500 Years of the 95 Theses Celebrated in Germany

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Magdeburg Cathedral, one of the places where Martin Luther spread his influence. Photo taken in 2011

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BERLIN/ERFURT/ LUTHERSTADT-WITTENBERG- You see me, and we see you. The slogan for the 36th annual Day of Christianity (Kirchentag), which ended yesterday with an open-air church service on the field along the Elbe River in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg.  Located between Leipzig and Berlin, Wittenberg was the central stage for Martin Luther, who was a professor of theology 500 years ago- a revolutionary who posted the 95 Theses on the doors of the church in the city with its present-day population of over 30,000 inhabitants. It is this city, where the two-day event commemorated the historic event, which reshaped Christianity and created the church that still bears its name.  Over 400,000 visitors participated in the four-day event, which started in Berlin, but also featured regional events in cities where Luther had its strongest influence: Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Jena, Eisleben, Halle and even Magdeburg had festivities from Thursday to Saturday for Christians, tourists, families and people wanting to know more about Luther and his interpretation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Wittenberg alone, roughly 120,000 visitors converged onto the field along the Elbe River and at the city center, to take part in the evening light show and open air reflections on Saturday, followed by an open-air church service on Sunday. Despite the sweltering heat, people had an opportunity to listen to the sermons as well as the discussion forum, one of which involved newly-elected German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who took over for Joachim Gauck in February this year.

In Berlin, where over 245,000 visitors took part in the festivities, especially at Brandenburg Gate, the events marked the welcoming back of former US President Barack Obama, who, together with Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized Donald Trump’s policy of isolation with his plan for building the Wall to Mexico and isolating the country from its international obligations.

And as for the regional places, according to reports by MDR, the numbers were much lower than expected. In Erfurt, Jena and Weimar alone, only 42,000 visitors attended the events from Thursday to Saturday. However, the events were overshadowed by warm, summer weather, the Handel festival that began in Halle, the relegation soccer game between Jena and Cologne, where the former won the first of two games, and lastly, the Luther events at the aforementioned places in Berlin and Wittenberg.

This was noticeable during my visit in Erfurt on Friday with my wife and daughter. There, despite having over a dozen booths, podium discussions in several churches, tours of the churchs’ chapels and steeples as well as several plays and concerts and a pilgrimage from Stotternheim to the city center, the majority of the visitors took advantage of the beautiful weather for other activities.  It had nothing to do with attempts to recruit and convert people to become Lutheran on the spot. One should not interpret Luther and his teachings like this. In fact at a few sites that feature plays and musicals for children, such as Luther and Katharina as well as the Luther Express where children learned about Jesus during each of the four seasons, the layout and preparations were simple but well thought out with no glorifying features and some informative facts presented, which attracted a sizable number of people in the audience (between 50 and 60).

The lack of numbers might have to do with the fact that despite Christianity dominating Germany at 59%, only 28% consists of Lutherans in general. In the US, over 46% consists of Protestants, of which 26% are Evangelicals. 71% of the population are Christians. Given the low number of people belonging to the church, the United Lutheran Church Association of Germany (EKD) and other organizations worked together to make the Luther festival informative, attracting people from different denominations so that they know about Luther’s legacy both in Germany as well as above. It doesn’t necessarily mean that membership is obligatory. Much of the population are sceptical about the beliefs in Jesus, which is one of the reasons of why a quarter of the 41% are aethesists or agnostics. This leads to the question of why Christ is not important to them while at the same time why people in Germany elect to join the church. This question I had touched on in a conversation with one of the pastors of a local church, which will be brought up in a later article.

Nevertheless, when summarizing the events of this weekend, it was deemed a success in many ways. It provided visitors with a glimpse of Luther’s legacy, especially in Wittenberg, where his 95 Thesis was the spark that started the fire and spread to many cities in the region. It also brought together friends and strangers alike, Christian and non-Christian to remember the 500th anniversary of the establishment of the Lutheran Church we know today, branches included. Exhibits on Luther can be found in Wittenberg but also at the places where Luther played a key role. For more, please click here to see where you can visit the sites.

You can also read up on the pilgrimage of six people, who marched on Lutherstadt-Wittenberg for the events by foot, bike or even boat, camping along the way. Each pair started their tour from Erfurt, Eisleben and Dessau-Rosslau, respectively. Here you can find their stories.

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Martin Luther and the Apple Tree

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This Food for Thought Commentary ties in the series on Martin Luther and the Apple to look at one important aspect in society today, which is people and proof of power versus praxis.

I would like to start my commentary with a story about the German word, Mogelpackung. Known in English as the sham packaging, in the literal sense of the word, it implies a product that is half-full and whose contents have the worst quality imaginable, but is fully packaged in bright shiny bags, thus making a person buy it because of its appearance.

It happened at a time when I was 13 and living with my parents at a university town in Minnesota, known as Marshall. My father was professor for technology at the university there, and every time he was teaching, I would hang out with my aunt and her (now ex) husband in the art department, where the latter was producing world-class paintings and offering classes, such as modeling, painting, sculpting and the like. And for the record, I was his “guinea pig” for one session of modelling, having to earn money to pay for film after using my mother’s camera for taking pictures. 😉

 

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But given the size of the campus, I would usually roam around every department and come across vending machines that were in each building. One day, I happened to find a vending machine and with 50 cents in my pocket, I bought a small bag of Ruffles potato chips, only to find that upon opening the bag, the contents were not even half full. Worse was when eating them, it tasted like it had been in the machine for YEARS!!! They were stale, dressed in salt!!!

When I mentioned this to my aunt upon returning to the art studio, she explained the concept of sham packaging and how companies try successfully to take that extra quarter out of the pockets of the innocent  just to earn that little money for their machine- a half-full package that is vacuum-packed but dressed in aluminum covering to make it look glamorous.

Companies can be really sneaky, can’t they?

But when looking at our society today, we not only see sham packaging everywhere but going beyond vending machines and shopping malls and mega-retailers. People can be shams too. One in three people on average are considered narcissists- people who take advantage of others for the purpose of personal gain.  It is unknown how a person can become a narcissist except to say that environmental factors, such as personal experience and trauma, external influence from others, the strive for new trends, craving attention and sometimes personal revenge are factors that can contribute to having a narccist personality, aside from a childhood upbringing where abuse, neglect and being controlled by parents and other family members. Sometimes the use of technology, like social networks, or a strict religious upbringing can play a role.  In either case, when a person promises the world and gives you a gagging grin are the people whom you want to avoid at any cost, for narcissists are capable of getting their way at the expense of others and enjoy watching others suffer from their defeat. These people can be best compared to sham packaging as I mentioned at the beginning- glamoring and god-like on the outside, but evil and incompetent on the inside- both in terms of hard skills as well as soft skills.

 

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The serpeant was a complete sham when it offered Adam and Eve an apple from the Apple of Wisdom, according to the readings of Genesis. End result- God expels them from the Garden of Eden. But can an apple be a sham package?  Absolutely not; they have their own natural color, each one representing its own flavor- and to a certain degree, one’s reaction upon tasting it.  😉  Yet the apple can be a symbol of strength and wisdom, learning about life and the people who live in it, contributing for the better or worse. If we were to eliminate the apple from our own diets in both these aspects, we would become barbarians battling for the best using all forms of measures to submit our prey before going in for the kill.

 

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This is where Martin Luther comes in. When he created the 95 Theses 500 years ago, he was planting the seeds for the apple tree that would later become the Lutheran Church. The purpose behind the separation from the Catholic Church was simple: The Church was also greedy and not paying attention to the needs of the people, but to the privileged, whose lives were spent in a glass ball, whose wall was thick enough to block out all the pleas and blind out the plight of poor. Yet one very perplexing comment that was extracted from Luther is making us think about how sharing or shamful the prophet was:

 

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree!

