Krakow for a Second Time

 

IMG_3489Hello from a Polish dormitory room in Krakow,

Today was our first full day in Poland as a group. It was a  busy and interesting day. We began the morning trying to square away things like having the internet in our rooms, seeing if Wifi is a possibility in our rooms, which seems more than likely to be a dream, and then getting to the university and the first day of one of the two classes as well as a sight-seeing trip around the city. I saw some things I saw last year on my stay of only a few days and I saw some other new sites. We were at Wawel Castle where I had the nicest time with Robert a year ago. I also tried to call him today, but have not successfully contacted him yet. I did enjoy the day for the most part, but as I walked around a bit on my own, I realized once again how solitary one can feel in the world. It is always an interesting thing. Because I do not know Polish, almost every banner, street sign or advertisement makes me feel as an alien. There are certain words I can figure out from my other languages, but it is a struggle for me when I feel so illiterate and wish I knew so much more. . . .  It is now about 12:30 a.m. and not surprisingly, I am awake. This is where my hours are still a bit askew. The picture above is from the salt mine outside Krakow that we will be visiting. This carving of Pope John Paul the II, the only Polish pope is one of the amazing chapels in the mine.

This evening I thought about my own first trip to Europe, which would have been about 34 years ago. I went on a Interim Trip with Dr. John W. (The Pope) Nielsen. The interim has been mentioned before in my blog. I had to read books before I left by Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Mann and we visited a number of places they wrote about. We traveled from Germany to Denmark, going back through Germany (only the West then) to Italy and then to France, Switzerland and Spain. It was a significant trip for me because it was my first time to Europe and it changed my life. Second, there were a couple of interesting occurrences, including my getting ill and having to go to Germany on my own. Long story short, I ended up on my own for about two weeks and learned more Germany and got to visit more things than I could have ever imagined. For those of you old enough to think of the time period. I was in Germany when the hostages had gotten out of Iran, Reagan was just inaugurated, and the world still had some similarities. A  disco in Germany was bombed at that time. As noted it changed my life. I learned how to learn. What I mean is that learning was no longer merely memorizing the writing the answers down. So many people are content to merely consider the surface or what is in front of them and they refuse to ask the tough questions. Today in the Eastern European History class, the professor, Dr. Annamarie Orla-Buskovska, who was phenomenal, noted that she wanted students to think critically and to be original in their thoughts when they wrote a response paper. I wanted to stand up and cheer.

What does it mean to honestly learn something? What does it mean to question the why? That is something that has always been a part of who I am. My poor mother. As I was merely walking down the street today in Krakow, my senses were bombarded from every direction by the sounds, the sights, and there was so much to take in. The culture is both similar and profoundly different at the same time. A couple of students noted that Krakow streets made them feel like they were in NYC, but it was so much older. Both the student who is working as a sort of tour-guide/helper, who is a college student himself and the actual tour guide who spent time with us this afternoon, were and are, so passionate about their town. There is so much history and once again, as I felt the very first time I was in Europe, I am walking through the pages of history, the centuries of what others experienced, struggled to build, died to change, dreamed to fashion, so that others can have a life they did  not have. The lecture this morning about Jewish identity and what they have managed as a people to do, which is exist and matter when they are “a stateless minority,” was fascinating to me. When there are three students along on this trip (I think that is correct) who claim Jewish ancestry, I cannot imagine what it means to listen to what we heard today. As much as I have been accustomed to considering the Jewish history because of my previous life as a pastor or as someone who studied Holocaust, and still does, some of what I heard today made me think in ways I never had. That is exciting to me. I love when what I have become comfortable with gets shaken up and I have to rethink.

I took the time this evening to read the first pages of Paul Johnson’s book, History of the Jews, as we were asked to do. It was also intriguing and made me realize a number of things I could do with my Bible as Literature course, things I have not done. I have an entire couple lectures that I could do for that class that I had never considered and as literature would work terrifically well. It does not take much to make me happy sometimes. There is so much more to consider about the Old Testament and beyond the Torah or the history. There are issues of feminist writing in a patriarchal culture; there are other writings that exist outside the Bible about Biblical characters, if I can use that term, and that goes beyond Philo and Josephus. That is what I learned the most about in my reading this evening. What is also strange is I feel somewhat like I did when I was often up in my dorm room at Dana College. I remember classmates asking why my lights were on at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and I would tell them I was still studying. That is where I learned to honestly study and realize what it meant to actually learn something.

