Genre of the Week: Really, Really Big Questions About Faith by Julian Baggini

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As we come up on the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses posted by Martin Luther, which created the Lutheran Church, the next articles will focus on Martin Luther, his relationship with Christ and how it affects Christians today.  Apart from some activities to come, some books and videos will be included here.

This includes this book which provides a question about God, religion and how He influences society- if He influences society as a whole.

Written by British philosopher  Julian Baggini and translated into German by Michael Schmidt with the Title Thinking about Mr. God,  this book provides an overview on religion and focuses on key questions about why we have religion, how has religion helped or hindered us (as a society) and about the existence of God, biblical events and if we even have a soul.

Baggini categorizes the questions into the aforementioned topics plus the question on the right to choose religion.  Each question features a summary with some key facts that are thought-provoking for all ages, yet also can be presentable in the classroom. These questions include the existence of God, such as:

What does God look like?

If we have God, why don’t we see him?

Can God be female or is He really male?

Is God fearful or to be feared?

Does God heal us, let alone speak with us?

Do we help others in need when we believe in God?

 

Then we have questions about religion, which includes why we have many religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and others. Then we have others like:

Does religion cause war? Peace?

Does religion make us better people

Does religion make us equal in terms of gender, sexuality, social class, animals, etc.?

Do we have a choice in religion? If so, which one is the best?

These are questions that are provocative and require a lot of deep thinking before one can come up with a truthful answer, just as truthful as it was during Martin Luther’s time.  Before his 95 Theses, he took his walk from his home in Mansfield to Erfurt on 17 July, 1505 when he was caught in a thunderstorm near Stotternheim. Fearing for his life, Luther prayed to St. Anne and promised her to become a monk, which he took his vows in 1506 and was ordained in 1507. It was during that time that he studied and prayed to God, but also questioned the Church about their beliefs in Christ and the way they handled people- providing indulgences to some and excluding others. Luther believed that religion was supposed to be open to those who want to believe Christ. The 95 Theses was based on the critical questions he had. However, even after the creation of the Lutheran Church, other followers had their questions about their faith and decided to create their branches of the Lutheran Church, hundreds of which still exist because they each offer a special aspect of Luther that people wishing to answer the questions about God can choose and fulfill their faith.

If we were to look at this book and compare it to Luther’s question of faith, they are parallel for like Luther, the author of the book provides us with a chance to question ourselves about our faith and whether our religion fulfills our expectations. If not, and if the church cannot change because of their ways, then the question is how we believe in God and if we have the right faith or if we should look for the answers to our deep questions elsewhere. The book is not just open for people looking for a religion but also for people who have just as deep questions about faith and religion as we do- you and me.

In my case, my question would be why we are here at this specific time and what is my mission here? That has yet to be answer despite my successes as a writer and teacher.

 

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Julian Baggini received his PhD in Philosophy at University College in London in 1996 after writing a thesis about the philosophy of personal indentification. He founded the Philosopher’s Magazine in 1997 and has a website dealing with microphilosophy (click here for details). He has written over 30 works and numerous essays dealing with philosophy, religion and people and their roles on Earth, just to name a few. He has also done TED Talks including this one below, which he talks about the real you. He still resides in London.

 

 

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Move over or fork it over! New laws for Rettungsgassen on German highways

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An example of a Rettungsgasse on Motorway 659 as an Ambulance makes way toward the accident scene. Photo taken by LosHawlos for wikicommons

New Fines plus Points in Flensburg and Driving Ban to be enforced for blocking emergency lane on German highways. Even for driving and using E-devices. 

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BERLIN/FLENSBURG-  Many people travelling in Germany probably don’t know the term Rettungsgasse, especially if they hear this word on the radio while listening to the traffic report and at the same time, travelling to their destination. A Rettungsgasse is an emergency lane that is created by travellers on German highways, so that police, rescue crews and paramedics can travel to the scene of the accident as quickly as possible. This emergency lane is created when an accident occurs, causing traffic on the highway to come to a halt. While this practice is used mostly on motorways (Autobahn), expressways (Schnellstrasse) and other roads that have multiple lanes, many people don’t know how to create one. An illustration below provides you with some steps on how to create one (hint: Spur is German for lane)

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Image courtesy of Inga Jablonsky

To sum up, drivers are to move off to the side as far as possible to allow passage and save the lives of those affected by an accident.

Yet many drivers are unaware of the fact that when there is a jam on the highway and cars in front of them and crews travelling with blue lights and a Martin horn, that they should move off to the side and let them pass. For a Martin horn, it sounds like this:

In some cases, drivers have blocked Rettungsgassen on the highways, thus hindering crews from going to the scene.

Some of whom, as seen in the video above, have used Smartphones and mobile phones to photograph or even film the scene of the accident.

Effective immediately, it will cost drivers doing one of the two or both more than just money. The German Ministry of Transportation and Digital Infrastructure (BMVDI) has passed a pair of much stricter laws involving both traffic violations.  For blocking the Rettungsgasse and not paying attention to the sirens of the police and rescue crews, one can expect a fine of at least 200 Euros and two points will be added to the driver’s record at the Office of Vehicle Registration in Flensburg. According to the laws in Flensburg passed in 2014, eight or more points means revokation of the driver’s license and possibly retraining on how to drive at the expense of the offender.

In this case, being a spectator, texting while not paying attention or just intentionally blocking the emergency lane will be very costly.  Not building a Rettungsgasse constitutes a fine of 200 Euros plus two Flensburg points. Not building this important lane when the crews go to the scene means 240 Euros, two points and a one month ban from driving.  Blocking the lane while causing damage and endangering lives means a fine of 320 Euros, two or more Flensburg Points, driving ban PLUS confiscation of the vehicle and other items as evidence to be used in court AND possible prosecution!

If you use your electronic device, regardless of whether you are driving or in a traffic jam and/or forming a Rettungsgasse, you can expect a 100 Euro fine and a Flensburg point. Endangering others constitute 150 Euros and two points. Causing damage means 200 Euros, two points and a one month driving ban!

For both offences, the sanctions have increased by more than two-fold as there have been more and more reports of drivers blocking the Rettungsgasse both intentionally as well as unintentionally, many of whom had been either texting or using devices to film accidents. Even doing the latter alone has caused numerous accidents and fatalities in general. According to studies by the Center for Disease Control, an average of nine people die every day from accidents caused by distracted driving, over 1000 are injured.

But the sharp increase in fines and sanctions for blocking the Rettungsgasse comes as officials are cracking down on drivers who do not create these lanes during traffic jams, even if no accidents are reported; most of the traffic jams occur on heavily travelled motorways in the western half of Germany as well as in large cities. This includes the Motorways 3, 6, 7, and 9, as well as motorways and highways in cities, like Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Hamburg.  But even more so, the introduction of tougher sanctions comes in response to the freak bus accident and fire last year near Münchberg in northern Bavaria, along the Motorway 9. 18 people died, including the driver, who rescued as many passengers as possible before succumbing to the smoke and burns. According to reports, drivers blocked the Rettungsgasse and took pictures with their phones, thus hampering rescue efforts.

With the introduction of tougher measures, drivers will be forced to pay more attention to the road and not with their electronic devices. Especially when traffic jams occur on the multi-lane highways will drivers be forced to assume the worse and create the emergency lane to allow for rescue crews to get to the scene as quickly as possible.

As a county engineer in Iowa once said: These laws are there to save lives.  It is hoped that these measures will get the driver to think about the lives of others at risk while driving.

So please, pay attention, put the phone down and please the people in front of you. You will do yourself and them a big favor and save yourself some money, time and your car. Thank you.

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Emergency lane laws are similar to the ones in the United States, Canada and other countries. The Move-over Laws that have been enacted since the 1990s require drivers to move over one lane to provide a lane’s width of space for people at the scene of an accident, car repair or any other sort of emergency. Failure to comply can result in the loss of driving privileges for at least a half year in many areas plus fines in the hundreds.

Drivers not originating from Germany but are caught by police for traffic violation are asked to either pay up at the scene where they are pulled over, or they receive a letter addressed to their home countries requesting the fine to be paid. In these cases the point system is usually not enforced. In worst cases, they may be taken into custody at the police precinct.

 

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America is a Gun by Brian Bilston

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As we’re still answering (or trying to answer) a lot of questions as to how a 64-year old retiree could lay carnage with automatic weapons shot from a hotel onto a crowd of people, while praying for and providing love and comfort to families and friends of the 58 people who lost their lives in the worst shooting in US history, I stumbled across this poem an aquaintance posted in one of the social network group pages I’m in a few days ago. While we try and find constructive ways to toughen gun laws in the face of our current administration and the National Rifle Association, this poem sums up the culture that America has when it comes to guns.  Germans have bratwursts, soccer, handball, castles and the Baltic and North Seas, are obsessed with travelling and foreign languages and believe that peaceful negotiations are the key to success and harmony. Americans have one thing that makes them strong when in use but very feeble when trying to negotiate, and that is the gun.  And while we make our feeble attempts to crack down on gun violence and ban certain weapons, in the eyes of the outside and those whose lives are gone and whose families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and acquaintences are mourning and trying to answer the most difficult questions, the United States of America and its natural inhabitants are characterized by one element: the gun.

This poem is dedicated in memory of the victims of Las Vegas in hopes we can look at this, ask ourselves if this is what we want ourselves to be and most importantly:

Why?  😦  

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Genre of the Week: So Close by Daryl Hall and John Oates

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In connection with the latest Genre of the Week film presented in the last post, which takes place in the Dithmarschen region of Schleswig-Holstein, this Genre extra takes us to a song that was produced by the jazz and pop duo Daryl Hall and John Oates entitled “So Close.” Produced in 1990, the song looks at a class reunion where two people meet, who danced a love song during high school, meeting eye-to-eye, before they parted ways to their own lives for several years. Upon meeting they reveal more than meets the eye and you can imagine what happens next, according to the lyrics. I’ll let you listen to it to figure it out….. 😉

This song is a reminder of the encounter between Lenny and Merle in Vadder, Kutter, Sohn after many years absence and the feelings that started developing during the latter half of the story as Lenny tries and rediscover himself. It also reminded me of a story my father wrote 25 years ago which was redone and published here as well (click here to read about it).  For some who lost their love interest in the past, this song is a reminder of what happened now in comparison to what can happen in the future. In either case, listen, enjoy and reminisce on your time in your youth and ask yourself if it was the best time or if the best time is ahead.

 

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Hall and Oates was formed in 1970 when the two musicians accidentally met in an elevator during a fight among people at a party. Their breakthrough came in the 1980s and 90s with Private Eyes, No Can Do, Maniac, Maneater and Family Man, just to name a few. While both have had solo stints in between, they still do tours to this day. They received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last year. More on their music can be found here.

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Genre of the Week: The History of the Teddy Bear by Jon Mooallem

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To start off the Genre of the Week, here’s a question for you: How many of you have a teddy bear? What names did you give them, and how did you characterize them when playing with them? Almost every child at one time had a teddy bear in his/her lifetime and one in three adults still have that teddy bear from their childhood. More than half the children have more than three teddys in their rooms at home. And if you are like other kids, you probably have names for each of the Teddy bears you have. 🙂  In the case of my daughter, she and I had names for a dozen teddy bears she had when she was growing up; among them include Rocky (Senior and Junior) for a pair of panda bears, plus two bears who always find ways of travelling with this writer: Bam Bam and Coco, a white and brown bear duo. Their parents were included as well, including Coco’s mom, Anna Bear, as seen in the pic above.  But what do we know of the origin of the teddy bear?

