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

When Geography Becomes a Place

Hello from Starbucks,

I am in another Starbucks and I know that it is more than merely another trip to the green mermaid branded coffee shop, in spite of that fact I have not been in this individual Starbucks before. As I walk in I see the familiar colors, the familiar layout, the typical board of options and even similar bathroom layout. The look is similar to one in one I have visited in PA, CA, VA, WI, UT, MN, IA, or IN. Yes, NYC, IRELAND, POLAND, CZECH REPUBLIC, AUSTRIA or CANADA. I think you get the point. They want us to feel at home, to feel familiar and welcomed, in spite of the fact that they got into some serious boiling water for their lack of welcome in the City of Brotherly Love not long ago. Branding is something all of succumb to whether we realize it or not. I believe some of the more successful branding campaigns in history include the aforementioned Starbucks; others include Apple, Microsoft, Hershey, or Harley Davidson. I am sure there are others you can name, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind for me. Terms like “the Big Three” referring to General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler once powered Detroit, but that is no longer the case. Companies that were standards of my childhood like Sears and Roebuck, J.C. Penney, or Montgomery Wards have fallen by the wayside of clothing or tools giants and now even the behemoth Walmart must be trying to figure out what to do with Jeff Bezos and Amazon as they seem destined and determined to become the one-stop-online-shop (OSOS) of everything. It seems the only thing that can rival them are the things they need like Google or other technology to support their continuing growth into most anything and everything. The reality of entrepreneurship on steroids seems to characterize what Bezos is doing. Of course, it can be argued Warren Buffet did the same thing, only 30 years earlier, and did it more by beating the pavement than wiring it together by technology. While I must admire their foresight and ingenuity, I cannot help but be concerned about the consequences. Where will the convenience and the OSOS cost us more than save us. Perhaps it is appropriate that the acronym includes an SOS.

I sort of went on a roll there, not realizing how all of that fit together for me. I think I find myself questioning more frequently and more critically some of the things I see happening on a regular basis. At times it makes me feel like a curmudgeonly aging white male, much like the uncle I have mentioned in a previous blog or two. The irony of that questioning for me is I will not have to deal with the consequences as long as my students. I will not see how the consequences might fundamentally change daily life as I have known it, or they know it now. Certainly technology has fundamentally changed how we communicate – or fail to – how we write, how we manage information – or fail to – how we shop, how we believe what we see or hear – or don’t. Again, I could go on, but you get the idea. I believe that technology must be seen as one of the profound contributors to the discord, the lack of decorum, civility or general lack of manners that seems to be plaguing us today. Or more accurately, our human addiction to our gadgets and the subsequent usage. Yet, I do subscribe to the belief that there is a rhetoric of technology. All I have to do is observe students anywhere on campus. Before they are out of a classroom as class is dismissed, their phones are out and they are consumed as they try to see what Instagram post or snap story they have missed in the last 50 minutes. They can see their way forward as if their cell phone is a seeing-eye dog (service animal) helping them get to their next class as they wander around like zombies in that 20 minute interval. They can walk up steps, down steps, between people or order without looking up as if the phone is their brain in their hand. Yesterday, I inadvertently left my phone somewhere on campus, and I realized shortly after it happened, and even had some sense as to where it was, but I did not follow up and get it until this morning. So I was without it for almost 24 hours. In the spirit of full disclosure, I did have my iPad at home and I did search out it’s location last evening and saw that it was probably where I suspected. I did get an email this morning that it had been turned in. So there was some surety that it was not stolen. That is helpful, but I did not feel like I was at a disadvantage with no phone. The continuing growth of the technological influence on communication and writing is something I ponder almost daily, and while I could say much about that, I will wait for another post to speak about that.

While I noted in my last blog I do not want a do-over, and that stands, if there is something I wish I might have done earlier, it is sort of two pronged. I wish I would have growth up in a time where learning other languages was encouraged. That was not something that was ever mentioned in my household. I had a great-aunt who could speak Norwegian and prayed in her native language, but that was the extent of any exposure I had. Related to that, I wish I had been taught about the importance of travel and experiencing other cultures. Certainly part of that ability was having the financial resources, and that definitely was not the case. What I am grateful for is that I enlisted in the Marines out of high school. That certainly offered me opportunities to learn about places outside of Sioux City, my NW Iowa town of 100,000, which I believed was a pretty big place. The second thing that did a great deal to broaden my horizons was to meet the Peters family. The pastor and family that came to Riverside Lutheran Church as I was getting out of the service. They had been in NW Iowa before, but this stop of the itinerant pastor’s existence included time in Germany before returning to the Midwest. It was their use of German in daily conversation, as well as a son who became a great friend and a serious crush and more on a younger sister, who is also still a treasured friend, that started me down the road of loving to learn language. It is now 40 years later and this summer I will enroll in the second intensive language program I have ever done. This one is a speaking language, however; the last one was Greek and I crammed two years into 12 weeks. This was much more about reading and writing. Yet, I remember the first time I heard Dr. Craig Koester read Greek in a Johannine Theology class. It was like listening to a story teller. His ability to read Greek as if we were reading English with inflection and tone, pauses, and appropriateness was unlike anything I had ever heard. I could have listened to him all day. What I learned in all of this, which I am just now really coming to terms with, is how much I was fascinated by language. I have said more than once, I wish I had gone into linguistics.

In the second half of my life, I have traveled much more frequently than in the first half. While I was 25 when I went to Europe the first time, the trip that changed my life and my perspective of what Europe was and how important it was to my understanding who I was as an American, I did not make a second trip out of the country as a civilian until I was almost 30. That trip was during the time I was in seminary and I went to then what was known as East Germany. It was a country behind the iron curtain, and it was an experience that revealed to me things I have seldom seen or experienced since. That first trip through Checkpoint Charlie is an experience that changes one’s life. While I have noted this in earlier posts, what still stuns me the most is how quickly I acclimated to the restriction of travel, ability to shop where I chose, or eat whatever or wherever I wanted. I remember how completely unprepared I was when I asked a East German seminary student I met to write me after I would leave and he said that was not possible. Perhaps more importantly, I remember when the wall came down later and he wrote to say hello and to tell me how they would have to be taught and learn about the concept of freedom. We take so much for granted. This past January, while traveling with the Eastern European Study Abroad group, we went to Lviv, Ukraine and sat at the border for 3+ hours. All of this freaked out our students a bit, but my memory of a much more serious investigation when we went into East Berlin in 1985 told me this was not nearly as ominous. Yet each experience when you live it causes a reality check that colors our understanding of the other person. What still causes me pause is how we are all human beings, but we seem so affected by our contextual situation that we can view what we deem apropos or tolerable in such profoundly different ways. It begs the question why and how? Again, I do realize some of this because of the same journey to what was then the Eastern Bloc. Thomas, the seminary student who could not write to me, noted when he could that he would have to be taught the concept of freedom. If one never has something, it is difficult to realize what it means. It is the same overall concept I am trying to convey in this post. It is one thing to see a country on a map and realize it exists. It is also something to see it in pictures or videos when another person has taken them or posted them. It is something entirely different when you have gone there and experienced it. There is an issue both in the contextual situation and then the experience of language. I think it is when the two experiences, which affect most of our senses, that we are compelled to see how we move from geography to place. It matters not whether it was German, Danish, Italian, Spanish, Polish, and most recently Ukrainian (which adds a different alphabet to the mix), there was always some point where I felt overwhelmed by the experience. It is interesting how we try to accommodate, or perhaps not for some, the other, particularly when we are in their country. I have always found it necessary to attempt to use their language and show deference to their customs. As we age, however, we are more aware of how we can Anglicize most any language with our unique American accents. I had this conversation with someone just recently as we were addressing the idea of how we  acquire another language more completely, which is so much more than learning vocabulary and managing to read and comprehend.

