Fascinated or Consternated? Yes? No? Simply Regrouping

Dzień dobry z Krakowa w poniedziałek rano,

To był produktywny tydzień i czuję, że poczyniłem pewne ważne postępy w moim początkowym nabywaniu języka polskiego, ale nigdy nie jestem zadowolona, że to wystarczy (It was a productive week, and I feel I made some important progress in my beginning acquisition of Polish, but I am never really content that it is enough.). Those who know me are probably not that surprised. What I have been forced to realizing is that learning a language as an older human is so much more difficult than it was for me at a point earlier in my life (e.g. late 20s, when I crammed two years of Greek into a summer). There are the three components of language as I often noted for others. Much like a three- legged stool: vocabulary, patterns, and grammar. The first two are about memorization and the grammar is more about comprehension. When I learned German or worked to teach myself Spanish, this sort of pattern worked, though more effectively for German than in Spanish. It certainly worked for Greek and, maybe to a perhaps lesser extent for Latin. Hebrew was in a world of its own and while last summer this seemed to work generally for Polish, this summer has been a much different story. It has pushed my comfort level off the cliff and caused me fear and tears (and I mean that literally). So what is the difference in a year, particularly when last summer, while hard work, was so enjoyable?

These questions have consumed me this last week and a half and caused me to ponder the learning process in ways I never fathomed. There are a couple things that I believe have happened in the last 12 months to create this dilemma of feeling like a failure. First, I think both my ears and my eyesight have changed (and not degrees is improvement). Second, the grammar is more complex and while it is comprehendible, it takes more time to master and there is little time to manage that complexity. In other words, I am not as quick as I once was. Third, my own failure to review and reconnect with the previous work before arriving caused a lack of foundation, or more accurately the losing of the foundation I had. Each of these elements have created a perfect storm that has resulted in my failing to manage what I believed possible. What I have realized as the way I have learned in past is no longer effective. I am reminded of what Mr. Galán would note when I attempted Spanish. He said regularly, “You just need to speak and use it. You need to listen and try to understand.” He was (and is) correct. The problem becomes a much more complex and more of a struggle because I am afraid of making mistakes. My overwhelming desire to be perfect at it paralyzes me. So then the question becomes is there somewhere between using my grammatical life jacket and just jumping in the water and not being afraid when I cannot see the bottom. I use this metaphor because I know the actual fear of not knowing where the bottom is and how that paralyzes me also.

I do think I have come up with a plan. The first thing is to step back and review at my own pace the work I did last summer and to move forward with the additional work done over the last two plus weeks, which was significant. If I can create a firm foundation there, I believe I can move forward in a manner that I can feel positive and proud of. I do want to work from a couple different vantage points or entrances of sorts. I honestly believe there has been more deterioration of senses (which has affected acquisition more profoundly than expected) in the past year than I had any inkling had happened. It not only affected my classroom options, but also my studying. The most consequential seems to be the length of time I can continue to work at all of it, and that limitation frustrates me beyond words. Therefore, to compensate I must figure out something more efficient and effective. Then, and the director of the summer program, Dr. Prizel-Kania, probably can shed light on this for me, knowing what my ultimate goal to be, what is the best way forward. What I do know is that any lack in proficiency is no one’s particular fault. It is not about blaming, but rather accepting the reality of the situation. What I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is the instructors I am blessed with did everything in their power to help me. My three instructors, Mikołaj, Dominika, and Sylwię are incredible at what they do. Likewise, the program works for the great majority of those enrolled, most who are in their 20s. I do know that learning a language is a special skill and I know being older offers different challenges. I am wondering if I recognize those challenges as I reflect on myself or if I am missing something. That has occupied my thoughts more than one might think since last Thursday (it is now Tuesday morning – about 4:00 am. for those of you on the East Coast). What I believe I need for my own sense of sanity is to get to a level of hearing and speaking that is comfortable, and I think there are some ways (outside of complete immersion in Krakow) that might offer such an opportunity. I think my own sense of inadequacy had more to do with most of my struggle this summer than anything else.

In addition, what I have come to realize is that learning a language you plan to speak (and maybe it is because I learned German so long ago and when I was dumped into an immersion situation with it, I was in my 20s) versus a language you read is something very different. The needs are different, but likewise the learning process is much more comprehensive. If I return to my stool imagery, I am not sure a three-legged stool will work, it is much more like a four-legged chair or perhaps table. The extra leg is needed because hearing and listening become important on a different level. Second, the idea of a table is that the area covered is much more extensive and it needs order and structure (perhaps more accurately, I need order and structure). That is another component of immersion that is, perhaps, contradictory to how learn most effectively. I need structure and order, which means I need time to think and assimilate. That is in part because I need to make sense of things, but also because I think it takes me longer and I am more frightened by feeling as if I have no control. This trip has been different from my previous trips for a couple of reasons. While I know my way around Krakow better than ever before, I have feel more isolated than I ever have. While I found a level of being comfortable in Moscow after a few days, I was not comfortable to travel on to St. Petersburg by myself. I felt vulnerable in a manner that I had not in many years. While some of that certainly disappeared here in Poland, something has happened to make me less content or calm than I have in the past. I am not sure from where that comes or how it occurred, but I do know that I do not like it. Earlier this summer I was sharing lunch with three former colleagues and the first of the three and I were waiting and I did what I always seem to do when I go into my colleague, Dr. Decker’s office. I align things and make things orderly (fortunately he humors me and merely tells me it will get messed up again). She noted my actions and asked me if I were an OCD person. I had never really thought about it (seriously, I had not), but I responded, perhaps I am. As the summer has continued, I have noted to the degree that is true. Holy Crap!!! So then I began to reflect and wondered from where that propensity had come, and how long had I been such.