How is it we really come to know ourselves? How is it begin to really understand our place in a world that is so complex and difficult? I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea that the world is more difficult. I think it has always been so. It might be true that we are more aware of our interdependence on each other, but one can hope that would be beneficial rather than malevolent as it seems it is. From where can we find that soft inner voice that pushes us to do for others rather than for ourselves? Can we be selfless even some times rather than selfish most of the time? I am reminded of a song by Celtic Woman . . .  It is called “The Voice” and I will add a link to it at the end of the post. How does the world speak to us? How does our history speak to us? How do we hear the voices we need so desperately need to listen to as we wander on our own paths? I think I am reminded of this every time I go to another place. As Americans we forget there is so much more to the world than our little corner . .  .  most of us are parochial enough we are not even able to understand our own country let alone the rest of the world. When I am standing in a castle that has a history of more than a millennium I am reminded there was a lot of world before there was a United States and the culture that comes with such a spans of time needs to be valued. Their language needs to be valued. What they have brought to the world long before we existed needs to continue to be celebrated. Now before you believe I am not proud or patriotic, put it away. I merely realize there is so much more beyond Texas where I was born, the Midwest where I was raised, or the East where I now live. One of the things most impressive about our country is its diversity, not only in its people, but in its landscapes. Indeed, in a scant 235 years +, the country has had an amazing impact on civilization, but with great giftedness comes even greater responsibility to the rest of the world. I do not mean that as a political statement, but rather an ethical one.

As it is now about 3:30 in the morning in Poland, I am going to try to get some sleep. I plan to be up in about three hours and I am looking forward to another day of learning.  It has been nice to sit in my little room and ponder. Here is the link for the video.

 

Thank you as always for reading and I will be trying to post regularly as I travel with 3o amazing Bloomsburg students.

Dr. Martin

 

 

Grace and Dignity on Either Side of the Tracks

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Good morning,

It is almost Wisconsin-cold here in the Upper Susquehanna Valley this morning, but it is still nonetheless manageable. I got up extremely early to deal with some issues and will be on the road again before the day is out. It is now Friday evening and I am back in Gettysburg. Driving about 500 miles today has taken it’s toll on me. Sometimes I’m rather astounded that I used to think road trips were fun. I did stop on the way back because I needed to take a break. I got something to eat and also took a nap at a rest stop. Some of the morning events reminded me of how little I know about some things. While I generally like to believe that I am someone well-informed that was not the case this morning.

As I observed and listened to what went on I realized how difficult things are for so many people. It forced me to reflect again on what I believe is the ever widening gap between those who have things and those who do not; the difference between those who worked hard to try to get something only to lose it and those who seem to get things with little or no work. It was actually part of the conversation I had this morning. Furthermore, and I should not be surprised, it is showing up in my little corner of the world as the university has decided to change how tuition will be charged and subsequently be collected. One can be sure that students were not included in the decision and, for the most part neither were faculty. What I understand is some were given the “opportunity” to attend a meeting on the Friday of Thanksgiving break. Otherwise, as a whole we were not given much notice either. From what we can tell the board of governors has decided that students can make up any budget shortfall. I could say much more about this decision and the process, but I will refrain, at least for the moment. At Bloomsburg this reduces the forecasted deficit, which seemed a bit sketchy to begin with from 1o million to about 3 million. I am waiting to get some final figures. What this will do to students, to programs, and to the state system does not appear to have been part of the decision-making process. The absurdity of it, at least at this moment, is beyond my comprehension. It will price many low income students and families out of the market, again widening the gap between those who can afford college and those who cannot.

The title of this blog posting is actually a quote from a story I heard this morning on NPR. It was a story about a children’s book and about a boy on a bus. The little boy with his Nanna lamented the things that he did not have, while his Nanna tried to help him focus more carefully on the things that he did have. I am generally not inclined to buy children’s books, but I might have to get this one. The author and illustrator, both Californians, wrote about things they experienced growing up. As I have noted in blogs past, I did not always have what I wanted but not once can I remember not having what I needed. I was actually very fortunate. As I consider the events of today, I am reminded about how decisions are made and so many people have little to no voice in those decisions. I know that I will be attending some meetings this week and into the semester. While I am not sure if anything can be done to reverse the university’s plan, I, for one, will go on the record to say it is unjust and not very well reasoned.

