my mother than perhaps her own father was. And I know that the way she witnessed the death of her father at the age of seven had to be life altering. There would be other devastating incidences in her life and it was a time before anyone would have considered counseling. Family problems stayed at home. Being the youngest of 10 could not have been easy either. Then there is the basic time in which all of this happened. While women’s suffrage occurred at the time of her birth, the role of women outside the home would not occur for some time yet to come. She married at the beginning of the Second World War, probably only a few months out of high school, and her husband would leave for the service shortly thereafter.

What I have figured out as I have aged is the experiences in my mother’s life were difficult and overwhelmed her. They left her insecure and frightened. And not surprisingly, they made her angry. They were unfair, and certainly nothing she deserved, but more importantly she felt she had no one to assist her or help her with them. Over the years, it would be her older brother, Elwood, who was a reclusive bachelor his entire life, and her eldest sister, Charlotte who was probably a mother to her as much as anyone. She was incredibly close to her next eldest sister, June, but she lived in Seattle, and that was not driving distance from Northwest Iowa. I think the things she went through physically and emotionally all by the age of 25 had profound consequences on every aspect of her health for the remainder of her life. In addition, I do not think she really ever desired to have children, but she lived and reached adulthood at the beginning of the baby-boomer years. As I look back, I can say with some degree of certainty, it was probably my father who wanted a family. Adoption became their only option and they adopted a son in early 1951 and I am not sure if that was pre- or post-Washington residency. I think the decision to move to Washington at some point must have had some significant push from her because it would put her close to her sister June. Perhaps the return to Iowa had to do with elderly parents. There are a lot of fuzzy pieces in terms of chronology, but certainly not having something stable for the decade of the 40s and what happened to her during that time was undoubtedly overwhelming.

Not probably wanting children and then having three, albeit adopted children, did not really every work well. When my sister, Kris and I would be added in May of 1960, I am pretty sure her general feeling of being required to do something perhaps she was not inclined to do willingly, especially when my father would work out of town as an electrician, was insult to injury. It is not the desire to have children, but I can imagine for appearances sake, particularly as the boomer life was in full swing, she had to “fulfill her motherly duties.” Attitudes about that would probably be a 180 from then, but that did not help her. It is amazing to me, at least in terms of degree, how our past can dictate our future, but I believe too often we believe it to be almost deterministic. That is not how it has to be, rather that is what we allow. This morning, I was blessed to speak with one of my cousins (technically second), but she was the sister with whom I had the most affinity growing up. She was kind, energetic, thoughtful, intelligent and the list could go one. Of course, it did not hurt that she was incredibly gorgeous, but we would stay up at times and listen to music until the early hours of the morning. It has been literally decades since I spoke with her, but it felt as comfortable as it did all those years ago. The reason to catch up after all this time was because I stumbled across information earlier this week that was tragic. However, it prompted me to do some searching and what has come out of it is this reconnection. There is so much that we can lament and fail to do, or we can decide to do something about it. Those of you would know me know I am not inclined to play victim to circumstances. Rather I would prefer to be honest with the circumstance and my responsibilities and then move forward.

As I continue to write, it is now Friday the 4th. It is another remembrance of yet another birthday. My older brother, Bob, would be 70 today. That age seemed so old once upon a time, but he did not even live until the age of 30. In fact, I am the oldest living of any of my siblings, half, siblings, and as noted recently, I have lived longer than my grandmother did. It really is quite astounding to me to consider mortality, but it is a central part of our lives. We live; we love and influence others; we grow, make mistakes and learn; and yes, eventually life continues without us. That is not to be morbid, but it is a simple timeline of our existence. What is much more incredible to me is the reality that the world changes profoundly regardless of our part in it. The world of our parents and grandparents is hard to even remember at times. I remember when I got my first computer (1987). I remember having my first cell phone (1999). I remember my first smartphone (2004, which was much earlier than many). I can imagine my father trying to manage that, and it does not appear to be a show with a happy ending. The same would go for my mother. It would be interesting to imagine what my brother might do. He was mathematical and scientific in his approach to things. He might have done alright.

The point is, our world has changed drastically, not merely in the century since my mother was born, but even within my life time, or more significantly even since I graduated with my undergraduate degree. That was 10 years after high school, but I see 1984 as the sort of opening of the floodgate of technology. That Macintosh Super Bowl commercial pretty well covers what has happened since. And the consequence of it was not what the average person expected, or did they? That would be an entirely different posting, but certainly the dystopian novelists, some of the conspiracy theorists, and most certainly some who have written about the sort of big brother or pandemic-ridden societies that might occur seem less like science fiction and more like doomsday prophets. My mother was not uneducated, and she was not foolish, but she did see things in a very dialectic manner. It was either this or that, and yet she was prone to some conspiracy-grabbing, it you will. My father, on the other hand, was a realist as well as pragmatic and a roll-with-the-flow person. That is not to say he had no opinions; he certainly did, but he was able to realize what he had power over and what he did not. I am sure they would have some interesting things to say about our current world. I would like to believe that I have some of both of them in me (and I know I do), but I think the way I work with others and how I view the world is probably more influenced by my father. I think my mother subscribed, more than she perhaps thought or even wanted to, that the man was the head of the household. I never had any discussions with them, but I could see her voting at some point more as a Republican than my father ever would have. And yet, until actually thinking about it now, I would have said they voted the same ticket always.

As the week has progressed, it is amazing that I have ended up where I have. Thinking about and reconnecting with even more of my family has been an expected and important gift to me. More importantly, one I need to embrace and nourish. There is so much about my life that has been disconnected, and there are reasons, some realized and some circumstantial, but it is not often such profound opportunities come to pass. That is how I feel at the end of this week. I note all these people who hold on to family and many times, I have struggled to do so. Now it seems important to me to see what I should do, how I might become part of something that was lost over time. It is even more important because it is from my mother’s side and there was been little to manage that or even attempt at any management. I am grateful to my cousin, Kim for responding to my call. She noted that she has spoken with some of the rest and hopefully more reconnecting is to come. I am blessed in this season of hope, this first week of Advent. The light can shine out of our darkness if we allow. As I think of my mother and a century since her birth, I am grateful to her and I am glad to be able to say that. As I think of a brother, who left this world all too soon, I am still in awe of your music and your brain. Thank you to both of you for what you have left me. This was my father’s favorite Christmas song, and in the Glee spirit of this past semester, I offer this version.

Thank you all for reading and joy and hope in this season.


Letting Go: Sometimes in Ways Expected – Sometimes Not

Hello from my study in the house,

I have completed my grading, and the last gasps of a semester, one taxing for both students and faculty, is now upon the faculty. Last weekend, the university held a socially distanced graduation, one thoughtful, safe, and meaningful to students, families, and yes for people here at Bloomsburg. I was invited by both undergraduates and graduate students to be part of their small allowed entourages as they received their diplomas and were allowed to walk the stage in their regalia. I did not wear mine, but it was an incredibly meaningful thing to see them reach this milestone in their lives. One of the most interesting things about graduation is the reality of students you have created relationships with over four years (or more) are leaving this community, this family of local Huskies as we call them, launching their howls or barks in new places. This is a mixed bag of emotions. They are doing exactly what we prepared them to do. Much like a parent, if you do your job well, you work your way out of a job. There is some parallelism in being a professor. I am always amazed how much students change in their self-awareness, in their understanding of the world, and in their realization of what it means to become an adult during their time as undergraduate students. Some, undoubtedly, take longer than others, but for the most part it still happens.

This semester has been difficult, as I noted. Teaching three sections of freshmen in an asynchronously remote fashion was going to be a stretch. The reasons for that are legion, but first, it requires discipline and being a self-starter. Noa a typical freshmen trait, and the reasons for that are many also. Second, it requires an incredible amount of reading. Put most simply, students, do not like to read or simply do not read. That sets up a difficult scenario. Their admitted reason for not liking to read: it takes too long or I only want to read things I am interested in. There is much that can be said about that, but I will let it percolate in your minds if you are reading this (ironically). This semester, 43% of my freshmen either dropped the class or have a D or F in their freshman writing class. That is an incredibly troubling figure. That is probably 10 times what I might have in a normal semester. That pains me beyond words and I am trying to figure out what I should have done differently. I do know a couple of things, but 14 of the 54 remaining in the class did not turn in their final major essay (and this was the biggest assignment of the semester). I worked to include things I thought they might be interested in, and the great majority of the class noted they enjoyed the novels and corresponding video work more than any class they have ever had. That is a great thing to hear, but there was a lot more I needed to manage it seems to get them ready for what was coming during the semester. I seldom have that many people drop a course in two or three years combined, let alone a single semester and one class.

