Being Thankful

Hello from my kitchen in the morning,

Hard to believe it is already Wednesday of our break. Harder to believe it is almost the end of November; and perhaps hardest of all to come to terms with we are finishing the second decade of a new millennium. I was speaking with Al, the person in charge of technology for my department (and building) and reminiscing over our experiences of Y2K. This morning I am realizing that the great majority of my freshmen did not live in the 20th century. Yikes!

As I sit in my kitchen, breakfast pretty well prepared, I am waiting for a 17 year old to manage to get up. In spite of the fact, we agreed on a 9:30 breakfast, he does not like to get out of bed, so I am being productive and working on this blog. Thanksgiving, being the latest day of the calendar it can occur, seems to usher in both Advent and the holiday season this year. It also brings back all those memories of holidays gone by, and causes me to ponder how differently I might understand the holidays and their significance at this point in my life. As a child, it marked a school vacation and Black Friday shopping. My parents put money away every paycheck to help have money for the Christmas tradition of buying presents. They never owned a shopping credit card. My father had one gas credit card, and that was it. Thanksgiving was an incredible meal, especially if we make the trek “over the river” (there were no woods) and went to my grandmother’s, sister’s house. I have noted on many occasions how those two were the most fabulous cooks.

While I have often lamented some elements of my being raised as an adopted child, perhaps the occasion of this Thanksgiving is a time to consider the fortune of being raised in the Martin household. As I realize now (and that is not a first time realization), I think there were different hopes from the two people who had a adopted a first child and then a pair (being my sister and me). In the late 1950s, having children and being a family was part of being successful and living the American dream. As I look at my parents, I am not sure parenting was appreciated equally or was the desire to be a parent on the same plane. Regardless, knowing all the things I know, I believe I was overall fortunate. I was speaking with my sister-in-law recently and she noted that my older brother and she considering adopting us (as a second adoption) to get us away from some of the struggles we had endured. Though I am sure if that attempt had been made it would have been an undoubtedly tense and ugly situation.

In spite the myriad of issues, we still had some relative stability. I had the essential things I needed to be healthy and cared for on the basic levels of food, shelter, and opportunity. I had extra things provided like private music lessons, the chance to participate in a variety of events, and both a good school and church family. I understand and perceive things so differently now. Perhaps most important, I knew that even when I was lacking emotional support at home, I had surrogate parents who gave me a lot. I had a church youth group where I found acceptance. I know now there are things I lacked and it is interesting that I find myself trying to provide that for Anton, even though he is only in my care for a year. Tomorrow that year is already 1/4 complete. Amazing that three months have come and gone. What I know is I have been so blessed by people in my life. Growing up in Riverside, I think of the Sopoci family and their basement recreation room, where I spent many an hour. I think of Sheldon and Janet Reese, who always demonstrated care for me, listened to me and showed me I mattered. Of course, Marge and Jake Goede were like a second family to me. I realize now how much my church youth group did to keep me healthy emotionally. In addition, as I got older and worked at my grandmother’s bakery, I was fortunate to be around a person who loved me deeply and unconditionally. That was the most incredible blessing perhaps ever bestowed. She taught me how to give and to treat others with kindness. She was always willing to go above and beyond in her giving to others. I would like to believe I emulate her to some degree.

As I moved beyond high school, I had so much to learn about the world. To my parents’ credit, and perhaps at times to my detriment, I was not very prepared for the Marine Corps – though you might ask, is that possible – or even life beyond. I would come back trying to figure out who I was, and being blessed by yet another family outside my own. A new pastor had come to Riverside Lutheran. Little did I know how impactful they would be. The eldest was not around, but the next three would be central to my trying to acclimate back to being a civilian. I know now that is much harder than one realizes. Fred, the pastor, became a surrogate father and did more to help me mature than perhaps anyone could have. Ruth, had more of a hate/love relationship with me (and my ’71 Chevelle) than one would hope. She petrified me, and simultaneously caused me to think about who I wanted to or should be. David is still a friend I treasure and Barb found her way deep into my heart beyond anything I had known. She was that first love, and I had no idea how to manage that. Trial and error would be an understatement, but I am thankful to this day. Nancy, the youngest was smart, kind, and did not know what to do with her brother and me together. I will forever be indebted to the Peters family. Even to this day, I realize the integrity of Fred and how blessed I am by him.

I would eventually go from Ames back home and that was a difficult time due to the death of both my brother and my grandmother. Somehow, on a lark, I was blessed again; this time to be offered a chance to travel and work for an organization called Lutheran Youth Encounter. This was also the time I was spending significant time with a 2nd cousin. She was a very good influence on me and again I was blessed by her love and care. The year of travel caused me to do a lot of self-examination, as well as a time to grow, and I enrolled in college. This was a second time, but this time would be different. I wanted (needed) to prove to myself I could be successful. It was the begging of a process that has led me through seminary, to the parish, back to the academy, eventually a PhD, and from Wisconsin back to Pennsylvania.

These previous paragraphs are rather broad strokes, but what is consistent is there have been people every step of the way who cared for me, who cared about me. I did not get here on my own. It has been because of dozens of individuals. Some have moved in and out of my life and I have lost touch or one side of the relationship moved beyond. Some have remained and some have re-emerged. Our lives are an astounding number of threads woven together, sometimes tightly, sometimes with some sense of order, but loosely. Other times, the threads become tangled, snarled, or even frayed. Yet they all matter because they illustrate the complexity of who we are.

As you know by my last blog, a superb teacher, professor, and colleague has passed. I have pondered his passing from a variety of views. He was only four years older than I. To be honest, that disturbs me; it frightens me a bit. On the other hand, he left a profound example of what it means to be here for his students. I hope I can work to carry on some of that in my own teaching in a more successful manner. Last week as we honored him and students spoke about him, I tried to imagine what he might say. I think he might say, “Awe, shucks! Thank you for your words.” And he would leave it at that. Dr. Riley was (and is) another reason to give thanks, both for the time he was with us – also by what he has left us. Before we return to classes, we will have a memorial service. The weather, as can often be the case “when the gales of November come stealin'”, and move us into December, does appear to be an issue. And yet, we will gather to give thanks for a colleague who taught us to never be complacent, to never quit striving to learn and implement new things. As I finish this we are completing a Thanksgiving break. In spite of the craziness in so many places, and inside the Beltway perhaps being the craziest, I find myself wanting to focus on being thankful. There are so many people not mentioned here, but you each matter. Bless each of you for your kindness and the gifts you have shared to make this small, adopted, struggling, boy from Northwest Iowa be able to grow, flourish, and be allowed to live a blessed life.

Thank you as always for reading,

Michael (aka Dr. Martin)

My Conflicted Love-affair with Alcohol

Good morning from the Acre,

I am back in Pennsylvania more about a month before my initial plan, but I believe it was a decision that needed to be made. As a person who plans more than some might believe, I can be flexible, but lack of control of my life or my schedule is more stressful than often imagined. As noted in a couple of my last posts, the summer has been a learning experience, and while not always pleasant, probably important in the bigger long-term. The first few days back have been a time of introspection and trying to understand how things that have been so enjoyable for most of my life seemed to be disconcerting and difficult. I have been a wanderer, a vagabond of sorts,  but perhaps it is that I have called one town home for almost a decade. This time 10 years ago (almost to the day, I was arriving in Bloomsburg on the motorcycle and embarking on a new adventure, a new position, and a new place to call home. In that decade, so many things have happened to cause me to become the person I am now. Certainly the work done to make Bloomsburg a home and place I feel a sense of belonging in is significant. While much of this has to do with the university, I have also established relationships and friendships outside, which continue to develop, and I have been able to create a space that is my safe haven. This summer work on that, which is significant, was part of my stress. It was the taking care of things vital to structural integrity that created a stress for me that was unlike anything I have ever felt. Perhaps part of the struggle is a feeling of selfishness or attachment to “stuff,” which is not something that has been typical of me. That is not to say I do not appreciate what I have nor that I do not take care of things. In fact, I have been teased for the energy put into caring for things at times, but that is more because I do not want to replace it or pay to get it again. Perhaps what most surprised me was a felt like a home-body for the first time in a profound way.

The week of introspection has caused me to consider another aspect of my life. From the time I was barely twenty-one, I began to work in restaurants. My first server position was in a restaurant in Ames, Iowa called Aunt Maude’s. It was a fine dining restaurant that had flaming desserts and entrees, we carved rack of lamb table-side and used a gueridon, not anything I had experienced in my NW Iowa meat and potatoes background. I also learned about alcohol in a different way, and actually a healthier manner than what I had done in the Marine Corps. I have noted in the past that my first experience with alcohol was literally a case of they poured it down me. It was not a positive thing. However, I did not learn from that. During my early 20s I bartended and waited tables and my abuse of alcohol was the rule rather than the exception. The consequences were some of the normal things, but the more unintended consequence was that I did foolish things. Not only would I spend money buying for others, but I got involved in some risky behavior that culminated in a friend pulling a gun on me and I grabbed that gun, which was loaded, and it discharged and shot him. There were two entrance wounds and one exit wound. This meant surgery would remove that bullet from his upper thoracic area. That no one was more injured than that was a miracle. That did get my attention, and I made some changes. Yet, both at Dana and later at seminary, while the bouts of over indulgence were not frequent they still occurred. What was it that made me drink to the point of excess? That is still something I am unsure I can answer completely. I think most often it was a need to be accepted, to fit in. I was often about 5 to 10 years behind (older) than the people I was around. That began when I returned to Dana as a 24 year old freshman. Perhaps it was if I could drink with the best of them, I could fit in. Regardless the underlying reason, I did some really stupid things. Once I became a parish pastor and campus pastor, that changed. There was about a 5 to 6 year period I drank sparingly or not at all. Then one day I decided after loosing a position to go to the bar. Unexpectedly, but by my own volition, I got trashed. That began about a 5 or 6 year period where I drank way too much again and while there was a bit of a respite in there when I had gotten married again, after that marriage I returned to graduate school and there were too many times I was well beyond legally intoxicated. Again, some of behavior during those times is something that is nothing to be proud of nor would I condone in others. It embarrasses me to this day. It is something for which I have made apologies and still feel like those apologies are inadequate. Simply put, the fact I have not died of alcohol poisoning on more than one occasion is by the grace of God. There is no logical reason I should be alive.

What is so incredibly asinine about all of that is I did my pastoral care and counseling classes in treatment centers. I remember one of my most dear friends speaking to me as well as writing me a letter about my alcohol abuse at one point. I still have that letter. I grew up with alcoholics in my life and both my siblings had significant drug and alcohol issues, to the point of treatment in one case. So what changed . . .  what is it that allows me to have an rather astronomical amount of alcohol in my house and not drink it. Somehow, I am able to see it as a way to enhance a dining experience rather than control it. Somehow, perhaps it has been watching what it has done to so many others and realizing what could have happened to me. What happens for me how is so different than what happened before. Where I once seemed to practice a theory of being able to drink with the best of them made it all better, now being around intoxicated people makes me uncomfortable. Being around someone who reeks of alcohol makes me queasy. As I noted above, I have been in Bloomsburg for 10 years. I have been intoxicated three times in that 10 years (which can be argued is three times too many). That is not to say I have only drank three times, but I have learned to be much more responsible. Can I offer a reason for that change? Not with some sense of complete clarity. Not even with the idea of it was intentional. I think rather it was a sense of what I did, or am apt to do, when I drink too much is problematic on a whole multitude of levels. Perhaps it is because I realize so much more completely now that being a professor, as I have said many other times, is not what I do, it is who I am. During the past year, I have witnessed, again, first-hand what alcohol abuse can do and the consequences of someone’s actions on those around them. It is painful to watch. It is more painful to know there is nothing you can do to change it. What I have come to realize is how our American culture glorifies the use of alcohol or sees it much like owning a gun, somehow we are entitled to be able to drink whenever or however we wish. Damned the consequence. Ironically the summer I spend working in the winery I drank less than other times. I think I owe that to both Peter D’Souza as well as Marco for helping me see the natural aspect of wine making and how it works to help create an entirely different food and taste experience for a meal. Even now when it comes to beer or cocktails, I am able to think about the art of the beverage and what it can do to help enjoy something socially versus I need to drink to get trashed or even buzzed. I love what food and beverage can do together, and I simultaneously hate what we do societally with alcohol. American culture does not seem to be able to promote social drinking. Drinking it about getting trashed. We have to pre-game before we go to the bar. We have to mix crazy shit like Red Bull and Four Loco. The results have been deadly. For instance, did you know that in 2010 31% of fatal weekend car crashes involved alcohol? That is 8 years after the 0.08 for DUI went into affect nationwide. Again, in 2010, 17,000,000 people admitted to driving intoxicated. If they had their own state, they would be the 5 largest state in the country (I did research on these statistics for this blog). Again there is this sense of we can chance it. Again, in the spirit of transparency, I received a DUI when I was lived in Wisconsin. I had a medical issue, and attempted to drive home (less than 6 blocks total). I got pulled over 72 steps from my house. That night cost me over 5,000.00. One of the things I learned in my mandatory classes was that a person will drive intoxicated a couple of hundred times before they are pulled over and actually charged. If that is accurate, it is mind-boggling, and petrifying.

So where does that leave me today? Yes, I have alcohol of various kinds in my house: beer, spirits, and wine and quite a quantity, but I can go days or weeks without drinking a drop of anything. I enjoy having a glass of wine with a meal. I enjoy a ice cold beer on a hot day, and I love experimenting with spirits to see what I can concoct that will taste refreshing and enjoyable. Yet it is an art a type of creativity that offers an opportunity to share socially in a responsible and enjoyable manner. I have somehow learned that one can be social, responsible and enjoyable all at the same time. In 2012, the alcohol industry made 162,000,000,000.00 (yes, billion) dollars (again, I looked this up through economic databases). I guess I do contribute to this amount. Where am I today as I write this? I understand why people might get intoxicated. I think most often it is to forget their own problems; it is because they have not dealt with some aspect of their past or because they do not like something about themselves. Perhaps it is an attempt to fit in. This morning I was speaking with a dear friend, who has a strong affinity for their ethnic heritage. They noted that that heritage is ensconced (somewhat of an oxymoron) with alcohol and that connection has resulted in their choosing to eliminate alcohol from their personal use. I have noted the propensity for the misuse of alcohol in my own family on many occasions in this blog. If I were to balance the misuse of alcohol on a scale to the appropriate use of alcohol in my experiences, either communally or individually, the misuse side of the scale would so far outweigh the appropriate use that you would wonder if there was any weight at all on the one side. So how do I understand this love affair? Indeed it is conflicted. Indeed it is frightening. It is such a delicate balance. How did I learn to balance? Embarrassment for my past actions is one of the greatest motivators, I believe. Realizing how much I have to lose should I lose that balance is another aspect. Somehow, for me the grace of God that has kept me alive or out of trouble or jail more times than I have fingers and toes, and even if I borrowed some of yours. I think being an example for others, and realizing the consequences and damage of some of my past, which still haunts me, has been a motivating factor. For so long, I struggled with my identity and feelings of inadequacy. I think I have managed much of that, or more importantly, I learned that alcohol does not fix that, it only complicates it. Using alcohol did not make me fit it more completely, it made me look more completely foolish. Using alcohol inappropriately enhanced inappropriate and embarrassing behavior and it damaged my relationships and my reputation. Some of that will never be repaired. To this day, I enjoy more than words can say how a great Mourvedre can enhance the spice and flavor of a good ribeye steak. I enjoy the amazing flavor of caraway seed and lime in an aquavit and tonic on a hot summer evening. Yet, it is the experience of the flavor and more than merely getting stupid.

