“Thy Spirit Lift Another Throng . . .”

Hello on an early morning from my office,

The past week I have been in my office to work by 6:30 most mornings, but it still feels like there is more to do than the time to do it. That is a normal part of a semester as we zoom toward a finish and it seems to be the rule for the day as we move into the last 10 days before finals. As I have been working with my students, I have wondered who else from that little school on the bluffs of the Missouri continued on into academia. While I have had some classmates tell me they were not surprised I ended up in this role, I was. It was not what I had planned. As I have noted in many of my blogs, I am not sure I knew much of what I would become. Of course, my perchance introduction to Dana College was also not something planned. In fact, even though I only grew up about 80 miles away, I had never heard of Dana College, but a visit while traveling on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team, Daybreak, and meeting people like Merle Brockhoff, Gary Beltz, Mary Rowland, and a few others left a lasting impression that had me applying to return following my year of peregrinating the Midwest. While we traveled 48,000 miles in that 9 months, meeting more people and eating more church potlucks than I could still even try to count, the visits (and I believe there were two) to Dana stood out.

What was amazing about the Dana community, even as someone who was only there for a couple of days, and initially not interested in becoming a student – either there or anywhere for that matter – was the care and camaraderie that I saw among the students and the student groups. Surprisingly, and more important at the time, was their care was extended to my teammates and me. That interest and care would continue after we left that hilltop campus in that little town of Blair, and when we returned during the spring semester I had a very different perception of Dana College as well as what it might become. During that visit I had the opportunity to visit two professors and articulate my ideas about returning the following year, but as a student. I must admit, in the spirit of total transparency, that one professor was not very welcoming, but the other professor would become one of my advisors and the people in admissions worked tirelessly with me as I traveled from place to place, the wandering and itinerant youth ministry minstrel. Admissions George, as I would come to know him (whose real name was Rick Schuler) was wonderful in making my move back to being a college student a reality.

While those experiences made my decision to come to Dana much more of a sort of no-brainer for this somewhat non-traditional student, what would follow in the years I spent there was beyond any inkling of what I would or could imagine. Because I was that anomaly: a pre-seminary, former Marine Corps Drill Instructor, 24 year old freshman student, I struggled to figure out how being back with people who were in 7th grade when I was a senior would work. Blair was a long way from MCRD and Viet Nam. Fortunately individuals like Tom Kendall, Kim Nielsen, Merle Brockhoff, Mary Rowland, Sandra Barnum, Lynn Hohneke, Barbara Kalal, and others kept me sane and I learned how to fit into the little campus that initially seemed too small. At the same time, it was the close-knit student community that helped me realize I could fit in. There were certainly the men on Fourth Floor on the North side of Holling Hall who made daily living worth coming to my room each day. Working as one of the leaders of campus ministry teams and the weekly bonfires at the cross were integral to believing Dana was both socially stimulating and worth hanging on to.

What really inspired and motivated me was my class work and being in the college choir of Dr. Paul Neve. Each of my classes challenged both my thought and my energy. That went for every single class. I had King Rich for composition (yes, you read that correctly), and I believe it was the only semester he ever taught it. I had Intro to Religion with the Pope. By the end of that year they would both become my academic advisors. It is not often you can say you have a King and a Pope to offer you counsel. I also had an Introduction to Business class (from Dr. Donald Baack) and I think I can say up to this very day, and four degrees later, those take-home, multiple choice exams were the most difficult “objective” exams I have ever attempted. During my time as a student, professors with the name of Nielsen (and there were multiple), Jorgensen, Olsen, and Johnson, the sons of others as their name indicates, as well as Warman, Lemon, Brandes, Stone, Neve, and Hutton would push me beyond anything I knew possible, but they changed my life for the better. How? It was not what they taught me, but rather how they taught me to think and to analyze. None of them were regurgitation, memory-bank professors. That is without a doubt what the humanities sequence did for anyone willing to take it seriously. It was impossible to not be stunned by the connectivity of science, language and architecture, of poetry, music, and politics. The important skill learned was to think, evaluate, and most importantly to synthesize. To this day, I have all my humanities study guides and notes in my office where I now teach. The picture above for those unsure is part of the Memorial to Michael Kirk, who was one of my freshman students when I was an RA. He passed suddenly, tragically, and unexpectedly. It has been a bit beyond 35 years since I left and 40 since I stepped on campus.