I am sure my psychology colleagues would have a heyday with this, but what I realize is we were required to keep our rooms very orderly growing up. I did not struggle to do so. We dusted the house every morning (every day, but Sunday) and on Saturday we dusted, vacuumed and stripped our beds to be washed. I was not allowed to leave my room in the morning before the bed was made. It is still one of the first things I do in the morning. We were not allowed to leave clothes out on a chair unless they were folded and neat. I thought all of that was normal and that every house did things like that. I have long since learned that is not true, but those of you who know me, know I cannot even function if my space is not orderly and well kept. While there are moments I fall short of that, for the most part it is who I am. I do know that I go through streaks from time to time also. I am forced (yes, a strong word), but it is something I do to myself, to try to understand this need for structure and order. During my time here in Poland sharing the Air BnB with another person, who was there prior to my arrival and who will be there after my departure, I have been required to rethink how what I do affects the other in a different way. There are been some compromise (and most of that has to do with his smoking (and the managing of that habit), but one of the things I realized early was I was the intruder if you will. He had a pattern and my requests would change his pattern. My reason for asking for some leeway on the smoking is more of a health issue than control, but I struggled to even ask for that. What all of this tells me is that I will avoid conflict at all costs, even at my own detriment. The reciprocal nature of that is when I finally have had enough, my response is not proportionate to the issue at hand. Of course, as usual there are so many issues that are part of that puzzle. I know most of them, but managing them is something quite different. . . .

It is about two weeks after I wrote this initially and I am back in the States and have been for a week. It has been a week of decompressing and reflection. It has been a week to ponder and regroup. It has been a weekend of trying to wrap my head around the inability of our country to deal with violence and make some meaningful moves toward curbing the violence, the gun-usage, and the hate and bigotry that seems to be engrained in every region, section, state, municipality, and neighborhood of this land. How we got here is certainly a complex issue. How we move toward something different is perhaps more complex, but doing nothing accomplishes one thing: more shootings with assault style weapons and more people dying needlessly. Certainly it is a mental health issue; it is an anger management issue, but there are things we can and should do. I have written at length about all of this, so I am not going to iterate it, but damn!! 30 seconds and 9 lives lost because there was a drum magazine in a semi-automatic assault weapon. What more needs to be said if you think with any logic at all. That is undoubtedly exasperating, consternating, and simply pathetic. States have authority to make changes; so does the federal government. This senseless violence is a social epidemic and it needs to be managed and approached as such. It is a health concern in so many ways. I have nothing more to say, but the response to the Ohio governor by people in Dayton seems to cover it: DO SOMETHING!

In terms of my Polish I am doing something and working on making changes as I move forward to work on it systematically and regularly. I think that will work much better with my learning style. It will result in a foundation that is stronger and more effective. It was a tough and, at times, overwhelming summer, but I will prevail and manage this. Thanks to all who have reached out to me in the past weeks to check on me. I am grateful. As I write and finish this blog, it is the day that Lydia would have turned 95. I still love and miss her.

Trying to Comprehend

Hello from Starbucks in the Library,

While I hope that the propensity for being thought provoking, and by extension somewhat political, in this fractured world has not merely offended, it seems increasingly more difficult to stand on the sidelines while at least two branches of our government seem intent on destroying the other. For me the jury is still out on the third, but the 5-4 split, regardless the balance, is quite indicative of the country that faces us each morning as I try to wipe the sleep from my eyes and stumble to the shower, fearful of what the latest 280 character (did Twitter really need to double that ability to spew idiocy) tiradic-tantrum might be. In the two weeks since a 19 year old young man with a difficult background found it somehow reasonable to use another AR15 style weapon to massacre numerous students, killing 17 of them, our government, at the continuing behest of the NRA’s leadership, refuses to consider that the style of weapons available all too easily had nothing to do with the outcome at Parkland. Mental illness is certainly an issue; failure of a system is still an issue: so I am not disagreeing with that. How can they not admit that having such a weapon easily available is also a contributing factor to or in the final horrific outcome? How many NRA members would be willing to admit that limiting semi-automatic weapons, bump-stocks, and eliminating high capacity clips are common sense? Few people would be inconvenienced by such limitations. Fewer yet would have to alter their gun practices. You will have more than a difficult time convincing me that our founders anticipated how some would highjack the Constitution with the 2nd Amendment as their foundational protection clause, forget the 14th Amendment. Wayne LaPierre, with his salary of over 5,000,000.00 a year from his various gun-toting positions, can espouse his ridiculous vitriol from the plush surroundings of wherever with such a salary. Heaven forbid he think critically. I am sorry, but common sense will not negate the 2nd Amendment. If I were to somehow join the NRA, or was a member, I would find his comments and his logic more embarrassing than I already do. Throughout my travels to other countries, it is not uncommon to be asked about two issues: the President and our love affair with guns. In either case, my answer is the same: I am embarrassed. That is not an easy answer for this Marine Corps veteran.

The past couple of weeks I have spent intentional time in assigning papers and speaking in my classes about the need for a person to be able to think critically. I have spoken about the importance of that critical thinking as well as the following need to analyze a situation, followed by doing careful research. I have often pondered how it is that we find ourselves in the place where if you disagree with someone they are now an enemy?  How have we lost almost all sense of civility or decorum? How is it that if we disagree with someone, rather than talking it out it is easier to pull a gun and shoot them? I would argue that we seem to be back in the early days of Christianity when if you disagreed you were a heretic and merely burned at the stake. Well our burning might be metaphorical now and the stake might be a tweet, but it seems we are back there once again. It still amazes me that some fundamentalists or conservative Christians can back what is happening in either the government or in our gun-loving society. As I write this, the Reverend Billy Graham is one his way to the Capitol to lie in honor, only one of four citizens to be given that distinction in our history. I remember his nightly television crusades growing up. My mother would sit in her recliner night after night to listen to him. I remember one of my close what we now call middle school friends who was Baptist inviting me to altar calls. I was afraid as the little Lutheran boy. I did not know what to do. What I still appreciate is that Reverend Graham consciously stayed apolitical. While his Christian message was rather conservative, he was not offensive, and yet challenged through his preaching of the gospel. He merely asked people to consider. I do not remember him leaving an overall message of do as I do or you are evil or wrong. While I had probably never considered the word “rhetoric” then, he was a brilliant rhetorician. He could reach across the aisle, pun intended, in ways most never could. I think he was the sort of quintessential person at being able to connect both the mind and the heart. He did not ask people to follow blindly. Following something blindly is to follow something without thought. As I tell my students regularly. God gave you a brain to do more than hold your ears apart. I think the Reverend Graham wanted people to read, to think, to ponder, to come to an understanding. I am often asked what my favorite Bible verse is. For me it is simple. It is Hebrews 11:1. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It seems to me that helps us accept that which is not only incomprehensible, but also to have a willingness to search and believe is that which seems impossible. Without hope, we are doomed. Without hope, we have little desire to move forward. Without hope, we give up or refuse to imagine the possibilities.

That is how it is when I think about the gun issue. I do believe for the first time (and certainly in some time) people are actually standing up to their politicians or the gun lobby. The impetus is not our Congressional leaders. It certainly is not the President, though he as gone further than I imagined possible. It is the classmates of the 17 who have found and used their voices. It is some corporations like Delta, who is now threatened by the Georgia GOP to lose their tax breaks. This morning, I have heard that Dick’s Sports will stop selling semi-automatic weapons. I am stunned, but exceedingly pleased. At least some elements of our society are standing up against the NRA, and putting a stopper in their barrels.  Wayne LaPierre claims that he wants school safety and legal gun ownership. Certainly, I believe he does, but arming teachers and adding the possibility of more guns does not create more safety. Legal gun ownership has certainly demonstrated that the laws we do have are not effective. The issue of mental health is an issue, certainly, but it is access to guns period. Access (under the guise of the 2nd Amendment) to any gun regardless its ability is not in the spirit of protection. It is not in the spirit of good or reasonable sportsmanship. Semi-automatic weapons are meant to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. Why does the average person need to do this? These are not hard questions. These are not questions that the NRA seems willing or capable of answering. Their other spokesperson, Dana Loesch, the conservative talk show host, argued vehemently at CPAC. “It is not our job to follow up on red flags. It is not our job to make sure that states are reporting to the background check system. It is not our job.” While I will agree with her on one level, you should think they would want to support better enforcement and use their 5 million members to push legislatures to be more intentional in all of this. It would certainly keep the heat off the NRA. To say it is not their job is to separate themselves from the very society in which they live and then provide them even more reason to hold on their own form of idolatry: love of their guns above all else. Again, amazing how they will abhor abortion as killing and hold on to weapons that can kill even more.

This week at school, for the second year in a row, we had a group from a Private Catholic Boys Preparatory High School on campus to protest a social issue. Last year they were demonstrating against LBGTQA rights; this year it was abortion. The school, St. Louis de Montfort Academy, is a school that was founded in 1995. There is actually something positive to be said about speaking out about your convictions and certainly these young men are doing so, but their rather pompous air that seems to be more judging than converting is a bit problematic, especially on a college campus. That is not because I see college as a sort of social moralism, but rather because it requires a person to think about audience and purpose and think about the complexity of their world a bit more inclusively. Their sort of “my-way-or-the-highway” moralism will not do well as they stand in formation and bring attention to themselves. There seems to be a struggle to demonstrate a sense of humility, which was certainly part of the Blessed Annunciation and the woman being visited. A principle trait of Mary, the mother of Jesus (one of the grounding people or tenants of this particular school) was her humility. Again, the irony or lack of consistent rhetorical strategy is a bit surprising, or maybe not. Those who claim the high moral ground often fall the farthest. As I often told my parishioners  when I was the parish pastor, it did not say pastor anywhere on my birth certificate. I am certainly not a perfect person. I was not then and I am not now. There are times I probably do or say things merely to prove I can. I know that surprises all of you who know me best. Yet, I am pretty fragile, and, in fact, much more so than most expect. I think that fragility continues to manifest itself in ways I struggle to comprehend. Nonetheless, it is there. I think that is why I am both settled in a place, but certainly not sedentary. There is always something to ponder, somewhere to explore, and some place to travel and attempt to understand. I think that is the problem to way too many people; they are content to accept something without chewing on it a bit. Too willing to swallow anything fed to them without taking the time to intentionally smell it, carefully taste it, slowly savor it. It returns me to the significance of critical thinking, of being involved in some kind of thoughtful analysis. I am struggling daily as I read the headlines and listen to so many people and all there seems to be is distrust, disrespect, dispute, discrimination, dismissal, disregard, dissidence: I guess that is enough dissing for the moment. The picture above is of the Canadian Parliament. It is quite evident to me that our Northern neighbor seems to practice much of what we believe ourselves to be. I think we could learn from them.

How did we become such a country? Again, I love what this country was founded on the basic idea that we are a government of the people, by the people. I love that we are a nation of immigrants, a nation that has been a beacon of light for a number of other places. I know that sounds idealistic. I know it sounds like there was this easy formation. I know better. The issues of class, gender, race, faith have been struggles in this country like many others. What we have been able to do is appropriately transfer power from one administration to the other. There has been a basic respect for the balance of powers and a belief that our government at least tries to do the right thing. We are a country of law and precedent, but it feels like so much of that is in a precarious position now. It seems like so much of this is what we were rather than what we are. I am trying to comprehend this. How did we become a nation of finger pointers, a nation of blamers, a nation of selfish navel gazers? I do believe we are still more than that. I see it every day among the students and others I work with. There are some incredibly giving and wonderful people who see a bigger picture and desire to do the best they can. I want to believe we can pull through this, but it will be hard work. It will take critical thinking and even more critical doing. Doing what is best for the other rather than merely what one individual wants. It will require us to be honest with ourselves and with the other. It will require the opposite of the list I noted above. We will need to be more trusting, more respectful, more willing to listen, more accepting, more accommodating. We will need to be willing to reach out to the other and believe that disagreement can lead to something other than a negative outcome. It will take thinking and being able to comprehend that which is beyond us. It will take believing in the other and comprehending difference or diversity as opportunity. I merely want to have hope that so much more can come from this current struggle, but I will turn to the scripture I believe guides me. In a different way, I offer this prayer from one of my favorite artists. This song was sung at my ordination, and it was something I wish I had done a better job of earlier in my life. How it is something I still try to do.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Disunity and Disrepect

luther 1

Good morning on a significant week in world history,

I imagine you could make this claim about almost any week, but I will offer an explanation as to why I make such a claim. A half of millennium ago, a German monk, one who had hoped to be a lawyer before a lightning bolt induced change of vocation, posted 95 points of debate on a castle door. Those points, once again fueled by a kairotic moment in printing history, created as much of a unexpected seismic change in history as perhaps an election did almost a year ago might end of being. It’s not particularly comforting for me to compare the event of something (or the someone) I admire to something (or more someone) for which I profoundly struggle, but the parallels are somewhat obvious. There are ways this could probably become an interesting political study; there are certainly ways one could argue it’s an indictment against the powers that be, and in our present dilemma, in both directions. I believe the election of the business-person-“turned”-politician (and the quotation marks are by all means intentional) has created just as much of a seismic change nationally, if not globally, and perhaps galactically. Before you think I’m just being hyperbolic allow me to explain as you read on.

As I pick this up this morning, the headlines shout out that another mass killing, this time in a church in Texas, has occurred, the most lethal event, up to this point, in the Lone Star state. Is it possible that there is a connection between the two last killing sprees and that both states have some of the least rigorous gun laws or enforcement in the country? Is it even within the realm of possibility? This morning, the headlines also note it is not a gun question. Yet guns were used yet again. I understand it is about people, and this one had a history of domestic violence (and a record of such), but was able to obtain semi-automatic weapons. So the law is in place, but it seems, yet again, that it is too easy to circumvent the law. There needs to be better enforcement, certainly, but why do we need such weapons? Why is that not a reasonable question that deserves real consideration at the Congressional level? To take General Kelly’s question  and words and push it a bit further . . .  while I believe there is no place reasonable (outside of a military confrontation) to kill another, shouldn’t a church be considered particularly sacred (pun most certainly intended)? The dearth of information about this person and the red flags that occurred, but somehow not managed is nothing new. All the checks in the world are shown to be ineffective again and again as people are able to purchase not merely a weapon, but a semi-automatic weapon that has the unparalleled ability to be tremendously deadly in a very short period of time. One can make the argument that another gun frightened him away and led to his eventual demise. Welcome to the NRA and their protection of the almighty gun. This ridiculous approach to justifying our willingness to accept yet another mass shooting as constitutional protectionism simply must stop. Taking away the ability to purchase or own semi-automatic weapons and charging anyone who has one with a felony and the loss to have any weapons would be a good start. Not having AR15s or similar weapons is not an attack on the 2nd Amendment, period. The reasons and arguments I can make to dispute any of your “right to bear arms” bullshit is ready. Merely ask. I am tired. I am tired of making excuses. Any thoughtful  NRA member should not be against reasonable gun control.

However, back to where I began. Luther, for those not aware, did not plan to break away from the Roman Catholic Church, he did not ever expect, I am quite sure, that some 80 million people would use his name to describe their faith. He would not have probably been comfortable with any such idea. In fact, after the Edict of the Diet of Worms, if you were accused and convicted of propagating Luther’s ideas, you were required to forfeit all of your property (Wikipedia). Luther questioned power, but not merely to question power. He questioned, offered arguments about, the misuse of power. When power is used unethically, to fail to question it allows for abuse. To fail to question it undermines the very fabric of human decency because it mistreats or takes advantage of those who do not have it, hoping to merely benefit those who do. As some of you know, I am a penchant for questioning this sort of power mongering. I have done it in the past with some pretty dire consequences, but this is not something I can abide. As Lord Acton, the British historian and moralist said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” He certainly did not invent the idea of power creating chaos or difficulty, but he is credited with this specific quote. Ironically, for me, the first place I saw such power used was by a Lutheran bishop. Questioning the power of him at the time, and even confronting that power by my own action created an interesting result. When I tried to resign the clergy roster because of what I felt was poor leadership (and this is a simplification) my resignation was not accepted. When I made a serious mistake the bishop actually said, “Now I am in the drivers seat and I want your resignation.” Those two events were only weeks apart. Luther’s willingness to question the power of the Catholic Church was not without danger, and anyone who knows the story knows that after the Diet at Worms, he was given an imperial ban, a co-issued ban by the HRE Charles V and the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Leo X. What this meant was if you found Luther you could kill him on sight. Welcome again to a serious problem and an wonderful example of two people with the most power in the 16th century world and what they were willing to do. This is a combination of church and politics and at that time pretty well covered every element of human existence. In the Diet (another word for trial), when asked if he would step back from his proclamations which questioned authority on a number of levels, he responded, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” The more infamous words attributed to him are probably not his, but they sound impressive. They are “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” More likely after leaving the hearing room he said something more important. He pronounced, “I am finished,” However, Friederich the Wise, the elector of Saxony and his protector, had other plans and that is how Luther would end up hid away in the Castle at Wartburg.

