Dlaczego niektóre rzeczy sprawiają, że zastanawiam się

Dzień Dobry, i wiłam z Poleski,

I am not sure there is a reasonable translation for what I wanted the title of this blog to be in Polish, but what I am trying to get across is  there are things that cause me to turn my head and wonder, did that just happen? What this says, sort of, is “things that give me pause,” or things that seem so counter intuitive to common sense that I can only wonder something along the text acronym world, a sort of inappropriate and nonetheless necessary, WTF? This startling exclamation has become a rather daily mantra as I walk the streets of Poland 🇵🇱, but, but simultaneously, try to understand the brokenness that seems to characterize the country from where or which I come, a country that has been a beacon of hope (and in spite of all, somehow remains so), a country whose government of checks-and-balances has been the hallmark of regulating ourselves when common sense seems to disappear. Each day as I am here in Europe, I take the time to check the news and see what is happening at home, but I am at the point that it so frightens me, I am not sure I want to know. The daily, seemingly-never-ending, shit-show we call our national Capitol becomes more embarrassing by the day. The latest fight between “the Squad” and the President continuing to stoop lower than I imagined possible only furthers my concern. As I am six hours ahead of you, therefore, I am finishing a day, but not see that the President wants to assert, arguing that he was not supportive of the chants at his North Carolina rally. Agreed, he did not join in, but the smug and appreciative smile on his face says more than enough. What did he expect to hear as a response to what he said about the Representative from Minnesota? Does no one see the irony in what is happening here? He argues that the Squad, and please know I do not agree with everything they say or do either,  should go back to where they came from. Three of the four of them were born in the United States, so where does that say they should go? His comment about their ethnic background puts him into a discriminatory situation, plain and simple. The point is: when they say something that he believes problematic, he says they need to go back from where they came (and all the problems with that statement are a post in an of itself). So if they say something from their place in Congress or wherever, it is inappropriate, but as he wraps himself in the flag (which he has literally done) and tries to argue patriotism, he said because he is being patriotic and supporting the country he cannot be racist, regardless what he says. Bull . . .  I say. That is his basic argument. Most certainly, I do not think he has used that specific logic or stated it, but I am not sure he is the most logical President we have had in the Oval Office. In fact, I might go as far as to argue he is on the other end of that spectrum. Now he argues because he tried to speak, he was cutting off the chant. If he spoke, that would have stopped it. Period.  His rallies from the previous election cycle are certainly demonstrative of his using incendiary language and even supporting some of the violence at his event (e.g. get him out of here. Knock the hell out of him). Now he wants to feign that he would not do such things. Incredible.

What needs to happen is the Congress (and please note I did not denote a specific party) needs to do the work they have been elected to do and serve the American people. Then let the chips fall where they may . . . or will.  As we are into debates already . . . those running for the Democratic Party nomination need to explain what they will do to better serve the American people and the world should they be elected president. Lay out a strategy that demonstrates that you care about all of America . . . that the policies will do something to support the wealthy, but also give care to those who were not able to get a million dollar loan from their father. When and if you get the nomination, do not play his game of insult and detract. If you get in the mud puddle with the pig, you are going to get dirty and pigs love the mud. They are used to it. That is my thoughts about dealing with the hush-money paying, genital grabbing, bully with a 4th grade rhetorical level, the one, whom we somehow elected in 2016. He is arguing the economy is humming and certainly the stock market has been hitting records, but about 50 percent of people, who have the money to invest in the market do not (2016 Gallup Poll). That does not count the people who do not have the disposable income to begin with. Therefore, for whom is the economy humming? If it is only for those connected to the Dow and S&P, which is what is being touted by the White House, there is an issue. Then there is an example of our illustrious legislatures at the national level, who are there to serve the people. My second example of just how low they stoop or out of touch they seem to be is with former doctor (M.D.) and Senator. In a typical example of supposed fiscal responsibility, Senator Rand Paul objected to a unanimous consensus vote to support the 9/11 Fund, something that Senator McConnell noted to the recently deceased NYPD detective he would make sure a vote was accomplished. My issue with the Kentucky Senator is an issue of ethics and reality. He noted that the 10+ million dollars this would cost should be offset by other spending. Okay, but wait! This is the same Senator who voted for the Tax Reform Bill that has added a trillion dollars to our national deficit. I am not an economist, and math is not my strong suit (and it also seems that Polish is not over the last few days), but give me about a 99% break . . . because 10,000,000.00 is one percent of 1,000,000,000.00. I think more than your ribs must have been broken by your neighbor, Senator Paul. You are also reprehensible for this stoppage. This brings me to the other side of things for a moment. I think Speaker Pelosi has so much more on the ball than many think. While I am supportive of much of what AOC and other freshman Representatives are questioning, I do believe there is a way to manage both sides. I think the Madam Speaker is an astute and worthy balance to the Senator Majority leader, who I will address before this blog is complete.

My rhetorical background comes into play. While the President speaks of a 4th grade rhetorical level, his rhetorical strategy is more acute and calculating than many believe. This is where some of you might find what I write difficult, but there are two things to remember before you judge my words as they come from some careful thought and significant struggle. First, I was a history major in college (and I have loved history since middle school) and second I wrote my dissertation about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was the German Lutheran pastor involved in the plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. After watching what Hitler had done in Germany from 1933 when he became chancellor, the group of well-placed individuals involved in the plot to remove him turned to their pastor and co-conspirator as they struggled with the reality of their actions. Hoping he might provide some absolution for their deeds on the Christmas holidays of 1942-43, they asked him to reflect on their situation. Absolution is not quite what they received; he wrote to them: “We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; . . .” While I do not believe the American public has been silent either before or since the President was elected, the silence of the Republican party on so many actions or words used, which are below the Office of the President, is shocking. The disregard for the judicial system, the intelligence community, the DOJ, pre-Attorney General Barr, or the granting of security clearances in a nepotistic manner (against the advice of those who had the right to advise) provides my reason for pause. Yet, the list could go on and the incredible disdain for our democracy is, once again, beyond words. I know some will ask the question if I am insinuating (or jump to the conclusion) that our President is evil? For me, that is an honestly difficult question. Is bullying evil? I believe it can be to those being bullied. Is arrogance evil? When the consequence of that arrogance is to create discord, mistrust, and fear, which I do believe is a fundamental strategy of Mr. Trump, one can argue for some sense of evil in that. Certainly, I believe the Republican Party and those who have fallen somewhat lock-step (and the similarity  or image of that term with a military is not unnoticed) with him can certainly have their actions be regarded as equivocation. Particularly when those who have not supported him are called out, ostracized, and labeled more vile things that the deplorable term (remember the election) ever indicated. The President’s response this past week for former Speaker Ryan is a good case in point. I think Ryan’s rather pathetic argument for what he tried to do to “manage” the President is another example of equivocation and pretense, and all under the guise of patriotism or democracy at work.

Bonhoeffer would go on to write: ” . . . experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical.” To  say we have become suspicious of others in a profound understatement in our present national climate. We have come to the point where disagreement with someone makes them the enemy. There is no democracy in that. There is no freedom in that. Those are profound statements, but important ones. We unfriend people; we no longer speak with them; we have become afraid to question or stand up for what we believe because it is termed unpatriotic, socialist, and something worse. Sending someone home or arguing they should go back to their shithole country is how our President finds it reasonable to speak about or to those with whom he disagrees or when they disagree with him.  He tweets his disdain on Sunday mornings almost liturgy. He name calls and again, uses his bully pulpit as the incredible bully he is. He argues for a strict interpretation of the constitution when it serves him (or more accurately his base or those who might support him) and yet he cares little about constitutional rights. His attack on checks and balances is a basic affront to the constitution. Recently, he worked to figure out a way to side-step the SCOTUS  on the census(though at the last minute someone must have gotten through to him). He argues the Bill of Rights and freedom of speech when it serves his purposes, and yet in his own actions he will block people on Twitter with whom he disagrees again (which the Federal Appeals Court just told him that is not okay). Certainly I do believe we are worn down from going on three years of continual fighting and bad-mouthing. This is not one-sided – it is the one thing about which we are truly bipartisan. Most of the public has thrown up their hands; it a national issue and it is a serious one. Certainly there is a cynicism that has become part of who we are. It is my hope, again as noted above, that someone, or some-ones, will step up and demonstrate they can argue for policy and country and not get into the garbage slinging, something the President seems incapable of doing. He calls it the “art of the deal.” I call it the epitome of being an ass. Can we return to substantive talk about the country and the things that matter versus becoming a continual us against them? That is where the cynicism is most apparent. I am not sure anyone believes we can.

This past weekend, I ended up in more back and forth that I am usually comfortable doing. The topics: immigration, health care, and a few other things that are central to our public debate. What astounds me is how so many really good people, and those who call themselves Christians, can support this person who has equivocated himself arguing for the sanctity of life, but then disrespects almost everything that is fundamental to our humanity and everyone, particularly women. Behind this Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate has flooded our judiciary with judges who will rule against woman, immigrants, those who identify as LGBTQA, or anyone who does not seem to believe as they do. I am smiling as I think of those whom Jesus chose as disciples. I am not sure any of them would fall into our category of who’s who in terms of wanting them as friends or role models. As I have noted in many of my previous blogs, I did not grow up in a particularly diverse area, but I did learn about respect for the other. Certainly my entry into the Marine Corps taught me things about people and the world that NW Iowa could not. Certainly my work beyond as a pastor and eventually as a professor has reminded me of how fortunate we are to have the diversity of opinion that I find in my classes (and is something I try to foster).  Contrary to what some accused me of this past weekend (not personally, but as they argued against the left-wing, liberal conspiracy of the academy) of indoctrinating my students. As I tell my students every semester when they ask me what I want, my response is always the same: I want to you think; I want to you to analyze; I want you to be able to make the connections, to be able to synthesize the things you learn with the world in which you live. As that former pastor, I am just enough of a smart ass to say, “I believe God gave you a brain to do more than hold your ears apart.” So the question becomes as Bonhoeffer noted so importantly: “Are we still of any use?” As I have noted in other blogs, I know what this discrimination does to people; I know what it did to my sister. There is significant time until November 2020, but there is a lot of national soul searching that needs to happen. We need to as a people stand up against all forms of discrimination and speak out when our government does things that are not true to the morals and principles that promote respect and dignity. Discourse is important; disagreement and the ability to do so in a civil manner is as important now as ever. When people are bullied into silence; when people are rounded up and treated as subhuman; when we separate families and cage children (I have been to Buchenwald, Dachau, and Auschwitz); when those we elect cannot conduct themselves in a manner befitting the office to which they are elected, we have a problem and a serious one. Are we of any use? Yes, and further more, hell, yes. It is time to read; it is time to listen and research the issues; it is time to consider who we are and how we want to conduct ourselves as individuals and as a nation. It is time to use our power at the ballot box. If we believe we want a country that finds racism and bullying in the White House as acceptable, we will re-elect this monster. If that is who we have become, I fear where we are headed. The image at the outset of this blog is of Flossenburg, the camp in which Bonhoeffer was hanged and cremated shortly before its liberation. He was hanged in April 1945. It is not again unrealized to me that I am only kilometers away from Auschwitz, perhaps the most notorious of the death camps in the Second World War.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Attempting to understand what appears to be absurdity, but perhaps isn’t

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Hello from my getting home after a long . . .

I am not sure if it has been a long couple days, a long month, a long campaign, or seeming to be perhaps a long life. That is my perception of both the election, the campaign, and certainly what will be a terrific amount of prognostication from every corner of the country, if not the world. I actually walked into my bathroom about 7:45 last evening and noted specifically to look at the time when my thought was that Donald Trump was going to become the President-elect. I had said throughout the campaign, even in the primaries that he was not as stupid as people wanted to claim or believe. While I believed the actions of Mr. Trump to be embarrassing and shocking, perhaps I am not as typical in my thoughts as I might have imagined. While I thought his disparaging comments towards too many would have had a cummulatice consequence, that was not the case. That in an of itself speaks volumes about the present atmosphere in our country. I am dismayed, unsurprised by the atmosphere, which is even worse, and as we are two days into the transition watching things I have never witnessed following a presidential election. Certainly I have seen pain and sadness when one’s candidate loses, but I do not remember seeing or reading about such vitriol and protesting (and some that has become a sort of rioting) after the election of a candidate. Then again, I know we have never witnessed the sort of offensiveness or unseemliness in a campaign as we have just witnessed. My niece or great-niece, I cannot remember which noted that the media certainly has a role to play (and I might argue a significant one) in how the campaign unfolded. There are so many ways to consider this, but this is only one blog, so I cannot got into it all. (I am adding to this post on Saturday, now four days out.) I do believe there are more reasons than any one attempt to characterize the rationale for one side’s victory or the other’s defeat. While I am a life-long Democrat, I am fiscally conservative. While I believe in helping the other, I do not believe in free handouts. One of my more conservative friends have noted things about the protesting/rioting (and I do believe there is a difference). I do not have a problem with peaceful protest. I do have a problem with rioting or with destruction of another’s property merely because someone is angry. There are two things I would like to note, but then I will be quiet. I believe it is paramount that we come together as a country and listen – not merely hear the other as some kind of noise, but truly listen – to what our equally valuable citizens have to say. Again, I grew up in NW Iowa. I grew up in what is considered to be rural America and not every farmer or small town person or white person is red-neck, uneducated, and racist. On the other hand not every metropolitan black, Latino, or Muslim is anti-white or an illegal or terrorist. How did we get to the point that we seem to go there before we think or listen, and then think again? The second thing is this: when considering the candidates, I must admit in retrospect that there was a sort of coronation of Secretary Clinton as the only possible standard bearer of the Democratic party after she left the State Department. I feel some of this because of the Wikileaks and the hacking of the DNC or the DSCC as well as the response to Senator Sanders. Arguments made about how the campaign was managed have more credibility that some might want to think. Second, if we are to examine Mr. Trump’s rhetorical strategy in his addressing the issues of race, religion, economic inequality, immigration, gender, and you can probably add to the list, what is evident in light of the result is this, and while I say this with a significant amount of chagrin, and particularly in light of his comment in the last 24 hours (I won), one has to either call him a genius or despicable, or both. It was certainly a winning strategy in that he tapped into the anger of a great number of our fellow citizens. From where all that anger comes is certainly open to discussion and will be the fodder for a great number of pieces, scholarship, and a number of other responses. Second, it can be considered despicable because it appears to have created an even greater divide in our country (or, at the very least, exposed it for what it is). I am the soon to be elderly (and some already say older) white man, but I am educated. I do not consider myself to be an elitist, but that does not mean that others might not see me as such. We understand people for where they are when we meet them and we too seldom take the time to see the more complete or complex picture. The consequence for that lack painted a very different picture, but perhaps a more accurate one of who we are as Americans. The paintbrush of the American electorate is complex, but November 8th we created a picture of ourselves that has our entire civilization shaking their collective heads. Do we know who were are? Our popular vote painted on picture, but our electoral college created a different one. Regardless of where you stand, the final result says something both powerful and conflicted. How will we move forward. It begins with each person from both sides listening to the other. Perhaps that is what we might learn most importantly. It is not merely Hillary Clinton’s job to quell the protest, nor is it Donald Trump’s. It is ours as Americans. The protest is palpable. Rioting or damaging property out of anger is not the answer, and if you did not vote and you are out there rioting (again I see a difference), STOP IT!

(I am back to what has been written previously) However, as I wrote yesterday, it was the 241st Anniversary of the Marine Corps and as I write today it is Veterans’ Day. Both of these things are important to me for a variety of reasons. My adoptive father served in WWII and after my birth father passed I found out that he had been in the Marines as I was. As I noted in my Facebook post, I was a scrawny 17th year old who left my home in Sioux City for my first plane ride to MCRD in San Diego in June of 1973. I think my last posting has my boot camp picture, which illustrates clearly I was still growing into my ears. Sad, but true. For some it was absurd that this squirrely 17 year old boy believed he could make it in the Marines. As some of you know, I did not make weight when I first went in and had to go eat a lot of bakery food and drink water to make the minimum guidelines for weight. I wish I still had that problem. Difficult to accept what age and metabolic change does. It was also the 533rd anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther yesterday. As I sit in my office this morning, I remember so clearly yet my trip to East Germany in 1985 and to many of the Luther places. I remember my trip to Buchenwald, which was where Bonhoeffer, the eventual subject of my dissertation, was incarcerated before his move to Flossenbürg where he was hanged. I remember listening to a lecture about Luther as the first Lutheran socialist. It was actually a pretty brilliant lecture, particularly in light of some of the more disturbing and racist things Luther wrote at the end of his life. Finally yesterday was the 41 anniversary of the sinking of the ore ship the Edmund Fitzgerald, during a November winter storm on Lake Superior. It is interesting to me how this one date has such a varied significance in my life. Today it is 98 years ago, almost a century that Armistice was signed in Versailles, a treaty that would actually led to the rise of Hitler, the Nazis, and eventually create the Holocaust. Again, it is absurd to believe that one person could lead such a cultured country toward the extermination of a particular ethnicity. but it happened. (I am back to writing on Saturday, November 12th.) I have been enamored with the German culture since I first got out of the service and my pastor’s family had come to NW Iowa from Germany. Their decision to continue speaking German on certain days of the week started a love affair with other languages and cultures that continues to this day. In some ways it led to my becoming a Lutheran pastor, to my dissertation and my continued study of this amazing country. The Germans also had a significant event in their 20th century history on November 8th (1923). It is worth considering.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with one of my dearest friends who I have known since I was barely in school. It was a blessing to speak with her and hear her thoughts. Partly because it allowed me to commiserate the week, but she was more liberal and open that I had actually realized. It also helped me understand that we make such assumptions about the other, even those we have known for decades. She noted she was probably the only person of her family who voted for the Democratic and she claims to be Independent, which I do not doubt. I am pretty sure that I am the only one in my family to vote for Secretary Clinton. None of them have said anything to me this week, but then again, I have not said anything to them either. I also realize this is contrary to the other things I have noted earlier in my posting. Part of that is I do not merely want to have a superficial and quick conversation They are too important to me. It was such a breath of Fresh Aire (pun intended for those understand it) to speak with her. I am increasingly cognizant of the magnitude those times in my life meant (and still mean to me) when we have had the opportunity to share time from sitting on a dock the summer of 1984 to dancing at Grandpas or The Jockey Club in the late 70s or early 80s, from chats on the phone to visits during the increasingly infrequent times I have been back to my hometown over the years. Amazing how one of the first recollections of my childhood has provided such a sense of comfort and care. In the conversation yesterday I was surprised to see how similar our philosophical bents are. This is actually a good example of the very disconnect that I address when considering the Presidential election of the past week. It is my narrow-minded elitism that I want to believe I do not have. While I have always known her to be thoughtful and considerate, I have not always given her credit for being as philosophical in her approach as she is. Part of that might be her faith background, part of that is because we have never really discussed things as we did this week. What I have always known about her is her pure and caring spirit, her unequalled love for her son and her family, and her amazing beauty and grace. What a joy to learn more about my life-long friend and sort of soul-mate.

If I return to things I still need to get done, it seems there are more things being added than subtracted, and I am not sure that will change anytime soon. It is where we are in the semester: between a strike, an unparalleled election process, and four preps, the semester is kicking me. I must also admit a good part of it is I am getting older. It is also in that I have been struggling a bit again with my health. This is the consequence of a couple of things. Managing my health, which is always an issue, and then finding that I am allergic to cats, which I did not know. It is amazing how that exposure affects my breathing, swallowing, my eyesight and a tightness in my chest that is different than anything I have ever felt. It has been a difficult time because I am committed to helping my friend,  but trying to figure out the logistics is becoming more perplexing, more indecipherable. Certainly some things have been accomplished, but progress seems to be slow; yet, I am more aware of why that is than some might think. There are so many demons that one must confront and about which one must be honest . . . and while we would like to believe that honesty is something we should just reasonably do, perhaps nothing is farther from the truth. It is so difficult, taking more of a herculean effort that one might expect. It is because honesty requires accountability, something that scares us. While there is much more I could write, I want to get this out and then move to the next thing on the list. It has been an interesting week, and it seems that will not change soon, either in Bloomsburg or in the wider state, country or world. As I finish this post, a couple more days have passed and today would be my sister’s 60th birthday if she were alive, so this is a shout out to her. She did have an incredibly giving heart and she was an even more tremendously intelligent person. Happy 60th Kris. I wish you were still here and we had talked more. She was an enormous fan of Anne Murray, so I offer this video for her in remembrance of her birthday.

 

 

Thanks to everyone else for reading.

Michael (aka: Dr. Martin)