 

One has to look at the circumstances that led to his comment. After the theses were posted a rebellion  broke out among the peasants who felt cheated by the church. The Peasants War broke out in 1524-25 resulting in the casualties of more than 100,000 people. The revolt failed as the peasants were put down by armies supported by the aristocrats in the kingdoms of Saxony, Bavaria, Thuringia and Alsace.  Churches were looted and burned. Priests were murdered. And already many of Luther’s followers were interpreting the 500 theses in their own way, setting the stage for fragments of the Lutheran Churc. This included the conflict between Luther himself (who favored a middle approach between the aristocrats and the peasants) and Thomas Müntzer, who favored justice for the peasants. The conflict resulted in a fallout between the two and an everlasting feud which lasted until Luther’s death.  Luther’s establishment of the church was meant to bring the people together, just as the apple trees were planted to bring people together. Yet it seemed that what he actually did, by supporting both sides,  was instigate violence, thus making him look like a sham, as well as the others. While the uprisings did stop in 1525,  the theses brought out those who believed in change and it was badly needed, yet it brought out those who used the changes for the purpose of the gain of power. The theses criticized the Church for its practices but never made suggestions of how to change it, resulting in Luther being ostracized by many in his circle of friends of family. Yet these critical points allowed for other followers to establish their branches of the church.

 

If Luther was considered a sham, then most likely because of the ideas that were as thoughtful as the package of potato chips, yet when looking down at them, they were unappealing to the Church, resulting in its bitter taste, and salty because of the people who used his thesis for their own set of religions, some of which that still exist today are too strict and the themes too controversial.  But Luther was not a sham in reality. He saw the suffering of the people and ignoring the pleas of the shams wishing to undermine his work for their gain, he planted the apple trees for them, by opening the doors of the church to them so they can learn the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. His comment would best be interpreted as the modern terms of “If I had turned back the clock, I would still do it,” yet his comments, although considered sham by critics, indicate that he would still continue to plant the apple trees for the people to ensure that they had their share of wisdom and strength, instead of the sham packaging that the Catholic Church had offered at that time.

 

To sum up this lengthy discussion on sham packaging and the apple tree by Martin Luther, one has to connect the half-full package of potato chips from the vending machines with the apples, planted and harvested by Luther and compare it to the events of 500 years ago with that of today.  While it is easy to turn down the potato chips in favor of the apple because of its nutrients and all the other advantages it has, looking at it from the standpoint of Christ, it is much easier to decide how to believe as long as the religion is open to all and loving to all. Looking back 500 years, the people didn’t have the luxury of potato chips but saw the packaging of the Church and decided for the alternative. And therefore, it was much easier for them to choose the apple that opened the door to Jesus.

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Genre Tip: The Boy and His Puppy: An Inseparable Love Affair by Unknown Author

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Author’s Note: This story has been circulated around for many years, and the first time I heard this story was when I was in high school, and the story was part of a sermon at a church in my hometown in Minnesota- over 23 years ago. It was a story about love between a boy and animals, but also love based on understanding and common experience between two entities. It was a story of how love can produce an everlasting bond which cannot be broken.  I came across this story most recently because of some experiences that I and many others witnessed, where people and even plants, who are unloved and neglected, are taken in by those of us who are willing to give them a chance at life, no matter the circumstances. I will not go into detail for privacy reasons, but our willingness to open the door to those in need and adopt the ones most neglected fosters openness and love in ways we could never imagine it before.

When the story came out, no one knew who wrote it, nor was there a title to it. It just read please share. I’m doing this honor but leaving credit at the end to the person who wrote this (unknown author) because this story is as touching today as it was over two decades ago. It’s still giving us something to think about. 

 

A farmer had some puppies he needed to sell. He painted a sign advertising the 4 pups, and set about nailing it to a post on the edge of his yard.

As he was driving the last nail into the post, he felt tug on his overalls.

He looked down into the eyes of a little boy.

“Mister,” he said, “I want to buy one of your puppies.”

“Well,” said the farmer, as he rubbed the sweat of the back of his neck, “these puppies come from fine parents and cost a good deal of money.”

The boy dropped his head for a moment. Then reaching deep into his pocket,
he pulled out a handful of change and held it up to the farmer. “I’ve
got thirty-nine cents. Is that enough to take a look?”

“Sure,” said the farmer. And with that he let out a whistle. “Here Dolly!” he called.

Out from the doghouse and down ramp ran Dolly followed by four little balls of fur.

The little boy pressed his face against the chain link fence. His eyes danced with delight.

As the dogs made their way to the fence, the little boy noticed
something else stirring inside the doghouse.

Slowly another little ball appeared, this one noticeably smaller.

Down the ramp it slid. Then in a awkward manner, the little pup began hobbling toward the others, doing its best to catch up….

“I want that one,” the little boy said, pointing to the runt.

The farmer knelt down at the boy’s side and said, “Son, you don’t want that puppy. He will never be able to run and play with you like these other dogs would.”

With that the little boy stepped back from the fence, reached down, and began rolling up one leg of his trousers. In doing so he revealed a steel brace running down both sides of his leg attaching itself to a specially made shoe.

Looking back up at the farmer, he said, “You see sir, I don’t run too well myself, and he will need someone who understands.”

With tears in his eyes, the farmer reached down and picked up the little pup. Holding it carefully he handed it to the little boy.

“How much?” asked the little boy.

“No charge,” answered the farmer, “There’s no charge for love.”
Read more at http://www.reshareworthy.com/boy-surprises-farmer/#4AEqeZJj4LOhI33U.99

and Man Told A Boy Not To Get The Disabled Puppy But Is Surprised By The Boy’s Response

 

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Genre of the Week: Sojourns and Sayings of Martin Luther by Heinz Stade

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The art of music is the best food for one who is troubled, for through it the heart is contented, inspired and refreshed.

 

Sometimes even the best writers, teachers, priests, and people working in the field of law need music to produce ideas and ease their souls, to reflect on the situations that went wrong and look ahead to the future with a plan. Even as I write this, I listen to classical rock music and think about the ways to address Luther and the problems we face today, not to mention how we look at Luther from our own eyes. Literature is one of the aspects to look at, as it shows us how Luther lived and conveyed his message to his followers, let alone how his teachings have affected the Church to this day.  Sometimes even having a collection of quotes gives a person an insight into his experiences and how he can share them with others. After all, quotes and sayings produced from one’s mouth can speak more volumes than any lecture, speech or talk because it is based on one’s own achievements. This is why I usually write and keep a set of my own quotes for my own use because of my experiences that can help others having similar experiences like I did.

 

Several books have a collection of quotes written or told by Martin Luther, pending on the sources. I will present two of them I found during my recent visit to Wartburg in Eisenach. The first one is a collection of sojourns and sayings of Martin Luther, a collection of quotes put together by Heinz Stade but based on a German work by Susan Kubitz, released in 2015 by Rhino Press.

 

Available in English, French and Spanish, Sojourns and Sayings is divided up into cities where Martin Luther’s influences were at his best and where most of his written works are found and recorded into history, from the parents’ home in Möhra (Thuringia) and Mansfield (Saxony-Anhalt) to his place of birth and death in Eisleben, to his days as a student in Erfurt and as a reformer there and in Wittenberg. There was even quotes from the city of Torgau, where protestant history was written, and Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora died in 1552. His quotes are not only categorized based on his stay but also in categories, such as family, pursuit of knowledge, Christian people, work and idleness and on God and the world for each of the respective aforementioned towns. The quotes book is so small, one can carry it with in his backpack and read the quotes while travelling, let alone use it for insurance coverage (that topic will come later).

 

But how useful are the quotes from the book? I took a few excerpts out and categorized them myself to show how Luther interpreted them, connecting them with the current scenery, which from Luther’s perspective would be justified to remind society of how our gifts should be handled with care, the fruits of this world should not be abused, and lastly, how we should respect and love our own neighbors regardless of their social, cultural and other backgrounds, unconditionally and wholly.

 

So without further ado:

 Love, Marriage and Relationships:

 

This one needs no explanation because of a lengthy column I wrote about on this topic (click here to read). But to sum up, Luther was against impure relationships for it would otherwise hurt the natural settings, which to a certain degree is justified, but in today’s standards, the choice of who to love lies solely on the person.  But here are a few worth mulling. The third one is so true, which led to my wife and daughter, the latter we are teaching the fruits of life so she can carry it on for future generations.

 

If anyone is about to marry, let him not ask after the woman’s father but let him ask in what odor the mother is held. Why is this? Because the ale is as good as the barrel smells.

 

Bedding and being bedded- that comes easy, even out of wedlock. But the best of all ways to plight your troth is by children, for they are the finest wool from the sheep.

 

The world cannot do without its women, even if men were to bear the children alone.

 

 

Growing up:

 

For parents who try to force their children to doing things they don’t want to do just because they made mistakes in their lives: Don’t do that. Let them grow to become who they themselves want to be. This is Luther’s reason why:

 

Youth is like the juice of freshly pressed fruit. It will not keep. It has to ferment and brim over.

 

 Judging other people:

 

In this category, I have a nice quote for those who claim to love their neighbors but act differently, which questions otherwise: How can you love your neighbor but judge them too prematurely and not even be there when help is needed? There are a few people on my list who I hope will read this.  Luther has some ways of handling people who are different in some aspects but in the end, they are like us- humans who have just as much right to live here as the people during Luther’s time. Here are his quotes:

 

No man or woman is so evil that in them there is nothing praiseworthy at all.

 

Man is a creature made up of life and death, pleasure and grief, desire and satiety, love and hatred, understanding and folly.

 

Take this as your guide- not to defame your neighbor elsewhere by talking about him, but to warn him in secret, so that he may change for the better.

 

 Education:

 

Education is one commodity which is becoming underappreciated by the year, as institutions are charging more for access, hiring teachers who are not open to different cultures and learning styles, and lastly, becoming so chaotic that even the bottom line slogan for it is clouded. Furthermore, when looking at Betsy DeVos, minister for education in the US, having someone who undermines the basic foundations of the country’s education system in favor of education for the privileged contradicts what Martin Luther had preached for in his 95 Theses: religion, education and the Bible for all and not for the elite. Here are some quotes that support educating the general public, which includes the importance of learning the language:

 

The task and duty of the teacher is this, not only to teach what he knows but also to disprove the teaching of opponents.

 

Without the language we shall never keep the gospel. Languages are the sheath: the gospel, the sword of the spirit, is held in them (….)  If we fail (which God forbid!) in this, paying no heed to the common speech, we shall not only lose the gospel but we shall end by being able to speak and read neither Latin nor German.

 

 Hard Work:

 

Hard Work seems to be another commodity of today’s society that is clouded. Hard work does not constitute 10 days in a sweat shop or manufacturing facility just to earn money and gain physical strength. The psychological aspect has to be included, which means jobs in the administrative section, such as teaching, journalism, etc. can also be included. Man is born to work but also to be proud of his work, as Luther quoted:

 

Hard work makes you healthy and strong

 

There shall be no toleration for feasting day in day out, for dressing in luxury or for lecherous excesses.

 

God wants no lazy idlers, but each should work hard and faithfully, following his calling and fulfilling his office, that God give him blessing and cause him to thrive. Man is born to labor as the birds are born to fly.

 

 

Being Yourself and Succeeding:

 

And lastly, one cannot be onesself with loving onesself for his own work, bringing up matters of concern to the forefront and initiating change to satisfy onesself and others surrounding him. This was the slogan for Martin Luther as he fought to preserve and foster the personal identity of others instead of following the beliefs blindly like a herd of sheep:

 

It is always customary to make out of a little spark a big fire.

 

What is at the end of all laws is love.

 

Be refreshing! Be clear! Be brief!

 

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Martin Luther and Homosexuality: The Current Trend from the Author’s Perspective

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Choice. If there is commodity that is underrated in today’s society, it is the ability to make decisions and live with the consequences. We all make choices in life; some based on personal experience of our past, be it childhood or a life-altering event. Sometimes one has a decision that is so pivotal that it sets the course of one’s rest of his life. No matter what the decision may be, people knowing about it need to respect one’s wish and accept that person for that decision.

 

In reality, however, choices we make can result in the changing in boundaries, where friends, whom we thought we can turn, to walk away; people considered strangers in the past are our closest friends; and even families are split into fighting fragments, instead of a close-knitted network where one supports and helps the other. In many cases, by making the decisions we are threatened with condemnation by our own network, be it friends, family, clubs, organizations and even the church. Sometimes are ending is violent but not just because of own exclusion, but the fear of our own “tradition” being threatened with a trend that is harmful to the organization’s existence.

 

Take for instance, homosexuality.  One can interpret the many scientific, social and theoretical causes of the preference of same-sex relationships, yet the bottom line is the fact that it is an act that is considered immoral to tradition yet moral to those who practice it because the choice is personal. Looking back at the time of Martin Luther, the reformist was also against homosexuality as it was considered a sodomy, sinful and the works of the devil. According to historian Ewald Plass in his book on Luther’s anthology, Luther stated:

“The vice of the Sodomites is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversion? Without a doubt it comes from the devil. After a man has once turned aside from the fear of God, the devil puts such great pressure upon his nature that he extinguishes the fire of natural desire and stirs up another, which is contrary to nature.”

 

But looking at the situation during that time, homosexuality and any types of sexual behavior considered unnatural and against the church were considered a sin, and those committing them were either imprisoned or put to death. Intolerance in Europe was very high during that time, and people placed homosexuality on par with other acts that were considered sinful, be it indulgence, taxing for the church, exclusion of portions of society in favor of a exclusive society, etc. Branches of the Lutheran church later adopted policies that banned homosexuality in the church, many of which go strictly along the works of the Bible itself. In fact, the book of Corinthians is one of the key sources which states that sexual sins are an act against God, with examples of such include:

 

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord and the Lord for the body-

1 Corinthians 6:13

 

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion-

1 Corinthians 7:8,9

 

Also the book of Hebrews has statements supporting the relationship between man and woman:

 

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.- Hebrews 13:4

 

Even today, many branches of the Lutheran Church, such as the Missouri and Wisconsin Synods in the US, as well as the Evangelical Free Church and the Silesian Evangelical Church in many parts of Europe still have bans on homosexual behaviors and even have counseling and therapy to “repurify” those with these tendencies.  Yet other branches, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Evangelical Church of Germany as well as other Lutheran organizations have started accepting homosexuality as the norm, while some have even allowed same-sex marriages. Several major steps in the right direction for those wishing to practice it, but at the same time, several major steps in the direction of fire, for conflicts between that and the teachings of Jesus Christ have come to a head. With President Trump’s latest decree where the elimination of the separation of church and state has led to the revolving door policy between the church, political and educational institutions, where those with strict policies banning people with different religious, cultural and sexual backgrounds may create a backlash in the strive for acceptance of people who are different. Ironically, the tables have turned over the course of 500 years, where Europe has become more tolerant and America less.

 

But what would Martin Luther would say to the current trend today?

 

There are two ways of looking at it: One would be his intolerance for unmarried people and especially same-sex couples. Records of his intolerances of Jews and other minorities are well documented and when looking at his statement, comparing it to today’s situation, he would side with the fundamental evangelicals who would condemn the trend as an act of sodomy. Yet it is doubtful he would be able to do anything to advocate the return to purity, and therefore, he would have to ally with politicians who share his ideas. This would put him in line with Trump and members of the right-winged populists in Europe, looking up to Frauke Petry from the party Alternative for Deutschland as a holy example of how a pure Christian society would work.

 

Then there is the side of the tolerance and accepting people of different backgrounds. Martin Luther championed the right to free choice for people to learn the works of the Lord and provided access to the church for the majority that had been left outside, which included the translation of the Bible to German during his time in Wartburg. When we look at Christianity today, we see many people of different colors, social and cultural backgrounds and speaking different languages, one can imagine Luther at least reluctantly accepting same-sex religions in the church as long as they don’t influence others in the process. On a train trip to Landshut recently, I had a long talk with a woman who originated from India but is working for the diocese in Regensburg. Having worked in Germany for over 20 years, she felt accepted by the Catholic Church and was well liked because of her work she does there. There is a sense of normalcy for people of different backgrounds to join the church or any organization that Luther would stare down attempts to roll back the traditions, accusing fundamentals of glorifying Jesus when they too have done harm in violating the Commandments. This would be comparable to his condemnation of the Church during his time for building “beautiful” churches at the expense of the poor and selling indulgences.

 

And what for? Making a choice that suits the person and his/her preference?

 

Taking a look at the problem of homophobia and ways to fight it, one of the most impressive I have seen are attempts to address this in many creative ways, be it with the traffic lights in Vienna, Hamburg and most recently, in Flensburg, Christopher Street Day celebrations,  and even presenting the topic of homosexuality in films, such as Brokeback Mountain. However, all of them convey the main meaning that has been addressed here, which is choice. Nothing in the Bible or other religious works explicitly states that homosexuality is a sin, just the impurities which are debatable. There are no written laws that ban homosexuality. And people who are gay or lesbian are just as human as heterosexuals, like yours truly. Yet people who choose this way do it because they wish to be themselves, wholly and unconditionally. Yet people who fear this trend are afraid that the structure of the Lutheran Church is crumbling, which in all reality is not. It’s just transforming itself to fit today’s standards. If evangelicals were to say that is the work of God to condemn these people, my comment to them would be this:

 

In light of Newt Gingrich’s wife becoming the US ambassador to the Vatican City (and even Martin Luther would agree had he been alive today), we don’t know what Jesus’ sexual preferences were or what kind of hair Mary Magdalena had (when he “courted” her), but he definitely did not have a preference for blonds. 😉

 

To sum up: We make a choice which is supported by ourselves and God. That is the easy part. Accepting it is another story. And if there is a silver lining behind all this, we have started accepting the choices of others as long as the choice is not imposed onto us or others. But still, we have a long ways to go before we have a society we all can live with- in peaceful co-existence.

 

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New Traffic Lights to Show Solidarity

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FLENSBURG- Traffic Lights, especially in the sense of pedestrian signal lights, are one of the key elements one will find in Germany. Especially in the eastern half of Germany, where traffic lights resembling a man in the hat walking (when green) and halting (when red),  that tradition can be found in almost every city and community. And even in cities, like Erfurt, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin, designers have come up with their own concoction to amuse the pedestrians and bikers having to wait for cars to pass. Thanks to its 55+ year history, the pedestrian figure has become a household name, that cities in the western half are replacing their “Denkmal” style standardized lights. Even a shop in Weimar and Berlin sell these “Ampelmännchen” as merchandise.

This trend is also happening in Flensburg but in a rather unique fashion.

Just recently, city officials replaced their “Denkmal” lights with those representing a unique form of solidarity- that of two figures of the same sex.  When walking along Holm to the intersection with Große Strasse (Rathausstrasse), one will find two homosexual couples holding hands with a heart above it. Red represents the lesbians stopping for traffic, green represents the gay men walking across. An interesting design that has caught the attention of several pedestrians and bikers, young and old alike.

But why such a light?

In connection with the International Day against Homophobia, city officials and organizations representing homosexuals are making a statement in showing solidarity for the same-sex couples who are often discriminated based on their sexual preferences. In the United States alone, according to statistics by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 20% of crimes that occurred in 2013 had been motivated by sexual preferences and that homosexual couples are twice as likely to be attacked than people of different color or religion. The massacre at a homosexual disco hall in Orlando, Florida in June of last year, where 51 people were killed, brought the issue of discrimination of homosexuals to the forefront. Especially during the Presidential race in 2016, vulgar language against homosexuals were used by Donald Trump, which provided more fuel for the hate machine.

But in Flensburg, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Germany with 110,000 people, the largest Danish minority in the country and one of the largest number of refugees as well, people are making a statement. “The traffic light is a persistent symbol for respect we demand,” says Simone Lange, mayor of Flensburg. She pointed out that the crime rate against homosexuals has quadrupled over the last year. In an interview with the Flensburg Tagesblatt, “It is more serious than we think and people really need to talk about this.”

One of the people spearheading the efforts is Nicolas Jähring, who is chair of the organization Schwusos and one of the members of the German Social Democrats representing the city. His advocacy for having the traffic lights installed in the city center was met with failure last year, only to have it approved by the state ministry of transportation this year under special circumstances. To him, it is a symbol but there is more meaning to it. “It fosters reflexion and we would welcome people who accept this.”

Flensburg is the third German city to have at least one homosexual traffic light in operation. Hamburg has had them since 2015, and Munich only temporary for the Christopher Street Day celebrations. Yet its forefather is in Vienna, where since its introduction, the number of homosexual traffic lights are blooming.  While it is unlikely that more traffic lights like this one will pop up in the rest of Flensburg, it will indeed serve as a symbol of solidarity for couples who choose the non-conventional form of relationships. Even if many people consider this permanent installment just a traffic light, it will serve as an example for other cities to follow- not just in Berlin, Leipzig, Frankfurt or even Dresden, but also in cities in the United States, where support for homosexual couples are at an all time high, despite attempts by the current Trump administration, as well as fundamental evangelicals and hate groups to either cleanse them of “their unnatural behavior” or eliminate them altogether.

It is hoped that it is not the case, and people are taking this seriously, as we see in the interview conducted by the Danish newspaper Flensborg Avis.

 

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A depiction of what the lights looks like, courtesy of Inga Joblonsky.

 

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Genre of the Week: Jack and Diane by John Mellencamp

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This genre of the week looks at a customary that celebrates the initiation of children becoming adults. In Germany, we have what is called Jugendweihe. First established in 1852 by Eduard Balzen, Jugendweihe is mainly a non-Christian event where a child is officially initiated into adulthood come the age of 14 years. Prior to that, the youth can participate in events that focus on history, culture, politics, work, sexuality and independent living, just to name a few. By the time a child reaches the age of 14, celebrations take place, marking the initiation into adulthood; some organized by the Humanist Association of Germany and the Association of Worker Welfare, others by the schools and families. The youth has a first-hand experience at what adult life is like. The only exception is of course, driving. That happens 5-8 years later- much later than the youth in the United States. There, having a driving license and a car at the age of 16 marks the beginning of the stage to adulthood, which ends by drinking legally, five years later.

I kid you not on this one, especially as I’m an American expat! 😉

Jugendweihe runs parallel to its Christian form, known as confirmation. For church-goers in the United States and in some pockets of Germany, confirmation also marks a stage going into adulthood. Yet with confirmation, regardless of which religion, it is the third and final stage in being united with Jesus Christ as well as being part of the religious denomination, after baptism and the first holy communion. It is the first of two graduation ceremonies in America’s schools, where the names are announced and the blessings and sacraments are given. The second is of course, high school graduation, where the diplomas are received and the graduates proceed to move into a new chapter in their lives.

While confirmation usually occurs at a fixed date by the churches of different denominations, Jugendweihe usually occurs at different times between March and June. The dates vary based on the projects and schedules issued by the schools, the aforementioned associations and lastly, the families of the child who is going through the initiation. Still, as a general rule, the age of 14 is the magic number signaling the departure of childhood into adulthood. It is the third most important phase in a child’s life after Zuckertüten Fest and the Graduation from Elementary School going into one of the three forms of high school in Germany.

A while back, I was asked by my students if there is an English equivalent to Jugendweihe. We do but in Christian terms but really, without a name. That is unless you listen to John Mellencamp. 😉

Jack and Diane was produced by the rock singer in 1982, and it focuses on the two main characters growing up in a rural community in America. While they develop differently going from boy and girl to a man and woman, they fight to stay young as long as they can, yet they soon realize that they are becoming adults and pursue their dreams together. The scenes in this video are typical of American culture during that time, yet you can find similar ones in Germany as well, with the discotheks, soccer, hanging out in shopping centers and even biking down trails and bikeways. In either case, this Genre of the Week looks at Jugendweihe from a musician’s point of view. One could go as far as proclaiming Jugendweihe as Jack and Diane Day in English! 😀

Still, I don’t think it would go down that well because of its age and the cultural differences. 😉

Or would it?

You decide as we dedicate this song to the 14-year olds that have celebrated or are about to celebrate Jack and Diane Day.  Enjoy! 😀

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Born in Seymour, Indiana in 1951, John Mellencamp has been coined as one of the 10 best singers/ musicians of all time in the US by many critics and colleagues. Jack and Diane made it to the top and stayed nr. 1 for four weeks in 1982. That and Hurt So Good came from the American Fool soundtrack, which is considered the best of his 23 albums he’s released since 1976. He still resides in Indiana but in Bloomington. You can find him online by clicking here as well as through World Cafe. An interview on how he’s opened up on music and arts with Forbes Magazine can be found here.

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