Making Sense of Immigration as I feel like One

Buongiorno dal mio piccolo caffè mattutino ad Ascoli Piceno,

I am back for my morning cappuccino, shot of water, and croissant. It must have rained during the night or earlier this morning, as there were puddles all around and the stones were beyond a little slippery for this aging person. However, as I walked down the main thoroughfare from my little place and through the Piazza del Popolo, there was a clothing market set up. I can imagine a few people having a heyday browsing through this morning. In fact, I sent a picture and a note to let them know they were thought of.

It is about a day or so later and I am on the bus to the airport in Roma. I have been stunned by the beautiful as we travel laterally across this peninsula known as Italy. The number of tunnels as we make our way through the central mountains is staggering. The civil engineering needed to complete the passageway/highway had to be extraordinary. I am taking pictures as I ride the bus, but there are some relatively low clouds so it is impossible to see these mountains in all their grandeur at the moment. Currently I am in a tunnel that is over 10km in length or about 7.5 miles. While I can make much more sense of what I read, perhaps not as much of what I hear, I still work to use my manners and my greetings spoken in Italian. My Air BnB person told me I was both polite and kind. That means more to me than money. It is what a grandmother taught me as a pre-schooler. Manners and appropriate behavior were not demanded, but they were expected. That eventually became a self-expectation. The older I become the more it is ingrained in the fabric of my being. Those of you who know me know I have a smart-ass side to me, but if you know that, either you have had me as a professor or you know me quite well. As I write this, I am in the aeroporto in Roma. It will be a very long day by the time of get to Murcia, but I am excited to see Elena and meet there in her hometown.

I believe that Rome might have the cleanest, most accommodating airport I have ever been in. From the bathrooms, which were spotless and smelled pleasant (yes, truly did), to resting couches to free charging areas everywhere, it was the most enjoyable time I have spent in an airport, perhaps ever. I had an incredible meal, the most attentive service and an astonishing price for what I had. I think there are a number of airports who should take some lessons. As I traveled through the airport, I think, once again, I saw the most diversity in one place I have ever experienced. From Africa to the Middle East, from Northern Europeans to those from maybe Serbia or Montenegro, from Americans to Russians, I think there was a bit of it all . . . and the airport was efficient from baggage, through security, to boarding. Again, impressive beyond words. The thing I found most mind-boggling was the politeness of every person I met.

It is that diversity and politeness that is worth considering. As an American, we have long prided ourselves on being that beacon of diversity, of welcome, of opportunity. I grew up as someone proud of claim citizenship in one of the most beautiful, significant, and incredible democracies the world has ever known. Certainly, there was more of a veneer to what I saw than a child of the 60s realized, but nonetheless, the American dream with hard work and persistence was achievable. My parents certainly epitomized the example of wanting their children to succeed beyond what they had, and as blue collar people, they were successful. They bought a house and a bigger house in time. They were not ones to spend foolishly, but they did save for the rainy day, and, as I have noted, while I did not have everything I wanted growing up, I always had what I needed. My father worked overtime, sometimes from a distance, but always had a work ethic that I have grown to admire and now one I hopefully emulate. It is interesting for me to ponder what he might think of our present political situation. I know he would be incensed with the shutdown and hardworking people being thrown out of work. As staunch of a Democrat as he was, I am sure he would have some choice words for our current administration and even more so for our President. He would tell all in Washington to get their proverbial “caca” together. I know this, he would have no use for the arrogance, the bullying, and the lack of truthfulness that is currently rampant from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Over the past few weeks I have found myself also more incensed with the shutdown and the politics of Washington (that is a bipartisan statement). While I have honestly tried to give the President some benefit of the doubt, it becomes harder to do so daily. He had an agreement in both houses of Congress before the shutdown and he pulled the plug, backing out at the 11th hour. In a meeting with then Minority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader Pelosi, and yes, now Speaker, he arrogantly said he would take the mantle of the shutdown (I should note every time I have written this word, the first two or three times it typed out as “shitdown” – hmmmmmmm). Now he says it could be weeks months, or years, and walks out of a meeting in the last 24 hours because he is told no. There is money for extended and additional personnel and electronics. Even people in Texas, the longest-length border state, are not completely, supportive of this wall. The Republican Representative from Texas who had chaired Homeland Security is not supportive of the President’s actions. In the meanwhile, a person for whom I have the deepest respect (and his remarkable family whom I love) is unpaid because he is in the United States Coast Guard, which falls under Homeland Security rather than the DoD. Not fair. We are a country of immigrants, and yes, primarily legal ones. Studies, and there are numerous, but I am flying so I cannot access them, that illustrate that illegal immigration is actually down. Certainly the more robust work of ICE (which is another issue for another time) and border control has made a difference. Again, studies show that more illegal drugs come through actually ports of entry or tunnels, which a wall would not stop, so that argument the other night rings empty. Simply, we have a bully in the bully pulpit. We have a tantrum-throwing 72 year old toddler occupying the most powerful office on the globe.

What if we opened the entire government, with the exception of Homeland Security (sorry Nathan) as a first step. Then fund the Homeland Security Department for 90 days. There is a reprieve for all of TSA, the Coast Guard and whomever else the department affects (FBI, CIA). What if the Congress (both parties) work on an immigration compromise until they actually get it done, with the following caveat. They cannot pass any other legislation until that is accomplished. In other words, get it down, immigration, DACA, border control. All of it. If they do not come up with something in 90 days, I think that explains just how out of touch they all are. I actually feel badly for all the new members of Congress; they must feel like what the hell is this?

It is again another morning and I am in another country. My former student from over two decades ago, and now friend, Elena, was kind enough “to fetch” me from the airport at 11:30 at night and take me to my hotel in Murcia. I fell asleep relatively and got in reasonable time. Murcia is a metro area of a little more than 400,000 and we spent some time walking around the city center. One of the more fascinating parts of the day was visiting an archeological site discovered when they began to clear an area for a new parking ramp. In the process, they discovered a centuries, in fact almost a millennium old Muslim village, including a boarding house, two more aristocratic “mansions,” more simple dwellings, a cemetery, and a mosque. It is an active dig, so we were able to watch both experts from a company hired to manage the site along with archeological faculty and students from the Universidad de Murcia. They explained how they were determining issue of age of the remains by DNA testing, isotope testing and a number of other incredible things. I thought of Dr. David Fazzino back at Bloomsburg over and over and imagined him working here. We walked this tour with a group of professional tour guides so it was interesting all the things they heard to be able to lead others. Elena translated for me, but I was able to understand more than I expected.

The connection to immigrants here is the Moors or Arabic people occupied this area for a long time before the Christians had come southward, but the conquistadors and eventually Ferdinand and Isabella we’re determined to wipe the Muslim influence from the area. The significance of the Mosque they are unearthing is that it is probably the only mosque not destroyed and then to have a church built in its place. The significance of this Arabic culture is found throughout Murcia and it is astounding and beautiful. It reminds me of the beginning of movies like Robin Hood. Please do not judge me on that, but I am reminded of how little we know about the Arabic culture in American and what a terrible lack that is. Second, there have been terrible consequences for our lack of knowledge. We stereotype and believe things that are actually completely contrary to what Islam is all about. It brings up, however, another important concern.

