Remembering an Incredible Professor

Hello on a Sunday evening,

I am fascinated by corresponding dates. My adoptive father and my second wife had the same birthday. Lydia’s birthday was the same day of the year my adoptive mother passed away. My great aunt passed on my sister’s birthday and was buried on my niece’s birthday. Yesterday was Anton’s birthday and it is the day my department lost an irreplaceable colleague. And as an addition, now his services will be on the birthday of my adoptive mother. Certainly, at some point we will search for another faculty member, but that is a replacement of a department position. I had often said if and when Terry Riley retires, we would realize all the things he did behind the scenes. To the complete shock of our entire department, he passed away early Saturday morning after a brief illness.

In spite of the fact he was on sabbatical, his black Nissan Frontier pickup occupied a parking spot in the Bakeless parking lot as he arrived at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. each morning (and that included weekends) where he occupied his sanctuary at the far end of the hall on the first floor. He worked diligently at his desk on the latest QualTrac data, the most recent scholarship on something about teaching that fascinated and inspired him, or he was intent on figuring out some new pedagogical possibility as he had delved into the world of online or distance class delivery. As I often came into the building early we would meet in the hallway and one of us would initiate, our morning greeting. As I am prone to do, I would inquire, “How are you?” His response was always the same, “Doin’ fine.” And he would mosey on in whatever direction he was going. When I had a question about the long-term history or typical practice that puzzled me, I would go to Terry. I always found him at the computer desk engrossed in whatever his present task was. I would request permission to come in and he was always gracious and invited me to sit. When he was speaking with or listening to you, there was a focus and intensity. Not one that made you uncomfortable, but rather one that assured you that he gave you his undivided attention. And as he listened, you knew he was pondering and thinking. The ambiance of his office is something to behold and it felt like you had just been granted an audience with the Holy Father.

Students adored him and he was a champion of and for them. His mind was always active and he continually looked at ways to prepare and support them both in the classroom and the life they would live beyond Bloomsburg. As a consummate teacher, he was unceasing in his desire to share his insight and wisdom with any and all who cared to listen. He was passionate, but never pushy; he was both grandfatherly, in the best way possible, but uncompromising with little patience for bullshit (and I use that word intentionally) because the few times I saw him angry, the piecing look through his rimless glasses was a look you did not wanted focused in your direction. Over the past decade I have worked with Terry as a committee member when he was the chair and also as the chair of a college committee where he came before that committee. He was always pleasant, but in a sort of perfunctory manner; he was goal oriented and again had little time for foolishness. He was completely and meticulously prepared and he anticipated most questions before one could ask them. I remember once at a university level committee meeting where another long-serving faculty person questioned the legitimacy of a proposal. That person was on the university committee and Terry was bring something forward. Dr. Riley carefully and successfully filleted at person without every easing his voice or sounding angry. He almost had a Bilbo Baggins quality that provided him the opportunity to annihilate you and you would thank him.

Terry’s indefatigable labor behind the scenes, from the union to assessment, from committee work to learning things to share with us, was something he did freely and quietly, but he supported the department and the college with every ounce of his being. As evidenced in what I have written, Terrance (his given name) was an extraordinary human being, but in my mind what made him most extraordinary was his humble and unflappable demeanor. He simply did his work. He was gracious, but tough in his own way. He was serious about what he did, but had a smile and wry sense of humor that could disarm the most cynical. He was a colleague’s colleague. The loss I feel is great, but I have colleagues that have worked with him much longer and those who have shared moments because of proximity, and their shock and loss is legions beyond mine. I am not sure he knows how much he was loved by those of us fortunate to share in his department. I once said to him, “Mark is the Assistant Chair and Tina is the Chair, but you are the Dean of the Department.” He smiled and responded in his knowing tone, ” I am glad you understand that.” When I first interviewed at Bloom he called me into his office and asked to chat. He told me that he was pleased I had a liberal arts background. He asked my colleague why they did not interview me sooner. That vote of confidence from him meant more to me than he ever knew. I am blessed that I have lived in the presence of a Renaissance person these past 10 years. I hope we will continue to shine for so many the way he did. I will miss our morning greeting, sir. In this week of Thanksgiving, I give thanks for you. I have used this video before, but in many ways Terry was a fatherly figure to all of us.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin

Trying to Make Sense of Our Illogical World

Hello after a quick trip to Cape Charles and “Life on the Half Shell” and now weeks beyond,

It is the end of the Bloomburg Fair week and Anton has had the week off of school. He has become a fair aficionado, but I guess that is something he can always take back to Denmark. It is quite amazing to me that we have finished 5 weeks of classes already and in a day or so, Anton has been here a month. The reality and accuracy of my father’s words are once again ringing in my ears. If you think time is going faster, you have no idea of what it will be when you are my age . . . and he was about the age I currently am. He is accurate that it surely seems to go by more quickly, and what I thought being he was so old when he offered those pearls of wisdom, as he was so apt to do, does not seem so old. Anton has learned an important lesson about the conservative nature of rural Pennsylvania this past week (albeit a bit surprising in terms of the degree of cluelessness of the pettifoggers he was subjected to). While walking around the fair, some of his CC classmates decided to inquire if he were Democrat or Republican. He wisely, and accurately responded, “I am Danish.” Unfazed by such an answer, they inquired a second time, “Yes, but are you Democrat or Republican?” He again tried to help them understand,  “I am Danish, and we do not have the same political system as you have here in the states.” This mystified our budding conservative politicians, and so they once again asked, “But are you a Republican?” He noted, as he recounted the episode, that he realized as a visitor to the states he did not want to argue or create a problem so he simply tried to explain Danish politics. When he noted that Denmark is a country of Democratic Socialism, our young Central Pennsylvania Republicans decided attacking him as a socialist was the thing to do. He recounted that for the next hour they decided it was their job to convert our Danish visitor to the incredibly wonderful ideals of our current Republican party. Again, Anton noted, he did not want to create difficulties, so he listened and listened, and listened . . . and got a painful lesson in the current state of American politics. To be fair to his classmates, I am not surprised they did not understand him, I am not sure that many adults would. More importantly, I learned how astute and thoughtful, how polite and intelligent my Danish, surrogate-son-for-a-year is. Anton notes regularly that he realizes that Denmark is a small country and most people do not really understand where he is from. Part of the reason I chose Denmark as a possibility was because I have been to Denmark, because I attended Dana College, and because I have a Scandinavian heritage (Norwegian, but still Scandinavian).

Since I last blogged, which was a blog that took more than a month to complete, about half that time has passed, but it seems that my life has been consumed by school and a 16 year old. Having Anton there to keep me in line has been a busy and rewarding time. He forces me to consider something besides work, and that is not a bad thing. Another difference is that I have been required, in a way mandated, to be more efficient and effective. I know this next week will push me to see how well I have started to integrate those differences as I have a ton of grading and commenting to do, an office to move again (because of a moisture and mold issue) and simply managing all the other things that are life. My alarm now goes off at 5:45 a.m. and breakfast is on the table at 6:15 a.m. One of the unexpected side effects is that I am also eating a healthy breakfast in the morning and it seems to keep my day on track and my mornings more positive. Managing things around the house, I find myself more focused and much more organized. Some things need to happen yet this weekend, but all in all, there is a sort of two thumbs-up atmosphere around the acre. Undoubtedly, I am relearning the need to prioritize and as I write this I am finding I can do this. During the first weeks that Anton has graced my home and me with his presence, I have learned so much. Anton demonstrates an incredible intelligence and insight, but he does it with a sense of inquisitiveness and grace. His smile is affable and his willingness to help is always present. One of the things I find most enjoyable is Anton’s ability to wonder about things. He understands the world and business in ways that belie his age (of almost 17). Then there is other part of being that age and male, or so it seems in my conversations with others. I can ask things and he is so cooperative, but then he seems to completely forget there was any conversation pertaining to said issue. As I have spoken with colleagues and even the parents of his friends, I am finding he is completely normal.

I am trying to remember if I was like that. If so . . . to my parents, I am so sorry. No wonder you might have been exasperated at times. I believe it probably more true of my time than I would like to admit. I know if my grandmother wanted it I was pretty attentive, but otherwise, I was a bit remiss in my work ethic. The other night we had a conversation and I heard again the interrogative, why are you so logical about things? I do not know that I was always that way, but the more I think of it, perhaps it has always been the case. I remember as a small child trying to make sense of what it meant to be adopted and wondering why I was told some of the things I was. I remember asking more than simply why about something. I have this insatiable need to understand. I am not sure how that developed or from where it came, but it has continued even until today. I am always asking why something is not possible. I know for some of my supervisors or for some in the administration, I create some consternation from time to time. Yet, that is not my intention; rather I am trying to see how we can get things accomplished more effectively or efficiently. I am trying to understand why so many are content to not really understand the why or the possibilities. During the fall, my students have made Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities real-life for me. They are the best and the worst of times, or so it seems. I think what amazes me most is how they react to the need to put in more effort, to think more critically, or merely even to do their work and follow directions. Yesterday it was something as simple as please cut up your paper in paragraphs and put it into an envelop and bring it to class. There was a method to putting it in an envelop and not having their peers see the paper in advance, but I ended up getting 9 additional envelops for one of my sections. From time to time this semester, be it at school or in the daily news, I find myself struggling to make sense of the things that seem to happen on a regular basis. Have we become so insensitive, so narcissistic, so selfish that we cannot begin to imagine the needs or perspective of the other?

Over the last couple weeks I have been a bit obsessed with either grading or reading (and making breakfast and dinner for a 16 year old). I have four books all looking at the rhetoric of racism  . . .  or the history and the rhetoric we use to further the racial tendencies that most of us refuse to acknowledge. When I raised the possibility of white privilege the other day, the response or look from some made it hard to ignore that some believe we are in a time of what some might call reverse discrimination. What I find interesting is they are not mutually exclusive, at least in my mind. I believe there is truth to the issues of age, gender, or religious discrimination. I believe there is also white privilege at the same time. I can both benefit and be harmed by the reality of what happens in our country. What I have found as I have aged is I am much more attuned to the hardships that others face through no fault of their own. When I see a black or brown student being viewed as suspect merely because of their color in a store it hurts me. When I see a person struggle because they are an American citizen, but they are bilingual because of their background and, in spite of their hard work still struggle with their language skills, I am embarrassed that we do so little to support them in their working to achieve their own American dream. I remember my great-aunt saying her prayers in Norwegian when I was small. I remember listening to other languages from my predecessor generational relatives because they were bilingual. Perhaps I did not know they struggled, but it seemed we were much more gracious then. I know there was discrimination, but I was taught to be tolerant. And contrary to your thoughts that I might have been the product of an academic/liberal upbringing, I was a blue collar kid from NW Iowa. I grew up in one of the poorer sections of town, at least economically more depressed than some because I did not live north of 18th Street; I did not live in Morningside, the Northside, or Indian Hills as it was called. I did not live in the Country Club area, but what I know is I had stability and amazing friends. I grew up with a family where my father worked 7/12s and often 8 hours away and I saw him perhaps 36 hours very six weeks or so for three or four years. Nevertheless, I grew up working part-time jobs when I turned 16 and I was not given everything I wanted.

Perhaps what I realize again is my father was also a logical person. You did what was necessary to make it work and you treated others as you wanted to be treated. My father believed in a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. He told me more than once there are no free lunches in the world and he worked hard. I think I have acquired those traits from him. As I listen to the people who occupy the inner sanctum of Washington, those inside the beltway, I find myself more and more appalled by their behavior and the rancor and vitriol that seems to be the rule rather than the exception. I believe they perhaps epitomize the selfishness and narcissism I referred to earlier. There is nothing logical about the way they behave. What is logical would be our decision to throw them out with the implementation of term-limits. This is not the first time I have argued this, and it will probably not be the last. Well, I could go on, but I have worked on this post for far too long without its completion, so I will leave you with this as we are headed into Halloween, which is also the anniversary of the reformation and Luther’s posting of the 95 thesis on the castle door at Wittenburg. What if we could come together like this video? Is it logical, perhaps not, but it should be.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

 

What Happened to Critical Thunking?

Hello on a Spring Break,

I find myself more and more dismayed by the lack of critical thinking skills that seem to characterize the world in which we live, and before you think I am referring to only 18-25 year olds, please think again. In addition, before you think I do not fail in this area from time to time, once more, think again. From those who we have elected to those who teach, from those who teach, at any level, to students, there seems to be a serious collective drain on taking to the to step back and ponder and question thoughtfully before launching into some undoubtedly, and profoundly, shallow (how is that for a mixed metaphor) diatribe as they vociferously try to defend a point they obviously know nothing about (and by the way, hence my “misspelling” in the title).

One of the things that most frightens me is how this sort of braggadocio has come to characterize so many more of our elected officials than only one should be comfortable with, much less tolerate. While there are certainly those on both sides of the political spectrum that astound me the person I find the most outrageous is the spokesperson for the President, Sarah Sanders. I vacillate between wondering if she is caught between a rock and hard spot and it is that she is so loyal that she will say anything to protect the President. There are moments that I find myself infuriated by her attitude of seeming righteous indignation and then so stunned by her attempt to make us believe the garbage she spews that I can do nothing other than throw my hands up in utter amazement. I am sure standing in front of the White House Press Corps is stressful and even more so when you are tasked with making sense out of that which makes no sense whatsoever. Yet, this White House from the days of Spicy’s claim about the inauguration has left the infamous barn door so wide open there is no gate left to close. From the argument of alternative facts to the continual attack on the veracity of the press, the consequence for our democracy had been, in my opinion, harmed beyond what we even know at this point.

As I listen to the news, it seems the degree to which we seem to slip toward the absurd and beyond is both frightening and fascinating at the same time. The frightening part is because of the consequences of the mounting mistrust of anyone and anything. The fascinating part is to do the very thing I question from the outset: to critically think about our current national consciousness and then thoughtfully analyze how we managed to get here. There are already tell-all books on some of this, and there is enough rhetorical fodder from the daily shit-storm of finger pointing to keep academics busy for an entire generation and beyond. Yet,therein lies some of the problem. If only academics (and there are conservative academics also) are studying the issue that would mean that about 97% are merely existing (I know some will argue this and I am merely trying to make a basic point). I would also note the 1-percenters do not want us to critically think or thoughtfully analyze because it would jeopardize their privileged position. I am continually flummoxed by how easily we succumb to herd mentality and are willing to accept most anything if we are told it will benefit us (the tax cut, our indiscriminate use of technology, the latest diet fad, some get-rich-quick scheme). How much money is spent on state and national lottery tickets, for instance? In 2017, we spent over 73 billion dollars on lotteries (that is with a B), and the great majority do not play, but imagine what we could collectively do with that sort of money. First, if you saved 100,000.00 a year, which is more than I make, it would take 730,000 years to save that amount of money. That gives a bit of perspective on how much money that is. You could give every person in Canada over $2,000.00 and we spent that on lottery tickets in a year. Does that make sense? Simply: hell no!

My issue is we are not willing to ask the difficult questions. During the Super Bowl, of which I watched nothing, I am aware that the Washington Post ran the following ad: The voice of Tom Hanks, an incredible actor who can make us appreciate a soccer ball, struggle to come to terms with our discrimination towards LGBTQA individuals and rights, and cause us to rethink our own understanding of the 1960s and Vietnam, provides the following verbiage, which should cause us to step back in fear at what is happening as we hear the defender of the free world claim that a free press is the “enemy of the people,” “Knowing empowers us, knowing helps us decide, knowing keeps us free.” Most assuredly, the advent of the world wide web (which is 30 years old) and 24/7 news forever changed the way we receive and digest the news, but the importance of a free press has never been more critical than it is now. As Preet Bharara, writer for the New York Times, states both succinctly and aptly, the use of the term “fake news” is juvenile, but powerful because it is “thoughtless and memorable” (11Mar2019). This is the basic rhetorical strategy of our President, or so it seems, and it is sucked up like the last drops of moisture by thirsting puppies, who are trusting and naïve. If you can appeal to the mindless sound byte generation whose reading seldom goes beyond Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever platform-du-jour tickles their fancy. Again, lest you think I am only referring to 25 somethings, please think again. The next (or more accurately, previous) generation who has just enough technological prowess to get in trouble is probably even more guilty of limiting their research to what they find on the web. If it out there and posted, it has to be true!!

What I am arguing if you will is this: if we have no free press or if we have a shackled press, we have no critical voice to speak out on our behalf. Now before you think I am arguing for or against any particular press, I am not. All press coverage is biased to some extent. They are beholden to someone or something, but I would like to believe that all of them have a basic responsibility to our democracy. I know some of you will shout that I am being naïve, but we are the country we are, in part, because of the ability of the press to question and challenge. Note this also: I am not a journalism, Mass Communication or Communication Studies professor. I am first and foremost an American citizen. I am also a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. I am a blue-collar kid from a basic family from NW Iowa, something I have found to be more embarrassing that I ever thought possible at times as of late, but I am a pondering person, a questioning person, and a person who asks why? And the why about the why? Again, before you brand me as a left-leaning liberal who has nary a conservative bone in his body, stop. I am more conservative than my father was, and he would be 104 this year were he alive. I read Fox News regularly . . .  because I want to? No, but because I need to. I need to understand the opinions I struggle to understand. I need to realize and accept there are people who will disagree with me. They do not need to be my enemy because we have a difference of opinion. In fact, I would much rather sit down with them and have a glass of wine and listen to what they have to say. I would only ask they do the same. I am reminded of a meeting I had with the editor of the local paper about three years ago. His perception of and appreciation for (my language)  the university that employs me and my perception and appreciation of the same do not quite line up. He has a soapbox, if you will, from which to state that perception and appreciation (or misperception and lack of), but I questioned that and asked to meet. TO his credit, he accepted my invitation to coffee and was even a bit cheeky in his initial introduction, which was quite humorous. While a number of people told me I was a bit wacky for agreeing to speak with him, I still believe it is one of the better moves on my part since coming to Bloomsburg. I would say there were areas where we would be obliged to agree to disagree, but I walked away with a much better understanding of who is was (and is) as a person and a much greater appreciation for that person. It took a willingness to step outside my comfort zone as I reached out to him. He is a mover and shaker in the town of sorts, I am merely one professor of many at the local university. However, the result of that meeting was an openness and appreciation for the person behind the name on the Masthead of the paper.

Too often my students, and many of us in general, want to ask the question in this way. What do you want me to do? What that is asking for is a recipe. Merely tell me what to do and I will follow directions, but even then we too often cannot even do that. If life is merely following directions, there is no thought. If life is merely jumping through hoops, there is no long term consequence. You pass or you fail. There is physical effort to a point, much like getting over hurdles in that 100 meter race, but then it is done. Just tell me what you want is used from our simple tasks to our relationships, but what happens to us as individuals. What happens to our basic humanity in such a process? I believe it disappears as we abdicate any power or possibilities we might have. My struggle with our current national conversation is we have retreated into our corners and like rock-’em, sock-’em robots, we come out to fight hoping we can get the first punch in and intimidate the other. We do not even come out to shake hands first. It is merely we have come to fight. There is little thought in the pugilistic encounter that we are presently engaged in. You can beat the other into submission, but that does not create respect. Thinking is not about fighting, but rather understanding. Thinking critically is attempting to create solutions for the problems and the complexities that vex us. In the last couple days, someone dear to me found it difficult that I could not be mean or uncaring about someone who had caused them profound hurt. I certainly understand this sort of call to loyalty, but one can still be caring to the one who matters and not wish the other ill. This is what I told them. That is what we have seemingly been reduced to in our national and global conversation. If we disagree, there is no opportunity for conversation. If we have been hurt, we want to hurt back. That is what two year olds do. It is time to reconsider who and what we have become. It is time to think. It is time to put both our best thoughts and our best and most caring hearts forward. It is time to leave the world better than the way we found it. Our humanity depends on it.

As I thought about the rock-’em, sock-’em, the following video came to mind from Imagine Dragons. It is such an unforgettable video with astounding symbolism. Enjoy!

As always, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Tomorrow, Tomorrow (Hopefully Less is More)

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Good early morning from the acre,

As has been the case since returning a bit over a week ago Thursday morning, my body is working to acclimate back to being on Eastern Standard Time. At this point, the latest I have been up is 9:00 p.m. as after that it seems neither my brain nor my eyes want to function with any degree of efficiency . . . . In fact, that lack of efficiency, and the onset of the semester, has had me busier than I can even find a metaphor to adequately describe. At least one that is not more than a cliché. So, as per usual, I will clear my head of competing thoughts so I can get to work on the pressing matters at hand. The weekend needs to be one of incredible productivity.

There are three things that rise to the front of my thought processes in our ridiculously divided world at the moment. While they might seem random, unrelated, and disparate, they are not. The first is the number 29. This morning as I woke early -yes – around 5:00 a.m., I read with sadness that Fatima Ali had lost her battle with Ewing Sarcoma. If you are unaware of her story, look it up. She was a world quality chef who competed on the series Top Chef, and after learning her diagnosis, remission, and reoccurrence of this devastating terminal form of cancer used her voice and social media to document her final battle. In many ways she was at the top of her game when she was diagnosed with this virulent form of cancer. Making it the point of even competing on Top Chef is a testament to the long hours, unparalleled dedication, and passion with which a person tends to an art that many of us could only dream of attempting. While she did not win (I think was 7th out of 15). She was awarded the fan favorite of the year’s competition. Her indefatigable spirit and the joy she exhibited won her an innumerable number of admirers, both professionally and on a more personal level. There are always the questions of fairness regarding such struggle and ultimately the loss of the battle to remain alive. Cancer at any age is unfair, if there is even such an option in life, but when it happens to one of my former students who is in her 20s, it seems so impossibly brutal. My father was diagnosed at 82, and from diagnosis to passing it was a total of 32 days. There was barely enough time to prepare, but I have often thought perhaps that was better. I remember going home to see him after he received this news. It was both sad and a bit comical. He was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, though I have learned since, there is so much more, but regardless. When I got home to see him, he asked why I was there. When I told him he was sick, his response was, but I will be okay. I told him that this time that was probably not the case. A day or so later when speaking with his primary care physician, he noted that he was told he had cancer, and he could remember that it was in his liver and in his kidneys, but he could not remember the third place (it was his pancreas). He sort of stared at the ceiling, however, and then looked squarely at his doctor, telling her that was the one that was going to send him down the road. He was so matter of fact about it that it made us all speechless. Somewhere in that deteriorating brain of his, he had figured it all out. Cancer, while much more manageable than it once was, is simply a brutal sentence.

The second 29 that seems to matter at the present moment, at least for me, is the Freshman United States Representative from the Bronx, who already has her own moniker AOC. Representative Ocasio-Cortez has certainly created a stir, from her unlikely win in a primary election against a well-established and high ranking Democrat to all she has had to manage since being elected to the House in November. She has been scrutinized perhaps as much as the President himself. As I noted in my rhetoric class notes for the week, there is more similar about them than perhaps meets the eye at first glance. They are both outsiders who won unexpectedly; they are both from NYC. They are both willing to use social media to promote their message. They both are strongly opinionated about the direction they believe the country should go, and those opinions are based on their differences: gender, social-economic background, ethnicity, and I believe they have very different ethical or moral compasses. One of the things I believe AOC has demonstrated is quite a bit of grace and moxie under scrutiny. Certainly, there have been some gaffs, but I think she has purported herself extremely well considering. It is a bit of a stretch from bartending to make ends meet to ending up in Washington, DC as the youngest person elected to the House. And regardless of whether I agree with everything she says or the stance she takes, I do believe she is thoughtful and considered in what she says and why. More so, I believe she is a strong example of what it means to actually represent your district. That is what, at least presently, I admire about this young woman.

The second issue is the shutdown and what has happened in terms of the consequence for 800,00 people,  but that is only the tip of the iceberg. I noted in one of my last blogs that a former student, friend, and fellow-caregiver for Lydia had been working with no pay as a member of the United States Coast Guard. I am sure his view of the shutdown, the reason behind it, and the reality of what it did is quite different than mine, as he is significantly more right-wing than I am liberal, but nonetheless I respect what he believes and why he believes it. For me, the fact that we have gone 35 days with the partial government shutdown and we are basically where I noted we should be in a previous blog somewhat stuns me. I am not a politician. I am not a wealthy one-percenter. While I am certainly blessed, I also work hard and put in many more than 40 hours a week. I am fortunate enough to go to a job I love every day and I am paid quite reasonably for what I do. What astounded me most this past week was the unparalleled cluelessness of the administrations Secretary of Commerce, who had the audacity to assert that furloughed workers should just take out loans, but the Federal Credit Union, which falls under his purview is charging 9% interest on those loans. He addition, he claimed he could not understand why federal workers, who had been out of work for 32 days that the time of his comment, would need to use food banks. This is a person worth 700 million dollars. Well NO SHIT! that he would not understand. What an arrogant ass!! It should be noted that inflation is at 1.9 % so a 9.0% loan rate is pretty outrageous. Then Eric Trump’s wife, Lara, intelligently responded to the shutdown with the following auspicious remark, “It is a little bit of pain but its going to be for the future of the country. And their children and their grandchildren and generations after them will thank them for their sacrifice right now” (Huffington Post 1/23/19). This is beyond stunning. Again, it explains more about the President and his family and how out of touch they are with the average American. Many of the very people who voted for him were those most likely to be hurt by this extended train wreck. What concerns me about this is the conservative base of the Republican Party took the President to task over this and too often he seems to worry about that base support than any rational action that might be the best way forward. Before you think I am against border security and working to make sure that we admit legal people, I am not against such a proposition, but again, the idea of a wall or barrier, or steel girders or whatever you choose to call it is not the be-all, end-all. Certainly reinforcing or repairing what is there seems logical. Building where there is nothing merely for the sake of saying you built something is beyond ludicrous. It seems much more logical to employ people and technology. Again, the figures seem to indicate that there are fewer people trying to get across, and if I think logically, the increased scrutiny on the border for a whole variety of reasons would seem to support why the numbers trying to enter are down substantially from their high point, during the GWB years. Just look at the figures. Second, allowing people in who want to work and contribute does not seem like a losing proposition to me, it seems like it would be precisely the opposite. Where all of this ends up is anybody’s guess, but hopefully both parties in Congress will get serious and actually try to hash something out that creates a reasonable way to manage the border, that creates a way to support immigration that is legal and helpful, and that works to manage the 100s of 1000s DACA individuals in moving toward citizenship. It is not amnesty. It is allowing those who know no other country a change to become contributing citizens of the place they have already been contributing to since birth. Taxes is not the only way to contribute. Money is not the only way to contribute. Using one’s God-given talents to help the other is not a waste of time or effort. It is time to embrace and create a system that rewards those who have spend their life here under any circumstance and allow them an opportunity that they have probably worked harder for than most of us realize.

The third issue is the reality of how what happens in Washington, DC affects our average daily life in so many more ways than we often consider. As I noted earlier, we are represented by the people we elect. This is why we call our democracy a representative democracy. We elect people to actually watch out for us and listen to our concerns and our hopes and dreams. We believe that somehow our vote matters and what we believe and support is what citizenship is all about. This past week, ironically on the day we remember a non-violent, but profoundly significant figure in our nation’s history, we saw an event take place that epitomizes the divisions that seem to more aptly illustrate our American fabric than many of us wish to admit. Before I note the event, let me offer than I think there is more to this complex day that either side seems willing to admit. Nevertheless, the viral video of a high school student wearing the dreaded MAGA hat and the Native American, who was chanting, demonstrated all too clearly that the media on both sides was ready to put out their own spin on something that had much more to it than the lack of spatiality between two distinct and seemingly unconnected individuals. I am quite sure that an 16 year old (I think that is what he is) has had his life turned upside down in ways he does not even understand at this point. I believe the elder Native American, who understandably has a boatload of reasons, finds himself in a situation he did not intend either. During the week, I have watched, read, and did my own research into the background of Covington Catholic High School. For the students who go there and were not at the event in Washington, I am sure they are mortified by all the attention this event has created. I am sure graduates are not as apt to want to say they graduated from this place. I should note with some of the things I have read, I would not want to be associated with this place either. If you do a bit of your own research, you can come to your own conclusions. The irony of some of what I saw and have read and the fact they were marching in Washington, DC on MLK Day has not gone unnoticed by me. The fact that the students were wearing MAGA hats are an entirely separate and problematic issue for me. Additionally, the President’s statement, which seems rather Charlottesville-esque, was also, unfortunately characteristic.

So what does all of this have in common? It is indicative of the incredibly pain that seems to be in all directions of this country, but simultaneously, the sun rises, the moon sets, sometime in an incredible manner like the eclipse this week. In spite of the things we hear regularly about how screwed up it all seems to be, we need to take heart that there are still people who care. There are still people who want to make a difference. Why do I know and believe this? Because I see them every day. I work with them. From the secretaries to the maintenance people, from administrators to faculty, I see people who care in their daily lives and work to the best of their ability. That is the amazing reality of where I spend my days. From people who support every aspect of the place we call Bloomsburg University. I have spent most of my weekend working on my classes, but it has been a good weekend, a productive weekend. I am blessed to be able to get up in the morning and go back to work where I believe I somehow make a difference also. So, I will close with a thank you for all who remind me that not all is lost. There is so much more to what is good and positive if we take the time to notice. Here is my thought and video for this post. Heart is certainly one of my favorite bands, and I dream and believe that we can find a way to come together more thoughtfully and more completely. So I offer their song Dreams. I love the sort of Salvador Dali sort of vibe to it.

Thanks as always for reading,

Dr. Martin

 

Making Sense of Immigration as I feel like One

Buongiorno dal mio piccolo caffè mattutino ad Ascoli Piceno,

I am back for my morning cappuccino, shot of water, and croissant. It must have rained during the night or earlier this morning, as there were puddles all around and the stones were beyond a little slippery for this aging person. However, as I walked down the main thoroughfare from my little place and through the Piazza del Popolo, there was a clothing market set up. I can imagine a few people having a heyday browsing through this morning. In fact, I sent a picture and a note to let them know they were thought of.

It is about a day or so later and I am on the bus to the airport in Roma. I have been stunned by the beautiful as we travel laterally across this peninsula known as Italy. The number of tunnels as we make our way through the central mountains is staggering. The civil engineering needed to complete the passageway/highway had to be extraordinary. I am taking pictures as I ride the bus, but there are some relatively low clouds so it is impossible to see these mountains in all their grandeur at the moment. Currently I am in a tunnel that is over 10km in length or about 7.5 miles. While I can make much more sense of what I read, perhaps not as much of what I hear, I still work to use my manners and my greetings spoken in Italian. My Air BnB person told me I was both polite and kind. That means more to me than money. It is what a grandmother taught me as a pre-schooler. Manners and appropriate behavior were not demanded, but they were expected. That eventually became a self-expectation. The older I become the more it is ingrained in the fabric of my being. Those of you who know me know I have a smart-ass side to me, but if you know that, either you have had me as a professor or you know me quite well. As I write this, I am in the aeroporto in Roma. It will be a very long day by the time of get to Murcia, but I am excited to see Elena and meet there in her hometown.

I believe that Rome might have the cleanest, most accommodating airport I have ever been in. From the bathrooms, which were spotless and smelled pleasant (yes, truly did), to resting couches to free charging areas everywhere, it was the most enjoyable time I have spent in an airport, perhaps ever. I had an incredible meal, the most attentive service and an astonishing price for what I had. I think there are a number of airports who should take some lessons. As I traveled through the airport, I think, once again, I saw the most diversity in one place I have ever experienced. From Africa to the Middle East, from Northern Europeans to those from maybe Serbia or Montenegro, from Americans to Russians, I think there was a bit of it all . . . and the airport was efficient from baggage, through security, to boarding. Again, impressive beyond words. The thing I found most mind-boggling was the politeness of every person I met.

It is that diversity and politeness that is worth considering. As an American, we have long prided ourselves on being that beacon of diversity, of welcome, of opportunity. I grew up as someone proud of claim citizenship in one of the most beautiful, significant, and incredible democracies the world has ever known. Certainly, there was more of a veneer to what I saw than a child of the 60s realized, but nonetheless, the American dream with hard work and persistence was achievable. My parents certainly epitomized the example of wanting their children to succeed beyond what they had, and as blue collar people, they were successful. They bought a house and a bigger house in time. They were not ones to spend foolishly, but they did save for the rainy day, and, as I have noted, while I did not have everything I wanted growing up, I always had what I needed. My father worked overtime, sometimes from a distance, but always had a work ethic that I have grown to admire and now one I hopefully emulate. It is interesting for me to ponder what he might think of our present political situation. I know he would be incensed with the shutdown and hardworking people being thrown out of work. As staunch of a Democrat as he was, I am sure he would have some choice words for our current administration and even more so for our President. He would tell all in Washington to get their proverbial “caca” together. I know this, he would have no use for the arrogance, the bullying, and the lack of truthfulness that is currently rampant from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Over the past few weeks I have found myself also more incensed with the shutdown and the politics of Washington (that is a bipartisan statement). While I have honestly tried to give the President some benefit of the doubt, it becomes harder to do so daily. He had an agreement in both houses of Congress before the shutdown and he pulled the plug, backing out at the 11th hour. In a meeting with then Minority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader Pelosi, and yes, now Speaker, he arrogantly said he would take the mantle of the shutdown (I should note every time I have written this word, the first two or three times it typed out as “shitdown” – hmmmmmmm). Now he says it could be weeks months, or years, and walks out of a meeting in the last 24 hours because he is told no. There is money for extended and additional personnel and electronics. Even people in Texas, the longest-length border state, are not completely, supportive of this wall. The Republican Representative from Texas who had chaired Homeland Security is not supportive of the President’s actions. In the meanwhile, a person for whom I have the deepest respect (and his remarkable family whom I love) is unpaid because he is in the United States Coast Guard, which falls under Homeland Security rather than the DoD. Not fair. We are a country of immigrants, and yes, primarily legal ones. Studies, and there are numerous, but I am flying so I cannot access them, that illustrate that illegal immigration is actually down. Certainly the more robust work of ICE (which is another issue for another time) and border control has made a difference. Again, studies show that more illegal drugs come through actually ports of entry or tunnels, which a wall would not stop, so that argument the other night rings empty. Simply, we have a bully in the bully pulpit. We have a tantrum-throwing 72 year old toddler occupying the most powerful office on the globe.

What if we opened the entire government, with the exception of Homeland Security (sorry Nathan) as a first step. Then fund the Homeland Security Department for 90 days. There is a reprieve for all of TSA, the Coast Guard and whomever else the department affects (FBI, CIA). What if the Congress (both parties) work on an immigration compromise until they actually get it done, with the following caveat. They cannot pass any other legislation until that is accomplished. In other words, get it down, immigration, DACA, border control. All of it. If they do not come up with something in 90 days, I think that explains just how out of touch they all are. I actually feel badly for all the new members of Congress; they must feel like what the hell is this?

It is again another morning and I am in another country. My former student from over two decades ago, and now friend, Elena, was kind enough “to fetch” me from the airport at 11:30 at night and take me to my hotel in Murcia. I fell asleep relatively and got in reasonable time. Murcia is a metro area of a little more than 400,000 and we spent some time walking around the city center. One of the more fascinating parts of the day was visiting an archeological site discovered when they began to clear an area for a new parking ramp. In the process, they discovered a centuries, in fact almost a millennium old Muslim village, including a boarding house, two more aristocratic “mansions,” more simple dwellings, a cemetery, and a mosque. It is an active dig, so we were able to watch both experts from a company hired to manage the site along with archeological faculty and students from the Universidad de Murcia. They explained how they were determining issue of age of the remains by DNA testing, isotope testing and a number of other incredible things. I thought of Dr. David Fazzino back at Bloomsburg over and over and imagined him working here. We walked this tour with a group of professional tour guides so it was interesting all the things they heard to be able to lead others. Elena translated for me, but I was able to understand more than I expected.

The connection to immigrants here is the Moors or Arabic people occupied this area for a long time before the Christians had come southward, but the conquistadors and eventually Ferdinand and Isabella we’re determined to wipe the Muslim influence from the area. The significance of the Mosque they are unearthing is that it is probably the only mosque not destroyed and then to have a church built in its place. The significance of this Arabic culture is found throughout Murcia and it is astounding and beautiful. It reminds me of the beginning of movies like Robin Hood. Please do not judge me on that, but I am reminded of how little we know about the Arabic culture in American and what a terrible lack that is. Second, there have been terrible consequences for our lack of knowledge. We stereotype and believe things that are actually completely contrary to what Islam is all about. It brings up, however, another important concern.

The belief that Christianity could be the only true faith has a long history of atrocity, all implemented under the guise of faithfulness, using an incredibly arrogant interpretation of the great commission. Often immigrants themselves, they used the money and power of the church to socially or militarily conscript people into accepting the faith. Ironically, the means used were not all that in line with the greatest of all of the commandments. Perhaps a greater, and even more problematic “sin,” if I am be so blood, is the seeming evangelical take of the Christian Right today is much of the same: preach what serves your needs and ignore things that are glaring contradictions to a gospel that is supposedly good news. The Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, the university chaplain and assistant professor of religious studies at Pacific University, claims this “blind support is theological malpractice.” I found a myriad of article that claim the inconsistency between belief and the President’s glaring moral turpitude is beyond stunning, and I agree. More importantly the idea of loving your neighbor is nowhere to be found. At some point, even within our own borders, we are immigrants. If I were to pick up and move lock, stock, and barrel to Montana, I would feel like a foreigner. If I were to move to Texas, even though I was born there, I would feel alien. If I begin a new job in a new place, simply because I wish for a better life, I would be the “newb” trying to fit in. I would be an immigrant. As I have noted before, and at the beginning of this blog, I am not against legal immigration. Let’s do the humane thing, let’s try to actually love the other. Let’s open ourselves to making democracy truly democratic and not merely for the rich. As I was reminded so poignantly a few years ago, I am privileged, but I do not own that privilege. As I have traveled and tried to speak, listen, and learn, I am reminded of how much of the world is more accepting and open than a country that was initially created as we conquered those there before us. We were a nation of immigrants hoping for something better. Our idealistic idea of pilgrims and Quakers is not as benign as we want to believe. Our present administration’s practice of implementing and creating a systematic hate or fear mongering of those (a great majority who are simple people) hoping to find safe haven in a country that has long been the beacon of opportunity and fairness is wrong and it is against my reading of the gospel. Kryie Eleison!! I remember when I first heard this song and Dr. Donald Harrisville Juel and I spoke about it so many times and listened to it together. I still miss you Dr. Juel.

Thank you as always for reading my thoughts, written as an American citizen, a professor, a traveler and former Lutheran pastor.

Dr. Martin

Back after 38 Years

Hello from my flight to Amsterdam,

This will be my first time to be in Amsterdam in an fashion. It is a city that I have always wanted to visit, and yes, for many of the reasons everyone hears of, but it is another country to add to my list of places traveled. As I have noted at other times, I was not a traveler as a child. There were numerous reasons for that, but it was most often because of money or time. The very first time I would board an airplane would be in June of 1973 on a flight terminating in San Diego, California and then a short bus ride to the infamous yellow foot prints of Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD. I was the closest thing one might be to Gomer Pyle sans a North Carolina accent, and perhaps even more frightened. My life I’d travel, outside the military, would begin in the last days of December 1980, when I traveled as a member of Dr. John W. Nielsen’s interim travel class of that year.

Traveling to Europe that year after two semesters of taking Dr. Nielsen’s inspirational and, at least for me, life-changing humanities class, it is ironic as it is, I spent the morning at the Museum of Archeological History here in Ascoli. It was like walking through my Hum 107 class in person. The artifacts in this museum dated back to the 10th century BC. I thought of some of my classmates and how the Humanities sequence was such a difficult thing for them. I found it fascinating and certainly that first trip to Europe, which included Italy and Spain, two of the countries where I am presently traveling, made it all real to me. That was, as I have noted previously, when I learned that learning was experiential and not merely memorizing. Learning was being a sponge as I say . . .  it was soaking it all in. Yesterday I walked up a set of steps to a university that had stones in the walls that were inscribed with upper case Latin letters. Some of the writing I saw in the archeological museum today came from as early as 2500 BC. It is a cross between a script and pictographs. Some of the writing looked like it was Elamite in form (look for Elamites in the Old Testament). However the upper case Latin script was probably from the early Renaissance and those stones were probably excavated and reused. There are medieval churches here on Ascoli that have incorporated standing Roman columns into their architecture. Today, I say pottery, metal works, jewelry, tools, burial items and a host of other things from as early as the 10th century BC until the Roman Empire period. It was fascinating and stunning for me to realize that I was walking among where there had been civilization for 3,000 years. It made me feel very miniscule. My 3 score + 3 is not even a blink of an eye in all of that. Later this week I will be in Spain, in an area that will be new to me yet again, and once again, I am fortunate enough to know someone who lives there. It makes the travel so much less stressful and enjoyable to share all that will happen. It is like having a personal tour guide. I know Elena has provided some things already that I am incredibly excited to see. I think the area of Spain to which I am going has a rich and glorious history of its own. Murcia was established in the 800s by the Moors it seems. It is known as the orchard of Spain, so I have a feeling there will be a lot of fruit eaten in the next week!! That makes me happy. My reading about it shows it has a rich history and a rather multicultural foundation and the wars between the Christians and the Muslims were difficult on the area during that time. It has a very temperate climate and speaking with Elena, it has been in the low 20C the last week, which is in the 70s. That will be a change. She noted it also has gotten to about -7C in during the night, so that is a significant range in a 24 hour period.

Today in Ascoli, the weather was pleasant, not warm, but also not any sort of biting cold. I did not wear gloves nor a hat and I was not chilled at all. Again merely walking around and looking at the buildings and the streets is a treat. There was a significant earthquake here two years ago, and many building now are reinforced to keep them from crumbling. It is quite interesting. I will post some pictures on my Facebook illustrating this engineering feat. Today, I think there were two things that amazed me. First, it was simply that there were artifacts from 3,000 years ago and they were from this area, so that explains how far back civilization in this part of Italy goes back. For a reference point. It is about the same time that David was the king of Israel. This is one of the things I note in my Bible as Literature course. That the Hebrews were not the only people in the world and what was happening to the Hebrews was in a larger global context. The second amazing thing was listening to Gia and Carlo after they came home from school and listening to everything they are required to do each day. Gia has learned to write cursive, and she has beautiful handwriting already, and she spends significant time on her Italian and mathematics. Carlo has learned to speak Italian quite well also, and they certainly do not sound like Anglophiles with their accents. It is really quite wonderful to see how they are absorbing the language. I asked Gia if she was dreaming in Italian, and her response tickled me. “Yes, she responded, but they are nightmares.” I hope she was kidding, but her father noted that sometimes in her restless dreams she is speaking Italian. Language is such an incredible process and tool. When I was in the museum today, there was a graphic that illustrated the connecting threads of ancient alphabets to the succeeding languages. It was fascinating to me and I thought of our amazing linguistics professor back in Bloomsburg, Dr. Angelo Costanzo, and how I wished he were standing next to me. With my rudimentary Spanish, it was interesting to see the connections to Italian and I wonder how all of that happened. Certainly, I wish I would have had the opportunity that Gia and Carlo have now. They have no idea how this will change their perspective on life, themselves, others, and travel in general. It is great fun to listen to Marco, who  is quite proficient as we go from place to place.

While I am sure that Italy and Spain have changed in the 38 years that have passed since I came to these two countries as a college student; I imagine I have changed more. Italy has such a rich and robust culture that dates back to the beginning of our Western Civilization as we understand it, but as I learned today, it has so much more before that. When I was in Barcelona in January 1981, Franco had not been dead that long (six years or so) and the militaristic aspect of Spain was quite apparent. I still remember being stopped on the border as we crossed from France and being searched because I was sniffling, had long hair, a beard, hiking boots, a down vest and blue jeans. I spoke no Spanish at that time and I was petrified as they searched all my belongings. I think my introduction to Spain this time will be quite different. Being a sexagenarian probably has its benefits at this point, and the gray hair and white beard (which more often than I would care to admit) has some calling me Santa – and that is not just those who know me and do it in jest. Oh well . . . again what astounds me is the sense of history that surrounds every step I take, every breathe I take (and I am not trying to quote any song at this point). Each day I see something new; each day I find myself pondering the fact that I am walking where people have walked for 1,000s of years. And I began this blog thinking 38 years was a long time. Certainly it is when it comes to a proportion of my life, but it is merely a blink in the eons of time that I am traipsing through on my own little journey. That is also the great thing. It has been quite a journey. I have been richly blessed by so many things, experiences, and people. Little did I know that a visit to a winery in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, and north of Sacramento would still be affecting me today. Little did I know that a class I took in college in the Spring and Fall of 1980 would prepare me for some of the things I observed today. Certainly the farthest thing from my mind as a graduate student, teaching a second semester writing class to an entire class of foreign students, would create the opportunity to have an amazing connection with a student who is now a student with a PhD from Sudan, or to stay in contact with an astounding engineering student from Spain, who has now welcomed me to visit her and was kind enough to visit me in Poland two years ago almost to the day. Quite unexpectedly, life comes around and things that happen have long-term ramifications. One of the things I have always tried to do is maintain those relationships. Certainly, it does not happen with everyone, and there are times people move on and out of our lives. That is normal; then again, there are times where those past experiences create the foundation for new ones.

So once again, I am traveling and learning. Once again, I am connecting with the gifts, the people, who I was blessed to meet sometime earlier. One of the things positive about all of this social networking, including this blog, has been the ability to stay in touch in meaningful ways with those from my past. All the way back to my roots in Riverside, I am fortunate to be in touch with so many people. Life continues and the journey for me has never been boring. It has been a life of learning and pondering. It has been a life of wonderment and adventure. It has been a life of challenge, but also a life where I have been gifted by amazing people who have helped me with the challenges. I think of Lydia once again. She took an enormous chance with George to come to America, leaving behind the relatives and world she knew, but she survived and thrived. That is what challenge and opportunity offer: a change to survive, a change to thrive, the opportunity to change and grow. I hope I will continue to grow and learn about this amazing world in which we live. There is so much more to be thankful for and as Americans it seems we have lost some of that ability to see what the rest of the world offers. Perhaps we will find it again. The picture at the beginning of the post is looking out over the city of Ascoli Piceno. The video is my hope for the world in which we live. While the later part of this amazing musician’s life was clouded in controversy, the message of this song rings true. Please take the time to watch the video; it is a bit idealistic? Of course, but as I watch two amazing little American children learning Italian, I want this for them.

Thank you as always for reading and I wish you a blessed new year.

Dr. Martin

 

Prayers Answered

Hello from Costa on ulica Karmelicka,

It is always interesting to return to somewhere you have been before. The change in perception that occurs from familiarity is a difficult thing to quantify, and if the return is more than once, understanding the changes that occur go beyond mere perception to emotion. I think of how Riverside, the blue collar suburb of sorts where I grew up in Sioux City was my home for the great majority of my childhood. Yet, in a sort of reverse of what I am alluding to, it has been so long since I spent time there that some of the memories of places that no longer physically exist (like my grade school). How much of our emotional, spiritual attachment is based on the physical experience? How is it that memory is evoked by movement, sight, repetition? These are things I lay awake sometimes and ponder. I am sitting in a coffee shop I came to my first time in Kraków. However, a barista from my summer work here who worked at a Costa I had immigrated to is now at my original Costa hang out. Each Costa carries memories with it. I was unaware that Mariusz had transferred, but he saw my Facebook post and let me know. It was nice to connect a familiar face from my extended summer to the Costa of the past 5 years.

More importantly is how my geographic awareness of Kraków is so much more acute than in my previous visits. It is interesting to me how summer for me leaves more lasting impressions for me. Is it because of language? Is it because I walked so extensively and spent so much more time taking in things. I also think the light of the summer and the longer days also affect my ability to assimilate things. I think part of it is that I am happier and more energetic.

However, as I walked to Dom Profesorski this morning, the memories of students from each year I have been here came teeming back. To see some of my own students on this year’s trip as well as long-time colleagues here for the first time was quite a boost to my morning. I am only here for not quite a week, but even the few days of refacing my summer steps in the winter season has come something to assimilate this Krakówian (a sad attempt to connect Polish with an English adjectival ending) experience even more. As I sit in Costa and work on my last blog of 2018, I realize things still do not slow down.

Yet, I cannot remove the poignant memories of my first visit to Kraków and Poland. I had left Wisconsin and said an incredibly emotional final goodbye to an amazing woman who had become my mother and so much more. I was coming to the ancestral country of her husband, a person I had not met. I remember Lydia’s Christmas Eve Polish conversation with the spirits in them corner of her room. I had asked her if George (Zdzislaw) was there. She nodded in the affirmative. I then asked her if she was ready to go home. She shook her head decidedly and sternly in the negative. She knew what she wanted to the very end.

Four years ago I was wandering across center city Kraków for the first time being shown around by Robert, Maria’s father. Ironic, how a student connection created what had become an integral part of my life. It was a day much like today, a bit grey an while chilly and damp, not anywhere really cold. We went into the church where Saint Pope John Paul II had served as the Archbishop of Kraków. I lit a votive candle and prayed. I actually took the time to reach out to George specifically in the prayer. I asked him to convince her it was time to come home. It was the first time in my life I wanted to let someone I do loved go. It was the first time in my life I remember reaching out to someone I believed to be beyond the bonds of this life to request their intervention into the world I knew. In spite of my theological foundation, I wondered the how, but believed more in the reality of its possibility. As I raised my petition, i remember my eyes filling with tears, but also feeling a sense of calm, believing it was time to let her go. Again, for the first time in a very long time, I prayed for what was best for the other. I remember telling Robert what I had done as we left the confines of this holy space. The remainder of my day was preparing for a New Year’s Eve that would be spent with the Paras.

What happened in the next 24 hours or so still amazes me. I would go to sleep on the first of January, ready to imagine a new year. I had not been long when my cell rang. It was Nathan telling me that Lydia had passed away. It was still January 1st in Wisconsin. To this day, and particularly on this same day of the year, four years later, I am as convinced as ever that my being in Poland, George’s ancestral county an in the parish of the former Archbishop had consequences for the simple, yet fervent, prayer of a dutiful, surrogate son. This fall my Bible as Literature students asked me how I understood the workings of faith. When I am asked such things in that class, my default is to remind them it is not a religion class, but rather a literature class. Yet much like my confessions professor in seminary as we pushed him on his opinion about something about the Lord’s Prayer, I allowed for an answer. I said both simply and humbly that faith for me is best understood through the single verse out of Hebrews. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This has been my foundational verse for most of my life, and even more so as a seminary student, pastor, and beyond. To pray requires faith. To pray requires both a sense of assurance and of hope. To pray to that unseen requires a strong conviction (or maybe even a simple one) that your words actually are heard and make a difference. Then there is a belief that what happened in the next 24 hours were a consequence of the said prayer. The very fact that I am recounting it four years later illustrates that somehow I have the assurance of this thing hoped for.

Today as I sit in Costa, I cannot help but remember the various student groups who have been here in this amazing city on the last week of December into January. My first year, there were three students in particular. Joe had been a student in my Foundations class and would go on to graduate school, not just anywhere, but in Israel. I am quite sure that what he learned from Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska had a profound influence on what we would study. The next sure I was fortunate to come along in a different way, as part of the faculty-led program. Again, some of the most amazing students were on the trip. I think of a veteran military student who would come back in Krakow the following summer to study Polish and work on his dual citizenship. I think of another student with aspirations to go to work in the Peace Corps and was accepted until his health created a difficulty. I think of a young woman who was both an outstanding student and absorbed every cultural event or exhibition we visited like a insatiable sponge. There were students the next year who are now here for the third time leading others, that is how much Krakow has influenced them. Last year, we were blessed to have the president of the Alumni Association for the university come and accompany us on part of the trip. During those years, I was fortunate enough to visit places like Budapest, Lviv, and Prague. Twice I have gone to Austria, and Lydia’s beloved city of Wein, but I need to go back on my own and spend some time. As I returned for this trip, I have met the group at their accommodations on ulica Garbarska, but I am not traveling with them. In fact, I am traveling on my own  with a most dear person and on Thursday will be flying to Italy to visit my great friends, Marco and Belinda and their two amazing children. It will be the first time I have been in Italy since 1981. After a week there, I will be going to Spain and visiting my friend, Elena, a former student at MTU, and one who visited me on my second trip here to Krakow. This visit is a promise kept. I think the important part of all of this is how the amazing connections and people I have met have changed my life and made is such a blessed one.

As I finish this blog, I am reminded of that first journey. It is now still the first of January in the States, but it is early on the morning of the 2nd here in Krakow. I walk up this morning about 2:00 a.m. It was exactly the time Lydia passed on four years ago. I did not realize it at the time, but the time corresponded to my answered prayer. It is interesting how I believe those spirits and powers outside out lives work both in ways too subtle for us to realize and sometimes in ways to obvious to miss. I know that the people who I met from Comforts of Home, Lydia’s abode for the final almost four years of her life, still influence me. Carissa, the administrator who treated Lydia as her own grandparent if you will, Angie, Breanne, Leah, Leighann, Marissa, Mindy or Stacey, and others whose names escape me at 6:00 a.m., will always be dear to me for the care you provided her. It is now the beginning of yet another year. I wonder what prayers are being offered even today as those individuals in the twilight of their lives are struggling with the most simple of tasks. I wonder about those amazing caregivers who give more of themselves than even they realize and for so little monetary compensation. I wonder about even my own existence when there are sometimes more maladies than I could have ever imagined to manage for an aging, but still small-child at heart, traveling professor who seldom grows old of learning something new. What are the prayers I will offer as I finish this blog. I think my prayer is simple and yet profoundly difficult.

As I read the news in America from here in Central Europe, I pray that our elected leaders can learn to listen to those who have elected them (and I realize the cacophony of voices is difficult and painful to hear for all the disharmonious sound) and act for the mutual benefit of the country that has elected them. I pray that a President who was duly (and embarrassingly at times) elected might realize that the tweeting that he does has consequence, whether it be some random thought or his real intention, and when he puts things in public, it is done as the President. I pray that we can see a global and civilization that needs care and mutual respect for all people, that the desire to have freedom and the ability to thrive is a human desire not a gift that belongs to only certain people on the winning side of a wall. As I travel and see students from Bloomsburg once again, I hope they will see the profound goodness of the places they visit and remember the profound evil that we as humans can unleash given the right circumstance (their visit to Auschwitz this weekend). It is all here in this beautiful country called Poland. I pray for all my friends and even those outside that realm that they might be blessed with health, with a sense of happiness or contentment, and that the things they do will be a blessing to those around them.

Welcome to a new year and bless you all. Thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin