(Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach der Ältere, 1529, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
"Martin Luther and I have had a long but somewhat contentious relationship. Growing up in a Lutheran church, I memorized much of his Lutheran catechism, attended Luther League as a teenager, knew all the verses to "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," and graduated from Luther College. But despite this immersion in Lutheranism I never quite warmed to the stern German, and when I became an Episcopalian I was relieved to leave old Martin behind. So it surprised me when tears come to my eyes as I entered Luther's Room in Wartburg Castle on a recent trip to Germany. I knew the history of what had happened in that simply furnished, plain room in 1521-22....The tears came, I think, because in that room I realized as never before the power of a single person of faith to change the world. Luther's influence came not from political might or inherited privilege, but instead from his refusal to recant what he knew was right. When brought before a tribunal who demanded that he repudiate his writings, he refused, knowing that his audacity could result in his death. That refusal to recant led him to exile in Wartburg Castle, where he transformed himself from Roman Catholic monk to Protestant reformer."
--Lori Erickson, "In Luther's Room," Episcopal News Service, April 15, 2011
I can't deny Lori's article certainly caught my attention. Her story, in some ways, is my story, and on top of that, there are a lot of "German genes" in my own DNA.
Martin Luther is an interesting character in my life. In some ways, I know exactly where he's coming from--particularly in the sense of there's a certain scatology to being of German extract. German euphemisms are ripe with references to defecation, graphic sexuality, and flatulence. So I totally get it when Luther claimed he could chase the Devil away with a loud fart. I'm on board with the fact he often wrote his most inspired stuff while on the pot. I even get his rantings to a fair degree. (I remember one of the few times a bill collector ever came to my grandmother's house. He (mistakenly) served her with a past due bill and she shook it at him and yelled, "I PAID those people. You know what good this bill is for? It's good for wiping my ass, that's what it's good for!") Luther also thought the book of Revelation's place in the New Testament was tenuous at best. (He wrote, "I can in no way detect that the Holy Spirit produced it," which is, in my opinion, a rather tame way of saying what he probably really wanted to say, "I could wipe my ass with it." Tee hee.)
But there are other parts to Martin Luther, I just want to reach out across time and smack him upside the head. He was anti-Semitic, for one thing. He was also antagonistic--particularly when it came to the Pope. Some of his rants at the medieval Roman Catholic church are worth a chuckle in the beginning, for their sheer colorful-ness, but there's a place where I just want to go, "Shut up, Martin, that's overkill. Give it a rest. You can get more flies with honey than vinegar."
I'd like to smack him upside the head for having a certain belligerence to his theology. I suffered at one time because of that belligerence--enough to leave organized Christianity for over 20 years. Actually, I get the belligerence, in some ways--when I am being belligerent myself, I am usually hiding a deep hurt. I suspect Luther had been hurt deeply by how he had been treated as a monk in the Roman Catholic church. But I have learned the hard way, belligerence doesn't win any converts, and puts me in an adversarial place, and feeds the part of me that prefers to stay angry--the place that doesn't do me any good.
But mostly, I think what unnerves me about ol' Martin is--and I hate to say it--I have probably shown that sort of belligerence in my own life in other forms, because inside of me lives that little inner Teuton, too. But there's a place where I'm (slowly) learning it's just not worth all my mental energy to fight everybody. I historically have never been good about picking my battles.
But in reading Lori's article, I suspect she and I have had some of the same inner struggles. I, too, can sing "A Mighty Fortress" from heart, as well as "This is the Feast"--which we sang week after week after week in the LCMS. I can still tell you which parts the men are to sing as opposed to the women, and together...and really, I still believe in grace in a more or less Lutheran fashion, although it's not as heavy as the LCMS version. As I was telling my best devotional reading study partner (who is also an expatriate Lutheran--WELS, in fact--turned Episcopalian), "Grace, to me, means none of us are "good enough"--we're all sinners--just plain sinners, not "sinner third class" or "sinner second class" or "sinner first class"--so none of us are good enough. Period. That means we're all in it together, no matter how awful you, me or someone else has been, because Jesus was "good enough for all of us."
I think about how when we ponder the Reformation, our tendency is to think of it as a linear process--this begat that, and that begat something else, etc. etc. But that isn't really what was going on. Things were going on simultaneously, more or less, in different places, and thanks to movable type and the printing press, for the first time, they could be shared. A reform was going on in Germany and other places on the European continent, and another reform was going on in England, and for the first time we could all kind of share this in a selected way ("Here, borrow my book") and a public way ("Wow--I think I'll buy this book.")
I wonder sometimes if we are in a new Reformation, thanks to social networking and e-mail.
I can share an article with my friends instantaneously, or I can stumble onto one myself on the Internet.
The possibility we are living in a "new Reformation" intrigues me. But it also means with the tendency to communicate without thinking (as electronic media is prone to allow) it means I must stop and think before I speak all the more--as do we all.