Certainly there have been reforming movements within the Lutheran Church, and, again, anyone who knows the denomination knows it is fragmented and there are a number of issues still discussed and questioned from the beginning. There are questions about the interpretation of scripture, of the role of women in the church, of our ecumenical ties and the list can go on. In fact, I am not sure Luther would be very impressed with how fragmented we have become. There is a second Lutheran for whom I have great appreciation. He is the person on whom I wrote my dissertation, the German theologian, scholar, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He is the person who not only questioned Hitler and the Final Solution, but when the church did not stand up strongly enough, he was willing to become a double agent and was eventually hanged for his role in the plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. Bonhoeffer, in 1933, still believed that authority and order were the very things needed to limit authority. Yet, what Bonhoeffer intuitively seemed to know from the outset was that Hitler would use his power as chancellor in a manner that would create (or perhaps force) the abdication of order and power that belongs to people based on their decision to form a society to begin with. Bonhoeffer would say that when such a situation occurs, the leader becomes the misleader. Paul Tillich, another skilled and renowned theologian had written (in 1932 before Hitler became chancellor) “A Protestantism which is open to National Socialism and repudiates socialism is in the process of once again betraying its task in the world. Apparently obedience to the statement that the kingdom of God is not of this world it shows itself to be . . .  obedient to the victorious powers and their demonry” (Evangeliche Kirche zwischen Kreuz und Hakenkreuz).

Questioning anything that our government does today is deemed unpatriotic, and that trend is something that has been around from the beginning of the country, but it certainly seems more infelicitous than ever to question. Arguments have been made that the 2004 election that actually elected George W. Bush to a second term (yes I realize the inference here) was a referendum on whether or not we could hold him accountable for his tax cuts that moved us from a surplus economy to a debtor economy again (hmmmmm . . . . anyone seeing a parallel with what is currently occurring) and claiming a necessity of war based on WMD, which also helped tank our economy. As I write this, it is election night and a number of my colleagues, who are full-time faculty have thrown their hats into the political realm this election and at this point, one has been elected (I cannot find results for the other two raises as this point). I am glad to hear that it seems two states’ governorships will be in hands that do not support the isolationist, fear-mongering national tenor of our politics. I believe that our President was elected for a reason, but I am not convinced the reason might be what most think. In spite of his claims, I do believe he lost the popular vote. In spite of the fact that Hilary Clinton seems to have done more to railroad the primary that we might have thought, I believe we ended up with what we perhaps deserved . . .  I know that is a bold and difficult statement, but perhaps what is most important for me is having Donald Trump as our President has forced some soul searching. It has created a degree of scrutiny that has probably never been witnessed in our national politics. I know there is both a positive and negative to all of this, but there is a certain kairos in that too. Social media, the very thing that might have elected him is now created a profound difficulty for him, and much of it is due to his own 140 character nonsensical, preposterous tantrums. Should I be surprised that he has already tweeted that the Republican candidate for Governor in VA “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for” (Fox News). Could it be that the people of Virginia are simply more supportive of Governor-elect Northam? Could it be that this election is a questioning of the direction our national politics are going and this is a way to stand up and question that direction? It is always dangerous to read more than one should into other things, but I believe the more significant danger is to become comfortable with our current politics that allow for the politics of division and hate to triumph over the believe that all people matter. I believe the more insidious danger is to become comfortable with a President who demeans and lashes out against anything or anyone who questions his position or authority. I believe we are better than that as a country. I believe the dream of the founders of this nation held on courageously and selfishly to the dream of a country where each person mattered and each voice or vote truly counted. I was unfortunately not shocked them 90% of my freshmen students did not find it important enough to vote today. I am not shocked when people do not take the time to ask questions and then complain about the consequences. I, however, cannot sit idly by and allow such a treacherous path to continue unabated or unquestioned. I will continue to be “a spoke in the wheel,” one that questions; one that squeaks; one that looks for justice in a time where justice seems to be an ideal rather than a practice. I refuse to allow the language and the rhetoric of a bully define who I am as a citizen. Perhaps we needed Mr. Trump to understand what we do not want for our country.

Thanks always for reading.

Michael (another American citizen)

The Fundamentals of College (and Life)

 Hello from my office,

We are back to the last week of classes and the finals the week following. This semester has gone much more rapidly (at least it seems to be the case) than any other semester since I first taught the fall of 1992. It has hard to believe that I have been doing this for this long a period of time. Today is the last day of the semester, so yet again it is a couple days since I began this post. Today I met with a student, who like many first year students, the shock of the elevation of expectations and the lack of preparedness from high school is much greater than ever imagined. It is not just that lack of preparedness that concerns me, it is the fundamental lack of critical thinking and the lack of study skills that shocks me. I asked the student about their studying and if they believed everything they had done should have prepared them. They said, yes, but barely passed an exam, twice. When I asked where the problem might be, they could not come up with an answer. In addition, they were somewhat content with where they stood. I understand to some extent the response, “it is what it is.” What I am not sure of is if they were trying to merely move forward, or they had somewhat given up, or they just did not even care. I am hoping it is the middle choice, but I am honestly not sure.

I must also say I do not put the entire weight of this on the student’s shoulders. They certainly have some responsibility, but our system, both public K12 and now the university must bear some of the fault. I see so many freshman under prepared. In this particular group of summer students, we structure them to the maximum in the summer and naively believe they have learned to manage their time and academic demands in six weeks. So in the fall they are left to their own to try to figure it out. Many of them fail miserably. The consequence is academic probation, a grade point they might never recover from, and a sense of disillusionment, where once they believed in a dream of moving beyond where they come from. Of my 22 summer students, it will be interesting to see how they have done. The seven or eight I am continuing to mentor show an overwhelming sense of struggle. Only one is where I think they should be. I wish there was an easy answer to this issue, but there isn’t. It would take a number of systemic changes. Yet, I guess if a couple figure it out there is some sense of achievement or success. It is my idealism wanting everyone to figure it out.

Since starting this post, another shooting, another connection to ISIS/ISIL, another reason to wonder what had happened. Again there is no easy answer and whoever becomes the next president (and I hope it is almost anyone but Trump-well not quite) will have a significant problem on their hands. When I first heard reports of the shooting and got names, the Arabic nature of the names automatically had me wondering. That reaction demonstrates the consequence of 911 and the incidences since then. How is this different from what happened to the Jews in Germany or the Japanese in the United States post-Pearl Harbor? It isn’t and I am mortified that I am in this position. I have Muslim students, one in particular who is like my own child, who are normal,  hard working, and would never want such terror to befall their neighbors and friends. How did one faith that was basically built on prayer and giving become so violent for a particular element of the followers of Muhammad? I do not see a call for violence in their five pillars of faith.  Of course, the same can be said for many who proclaim the Christian faith for whom the golden rule is a fundamental tenet, but certainly do not demonstrate such behavior and treat those who are either different or believe differently with such disdain or hatred.

While I did not experience either of those extremes anytime lately, it is always interesting for me to see how so many are so kind or close when they need something, but otherwise they act quite differently. Students are so predictable. It amuses me on one hand and saddens me on the other. The end of the semester panic (or acceptance) that their poor choices for 14 weeks cannot be fixed by extra credit, tears, or avoidance. The belief that it is just something to do over when they have simply thrown away 1000s of dollars. Part of it is immaturity. Part of it is learned selfishness. Part of it is our willingness in our public schools to give something for nothing. Merely show up, stay out of trouble, and turn in something and you can have an A or B. I am witnessing the consequence every semester. That is not to say there are not strong or smart hard working students, but the overwhelming belief that I should go to college merely because I should is misguided. Not everyone should go straight out of high school. Perhaps most shouldn’t. All I know is the fundamentals of discipline and priorities, which are necessary to succeed in college are not fundamental to many of my students. The consequences are consequential: difficulty in finding a job and significant debt for a piece of paper that guarantees nothing.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin

Thinking Carefully; Wondering Broadly

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Good Morning from the diner,

As I write this I have reminisced and realized that on this date, my Great-aunt Helen, probably one of the more elegant women I have ever known, would be celebrating a birthday today. I need to do some searching on a year, but I am imagining she would be around 108 or so. In addition, four years ago today the reality of a flood in Bloomsburg was terrifically apparent. That flood crested at 32.75 feet and the consequence of the flood is actually still felt here in town. The third significant thing that occurred in my life was a pretty serious motorcycle accident. I ended up with two skull fractures, serious facial surgery, and even more significant hand surgery. My little finger on my left hand is a veritable hardware store. I was fortunate and have been fortunate in so many ways. This past week I feel like I am still trying to get my feet firmly underneath me and some sense or semblance of order to the semester.

That semblance is still struggling because it is now the weekend and I had begun this on Tuesday. Part of that might be that I have been technologically challenged again this week. First I misplaced my phone and then it seems it needed to be reset again. It is just now, Sunday that it is working reasonably well again. This is the third time I have had to completed restore it. That little process takes about 3 or 4 hours. I need to get a hold of a number of people as I just got their texts and or other attempts to get a hold of me. I need to put in perhaps one of the most labor intensive weeks that I have had in a long time this coming week. Along with other things that have occurred, I was elected the chairperson of the Evaluation Committee this week. That will also be a labor intensive thing, but I will manage it also.  It is hard for me to believe that 14 years have passed since the fateful September day in 2001. What is harder for me to imagine is what the world was like before that time. It is almost like we were in a world of naiveté . . .  and looking back with 14 years of hindsight, we certainly were. There are two substantive differences that I have noticed personally. Because I have flown as much as I have, the reality of flying today and the fact that there is nothing really enjoyable about it is a difference to me. I used to look forward to the idea of being on a plane. Those days are long past, and it is not merely the cramped or overcrowding . . .  it is the way that we are treated in general. We have become numb to the cattle-like herding that seems indicative of most airline travel. We have learned to manage lines, inspections, questions, and a general sense of mistrust like that is normal. It is normal, but the very fact that it has become the norm is undeniably sad. The second thing that has changed for me (personably as an observer) is the way that we have learned to mistrust others as a general course of action. As groups like ISIL (ISIS) or Al Qaeda or other Islamic terrorist groups continue to skew the image of Islam in the world, the unfortunate consequence for all Islamic people is they are viewed suspiciously. I have amazing students who are Turkish, Egyptian, Sudanese, or other predominately Muslim countries and I cannot imagine what they must put up with daily because they choose to wear a hijab or because they look either Middle Eastern or North African. These changes in the world, while I understand them, cause me more sadness than anger or suspicion.

I remember the day following 911 and a student in my second semester composition course at Michigan Tech noted in my class unapologetically, “You deserved what happened yesterday.” This student from the UAE was unbowed in his opinion and the uproar that occurred in the class and my attempt to focus on what he said as well as wonder a bit more broadly was one of the more delicate rhetorical moves I have ever had to make in a class. I remember the project we did in that class that semester and the amazing work those students did to manage a response that focused on the community of caring and giving that was created out of that tragic day. There was a sense of caring globally that was outstanding and unparalleled. I wish we had more of that yet now or that we might have held on to it. There are a number of places where it seems not only have we lost it, but we are in a much more dangerous position that perhaps anytime in history. The first place I would not for that disharmony is in our nation’s capitol. I understand this is only my opinion, but I think the founders of this country would appalled, or quite sad, that their grand experiment has seemed to be reduced to such rancor that it seems that even the most mundane piece of legislation has become a marathon to complete. I cannot imagine they would be impressed that Donald Trump finds it appropriate to speak about Carly Fiorina’s face as if that were a politically reasonable way to manage a campaign. While I am all for spirited debate and appropriate arguments, and even being passionate about what one argues, the reality of the present campaign pains me more than words can express. Donald Trump is nothing more than a rich kid, sandbox bully. I might even be willing to allow that he has some intelligence, but use that first rather than after the fact. That is my soapbox rant for this blog.

In the days that I worked in graduate school after 911, I worked on a project for one of my mentors. That was a project that looked at the images of 911 as well as some of what we might call remix songs. One of them that still moves me is what I am posting here.

I cannot watch this even fourteen years later and not have chills up and down my body. I have not gotten over to see the 911 Memorial in NYC yet, but I need to do that. I am reminded that so many people’s lives were irreparably changed that day, but so was a national fabric, in fact, the world fabric. What creates such hate among people? I am forced to think carefully and wonder yet more broadly to try to find such an answer to such a difficult question.  I cannot imagine what that day must have been like for all of those in Manhattan and the boroughs of New York City. I know how shocked we were in the rural and seemingly protected Upper Peninsula. I have found another video that as I watched it brought tears to my eyes.

If you might take a moment to think about your own attitudes and your own change in perception since that day, it might be a good thing. Who are we as people? What is our purpose as people? From where does the hatred for one another because of difference in skin color, religion, socio-economic class, or orientation come? What makes one person better or more entitled than another? These are the questions that permeate my thoughts as I consider the post 911 world? What allows a person’s religious beliefs to trump their political or civic responsibility? What happens when people proof-text and use the Bible to uphold their bigotry or self-righteousness? What happens when we believe we have the right answers and, therefore, the answers or views of another are considered wrong, or unchristian, or something of less value than ours? We end up with a world of mistrust and hatred. We end up with a world that marginalized the other.

During the coming week I will turn 60 years old. I am not exactly sure how I have ended up where I have. When I graduated from high school as an small, naïve, and wide-eyed Midwestern boy going into Marine Corps boot camp, I had no idea that I would be were I am today. When I met the first girl I really liked as an adult barely out of the service, I ever realized how much another person could influence my life. As I traveled on a Lutheran Youth Encounter team member, I had no idea that the persons I met that year would be part of the remainder of my days. As I arrived at that small liberal arts college in Nebraska, I had no idea that so many of the people I met and the things I learned would create such an amazing educational foundation (and that is about life as well as academics). Since that time, I have been involved in education pretty much non-stop, I have learned that everything I do has a teaching element to it. It is who I am. I love to help others learn and improve their lives. I have become a pondering person, one to generally thinks more carefully and wonder more broadly. What are the consequences of our actions and how does what we do affect others long after we are no longer there? I did not think that turning 60 would be that monumental. The only other birthday that I have found significant in my life was 25. Somehow, it seems this one might outpace that one in terms of personal impact. I am not entirely sure, but I am realizing that I am thinking about the remainder of my life more carefully and, yes, perhaps, more broadly than ever before. What I know for sure is there is nothing promised and there are no guarantees. That is also a consequence of 911 for me. We have no idea where the end is. I am realizing that my grandmother, my hero, only lived to be four years older than this coming birthday. My mother only eight years  longer. I am not sure I have ever thought of entering a decade that might be my last, but I am realizing that is a more likely possibility than the previous decades. I am not trying to sound fatalistic, but rather, I am being more cognizant of the fact that each day is a gift and there is a lot more to consider. I also realize I have a lot I would still like to do. So . . . . with that in mind, it is time to get to it.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

A Day in Infamy

Stop Writing

Good morning on Monday of Finals Week,

I am quite sure for graduating seniors this last set of undergraduate finals has a very different feel to them than the first semester freshmen who are experiencing the week for the first time. I remember attempting to take finals after by brother passed away the previous week. It was a terrible experience. Of course, the fact that I had not been a stellar student in the weeks before did not help. I also remember when I had 23 credits one semester and had 9 hours of finals back-to-back (Greek, German, and Latin). That was not a stellar day either.

It seems that each generation has those moments in their lives that some event occurs and they will remember where they were. It is hard to believe that my freshmen students were only 5 years old when 911 occurred. While they probably remember something about the day, they did not understand the significance of it, or at least in a larger picture. I do remember November 22, 1963 even though I was only 8 years old. I know my father, who would be 99 years old remembered Pearl Harbor as did any person alive that fateful day in 1941. It is, of course, the basis of the title for this blog. I think while I remember President Kennedy’s assassination and I remember clearly the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and  Robert Kennedy  (I was in what is now called middle school), the 8th of December 1980 was another one of those moments for me. I was a sophomore at Dana College and an impromptu humanities event (Hum Event as we called them) was held because John Lennon has been shot and killed outside his Dakota Apartment Building in NYC. Like every kid of the 60s, I remember the British Invasion and the Beatles were part of our musical DNA at that time. I think what I remember more about Lennon was his break from the group and his solo career and his outspoken and, at least what seemed to a Midwest Iowa kid, his outlandish behavior. Today I think he would be considered tame though I do believe he would still stand up and speak out against injustice and corporate greed, which again seems a bit oxymoronic because his money was made through the corporate music industry.

These past days I have been pondering the violence that has seemed to permeate everything we do. I have been listening to NPR, which, for those of you who know me, is not surprising. I have listened to a reoccurring theme in a number of commercials that say something to the effect of “if you see something out of the ordinary speak up”. This theme is to respond to the violence that seems to be present in every place and part of our society: the streets, the schools, the malls, the churches, add whatever comes to mind). While I am well aware that guns do not kill people, but it is the person using it and most of the other 2nd Amendment right arguments, I have a significant problem with the simple fact that I believe this culture of the “constitutional right” to own a gun seems too often to find its way into the debate, arguing that is why we should not limit ownership of type of weapon, the capacity of the magazine, or anything that seems to say “you can’t . . . “. As a former Marine (notice I did not say ex-Marine), I know all too well what an armor-piercing round can do to an ammo can let alone a human being. I know the accuracy of an M14 or an M16 or a 45 caliber pistol. I have fired them all and quite well.

While I know this will be controversial to some, it is merely my opinion. Simply put, I do not believe the average person has need of a firearm of any sort. Again, I did not say anything about their right to own it, but why do most people need it? I also know the issue of protection and that if lawful people cannot have guns then only the crooks have them. First, of all that argument is crap. Law abiding people do have guns and the crooks still have them and the consequence is simply that more people have guns. As a college professor, I am glad, at least for the moment, students are not allowed to have a carry and conceal option in a Pennsylvania classroom. That is not to say I am worried about being a target, but again, I do not believe that carry and conceal is a sensible law for the average person. Why in God’s name do you need to be packing a pistol as you walk down the street? It is kind of like angry drunks. I bartended long enough to put up with what I call “asshole drunks” and in a college town there is way too many cases of alcohol + testosterone = dumbass. You can substitute estrogen for testosterone in the previous equation too. Angry drunks do not need to be drunk to be a jerk. They already have that skill; alcohol merely raises their jerk-ability quotient exponentially. So it is with people and guns, it seems that many times guns are used in anger. I do not need to cite figures here. I am merely speaking from common sense. I grew up with an uncle who had an arsenal in his house, but he taught me to respect firearms at a young age. While I never questioned his right to own a gun, I never felt the need to own one myself and after seeing what happened with weapons as a Marine, I had even less desire to have a gun. While again, I understand some people might have a desire to own a firearm, I think the question of why they want it is important. For what reason do you think you want a firearm? For what reason do you think you need a firearm? Those are very different questions. The issue of wanting something is generally bases on a desire or a wish, or maybe as a way to prove something. The issue of needing something is that there is a belief that one’s life is missing something of importance or necessity without it. The 2nd Amendment is not a reason to justify either of these positions; the only thing the 2nd Amendment does is allow either the want or need to be legalized. I have spent a good portion of my life in rural areas and where I now live they actually cancel the public school on the first day of deer hunting season. I remember how stunned I was by that the first time I lived in this state. They said it was safer so school buses did not get shot at. Really? You cannot tell that it is big and yellow? Sometimes, the stupidity of people boggles my mind. I guess I am a bit more simple that I would like to admit. Or maybe things merely need to make sense and most people do not. That leaves me in a quandary. What I do know is when I was in grade school  or middle school or high school, we did not worry about people having guns in the hallways or lunchrooms or any place like that. A fight between two trying to prove their masculinity after school was about the extent of the violence. We did not have to worry about armed guards or whether teachers needed guns. Am I merely showing my age? No, I think we are talking about something more fundamental. We are talking about respect for one another. Last night I actually appreciated something I heard LeBron James say after a game. When talking about the societal issue of violence, he noted it was a human issue. I could not agree more. I do not care about your gender, your race, your ethnicity or any other variable. What I want to know is can you be respectful? Can you treat people with decency? I have brought this issue up in other contexts in this blog. When you fail to treat other people, any person, with a sense of decency, the consequence is a poorer, sadder society. We do have a duty to the society in which we live to treat people decently. I am well aware that some argue against any sense of this and demonstrate that through their actions. I fundamentally disagree with them. I understand that is a choice also, and that is free will, but to think we have no duty, no co-requirement or any other synonym that shows an interdependence would mean there is no societal sense of decency or justice. It seems that is perhaps why some of the idiocy that has become more commonplace is happening. If we have no sense of moral or legal responsibility, if we can do as we please and merely say it is who we are, the consequence is what we have: a society of mistrust, a society of greed, a society of violence. When enough people think they have no reason to consider how their actions affect the other, I am afraid we will find out what anarchy truly is. I believe it is this very attitude that creates situations like those that have covered our headlines of late. When enough individual claim free will gives them Carte Blanche to do as they please, I fear we will see more acts of complete selfishness.

Well, I am in the middle of grading and the initiative is long and arduous. I am always amazed on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to the grading and what students have actually done with the opportunity to come to the university. It is much like the issue of wants and needs. Some believe they need to be here (and I understand that concept). It astounds me when they believe that, but then do not take advantage of the opportunity to do the work and excel, that is not potential that is discipline. There are those who merely want to be here and their reasoning could be based on a variety of things. However, I am afraid that I consider their philosophical justification a bit more dubious. All-in-all, what I know is the next days I will evaluate and assess and, at the end, I will assign a grade that I believe has been earned. I do not enjoy this part of the semester, but it is a necessary evil. I know that some have done the work they need to do and that finals are merely review. I also know that some of them are trying to make up for 14 weeks of slacking (or at least some slacking in there). For those individuals, the week is brutal and taxing. Even if you have done your work, you care and you do stress. I know this is the case. For some of them, grades will be their day of infamy. That is a reality check. As I finish up the semester, it has been eventful. While there were hopes and dreams for each person, the reality of where the semester ends is always a bit unexpected. While I think I have done pretty strong work in the classroom, my grading and timeliness has not been up to par. I think the other battle I am fighting has taken its toll, but that is my reality. Today, in spite of water and doing what I should, my body hurts. In spite of that, I have a lot to manage and there is no respite, so I will keep going. I am hoping that I might catch up with some people I have in good faith helped out and have somehow not followed through. I am realizing that I believe the best in people too often.

This is not a complaint; it is merely the reality that I am experiencing. I am so blessed to be here. I am hoping to continue to be so. In the meanwhile, it is back to reading and grading.

Thanks for reading as always,

Dr. Martin