The belief that Christianity could be the only true faith has a long history of atrocity, all implemented under the guise of faithfulness, using an incredibly arrogant interpretation of the great commission. Often immigrants themselves, they used the money and power of the church to socially or militarily conscript people into accepting the faith. Ironically, the means used were not all that in line with the greatest of all of the commandments. Perhaps a greater, and even more problematic “sin,” if I am be so blood, is the seeming evangelical take of the Christian Right today is much of the same: preach what serves your needs and ignore things that are glaring contradictions to a gospel that is supposedly good news. The Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie, the university chaplain and assistant professor of religious studies at Pacific University, claims this “blind support is theological malpractice.” I found a myriad of article that claim the inconsistency between belief and the President’s glaring moral turpitude is beyond stunning, and I agree. More importantly the idea of loving your neighbor is nowhere to be found. At some point, even within our own borders, we are immigrants. If I were to pick up and move lock, stock, and barrel to Montana, I would feel like a foreigner. If I were to move to Texas, even though I was born there, I would feel alien. If I begin a new job in a new place, simply because I wish for a better life, I would be the “newb” trying to fit in. I would be an immigrant. As I have noted before, and at the beginning of this blog, I am not against legal immigration. Let’s do the humane thing, let’s try to actually love the other. Let’s open ourselves to making democracy truly democratic and not merely for the rich. As I was reminded so poignantly a few years ago, I am privileged, but I do not own that privilege. As I have traveled and tried to speak, listen, and learn, I am reminded of how much of the world is more accepting and open than a country that was initially created as we conquered those there before us. We were a nation of immigrants hoping for something better. Our idealistic idea of pilgrims and Quakers is not as benign as we want to believe. Our present administration’s practice of implementing and creating a systematic hate or fear mongering of those (a great majority who are simple people) hoping to find safe haven in a country that has long been the beacon of opportunity and fairness is wrong and it is against my reading of the gospel. Kryie Eleison!! I remember when I first heard this song and Dr. Donald Harrisville Juel and I spoke about it so many times and listened to it together. I still miss you Dr. Juel.

Thank you as always for reading my thoughts, written as an American citizen, a professor, a traveler and former Lutheran pastor.

Dr. Martin

Living on Borrowed Time

Hello on a mid-to- late Saturday evening or night,

Today time was spent helping one of my surrogate children get a new puppy. Not surprisingly, it is the same surrogate that brought a kitten into the house a few summers ago. So in continual rain, the drive was made from the acre to Elmira, New York, a little over two hours, to pick up a little black cocker spaniel puppy. My first dog at my grandmother’s was a black cocker spaniel named Penny. Some of the earliest pictures I remember in my life were feeding that dog. I also remember that she was incredibly sweet and mild mannered.

The rain and early darkness made for a little stress on the drive and on the way home this little fluff ball both pooped all over Ashley; fortunately, I had thought to bring a couple towels. We were more than 20 minutes back on our little over 2 hour ride back when that traumatic event occurred. The next exit led to cleanup and a towel going over a railing into a ditch. About 40 minutes later the food eaten before we picked her up was also up and all over Ashely. This is not appreciated, and I pulled over to a gas station and bought tissues to manage the latest gastronomic mishap. However, puppy feel asleep after that and with the exception of fog, rain, and occasional high-beams, the remainder of the trip was rather uneventful. On the other hand, I struggled a bit with my own gastrointestinal issues, but nothing showers and washing machines could not manage. The second issue for about the last 36 hours has been the sugar level, but I upped my Metformin so hopefully that will assist. Three straight reading above 200 does not make me happy.

More importantly, I want to reflect on the report released by more than 10 government agencies about the issue of climate change. In spite of its release on the day after Thanksgiving, which has angered some people, I would like to believe it has, and hopefully will, cause a variety of people from every walk of life a sense of pause. Certainly, the terms of global warming, climate change, and such are ideographic in nature. I also know that some of you will ask what I mean by this. Ideographic terms are terms or phrases that have been tossed around, for better or worse, and now have a host of things, again both positive and negative, associated with them that when employed bring the entire gamut of thoughts, understandings, and most importantly, emotions with them. This is the most straightforward way I can explain such, but if you want to consider this more deeply, look up Michael McGee, one of the foremost scholars in this area. John Lucaites and Michelle Louise Condit are two more profound scholars in this area.

We are consumers and we want to believe our consumption is without consequence. It does not matter what it is, we want it now; we want convenience and we want to live our lives with the ability to be spontaneous . . . and we would rather not be bothered with any such requirement to consider the cost, at least generally not beyond the present amount that is from our wallets or purses, our checkbooks or our credit cards. The long-term is a different consideration and we generally prefer to not be bothered with the hypothetical as we want to call it. I am not sure we can call it hypothetical any longer. I am. Not sure how long we have honestly been beyond the hypothetical, but I am quite sure it is longer than most of us wish to admit. As I live far enough away from the coast, I do not think I have a great deal to worry about, but then I did not think where I lived on a hill high above the Susquehanna River that I would ever have to worry about water in my basement, but I have learned, in spite of the French drain, and the swale in my yard, the significant hill that goes up long beyond my back yard cannot manage all the water the clay-based soil collects when we have more than 13 inches of rain in a few days. Or then after saturated soils, anymore water will just roll down the hill, and that is where I am. What I know is the water table seems to be higher than one might have thought. In addition, this is not the first time we have had such rain in the last decade. I did not live here during the previous down pour and saturation, but I did live in Bloomsburg. From a distance, (and the distance being closer than I might realize) I have witnessed two devastating floods in the Baltimore area where people have lost their lives. What has happened in California in the last decade is unprecedented, and, again, I have know people who live in those areas. In the latest and most tragic fire in terms of loss of life, I have colleagues who teach at the University of California-Chico as well as a very special person I was blessed to meet the summer I was in the wineries in the Placerville area. I was in the Battery Park area of NYC following SuperStorm Sandy, as it was called. I know people in the Dominican Republic who have had to worry about the hurricanes that have been stronger and more frequent in the past few years. If you think carefully about the list of events here, there is really no place in the country that has not felt some greater degree of Mother Nature’s wrath in the not-so-distant past.

While I am aware that everyone on either side of the aisle has something that state in this argument or discussion, there seems to be a bit of a Pascalian wager at work here. Again, if you are not sure what I am positing here, it is worth looking up. Pascal was a 17th century French mathematician (Oh those mathematicians, Dr. Kahn!!). What I am implying here is that what if the newest report is the most dire of consequences? Does that mean there are no consequences for what we do? Daily life should tell us that sort of belief process is seriously flawed. What are the consequences? How can we determine without doubt what might happen. Certainly our ability to extrapolate, which is what we do to some degree with our daily weather reports should provide us some degree of understanding, and by extension concern. I am beyond frustration with a leader who is content with the response, “maybe he did; maybe he didn’t.” May we are responsible; maybe not. What sort of imbecile is content to kick every important can down the road for the next person to manage. This sort of logic (or lack thereof) is akin to if I do not get caught then I am not wrong. Perhaps we need to send a really large Shop Vac to Washington, D.C., and much like raking the forest or having a King Kong sized Roomba, we need to empty out the White House and suck up all the dust and trash that seems to be accumulating. I know that is strong language, and to some extent, I apologize, but the logical process coming out the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue will have consequences that I believe are beyond catastrophic. I remember Lydia saying regularly, “Michael, it will be a catastrophe.” Ironically, she said this most about the weather. I wonder what she would say about some of this. It is interesting that she was a strong, economic conservative when it came to monetary policy, and she was proud of her Republican registration. On the other hand, she believed strongly in the protection of the environment and was not afraid to speak out strongly about that. It makes me smile when I think about putting the “I voted Obama” sticker on her back in 2008, without her knowledge. She chased me around the yard. But I digress, The Art of the Deal seems to be anything but. I have read the book, but I found it boastful and full of hyperbole (imagine that). I have done some follow up concerning the significance of the book and what I find interesting is the co-author, which is really the author by most accounts, has given some of the royalties he has received to the National Immigration Law Center. How ironic, again!

The point is quite simple: whether or not you buy into all the conversation about climate change, when all the significant countries of the world, save one, have signed on the Paris Climate Agreement, when the great majority of science demonstrates there is a change in temperature, ocean levels, the depletion of the Arctic ice cap, and other measurable issues; when carbon emissions have been shown to be a problem in terms of greenhouse gases, why would it not be reasonable to respond in a manner that would create at the very least a slowdown of this incredibly serious problem? This is what has been on the radar of people since the 1960s. Certainly there has been fits and starts, but the Paris Climate agreement, after America bailed on the Kyoto Protocol, was something certainly be an important part of. Certainly, I am sure that not every part of it is palatable, but we have a responsibility as one of the most economically prosperous and largest consumers of energy on the planet to do something of substance. To pull out of that agreement as one of the most powerful and industrialized countries is beyond embarrassing, it is unconscionable. This is where I find what Congress has done also beyond comprehension. The Republican Party has fallen lockstep behind this sort of ridiculousness. Again, before you think I buy into everything, I do not, but to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater does not usually work. One only need to look to the French Revolution, as I noted in a recent blog. I believe we are in for our own Reign of Terror with what is happening in the executive branch of our government.

Again, I do not say these things haphazardly or lightly. In fact, it pains me to say this, but let me offer some other points that I believe take the very fabric of who we are and throw them into question. First, for the President to try to politicize the military is fundamentally against what our military has been back to the revolution. The military is for national protection; it should not be employed for the President to use to merely carry out his political agenda. That is what dictators do. I know some will question that, and probably with validity, but to try to speak with the military in a phone call and use them for political purposes in that conversation is wrong. I believe the tear gas that was used over the weekend on people seeking asylum is also beyond what I ever hoped I would see our government do. To allow military force at the border is a sort of martial law, in my opinion that is both dangerous and unnecessary. It does, however, fall in line with question both the Justice Department or the Intelligence Agencies when they do not give someone the information they want. It is in line when you call out the judiciary and get a response of the SCOTUS Chief Justice that supports the federal judiciary. Again, the reason I raise these issues is there is a pattern that seems to be occurring that fundamentally undermines how our democracy works. Once you lose democratic values and principles, what do you have? Franklin Roosevelt, the President elected four times, but who said that should never happen again, noted, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” So many of my students note they do not really like politics or they do not know enough to vote. While I was pleased to see the percentage of 18-25 year olds voting go up by double digits this a few weeks ago, I can appreciate their opinion about not liking politics. They have good reason to not like the way we are managing our political house at this time. The lack of decorum, civility, and self-centered manner in which many of our elected leaders acted should not be appreciated. In terms of the second point, not knowing enough is not acceptable. It is our responsibility to know what is happening. This is what Roosevelt is referring to in his note about the importance of elections.

While there is certainly more I could write, but I think it is enough for the moment. What I know is I believe we are on borrowed time, and that make the time we have precious. To squander it is arrogant, selfish and stupid. To not prepare and change is to play Russian roulette with one empty chamber instead of one bullet. I do not like those odds. I will leave you with this as we head into this season of Advent, this season of preparation. I think we need to consider what it is we might want to prepare for.

Thank you as always for reading.

Michael

Walking in the Other’s Shoes

70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e82-70e349a3df0c42efbd7e47ce883a8e8Good early evening from my office,

It is always interesting to see how people respond to the plight of their fellow humans. How is it we can be both the most caring, empathetic of all creation, and simultaneously the most cruel and ruthless? How is it we can teach our children how to respect, act graciously, and use their manners and as adults exhibit precisely the opposite? I remember the infamous parental phrase growing up: “Do what I say and not as I do.” As if that oxymoronic sentence made up for the contradictions that screamed out loud to our wondering eyes and ears. That saying, it seems to me, has come back to roost. Did we really believe that those who watched us would not learn more from our actions than our words? Did we believe that the habits we exhibited would not stick with our sons and daughters, our nephews and nieces, our granddaughters and grandsons more profoundly that any platitude we might have uttered? I am quite sure if any of us were to think more carefully or critically, to analyze more thoroughly or completely, we would come to the conclusion that the infamous cliché of actions speaking louder than words would be there as the third ghost in The Christmas Carol pointing out the error of our ways and perhaps offering one last chance to atone for our failings.

Of course, it is easy for me to lay out such a dictum when I have never been a parent. It is easy for me to look at the students in my classes and see the good people they are, but often how woefully under-prepared they are to do college level work as I read their blogs, intros or other assignments. I see their eyes and their furrowed brows and I feel their fear of possible failure and certain struggle more than they might know. One of my students asked thoughtfully and honestly today how was it that I managed the course load I did as an undergraduate student, managed the other things I was involved in, and somehow managed to graduate pretty successfully? It was a fair and important question. My answer was also honest and simple. I had failed the first time. I got sent home and I was embarrassed. When I went back to college I was scared. Plainly put, I was not sure I could actually do it. I had never pushed myself in high school and in the service when I did well, people were amazed and actually thought I had cheated because nothing in my academic record implied I was capable of anything beyond what was deemed average. I remember once being put in the corner and screamed at and told I was stupid, only to find out I had a 100% average in a Communication and Electronics (Field Radio Operator School) course. I was petrified. I would note that I did not end up with a 100%, but I did do exceptionally well.

Again, please do not put me up on some sort of pedestal for what I have noted in the last couple blogs; please do not hold me up as some paragon of goodness, for I am anything but. I am simply a person who has learned from his mistakes. I am a person who has realized painfully how what he has done at times has hurt or created difficulty for others. For those things, I am often ashamed and struggle with the guilt dealing with the proverbial error of my ways. As I have often noted in my blog, somehow it seemed to take me longer to grow into what or where I should have been for my age. There are probably more reasons for that than I am able to figure out, but at this point, I know only a couple of things. I try to do the best I can at most anything I attempt, and second, when I fail, I do not blame someone else. The consequence of that, I believe, is that I try to be more gracious with where I find the other than I might have been at some time earlier in my life.

Graciousness, forgiveness, and empathy are perhaps three things that seem to be sorely lacking in our society at the present time. It is always interesting to listen to both sides of an argument, and there have certainly been both sides of the current Supreme Court situation spoken about on campus over the past few weeks. I would note this first. While I have my viewpoint, and certainly some of my students know what that is, I try carefully and intentionally to respect their view point also. I understand the power dynamic of a classroom, but college is where people should be allowed to speak their mind and figure out both what they think as well as why they think it. I understand well, having grown up in Iowa, attending school at a small Lutheran liberal arts college in Nebraska, the more conservative viewpoint on things. I grew up where hard work and “keeping your nose clean” was not merely a saying, but it was expected. I grew up with a father, who might be honestly more liberal than I am. I am certainly more conservative than my sister (who was a biological sister) was. At this point, I know why I believe what I do. Some of it is because of my upbringing; some of it is because of my education and personal experience, but all of it is because I read, I ponder, and I think. I do not simply accept the latest sound byte that is trending, and I can be persuaded to consider something different. Why? Because I do not know everything, and I do not see all the angles of something. What frustrates me is not a difference of opinion, or even an argument over a position. What frustrates me is when someone is not willing to speak about an issue in a civil manner. What hurts me is when someone I respect is not willing to return that respect. What does it mean to be gracious? It has to do with compassion and mercy. These are not merely nouns, they are verbs. How do you comport yourself? How are you able to act when you are accused of something or questioned? How are you able to respond to the needs of another? Compassion and mercy are something that only we as humans seem capable of understanding, and not only what the words mean or how to employ them, but the consequences when we fail to do so. Forgiveness might be the most powerful thing we have in our relationships with our fellow human beings. What does it mean to forgive, and not only in a religious sense of the word, but in a community building, societal managing, interpersonal understanding from one to another? How doe it feel to say “I am sorry” to another and not receive some sort of forgiveness or absolution for the failure we have confessed, so to speak? I do not believe we can be merciful or forgiving without empathy. Empathy has to do with tenderness; it has something to do with our ability or capacity to imagine ourselves in the other person’s position or situation.

It seems to be we are severely lacking in all three of these things in terms of how we treat others in our country and the world at the present time. We have become predominately selfish. Some will say I have worked for everything I have and I should not have to share, but that is not what we were taught even as children. Before you want to run down some anti-socialist rabbit hole: stop. That is not what I am trying to argue. What I mean is the opposite of being merciful or compassionate; it is being unwilling to imagine the plight of the other. To care only about ourselves. That is selfish, and the consequence is division. Compassion is to have some empathy for the struggle of the person next to us, but that does not mean the other has no accountability. Yet, what is a reasonable expectation, and can we give care to the other versus only taking care of the other? The second thing we have become is fearful, and fear is often followed, and quickly I might add, by anger. The fear we have come to demonstrate of the other is palpable. It is unmistakable to such a degree that we have gone down a different rabbit hole, if you will. The recoil of the United States, Great Britain, and a number of other European Union countries should create serious alarm. While that is the case for some, the anti-globalism that President Trump espoused at the United Nations last week should disquiet us. It should serve as a tocsin for us, but too many see it as a positive thing. There is a lot more reason for us to work together as a world order than to turn our backs, but that does not seem to be where we are.

Most of us are not in the one-percent (hence the one-percent), and acting  as we often do creates division, dissension, and conflict. We want to believe we are so important or better than the other, but are we? Yet, we do not see the consequence of this. If we are divided and unwilling to work together, the one-percent keep their power and their money and we are given what is left over, and that is not nearly enough for the 99%. Think about it (and that is precisely what the one-percent does not want to happen). If we are so busy fighting among ourselves, we have no chance of changing what is problematic. We will continue to lose the middle class; we will fight to somehow manage the spoils, and spoiled and rotten they are. Most of us will never walk in the one-percenter’s shoes. Nor do I want to do so. I would be much more content to have a country that cares, a country that leads by an example of goodness and charity. I would much rather somehow help someone a bit less fortunate to become more fortunate. I would rather see the smile on their face and feel the warmth in my own heart. Some things can only change if we are willing to do the heavy lifting and commit ourselves to creating a more just and thoughtful world. In spite of the present situation in our government, perhaps we can make small differences in our own spaces. My former graduate department chair referred to them as small potent gestures. Perhaps that gesture needs to be more than flipping off the person with whom we have a disagreement or a struggle. Perhaps the gesture is to walk both metaphorically and literally down the street with each other shoes one (and if they do not fit, perhaps the pain of that is what you need to realize. I am reminded again of the Phil Collins song about paradise. The world seems to be anything but. However, maybe we can create a small sense of it by our graciousness, our forgiveness, our empathy. I would like to also to say thank you for your incredible kindnesses in response to my last posting.

Thank you as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

An Amazing Dèjá vue

Hello from the porch of the Highlights Foundation Barn and Lodge,

Earlier this afternoon I was honored to attend and witness the marriage of a former student to her love and the beginning of their lives as formally known as husband and wife. It is amazing how differently I look at the events from periods in my life that are long past. Amazing how I felt, in some way, like my own child was coming down that aisle in the Catholic Church this afternoon. Amazing how I was not that interested in how all the other people looked or who was there, in part because I know only a couple people from either the bride’s or the groom’s families, though I expect more of them have heard of me. Not because I am famous or amazing, but because a young freshman student in a writing class allowed me some sort of entreé into her life beyond merely being a student in class. It is always beyond our immediate comprehension how people might enter or (for that matter) leave our lives. Mariah, in spite of being a business, and ultimately supply chain management, student, her work in the writing center and her work in the then named Living and Learning Community (LLC) offered continual opportunities for our lives to cross paths more extensively. Phone calls on more road trips than either can count, dinners with small groups, conference photos being sent from southern beaches and a motorcycle ride on Harleys with her father allowed Mariah to become more than merely someone in a class. That is one of the richest blessings that can happen for us as professors and mentors. So to be here this day is both joyous and humbling.

The Catholic Church in Honesdale exhibited both traditional Roman iconography, but also illustrated, as I examined the sanctuary, a strong Irish presence. Almost every stained glass window was a memorial to someone with an Irish name. The statuary in the chancel and the stations of the cross were appropriately somber and neo-classical and the painting of the apostles in the upper reaches of the nave were also impressive. As the service began and Mariah entered the sanctuary with her father, she was even more radiant and beautiful than I could have imagined, and that is saying something. The sparkle in her eyes and the radiance of her smile would have brightened the entire church without a single luminary needed. The conversation as a musical number based on 1 Corinthians 13 was sung actual added the Mariah-touch I expected to manifest itself somewhere. Her being completely silent and not adding commentary (if only between the two of them) and beaming that astounding smile would have been miraculous, but also sad, and certainly not appropriate as there was no reason for sadness.

