Genre of the Week: Summer 1995 by Evelyn Dykhouse Halverson

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Summer: The best time of the year.
It’s a time to travel to meet family and friends living far away. It’s a time for bike tours and fishing, while amusing ourselves with entertainment from the county fair and amusement park. It’s a time for baseball and golf, but also the best place for grill fests where we feast on steak, fries, corn and a good beer.

Having grown up in southern Minnesota and being not far from the Iowa Lakes Region, where Okoboji was the main tourist trap for four months in the year, the best thing about the summer months is being next to the water, where a tour along West Lake Okoboji on the cruise ship Queen II was as obligatory as going to church- but with a lot of entertainment and facts about the lake. It also meant an annual visit from my two cousins in California, where we clowned around on Big Spirit Lake in inner tubes, while playing card games and making my great aunt laugh- she was a great host as she had a cottage on the north end for over 50 years. 🙂 It also meant golf and jetskiing with friends from high school, while keeping the neighborhood in Loon Lake awake with parties until 2am in the morning! 😉

But there is more to summer than just water and wheels. To this author, summer means listening to nature and watching the trees change colors as it provides fresh air and shade. Even if we switch off the air conditioning for a night, we can listening to the sounds of crickets chirping, secadas sawing in the trees and a herd of deer galloping about. And this with the hum of other air conditioners and cars passing by.

This poem was one of many that local historian Evelyn Halverson wrote for the newsletters of the Lyon County Historical Society in Rock Rapids, Iowa. Halverson always opened the newsletter with a poem about one of the four seasons- after all, the newsletter was published four times a year at each season. From 1985 until 2007 she was the writer that inspired others to read up on history and become writers as well, as the newsletter was laden with facts that tied local, national and international history together, be it locals having fought in World War II and sharing stories about their experiences in Germany or Japan, or about the Bonnie Doon Railroad, which cut Lyon County into two (a bridge along the route was profiled recently, click here). In either case, the newsletters were fun to read and the lady was a great poet. A collection of poems were put together in a book, published in 2008, two years before her death.

One of these poems I wish to share with you in this genre of the week, which fits the summer mood for the reader and the author. Enjoy!

Pause to catch the wonders of summer

See the cornstalks stretching toward the sky

As a symphony of bird songs greet each dawn

And gentle breezes stir the tree leaves with a sigh.

 

The roadsides are colorful with wildflowers.

The apple trees flaunt red apples, crisp and sweet.

Thunder and lightning announce a sudden shower,

All a pettern of summer’s annual treat.

 

Listen to the crickets serenade at night time

As the locust chorus buzzes through the day.

The monarch butterflies glisten in the sunshine,

Catch the wonders of summer before it passes away!

 

 

Have a great summer everyone! 😀

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In School in Germany/ Genre of the Week: Pelmanism- From the Novel: Don’t Try This At Home by Paul Reizin

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This Genre of the Week looks at a novel that may look ordinary to some readers who go through the whole book (or even half of it before putting it down for another one) and judge it as textbook style- where the protagonist gets caught in a situation where he has to find his way out.

The novel “Don’t Try This At Home,” by Paul Reizin looks at the protagonist from a first person point-of-view, who ends up being entangled in a mafia, getting in trouble with the law, and in bed with several girls in the process. All of these are by accident; all of these despite his attempts of getting himself out of the situation, only to end up digging himself even deeper in a hole until his wit, quick thinking and a little romance got himself out in the end.  How it all happened and what his personal life was like is worth reading and interpreting yourself. 🙂

Yet Reizin’s novel also features a few unconventional games that are worth trying, if you knew how they were played and done it wisely. Pelmanism is one of those games mentioned and described in the novel.

And while in the book Pelmanism had experiments with different types of alcohol while guessing what they were without looking, the game itself can be a useful one that provides the players of all ages with valuable learning experiences in all subjects of study.

Especially, when learning foreign languages!!!! 😀

I’ve been using this game for all my English classes since 2004- most of the time when we have our last course meeting as a group before the semester ends and we part ways for other commitments in life- and the game features words that are sometimes forgotten by some and unknown by others. It also presents some of the typical things and characteristics of some students. All it takes is some guessing what the objects are and who they belong to.

 

The object of the game is simple. You need:

A sheet of paper and a writing utensil

A timer

And a bag with ten personal items- the items should be small enough to fit in a cloth bag (not a see-through plastic one)

 

How the game is played goes like this:

One student grabs a bag and places the contents on the table in the middle, while other students close their eyes and/or look away as the contents are being taken out. Once all the items are on the table, that student signals the rest of the group to open their eyes and look at the table and the objects.  At this point, students have one minute to identify the ten items on the table in their working language, namely the foreign language they are learning. At the same time, they should guess who these objects belong to.

Once the teacher, who runs the timer, says “Stop!”, the students are called on upon random to name the objects and who they belong to. The student, who gets all the objects right as well as the correct person, will be the next one that chooses another bag, and repeats the same procedure.

This whole process continues until all the bags are used up or the teacher ends the game for time reasons.  There is no clear winner, but the objective of the game is to get the students to “reactivate” their brains to remember the words they learned in the past. At the same time, they also have an opportunity to learn new vocabulary- much of which may need to be listed on a sheet of paper with the native language equivalent, should the foreign language level range from beginner to intermediate (A to B level, according to the Common European Framework). In some cases, small devices that are new to the students will need to be explained by the person who brought it with the other objects.

 

I’ve had some weird but interesting examples that warranted explaining, for instance:

A can of deoderant that is actually a capsule for fitting a small object for hiding in geocaching, a pen that functions as a light, laser pointer and hole puncher, small books full of quotes, USB-sticks with company logos, stuffed animals (also as key chains), pieces of raw material (wood, rock, metal), postcards, pictures and poems. If you can think it, you can present it and be genuine at the same time. 😉

As mentioned earlier, Pelmanism can be played by all ages, regardless of language knowledge, and if you can have at least four participants (the more, the better), you can treat yourself to an evening of fun for either the whole family or friends. If you are a teacher in an English class, you will find this useful and fun for the students; especially if you participate in the game yourself.

Pelmanism is one of those games found in a book, where if modified for use in the classroom and mastered properly, it can be a fun experience for those learning new words, especially in a foreign language. It reactivates your brain and gets you reacquainted with words learned in the past (but seldomly used in the present), while at the same time, encourages active learning and acquisition of new words into an ever-expanding vocabulary. It is a fun game for everyone, and if you are as lucky as the protagonist in the story, you might come out with more than what words you learned in the game. 😉 ❤

Thanks, Paul!

 

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Genre of the Week: The Benefits of Failure by J.K. Rowling

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Carnegie Library in Little Falls, MN, one of the entrepreneuer’s finest architectural works. Photo taken in 2011

There was an old proverb when looking at this genre: Andrew Carnegie went from rags to riches, going from living in an impoverishing environment to building libraries, many of them still exist today, no matter where you travel in the United States.  But this speech is not just about climbing to be successful; it takes you on a roller coaster ride, going from failure, to success, back to failure and again becoming even more successful…… And the trend continues in our lives.

Each of us has had our epic failures in life, but when looking at each one, one has to look at who one really is, establishing a new foundation and doing something that is not just typical of one’s character, but something which through hard work and sacrifices will reap rewards in the end.

The Benefits of Failure was a speech spoken by JK Rowling at a commencement at Harvard University in 2008. Inspired by her background and her failures in life, the author of the Harry Potter series discusses ways to climb up from rock bottom to the summit, especially when experiencing what she experienced growing up. Going by a proverb I learned from a group of broken-hearted train passengers heading home to Schleswig-Holstein a few years ago, the only way to go is up. Adding this with mine: The summit you reach will be higher than the previous ones.

Have a look at this inspirational speech then ask yourself how you made it to the top: was it through one’s own ambition or was it through others’ ?  I’ll leave it as that and allow you to watch and think about this. 🙂

 

 

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Genre of the Week: What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali

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Typical one-room school house and church in Iowa. 

Teaching:  A profession that is undervalued, underappreciated and underloved. Teachers: People who enter the classroom with one thing in mind: to teach people the basics for real life and skills for their dream job. To teach people means to show them not just how to communicate and obey the structures of our society, but also how to be decent to others, how to be tolerant towards people from different backgrounds, and lastly, how to understand the feelings and reactions of others as well as adapt to different backgrounds.  Some people perceive teachers as travellers with a backpack full of books going from place to place to teach students. Others, like Pestalozzi, taught in empty buildings, where not even the basic necessities, such as a chair or table, or even a chalk board existed, and therefore they were forced to be creative and vocal in teaching their students.  In either case, the teacher brings out the best in each and every student, by finding and developing their talents, showing them how life works and people should be treated, namely, with decency and respect.

Many people enter the profession with high expectations, only to quit the profession after 10 years for the following reasons: lack of pay and benefits, lack of available resources (esp. with regards to technology), lack of respect from the students or other members of the faculty, but most importantly, lack of support from family and friends, claiming that teaching is a “loser job” that pays “Hungerlohn!” (German for salary that is barely enough to support even one person). This explains the reason behind schools closing down due to too many students, too few teachers and too little pay.  This goes beyond the bureaucracy, test guidelines and the political talk that makes a person want to write a novel series about this topic.

And for the record, coming from a family of teachers and having taught English since 2001 (all in Germany), I have experienced enough to justify even a mystery series in a form of Tatort, exploiting the ways to anger students, teachers and even parents. 😉

But what we all don’t know is why we teachers choose this profession to begin with, let alone stay in this profession for as long as the generations before us. From a personal point of view, if it has to do with money, you would best be a lawyer, lawmaker or litigator. You’re best needed there. If it has to do with status, you would best work in a corporation. If it has to do with family, you would best be a scientist, like Albert Einstein.

You should be a teacher because you have the creative talents, ideas, character, dedication and most importantly, the heart to make a difference in the lives of others. Plus you should be a story-teller, an example for others, funny, chaotic, crazy with ideas but cool under pressure and able to handle the stress like nerves of steel.  And lastly, learning from my father (who was a teacher), you have to strategize like you are playing chess- and actually have played chess. 😉

If you are looking for more reasons, then you should take a look at this Genre of the Week entitled “What Teachers Make,” by Taylor Mali. A 12th generation of the original Dutch immigrants of New York City, Mali once taught in the classroom, having instructed English, History and test preparatory classes before finding a niché as a writer, a slam poet and a commedian. He has written six anthologies full of poems and narratives, several audio CDs and three books, one of which is entitled What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the Worldpublished in 2012. The poem presented here comes from this book. Mali nowadays offers seminars and lectures to teachers and other professionals, providing them with an insight into the profession that is sometimes highly disregarded, yet one that is highly needed and, if one does make a difference in the lives of others, most loved.

So watch this audio by Mali and look at the comic strip provided by Zen Pencils, and then ask yourself this question:

  1. Why do you want to be a teacher?
  2. What aspects of teaching do you like?
  3. As a teacher, what difference can you make for the students? Yourself? Your institution?
  4. If people play down your profession, how would you convey and convince them that you love your job and the reasons behind it?
  5. Do many students come back to you years after you taught them? Why?

For nr. 5, it is very important for if you are in touch with them even today or come to you for a visit/help, then you definitely belong to this profession because you are doing a damn fine job.  🙂

And if you have the urge to write about it in your later life, then you really should stay in that profession until Jesus Christ tells you otherwise. That will definitely be my destination and my advice to all teachers out there, young and old. 😉

 

Link to Taylor Mali’s website you can find here as well as via youtube.

Video with soundbyte from Mali:

 

Image courtesy of Zen Pencils:

124. TAYLOR MALI: What Teachers Make

 

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Genre of the Week: Jesus Freak by DC Talk

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This special genre of the week is in connection with the Files’ series on Martin Luther and the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses. The Jesus Freak series belongs to this series because of its aspects. This is part 1.

 

A while back, while looking for some information about Martin Luther for one of the articles, I happened to run across this phrase that was a complete eye-opener- Jesus Freak.

Before we look at the theme much further, let’s have a look at the theme for a minute:

 

What is a Jesus Freak? 

 

If a person is considered a Jesus Freak, what are his/her characteristics in terms of the following:

His/her behavior

His/her apparel

His/her use of the Lord Jesus Christ (especially in the context)?

When looking at this Wile E. Coyote parody produced by Family Guy, the first question that comes to mind is what makes a person a Jesus Freak?

 

But can a 45-minute lecture on the Lord make him a Jesus Freak?

Can we make a distinction between a Jesus Freak and a avid church-goer?  The answer to that question is definitely yes, regardless of what faith you are in. The question is how can a person go from being either an atheist or an indifferent Christian to a Jesus Freak?  Speaking from experience, especially from my days in college in the US, many people, who are just common people at first, experience an epiphany one night and then become true Christians, reading the Bible and teaching others about Christ. Journalist Lee Stroebel in the 1970s did an investigative report on the existence of Jesus, found his epiphany, and has since then been a pastor. The book “The Case for Christ” talks about his experience of becoming a Christian.  Others are either raised in a Christian household or were born Christian but found their love for Jesus Christ and his teachings that they embrace Him unconditionally.

 

The Jesus Freak movement started in the 1960s in Germany, and one of the catalysts behind the movement is Martin Dreyer, who has written several books about the movement, one of which is in connected with Martin Luther and his Treatises. Yet other authors have claimed that the movement started way back in the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively- namely during the time of Martin Luther; one claimed that even one of the disciples of Christ (John) was considered the first Jesus freak. If that argument was the case, then the question is did the Jesus freak movement occur before or after Martin Luther’s 95 Theses?  If it occurred at or after the time of Martin Luther, then how?

 

To start this off, I would like to introduce you to this Genre special, whose title bears the topic we are going to talk about. Produced by DC Talk, an American rap/rock group in 1995, the videos and lyrics behind the song depicts the typical characteristics of a Jesus Freak from their perspective. The song was part of the album bearing the same name, which won the 1997 Grammys for Best Gospel Album. Watch the video, then take a look at the aforementioned questions at the beginning, and decide for yourself the following:

 

  1. What really constitutes a Jesus Freak and can it be differentiated from terms, such as Bible Thumper, Church-goer, etc.?

 

  1. How can a person really become a Jesus Freak and why?

 

Good luck and looking forward to your thoughts on that. Feel free to comment here or via e-mail. We will touch up on this subject again very soon.

 

Jesus Freak by DC Talk.

 

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Genre of the Week: Allentown by Billy Joel

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We all have been paying attention to the recent developments in the United States, especially when it comes to Donald Trump. Already he has destroyed generations-long ties with traditional neighbors, like Germany, France and the rest of Europe, plus countries in the Middle East minus Israel and Saudi Arabia and with China. He has declared to pull America out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which his predecessor Barack Obama had signed prior to leaving office in January. And to the dismay of even his fellow Americans both at home as well as abroad, he has stressed the importance of jobs over wasting money to help other poor countries fight a phenomenon, which he claims does not exist.

 

All of this for one sole purpose: clean coal!

 

While several actors, even within his own country, have declared that they will buck the trend of the president and follow the Paris protocol- with Hawaii having become the first state to sign the agreement, other states like Minnesota, New York, California and Washington set to follow even as an alliance, and even oil companies are going green with their approach to sustainable development, all directions are pointing towards an isolationist politician whose title is the President of the United States, but he is acting in the best interest of just the coal miners and those of the oil companies who are against Paris.

 

But why resort to coal, when so many arguments point towards phasing the energy source out in favor of renewable energies, such as fuel cells, wind, solar and hydroelectric? The energy is cheap, but residents and coal workers have to pay the price in terms of health. Generations of coal miners have been in the business and would like to remain there for the long term. However, the numbers are dwindling as mines close, miners get older and the job is not attractive at all.  Mining claims to be safe, but there are enough accidents to question that statement.

 

And the last claim that Trump has pointed out is that there are enough social and health benefits that will make the job an everlasting one. People can enter the field and stay there for life. And this song, entitled Allentown by Billy Joel, has several arguments debuking that claim.  Produced in 1982, the setting for the song is in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the heart of the coal and steel industry. There, the decline of the industry was taking shape after World War II, with mines and steel factories closing down, and workers suffering from the plight of unemployment and other social pathologies. By the early 1980s, over half of the factories and mines in Pennsylvania had been shut down and regions were forced to reinvent themselves. The trend would later be felt in Germany at the time of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, especially in the east, where the mining of brown coal, the dirtiest of coal devastated areas in Saxony including the Black Triangle region.

The lyrics behind this song has to do with the aftereffects of the closing down of the steel mills and mines. Listen to the song and ask yourself the following questions:

 

  1. Compare the war generation with the younger one. Which one had it better and why?

 

  1. Describe the life of a coal miner from the singer’s point of view. What is typical of them and the working conditions?

 

  1. When the people in Allentown are waiting for the Pennsylvania they never found, what was meant by that?

 

  1. Why is it hard for them to stay?

 

  1. In your opinion, despite Trump’s quest for reenergizing the coal industry, will it be successful in the end? Why or why not?

 

Supplemental question: Does your reason have to do with the decline in the industry and if so, why?

 

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William Martin Joel was born in 1949 and has had a singing career that has spanned over five decades. Billy Joel’s breakthrough came with Piano Man, produced in 1973. Since then, he has released 12 albums featuring both pop and classical music. Songs credited to his name include We didn’t start the fire, And so it goes, My life, Manhattan 2017, An innocent man, Leningrad, and Baby Grand (together with favorite idol, the late Ray Charles).  Allentown was one of several songs Billy Joel wrote which focuses on real themes affecting America, Russia and other parts of the world. That song received praise from the mayor of Allentown, and Joel therefore received royalities and other recognition.

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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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