Respect or healthy respect seems to be apt here. It is something lacking in so many areas of our societal fabric, and that, of course, is an entirely different topic. I think it is where I am, however. I have learned if you play with fire (and I have used things like Ol’ Gran Dad or 151 to flame desserts), you will get burnt. That adage is certainly true. I have been burned more than once, but it was not a burn that changed me, it was merely age and wisdom, and the observation of consequence, of both my own actions and the actions of others. I will always appreciate alcohol when used to enhance a meal or a social setting appropriately. As my former professor once said, I can appreciate alcohol, but he had no tolerance for drunken behavior. He is still an incredibly wise man, and he is entirely accurate. I have been prone to put a video at the end of my blogs that somehow connects to the topic, but almost all music videos about alcohol glorify it, so I decided on something that was about trying to make the appropriate choices and take the chance and make life better without being intoxicated. I love this video for the generational beauty in it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

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

Twenty-Five Years or so in the Making

Good morning from Kraków,

Let me offer a bit of a spoiler alert on this post: while I am pretty open or transparent in what I post, this blog will probably push that limit of openness as it will reveal to a greater degree than perhaps ever with how I struggle just being human. While we all have frailties, insecurities, and baggage, we are taught too often to stuff it and keep the proverbial stiff upper lip, to suck it up and manage, or quit feeling sorry for ourselves. I know how to do this so well because I have spent most of life trying to prove to others and, most importantly, to myself that I am worthy or that I deserve to be loved and cared for. Certainly, I know from where those demons come and I have been pretty honest about that origin both in this blog and through the therapy I have been involved in through much of my adult life. Undoubtedly, I know logically that my adoption and growing up with an abusive parent was not my own fault, but I also know too completely how it has created a struggle in how I view, and how I wish I might view, others. I give others the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them because I grew up with a person who refused to see the good in me, and only pretended to do so when it served her own purpose, which was to make her look like a loving parent. I try, sometimes desperately or unrealistically, to see the positive in another, ignoring the truth that is staring me in the face. As a result there is a different kind of abuse I am subjected to, that of being used or taken advantage of. This is particularly the case with younger people, probably because I never had my own children. I still logically understand their need to make mistakes and grow, but do I make ridiculous excuses in my own mind about their failings, again allowing them to escape accountability for their misdeeds? I think there is more truth to this than I often avow to. Yet there is a more difficult admission in this reality. I often allow it because I am afraid I will be discarded if I speak out.

I was abandoned, on some level, by parents, who believed my sister and I were not worth taking care of. That would necessitate living with grandparents. I do not remember that time (with my parents) in my life, but I do remember living at my grandparents’ house. Death, alcoholism, and managing a business would require a move for Kris, my sister, and me again. I was on my third home before I turned 5. While that move was ultimately needed at the time, it resulted in a different circumstance, one that produced extended pain for both my grandmother (she did the best she could at that time) as well as my sister and me. I believe with every fiber of my being that the abuse my sister endured led to a life of struggle and a death that occurred much too early. For me, it has resulted in trying to please or accept others regardless their actions, often to my own detriment. Generally I am able to manage the hurt and the inherent loneliness this has generated in my life, but as of late that ability has seemed to recede, to dissipate, sometimes to completely fail me, and the pain of that coping mechanism has bubbled up like the former well in my yard which has once again found the light of day.

The more important question is what to do? Yesterday was excruciating for me. It was a day unlike anything I have experienced for over 20 years. It was a day that I questioned the reason I have lived this long. It was a day that being in Poland probably saved my life. The conflict of my most basic existence caused me to consider buying a ticket, leaving Poland, and flying home two days before my class; the overwhelming emotion of my being alone in Poland, and honestly in a place I usually love, caused more tears than I have cried since I was a small boy. Yet, from where did it all come? I do not have a good or complete answer for my own question, but I know it was the consequence of feeling incapable or stupid. I know it was the result of wishing for a different life while being conscious of the many blessings I have. So was or am I conflicted? Undoubtedly, I am. It was reflecting on all the things I have going on both professionally and personally and hearing a mother’s voice that I am undeserving and that I will never amount to anything, and logically disagreeing while emotionally accepting her edict of doom. It is coming to terms with these two little people inside of me that are connected to and simultaneously detest the other. Somehow the concept of doctor heal thyself rings in my ears. Too often I subscribe to this adage and even the very writing of this blog merely contributes to it. I was asked to consider that very issue in a conversation yesterday. Ultimately, through text and conversation I was able to smile and see beyond the incredible storm of the day.

In addition to the extended conversation and video, others responded. A person, whom I have known for over 15 years, reached out yesterday and was incredibly accurate in their assessment of my current struggle. Their questions and concern were one of the things that made yesterday manageable. As noted a series of FB messages and an eventual Facebook video was also of profound and extreme importance. The simple messages from others, including those from one end of the states to the other, reminded me that I am not alone. To all of you, thank you. More importantly, what to do next? What are the changes or things I might do to better protect myself as well as to face my life-long nemesis, that of believing my mother?

First, I believe I must come to terms with the breadth and the extreme of the ramifications her proclamation has had. Thinking of that is quite frightening for me. I probably have a better understanding of some aspects of this than I care to admit. It is another way I find indescribable irony in my growing up Lutheran and how Luther’s dialectic of paradox so parallels my life. It is a comprehension of the phrase Simul Justus et Peccator that goes beyond what I wish possible. It is both loving and hating my feelings toward something(s) or someone(s) – which might be more accurately somebody – but suffice it to say it is grammatically what it is in this context. It is wanting to be around others and afraid of such, to the point it is easier to push them away. Sometimes I inadvertently do so without realizing or intending it.

My need to control my life out of my own fear of failure creates a disparity that I sometimes cannot manage and as a consequence I lose the very control I so try to maintain. Yesterday was such a day, and for the first time in decades it crushed me. For the first time in eons, I had no where to hide. The struggle with wanting a level of health, both physically and emotionally, was beyond what I could figure out and my ability to cope failed me. Tears flowed in ways I did not anticipate. I was not angry, like sometimes happens; I was forlorn, despondent, and perhaps even broken-hearted. The rejection or perceived rejection of a variety of individuals, which is one is my most extreme frailties, was in every direction, from relatives to seemingly ordinary individuals, from people from my early life to people even here in Poland (or those Polish). Again this rejection or perceived rejection can paralyze me. Why? It is because I believe it simply proves what my mother prophesied, and makes it true. It is me accepting blame for things that are probably not my fault (there is that word again). I know that I am certainly more fragile to some than others, but I wish I could get rid of this fear of rejection across the board. It occurs regardless of the age of the person, the position of the person and perhaps, most profoundly, the gender of the person. The latter of these being the most problematic. Maybe that is exacerbated by age at this point, but it is unfortunately once again the repercussions of my mother. I know my grandmother, as noted, bore the guilt of not being able to care for us to her dying day. I know the pain she felt because she believed her actions were to blame for our abuse. As I have noted on a blog posted almost 5 years ago, I do not blame my mother, nor am I angry, but I continue to struggle with the fallout of her actions. If I could overcome this how different my life night be.

Yet, I do not write out of a sense of needing pity. We all have our demons, and we struggle to improve our own life as well as the lives of those around us. To those I have pushed away, offended, or mistreated, it was probably done out of fear, and my own inability to do the best I could in the given situation. To those I have failed or hurt out of my own anger, forgive me for not doing better. I do not wish to mistreat nor do I wish to create a sense of disregard. I am flawed and frail at times, and while I might seem to seldom get upset or worried, it is a facade I have worked on since I was small. I am simply another fragile human trying to make my way. Thanks to my niece, whom I admire and appreciate beyond words, for the initial image in this blog posting.

Thank you for reading.

Michael

What to Do: the Sharp Side of the Doubled-Edged Sword

Hello on my first full weekend in Krakow,

Yesterday (Friday, the 28th) was the first day that I have not had to some home and jump in a shower from the heat since I arrived in Europe. Last week I was in Moscow on the hottest day they had on record in June since 1956. This week there have been brutally warm days here (37-39 degrees, which is pushing and over 100). Yesterday it was about 24 C, which is about 75, and it was almost cool. What we are hearing is the coming week will be very hot (and I am hoping we do not get to Paris temperatures or that our highways our melting like the autobahn in Germany. Being about 5 hours ahead of the Eastern part of the United States, I listened this morning to President Trump’s post-G20 summit statement. The only adjectives I have are incredible (and not in a sense of admiration) and embarrassing. The (in)ability to develop a cohesive sense of what is relevant and how to structure his speaking would cause him to fail most first year public speaking courses. His lack of communicative skill, particularly on the world stage, forces me to ask where are his writers? Is it merely he believes he can do without them? I simply do not understand. For me this is more about respect for the Office of the President than anything else. I have noted on more than one occasion, I do not believe him to be a stupid man, but arrogance can cause one to act in a stupid manner. There is the beginning of my reference to the title of this post. Power is certainly a double-edged sword and money the same. I believe Donald Trump is an unparalleled example and study of both. However, I do not want to go down that path too far. This blog is more my own admission of when I have had to face the dual-consequence of that double-edged sword.

There are people in my life, some who were of incredible significance, and, that for a variety of reasons, have moved beyond my life. There are times that I find myself believing it is a normal ebb and flow of things, and then they are those moments when I find that there is a certain accountability, where I am sort of convicted or found guilty of messing it all up. One of those individuals surfaced in the past 24 hours. It has caused me some consternation, but it is something that also causes me to ponder and try to determine how I should (or should not) respond. Certainly the psychology of all of this is complex. There is the need to make others happy, which has always been a blessing and a curse to me. There is my need to fix things, which, while I have made strong progress in managing, still haunts me at times. There is looking at the infamous what is my responsibility and what is outside of my control aspects of this situation. Regardless, there is a certain sense of loss (and this was a substantial loss actually) in what has transpired in the last about 4+ years. That has included the passing of two who were dear to me, but I was not included in that, but I understand those decisions.

Taking a chance on any relationship is a gamble, but it is a gamble that we fundamentally need to make as humans. We are social creatures (I am hearing the Writing with Sources quote in my head as I write this) and certainly the older I become the more I appreciate my solitude. That singleness is another of the most complex double-edged swords I experience. There would be no way I could be in Poland for six weeks because I am planning for six months, or at the very least it would be an exponentially larger undertaking. It would be often beyond what I would want to hope to manage had Susan and I have had children some 35 years ago when I was first married. Instead of feeling single, there are times I feel selfish. I am more set in my ways than I have realized. The struggle between being able to navigate my solitude, which allows incredible flexibility, and wishing there was another is something I have not figured out. That failure was brought to bear much more than I planned (not that one actually plans such things) this past spring. The FB message I received regarding my biological mother’s passing some time ago or the LinkedIn response from another relative in the past 24 hours seem to accentuate that malady only more deeply. I did note it as a malady. I certainly have some ownership in the fracturing of this relationships. Often that splintering is because I was (or am) incapable of managing some situation that has occurred and I do not know what to do. As a consequence, I retreat and avoid, afraid to cause pain (causing the very thing I tried to avoid). There are times I have tried to thoughtfully explain the reason I myself am hurt or disappointed, but that also resulted in some significant disintegration of the relationship. There are two side of attempting to manage (one being not so much), but the sword seems to cut from both sides. The more profound consequence has been that I need to control more than what might be either reasonable or healthy. It seems to be a pattern of late, and perhaps it is I am tried of feeling a bit used, be it changing schedules, expectations, or anything else for that matter. If I made a mistake in trying to help someone out, it seems rather than seeing that I tried to do something above and beyond, there is only an argument that I could have done it even better.

I have learned the art of appearing open and inviting when perhaps I am not nearly as transparent as it might seem. I have somewhat perfected the ability to provide insight while able to conceal. I think much of this might be a result of my health. That reality has become more apparent through the writing and the research that has been the focus of my life this past year. To walk a fine line of desiring to be normal with an abnormal GI tract is another sword I have tried to straddle certainly for the last 25 years. If one considers the image of straddling a sword, I think the probable result is self-evident. The pain has been palpable more times than I have fingers or toes. Over the past year, and particularly in the last few months I have been provided an opportunity to try to respond to my history with Crohn’s in a new way.

Some are aware of this new possibility and I am both excited and humbled by this chance to make a difference for others afflicted with some form of an IBD. Through more than half of my life I have struggled with a disease that is something that is related to our bathroom habits. While it is a disease of the gastrointestinal tract, certainly the one end of that alimentary canal is why we learn potty training as a child. It is something we are proud of at that point, but we really would rather not discuss again. There is the double-edged sword once again. What I know now is I was probably born with Crohn’s but its symptoms were not apparent to me as I was an elementary/high school student. It was not until January of 1984, shortly after my college graduation and my first year in seminary, the tell-tale blood in the stool would alarm and alert me to something much more insidious. Through 11 abdominal surgeries and countless other complications because of those surgeries, I have battled a number of things, and continue to find out even more consequences of the standard IBD treatment of the 1990s. Sometimes, perhaps more often than realized, we are placed in situations where the unexpected can occur. This was the case when I was contacted by a person from the Geisinger Foundation. I am still not completely sure how they found my name (other than I am in their patient database), but through conversations and meetings with both the foundation representative and eventually the former chair of Gastroenterology and others, including a team from the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation and the Associate Dean of the Geisinger School of Medicine, I have been appointed as an Adjunct Associate Professor in the area of Gastroenterology at the medical school. That is not anything I ever expected, but I have been asked to give the opening lecture and address at the Grand Medical Rounds for the medical students and faculty in September. In addition, I am working to build contacts with medical students and faculty to do research and writing into the importance of patient care for those who are diagnosed or suffering from some form of an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

That was something not even on the radar six months ago and again demonstrates the other side of what can happen from something that initially seems to have any positive consequence. As I have noted at times, and much of my own scholarship this past year has focused on living as an ostomate, I seldom imagined an efficacious outcome to all of the pain and embarrassment being a Crohn’s sufferer has placed on me. Again, as I once wrote, this is not me wallowing in a sort of self-pity, but rather the reality of wondering why or how someone would want to be involved with a person who is subject to what I call “ostomy moments.” I know that means I am focused on the 4 inch square wafer and the accompanying pouch, but there are times that it is difficult to do something other. It is something as a single person for the great majority of 18 years kept me from dealing with this complication. Even in spite of what some might say, I find overcoming the struggle required if I were to be in a relationship frightening at the least and mortifying perhaps at the most. While I can manage much of what this disease has done, being a single person and believing that another is willing to see beyond all of this is beyond difficult. That being said, I have made progress, but it is not a continual forward projection.

Much of what I am studying and considering at the present moment has to do with image, communicating image, and gender. The visual rhetoric of being chronically ill, which is what any IBD is because it is not curable, is complicated. Many of noted, I do not look ill. I do not act ill; and I certainly do not want to be seen as or considered to be an ill person . . .  and yet this wearable technology on my side is there because without it I would not be. The double-edged sword of being a person who was one of the first to do a surgery called an ileo-anal J-pouch anastomosis meant I was at the cutting edge (literally) of colo-rectal surgery. I had one of the best surgeons in the country to work with, and traveled from Pennsylvania to Arizona to work with him. The medication they used at that point was known to have serious complications and this was to give me a new lease on life, but it did not quite work out that way. Now 30 years later, I have different complications, all the consequence of what we knew and did then. Again, I do not feel badly, but I am a walking reality of that double-edged sword. The point is we all of these situations, but how we manage them is what matters. In my personal life, at least in some aspects as noted above, I do not always manage the best. Ironically in my health stuff, I believe for the most part I have. I am still learning, but that is the point of life, or so it seems – continually learning and growing. As I try to finish this I am reminded of the goodness I have been offered. As I write this, I am not sitting at home and moping or lamenting my life, I am blessed by it. I am in a beautiful place with beautiful people. What the summer will yet bring, I do not know, but I am glad to be here living it. I offer this video of an incredible artist. who lived the double-edged life of fame and talent, and unfortunately lost that battle. This song, which is a cover, was just released, but the beauty of the voice is something of which I will never grow tired. Enjoy.

Indeed, loving and moving beyond is worth the effort. Thanks for always as reading.

Michael

Remembering Two Brilliant Siblings and Fifty Years

Good morning from the Acre,

It has been a productive and eventful week, though not always in the way I had planned or expected. We have finished the third week of classes and things are not (nor expected to) slow(ing) down. Students are beginning to settle down and focus a bit better than their initial week’s attentiveness also. This is all par for the course. On the personal front, there is some more work being done on the house and that has been planned for a while, but both managing the pieces and deciding how to proceed always take more time than I ever expect. That is a good lesson for me, however; a reminder that we seldom have control over external factors, and it is best to roll with the proverbial punches. That is the second part of the personal story for the week. This past Tuesday I went to the upper yard to take care of an issue that was a consequence of winter (at the moment, we have no snow). Coming down through the yard to the far end of the wrap-around porch, I found out a bit too late that things were both more slippery and much muddier than I suspected. By the time I realized what was there my feet were above my head and I body slammed myself into the soggy, muddy, cold, but nonetheless, still hard ground. After the obligatory lying in the mud that covered half of me, while I did a mental inventory of what hurt, I determined that except for some embarrassment and what would become aches and pains, I got up and trudged into the house. Fortunately a couple of people were here and I walked straight to the washing machine and threw everything in. A shower and nightshirt later, I was back at it. A bit sore, but doing okay. The remainder of the day was uneventful, but about 5 hours later I realized I was dealing with the bathroom much more frequently than usual (sorry if that creates images you would prefer not to have.). My modified digestive system, which, of course, allows more space in my abdomen than I often remember, seems to have shifted from the fall. Much like a kinked garden hose, it seems my intestine twisted created a blockage. I can assure you, such things are unpleasant. Suffice it to say, it was an intensely painful and excruciatingly uncomfortable next 8 or so hours. I was wiped out enough that I actually took a sick day and stayed in bed all day Wednesday. I slept, got up and drank more fluids, continued by restroom trips and slept more. I did get some soft poached eggs in Wednesday night and Thursday was pretty soft food also. It is now about five days later, and I am still gimping around with a pretty sensitive stomach. All in all, however, we avoided a worse fate, and I am back at the normal daily routine.

Today I awoke thinking about the two siblings with whom I grew up. I note them this way because there are more half-siblings out there, but that is an entirely different storyline, complicated, painful, and rather overwhelming if I really think about it. So most of the time, I choose not to. My older brother, who was about 5 years older than I was an unbelievably talented person. When I was small, I wanted to be just like him. He was mechanical, precise, methodical, patient when you would least expect it, and driven to succeed in ways I could only dream of. He was good at math and science, a phenomenal musician, and would excel at anything he put his mind to doing. I remember as the younger brother admiring most everything he was capable of doing. He was the most amazing model car builder I have ever met. He would analyze every piece, considering how to paint them in advance, how to sand the pieces of any excess plastic so they fit perfectly, and how we had the patience to wait after getting one task done and letting it set before beginning another. He would often build two or three at a time so he could be working on another model as the other was in process and needed to set up. I remember when he worked on waxing our toboggan before we would take it out for the winter. He used Johnson’s Paste Wax and a cloth before he would use the electric drill with a buffer pad on the disc. That toboggan glistened and it was faster than anything on the hill. No matter what he did, he would do it above and beyond what anyone could imagine. The more amazing thing was the rather matter-of-fact demeanor he had as he went about all of these things. He did not seem to believe anything was that extraordinary. As a small boy, I watched with captive interest when he spend time in our basement playing with his Lionel and American Flyer trains. He had a gargantuan train board that was a village with trestles, roads, building, mountains and most anything you could imagine and he would have the trains running in both directions. I could sit and watch him for hours, always hoping he would let me run the controls for even a few minutes. Sometimes, he allowed his pesty little brother to play and I would be the perpetual over the moon for that evening.

The one thing we did do together from time to time was our music. He was a much more famous trombone player than I would ever be as a trumpet/cornet player, eventually inducted with the other members of his band into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yet, by the time I was in sixth grade, I was the first trumpet, first chair in a city-wide orchestra in a town of 100,000. I was inspired by my high school brother to try to be as amazing as he was and he both encouraged and supported my hard work. As we spent time in high school band together, it was the one time I began to feel I could make him proud of that little brother. In the time after he left for college, got married, became a father, and eventually an electrician, there were many twists and turns, but he was a profoundly passionate person about anything he did. He would eventually follow our father’s footsteps and work toward becoming an electrician. Then one January afternoon, shortly after lunch, he fell off a ladder at work and would suffer a traumatic brain injury from a fall that did not seem so incredibly terrible. Unfortunately, he hit his head on a sharp corner of something. He would live for an additional five weeks and never come out of the coma. He passed only a few months after his 26th birthday. It was 42 years ago on the day I began this blog. As I consider him how, he graduated from high school 50 years ago this coming June. He was a brilliant student in math and sciences and an astonishing musician, something that gave him great joy. Yet, he was also a father of three young children and the husband to a woman who was as talented as he was. I am blessed to still have his children and his wife in my life as I write this. So much has happened in all of our lives since then, but something remain . . . for me that constant is the admiration I have for the incredibly talented and passionate older brother.

I have noted my sister at other times (and she was, contrary to him, a biological sister). She was fourteen months younger than I, but probably closer to my brother than to me (and I believe the same could be said for him.). I think she too, as noted in an earlier blog, was intelligent beyond words or measure, but she struggled mightily with how to manage that ability. She too was musical. She had a very lovely voice, an alto, and she was a talented piano player. She could sit down and with a bit of practice play most anything her teacher gave her to play. As I think back, I am not sure what she really enjoyed about school in terms of academic interest. She could do most anything, but she needed to be convinced by herself that it was worth her effort, and that was regardless the subject. When we were in elementary school she was in hot water at least one or twice a year when grades would arrive because there was something she had not done. This was both to her consternation and to the exponentially higher level of my parents. In fact, twice rather than to deal with our mother’s wrath for poor grades, she ran away. That raised a different issue about the two of us, who were siblings. She always had an deep-seated need to find our biological parents, something I really never experienced. That issue would affect her for the remainder of her life in various ways. The other thing that I believe vexed my sister was her sexuality. She came out to her immediate family by the end of the 1970s, which was long before this was considered a typical process in anywhere. As a person who had twice been awarded the Outstanding Soldier of her base, being a lesbian in the service was not something acceptable. Her way of managing that dilemma was to leave active service. The consequence of that decision had more far-reaching effect that I believe she had ever anticipated. It was not something we understood either.

What I know now was my sister was bipolar (I also understood this while she was alive) and this would eventually cause her to be placed on SSD. I helped her at that point. However, I believe both the issue of sexuality and mental health were something she had faced even in her middle school and high school years, but at that point our society was neither prepared or willing to be able to help anyone facing such dilemmas. Those issues kept her from reaching her potential because she was consumed fighting battles to merely exist and try to be herself. She was a phenomenal artist as well as a creative spirit that went beyond what most could comprehend. In spite of her struggles at 39 she made the decision to become a mother. While I did not know this was part of her thinking or conversations, I remember the phone call and conversation when she called me that April morning in 1995, telling me I was to become an uncle. Kris had an incredibly loving heart that merely wanted to love and be loved. Most of her life she battled this need because of her choice in whom she was attracted to, but I think more profoundly, if affected her ability to feel loved, particularly by her own family. This is not a unique things for those who identify as LGBTQA, but identifying as outside the heterosexual norm as early as the 1970s was even more significant. What I know as she continued her life, her becoming a mother was the thing she was most proud of. I think she wanted for her daughter the possibilities she never was given the change to experience: things as simple as love, acceptance, the ability to become whomever you felt compelled to be, and a child who knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her mother loved her. All things she had lacked growing up.

The thing that also made Kris’s life more difficult was she seldom took the easy path to accomplish anything. I have noted from time to time that she did not do the different drummer path, but created her own band path. I think she would actually be proud of that characterization. Her rebellion against any force that tried to corral her would characterize the rest of her life. Unfortunately, one of those habits, the addiction to nicotine, would become her undoing. When she passed away at the age of 51, she had smoked two-packs plus of cigarettes for years. An autopsy revealed she had already suffered a previous heart attack. In addition, she had chronic COPD and severe artherial sclerosis. All of those factors would lead to her being found dead on an early April morning. She was a beautiful woman who had a perceptive ability to empathize beyond any level most could understand. She was intelligent, reflective and capable also beyond measure. She was artistic and a strong writer. I wish she could have realized all her gifts and how she had so many more gifts that most ever knew.

In the case of both the siblings I was fortunate enough to call my brother and sister, they were lost before their time. There are times I try to understand why I am the one still here. There are times I feel guilty for the way I have been blessed to be able to live my life and have opportunities beyond anything I have ever earned. I have often said, and believe with most every fiber of my being, they were the more talented of the three of us. I was merely fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Before you think I am fishing for something, I am not. I do not believe I am incapable. I do not believe that I have not worked hard. What I do believe is I wish they had an opportunity to live longer than they did. I wonder what they would think. I wonder what it would be like for us to be in our 60s and reminisce about a life that had made it through six decades? I wonder what we would like about our lives and how we would relate to each other at this point. Would I be the sort of outsider of the three? I think I was always the sort of anomaly, but how would that all work out? What I know on this week of a passing anniversary is that I miss them both. It is a bit lonely at times. I know that the relationships I still have with the children of my siblings (some closer than others) is an important part of my life even though I am still away and alone. It remembers me that there is something more to my life and that I did have two wonderfully talented and brilliant siblings.

After all I wonder how it all works from time to time and I realize I have no answers. As I worked on this blog posting I listened to the music of the phenomenal and troubled artist, Whitney Houston. She was such a talented vocalist. She reminded me of both Bob and Kris, and I leave this video of hers for you to ponder. It is not the most known of her incredible repertoire, but it seems appropriate as a sort of inclusio.

Thank you always for reading.

Dr. Martin (the other sibling)

Prayers Answered

Hello from Costa on ulica Karmelicka,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Martin