As I write this, the sun is shining, there is a nice fall breeze, and sitting outside the venue waiting for others to arrive is calming and enjoyable. I will admit knowing so few is a bit uncomfortable, but I will manage. There was an option to stay here for the evening and I have chosen to do so. I am hoping to get some work done, and I often accomplish more when I go hide away. . . . it is about 5 hours later and the meal and the people I was sitting with were so wonderful. I am about 75 yards from the barn and the party is cranking up . . . it is sort of fun to listen to them as I sit in my little cabin and do some work. It is barely 8:00 p.m. and I am actually pretty tired. I am seriously considering taking my evening meds and going to sleep. I think I would probably be asleep in less than 15 minutes. It was really quite the wonderful day. The weather was fall like, but the sun and the breeze were just cool enough to let you know there was a season change, and with the sun and the protection of the trees, it was more than pleasant. The day has been a wonderful 12+ hours of conversations with friends and colleagues at the @APSCUFLA and then a drive from Harrisburg to Bloomsburg, a quick stop, where I saw a glimpse of another former student who stayed last night even though I was not there. Unfortunately, and quite sadly, I did not have time to wait for them to get up, and had to leave for the wedding. The drive to the northern tier of counties in Pennsylvania was quite nice. There are a hint of colors beginning, but I am afraid all the precipitation we have had might mute the fall splendor. However, as noted above, the wedding was very nice. Simple and somewhat expected in terms of scripture and music, but I say that as a former pastor and one who has been in more weddings in my life than I probably have fingers and toes . The move toward barn receptions (I think this is the third one I have come to) is really quite wonderful. I was also at a barn dinner for the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble about two weeks ago. Barns are such amazing structures, and even if they are new, in a relative sort of way, there is this feeling of bygone times, of history and events that made people who they are and they were the thing that keep families together. I am reminded my visiting my Uncle Melvin’s and Aunt Helen’s farm in Southeastern South Dakota. I remember going their once with a friend and loving walking around the farm with her. It is one of my favorite memories.

At this point you might wonder what the dèjá vue part of this blog is. Well, it is quite amazing. On an October day in 1991 I was driving from Lehighton, Pennsylvania to outside of Pittsburgh to participate in a Catholic wedding for a family friend, and as I drove across the state on a Friday, I listened with almost complete attention to National Public Radio and the Senate Judicial hearing with Dr. Anita Hill and then nominee for SCOTUS, Judge Clarence Thomas. Thursday and Friday of this week, I listened to almost the entire day’s hearing between the same committee, with some of the same members, and Christine Blasey Ford and the latest nominee to be accused once again of sexual improprieties (and I use this term with a complete tongue-in-cheek manner for a reason, which I hope will become clear), Brett Kavanaugh. What pushes the repeating nature of this is again, I am at a wedding in a Catholic Church that I had to drive to, and once again, I am in Pennsylvania. The numerous parallels are striking, and astoundingly, so are the responses of the Senate, the country, and what is being debated. Certainly, it was the Senator from Pennsylvania, the late Arlen Specter, who eviscerated Ms. Hill. This time, the Republicans ran for cover when it came to questioning Dr. Ford, but did their level best to poke holes in what she had alleged happened to her. My sister-in-law and I, it seems fall on the diametrically opposite sides of this debate as I found out in a FB post earlier this evening, but I think what I find most perplexing about this current debate can be spelled out in three points.

  1. First, the fact that Dr. Ford had spoken about the attack years ago, but chose to keep his name confidential demonstrates some class on her part. The fact that she spoke on more than once occasion in the past that her attacker was a high-powered judge, who might be elevated to the Supreme Court cannot be ignored, and finally, the fact that she came forward only after being “outted,” by whomever it was, again, illustrates that she preferred to allow it to be investigated behind close doors versus what has happened. Again, there are a number of things to be considered here, but I am merely noting this as a general point. Finally, I think her testimony was calm though emotional, respectful and questioning only when she was unsure of something, and finally, done in a way that did not seem to try to overplay anything, but try to be truthful and honest. Again, I could argue a number of things rhetorically, but will not.
  2. Second, I did not see the initial part of Judge Kavanaugh’ s response, and had only watched clips, but before writing this, listened to his entire statement. What I hear is a classic version of “he said/she said.” Again, stepping back a moment, who has something to lose in all of this. Dr. Ford gains nothing by coming forward, but notes she felt it was a civil duty. She, I think, would not claim she has won anything by doing this. In fact, the denouement has required her family to move from their house and now have security guards, and that was before she testified. She will forever be a footnote in the history books regarding the confirmation, or lack thereof, of Judge Kavanaugh. On the other hand, what does he have to lose? A great deal, and I do understand he has lost a great deal already. Should the now ordered FBI investigation shed light on the more than one assault of which he has been accused in a way that deems their allegations credible, he will not be confirmed and I would imagine there could be additional consequences. One of my colleagues, who has a JD, noted that Maryland has no statute of limitation on sexual assault. If Dr. Ford was 15 years old, I would imagine there are other possible complexities. Simply put, I do believe Judge Kavanaugh could lose much more than he already has. So would it be more possible for him to feel the necessity of hiding something? No brainer. Yet, there is, for me, a much more difficult issue in his response, and it is not his denial. It is the tone and the language he used to deny. His anger, his vitriol and the partisan accusations that go back 20+ years were a bit over the top. Can I understand his frustration, probably not to the degree I should, but regardless, the demeanor he exhibited in the hearing was completely unprofessional and as much below what I believe someone serving on the Supreme Court. Of course,  I feel much the same about the the unprofessionalism and ridicule that often comes from the person who nominated him. So much more that could be said, but I will not.
  3. Third, and this is the most troubling point for me of the three. What we have witnessed in our United States Congress is also below what anyone should believe appropriate or be willing to accept from our elected leaders. I have no problem with spirited debate. I have no problem with disagreement; and finally, I have no problem with questioning the positions and ideologies of the opposition, but the manner in which it has been done over the last three decades needs to stop. For the Republicans to keep Judge Garland from even getting a hearing and then arguing a week longer to investigate when there is a serious character concern is more than disingenuous. It is unconscionable. For Lindsey Graham, for whom I have some very strong appreciation, to act as he did the other day is embarrassing. What has happened to the nomination and confirmation process of the Supreme Court will have long-term consequences that will probably last longer than I might be alive. To have so little civility or decorum among our elected leaders from the very top down only serves to tell our citizens there is no need to be civil or reasonable in their own lives. Again, common sense says something very different, but I fear for where we are headed.

The repeat of history I have experienced over the past few days does not create any sense of comfort or hope for our collective good will. Regardless of what happens with this FBI investigation, the damage done to the Congress and the Supreme Court is already being felt. If we fail to listen to yet another female, who is brave enough to come forward with nothing to gain and most everything to lose, we set back some of the progress that has been made. Yet, I do not believe we live in that same world that Professor Hill had to navigate as I was making my way across Pennsylvania almost 27 years ago to the day. We are in the different place, but we have a long ways to go. It is not easy to come out of the shadows of sexual assault. It might be even more difficult when you are a male. If you have gotten to this point of my post, I will ask you to be seated.

When I was still eighteen or maybe barely nineteen, I was stationed at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station. I was younger than many in my Battery, and certainly smaller. I also did not know how to drink and had minimal tolerance. The beginning of one weekend I came back to the barracks and I was more than intoxicated. I was flat out drunk. I had gotten into the shower to clean up and then go to bed. I was naked as I walked back to my bed and at one point needed to be directed toward my rack. I crawled into bed and was about 90% passed out. That is when another Marine, a Corporal, who had been selected as the Marine of the Base for his outstanding work and character, showed up by my bed. He pulled my arm up behind my back and told me if I did not get up and dressed and come with him, he would break my arm. He was both bigger and stronger, and I was not sober. I did as told and he took me out the back steps and we ended up in his car and then down by the beach across base. At that point, he forced me to perform oral sex on him and he anally raped me. He told me if I told anyone he would kill me. This happened on one or two other occasions and I worked hard to make sure I was never alone again for months. Did I think about telling someone? Yes, but he was an awarded Marine across the base, and I was not nearly as amazing. I was also new. I said nothing, but tried to figure out how to protect myself. As noted, it did happen at least one more time and perhaps a second. I am honestly not sure. Up to this point, there are only three people who have ever heard this story. Now many more will. Do I remember everything that happened? I do not. Even when I was not intoxicated. I remember being fearful; I remember being humiliated; I remember feeling shame and rage, but also feeling helpless to do anything. This happened in 1974 during the summer, but I could not tell you a specific date or time. I could tell you the person’s name because it is burned into my memory, but I choose not to do so. I could tell you I believe he was from around Chicago, but I am not 100% sure of that.

Some of you will be shocked by this revelation. The few of you who know might be shocked that I have actually admitted this in my blog, but there is a certain sense of freedom in finally saying this happened to me. Did it have consequences? Of course it did. Do I know what all of those consequences were or are? Probably not. I remember when I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, I was asked if I had ever had sex with a male (this was in the early days of understanding AIDs). I did not understand the question, but I lied at the time because I was embarrassed. I could certainly say I did not have sex with a male willingly. Since then, I have been tested more than once for general reasons, and fortunately there was no such consequence of that assault. I have also learned to forgive and move on, but this admission allows that moving on to be a bit more complete. Do not feel sorry for me as I am okay, but there is so much more to our lives than people often know.

In spite of all you have read here, I am blessed to be here and alive. I am blessed to be at the wedding of my former student, Mariah. I am blessed in so many ways. I hope we might find a way to come together as a country regardless of what happens this next week and put the good of the country before our own partisanship and difficulties. I hope we can move forward and treat each person with the civility and respect they deserve. I hope we can find the good in the other rather than work to see what we can pick on and tear down so that all that is left is a shell of a human. I think on that note, I will lay my head down to sleep and pray for a better country tomorrow. What I know for the day is it has been a wonderful one to be allowed to share in the lives of so many.

Thank you as always for reading,

#MeToo,

Michael

The Truth and Tragedy about Racism

Hello from back in PA,

As I spent the evening trying to catch up on the unending stream of craziness that seems to dominate the world, but what we call news, the irony of the day was as Starbucks closed its doors for a corporate training on what they euphemistically called implicit bias training while one of the top rated shows this season, the reboot of Rosanne was summarily canceled for a rather explicit bias and seemingly-untrainable tweet about Valerie Jarrett by Rosanne Barr herself. Earlier this evening I read a really thought provoking and painfully truth piece by Joy-Ann Reid, a political analyst, who today wrote, “Being black means constantly rendering yourself unthreatening to white people. [and she also states,] “To be white in America is to assume ownership of public spaces. To be black is to live under constant threat of removal” (NBC Think 29May18). Both of these statements will offend some; they will resonate with others; but regardless of how you respond, it is probably most important to search in your heart for the truth contained in them. As a 60-something while Anglo-Saxon Protestant male, there have been times where I wanted to argue the infamous reverse-discrimination card, but about four years ago, I wrote a blog about being confronted by a student and significant person about my privileged status. I remember feeling offended because I had worked hard to achieve what I had. I argued that no one gave me anything. Yes, while I had received help along the way, working as a GTI, managing a restaurant, and being a full-time doctoral student was no picnic and so I was not willing to be labeled as privileged. Certainly, I have received more help than some, but at least through school, I merely worked.

Now four years later, in a country where division and disrespect seems to be the rule rather than the exception, we have elected a President who seems to show little respect for anyone, anything, at anytime, and his election seems to be a direct consequence of the fact we had a black President preceding him. I also believe, in part, it was because the Democratic candidate was both female and named Hillary Clinton. I also believe those are all separate issues. President Trump’s remarks at Arlington National Cemetery were both discouraging and disgraceful. As I ponder the place we seem to stand as a society, as the melting pot created from the Grand Experiment, I am not sure I can give the founders of this country much credit for establishing a society where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness included all people. Without a doubt, Abraham Lincoln stood tall, literally and figuratively, in an attempt to create a more equitable country with both the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, but until the quest of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Legislation of the 1960s, there was not concerted effort to really accept the true racism of separate, but equal doctrine that was a fundamental element of our mid-20th Century America. I believe I was as naive as the next who somehow believed the election of Barack Obama signaled we have turned a corner for real. Finally, as a country, I thought we realized the racial inequality that held our country in our own collective stocks and put our democracy up for sale to the highest bidder. When President Obama used his office to ask us to thoughtfully reflect on the killing of Trayvon Martin in February of 2012, I again hoped his being a Black President might help us see the difficulty of what young black, Hispanic, Asian, or other non-white males endure daily. Unfortunately , after some initial reflection, it seems it accomplished little, or I might even go as far as to say it was probably counter-productive. I would add this was little fault of the President, but rather because we have such an untruthful and chicken-shit racist underbelly to our country that few are willing to honestly and thoughtfully call to task.

I have stated this before, but I think I write it with more emotion than I have in the past. If you see someone who looks, acts, speaks, worships, or loves differently than you and that is how you first view them, or you consider that to be the most distinguishable quality about them, you are mostly likely acting in a discriminatory manner. The person who can honestly say in their heart they do not notice or even consider the difference is a rare individual. For the great majority of us, we are more likely to be that implicit racially biased person, and that is if we are lucky. The present atmosphere in the country, where disagreement makes the other the enemy, means most of us have probably moved beyond the implicit to the explicit. When we hear about daily incidences of rancor, disrespect, and downright hatefulness from the White House to the neighbor, can there be any surprise that corporations are requiring an entire workforce to receive training about their innate (but actually taught) prejudices or a company that is part of the Magic Kingdom of Disney cancels one of its two most popular shows. What does it say when one of the most popular sit-com people of a generation can refer to the senior advisor of a President as the cross between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Planet of the Apes? Not only has what she tweeted reprehensible, the fact that such stereotypes are still promulgated is tragic beyond compare. It is those very stereotypes, the jokes, the whispered humor (which is anything but) that we allow to go unchallenged that keeps such bigotry alive. It is the stares seared into the psyche of our minority students in the small Pennsylvania town or warnings given when the monster truck show comes to the fairgrounds admonishing our black or biracial students to not be alone on the street that illustrates how pathetic our thoughts, words, or actions can be. It is when a avowed Nazi can run for Congress unopposed in Illinois, ironically both the Land of Lincoln and Obama, that should cause us pause as ask, what the hell are we thinking? . . .

It is now 24 hours since I was writing here and pretty well every news source has pontificated on the situation. SHS, who boggles me beyond compare, went on her own rant of why other forms of racism have not been called out to the same degree. I guess the positive is they did not support the egregious comments, but, as usual, deflected to argue something else was as terrible. I am continually stunned by the rhetorical strategy of the White House. Some will argue there is no strategy, but I will disagree. It is like being consistently inconsistent. The President calls our values, morals, and standards into question daily through his seemingly off-the-cuff tweets. Make no mistake, his questioning of all standards, standards which generally support a status quo as well as offering support for some sense of equality and justice, allows some of those who have been supposedly marginalized by this same status quo to believe a President listens to them and speaks their language. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The scripture of notes even the dogs get the scraps from the master’s table comes to mind. . . . Another day and another version of America or the global community doing a collective smh. If you do not know this acronym, which I did not until perhaps a year ago, it means shaking my head. The unprofessional or completely void of decorum comments about an ally or Prime Minister of our closest ally as well as showing up late (twice) as well as leaving early from something that affects every citizen in our country. Issues of trade, cooperation, national security, and most everything that requires international give-and-take seems to have been ignored by our President. Where is the line between “America First,” the established Trump Doctrine, and America as a global leader? Between withdrawing from international agreements and the suggesting the re-inclusion of Russia in the G-7+1, what has the President actually done? The global order is changing, and the move to globalization itself has created an interesting backlash. This is also an interesting sort of discrimination. The global identity has often been those who have (the United States, Canada, the EU, and, yes, Russia) and those who do not (third world countries-most of Africa or Latin America, still developing countries from the former Central or Eastern Europe, and other geopolitical places left behind for whatever reason), but that might not be the most significant malevolent consequence of globalization, nor the most complex.

What about a disappearing middle class in the haves and a much less likely possibility for those in the countries of the have nots? I believe many citizens in a number of countries of the EU or in parts of the United States have joined the bandwagon of the rising nationalism because they believe nationalistic philosophy somehow gives them voice. While there might be some truth to this, I do not believe in the long run, nationalism serves any one country. Furthermore, when nationalism becomes the rule rather than the exception, those who have power will have more power and the ideal of democracy becomes more difficult to maintain. While Hitler was elected as chancellor in 1933, his consolidation of power and what he did from 1933 until the outbreak of WWII upon his invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 is well documented. Perhaps it is time many read. When power is consolidated, those on the outside become powerless. When countries are so busy working to protect themselves, everyone else becomes the other. Certainly what has been demonstrated lately is being the other is not a good place or position to hold. It still stuns me that the number of Latinos/as, blacks, LGBTQA, Muslim, dis/abled individuals, (and there are people in each of these groups) still believe that the policies put in place recently will not hurt them, from trade, to tariffs, to taxes.

Issues like the #MeToo movement,the #BlackLivesMatter , the #OscarsSoWhite, #RapeCulture, or #NationalAnthem all  demonstrate that we are on a verge of a very substantial paradigm shift, but to where are we shifting? What is positive in the conversation and what is not? This is part of the struggle. There is so much more that we need to ponder and understand. From where did some of the actions, the attitudes, and the practices we now find so abhorrent originate. I listen to a number of veterans most mornings. They are a good group of people, but I am quite sure that I am the only person who did not vote for our current President in that table of 10 or 15 people. Some of the things said will shock me from time to time, but what I realize more and more is that I am pretty liberal in a very conservative area. I am not liberal in my own practices, but more so in my attitudes. What I know is while I might not agree with them, I still respect them and their opinions. I can see beyond some of the differences, and I can still sit and even disagree at times. Most of my disagreements are posed and what about another possibility. I believe we have lost the ability to speak about the other whether it has to do with race, politics, religion, socio-economic class, education, ethnicity or any other thing that might create a difference. Rather than seeing difference as an opportunity for growth, our nationalistic, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, or any other ism that elevates difference, we see the other as the enemy, something to discount, disavow, disrespect, discharge, and, somehow hope they will disappear. The resulting fragmentation of who we are as people is certainly not what I believe our heritage has been most held up to be. The words on the statue of Lady Liberty seem to have been ignored. The problem is very basic in understanding what it is, but incredibly complex when it comes to changing it. Most of us are afraid to admit, or too ignorant to realize just how racist most of us are. Until that changes, we are relegated to hashtags and outrage.

With that in mind, I offer this video and thank you all for reading.

Michael (the summer person who is not teaching for once)

Planning for an Uncertain Future

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Hello on another Sunday morning from the Fog and Flame,

Technically, it is a few minutes after noon, but I have been here for a couple of hours working on things to prepare for the coming week and my classes; it seems to be my weekly pattern (including listening to Pandora – I know some say I should switch to Spotify, but I am a creature of habit – and I am listening to various Broadway show soundtracks). Amazing how much I have learned about Broadway since coming to Bloomsburg. I am fortunate to have worked with the BU Business LLC for that last 6 years; it has exposed me to many things I did not know. Continuing with the idea of where have four decades gone, growing up, this was the day we had a vacation from school because it was Lincoln’s birthday. It was also my Great-aunt Martha Hannestad’s birthday. She was born in Norway and immigrated to this country as a young girl. She was born in 1877. She turned 100 the day my elder brother was buried, and I remember her saying she should have been the one to be leaving the world instead of a 26 year old father of three. What I know looking back at this time was it was my first real “adult” lesson in realizing or accepting an uncertain future. I did not realize that at the time. As noted in my previous post, I was merely overwhelmed and angry at God.

What I know now, and I am well aware of this simple reality for all of us, I was born with an uncertain future. Undoubtedly, we all have an element of this, but being born weighing 17 ounces and only 26 weeks of gestation in the mid 1950s created another level to this human unpredictability. After 5 1/2 hours of surgery in 2004, the surgeon noted that I had probably been born with Crohn’s Disease rather than having developed it later in life. This was because of symptoms that I had a propensity for as a child. At the time, and I remember some of these painful incidences well, I merely lived through them not realizing (nor did my parents) there was something much more sinister amiss. I am trying to remember a time in my life when I was asymptomatic for Crohn’s and perhaps in my early 20s and when I was first at Dana. Now, however, since fighting this disease in conscious way (circa 1984), I do not really remember having a “normal life” in terms of my health. Some of you who know me in more completely personal manner are probably smiling and questioning any normalcy in my life. Fair enough. For some time the larger question for me has been simple enough. What are the consequences of this abnormal birth weight or gestation? What are the long-term consequences of nine abdominal surgeries and the removal of significant portions of an intestinal tract? Too often (myself included), we see this digestive tract as simply a tube that takes in food, processes it, and expels what is unneeded. It is so much more complex. It is a fundamental part of our immune system.  The surface area of the digestive tract is estimated to be about 32 square meters, or about half a badminton court. With such a large exposure (more than three times larger than the exposed area of our skin), these immune components function to prevent pathogens from entering the blood and lymph circulatory systems.  Fundamental components of this protection are provided by the intestinal mucosal barrier, which is composed of physical, biochemical, and immune elements elaborated by the intestinal mucosa. Microorganisms also are kept at bay by an extensive immune system comprising the gut-associated-lymphoid tissue (GALT) (I owe this previous couple sentences to Wikipedia). After doing more reading, it is not surprising to me, I seem to susceptible to every damn germ that comes my way. This now partial digestive system is fighting the best it can, but between its precarious beginning and what has happened since, I am pretty blessed to do as well as I have. Things were uncertain from the outset, much more parlous than I ever knew. What is much more staggering to realize is how resilient the body is and how my particular body has managed in spite of this malady than I could have ever imagined. While it seems that most of us understand the importance of hydration, what happens when your body does not know how to manage hydration because the main component in hydration no longer exists? The conversation with the gastroenterologist this past week was telling. No real surprises, but facing the reality of the consequences means coming to terms with that uncertain reality once again. Most of the time, I do not focus upon it, but some of the long-term reality and its affects on my daily life have made that more difficult.

What I know most importantly is I have been blessed to live the life I have. I have been so fortunate to meet tremendously talented and good people. I have been able to learn so much about the world in which we live. I have been able to sit at the feet of amazing professors from undergraduate school through a doctoral degree. I have been blessed by phenomenal students in my classes. I have been favored by the presence of terrifically caring people (thinking of so many wonderful people at Comforts of Home); I have been able to travel and meet exceptional people from California to New York, from Texas to the Canadian border. From 1980 to now, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Europe, including East Germany in 1985, more times than I might have ever imagined. Those journeys have always changed my life, from language acquisition to an appreciation for this world in which we live. From food to simple customs, each time there has been a transmogrification from a sheltered NW Iowa boy I once was to someone who has learned things beyond my wildest imagination. As I have noted in many of my earlier posts, the upbringing I had in Sioux City was a typical childhood for someone in the 1960s. We thought life was about playing in the yard, riding our bicycles, coming home when the streetlights came on, going to school and church daily and weekly. And so it was. In spite of things I have written in the past, I was fortunate to grow up in the world I did. I see that as I ponder a world today where so many people in this country are unsure of today, let alone a future. It hurts me as that white person that the country I call home seems so afraid of those who do not look like me or believe in the same God as I do. This is not the world or country in which I believed I was raised. There have been times during the past couple years where I am afraid to read the news, fearing what the newest craziness might be lurking on the daily headlines, but I do not think I am alone in this concern. While it would certainly be easy to point fingers in the current atmosphere, I do not want to do so. As most unmistakably know, I have a certain political bent,  but it is more complex than many might realize. My niece, whom I adore, stated it quite well today. She voted in the past election because she is not a conservative Republican and note, I leave that to interpretation. Fiscally I am more conservative than many might think, and while I am more socially liberal than my fiscal-nature, I might not be as liberal as everyone might assume by my academic profession. What does that mean? It is another example of how I have never been able to be easily compartmentalized. It is because I ponder and try to think beyond the obvious. I do fall into the easily categorized at moments, but that is generally when I am overly frustrated and write or speak before I think as carefully as I should. Sucks to be human at moments.

The next weeks will hopefully allow me some more certainly. While I thought I had every imaginable test done to my altered GI tract, there is the possibility of a new one, encapsulated cartography. What is this you ask? It is actually swallowing a camera and allowing it to take pictures (or is it movies) of my entire (or partial) gastroenterological system. I am not sure this will happen because it is dependent of the endoscopy and ileoscopy that is scheduled soon. I read an article in Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology titled “Crohns (sic) Cartography: Mapping Disease Patterns and Trajectories Using the Lémann Index; Are We Finding our Way?” If you are so inclined you are welcome to read it. If you find it a bit much, it is using a camera to see what sort of patterns they might discover after my three-plus fight with Crohn’s  after examining my insides. It seems like science fiction on one level, but it is actual medical care in this 21st century. That is the thing. If I had been like this even a few decades earlier, most likely I would not be composing a blog in my 60s. The intestinal issues are both at the crux of my concern, but on another level, the easiest to manage. I have been managing the consequences of Crohn’s as an intestinal companion for over 30 years. It is the next level of symptoms that seem to be more problematic (as well as increasing the morbidity). Up to now dehydration has been a inconvenience, but now it has added to the uncertainty that has been another companion. Ostomy moments are one thing to manage. Headaches that create a lack of hearing, an absence of sight, and a complete lost of equilibrium are an entirely different issue, and both a figurative and literal severe pain. Hearing that the consequence of this dehydration are now apparent in my brain matter serves as yet another disconcerting consequence. One of the things I have been able to do, at least until now, is merely live with the consequences and see them as a part of my life to manage. These latest revelations put me in a different place, but, honestly, I am not sure what that place is. That is new for me. It creates an uncertainty I am not sure how to manage, but it is something I have to manage. It is another hurdle to jump. It is something that scares me a bit. I do not remember being scared when I first went into surgery in 1986 for the beginning of this surgical journey that has had 9 major chapters (and numerous footnotes). I remember my Great-aunt Helen telling me I was very brave in 1991 as I laid in a hospital in Scottsdale, AZ. I did not feel brave. I merely felt that I wanted to somehow live a better life than I was. At this point, I am not sure the goal is that much different. I merely want to know the best way to manage this lasting and unwanted companion. Ultimately, the future is uncertain, but that is not any different from anyone else. We are all uncertain and more or less unprepared for tomorrow,  because for the most part, we have less control that we might believe. That is the giftedness of life. It is more unpredictable than we might think. When people complain of boredom, I find myself asking where they live? I have never really been bored and I do not anticipate that will happen anytime soon. However, it is time to get back to the task at hand: grading, writing, commenting, and living this amazing life I have.

Thanks for reading as always.

Dr. Martin

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

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Hello from my getting home after a long . . .

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

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

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

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

 

 

Thanks to everyone else for reading.

Michael (aka: Dr. Martin)