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The teddy bear was developed in two different locations, almost simultaneously. In Germany, a seemstress company, founded by Margarete Steiff in 1880, a teddy bear was created by her nephew Richard in 1902, based on a real depiction of the bear. It debuted in 1903 and became so popular, that a buyer for an American toy company bought large numbers for the market. The Steiff bears eventually became teddy bears. At the same time of the first teddy bear in Germany, a very popular Amercian figure, while on a hunt, saved a life of a small bear, thus becoming a focus of a cartoon shown below:

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Drawing a Line in Mississippi by Clifford K. Barryman

Eventually, Morris and Rose Michtom took this depiction and created their first toy company that produced these adorable creatures, honoring that man, which became known as Teddy’s Bear. 🙂

But inspite of the two separate events that helped create the still most lovable toy for people of all ages, there was a motive behind making teddy bears. In a TED-Talk lecture, Jon Mooallem provides a detailed look behind the history of the teddy bear and its relationship with not only us humans, but also the environment we are living in. And as the bears become popular, the concern for protecting flora and fauna has become greater than it was in 1902.

Watch the video and have a look at the questions. Think about what he says and discuss about the role of teddy bears and the relationship between humans and the environment, something that is fragile and needs attention more than ever. The video is at the end of the article.

Questions:

  1. Who was the person that saved a bear’s life? What happened and when did it happen?
  2. Why did he save the bear’s life? What was the result of his action?
  3. What was the relationship between bears (and other wild animals) and settlers like during that time?
  4. What measures were taken to protect the settlers during that time? How were the animals affected- name one example.
  5. What does the teddy bear symbolize according to the speaker?
  6. Why did we go from portraying animals as terrifying beasts to ones that are lovable? There are two factors that are interconnected and are still a key issue in society…..
  7. The speaker mentions that nature has become so dependent on humans that it cannot survive on its own, going from almost destroying the species to saving and educating them- aka conservation reliance.
    1. What factors have led to the natural balance being off course
    2. What examples are mentioned where humans “train” animals?
    3. In your opinion, do you agree with the speaker’s statements? If so, why and what examples support your argument? If not, what examples of uncontrolled natural areas can you think of?
  8. In your opinion, does controlling nature produce a better balance with humans or does it make sense to let “the deer and the antelope play and vegetation produce flower power?” (In other words, let flora and fauna be)? What reasons support your arguments?
  9. Do you have a teddy bear? If so, what is his/her name and how would you describe your bear in terms of appearance and character?

 

Enjoy the clip below! 🙂

 

 

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Genre of the Week: Vadder, Kutter, Sohn: A Family Comedy and Drama About Reunion and Restarting Life Locally

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There is an old saying that the late Paul Gruchow once wrote in his work “Grass Roots: The Universe of Home”: You go where the good people go. We make sure our people grow up in an environment where they can one day return. While half the graduating class of an average high school in a local town remain  to start their families, the other half move to greener pastures, whereas half of those people eventually make their way back home after years of making a living and realizing it was not for them.

And as a person sees in this latest German film “Vadder, Kutter, Sohn,” home is where the heart is, even if there are changes in the surroundings.  In this Genre of the Week drama, the focus is around the father, Knud Lühr (played by Axel Prahl), who fishes for crabs for a living, directs a rather dysfunctional choir that is about to celebrate its 100th anniversary of its founding, and is an avid gambler. He is rather well known to the locals of the village of Nienkoog, located in the Dithmarschen District in Schleswig-Holstein. One day, he encounters his lost son, with whom he had no contact for over a decade. Played by Jonas Nay, Lenny left with his mother for Hamburg, where he learns a trade as a barber/hair dresser and tries his luck in the business, only for him to lose everything, including his Apartment. Flat broke, he returns to his place of childhood, only to see many changes that he does not like at all and is eventually on a confrontation course with his father for his wrongdoings that made his life turn into a  mess in the end. Realizing that he was becoming very unlucky with his business and his choir, Knud tries to win back the love for Lenny, getting him reused to the life that he once had before leaving for Hamburg.

Two factors played a key role in bringing Lenny back to his original self. The first is the bango, which Knud sold while Lenny was gone. Deemed as his indentity and his “starting capital,” Lenny freaks out when he learns the news of the bango, is lukewarm when Knud wins the bango back through a game of poker, and after failing to resell the bango, warms up to it by playing the tunes he learned while growing up.  The other was a former classmate, Merle Getjens (played by Anna von Haebler), who is a local police officer that has a rural precinct and whose heart is in the healing process after her love-interest walked off to Kiel with another woman. Realizing that she and Lenny were on parallel paths, she awakens his interest as a hairdresser which later helps him rediscover himself and eventually reunite with his father and the people he once knew but left behind for “Nichts.”

To understand the film more carefully, you should have a look for yourself. Enjoy! 🙂

Link:

http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Filme-im-Ersten/Vadder-Kutter-Sohn/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=1933898&documentId=46658734

The song that is played throughout the film and is sung by Prahl and Nay can be found here:

http://www.daserste.de/unterhaltung/film/filme-im-ersten/videos/vadder-kutter-sohn-video-axel-prahl-musikvideo-song-100.html

Vadder, Knutter, Sohn is a film that combines comedy and drama, but also compares cultural and societal aspects, such as rural life in Dithmarschen versus city life in Hamburg, an established family versus lone wolves looking for love and a place to settle down, the have/have nots versus the has beens, the past life versus the present (including all the crises), and finally the is versus the should be. Each element is found in the characters, Knud, Lenny and Merle, leading to the quest to find the real Person, as Merle told Lenny after he kissed her in the hair dressing scene: “First find out who you are, then the rest will come after.” Eventually that came with not only the 100th anniversary concert but the elements that went along with it.

This leads me to a few questions for you to think about, let alone discuss:

  1. If you were like Lenny, would you return to your hometown, why or why not?
  2. What elements of your hometown do you miss? This includes the people in your life, places you visited as a child growing up, the food that you ate, extra-curricular groups you were in, and lastly, valuable assets you had (or even still have)?
  3. If you were to think about returning to your hometown, would these be the reason or are there other factors?
  4. If there was one element in your life that you did growing up, that you want to do again, what would that be?
  5. If there was one element in your life that you regret having done and would like to do again, what would that be and why?

These were the questions that the three characters faced during the film, but they are ones that you as the reader should answer at least two of them. Otherwise you must have had a very bad childhood. Having grown up in rural Minnesota, I had my places I used to go as a child, sports I used to do and music groups I was involved with, such as a barbershop quartet, madrigals, caroling, etc. And while I have already settled down permanently in Germany and closed the opportunity on moving back to the region, singing, especially in the barbershop quartet, and eating a “Wunder- bar”- an ice cream bar made with nuts that was homemade by a local (but now, non-existing) gas station would be the two I would not mind doing again.

What about you? What do you miss?

 

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There are two sets of parallels among the three actors/-resses in this film. Axel Prahl and Jonas Nay both come from Schleswig-Holstein, so you can tell by the use of dialect and slang in the film. Prahl originates from Eutin, located southeast of Kiel, whereas Nay was born in Lübeck, home for its marzipan, maritime district, Holsten Tower and historic bridges. Prahl and Anna von Haedler star in the beloved German mystery series Tatort, where the former is half of the “Dream Team” for the Münster series. He Plays Frank Thiel, whereas his counterpart, Dr. Karl-Friedrich Boerne is played by Jan-Josef Liefers (who is from Dresden). Despite coming from Göttingen in Lower Saxony, Anna von Haedler plays Sabine Trapp in the Tatort-Cologne series, assisting the detectives, Ballauf and Schenk. Neither of the two have crossed paths in a Tatort episode as of present.

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