As we address issues of retention, that is certainly not a way to help retain students, but it brings me to a different question: what makes a person ready for college, and more precisely, who should come to college, especially as a newly graduated senior out of high school? That is a much more difficult question for many reasons, but there are so many students who come to college because they are supposed to . . . I disagree with that rationale, and yet, there are still some for whom that process works. How do we know who can make it and who cannot? I wish the Magic Eight Ball would tell me what to do. I have already been reflecting on a number of things I will need to reconsider if I am going to better help students next fall (should I be in PA rather than Poland). Regardless, as I have noted many times this past 8 months, the remote genie is not going to be rebottled, so there is work to do before teaching the class again. There are two specific issues: first, simply managing the basic requirements needed to move from the 5-paragraph essay to college writing, which is a major task; and second, and this one is on me, teaching them more effectively to use sources and cite because it is evident that is not happening in high school. As I am headed into another asynchronous remote semester, there is a lot of work I want to do, but most of that work will occur in January because in November I have some of my own scholarly writing to get wrapped up before some January deadlines. I think the more I stayed locked down as this Covid situation continues to deteriorate, the better off I will be.

This moves me to my title and the real intention of this posting. As I noted there are always times you realize people are going to move in and out of your life, and certainly graduation is one of those times. It is an occupational reality of being a professor, even if you are in the graduate area. And yet, as an English professor, it is often the case that I will not see some students after having them in class as freshmen. Still there are others who continue to be part of my life because of the reality of what happens in freshman writing courses. Yet, they still move on. I have watched this with two particular students who are juniors this year. They were in different sections of my Foundations course, but in the same semester. They are both in another college, but one has a minor in my area and one does not. They are both strong students, but in different ways. This semester they have been sort of the Tale of Two Cities in how they would reach out. Both, in spite of not having me as their professor, reached out regularly for help in professional documentation as well as some other things, and that is always a mixed bag. I am grateful they value my opinion, and as such I want to offer the best assistance I can, but there are times when it seems they want (and simultaneously resist) my advice. This is always a struggle. When I say it might be good to work a bit more diligently or it might be worth taking the time to speak more about this (with my hope that I can be more efficacious in what I give them) they seem to want things to magically happen. This is one of those things where I struggle to let it go. I think it is, in part, because I want them to do well, but I cannot make them do well. It is like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, but then not quite completing it (perhaps for both of us). Why would someone go that far and then not finish it, not do the best they can? What I need to realize is what I think is the best and what they are content with are not necessarily the same thing. That is something I still struggle to accept. Of course, then they surprise you with a thank you card, for instance, and change your entire perception of something. It reminds me of the way my father looked at things when it came to this three children. He noted, when they are out of the house, he had no control. He could only pray that things turned out in the best possible way and that he would be there if needed. He was such a wise person. He never tried to control things. That is a lesson I am still learning, or, perhaps more accurately, failing to remember all too often. It is important to know when to let a student go and let them figure things out for themselves. Again, if we have done our jobs, they will be okay. Perfect? No, but they do not have to be.

As I complete yet another semester, it has been a learning time for me too. It is always that way, but it seems to be even a more profound experience this semester. I know the semester has been a grind. I have explained it as an expected marathon, as a semester of consequences and accountability. I have tried to help students understand that the idea of claiming an education is something they do, and it is what is necessary to take response-ability for their college education. And yet there are some who figure it out. It is the figuring out the is what is hoped, but it can be a sort of bitter sweet thing. By the time they are junior and certainly as seniors, it means is they can stand on their own two feet and move forward without our focused assistance. Some do the more rapidly than others. Ironically, they are not always sure when it happens, but they will unconsciously move into that place where they will only ask for assistance when they really need it. What is important for us is pretty straight forward: they have done it! That is not always an easy thing to do. I think that is particularly the case for writing professors. Generally the first time we become acquainted is when they are freshmen, and the class is smaller. Freshmen are in a profoundly fragile space, but they do not always understand what that means or how to manage it. Therefore, much in writing is self-expression and helping them determine their identity. Then they get to be about juniors and they begin to think of life beyond college, which is exactly what they should do. I have some insight there because of my area of professional and technical writing, courses precisely about preparing them to write beyond college (and often create documents that are about getting them there). It is always interesting how they manage that transition. Some are perhaps like baby birds trying to take that first flight. Some make it, and they seldom look back. Some will come back again and again, needing assurance or help, trying to be both independent while simultaneously ask for help, but at some point they will not return. Letting them go is necessary, but it can be painful. It is always a bit shocking how fragile we can be as mentors. And yet when we let our fragility get in the way, we actually get in the way of their progress. That is something I learned the hard way earlier in my career. It still occurs, but not nearly as often, and more importantly, I have learned how to let go so much easier than I once did.

I think another unexpected consequence of this pandemic and the subsequent social distancing will be how we build relationships with students. Can we build relationships with the incoming freshmen, helping them realize that we are there for them and not their adversary? One of the things I learned this semester is it is not easy. It will take intentional work and thoughtful dialogue. It will take careful, honest, critical, and kind responses on our part. I think how we manage our assignments and tailor them to the students will also be important. That is why I will take time tomorrow to reflect on each assignment and see where grades are and try to figure out how to help them manage their work more effectively. It is why I plan to revise two upcoming courses extensively before next semester. If we are going to create those meaningful relationships with students serving as mentors and advisors, much of what I have done in personal contact before will need to be reconsidered. If I do not figure that out, I am afraid the relational aspect of college that is so important will be forever changed. As the storyteller I am, I will need to think about what I will do moving forward because certainly this last semester saw some very significant students leave the nest. They have found their own voice and what is what we want. The Voice – a song by Celtic Woman is one of my favorite tunes. Here is one of my favorite videos of it. This is a dieted (dubbed dusted) version of it, so it is different from the original Lisa Kelly version. It amazes me, much like my students, there are always incredible individuals to take the place of those who go before.

Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Thankfulness in a Solitary Manner

Hello from the study on the Acre,

It is about 1:30 or so on a Thanksgiving afternoon here in Pennsylvania. It is not like other Thanksgivings I have experienced, at least for the most part. Then again, it is not the first time I have spent one alone. That is simply how life works when you are single, did not have children, and have no family close by. However, before you think I am feeling sorry for myself or that I want you to be feeling sorry for me, that is not the intention. I think the virus makes the idea of solitary something very different for most this year, and that is not just in our American psyche of I-can-do-what-I-want, when-I-want, but even globally, there is a difference as we move into the traditional holidays (more globally being Advent and Christmas into Epiphany). As we are prone to do, we remember those gatherings of days gone by and reminisce about how those were simpler times, believing them to be easier times, understanding them as more wonderful times, but how accurate are we? I remember the infamous trips to my Great-aunt Helen’s or my Grandmother Louise’s homes, and there is not a single sad memory of either place. In fact, as I have noted often in my past blogs, they were fabulous cooks, incredible bakers, and there was nothing we could imagine having that was not somewhere on their holiday tables. Certainly gathering to share their scrumptious offerings was an unparalleled treat for a multitude of reasons. However, it is only the food I miss from then?

Certainly, the food is part of it because it was so tasty, but sitting around those tables in a way that made everyone important was as relevant. Then there was the really competitive games of Hearts or the spending time on that enormous Southeastern South Dakota farm or the acreage at the edge of our Northwest Iowa hometown. My grandmother’s dining room was a place of family and sharing. When I think about giving thanks, being the nephew and grandson to two such amazing women is and will be forever one of the things that makes me most blessed. What I remember now is, from 1958 until the end of her life, some 18 1/2 years later, my grandmother was single. She lived a busy life among people, but at the end of her long day in the bakery, after checking three grocery stores on the way home, she would be by herself. I understand in a much profounder manner what that meant. I am certainly not aware of her feeling left out, of ever seeing her depressed about becoming a widow at the age of 45. I have noted before she struggled with that for some years initially. In fact, it through her into a tailspin for a while. Now I find myself asking what makes being solitary a reasonable, maybe even better than the other, particularly when we live in a world that pushes being with another? I am not sure I have a simple answer, but then again, as the adage goes, not one size fits all people.

Recently, I spoke with my former counselor, a person I met almost weekly for six years while in graduate school. He is an incredible man, one I credit with keeping me alive at one point in my life. In our recent phone call, I told him there were two things he told me that I remember most succinctly (that is not to say I that I do not remember other things). The first was one morning after being accused of doing some rather batshit crazy thing with a phone bill (which when calling the phone company they said that had not happened), he told me the reason I got so frustrated when trying to settle arguments with a spouse was that I argued in a logical manner and that was not how my partner chose to interact. He then went on to tell me I was perhaps one of the smartest people he had ever met, but that I was I was so incredibly stupid when it came to females. For what it is worth, he was a bit more blunt than that. When I relayed that, he told me he remember telling me that. The second thing he said was even more disconcerting. He said, “Michael, if you are interested in someone, I would suggest you turn and run the other way as fast as you can.” I told him that it was because of him I was still single 20 years later. His response, and typically so, was, “So you listened to me.” I guess I did, whether I realized it or not. There is always a rather mixed bag when we consider any aspect of our human existence. Honestly – as I have aged, I have become more protective of my solitude. I no longer see it as something to avoid. Simultaneously, there are times when I feel lonely; there are moments when I wish there was another person. Yet, even when there has been someone, I am not sure I knew what to do with that. Twenty years of being accountable to mostly myself, makes sharing that process a very significant lifestyle change. I know that in the couple of times there have been others even as close friends, I have failed at being as open and transparent as one needs to be if there is a relationship, regardless of where that relationship is or isn’t headed. That is something I am still coming to terms with. I think I understand that more now than I did even a short time ago.

As I sit at home this holiday, more than one person has reached out to share with me in a thoughtful and caring manner. This afternoon, I zoomed with family in NJ, MN, WI, and IA and had a wonderful conversation and chance to see nephews, nieces, great-nephews, and great-nieces, and others. I am always blessed to hear about their lives and see how amazing they are. Their father would be so proud of his children and his grandchildren. It is amazing to me that those nephews and nieces are in their later 40s and some in their early 40s or on the brink. So much has happened over that time. I spoke with an incredible friend and restauranteur today. We are close in age, but he is a talent beyond most anyone I have ever met. We had a great conversation about life and people, as we always seem to do. We both want people to succeed and he gave so many young people an opportunity to learn and grow in his restaurant. I still miss, some eleven years later, the opportunity to stop in there at the end of a long day and he would let me go back and make my own cocktail (it is where I learned Akvavit and tonic could be so refreshing) and we would sit and chat about possibilities and the world. He often accused me of being a Republican masquerading as a Democrat. That might surprise some of you. To spend 20 minutes speaking with him today was a treat and certainly an event to be thankful for. I know that traditions are being changed, but that is what can begin a new tradition. Zooming with relatives today was a wonderful new thing, but something I hope will happen more often.

So I have spent a good part of the day alone in my place reaching out or being reached out to, so there is little solitary, but as I sit here and type, Google music is in the next room and I am blessed to be here and remembered as well as remember so many things for which I am grateful. To my family, who though most are far away, they remember and love me. Distance and a lack of being in their presence this day, does not make them any less important or less loved, in fact, for me it does the opposite. To my colleagues and friends here in Bloomsburg who have reached out today in a variety of ways to remind me that I matter to them, again, thank you. Their willingness to share in their day when I am not family is no small thing to me and it humbles me. To those who I have spoken with by phone or text, hearing from you on this different sort of a Thanksgiving again makes it all that more important. It is difficult to ponder thankfulness if we focus on the world around us at the moment. From the pandemic to a country who seems to see individual rights as something more important than what is best for our society, from the political upheaval because some are convinced their candidate had an election stolen, to a world that is reeling with natural disasters, fires, hurricanes, and other climate related issues it could be easy to lose hope, but I refuse to do so.

One of the many amazing doctors I have been blessed to have lives much of his year in a completely different part of the world. He is not only an outstanding doctor, but he is even more so an incredible person. He is a poet, an artist, a gentle and thoughtful soul, and a person who blesses me each time I read something he posts. He has offered a series of things, things some might consider mundane or even trite, to be thankful for . . . and he is spot on. Big things, overwhelming things, once in a lifetime things get all our attention because they are extraordinary, but they fade and their luster can mesmerize us, but it is momentary. It is the constants in our life that need to be noticed, that deserve our gratitude or thankfulness. Why? Because of their very consistency in our lives. Sometimes it is a person; sometimes it is what we see each and everyday, and the thing that reminds us who we are and what really matters. Sometimes it is the thing that goes unnoticed and we are only aware of it when we grab for it and have need of it. It is the thing or the things we are most apt to take for granted. I am always reminded as I watch others to try to reflect on myself. Not as a comparison, but to reflect on how blessed I am.

I did not get here by myself, but rather I am the product of a number of people who have reached out in ways always offering something to make my life easier, better, more successful. Sometimes I realized that need, but many times I did not. As I finish this Thanksgiving holiday, I choose to focus on the multitude of ways I have been blessed beyond measure from those who have loved me throughout my life to the opportunities that have been offered and some I have worked really hard to achieve. I am blessed and thankful for family and friends, for things that have taught be to take nothing for granted. I am grateful to so many health care professionals who have been there for me in the past and in this time, I am even more grateful for those who now put their lives on the line daily for their patients. They are walking, living angels in a hurting world. I am grateful to complete another semester and meet incredible young people in my classes who care deeply about the world in which we live. The list could go on, but I think you get the idea. Thanksgiving is about exactly what it says: to give thanks for so many things great and small. I wish each of you a blessed weekend in spite of the difficult time in terms of our requirements to remain distant. Distance can be eclipsed by simple acts of kindness and helping others to know they matter. Kindness makes people thankful and thankfulness makes people kinder. It is an easy concept, and one our world desperately needs.

Thank you and blessed Thanksgiving to each of you. Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Missing a Surrogate Son

Hello from my office,

As we move into, and through, the fall, it is difficult for me to not remember where things were a year ago and how both my house and my life was changed, and transformed, by a somewhat unexpected and yet somewhat planned, young Dane, who took his own chance to spend a year away from his Copenhagen suburb. I still remember looking at paperwork about a youthful Danish person, scrambling to get my own paperwork completed, and ordering items to make Anton more at home. When I picked him up at the airport, he was both excited and exhausted from a flight that took him from Copenhagen to Frankfurt, then to Chicago and back to Philadelphia. He had been up for probably 36 hours and he was in a new place. We got his suitcase and as it was late, the trip back to Bloom was not that interesting to him because it was dark. I can imagine he felt like the ride was insufferably long, but when we got him to this room, he seemed pleased and was asleep in no time. The next morning, I let him sleep until he chose to get up and then I took him to Cracker Barrel for his first American breakfast. I would learn he loves breakfast (including scrapple). During the first weekend, he accompanied me to some significant social events and he was very social and enjoyable and he conversed with people easily. I learned almost immediately how capable and thoughtful he was. At the end of that Labor Day weekend, he would begin school and he was a bit concerned about whether or not people would like him. Suffice it to say when he came home with band magnets, female phone numbers, and notes from people the first day, I knew he would do fine.

While he had no formal musical training, he was a drummer and as such decided to participate in marching band. It was the first important decision I think he made because it provided access to an entire social group and during the fall as I attended my first high school football games in decades, it was evident that he fit in quite well. He had quite the little group of people interested in him (mostly female it seemed; amazing what an accent and personality will do!). Mr. Haile, the band director at Central Columbia, was incredibly understanding and even went so far as to offer Anton lessons to read notes. I can say without reservation that band was one of the most important things that happened to Anton, but he was also a strong student in general. He did struggle with a Trig class, but all in all, he did quite well in all of his classes. During the fall, he found our Halloween traditions fascinating and was more than willing to experience as much as he could. I will not post any pictures here, but he did make quite the amazing nun as he marched in the Catawissa Halloween parade. As I write this, it is almost a year since his birthday. His parents were so good at sending things to help him hold on to Denmark, while simultaneously working to Americanize himself to some degree. This birthday he becomes an adult. That is no small thing, but he is, perhaps, the most incredibly mature and profoundly honest young man I have ever been blessed to meet. He questioned things regularly, but he was never afraid to be honest about something, even when it did not go as planned, or when he had a concern. He never lied to me once. That is beyond what I could have hoped for a person his age. He was simply and purely honest. He made it easy to care about him and love him. As I write at this point I am wiping tears away. I can still walk into his room and I miss seeing him there, though it is a bit less messy than when he was around. I remember once saying to him as I walked into the room, “It looks like a frickin’ bomb went off here.” He smiled, and said, “Impressive, huh?” I could only walk away.

Probably most unexpected was the fact that we had similar senses of humor. I think it was both helpful and a curse at time because he could throw things back at me faster than I could get them out at times. It made for some interesting moments. I still smile when I asked him about how going to dinner with six girls at homecoming went and he said, “Loud.” and nothing else. I almost laugh out loud when I think about the time I asked him to try not to charm anyone at musical practice that day, and without missing a beat, he turned and responded, “Fuck off, Michael.” I could only smile as he walked away. He shut me down and his retort was not disrespectful, but merely flipping right back on me what I had tried to flip on him. Regardless of what he did or said, it was almost impossible to be angry at him. This is not to say it never happened. I think there were, however, only two or three times that entire year we were really frustrated with the other. He taught me so much. I doubt, at least to the degree, he realizes the profound impact he had on my life. I am still realizing it myself. What Anton taught me was to be more thoughtful, more patient, more open to possibilities, and perhaps, most importantly, to not be afraid to give of myself to another. That might sound a bit surprising for someone who gives quite a lot, but it was different. When I give in other situations, I can control the boundary; I can determine what I will or will not do. That does not happen so easily when the other person has a mutually dependent relationship. You might think I understood that, but just maybe that is why my marriages did not go as well as they might. I was afraid to give so unconditionally. Somehow, Anton made that sort of giving easy. Perhaps it is because he willingly gave back. Again, Anton is thoughtful, considerate, cautious to a degree, but able and willing to share of himself. He thinks before he speaks, before he does, and yet, he can be as spontaneous as anyone else. He has a playfulness that gives you insight into the little person still inside his 6’0′ frame, with long slender legs, and a bottomless-pit-of-a-stomach. He put up with my giving him spice after spice, and he was open to trying new and different things than the Danish cuisine that was so much of who he was. And he loved Taco Bell!

I think about the changes in me as a result of being a surrogate parent; they are even more profound because it took me until my 60s to accomplish this, but I am not sure it would have happened, or certainly not as profoundly if it had, without Anton coming to live on the Acre. What is more impressive about this single individual was the profound effect he had on others, and not just his schoolmates, but on my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Seldom does a week go by that someone does not ask me if I have heard from him or spoken with him. As I have been over to people’s houses, which, of course, is not as often as before the pandemic, if he was part of that experience a year ago, people are asking about him. I guess the other thing that has held true is what I anticipated about his family. He has a mother, father, and one sister. They too are incredible people. They have been so gracious and I was not just blessed by a young man, but by the entire family. Whenever we have an opportunity to FB video or other options, it is such a joy to speak to all of them.

The pandemic has changed plans twice already, and there is no telling how long that will be the case, but in the meanwhile, we will continue to meet in a socially distanced manner (3,905 miles or 6,264 km). That is some serious social distancing. Fortunately, the internet works on both sides of the pond and we are able to get together. I remember telling Anton early on that I was pretty sure if something happened to him, his parents would be furious, but believed Carla would come to America and kill me. His response was a simple statement. “You are very wise,” He said. It is wonderful and evident to see how much they love each other and while this might seem a bit simple, it makes my heart happy. We need people so committed to the other in this present world.

I am sure some of you will ask if we ever bumped heads or if we got put out by the other. Of course, it did happen, but I have to give Anton a huge shout out for how respectful and thoughtful he is. He is a questioning person. He will challenge most anything, but not merely for the sake of challenging, but to better understand. He is thoughtful and analytical, but he is also still a young adult. One morning I came into the kitchen and he had left it a pit (and Anton, if you walked into the kitchen this morning, you would be a bit shocked, but it is a bit of a pit). I was not happy, and to make a long story short, I texted him and provided pictures of my morning discovery as I went to work on my office (this was a Saturday). I told him I was not happy and he was grounded for three days. Then he was not happy. He called me at the office, but I told him we would speak in person and not by phone. He called me 5 times that morning and after each phone call, I remained at the office a half hour longer. Therefore, when I finally got home, after running some errands, he was rather perturbed with me. The long and short of the conversation, which looking back was a bit humorous, was I took two days off the grounding and we came to an understanding. There was another time when he struggled to make his friends accountable and their choices put him in a difficult situation. I was angry that time, but we made it work. What I learned, as did he (I believe), was this: talking it out reasonably took care of the great majority of any issue. Neither he nor I hold grudges and I do get angry, but I have learned (and it has been a process over years) to not get overly heated. I know some will question that, but is it interesting to me that I dealt with situations and Anton as I never had. It is another thing we were able to do together. I am so grateful to him.

The year was a year of learning and memories from travels to Cape Charles, both earlier in the year as well as the place from which he would return to Denmark, much too early to dinners, road trips, and other experiences. And yet, there was so much we had still planned to do. The picture here is of Anton on the next to last day he was in America. He had gained some weight, might have even grown a few more centimeters, and he was a different person in terms of world perspective after living on the Acre of a bit longer than 7 months. A trip to the Upper Peninsula in January created another experience with weather and driving that he probably remembers. First, Houghton, as my UP colleagues know has a lot of snow, and last year was a particularly snowy winter. And, of course, Anton picked up some Michigan Tech swag, so the memories continue. On the way back, barely across the Mackinac Bridge, after spending the night on the UP side because of wind, we got caught in snow through most of the upper half of the Lower Peninsula. Both he and my student considering graduate school had fallen asleep and they were a bit shocked as I drove down I-75 at about 30 mph over a snow-packed interstate. It was not the first time he told me I was a good driver. That meant a lot, but it also reminded me of the fact his family did not drive, own a car, or even have licenses at that time. That was beyond strange for me. There were so many things I still wanted to do with him, but the world would have different ideas. Covid-19 would change a number of plans, including the suspension of his making the Varsity Tennis Team. Fortunately, the musical, which he did finally agree to participate in, had concluded and he was able to experience one of the many things Central Columbia does so well. I think, of the many things that still impress me about Anton, was his ability to do whatever he did well. It did not matter if it was his academics, which he was very accomplished at, being in the band or the play, which gave him new opportunities, or simply meeting people, regardless their age, he impressed people with both his skill and his kindness. The other thing Anton did well was understand most people better than they understood themselves. We would chat and he would share his observations. I can say unequivocally, he is more amazing as a soon to be 18 year old than I was in my mid-twenties. When we found out he had to leave early we both cried. When he made it to the Baltimore Airport at 3:40 a.m., there was no time for tears. However, when I got back to the acre a few days later, I opened the door to his room and it was the cleanest he had ever kept it. His flag hung from the top drawer just as it had when he arrived. I sat in the room and I cried for 10 minutes or more. As I write this in my office, I am so glad there are so few people in the building because once again tears are streaming down my face.

I was blessed beyond words to have Anton as my exchange son. I still am. I miss him terribly and I am humbled by all he taught me. I had hoped to get there at Christmas, but the world continues to fight against that travel. It will happen. In the meanwhile, I will keep him and his family in my heart. I am blessed in so many ways by the renewed Danish connection in my life. It was January of 1981 when I was in Copenhagen. I will get there again with so much joy. Jeg savner dig, Anton, og jeg ønsker dig den mest vidunderlige 18-årsdag. Du har begavet mig med din tilstedeværelse i mit liv og med din kærlighed. Der er ingen ord, der kan udtrykke, hvor vigtig du er for mig. Mange tak for at være den fantastiske person, du er. Dette er den sang, jeg delte med dig, da vi fandt ud af, at du bliver nødt til at rejse tidligt. Det er stadig den sang, jeg giver dig nu.

Thank you as always for reading.


When We Seem More Broken than Not

Hello from my office,

It is not by accident that I am writing this on the day following the 245th Anniversary of the foundation of the United States Marine Corps and on Veterans’ Day at a few minutes from the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month. I am hurting. I am disillusioned; and I am stunned by where we are as a country. As a Marine, I joined the service as a 17 year old, yes, wet-behind-the-ears, barely 115 pound, naive NW Iowa boy. Did I join because I had this overwhelming desire to be patriotic? Simply put: NO. Vietnam was drawing to an end. My mother and I were at odds over everything, and I mean everything, and I had no idea why or how I would attend college. It seemed out of my league, both academically and financially. So on a lark one day, as I have noted before, I skipped school and with a senior classmate found myself at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station in downtown Sioux City, Iowa. He was considering going into the Marine Corps, so I tagged along. Amazing what that day created. Within about three months I went from having no direction to finding myself standing on the yellow footprints of MCRD-San Diego. Yes, for those here, East of the Mississippi, I was a Hollywood Marine.

My time in the Marine Corps would change the trajectory of my life. It could have done so even more had I been a bit more thoughtful. Suffice it to say, I would have gone to college on the government’s dime, come out as a Second Lieutenant, and retired at 37 had I thought carefully about what was offered, twice. I was pretty stupid, but it has turned out okay in the long run. Bootcamp was a shock and so were many of the other things that would happen to me, but it changed me in two important ways. The first is a sense of patriotism and love of country, but simultaneously an understanding of the complexity of our federal government. I will say more about that below. The second was an understanding of the importance of discipline and the necessity of it. Both of these realizations, of these lessons, are paramount in the uncertainty of what is occurring in light of this contested election (I will give some deference to those supporting President Trump at this time). Our government, all the way to the White House, was reeling when I was in the Marine Corps. We had both a Vice President and a President resign while I was in the service. That was unprecedented in our nation’s history. There is a lot more than merely tax evasion on the part of Vice President Agnew, but rather a dishonesty that began when he was in Baltimore. You can look it up, but what is probably more amazing is the scheme followed him to the Office of the Vice President because he was still receiving kickbacks for his actions from years prior. Second, there might be an irony that it was Agnew that would place then Candidate Richard Nixon’s name into nomination at the Republican National Convention. What is most interesting, particularly for me, is that as the investigation by the U.S. Attorney into Vice President Agnew gained steam in Maryland, both President Nixon and H. R. Halderman (the White House Chief of Staff) worked to assist the then Vice President to shut the investigation down (if it sounds familiar to present day, it should because the parallels are striking). That was our Executive Branch in the mid-1970s. Of course, eventually both Agnew and Nixon would resign. It was a dark time in our nation’s history and it would usher in the Presidency of James Earl Carter, who is certainly not one of the most effective Presidents, and one of only four (if the election holds) to be voted out after one term. However, Carter has become a statesman perhaps like no other since holding office (and that is supported across the political spectrum).

Let me return to the idea of patriotism and its complexity. I have what I would call an aversion to any sort of blind, unthinking, unquestioning patriotism or analysis of our government. Much like I noted in my last blog about our national psyche, most have no sense of the complexity of what it means to be patriotic. Complicating that is a national ethic which has moved toward situational versus some “more set of principled” ethic. This sort of struggle moved me to have a conversation with the Philosophy Department chair here at Bloomsburg. He helped me see there is a utilitarian aspect to this or more simply, something pure Machiavellianism. The issue is how is it we have become so Machiavellian? That might turn is back to the example of Agnew and Nixon, and certainly President Trump’s assertion of absolute power as President and a protective cocoon from prosecution would support that position. The reality of the President’s position is not anything probably anyone, maybe even he himself, has a complete handle on, but there is little doubt that there are a number of concerns about his legal issues and his financial status. In addition, depending on these two issues, I believe there is reason to believe he will consider running for re-election in 2024, or at the very least playing a significant role in that election. Patriotism is believing in and supporting your government, but it is also being honest about abuse of power and calling it out when it occurs, and that is not a partisan thing; it is the how democracy works. Bad behavior, unethical behavior, unlawful behavior should be called out regardless a person’s political bias. However, there is another aspect of patriotism that is a selfless action, something that comes from deep inside, it is that willingness to sacrifice for the whole, up to and including the giving of one’s life. This is what I came to realize by serving in the Marine Corps. It is more than an ideal; it is more than a concept; it is the reality of every single grave anywhere in the world, be it in France, in Arlington National Cemetery, Ft. Snelling, or even in Graceland Park Cemetery in Sioux City, Iowa, where three people, whose flags from their coffins are presently in my living room: my uncle, my father, and my sister. While the three of them were not killed in action, a person I knew was. That is a sobering, humbling, and profoundly eye-opening reality. Losing your life at 19 because you answered the call to serve is not something we can quite fathom, even when you see it happen.

Much of what is happening in our country, post-election, regardless political position, is being argued by both sides as an issue of democracy and fingers being pointed about honesty, transparency, and ultimately about our ethics as a nation. I am reminded of what Kellyanne Conway referred to as alternative facts when reporters inquired about Sean Spicer’s comments about the numbers at the inauguration of President Trump almost four years ago. Remember, the questions were raised because of photos and not merely because of what someone had written. Numbers and alternative facts have been a hallmark of President Trump’s tenure as President. Again, I could layout a laundry list, but that is not the point. I think it is important to understand that alternative facts, cherry-picked facts, any fact do and does. Facts are suspect. Not in some post-modern way, some Nietzschean argument that nothing has actual substance, as it might seem I am asserting, but rather political facts are not scientific facts and vice versa. The very word fact itself is loaded (and not as in the continued explosion of cannabis laws passed and in this cycle, it was Montana, Arizona, Mississippi, and South Dakota, not liberal bastions, btw). What constitutes a fact? Terms like disinformation, misinformation, hoax, fake news, and a host of other terms or phrases all do the same thing. They sow mistrust, suspicion at the very least, and on the other end, they can create division, vitriol, and some of the very things we see occurring now. Please know, I am not saying this only happens on one side of the political aisle, but I do believe we are in a place unlike anything in my lifetime. That is really the rationale for my title. Certainly in both the 2016 and the 2020 elections, the polls have left a bit to be desired. However, within 24 hours of the election Sec. Clinton stated, “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.” There were claims of fraud in 2016, mostly by the President-elect at the time, which is a bit ironic. Of all the investigated claims, only four were found to be accurate (Bump, Washington Post. 1Dec2016). Of course, there has been the continual claim that there were 6 million fraudulent votes, but Sec. Clinton only won by 3,000,000, so there are some possible issues. As we continue to count, in both Republican and Democratic states, the trend, turing red to blue because of mail-in votes, continues. Part of our struggle is what we expect from our politicians. Do we expect honesty, transparency, fairness? Perhaps in our ideal little corners we do, but more likely, we understand that there is some issue with our politicians, but we would like to fall into a camp where we believe the majority of them are reasonable, logical, principled. And yet, those are the mainstream. I believe what we are seeing now is more and more who fall out of the mainstream. That is certainly indicative of President Trump. Time and time again, he has been held up as the people’s politician, the person to whom the average person can more easily relate. The person who has their back. Why? In part, building off my last post, because people find his message rhetorically accessible. They perceive his passion as something they can appreciate or as someone who cares about them. What studies show is his language level, his rhetorical level, is about fourth grade. This is not a dissing of the President, but rather explaining why he has been so effective.

Certainly, the argument rages as to whether or not he is a Republican, a nationalist, a populist or none of the above. Arguments can be, and have been, made for each of these. If the President is a populist, which is one of the more (maybe not the most) likely options in my opinion, that is an important point. All politicians bend facts at some point. They reorder them; they take them out of context; and they know the necessity of spinning them. That is reality, but most often the mainstream do it is a manner that is difficult to argue or claim them as lying (at least without digging down). Studies show that populists, on the other hand, are not afraid of lying or even being exposed in that lie (Morrissey, Griffith University). However, if you might believe they are not calculating in what they say, again, studies will show something much different, and the rationale for that falsehood has a different purpose. Again, Morrissey argues there are two important considerations. First, the lies are not meant to be accepted by the general public, but rather to appeal to a particular element of the electorate, and without doubt, there is an incredible effectiveness to this strategy. Second, the lies and their acceptance have a profound consequence on political discourse. There is still an underlying belief that political discourse is at its core true. It would be easy again to ask the simple question: why would you lie about something so ridiculous? but that assumes the wrong question. The more important question is why tell that particular lie at that particular time? Let me note a dystopian novel many of us read at some point (Orwell’s 1984) and the story might be instructive. Orwell used phrases like “war is peace, freedom is slavery, or ignorance is strength” and the totalitarian government used propaganda to rewrite history at will. The use of the phrase “alternative facts” by Conway caused an unexpected renaissance for the novel as sales soared more than 9,500% (Amazon). Lies always have a reason, and a lie’s chief end is deception (Bok). What is more complex when considering this is not all deception is necessarily wrong or evil. Much could be said here, but allow one example. Parents might be very angry at each other, but will often mask that anger when in front of their children, particularly if the child is small. That is deception, but is it wrong? Probably not, for a number of obvious reasons.

This brings me to the crux of this particular posting. Populism is here, and the election of President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris is not going to make that disappear. We may return to what many will believe a more traditional style, a more understood style of governing. Yet, it was that traditional style that people were disillusioned by. It was that more understood style that carried President Trump to an electoral college victory in 2016. And it is the Trump Administration’s use of what could be argue as populist rhetorical style that netted them north of 70 million votes in this election, so to assume that populism has no foothold in America (and the globe, for that matter) is beyond naive. I will argue populism rather than reaching out to our better angels, something I referred to in my previous blog, does precisely the opposite. It stokes of flames of discontent and fear. It pushes us toward the selfish tendencies we all have, but makes those tendencies seem reasonable, appropriate, and somehow efficacious. I will go so far as to argue that populism is foundationally narcissistic. Regardless of what some will argue about this election, the fact that Secretaries of State and Governors, regardless the party, have a sworn duty to manage elections is something we have depended on throughout our history, and it has carried us through much darker times than this. The elections of 1860 and 1864, as well as 1932 or even 1960 or 1972 are some of those moments. The election/SCOTUS project of 2000 is yet another one, and even though Al Gore would lose by only 537 votes, he would concede graciously noting that it was necessary to focus on the “unity of the people and the strength of our democracy” (History). As I write this, a dozen court cases have already been rather summarily dismissed for lack of evidence across the country. The separation of popular votes is over 5 million and the percentage of 50.8 as of this morning is the highest percentage since 1964, with the exception of two elections (ironically both elections where Biden was the Vice President on the ticket). It is also higher than any Republican win since George H.W. Bush in 1988, and actually higher than then Candidate Reagan’s blowout of President Carter in 1980 (50.7%) (Kilgore, Vision2020, 11Nov2020). As the populist President Trump is, or purports to be, it is easy to understand his disillusionment, and having watched his response to anything unfavorable to him over the last four years, his response is certainly not totally unexpected. But there is something more important here.

The Constitutional language of “We the people” is instructive. That is the nature of elections. As I have noted, I too believe it the right of legal challenge, but even as DOJ Attorney General Barr noted (and this is an entirely different concern), “Substantial allegations should be pursued.” What constitutes substantial? That is a concern also, particularly if we return to the idea of alternative facts. Yet, so be it. In the meantime, the fact that we are averaging 121,000 cases of COVID-19 a day for the last two weeks would deem the President’s contention that it would disappear after election day false. The fact that the Vice President has done nothing (it appears) to work with the task force is unconscionable. All of my Midwest relatives and friends are in the 5 states where the percentages are the worst, the very places I grew up. Regardless the outcome of the election, the Administration has a duty to the American people. Do your job. Much like the argument they used for the appointment of a new Supreme Court Justice, they have a duty to do whatever their job requires up to the last day. To only do what one wants, besides playing another round of golf, certainly supports the populist argument posited above. Concession is not required, but allowing the incoming administration access to transitional process is. It is a law. To block it, particularly in light of such statistics, is again contrary to the history of our democracy. The likelihood, and this has been argued by politicians on both sides of the aisle, of there being any sort of fraud or impropriety that could overturn more than a few hundred votes is miniscule. It is time to understand the consequence of populism and realize it is not going away. It is time to realize the clock has run out on President Trump and his election chances in 2020. Might he return in 2024? Well, it is certainly a possibility. That is for then. It is time for us to discount and repudiate the lies of this moment and move toward creating a country, which while divided might realize the importance of the bigger picture and believe we have an obligation to all people and yes, to the entire world to be the beacon of democracy we have been. It is a tarnished and struggling beacon, and not just because of this election, but it is a beacon just the same. It is “we the people” that can make it shine again, but I believe we need to point it outward and see where it goes. When we look into it, we are blinded, and perhaps that is what we have done. I have used this video before, but as we struggle as a people, I believe it captures my hurt and my hope.

Thank you for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

To the Third and Fourth Generation

Hello from my office,

I have been grading and chatting with students trying to help them manage a major paper, one much longer than many have ever written or even fathomed in high school. While I do not think it is a difficult assignment, I am well aware that this is not comparing apples to apples. I can write a reasonable draft of an undergraduate level paper, doing research on-the-fly, one of 7-10 pages in a day. That is not where my students are, even in my wildest dreams. That is not to say they are incapable, unintelligent, or clueless, but rather for most, their high school has done little in teaching them how to write. I am not dissing those hard-working middle school or high school English teachers. They have an impossible task in the current system. That will be the case until we move beyond a teaching-to-the-test mentality. It is what we have become in our public schools. I understand the need for change and for modifying how we teach in a changing world, but I am not sure what I do with the idea that standards that affect what is considered Standard Written English (and I focus on this because it is the area in which I teach) seem to be too often jettisoned to merely help students pass. Most high school English courses are not English courses, they are literature courses. Those are two different things. They have overlap, to be sure, but learning to write and communicate is foundational to the human experience. I will stop the rant on that here.

As I begin to write this, it is the day sandwiched between All Saint’s Day and our National Election Day. As such, it seemed appropriate to connect them as many from other side of the political scale are apt to do. This is that interesting connection between patriotism and religion, which is both part of our constitution, and specifically disconnected. Therefore, I want to do it in a slightly different way. I want to begin with the idea that we are all saints, by virtue of a salvific act we had nothing to do with. Certainly, on both sides of this chasmic political aisle, our behavior seems to be less than saintly. I do believe I have Republican friends who are thoughtful, act with integrity, passionate about their support for conservative ideals, and practice a number of the same principles to which I adhere. I should note that the fact I even have to say that illustrates the problem we have. As a socially liberal person, much as noted in my last blog post, I believe I can be pro-choice and anti abortion. I believe I can faithfully and thoughtfully admit as a white elderly male, the perfect Union dreamt of in the Constitution is anything but for too many people. We are a racist society, one who speaks about doing something better, but too often we fail in our meager attempts. I do not wake up each morning as a minority or a female, but it does not take much to see their struggles are different than mine. To treat another person as less, or to take away their decency, is an attempt to take away their “saintedness” or maybe their saintliness. That is not something we can or should do. If we consider the liturgical language of the All Saint’s celebration, most importantly the inclusivity of it might be instructive. Remembering “all servants and witnesses” and the list that follows is thoroughly gender inclusive. It is a gospel that says all who are burdened, who are heavy laden can find hope and trust in a creator who believes in the core goodness of the creature. And even when that core somehow comes up short, there is still hope. When I was a pastor, I was always careful to not make proclamations at funerals about what I believed about the deceased person and their place beyond. I am not God, nor do I want to be. And yet, there was often a need for people to be assured of some Good News. The news was that there is hope beyond the grave. As Luther so directly, and yet eloquently, argued in his dialectic manner, “we are simultaneously saint and sinner” (simul justus et peccator). Nothing has been more apparent this past year. 235,000 souls have left this world because of one reason, a virus. Additionally, we are over 120,000 new cases in a day. We are fragile in a multitude of ways, but this day in the church year reminds us that there is something better. If you will allow, and Lord knows we need it, it is time for the better angels that are there to shine forth. Better angels are not partisan, they are about our humanity, a humanity that is hurting. This is not just an American issue; it is a global issue, but as Americans, we have a responsibility to the world. That is Biblical too as the writer of Luke noted, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (NIV). Saintedness pushes us to move beyond selfishness, to work toward kindness and unity. This does not mean ignoring differences, but rather being unafraid to embrace them. Difference, in background or opinion, offers a chance for growth and movement toward the more perfect union our founders dreamt of. The struggle for a church in the time of Luther was an argument against the power of the papacy. And yet, Luther did not want to reject the mass or many other things, Luther, instead wanted to preach a word of both law and gospel. A gospel of hope and compassion, a gospel that provided forgiveness and a promise of God’s grace. All Saint’s Day for me is about living a life that reflects the lives of my own personal Saints, those who have passed before me. That is not lost on me as I move toward an Election Day, this need occurs in an incredibly fractured country.

Yesterday, I noted that I am not supportive of violence from anyone when it comes to allowing our democratic process to unfold. I am passionate, et veritas. That is one of the things I wish I had been better at earlier in my life. Faithfulness calls out injustice; faithfulness believes in the sanctity of all people; yes, even the faithless. As I sit in my office on this day, I am being inundated with calls, messages, and other communique that continue to demonstrate the hate-filled, fear-mongering, tragic-predicting path our country seems dead-set on following (please note, I specifically mentioned neither party in this action). . . hello on Thursday morning, we still do not have a Presidential outcome. What is evident, regardless who is elected President, we are a polarized nation. I looked at statistics in Pennsylvania, which is a state everyone is looking at in this moment, the stark contrast between Red and Blue, male and female, urban and rural could not be more apparent, but I think there is more going on. Why are there such differences from one state to the next, one ethnic group to the next, even within an ethnic group (e.g. Hispanics in Florida versus Hispanics in Arizona, for instance)? Sometimes it is easy to discern the difference, other times not so much. I do not think it is any longer a Red or Blue thing, a Republican or Democrat thing. I believe what we are seeing is a wave of populism, a movement the President understands in ways many either do not, or they are not willing to see (I should note that is “the many” are those who disagree with the President’s stance – what I am arguing is this: do not think the President is unaware). Our world has become more populist. Look around, Hungary, Poland, Brazil, Russia, Belarus, and yes, even North Korea, the Philippines, China, Egypt, or Turkey are places where nationalism is a significant aspect of their political landscape. I would note that Brexit is also a form of nationalism.

What is it about nationalism or populism that seems so enticing to us as humans? I think it is a combination of what many refer to as toxic masculinity, this hegemonic argument that sees feminism, gender equality, gun control, or even gender fluidity as an attack on the male. This is a prevalent part of the President’s base, and it is a much wider demographic than most liberals or even centrist Democrats understand (Kelly). In addition, I believe this position has a rather oxymoronic connection to our national belief in individual freedom. The rather bipolar connection is simple: we want someone to be in charge of us all and we simultaneously want to be left alone. This is not that different, as noted by one of my Dana and seminary colleagues. Israel desperately wanted a king, but when they got it, it was not quite what they expected. If you think Donald Trump is a true states’ rights person, you have not been paying attention. He is such only when he does not want the responsibility for something (e.g. the pandemic and the subsequent response). Otherwise, he is as hands-on as anyone. I believe his twitter feed is a prime example. In President Trump’s addresses, he often speaks of the failure of much of the country, but then portrays himself as the only one who can fix it. He both pronounces and is simultaneously held up as a sort of 21st century savior of the country, as the only one who can realign the world. The consequence of this is much more profound than many realize. The sad way he characterizes the world is also more eschatological. Follow me and you will not be left behind. There is a certain unconventional style to his address, but that is what makes him the preferred voice of many. What is interesting is how both his spoken and written rhetorical processes match up. His use of paralipsis and occultatio has a long cultural history, but its rationale is quite simple. Both in his spoken or written mode, the President’s style is most often typified in domestic argument. For instance, “I am not going to say bad things about you, but _____ ” and then one says the very thing they asserted they would not say. The same occurs in many of the President’s tweets. An example is a Presidential tweet from the last 24 hours:

We are winning Pennsylvania big, but the
PA Secretary of State just announced there
are “Millions of ballots left to be counted.”

The significance of the President’s tweet is not so much what it says as what it does not say. No place does he accuse the Commonwealth or the Secretary of State of any malfeasance, but it is implied. That is a rhetorical strategy of absence and presence (Olbrechts-Tyteca). When you have not actually done something, but only implied, one cannot technically accuse you of anything wrong. And yet, your listeners, your readers, understand the inference. The consequence, particularly in this tweet as well as the President’s style in general, is to create mistrust and pain. I honestly believe he feels only he can fix it. In the book, Apocalypse Man, communication scholar, Casey Ryan Kelly argues this sort of relationship, the between the President and his supporters is a masochistic relationship, one where the idea of “Mak[ing] America Great Again” allows his followers the opportunity to move from a place of pain to something better (135). It is a move from a world of broken dreams or a world which has used us. This becomes apparent because only the President “tells it like it is.” Undoubtedly, the President has been incredibly effective using this strategy. Bizarrely, however, the scenario created is much like an abused person believing they are somehow in a relationship where the abuser actually cares. More than likely it is a cruel facade and the narcissistic abuser cares about no one but themself. Additionally, true to form, it is not by accident the President is regularly accused of gaslighting the American public.

Lest you think I am trying to merely diss the President’s rhetorical style, that is not my intent. Rather it is to explain the characteristic rhetorical form the President uses and why it has been so effective with his followers. I think the President is the consequence of our national division. Therefore, I do not believe the division began with the President. That is an important point to elevate. President Trump was elected as an outsider, someone to shake up the status quo of the beltway. To say he has been, or is successful, is subjective, but he certainly has. He has shaken up much more than the beltway. Even his evening he has affected our democracy, our national identity, and, for me most importantly, our understanding of decorum and civility more profoundly than one could have ever imagined. Again, therefore, the important thing is both the consequence and the cumulative event itself. Why was so much of the American electorate discontented? Why is the American electorate still so divided? This is where it gets a bit ugly. I believe we have, as Americans, fallen victim to our own mirage of democracy. We have, too often, believed the national image which appears in the mirror to be much more attractive than it is. We are mistrustful of the other (and that is not just the immigrant), but even our neighbor, one who thinks differently than we do; certainly, those rural Americans feel disenfranchised or disrepected by the urban/suburban Americans, particularly when the vote among the two groups is diametrically opposed; the progress made in terms of equity be it about race, gender/gender fluidity, or economic class is important, but I will assert it has not been enough. The reasons to argue this failure are complex and long- practiced (often without realizing it). This is where I return to my title. Much of the Old Testament, and even into the Book of Romans, there is a long history of what is called the Biblical generational curse. First, I am not convinced this is some theological retribution, but for generations, we have claimed fairness; we have claimed justice, but even as I write this the President is claiming the American electorate is cheating him. This is unprecedented. It is an attack on the most foundational element of our democracy (and even Rick Santorum, the former Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, has joined in that opinion). Let me offer three thoughts: first, you cannot ask to stop the vote in the states you currently lead and conversely ask them to keep counting where you are behind. Second, if there was some blue-color conspiracy to steal the election, you would think their fraudulent and nefarious activity would have done a much better job in the Congressional and State elections. Finally, and this is a matter of both logistics and statistics, President Trump told his Republican base to not vote by mail, but rather to show up on election day. The opposite was the case among the Democrats. So the red mirage that turns to blue is a logical progression, and finding there are disproportionate numbers in terms of mail-in ballots should be expected. Furthermore, the fact we have the highest turn out in a century only accentuates that issue. One of the things that most affected me in the last two elections are the three states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. The infamous three, which elected President Trump in 2016, They are the last three states where I resided. In this election, the first two are already called, but watching today, it appears likely my current state might be the state that actually makes Vice President Biden the President-elect. Yet, as I struggle to write what seems reasonable in this unreasonable time, I know that democracy is working. In Pennsylvania, if a mail-in ballot was not in the inner-envelope and signed, it is not counted. Is that unfortunate? For the person voting: yes. For the system, which has rules and a numbered list of directions: no. It is about integrity.

Let me return to my point about the generational curse. I believe we have generationally, or more accurately for generations duped ourselves into wanting to believe we are fair, just, and righteous. We aren’t; we are flawed. Too often we falsely believe we hold some moral high ground based on our own personal preferences or life experience. If we are to return to the idea of our saintedness, perhaps it is time we think seriously about this sacred time in the church year. Perhaps it is time to reach out believing that those better angels might do something if we allow. Our incredible blind spots are both the cause and the consequence of our division. However division has a larger import; it weakens us as a people, both individually and collectively. We lose our ability to provide care, justice, or even hope for those who start from a disadvantaged position. Without hope, there is little confidence in fairness or even decency for that matter. When I consider some of my saints, those persons who both influenced and informed my world understanding, there is one particular piece of advice I remember. As my grandmother, my hero as I have called her, and I stood in her bakery office, she looked up at me from her desk and said, “Michael, always be a gentleman.” That comment caught me off guard, but I merely looked back, and said, “Yes, grandma.” I was probably eight years old, and I thought she meant something like “Make sure you say please and thank you.” Almost six decades later, I realize how much more complex her admonishment, her request was. While this question was simple for my eight year old brain, what was more significant for me was how she lived her life. As a widow and female business owner, she understood more about the world than I could have ever imagined. She was elegant, intelligent, and gracious. She could stand at her bakery table while listening to her transistor radio up on the shelf while decorating her cakes. She did not really looking like a business owner. Yet that same evening, she dressed up in her gown as she joined her lady friends at their Eastern Star Azure Chapter. There was always something positive, something philanthropic about her. She worked tirelessly and regularly practicing a sort of caring positivity that made her a walking saint for her grandchildren. I see that so much more clearly now. Another thing that does not go unnoticed to me is I have now lived longer than she did. That realization shocks me, but simultaneously pushes me to carry on her legacy of caring and kindness. I feel this more profoundly because I have been granted as much time as she had and more. Perhaps I can swing that generational Biblical idea from curse to blessing. I was once told to be the blessing I wish to receive. It is what I believe I have been called to do. It is the legacy she left, and the life I hope to live.

Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

A Walking, Breathing Oxymoron

Hello from my office on a dreary and chilly pre-Apocalyptic Friday,

As I write this, I am doing it to clear my mind, to make sense of the nonsensical, to put my trust in something larger than myself, which is always needed, and to create the possibility that I might be able to focus a bit more accurately and fairly on my students’ work. As I noted in my last post, I do not want another email, text, tweet, FB post, or anything else about the election. On one level, I am disillusioned by the acrimonious nature of all of it, and simultaneously, I am energized that we might have the largest turnout of voters in a century, and that is democracy in action. Of course, the fact that well north of a billion dollars has been spent on the electing of the President alone is mind boggling. While I will not get into the politics of Citizens United v FEC, there is little doubt that the 5-4 ruling, which overturned about a century of restrictions has opened the floodgate of outside money into the political process (regardless of party). I looked up some figures today and it seems over 14 billion has been spent on the entire cycle so far. Incredible. It seems fairly evident that PACs and Super-PACs are nothing more than shadow entities of our two party system, and as such, it is not surprising that many individual people struggle with the idea of equity in our democracy. It should not catch anyone off guard that the talking point of the average contribution of the individual being $46.00 or whatever number is ponied out as an example of the importance of the citizen is regularly referenced. This is the political, the real, the actual landscape of our country as we barrel into next week’s Presidential election.

As I noted for my students, I still believe in the power of the individual ballot and I have encouraged all of them to vote. I have a young student who is proud beyond words of the time he is spending knocking on doors, sans mask, to support the President. My response to him is two pronged. I do believe you should wear a mask, but I commend you for your political activism. I should note that my mask conversation seemed more profound when I heard from him, unsolicited, that he visits his 94 year old grandparent, one suffering from COPD. This morning I was on a Zoom meeting and someone stayed with me following the meeting and noted that it was really nice to see someone who could be liberal and yet faithful, again something some might find as incongruent. I have been accused more than once of being an intellectual Christian, which btw, I do not see as pejorative. I regularly tell my students that God gave them a brain to do more than hold their ears apart. I believe both action and faith, which is not something that merely sits on a shelf, are integrally connected. This does not mean I believe that others are required to agree with me for me to appreciate them, but it does mean that I am more drawn to find commonality with people who will think, analyze, and struggle with the seeming inconsistencies in our present world. There are so many things our government does, regardless of party, that are self-serving. I could give a list, but in a general way the number of times we have propped up some really shady character or government because it has served our national interest, only to have it come back and bite us in the ass, cannot be dismissed.

What do the tropes like democracy in action, most important election of our lifetime, MAGA, America First, she’s a Karen, basket of deplorables or even real issues that have become tropes, like PTSD, opioid addiction, immigrant, and disabled veteran do to our political discourse? They are powerful ways to try to simplify something or someone who should not be simplified. As I age, what I realize more and more is our propensity for over simplification long preceded our current social-media-sound-byte-seven-syllable culture. While I lament my students’ desire for a recipe card, rubric-offering, existence, too many of us in the baby boomer generation are as guilty of this overly prescribed existence. We called it the American dream. Fareed Zakaria, the well-known commentator, television personality, wrote a significant piece in Time magazine a decade ago (almost to the day) titled “How to Restore the American Dream” (,9171,2026916,00.html). I grew up believing with all my heart that it is a reality; I would go as far as to say I am living it. I certainly make more than my parents ever did. I have been able to go to college and graduate school and travel in ways they never did, but is that all there is? I would argue in a sort of meta-argumentative way that this is certainly what the most wealthy in this country want me to believe. Certainly, there are those whose dreams have been achieved much more successfully than mine, but does that make them any less subjected to the same 1% most of us are? Again, as I shared with my students the other day, I believe the following equation is necessary to succeed: Educated+ Skilled= Competency. I explained further that competency is often misunderstood. Competency is not being average, but rather it means you both know how and why to do something and you do it really well. My example of competency is Aaron Rodgers. I am a serious Green Bay Packer football fan, so I have some strong sense of his accomplishments. I argued that Aaron Rodgers is competent. He probably understands football better than 99% of most in the NFL, and he is really good at what he does, to the tune of $33.25 million dollars this year. I then encouraged them to work to be that sort of competent in their studies. Certainly, Mr. Rodgers (pun intended) is glad to be in the neighborhood he is in. Still . . . while he has more money than I will ever have (for instance, I can write out his salary number and recognize it, I have no comprehension of what that kind of money means) he is as fragile as I am, and in some ways more so. He is one play, one injury away from not ever playing again. His dream is more fragile than mine, if you will. And both ironically, and appropriately, his vote is no more valuable than mine. That is the genius of our system (and I choose to intentionally not fall down the rabbit hole of the electoral college).

To return to the tropes listed above, there is so much that can be said. The rhetorical power of each of these terms or phrases is tremendous. One of the tropes I have known most of my life (not included above) is “Love it or Leave it.” The reality of that trope is its all or nothing tension. One can love something or someone deeply and still be disappointed in it or them. I have often noted the importance of my grandmother in my life. The most devastating thing she could express to me was being disappointed in me. It did happen more than once, and I was always ashamed when it happened. I am deeply disappointed in the character of our national conversation at the moment. Earlier this week I watched the first Presidential Debate between then-Senator John Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. It was a debate about policy and the direction of the country. It was civil; it was substantive; and the debaters even complimented the character of their opponent. It might be worth a look if you want to see how the treatment of an opponent and our national conversation has changed in sixty years. Many of the issues are not that different, but the delivery would make you believe we are a different species. I love this country and philosophically what it stands for, the concept that both individual freedoms and being a country that believes in equality and justice matter. Yet if you even consider that combination, there is a certain oxymoronic quality to it. Can we believe, or more importantly practice equality and justice while focusing on ourselves? I believe it is difficult to do so, and there are times it is more difficult than we are able to manage. I believe we have entered a time where the divisive tropes and actions of too many across our ideological spectrum of true democracy has been become so fractured that living in the midst of this is beyond painful. Even the writing of this is profoundly sad to me. I have been more vocal about that, and even should I choose to leave, I would not give up my citizenship, for a number of reasons. Nevertheless, a conversation with a person I find to be astute, opinionated, passionate, and more kind than they let on noted if I choose to leave sometime in the next four years that I should not vote because that vote would be unfair. The more I have pondered that, the more stunned I am. There are a multitude of reasons, but in their texts, there was an argument that seemed to equate my being in another country to being an immigrant and that my vote should not be allowed. Even if I did choose to leave, what happens with social security and a number of other things with health care would still have possible consequences. They, of course, argue that because I might leave that voting is somehow unfair or selfish. In addition, it is amazing to me that their background experience most likely had them in a place where there was some need for government assistance in a variety of possible ways, but that seems to be forgotten. Again, there is the struggle between individual freedom and justice or equity. Am I offended by their request, no. Am I surprised by their request? Perhaps a bit, but not because they made it as much as by the lack of logic in it.

So how did I become this oxymoron of a person? That is also a difficult thing to understand or explain. I grew up in a blue-collar, union family through and through. I did not always understand my father’s passion for/about the union. Today, in spite of no longer being what some would consider being blue-collar, I have been active in the faculty and coach union in the State System and I understand his passion was based in his commitment to fairness, to equity, and to justice for the individual worker. How is it I can be what I believe is a faithful Christian and a liberal in terms of social action? Again, because I believe it is combination of thinking about how I believe justice and equity work in our daily lives and pondering my understanding of a Jesus that questioned the religious aristocracy of his day. I do believe the individual has accountability and responsibility for one’s self, but I also believe those in power are selfish in the use of their power. Therefore it is incumbent on faithful people to care for their brothers and sisters. The parable of the good Samaritan informs my idea of justice and love. One of the disconnects for me are those who argue they are Pro-life, but willing and active in their dismissal of that child after it is born. How is it Christian to protect life and then neglect it after birth? That is also oxymoronic, and, in my opinion, a form of brutality. Again, I am reminded of Dr. Friedrich Gaiser’s statement in my Pentateuch class, “Honesty without love is brutality.” Luke’s Gospel is not very kind in its portrayal of Jesus’s response to those who are wealthy (Luke 12; Luke 14:13-14; Luke 16; All of Luke 12-15; Luke 19:1-10;) and that is just the beginning. The Gospel of Matthew, which was written particularly to the Jewish people, addresses the importance of humility and care for the other. I argue against those who proof-text to understand Biblical arguments, but certainly the very nature of the Jesus’s ministry calls out those who believe their power gives them the right to neglect or take advantage of their fellow humans. It is the social justice element of the Gospel that compels me to question any proclamation that ignores that call. Dietrich Bonhoeffer publically confronted Nazism and the racism of his time. “The Reich’s political ideology, when mixed with theology of the German Christian movement, turned Jesus into a divine representation of the ideal, racially pure Aryan and allowed race-hate to become part of Germany’s religious life. Bonhoeffer provided a Christian response to Nazi atrocities” (Williams, Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance).

The hijacking of the Bible for a photo up in Lafayette Park this past summer is an example of such an attempt to connect political ideology to some divine representation of what President Trump wants to claim is being faithful. It is time to put a “spoke in the wheel” and that spoke is done one vote at time this coming week. Democracy is oxymoronic also. Certainly, some will argue the electoral college undermines the idea of one vote equals another, but there was a strong reason for it. The electoral college was to stop demagoguery. It was created to limit the idea of unfettered majority rules. John Adams would write that “[d]emocracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself” (Beinart qtd. 21Nov 2016). There certainly seems to be something ironic, incongruent in the way we are acting now and some belief that we hold the sanctity of the individual sacred. There is so much I could write, but suffice it to say I am struggling with how we are currently treating the other.

Today is now Saturday, the 31st of October, that day where growing up I believed in the generosity of my neighbors and their care for us as children. We walked the streets of our neighborhood feeling safe and happy. It is also the day that Luther posted his 95 Theses on the Castle Door of Wittenberg. It is Reformation; it is the day to question any injustice of the powerful. It is also the beginning of All Saints Day, the time in the church year we remember those who mattered to us and how their influences in our lives still matter. As I write this, 230,000 people have lost their lives to Covid (almost another 1,000 yesterday alone). The need to remember those lost certainly goes beyond Covid, so I realize that well, but this sort of lost is staggering. As we move toward an election, I merely ask that you vote. Think about it carefully, and vote your conscience and your heart. That is the reality of our world. Please work to respect the vote of your neighbor, your acquaintance, your friend, and yes, those who might vote opposite of what makes sense to you. More importantly, help someone vote. Help them get to the polls safely, even it their vote might cancel yours. As we move toward the conclusion of this bat-shit crazy year, can we move beyond our individual selfishness and treat the other with the respect and dignity they all deserve? Even if you do not like that person, you can still respect them. That seems oxymoronic also, but it is the right, the equitable, the just thing to do. As I move into this All Saints’ Day, I remember those who matter to me, those who have shaped me into the oxymoronic, breathing human I am. I remember my Grandmother Louise who loved me unconditionally; I remember my adoptive parents, Harry and Bernice, who brought me into their house and gave me chances and opportunities I would have never had. I remember my Great-aunt Helen, my grandmother’s older sister, who treated me with love and fairness and was always there to support me even into adulthood. I remember both my brother and sister, Robert and Kristina, both who loved me as a sibling and taught me more in their lives than they will ever know. I remember my Uncle Clare, the curmudgeonly first grade-dropout, who is one of the most intelligent nature lovers I will ever know. I remember my cousins, Jim and Joanne Wiggs, who were like parents to me and taught me how to respect and care for myself in ways I found incapable of doing before them. I remember Ruth Peters was one of the first to teach me accountability, and important lesson beyond anything I knew at the time. I remember Bud Reese, who was a surrogate father to me in a time I struggled so desperately to feel loved or lovable. They are all saints in my life and I am better person because of them. I hope and pray our democracy works as it should this week and I wish you all comfort and peace. As we move into this season of giving, make we truly and lovingly give.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin