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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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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Martin Luther and 2.0 Technology: How to Convey the 95 Theses

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‚ÄúPeople fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.‚ÄĚ- Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Communication: a commodity that is underrated, undervalued and underloved. Whenever we communicate our ideas and concerns to others, we intend to get critical and sometimes degrading feedback, which causes us to keep silent for a long time, if not ever. When we see a post on facebook, where a person balks another behind his/her back to please his “friends,” we feel offended because it shows that that person would rather be a coward and promote psychological guerilla warfare rather than be involved in any direct discussion. When we get into a discussion over a post, we intend on going below the belt, through insults, death threats and “echo chambers,” to a point where we get exhausted by their acts of cowardice and take that offender off the friends list.

 

The Elections of 2016 in the United States clearly showed the true colors of these people indulging in such acts. The victor, Donald Trump won because he had engaged in satanistic acts of hatred and encouraged others to engage in these acts deemed fattening, illegal and even unintelligent. They fall even below the lines of evil wicked pro-wrestlers, like Big Van Vader, Sid Vicious, The Wrecking Crew and the Demolition Crew (just to list a few), who not only submitted their weak opponents in brutal ways, but broke every bone in their bodies doing it.

 

Yet his brutal acts consisted of demonizing Hillary Clinton and those who didn’t follow the now “President” by using the form of communication we know, use and sometimes abuse a lot these days: the internet. And in particular, 2.0 technology!¬† Consisting of social networks, such as facebook, selfie networks, like Instagram, and blogs, like wordpress, as well as online (chat) platforms, like Moodle, 2.0 technology is one of the most effective ways of communicating with others thousands of kilometers away as well as conveying important messages to the audience. They have, however, been tools for mudslinging and making death threats to a point where people look for ways to block that person, in order to be protected and have one’s serenity back. In my case most recently, after a below-the-belt spat with three Trump supporters on facebook, I not only blocked them directly, but also indirectly.

 

While doing this, I had an idea for a work on the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses by Martin Luther. One of the most important questions that came to mind was this: How would Martin Luther use 2.0 technology to convey his message about the Church to the public and how would the Church respond? How would the public react to his Theses online and in social media?

 

We need to remember that 500 years ago, when Martin Luther posted his thesis outside the Cathedral in Wittenberg, the only form of communications that existed featured paper and pen, the horse, and word of mouth. That meant that Luther’s way of getting the news around was by addressing the faults of the church through speeches with the audience, whereas his followers spread the word around to people in other communities, even on horseback to towns, like Erfurt, Jena, Weimar, Leipzig, Halle, Zwickau, Coburg and other places, which took days to complete, and it required lodging at different inns, houses, and even in tents along the way. ¬†Gutenberg’s printing press, created in 1440, ¬†made it easier to copy and spread the news around.

 

Like in the present-day debates where there is opposition and even misinterpretation that can be posted with a click of the mouse, supporters of the Church worked together with the pastors, cardinals and bishops to not only argue against the revolution being sought by Luther but also apprehend him and bring him to his senses. This all occurred by word of mouth and by having couriers send letters around, going up the hierarchy of the Church until that day on January 3, 1521, when Pope Leo excommunicated Luther, and three months later when Luther spoke the truth with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at Worms and was subsequentially declared an outlaw.  Sometimes debates with the church ended in violence, which if compared with the Elections of 2016, without 2.0 communication, there would have been more fist fights in saloons, bars, restaurants and on the streets than at the Trump rallies. With 2.0 communication all the fighting can be done with the keyboard, emoticons and a click of the mouse.

 

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We do know two variables that go along with social networking and blogging: the messages can be conveyed much faster than by horse, mouth or even the press. The audience would be reached in larger masses than at that time when the 95 theses were posted, ¬†for Luther’s revolution was focused on eastern Germany first and it took four years until it spread to the south, towards Rome. It would take another 150 years until Lutheranism spread to all of Europe and parts of Asia and eventually to America. ¬†In other words, with 2.0 technology, the whole world would have known about the faults of the Church within a matter of four minutes, instead of four years!

 

Like in the 2016 Elections, Luther’s 95 Theses would have impacted global society within a matter of seconds. Luther would have several forms of social media at his disposal to convey his message to the world, yet the easiest way for him to do that was to produce a new blog, facebook account and even Instagram and spread the word on his treatsies in the following order:

 

  1. Luther would post his 95 Theses on his blog. As we saw in a couple example literary works about the Theses and the Sojourns and Sayings, Luther was a man of quotes and short sayings by pen, but a man of long speeches by mouth, which inspired an audience of the dozens. This means that Luther would have been forced to describe each of his theses in detail so that the reader would understand his logic. As only one in 1000 do not have a Smartphone or iPhone in their possession, chances are most likely that Luther would need more time than what he actually did in the past to write about it in his blog, let alone speak about it in a video provided that he had a youtube account. 
  2. After posting his theses online, he would have to post it on his facebook page- both in his own profile page as well as in the group pages he either is in or administers. In actual reality, it is easier to spread the word when a person is involved in multiple groups that have the same values. Even pages that involve Christianity can be found on facebook in many languages (Even the author is in a Christian network for central Germany). ¬†Luther would have to be careful to not overkill his theses by posting them everywhere, where the themes are either contradictory and can spawn hefty discussion or irrelevant. In short, posting his 95 Theses page on the JC Insurance Agency facebook page, which sells indulgence insurance would be a definite no-go unless you want a discussion with Pope Francis. Or putting them on a Jesus-freak facebook page would turn off all the followers as it would have nothing to do with Jesus and Mary Magdalena. ūüėČ
  3. Then Martin Luther would have to have an iPhone or a Smartphone in order to have an Instagram page, where he could photograph the plight of the poor, beggers and real believers of Christ who want access to his teachings but are denied because of lack of money. By using the features to “doctor” the photos and add some commentary, Luther could try and make the scenes as graphic as possible to catch the eye of the viewers.¬†

 

By doing all this using the key social networking pages, the news would spread in a matter of minutes, pending on how many followers Martin Luther would have. It is much more effective to have friends of the “friends” in your network receive the piece, as well as followers and members of the clubs you are in, so that they can react, comment and share the post, than it is when you only have your profile page and that is it. Given his popularity as a revolutionary in Wittenberg and the surrounding area, with about 1500 people in his facebook network, Luther would not have had any problems conveying the message.

 

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However, the responses from the people are a much different story……

 

Going back to the debate over the election of Donald Trump as President, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, people who didn’t support him became targets of slurs, insults and echo chambers. One needs to understand that in a social network, regardless of your identity and views, you are always in the minority and anything you post may be used against you, where you least expected it.

 

In my facebook profile page alone, over 80% of the 1000+ people in my network are Trump supporters, which has resulted in me splitting the account into two and separating the people between the toupeed pumpkin supporters on one side, and the cosmopolitans and open-minded Emma Watsons on the other- the latter representing the minority!  While that measure may be unkosher to some, the  most effective way to protect yourself from trollers and harassers is not only unfriending them, but also blocking them- directly if you had them in your network but also indirectly, where you can look up people not in your network in the directory and block them there. In either case, when you are blocked, you can never find him ever again.

 

Martin Luther’s response to his 95 theses would not only have been with emoticons, likes and dislikes, but it would have produced discussions and insults from over 75% of the people in his network, mainly those who held firmly to the Church and its beliefs because it was the only institution where the fittest as well as the spiritually and financially strongest people are the ones that are granted immunity from the evils of the Earth, a belief that Luther strongly disagreed. Luther would probably have been forced to spend an average of half his day in front of the computer responding to the critics and indulging in hefty conversations, thus neglecting his job as professor at Wittenberg, as well as his marriage to Katharina von Bora, who would have thrown out his computer, cursing it as the devil, and would have taken him to a psychiatrist who would help him with his online addiction. ūüėČ ¬†Or even better, as computer jobs can put on weight, if Katharina was an athlete, he would have been forced to go running with her. ūüėČ ‚̧

 

But putting aside the effects on a powerful, yet fragile relationship between a professor and a nun, the response to the theses would have been two-fold. On the one hand, there would have been more unity among supporters of Luther and his teachings and therefore, the Lutheran Church would not have been fragmented into hundreds of different denominations as they are today, like the Mennonites, Methodists, Episcopalians, Calvinists, Jehovas, etc. And if the fragments, then in no more than eight of the key ones, 2-3 of each representing a region in the world where Christianity is in the majority. People would have received Luther’s ideas more in open arms for they would have had a possibility to read his work and interpret them in a way that they would either agree or disagree with him. In other words, the followers would have been a thousand-fold as many as in Luther’s time when he posted them. Discussions would have fanned out almost instantly, which would have resulted in negative impacts on Luther.

 

That meant that the Church in Rome would have been informed of Luther’s revolution right away, and he would have been apprehended within a matter of days, instead of the four years it took to not only excommunicate him but also exile him at Wartburg near Eisenach. Damage control would surely have been needed because of the growing opposition toward the Church. Instead of bishops and pastors taking to the streets as the only measure to attract and keep the number of congregators, as seen 500 years ago, with the use of 2.0 Technology and the internet, the Church would have been forced to issue statements right away, protecting its fundamental values and its reputation, while at the same time, play down Luther’s Theses and its effects on the institution and its people on its website as well as through the homepages of cardinals, and even the Pope. ¬†In reality, the Vatican has its own website, where you can look at its government, how it was founded and the people who run the smallest city-state. Discussions with the Church with negative consequences would have been high and hot on the facebook pages of those working for the Church, including that withe Pope, thus keeping him from performing his duties.

 

People opposing Luther would have trolled him on facebook and presented their facts supporting the Church, while demonizing him in the process. The discussion about the Church would have been just as intensive if not even more than with the Elections of 2016 because society before Luther was already established, and the Church was its anchor. It was only at the time of the Theses where Luther reshaped the way we believe in Christ, and the respondants would either have praised him and embraced change or opposed it, clinging onto the old system because it was effective in their eyes, despite the flaws. For 2016, we had a traditionalist of the establishment, a quasi-destroyer of the establishment and a revolutionary from the establishment which resulted in bashing the establishment in general. I’ll leave it as that. ¬†ūüėČ

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To summarize a rather lengthy discussion of the what-ifs and what could’ve happens, had Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses with the use of 2.0 technology, the word would have gotten out in a matter of minutes instead of years, as with the responses, both positive as well as negative. ¬†The message would have reached the rest of the world in a matter of 150 seconds instead of 150 years like it did. ¬†The Church would have been forced to clarify Luther’s accusations instantly, while summoning authorities to arrest and extradite the revolutionary pastor at the same time. ¬†And given the sometimes misinterpretations of Luther’s work resulting in the Lutheran Church branching off into hundreds of segments, the message that came out online would have been easily read and understood if detailed properly, and there would have been only eight at the most, 2-3 per region in the world.

 

Whether or not it would have changed the church landscape the way it happened in real time- where Luther was granted immunity by the princes in Germany and in other regions while being pursued by Rome for the rest of his life- remains unclear. However, unlike Luther’s legacy, where he established the church we know today (along with its fragments), when looking at the Elections in 2016, the use of 2.0 technology actually split society into several fragments, each with its own rigid edges, used for defending their rights and privileges, thus changing the landscape of family, friends and even relationships. No matter what you say or state, you are always in the minority. ¬†Had 2.0 technology existed during the time of Luther, it would not have been much different, except that instead of Democrats, Republicans and third parties, we would have seen Catholics and Protestants battling it out on the platforms. It is doubtful that there would be any bloody revolutions like we saw in Northern Ireland, it is clear that people would be on opposite ends of the spectrum, spewing out facts and counterfacts, insults and whineries, to a point where instead of actually killing off the person, like it happened in the 1970s and 80s in Northern Ireland, all the person needs to do is delete the other from facebook, never to communicate to each other again.

 

Whether they would live happily ever after with their families and friends remains another story………

 

TIP: In your opinion, had 2.0 technology existed in Martin Luther’s time, how would he have used it? Would he use facebook, twitter, Instagram or XING? What about other apps? How do you think the people would respond to hs Theses? This would be a genial classroom discussion and possible activity to think about. ūüôā

 

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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. ūüėČ

 

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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. ¬†ūüėČ ¬†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 M√ľntzer, 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 of the Week: Sojourns and Sayings of Martin Luther by Heinz Stade

sojourns and sayings of martin luther

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 M√∂hra (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. ūüėČ

 

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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