However, as I noted, I should not be surprised. Reflecting on some of the news stories over the last two weeks and the decision of the Koch brothers to spend almost one billion dollars on the next election, I need some assistance. Someone help me understand how that is democracy. Someone explain to me how buying an election creates trust in our system, in the people, or in the elected government. I cannot see it. It is manipulation. I cannot imagine the founders of this country believing that this would be what they hoped or believed could happen to their grand experiment. In fact, I heard the most fascinating address or lecture tonight about the state of politics in Pennsylvania. The bottom line in that address was basically that no one elected in the legislature needed anyone else nor did they feel beholden to them. Even though we were the only state to not re-elect an incumbent Republican governor, The election of Governor Wolfe was actually vote against the former Governor Tom Corbett and not vote for the Democrat. Our esteemed and knowledgeable speaker went on to note that the legislature is both the most Republican and polarized it has been in the last half century. It was actually a very fascinating and frightening address. Perhaps the last important point that directly affects those of us in higher education is that while the electorate wants something done to fund education that is mostly at the K-12 level. The entire thing was quite depressing when I think about it carefully.

That actually brings brings me to my point or focus in this post. A few years ago there was a somewhat vocal, but short-lived group of protests against the so-called one-percent-ers. While the initial argument was against so few having so much wealth, the protests were not focused entirely on that and too many others, in my opinion, jumped on the proverbial bandwagon; the consequence ended up with the initial message about unfairness or injustice becoming diluted. As the one-percenters unabashedly try to buy the next election, as a board of governors decides to put a burden, one created by an ex-governor, who took $90 million from higher education during his four years ~ something supported by the legislature ~  on the backs of students, the opportunity for many students to be educated within the Commonwealth becomes more unobtainable because of rising costs. The plethora of other consequences or fall-out from this decision is exponentially troubling, but I will leave that for another time. While there are certainly cases of the stereotypic millennial entitlement, there are many other students who work so desperately hard to take advantage of the opportunity to be educated. I know this to be the truth because I see it daily. In spite of the debt they must take on to receive an undergraduate education, many students work hard both in their classes and in extracurricular jobs, hoping to eventually graduate and make a difference in their lives. I think of some students I know quite well, ones who are prime examples of this. Paying meticulous attention to everything that concerns their education and working tremendously hard with such myopic focus, they actually miss some things they should not. However, I’m not sure it is possible to see the consequence of those actions at times. Even though I have felt the sequela of that perceived demand, and its aftermath, I guess if I step back, just maybe, I can understand why. Perhaps the sophistic elegance and grace used at times is more necessary than I’ve been willing to realize. I still don’t like it, but perhaps, at moments, I can at least comprehend it’s necessity.

While I am certainly not extraordinarily wealthy, I have to admit that I have a few worries. I have worked hard with 14 years in college, but I’ve also been fortunate. Without the care of many over the years, I would not be where I am. What I’ve tried to do is to give to others and return the good fortune that I have been blessed to receive. I grew up in a part of town or we were called river rats. It was a blue-collar and and certainly one of the poor sections of town. As I previously noted there were times growing up but I’m sure my parents struggle mightily to even give us necessities. But the people on my block and in my neighborhood worked hard. They asked for little, if anything, and they live their lives with grace and dignity. There is the saying about growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. I’m not sure I was on the wrong side, but, on the other hand, I’m not sure I was on the right side. Maybe I grew up actually on the tracks . What I am realizing is maybe it was to being on the tracks that forced me to keep moving. Because logically, if one stays in that place, the outcome would be to get run over, not a particularly wise not pleasant outcome.

When I realize that we all have our story, and no two are the same, I’m compelled to believe that each story has value. To fail to believe in the value of the other is to lose sight of the founding principles of democracy. When we fail to treat others with grace and dignity, we fail them, but more significantly we fail ourselves. This past week, in my Foundations class, we spoke about the value of each person’s language and what they bring to class. We talked about the difference between standard and nonstandard language. The language someone brings with them helps them understand who they are. It creates an identity. One of the many things that I am tasked to do is to move that language into academe. To help the student claim his or her place as someone hoping to become a scholar. Sometimes that’s a tall order. But more importantly I can only assist I cannot make someone do it. I know this from my own experience. I’ve also watched someone over the past year work tremendously hard to overcome previous choices. It is something they have done on their own. Most of the time, it has been a joy to watch.

Perhaps it’s because I still feel I am on the tracks at times that I work so hard to help others move from one place to the next. Well I’m not sure that I do it with all that much grace I do try to do it with dignity. That is all I can do. So it is almost 4:00 a.m. Perhaps I can go back to sleep. . . . I did sleep, but as is often the case I needed to go back, edit, proofread and then work on this some more. I am always amazed by what I find in my writing, especially when it is done at some early hour of the morning. What I see, not surprisingly, is even at that time, my brain goes faster than either my voice or my fingers. I miss things. I make illogical jumps. It is now Monday and I am facing student conferences, grading, revisions, and other things. Then there is the life outside of here that always seems to disappear. It is time to get organized yet again. So I am off to do just that.
As always thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin

_Selma_

selma-movie

Hello from my room where I should be sleeping, but . . .

Earlier this evening I was fortunate to be able to go to the movie theatre, not something I would normally mention. While I enjoy movies, and particularly ones that force me to think or ponder, seldom to I leave a movie speechless or so amazed there are simply no words to adequately portray what I am thinking or feeling. The last movie to come close to doing that was A Beautiful Mind, which up until this evening, was the movie I have referred to as my favorite. After seeing Selma this evening that designation for the amazing movie about John Nash may have changed. What an astounding movie this look at our country 100 years after the end of the Civil War is painted (pun intended). Poignant, risky, and one that forces all Americans to face our racism, both in our unbelievably saturated history, but also in our lingering overt and covert continued practice of marginalizing those we deem different. I am still processing the movie on a number of levels and will probably see it a time or two more. I have some other thoughts about how I might use it in my classes this semester. I was particularly struck by the way the federal, state and local levels of politics and law enforcement managed the issue of voting. What an eye opening thing for me. I was only 10 years old when most of this was happening, and growing up in an almost totally white NW Iowa, I had very little awareness of these issues. What is amazing to me is how in a time of our national history when we claimed or perhaps appeared to be such a beacon of democracy and equality, we were actually not listening to the nation-wide cries of injustice and our image was barely a veneer of any such place.

As mentioned, I grew up in an almost totally white town, even though there were around 100,000 inhabitants, there were very few blacks and probably more Native Americans. I grew up knowing that the “N-word” was not to be spoken, but I do not think I met a black person until I was a senior in high school. Seriously. The re-proportioning of high schools in my senior year meant that most of the black students, which were not many, went to my school. I honestly do not remember thinking they were really any different than I was, but I think that was because I was pretty easy going. The very fact that I might say do not think they were different, however, raises the issue. Why might I consider them different? Why am I even prompted to consider such a question? Going into the Marine Corps was an eye-opening experience because of the racial exposure I would receive. While they argued that everyone was Olive Drab, as I look back that was not true. I have some very painful experiences in the service because of a particular situation with a Black Marine, but that experience was because of who he was as a person and had nothing to do with his race. However, all of this, I believe, forces me to admit, to see as a revelation, the reality of my white bias. It forces me to realize I was raised in a society that saw, and continues to see, “the other” as different, and too often different means less than or somehow problematic. Perhaps this is what Melissa was trying to get me to see more clearly than I was able way back in September when I wrote about privilege. Perhaps I need to give her more credit than I was willing to give. Perhaps it was, because this white bias, I could not see through her words or understand her clearly. Perhaps it is because my emotions got in the way of my brain. That happens more often than I would like to admit. Going to the movie last night I saw things I could’ve never imagined. I thought things I did not anticipate. I thought things the touched my very soul. For me, ultimately, that’s what makes the movie successful. The analytical side causes me to wonder how much directorial license was taken? How much of the script is fictional? Regardless the answer, what I know is it the movie was moving, compelling, and phenomenally effective. I must know it was not until I was lying in bed last night at the irony of seeing this movie on Martin Luther King Day hit me. What an unbelievably apropos thing to do, but I must know that I did it unwittingly and unknowingly. I am never been against a holiday, I must also must admit that I’ve never done much to celebrate it.

I should note that it is early Tuesday morning and I’m up and ready for a new semester. I think I will start with breakfast at the diner. Two eggs, hot tea, a half order of potatoes should do it. While I had gained some weight back during the fall have managed to lose all of that in the last 10 to 12 days. That does not really hurt my feelings and, in fact, I would like to lose another 15. That would put me in the 170s. Not a bad thing especially as I’m getting older even as I write.

Back to the issue at hand. The movie forced me to think about where our country comes from and what we value. What we say we value corporately or nationally and what we seem to do individually is too often at odds. The portrayal of Lyndon Baines Johnson and his willingness to create a law to ensure voters rights was quite interesting. At least in the movie, up till his very announcement before Congress, he was unwilling to do the right thing because it was not politically expedient. Again how true that might be is probably open to debate, but I also know that he was a political pragmatist and he was from Texas. Even though that is my birth state, it is not a place known for being compromising nor willing to work with another. Hence the billboards “don’t mess with Texas.” I might again reveal a political bias here, but Bush 43 seems to prove that assertion. Again I do not want to be a spoiler in case you want to go and see the movie. All I can say is regardless of script or directing, I believe the movie provides an unparalleled picture of our world a mere 50 years ago.

While it forces me to consider the past, more importantly, it requires me to ponder our present circumstances. Well I’m well aware of the argument that will be made regarding legalities and voting for the black person in the 1960s, I cannot help but see parallels between then and how we now treat Latinos and other minorities in our present immigration debate. Not that long ago, in our own history black people were only counted as 3/5s of a person. What the hell? They were brought here, many against their will and we abused and marginalized them. Too often I believe we still do. I’m not sure that every Latino, Asian or other immigrant child wants to come to the United States, but in order to stay with their family and, often in the hopes and dreams of parents providing a better life, they come. In the big picture, not that long ago, my ancestors did the same. As I noted in the previous blog, we are all immigrants. It does not matter the color, the gender, the creed or faith, is a fundamental human given to hope for good life. If not for ourselves at the very least for our children. It is the very reason I will see many faces, new faces, today in my classes. They are hoping to somehow this investment of tens of thousands of dollars will provide an opportunity for them to be more successful, to make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of those they love. How do we value them as a student? How do they value themselves? Too often their backgrounds cause them to believe they are capable of less than they are. On the other hand, it is not our job to merely hold their hands. It is such an interesting balancing act, and there is no recipe card.

However, as I noted, where am I now as I ponder my own personal baggage and where I stand regarding issues of equality and justice? Perhaps the most important thing to occur in the approximately-a-year I’ve been accepted as a member of the Galán family is foundational because it has provided an indescribable opportunity for me to consider my racial bias, a bias that it pains me to admit, but one I must confront if I am to understand it and then change it. It is something that I am working on. It is something that being opened to has forced me to finally recognize how deep-seated it is. I am grateful to be learning this. I pray that I can continue to learn to accept people for who they are and the gifts they bring rather than for what I expect or hope from them. Melissa and José, thank you for coming to see me Sunday morning. José, thank you for your words. Melissa, thank you for your presence.

Off to the office to start a new semester; to my various surrogates, I wish you a successful semester. If it is your last one, hang in there; you’re almost there. For those who made Dean’s list last semester, I only have one thing to say. Do it again. To the rest of you, good luck with your semester, be it here in Bloom or somewhere else. If you have not seen the movie Selma, do yourself a favor and go see it. To everyone else, thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Temporalities

Funny little man: Voltaire writing

Hello from the Detroit airport,

I am quite sure that this post might be a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, and memories. As I sit in the airport my mind seems to be a conundrum of possibilities and requirements, opportunities and necessities, remembering the past and imagining the future. I have my earbuds in and ironically the song from Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer titled “America” is playing. I will write more about irony later in this post. I am remembering the first time I heard that song, I was in then what was West Germany and traveling as a student with Dr. Nielsen on the interim titled Auguries of Loneliness. As I sit here lonely among the people crowding around me gathering for the last leg of a cross-country flight, I am content in my solitude. It is always sort of a game to try to imagine what the stories are of the people around me. While someone told me this week I am an academic and I seem like one (not sure if that is a compliment), I most often see myself as an Iowa kid who grew up blue collar and worked hard. I have been fortunate to have people who cared and loved me step up along the way. Without their help I certainly would not be where I am. One of the things that I believe makes me a bit different than most is I do not forget people, and I reach out to them from time to time to help them know they still matter and that their assistance was neither forgotten nor expected. I think that is my grandmother’s admonishment to be a gentleman put into action.

The temporality of our individual human experience is something I have been pushed to consider these past weeks. It is not quite a month ago that I needed to fly home for Lydia and to help make decisions on whether the quality of life she had been reduced to from the long-term consequences of dementia was the life she wanted. When is mere existence no longer life? Sitting with her family physician, a man I respect beyond words, said, “Michael, it makes no sense to try to prolong her life.” Those were both difficult and freeing words at the same time. This brilliant woman, strong-willed and yet loving, determined and yet fragile, had lived an amazing life. She was no longer living, she was marginally existing. To move toward palliative care was a change that was done out of love and not out of selfishness. “Another day goes by and I thank God that I am alive” (Nico and Vinz). I am not sure Lydia could say this any longer. While her temporality saw much more than many in her 90 years, 4 months and 27 days, I am forced to see her and myself as temporal.

Before you read what follows as fatalist, let me tell you simply, please don’t. I know I am temporary. At one point I chose to ignore, perhaps even foolishly argue against, such a notion. I wonder why do we struggle so desperately to hang on to this life? I think I have realized that life has a quality and maintaining that quality is not always an easy thing to do. That does not suppose that we should merely disregard what we can do, but what really matters when we hold onto our existence, even somewhat dramatically or even more sadly desperately. Is it because we believe we must still accomplish something? It is because we foolishly believe that we make such a profound difference? Again, I am not saying that those things do not have value, but are they such astounding things that our lack of physical presence will cause them to totally disappear. Lydia is no longer physically here, and while I cannot actually hear her voice or see her amazing eyes, I can say unequivocally they are still present and they affect me. I can see both her smile of approval and her scowl of the opposite as if she were still here. What I am pondering more carefully and thoughtfully is what is my purpose from this point forward? Again, please do not see me as falling of the cliff of sanity, but I know that much of my purpose this past decade was to care for and follow through on the promise I made to her.

It is certainly a good thing that I have my position at Bloomsburg and a program to continue to grow. It is a good thing that I have the Decker family. Tenure removes some of the temporality of that position and provides some security. Having the continuity with the Deckers from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania is more profound to me than they probably realize. To watch their family grow, evolve and to be treated with the respect and love they have given me again has affected my life beyond measure and in a way that is indescribable. In addition some of my other colleagues have become treasured people in my life. My former chair and present chair are astounding people. The colleague with whom I started in the department is more of a friend that I am sure he realizes. The person who was my acting chair my first semester and his wife are such a blessings to me. The English Department at Bloomsburg University is really a wonderful position to be placed in at this point in my life. Then there are the students. Speaking about temporality, they come and they go more quickly than we can even seem to manage. I have watched two sets of students complete their studies and watched them mature from wide-eyed freshmen to young professionals, still wide-eyed, but in a different way. Every once in a while I find that what I have done has had some profound positive effect. Those moments are fleeting, but they are precious. I have also learned that not everyone is as genuine as I might have hoped, but those are important life lessons too because they remind me that I have really very little control of anything but myself. Those moments are equally precious. They remind one of what is true and upon what or in whom we can believe and trust. There are very few in whom we can actually trust and perhaps even fewer in whom we can hope to believe. That brings me to a different concept. It is the concept of giving my word. Following through on to my promise to Lydia to care for her to the best of my ability was something I felt strongly about, and I still do. My word to someone, regardless who they are, needs to be trusted, to be believed. I know there are times I could be more comprehensive in making this happen, and those times affect me more than most might realize. I think this comes from my father. I know that his word to someone was almost sacred. I tried to care for Lydia as I watched him care for others, without a sense of reward, and during this time I have continued to give to others like I believed she would. What I know is the help we offer others is temporal in more than one aspect or manner than we might think.

I remember once writing a practice sermon for a preaching class in seminary. The text was the poisonous serpent text in Numbers and I titled the sermon “temporarily faithful.” That seems to be predominately who we are as humans. We hold on to things that we either value or things we believe benefit us. When the value is deemed minimal or we believe we might need to put more into something that we receive, it is easier to discard it. There have been moments in my life I am guilty of this practice, and for those times I must humbly ask for forgiveness. There is one person, a person I have loved beyond measure most of my life, I have run away from because I was frightened and felt guilty. I am not sure if I can repair this situation or not, but ignoring it is not the right thing to do. It is amazing how we can decide things or believe things that are perhaps not accurate,  but we do it and we box ourselves into something less than ideal. Over the weekend, I did have the opportunity to speak with one of the people to whom I have referred from time to time. It was an interesting, and helpful, conversation, but there are still things that do not make sense to me. As hard as I try, I cannot wrap my head around that fundamental concept or the manner in which he (and my extension, they) use this concept, word, or philosophy. I wonder what that particular word means and the two synonyms used do not connect for me. Again, I am not arguing against that position,  but I cannot see it as possible, either logically or emotionally and therefore I cannot see how it is actually practiced, particularly when the actions taken do not seem consistent with what I understand that term to be. I guess I will continue to struggle to understand. More importantly, I will continue. I know that the value and joy brought to my life far outweighs anything negative. I am not sure that is always portrayed as well as I might and for those times, again, I must ask for forgiveness.

Tomorrow I begin another semester, so it is now Monday. I am still struggling with my health and it appears after another appointment that I might have coughed so hard that I had a minor stroke. I do know exactly when that occurred as the pain I had in my head was unbelievably intense. Perhaps, ironically, that coughing finally helped because I am actually feeling a bit better, though I must admit every time I go into a coughing spell, my head is very tender and it hurts pretty badly. Again, all of this reminds me pretty clearly that we have much less control over what happens than we might think. While I have worked hard for the better part of seven and a half months to improve my health, there are some things I cannot predict or change. I will admit, as I did yesterday that the last month has not been stellar as far as taking charge of my health, and I am changing that again, the work I have done this past 3/4 of a year has been pretty darn significant. As I look toward the semester and what is on my plate, there seems to be little doubt that it will be busy and continuous, but that is nothing different. What I need to do is be smarter and more intentional about each and every thing I do. This past year, and most of my life, I allowed people I believed cared to have more control than I should. That is because I have a tendency to put others before myself. Again, I know from where that comes and while I have made some progress in that realm, sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back. That is better than one step forward and two steps back, but I need to make sure that I do not go backwards at all. It is such a balancing act for me. I have heard from more than a handful of people that I need to take care of myself. I am sad that my time over break was influenced by illness as much as it was. That kept me from enjoying some things, places, and people, that, or who, are so important to me. Time is fleeting and I know that is cliché, but it is cliché because we note it and then too often ignore it. We allow things to affect and influence us, turn us upside down, and then we wonder on the other end “What the hell happened?” Sort of what the Green Bay Packers are wondering this morning. As a Packer fan, I must say, I am still in a state of shock. The point is, we have opportunities to make a difference. Even in the fleeting moment, we can positively influence another persons life. Sometimes what we might do could be significant or appear significant. Other times, it might be something very simple or even mundane, but the point is we affect, and are affected by, those around us. Each of these moments are opportunities, changes to change both our own life and the lives of others around us. Too often we are selfish, narcissistic, or just plain clueless. I am so fortunate because I am, through my position in the university given entrée into others lives. I am gifted to be able to share what little I have to offer to make a bit of a difference. What I am realizing again, it the temporal nature of that chance, of that opportunity. Ultimately, I hope in the coming weeks, both in the semester, and in my life, I can focus on the gifts I have and try to share them as unconditionally as I can humanly muster. I fail there too often, but as Lydia demonstrated in her life, one can still care. I have been asked a couple times lately about the purpose of my blog and why I write as I do. I noted that writing is always contextual. I am grateful for the questions and indeed, I do go back and edit at times. Sometimes those edits are for bad writing. Sometimes those edits are for poor practice. Sometimes those edits are simply editing and proofreading.

As I told one person, I hope in my writing I reveal my soul (if so, you might catch a glimpse of who I really am), but I also hope to protect my life. I am reminded of a seminary professor that once said, while it does note that the shepherd lays down his (and I would add “her”) life, and when I was a pastor the shepherd analogy was probably more apparent, no where does it say the sheep take his (her) life. What I have learned since is if we let people, they will take more from our lives that we can afford to give. Off to a new semester.

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael (and tomorrow again, Dr. Martin)

Realities

UP Snow Meter Good early morning, It is about 2:30 a.m. and I am awake and thinking. I received a message today(technically yesterday) that a former teaching colleague, and co-Vietnam veteran, passed away. He was only a couple years older than me and we actually served in Vietnam at a similar time. However, he was in the bush where I was in the city. He was affected by his exposure to Agent Orange, and was receiving some level of disability from the government for that because the cancer he developed was traced back to that exposure. I will be thinking of his wife and family later this morning as they lay him to his final resting place. Tonight my students in the Writing in the Professions class did their final presentations and had their clients present with them on their projects. I am always amazed by the strong work and the reflections that come out of these presentations. I am not amazed that they do such strong work because there are some phenomenal students. It is their work experientially as well as collaboratively that always provides some of the surprises because I have an opportunity to see how they put theory into practice. They learn valuable lessons about time management, the importance of seeing how their specific role fits into a team situation, and how to communicate in a professional manner with real-life clients. Following their presentations, I spoke with them about what I saw in their client-based projects. Because they had two such projects this semester, they did not have the time to move beyond a particular scope. This was part of their learning process. In many cases (in fact, in every case) their work has created a strong foundation for some follow-up work. Again there were clients both in town and within the university. I am always grateful for clients who are willing to work with my students to help provide these opportunities for experiential learning. Following their presentations, the class went to Turkey Hill and we met together for appetizers and socializing. The realty of another semester coming to a close and that some of my students in the minor are graduating is also an important piece of my thought-processes. There are three students in that class graduating in merely 12 days. I know for some of them that is frightening. I do not remember feeling anxious about my undergraduate graduation even though we were in a similar job market. That was because my reality was that I had been accepted to graduate school and was headed towards my first masters degree. I do remember when I left my first position as a campus pastor and instructor, I had for all practical purposes been fired. I refused to work with the restrictions they wanted to place on the position and they said they would not renew a contract. The reality was I was a person with eight years of college and two degrees, and I was bartending and waiting tables again. I remember being told I was probably the most educated server Perkins ever employed in Houghton, Michigan. Yet it was the next serving job at The Library (now called The Library and Brew Pub) that put me in contact with Dr. Carol Berkenkotter and a conversation led me to the Rhetoric and Technical Communication program at Michigan Tech. Waiting on her one night provided a second opportunity to apply (hence reapply) with some direction and I was accepted into that RTC program. The reality here is one never knows how a chance meeting with someone or how a particular consequence might create a new pathway.

Well, the bedding is out of the dryer and it is about 4:15, so I am going to make the bed and try to crawl back in it for an hour or two. Back at school and meeting with colleagues and students as well as trying to get things prepared for my 2:00 class. This morning I had a chance to finally catch up with an education colleague. She is one of the most amazing professors, from what I hear as I have never actually observed her, but I could not imagine anything different. More than that she is simply a wonderful colleague and one I am blessed to have in my circle of significant people. My reality the next few weeks it there is no downtime. Until the semester is completed and all the grading is in, there is no break. I also plan to drive back to Wisconsin on the 13th or 14th of December for a bit more than a week. There is always the reality of weather during this time of the year and while that does not frighten me, I am much more realistic about it than I was once upon a time. Another example of what I would like to call wisdom. Sometimes that wisdom seems to escape me, but I do believe I am improving. Yesterday was a reminder of another reality in my life. It was an anniversary of sorts (it was also my mother’s birthday, so happy birthday. She would have been 94 years old.). It was on that date in 1986 I had my first abdominal surgery for Crohn’s Disease. It is hard to believe that since then I have had 9 surgeries and other complications, but I am still going. I am fortunate. I have had amazing medical care for the most part and there have been a number of people who have been there to support me. Again, the reality is I am blessed. I have spent most of my life believing that we always have two simple choices. We can quit or we can pick ourselves up and keep going. I have spent most of my life doing the latter and I do not plan to change that pattern. During the past 6 months there have been some struggles, but they are manageable just as everything else has been. When I think of the battles that Crohn’s and I have waged over three decades, there has been an ebb and flow of which of us seemed to be ahead, if you will. Most of the time, I am going to assert that I have been more in control of it than it has been of me. There were times in the mid to late 80s where I must admit it controlled me more than I controlled it. There seems to be a pattern where about every 5 or 6 years it seems to want to reassert its power, but I have been able to beat it back. So it is again, I am pretty sure the latest battle is a consequence of the Crohn’s though the events of the last couple days have forced me to consider another option, that option being that I was also in Vietnam around the same time as my departed former colleague.

This morning I spoke with another special person in my life. She is a graduate student at Michigan Tech now and was an undergraduate all those years ago when I was there. She has been through a lot, but she has persevered and she is doing well. I am so proud of her. She is fabulous and brilliant. I am going to spend a couple days in Houghton during the break also. It will be wonderful to be up there again. I love that place. When I spoke with her today, we actually “FaceTimed” for the first time. There was a lot more snow there than here, but that should not be surprising for a place that gets an unbelievable amount of snow. I love the beauty of the winter there, however; it was actually much colder in Wisconsin than it generally is in Houghton. The reality of that place is the lake provides a respite from the bitter cold, but also creates more snow than anyplace I have ever lived. Quite amazing. Last January when I was up there, they had already received more than 180 inches of snow. It was still beautiful. I smile when my Dominican friends shiver at a little snow and cold in comparison. However, the same can be said for most Pennsylvanians. Again, the reality is you deal with wherever you are placed and whatever nature deals you. I will admit I am not sure what I would have done had I lived in Buffalo a week or two ago. If you have ever driven between Houghton and Copper Harbor, the picture you are seeing should look familiar. As you can tell, the snow is an important part of the culture there. They even have this meter to “celebrate” that snow.

Well, my latest reality is that I have an enormous amount of work to do, but this writing actually focuses me and helps me move forward. So now I am back to the work at hand. On Thursday I am delivering a presentation at the Communication Studies day about some of my research, so I have some work to do for that. If I am not grading that will be my focus. The other reality is phase three of managing my almost leaking bathroom pipes is being attended to, so when I get home today some of my house will again be torn apart. I am hoping this is the last of all of that.

Thanks for the good thoughts that so many have been sending and I wish you all blessings in return.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin