The Art of Forgiveness and Friendship

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I would like to start this journey with a quote by Ritu Ghadourey about forgiving others for hurtful actions: A broken friendship that is mended through forgiveness can be even stronger than it once was. 

As I entered the US for the first time since 2015, I noticed right away how deeply divided the country was (and still is)- more so than when Barack Obama was president. The first impression of this was how the media was involving itself. Once toted as the main source of information to allow us to think about the events, talk about it and even take action, America’s media today  is making the decisions for us, without even allowing us to think of the reasons for the actions taken by President Trump, his members of the Oval Office and the special investigations councillor Robert Mueller, who is trying to dig dirt and undermine the president. With each character coming on screen to muckrake on both sides, one has to wonder if this is just another Hollywood film that is screaming to be booed and jeered. And with each repetitive claim by the president that there was no collusion between him and Russian president Vladimir Putin, how many times will he say it (even when jumping up and down on the trampoline) until we all figure out that he’s indeed a liar and a crook.

We do know however, that despite my detestation of watching Trump and all his cronies on TV while having breakfast, we do have one variant that is working against us: With each action committed on both sides of the aisle, regardless of hate crimes, bashing media outlets, making false statements and the like, we are hurting ourselves and others, to a point where we may never talk to our neighbors, friends and family members ever again. Our belief in the media is deceiving ouselves and not allowing us time to think about the issues at hand.  And our actions towards others is making it difficult for us to come to terms with the people we hurt the most.

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Inspite of this however, I learned most recently that even the most painful actions done onto others can be forgiven, if one is willing to reach out and ask for it. In some cases, it can forge friendships that are better than the last one. I have a couple examples which show that forgiveness can be sought and new friendships created.

A few months ago, a friend of mine from Arizona, named Calvin, was approached by a former high school classmate named Jared after a 20+ year absence. Both of them were playing American football at a high school in Tucson; yet Calvin, who was too skinny to play lineman, was bullied by Jared and several other players, who were three times his size and thought he was gay.  One day, Jared had the cheek to pee in Calvin’s sports locker. Upset that he was being treated unfairly and was not getting enough support by the coaches, Calvin quit the team and eventually changed schools, where he ran in cross country and excelled in fine arts in Casa Grande, graduating with honors and eventually moving onto college at the University of Minnesota and later into teaching in Osnabrück in Germany.  We met while I was an exchange student and we shared some stories of our time playing football in high school. We both hated the sport as we were “bench-warmers,” which was equally as degrading as being bullied. Jared reached out to him one day in May after Calvin wrote of his experiences of being bullied on facebook, in response to an increase of cyberbullying at his former high school in Tucson. Jared was principal there and had to sit a person, who was robbing others of lunch money down, and tell him what he did to Calvin. He looked him up and reconnected. Then after reading his article posted on facebook, Jared wrote a long letter of apology to Calvin explaining that his lack of self-confidence was the catalyst to doing what he did to him. In response to the letter, Calvin forgave him, explaining that what was done was wrong but it’s nothing compared to what is going on in the present. 

In the present means the days of social networking, cyberbullying, grooming, happy-slapping and the like. Let’s put it this way, as much as I was bullied in high school 25 years ago, I was thankful that the internet did not exist in its present-day form. Otherwise, …….

Calvin’s suggestion to Jared was the same as offering a good starting point: “Together, we can set examples for other kids to understand that what is being done to others, even online, is wrong and not tolerated.”  In other words, the willingness to make peace and work together to ensure that no one else gets bullied  were two giant steps to forging a good friendship and they have since been on good terms. 

Yet sometimes people can hurt each other to a point where they basically break off all ties, even if one was unaware of the actions committed. Sometimes such actions can be the result of the “My way is the highway” mentality. Others have to do with cultural and personal differences between the two people. Normally when ties are cut like that, then it is too late and even impossible to make amends.

That is unless one of them reaches out to ask for peace. This happened to another friend in Kiel, a while back and to this day, he’s figuring out the reason why and finding ways to reforge a friendship with this girl. Her name was Karin and she and Nick were attending college in Berlin in 2014. She was a very nice girl, as Nick described her- a deeply devoted Christian, kind but had that magic that got Nick interested. They had been working together on a project when they suddenly “butted heads” during a dance at one of the assembly halls.  How this happened was not explained but attempts to reconcile even online failed, and they broke off all contact after the project was finished, but not before havig hurt each other verbally, resulting in after-effects that were lasting for months after the break-off. Nick was moving on with his life when Karin suddenly re-appeared on his facebook page, offering peace to him. In response, Nick replied that under the conditions that we’d meet and talk about it would that be considered. Two hours of deep conversations brought forth forgiveness and establishing the building blocks for a restart, despite them having partners and full-time jobs.  Yet this example came with a lot of strings attached, which was the fact that she was not ready to be friends just yet; she needed time as the healer though they are still communcating to this day but not on facebook. Nick is hoping that it will happen someday as it would give them a chance to chat online about their jobs and families and just be friends. Let’s hope that their road to friendship is a smooth one there.

But looking at both examples, one has to ask ourselves how much damage has the United States done to its people and ts allies. The country has alienated its long-time allies of Europe and Canada and embraced Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, although with the third example one can agree with re-establishing ties with Kim to a certain degree. The US has alienated its own people while our president is watching families and friends fight over politics, like it was a wrestling match. And even the media outlets are equally bad with each one having their own “Mean” Gene Okerlund and their sets of wrestlers trash-talking to the audience. No wonder why we have a combination of George Orwell’s 1984 and the Spanish Civil War all at once, when American society is conditioned to think one way or another. To sum up the situation, we’re living in a society where the media has control of the lives of Americans, and Americans can choose who to befriend and who to dump, based on which political alliance they are in, thus polarizing ourselves, our friends, family members and our neighboring countries. A sad devlopment and one that could destroy the fabric of democracy should the trend continue.

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Stern Magazine

Yet inspite of all this, I have learned to separate politics from friendships and family to avoid any inner-strife. But most importantly, to forgive others for their mistakes. Yet it will be a difficult drive to make amends with the  people we hurt the most. While some allies like Canada and Great Britain will be ready to forgive right away,  others like France and Germany will be even more difficult because of the damage inflicted already. But the most difficult will be the ability to trust each other and be willing to work together. That includes rebuilding the trust between the government, the media and the people. I guess it is similar to the example with Karin and Nick. If one person offers peace then it is because the other has the characteristics that is liked (and blessed in Christian terms) and that the person wants to reforge a better relationship than before so that they can work out the bigger problems they are facing. And we have more than enough to go around.

After the third day of listening to politics at a hotel in Pittsburgh, I decided to tune it out because it was a waste of time and energy. I decided that if people want to know more about our situation in Europe in comparison with the US that we would be truthful about it, but ensure that we are not enforcing our opinions onto them but to get them to understand the situation from a neutral person’s point of view.  At the same time, however, I’m taking an advice that was based on the stories that I just presented with Jared and Calvin on one end, but also with Nick and Karin on the other. If we hurt the ones that care for us, regardless of difference and opinion, we apologize and forgive. Forgiveness is free and can forge better friendships than in the past.  And this is what is needed in this day and age as we have bigger issues to handle and little time left to get them done.

And with that comes a pair of quotes to end this topic on how to reforge a friendship through forgiveness:

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Forgiveness is the best form of love. It takes a strong person to say sorry, yet it takes a stronger person to forgive. 

 

Fl Fi USA

 

 

Disclaimer: While these two examples are true stories, for the purpose of protecting their identities, the names of the people mentioned as well as the places where the stories took place have been altered. 

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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.

 

Author’s Note: Check out the Files’ Genre of the Week, looking at Sojourns and Sayings that Martin Luther mentioned during his lifetime. Click here for details.

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500 Years of Luther

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

1517- the year that changed the world and the way we interpret Jesus Christ. It was that year a gifted monk Martin Luther ran amok and presented the 95 thesis to the Roman Catholic Church, accusing them of corruption and taking from the poor to finance their system. With indulgences bought to ensure passage to heaven instead of the pergurtory on one hand and the disadvantaged being written off for Dante’s stew right from birth on, Luther felt that the Church favored the financially rich who were morally weak instead of the poor, many of whom had strong wills and a solid set of values.  Therefore, it was his duty to bring it to the attention of Christ, even if it meant splitting from the Church.

 

And in what language?  Of course, German.

 

And in which country did it all happen?  Even if you were not that good in history, you should know this answer……. 😉

 

Even though we have Lutheran Churches outnumbering the Catholic Church 6:1, many universities named after this key figure and even some of his followers, including his wife Catherine (von Bora), what do we really know about Martin Luther, his relationship with the Church, his establishment of his church (which eventually branched off into Evangelical Lutheran, Calvinist Lutheran, etc.),  and how has it changed over time. Lastly, why use Germany- and in particular, central and eastern parts- as the platform for his teaching and revolution?

 

Between now and the end of next year, we’ll have a look at the legacy of Martin Luther and his work, looking at key concepts, traditions and other interesting facts that made him famous and keep us talking about him and his works today. It will include interviews with people associated with Luther, including American expatriates who have received their calling to their churches in Germany. Some churches and cities will be mentioned in the series with some points of interest in connection with Luther, including the Christmas markets (some of which have been visited already and others will be profiled).  If you have some topics related to Luther you wish to bring up in this column, please contact Jason Smith at the Files, using the contact form below.

 

Keeping all this in mind, let’s have a look at this film about Luther. Watch it in its entirety and take a look at the following questions:

 

  1. Describe Luther when he attended the university at the beginning of the story to his role as a revolutionary at the end of the film. How did his character change and why?

 

  1. What flaws of the Catholic Church were revealed in this film?

 

  1. Why did Luther leave the Church to start his own religion? What was the reaction of the Church? His father? The university?

 

  1. While there many followers in his time, whose churches have been named in their honor, who appeared in the story? Who was the most outspoken of his followers in the film?

 

  1. Which of the 95 theses were either mentioned or seen in the film?

 

  1. How did Luther meet Catherine in the film in comparison to real history?

 

For students and teachers teaching German as a foreign language, this film provides a grand opportunity to learn German thanks to listening comprehension and vocabulary, which adds to the topic of religion and German culture. These questions can be used as a platform for additional activities and discussion. 🙂   Now enjoy the film and the stories of Luther to come in the next year. 🙂

 

 

 

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