That is two generations of students ago. Some of those incredible mentors, the men and women who professed their love of knowledge and their specific discipline to us are no longer with us. Some are elderly, but still here. When is the last time you reached out to them to tell them thank you for what they provided? I can tell you from my own experience as a professor for the last 20 years that those notes or cards are worth more than any paycheck I will ever receive. I have spoken to a couple of them recently and I am honored now to be considered by them as one student who followed their steps and on my more brilliant days perhaps a colleague. When I was at Dana the thought of a doctorate flashed through the recesses of my brain once or twice, but I seldom felt either smart or disciplined enough. Yet, somehow it happened. While the road was neither straight nor the path simple, that is often the way with things that matter and those goals which take more than a bit of time. As I would move through my M.Div and beyond, the number of times I realized how the rigor of the work I did at Dana prepared me for both the academy and life is exponential. Whether it was taking Physiology and Anatomy as a history major and being told by Dr. Larrie Stone (both with care and discipline) I would need to manage this med school weed-out class or drop, when it was being pushed to write incredible papers in my Christian Thought class by Dr. John W. or finally to the hard and creative work with Dixie Frisk and Kristi Swenson as we transformed into Marie Antoinette, a peasant woman and Rousseau for our version of “Meeting the Minds” in Dr. Jorgensen’s European Civ class, we were encouraged and supported to become more than students. More than students? What does that mean? I regularly tell my students to consider the concept of “claiming their education.” This is the basis of an address given by the feminist poet, Adrienne Rich, to the students at Rutgers University. Long before she tendered this advice, our professors at Dana were already embodying this. They provided us access to a scholarly community and they were partners with us as we explored what it meant to be citizens and scholars in a world so much larger than Blair, NE. They prepared us to think, analyze, and synthesize what we learned in a manner that would serve us in whatever profession or place, onto whatever deep sea we might venture. People on my floors became actuarial experts, pharmacists, medical doctors, clergy, teachers, and, yes, even professors.

While the halls of the C. A. Dana Science building, Old and then new Old Main, Pioneer Memorial, or Borup are no longer turning out students, the sons and daughters of all of us have something of that Viking spirit within them. What you learned and the people you have become did not happen only in Blair on a hill and below a cross on yet another hill. The parents and grandparents, the professionals and leaders of your communities or churches are part and parcel of what happened while you were moving from teen to adult. The connections you made and continue to make in the world are things that you can and do offer your own. The change I see in my students from when they first step foot on campus to those who are graduating in barely two more weeks is astonishing, and yet that is only the beginning. How they move forward in the world is something that I have some input into. That is both an honor and a responsibility. Again, as Dr. Rich noted in her address, we all have a “response-ability.” What is that response we can provide as Vikings, as members of a student body from a very small, but academically large, western Nebraska town? As I consider some of my classmates from the time I spent in Blair (1979-1983), I am foremost proud to be numbered among them. If allowed, I am proud and humbled by their accomplishments. The spirit lives on and while the throng we raise might not call Dana its home, it is in their heritage; it is in their D(a)NA. I offer this video of that song that still gives me chills and fills me with pride.

Thank you as always for reading,

Dr. Martin (aka: Michael)

 

El lado melancolía de la esperanza 

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Buenas Domingo Dias,

es un día al grado, pero ha sido una mañana y pensar que lo que me parece que gastar una gran cantidad de tiempo haciendo aquí últimamente. Recuerdo que uno de mis ex estudiantes señaló que tengo un lado melancólico a mi personalidad y de acuerdo con ella. Aquellos de ustedes que están siguiendo mi blog con alguna regularidad probablemente notará, al menos, que siempre me pregunto al tipo de ¿qué pasa si? tipo de pregunta. Todavía me pregunto cómo tengo esta sensación de tristeza, a pesar del hecho de que todavía estoy aparentemente contenido y agradable para la mayoría de la gente que conozco. De hecho, cuando Lydia me preguntaba cada mañana cómo estaba, me generalmente responder, ‘No tengo problemas. ‘ Ella respondía con su ceño fruncido típica y luego decirme que yo era demasiado amable o demasiado feliz. Sin embargo, no estoy seguro de si estoy del todo feliz. Me gusta la gente y me gusta ver y aprender de la gente, pero me parece que llegar nunca al lugar donde estoy relajada y totalmente satisfechos con dónde están las cosas. Casi siempre me siento que hay algo aún por hacer, o más exactamente, algo que debería estar haciendo. Creo que es esa sensación de no estar terminado o todavía necesitan hacer algo de manera más eficaz, más eficiente, más bien, que es mi más potente némesis. Me hubiera gustado que me podría encontrar ese lugar donde yo puedo decir, ‘Está bien. ‘ De nuevo, si has leído los blogs escritos anteriormente, usted sabrá de dónde viene esta enfermedad.

Creo que la consecuencia más importante de esta sensación de ‘debe hacer mejor’ es que yo no soy capaz de dejar ir o relajarse. Además, yo no celebro los éxitos de mi vida; No me tomo el tiempo para ser tan agradecidos por todo con la que he sido bendecido. Eso es triste, y yo lo saben (o yo no estaría escribiendo sobre ello), pero parecen incapaces de superarlo. Hay muy poco que realmente me abruma, ya sea positiva o negativamente. Eso también podría ser una consecuencia de esta necesidad de seguir luchando por la mejora, por algo mejor. Parece que hay un poco de diferencia de ‘verano de mi corazón descontento ‘en los últimos tiempos. Creo que es, en parte, el paso a una nueva década. He encontrado a mí mismo preguntándome qué si yo hubiera trabajado más temprano? ¿Qué pasa si yo tenía mi proverbial ‘mierda juntos’ antes? ¿Tendría todo resultó diferente? Esto no quiere decir, en manera o forma que no soy afortunado o agradecido. Más bien, se preguntaba si yo podría haber sido capaz de ayudar o hacer más. Una vez más, me doy cuenta de que eso significa que estoy haciendo la pregunta de ‘¿es siempre suficiente?’ La semana pasada fue una semana donde me sentí como si estuviera colgando de mis dedos y las uñas se inclinaban más de lo habitual. Incluso le dije a mi jefe de departamento que me sentí abrumado y es muy raro que tengo que admitir ese tipo de cosas, incluso si ocurren con más frecuencia que quisiera admitir.

Ayer hablé con un par por quien tengo el mayor aprecio. Han pasado por mucho para trabajar juntos (incluso conseguir juntos) como pareja. He aprendido más de la lucha que están teniendo con uno de los hijos. Me encontré a mí mismo diciendo cosas mucho más difícil en la medida como una respuesta a este joven de lo que hubiera creído. Yo estaba dispuesto a decir que tiene que salir de la casa si él no está dispuesto a hacer cualquier cosa para mejorarse a sí mismo. Creo que hay mucho que ha hecho de la historia antes difícil, pero no puedo cambiar el pasado. Sólo pueden hacer frente a la actual.Aprendí de nuevo cómo es posible que alguien que ha llegado al país de manera legal y trabaja duro para convertirse en parte de este tejido cultural que llamamos América es tratada como menos porque no son blancos. Es desalentador para mí. Es una de esas cosas en las que quiero levantar mi voz aún más de lo que tengo y decir ‘prestar atención! Todas las vidas son importantes. Sé que hay conversaciones sobre aspectos específicos y puedo apreciar los hashtags, pero en última instancia, cada vida tiene valor. Tenemos que entender eso. Necesitamos creer eso, y entonces tenemos que practicar eso.

Good Sunday Monring,

It is a day to grade, but it has been a morning to drive and think, which what I seem to be spending a great deal of time doing here lately. I am reminded that one of my former students noted that I have a melancholy side to my personality and I agreed with her. Those of you who are following my blog with any regularity will probably note, at the very least, that I am always wondering the sort of what if? sort of question. I still wonder how I have this sense of sadness, in spite of the fact that I am still seemingly content and pleasant to most people I meet. In fact, when Lydia would ask me every morning how I was, I would generally answer, “I have not problems.” I think it is that sense of never being finished or still needing to do something more effectively, more efficiently, more perfectly that is my most potent nemesis. I do wish that I could find that place where I can say, “It is okay.” Again, if you have read previously written blogs, you will know from where this malady comes.

I think the most significant consequence of this feeling of “must do better” is that I am not able to let go or relax. In addition, I do not celebrate the successes of my life; I do not take the time to be as thankful for all with which I have been blessed. That is sad, and I know this (or I would not be writing about it), but I seem incapable of overcoming it. There is very little that actually overwhelms me, either positively or negatively. That also might be a consequence of this need to keep striving for improvement, for something better. There seems to be a bit of difference to “summer of my hearts discontent” as of late. I think it is, in part, the move to a new decade. I have found myself wondering what if I had worked harder earlier? What if I had my proverbial “shit together” earlier? Would it have all turned out differently? This is not to say in way shape or form that I am not fortunate or grateful. Rather, it is wondering if I might have been able to help or do more. Again, I realize that means that I am asking the question of “is it ever enough?” This past week was a week where I felt like I was hanging on by my fingertips and the fingernails were bending more than usual. I even told my department chair that I felt overwhelmed and it is very seldom that I will admit such things, even if they happen more often that I care to admit.

Yesterday I spoke with a couple for whom I have the greatest appreciation. They have gone through so much to work together (to even get together) as a couple. I learned more of the struggle they are having with one of the sons. I found myself saying things much harder as far as a response to this young man than I would have believed. I was willing to say he needs to get out of the house if he is not willing to do anything to better himself. I think there is so much that has made the earlier story difficult, but one cannot change the past. They can only deal with the present. I learned again how it is that someone who has come to the country legally and works hard to become part of this cultural fabric we call America is treated as less than because they are not white. It is discouraging to me. It is one of those things where I want to raise my voice even more than I have and say “pay attention!” All lives matter. I know there are conversations about specifics and I can appreciate those hashtags, but ultimately, every life has value. We need to understand that. We need to believe that, and then we need to practice that.

Okay . . .  I am going to finish this post in English. I have worked hard on my writing and understanding of Spanish, but I need to do a lot work on my speaking and listening yet. I wish I was fluent. It takes practice and time, it is the time and the place I need to be where I am forced to work on it with no options but to learn. Again, I have come a long ways, but I want more. I want to be better. I am not satisfied. What does it take to be satisfied or content. I have noted this once before in a blog, but I find myself here again. I think that is probably why I am told regularly I might have the tightest shoulders and neck that anyone has ever seen. When I was in the Dominican Republic a little over a year (see a blog in August 2014 titled “Michael Jackson and Chocolate,” I think), the masseuse that worked on me said I should go to a massage therapist once a month or so. If I did that I might help myself, but the purpose of this blog is actually to consider the reason for the stress to begin with. I think the issue is simply that I cannot find a sense of contentment. I do believe contentment leads to comfort and relaxation, which can lead a person to being genuinely happy. I think it is the issue of being genuinely happy. There are many who pretend to be happy, but it is a facade. I would not say that what I do is a facade, and in fact, I try my best to be genuine. I think it is that I think too much. Yet, I am not sure that one can do that. Perhaps it is that I think too much about what I can do little, but wish I could do more. Might it be, by so doing, that I set myself up for disappointment, disillusionment, or worse? Sometimes this is what it seems, or definitely feels to be happening. I am realizing two things as I sit here and type. It was on this date in 1973 that I graduated from Marine Corps Boot Camp. It was also on this date, four years later that my hero, my Grandmother Louise, passed away. The graduation from boot camp was quite a thing for me because boot camp was difficult for me. There was certainly more than one time that I was not sure I would survive those 80+ days of training. I was not an amazing boot camp participant. I will say that I was pushed to my limit, but to be honest I survived, but there were times that “barely” would be the appropriate adjective. The day I received the call that my grandmother had passed away, I was devastated. She, as, once again, previously noted, taught me more about manners, about being a gentlemen, about love than any person I know, or have ever since met. Lydia would be the other person to be considered in the same sentence or thought process. These two women have done more for me and done more to shape me (there is also my adopted father, Harry Martin) than any other person. There are times I have cried in my life, and I would even admit that those times might only be rivaled by John Boehner, but I sobbed at my grandmother’s funeral. It might be the hardest I have ever cried in my life. To this day, it is hard to verbalize how much I loved her. She is one of the persons I hope might be proud of what I have accomplished.

I do wonder what those forbearers, those ancestors of mine might thing. Recently, I joined Ancestor.com, but I am not sure why or what I think I have learned. I need to spend more time, but then again, there is that word . . .  I need more time in everyday, but  I am quite sure I would not get more sleep. I have been sleeping more, and one of my more understanding or insightful friends have merely noted that it is something I need. However, I hate admitting that. . . .  I think I have either wandered or regressed. What is melancholy? I tell me students to not merely use the dictionary and put it into their paper and therefore I will not use that . . .  but the synonyms of pensive or lugubrious come to mind. For me, there is a reason, in spite of the fact that for many others it is not obvious. A year ago I was struggling to understand the concept of privilege and how that privilege created a chasm between me and someone for whom I had unparalleled appreciation. I have learned that sometimes you need to let people go and in the distance both learn. I think what I do is hang on to those I have lost and I mourn that loss more than most might realize. I realize that the normal changes in our lives create the reality of both loss and opportunity. Yet, I desire to hope. I think listening to Pope Francis this past week I have learned a great deal about the idea of hope, hope that is based on understanding, believing in the power of human dignity, and an unfathomable deep and abiding faith. I wish I might have been in a position to see him in person, even if it were from a distance. I think he is a Pope that I do want to see. It is a combination of his Jesuit background as well as his native Spanish that also intrigues me. It was fun this week to listen to some of his words and being able to understand some of the Spanish I was hearing.

Hope is something we all need as humans. We need to believe that there is a possibility of something better, but I think too often we are shattered by crush of our daily lives to see the future. It is interesting to me that we have more access to information and the ability to understand our world than ever before, but the consequence is we become overloaded, overwhelmed, and ultimately over stressed. Yet, hope is fundamental to our life. The couple of whom I was speaking earlier in the post and I had a conversation about this very thing yesterday. When people have no sense of hope their actions in the present are very different. They do not think or worry about the future because they see no sense or purpose in so doing. Therefore they fixate on the present and that becomes a selfish wanting in the here and now. I see this in many, but fortunately, I see something different in many of my students. Their hard work, their inquisitiveness, and their belief that what they are doing matters gives me hope. Perhaps there is hope for a future. Students today are much more open to diversity, to inclusiveness, and to accepting the other than my generation. Those things give this melancholy spirit something to hold on to, to believe in, to pin myself to something more than a pipe dream . . . thank goodness.

As always, thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin