Being Grateful is both Singular and Plural

Good morning as I move toward the end of another journey.

The past few days have been packed with activity, and I have been blessed to spend time with a friend Who hearkens back to when I had barely begun my time at Michigan Tech. I am sitting in the airport in Alicante, continuing my culinary love affair with local cuisine. It seems I find something gastronomically inspirational from each place I visit. Breakfast of eggs, potatoes, and Iberian Ham, with one more cappuccino fit the bill as I begin the two day journal that will return me to the Acre. It was a bit more expensive than Rome’s airport meal, but so much cheaper, and with so much more quality than my American airport experiences. As I have posted over the part three weeks, I have been so fortunate to be treated so kindly in every single place I have visited. However, being treated with kindness is not a surprising thing, in spite of the current tenor that seems present in many more places than the United States or Washington D.C. Trying to learn enough to greet someone in their native tongue, to say a simple please and thank you in their language is neither difficult or overwhelming. In fact, I will assert it is simple common courtesy, or should be. It is what we were taught (hopefully) soon after we learned to speak at all. While gaining access to the other’s language at one point took some effort, it is so easy today with apps and your phone, to not do so is incredibly lazy, and, at least in my opinion, insufferably rude. Each place I visit, I take the time to read about their history and their customs before arriving. Again access to such information is only a swipe or so away. It’s not rocket science, and it demonstrates some sense of appreciation for the welcome and the kindness you are bound to receive. Seriously, I have been treated with incredible kindness and with a willingness to assist me if needed. I think there are times I surprise people because I greet them upon arrival in their language and I try hard to listen to understand as much as possible. I have been asked twice in the last 24 hours if I was Spanish, Polish, or American. When I hand them my American passport and say, dzień dobry; jak (pan/pani) się masz? (hello sir or ma’am, how are you?) the double-take is always amusing to me, My phenomenally kind host in Ascoli Piceno FB messaged me and noted that I was polite and kind. It is what my grandmother taught me as a small boy. One was to use their manners always, no exceptions. In fact, the one thing that might have caused me to see her angry was if I had been dishonest or had been rude to someone. As a small boy, the one thing I was forbidden to say was to tell another person to “shut up.” While I was not aware of the infamous F-word yet, telling someone to shut up was probably as egregious to my grandmother.

This really does get me to the crux of this posting. Gratitude is to me a sense of profound thankfulness. It is understanding that the kindness you receive is not owed, but rather freely given. Gratitude is something I believe each of us possesses and it is a gift, a gift which we are tasked, if you will, to provide to/for another. It is not by accident that I start with the idea of giving someone this gift rather than being the recipient of someone’s gift of gratitude. When we choose to be grateful and display that feeling of gratitude to another, what we say indirectly is that we have been blessed by that person. It creates an interaction that can serve to uplift each person. There is also another important thing here. If it is something given, for gratitude to work as a gift, there is always the other. Like any gift unless given and received, the giftedness does not happen. What astounds me is how difficult it appears expressing gratitude has become. I hear the word entitlement thrown around like the blinking line in that initial game of pong, but most often it is aimed at those who fall into my students’ demographic. Yet one must ask from where did they learn this? Furthermore, I have some incredibly hardworking students who demonstrate graciousness on a regular basis. From where one learns this sense of always being the customer or that they are always right comes from example. We are not born with a sense of greed or entitlement; we are not born with a sense of privilege; in fact, our habits and our attitudes, each and everyone of them are learned. I could go into the social-psychology of all of it, but suffice it to say, we have created our own problems when it comes to how we treat, act toward, or encounter the other. Our seeming lack of decorum, civility, and complete inability to act in a gracious way has been learned by those around us.

Our sense of privilege or the argument that has been posited, and rather summarily rejected this past few days, that Western Civilization (as well as some other terms) is the only valuable, or most valuable, in history or the correct one is certainly one of the more egregious examples of this sort of behavior. For some time I have found the actions of the United States Representative from Iowa’s fourth Congressional District appalling. My justification for my attitude was not only the incredible insensitivity and intransigence of his speech, but the fact that he was from the state in which I was raised, and I was not raised in any way that could find his statements palatable. I remember raising my concern in the past. While I have not been particularly ardent in my support of most anything Republican, I am impressed that the Minority leader in the House and the Republicans stripped him of his committee assignments and there is move afoot to censure if not move toward his expulsion from the Congress. That is a significant move, and while it still causes me some personal embarrassment for my home state, I will be more impressed if he is sent packing. Again, gratitude and goodness is not only a Western thing; gratitude and goodness is not only a Christian thing; gratitude and goodness is not a male or female thing; and it is certainly not an American thing. It is a human thing. More importantly, it is the correct thing.

Today as I was sitting in the Schippol airport in Amsterdam on two separate occasions, a stranger reminded me of something or realized something I had not. In the first case, I would have left my credit card. He caught me before I have even moved and I thanked him profusely. In the second case 20 € had fallen out of my pocket and a person behind me realized my loss and let me know. In both cases, neither person was American, they were simply doing the gracious thing and in both cases I told them thank you more than once. They smiled and told me they were glad to help me. I could tell from accents that one was probably Dutch and the other perhaps Spanish. As I noted in both a FB posting and in a previous blog, each place I spent any significant time during this journey, I was provided the most wonderful support by persons I had met earlier in my life, some as long as two decades ago, some within the last four years. Yet, again in each place I was introduced to still more people who blessed me with their kindnesses day in and day out. This trip I was both on my own, but never really alone long. In fact, today was the day I have been most on my own. As I write this, we about to land in Kraków. It is after 10:00 at night and I have one last ride to my hotel. We have just been informed it is 0 C and snowing, so it is the January Kraków I know and love. Indeed, it looks much more like winter than when I left only about two weeks ago. My Uber chauffeur said it had snowed quite a bit the last two days and it was supposed to snow for a couple more. However, by the time I got to Warsaw, the snow was gone. Perhaps one of the things I have found l perhaps less appealing about travel is the actual flying. I remember when, once upon a time (and it certainly feels fairytale like) that getting on a plane was exciting and rather sophisticated. Those days are gone for sure. I think the change post-911 has a great deal to do with that. In addition, navigating lines, smaller seating with more people and quicker turn around times all seem to raise the stress of this formerly exciting adventure. Today I am on a truly international flight as the plane is AirItaly, but the flight is managed by Polish Lot. We are on an Airbus 330 and it is an incredibly full flight. As I write now we are about 6 hours into a 9 hour flight. Perhaps 45 minutes off the coast of Newfoundland. I think I have been aboard a flight of the most restless individuals ever. The man behind me, who is a towering presence, and whose son must me next to me has spent more time standing in the aisle with his hand on the back of my seat than sitting. When I got up to go to the bathroom, it was impossible to get by him and he stood there and is so mammoth, he really could not move out of the way. He could have sat back down, but that did not seem to occur to him. On the way back to the bathroom, I encountered the same issue twice and when I returned to my seat, I waited in the central emergency door area waiting for the same man to move away from my seat. Twenty minutes later I finally returned and had to softly say, Proszę, paproszzm. Seems what I wrote a few hours ago has come back in spades to quote the saying. I think it must be exponentially more difficult to serve as a flight attendant when there is so much expected. To be continually gracious when the majority of those encountered are not takes some terrific discipline. Again they provide a gift of grace and gratitude as they often attend some who are less than graceful and absolutely less than gracious.

It is still about 6 hours or so before I will make it home. It is usually the case that I am up about 24 hours on these westbound trans-Atlantic hops. I remember two years ago being pulled over by Pennsylvania State Patrol because I wandered across a lane marker at 1:00 a.m on an early Saturday morning. Both Dr. P and a student were with me. I was 2 1/2 miles from my I-80 exit. Fortunately, I think this is where age assisted me. I told the trooper that I have begun the day in Poland and was a bit tired. I noted I had crossed the line. He took my information and when he returned he noted my insurance card had expired the week before. He was certainly gracious and issued no tickets. I was polite and thanked him for his kindness. Tickets, troopers, and traffic stops are definitely a time to use your best manners. I can say with the no milking of doubt that I have never gotten rude when being pulled over. It does not happen often and even less often as I have aged, but being gracious has saved me dollars and points in my license. In fact, twice in the State of Kansas, it probably kept me out of jail. Seriously!! Amazing how fast 280ZX could travel on flat open highway at 3:30 a.m.. I have made it home and it is about 1:00a.m. and contrary to the immediately prior sentence, there was no reason to pull me over. I am a bit more judicious about my driving at this point in time. In the spirit of transparency, there was a time I did end up in jail because of a traffic issue and even then I was told as I was released that I might have been the most polite temporary inmate they ever had. Even later when I dealt with the fallout of that transgression, I was honest about the circumstance, and polite, and the city attorney responded that he was sorry he even had to charge me. He was incredibly understanding and allowed me to postpone the reduced fine and sentence for 6 months in order to manage other issues I needed to manage.

The point of this post is simple, but, in light of our present national atmosphere, also of utmost urgency. What will it take to become a country, where currently anger, vitriol, and figure pointing are the order of the day, to return to a place where manners are commonplace, that even spirited discussion can create a common goal, or we choose to look for goodness rather than discord is the norm rather than the exception. It is something we are taught early on to be polite, to listen first, to question, but do so respectfully. What happened? I think the answer is complex and multi-faceted, but I also believe it begins at home. Teaching tolerance and acceptance, modeling love and gratitude, demonstrating charity and generosity are a beginning; then expecting that it be practiced (and that means required) regularly would go miles in reorienting our present national direction. I believe in freedom of speech and the right to assemble, but when what comes from such speech or assembly is ranting and unrest, it only exacerbates the problem. Too often mob mentality becomes the rule, but it goes back to this idea that gratefulness is a gift to be given. Anything we have has been given; yes, you have worked for much, but someone offered you the opportunity to work, regardless your station. You have perhaps saved and gone without, but someone helped you along the way. None of us gets where they are (if you have moved forward) alone. Somewhere someone helped you. Someone was gracious and gifted you. If we might all begin to gift back, what could we accomplish? Who might we collectively become? Not the usual sort of musical offering, but there is much more to Marley than some think.

Thanks for reading as always,

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