Too often, I hear students or others say, I took ______ (you can insert the specific language), but I cannot really use it. What they are implying is they cannot speak adequately. Yet what does that mean? For most, it is a combination of both vocabulary and accent. What does it take to sound like a native speaker versus a person who is merely trying to string some words together in another language? What happens when we struggle with the language so much that we are merely trying to pronounce the words (lacking both structure and inflection)? The first thing that happens is fear. The second thing is we no longer try because we become overwhelmed or embarrassed. As someone who has three different languages using Rosetta Stone on their computer, it has become more and more apparent to me why they manage the lessons as they do. Learning a language is all about employing all your senses because each sense affects your cognition in a different manner. It is where you begin to see the geography as a place; it where you begin to see the people as an individual. It is where you begin to see the complexity of the world in a way that makes it more about exploration and learning than comparing and contrasting. What I have realizes is the best way you can spend money is by travel. The more you travel, the more you realize how people have the same basic needs regardless of language, culture, location, or any other noun you wish to add to the list.  We want to be happy, healthy, and somehow make a positive difference. Time to grade some more as the end of the semester is upon us once again. As far as a video, I have decided to use Enrique Iglesias. Amazing how passionate the Latino/a culture is.

Thanks as always for reading and I hope your semester ends successfully.

Dr. Martin

Temporalities

Funny little man: Voltaire writing

Hello from the Detroit airport,

I am quite sure that this post might be a tapestry of thoughts, emotions, and memories. As I sit in the airport my mind seems to be a conundrum of possibilities and requirements, opportunities and necessities, remembering the past and imagining the future. I have my earbuds in and ironically the song from Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer titled “America” is playing. I will write more about irony later in this post. I am remembering the first time I heard that song, I was in then what was West Germany and traveling as a student with Dr. Nielsen on the interim titled Auguries of Loneliness. As I sit here lonely among the people crowding around me gathering for the last leg of a cross-country flight, I am content in my solitude. It is always sort of a game to try to imagine what the stories are of the people around me. While someone told me this week I am an academic and I seem like one (not sure if that is a compliment), I most often see myself as an Iowa kid who grew up blue collar and worked hard. I have been fortunate to have people who cared and loved me step up along the way. Without their help I certainly would not be where I am. One of the things that I believe makes me a bit different than most is I do not forget people, and I reach out to them from time to time to help them know they still matter and that their assistance was neither forgotten nor expected. I think that is my grandmother’s admonishment to be a gentleman put into action.

The temporality of our individual human experience is something I have been pushed to consider these past weeks. It is not quite a month ago that I needed to fly home for Lydia and to help make decisions on whether the quality of life she had been reduced to from the long-term consequences of dementia was the life she wanted. When is mere existence no longer life? Sitting with her family physician, a man I respect beyond words, said, “Michael, it makes no sense to try to prolong her life.” Those were both difficult and freeing words at the same time. This brilliant woman, strong-willed and yet loving, determined and yet fragile, had lived an amazing life. She was no longer living, she was marginally existing. To move toward palliative care was a change that was done out of love and not out of selfishness. “Another day goes by and I thank God that I am alive” (Nico and Vinz). I am not sure Lydia could say this any longer. While her temporality saw much more than many in her 90 years, 4 months and 27 days, I am forced to see her and myself as temporal.

Before you read what follows as fatalist, let me tell you simply, please don’t. I know I am temporary. At one point I chose to ignore, perhaps even foolishly argue against, such a notion. I wonder why do we struggle so desperately to hang on to this life? I think I have realized that life has a quality and maintaining that quality is not always an easy thing to do. That does not suppose that we should merely disregard what we can do, but what really matters when we hold onto our existence, even somewhat dramatically or even more sadly desperately. Is it because we believe we must still accomplish something? It is because we foolishly believe that we make such a profound difference? Again, I am not saying that those things do not have value, but are they such astounding things that our lack of physical presence will cause them to totally disappear. Lydia is no longer physically here, and while I cannot actually hear her voice or see her amazing eyes, I can say unequivocally they are still present and they affect me. I can see both her smile of approval and her scowl of the opposite as if she were still here. What I am pondering more carefully and thoughtfully is what is my purpose from this point forward? Again, please do not see me as falling of the cliff of sanity, but I know that much of my purpose this past decade was to care for and follow through on the promise I made to her.

It is certainly a good thing that I have my position at Bloomsburg and a program to continue to grow. It is a good thing that I have the Decker family. Tenure removes some of the temporality of that position and provides some security. Having the continuity with the Deckers from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania is more profound to me than they probably realize. To watch their family grow, evolve and to be treated with the respect and love they have given me again has affected my life beyond measure and in a way that is indescribable. In addition some of my other colleagues have become treasured people in my life. My former chair and present chair are astounding people. The colleague with whom I started in the department is more of a friend that I am sure he realizes. The person who was my acting chair my first semester and his wife are such a blessings to me. The English Department at Bloomsburg University is really a wonderful position to be placed in at this point in my life. Then there are the students. Speaking about temporality, they come and they go more quickly than we can even seem to manage. I have watched two sets of students complete their studies and watched them mature from wide-eyed freshmen to young professionals, still wide-eyed, but in a different way. Every once in a while I find that what I have done has had some profound positive effect. Those moments are fleeting, but they are precious. I have also learned that not everyone is as genuine as I might have hoped, but those are important life lessons too because they remind me that I have really very little control of anything but myself. Those moments are equally precious. They remind one of what is true and upon what or in whom we can believe and trust. There are very few in whom we can actually trust and perhaps even fewer in whom we can hope to believe. That brings me to a different concept. It is the concept of giving my word. Following through on to my promise to Lydia to care for her to the best of my ability was something I felt strongly about, and I still do. My word to someone, regardless who they are, needs to be trusted, to be believed. I know there are times I could be more comprehensive in making this happen, and those times affect me more than most might realize. I think this comes from my father. I know that his word to someone was almost sacred. I tried to care for Lydia as I watched him care for others, without a sense of reward, and during this time I have continued to give to others like I believed she would. What I know is the help we offer others is temporal in more than one aspect or manner than we might think.

I remember once writing a practice sermon for a preaching class in seminary. The text was the poisonous serpent text in Numbers and I titled the sermon “temporarily faithful.” That seems to be predominately who we are as humans. We hold on to things that we either value or things we believe benefit us. When the value is deemed minimal or we believe we might need to put more into something that we receive, it is easier to discard it. There have been moments in my life I am guilty of this practice, and for those times I must humbly ask for forgiveness. There is one person, a person I have loved beyond measure most of my life, I have run away from because I was frightened and felt guilty. I am not sure if I can repair this situation or not, but ignoring it is not the right thing to do. It is amazing how we can decide things or believe things that are perhaps not accurate,  but we do it and we box ourselves into something less than ideal. Over the weekend, I did have the opportunity to speak with one of the people to whom I have referred from time to time. It was an interesting, and helpful, conversation, but there are still things that do not make sense to me. As hard as I try, I cannot wrap my head around that fundamental concept or the manner in which he (and my extension, they) use this concept, word, or philosophy. I wonder what that particular word means and the two synonyms used do not connect for me. Again, I am not arguing against that position,  but I cannot see it as possible, either logically or emotionally and therefore I cannot see how it is actually practiced, particularly when the actions taken do not seem consistent with what I understand that term to be. I guess I will continue to struggle to understand. More importantly, I will continue. I know that the value and joy brought to my life far outweighs anything negative. I am not sure that is always portrayed as well as I might and for those times, again, I must ask for forgiveness.

Tomorrow I begin another semester, so it is now Monday. I am still struggling with my health and it appears after another appointment that I might have coughed so hard that I had a minor stroke. I do know exactly when that occurred as the pain I had in my head was unbelievably intense. Perhaps, ironically, that coughing finally helped because I am actually feeling a bit better, though I must admit every time I go into a coughing spell, my head is very tender and it hurts pretty badly. Again, all of this reminds me pretty clearly that we have much less control over what happens than we might think. While I have worked hard for the better part of seven and a half months to improve my health, there are some things I cannot predict or change. I will admit, as I did yesterday that the last month has not been stellar as far as taking charge of my health, and I am changing that again, the work I have done this past 3/4 of a year has been pretty darn significant. As I look toward the semester and what is on my plate, there seems to be little doubt that it will be busy and continuous, but that is nothing different. What I need to do is be smarter and more intentional about each and every thing I do. This past year, and most of my life, I allowed people I believed cared to have more control than I should. That is because I have a tendency to put others before myself. Again, I know from where that comes and while I have made some progress in that realm, sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back. That is better than one step forward and two steps back, but I need to make sure that I do not go backwards at all. It is such a balancing act for me. I have heard from more than a handful of people that I need to take care of myself. I am sad that my time over break was influenced by illness as much as it was. That kept me from enjoying some things, places, and people, that, or who, are so important to me. Time is fleeting and I know that is cliché, but it is cliché because we note it and then too often ignore it. We allow things to affect and influence us, turn us upside down, and then we wonder on the other end “What the hell happened?” Sort of what the Green Bay Packers are wondering this morning. As a Packer fan, I must say, I am still in a state of shock. The point is, we have opportunities to make a difference. Even in the fleeting moment, we can positively influence another persons life. Sometimes what we might do could be significant or appear significant. Other times, it might be something very simple or even mundane, but the point is we affect, and are affected by, those around us. Each of these moments are opportunities, changes to change both our own life and the lives of others around us. Too often we are selfish, narcissistic, or just plain clueless. I am so fortunate because I am, through my position in the university given entrée into others lives. I am gifted to be able to share what little I have to offer to make a bit of a difference. What I am realizing again, it the temporal nature of that chance, of that opportunity. Ultimately, I hope in the coming weeks, both in the semester, and in my life, I can focus on the gifts I have and try to share them as unconditionally as I can humanly muster. I fail there too often, but as Lydia demonstrated in her life, one can still care. I have been asked a couple times lately about the purpose of my blog and why I write as I do. I noted that writing is always contextual. I am grateful for the questions and indeed, I do go back and edit at times. Sometimes those edits are for bad writing. Sometimes those edits are for poor practice. Sometimes those edits are simply editing and proofreading.

As I told one person, I hope in my writing I reveal my soul (if so, you might catch a glimpse of who I really am), but I also hope to protect my life. I am reminded of a seminary professor that once said, while it does note that the shepherd lays down his (and I would add “her”) life, and when I was a pastor the shepherd analogy was probably more apparent, no where does it say the sheep take his (her) life. What I have learned since is if we let people, they will take more from our lives that we can afford to give. Off to a new semester.

Thanks as always for reading.

Michael (and tomorrow again, Dr. Martin)

Diversions, Dastardly Deeds, and Directions

Hello from another airport,

I can honestly say in 40 years of flying I had never had a pressurization issue in an airplane. That streak as now ended. We could not reach cruising attitude and they had to divert the plane. The most important thing is they managed the issue professionally and calmly, and while there is some inconvenience, we are all safe and sound. There is so little we actually have control of when we fly. Yet, most of us hop on the plane, walking down that jetway without a second thought. I have probably flown somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 in my life. I have only had two issues: this one and way back when I was only 18 and a tire blew out on landing. That was actually more frightening than today was for me. So now I am in a cab and they are actually taking us to another airport. I think I will be writing American Airlines a very long letter. I know that flying is still more efficient than other modes of travel, but my experience with American and its partners over the past two weeks has been anything but stellar.

As I sat in the various airports today, the continued unfolding of events around Paris and throughout France are mind-blowing to me. How does someone created such hatred within himself or herself that they deem it appropriate to kill another person because their opinions differ? I believe in principle, but how does that principle, or adherence to a particular set of beliefs, create the justification to kill another? I find this particularly egregious when we use our faith in any God or prophet as the rationale for such heinous actions. First, let me note that America has engaged in such behavior, both in the Civil War and in the Japanese Internment Camps in WWII, so we are not blameless. Furthermore, while I do believe in the importance of national security, some of our actions post-911 are currently problematic for me. I don’t care what Former Vice President Cheney says. I was speaking with Marco yesterday – it is now Monday, by the way – and we discussed the various manners in which countries seem to respond to actions such as what occurred in Paris, Boston, or other places. The manner in which governments are responding to terrorists incidences seems to be more strident. BTW, if you have not read Fareed Zakaria’s blog over the weekend, it is an outstanding read.

Having been in Auschwitz barely a week ago, there is little doubt in my mind the extreme consequence of the espousal of hate can be. As I am sitting and listening to NPR this morning a story about another form of human bombing was noted. In Nigeria, the terrorist organization had begun using adolescent girls as bombers. How do you convince a 10 year old that such an action is reasonable, acceptable, or appropriate. I find it incomprehensible that a 10 year old can develop such hate for another culture or group of people. I have written so much about our difference in cultures and how those cultures affect both our identity and our practices. Certainly there are times the difference in culture has to do with daily practice; sometimes those differences have to do with language and how we use words differently. I am pondering some of that even as I write this. My travels during this break and my experience with Lydia and language has once again reminded me how language can open doors, but it can also create barriers. As I sit here in a Starbucks drinking hot tea and trying to overcome what I have found is double pneumonia, I have been working on syllabi all morning,  but I have also been pondering what this coming semester will hold for me. Lydia’s presence in my life had more value than most might imagine. Taking care of her and making sure she was cared for in an appropriate manner was a significant part of who I had become. Lydia taught me important things. As I have noted in some previous blogs, she became my mother, and while she was a tough person at times, she had an incredible heart and a goodness to her. At some point, I will write a blog posting about the 10 years I have known her and how she has changed both my life and my perspective on life. She was the victim of, and experienced on a first-hand basis, some of the dastardly deeds that I noted in my title. The fact that her husband was a political prisoner of the Reich is one thing. The fact that she lost members of her immediate family because of the post-Czech issues of the Second World War, it is easier for me to understand why someone could grow to so dislike another that they might actually hate them. Lydia would use that work in her comments toward the Czechs, but her way of managing that extreme emotion was to eliminate them from her existence. I do not think she every again spoke Czech  in her lifetime. Is she entitled to such emotion? That is not an easy question. Are we entitled to either love or hate another? There is not entitlement. There is only our human response to our experiences. It seems the more extreme, or more affected we are by the experience, but more likely that experience will be grafted into our DNA if you will. While I am aware of what happened to Lydia’s parents, it is not something she spoke of often. In fact, she only told me of it once, and that was when we were standing in her room at Comforts of Home.

It is Wednesday of the last week of break and I have actually slept for more than 12 hours in three of the last five days. That is the most I have slept in years, but on the other hand, I think this is the worst I have felt since last spring at the end of school. While I am not generally one to jump on the Alka Seltzer or other sort of cold and flu bandwagon, I do not think I had a choice this time. I do not have time beginning next week to be sick. The last two nights I was in bed before 8:00 p.m. Last night it might have been barely 7:00. I am pretty sure that the travel schedule, which I am realizing had more wear and tear in it than I expected as well as the time I spent in Menomonie, took its toll on a body that already has its own issues. I can honestly say I do not think I have felt this badly since I had to go back into the hospital a little over two years ago because of surgical complications.

It is now Thursday early morning and my alarm went off at 3:45 a.m., and even though I went to bed before 8:00 again last night I fix it sleep very well. I think the largest period of continuous sleep I got before the alarm going off, which I was awake to hear, was maybe an hour. The fog was ridiculous this morning. While I had hoped to get more work done, that did not happen. Even as I sit here on the flight this morning, waiting to depart, I am sweating. With only a t-shirt and sport coat, I feel like I am in a sauna. I guess my body is fighting to the best of its ability. It is amazing mechanism in spite of its current frailties.

As I begin a new semester and a life altered because of the events this past month, I find it necessary to imagine what it is I am called to do and how I will prioritize all I do. I think last year might be seen as an experiment – one with mixed results, but one nonetheless I am glad I tried or one in which I participated. It is also one that I can put away as I have put away other things in the past. I am realizing that I am perhaps more like Lydia than I might have imagined. While I might not be as reclusive and, in the past, I have not knowingly pushed people away as a practice, what I am realizing more clearly is I have too often believed the best in others, leaving myself open to hurt and disappointment. I believed I needed others in my life more significantly than I perhaps do. I will be much more discerning than I have had a penchant for doing. I can only ask as the liturgy notes “Kyrie, Eleison”. It is the name of a Mister Mister song and the only part of the liturgy that remained in Greek rather than moving to Latin. For those not sure of the meaning, it means “Lord, have mercy.” I know there will be things to manage in the coming weeks, in Pennsylvania, both at school and on the home front. There are significant things to manage between Wisconsin, North Carolina, Naperville, and Northern Minnesota. I will work my best to manage as I believe Lydia would have wanted. Ultimately, it is about her desires not what everyone else thinks. I am so grateful for the staff of Comforts of Home. They continue to work with me and help plan things. I did get some of the initial pieces completed this week and I need to work with the monument company this week. One piece at a time. That is moving in a direction and that is what life is about. Moving forward and managing what life throws at you. Lessons experienced and lessons learned are simply what life is. Well, I think I might try to close my eyes and beat my present fever.

Thanks as always for reading my thoughts.

Michael