This October 31st will mark 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his famous ‘Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences’ (95 Theses) to a little door on Castle Church, in a town called Wittenburg in Germany.
Why is this important? Well, it all depends on who you ask…
When I was a wee lass, my mother, father, sister, and I, attended a Lutheran church. This was my father’s influence, as my mother’s side was the absolute epitome of the Church of England stereotype (unfortunately my maternal side is about as ‘proper British’ and ‘WASP’y as it gets). I do not recall for how long we were a part of this community, but it could not have been longer than about a year: best guess would be 1986/1987ish.
As an adult, I am not a member of any organised religion. It is no secret that I aim a considerable amount of criticism toward religious institutions, as well as those who forfeit critical thinking for the emotional safeguards and crutches that they provide. This is not to say that I don’t recognise the value that can be drawn from many different doctrines (Eastern and Western), which span the course of human history. I’m familiar with thousands of years of scripture from ancient Greek and Roman theology to the Bhagavad Gita, to Saint Augustine, and everything in between. Last year I even had the opportunity to learn about my buddy Martin Luther – as a man, as a historical figure, and all about how the Reformation (which he arguably started) and Counter-Reformation played out. Outside of Luther’s constant feelings of ‘unworthiness’ before a critical shift in perspective about how the whole justice of God thing works, and really digging his heels on the transubstantiation issue, I came to the conclusion that he was actually a pretty cool cat.
Look at that, dear readers. You let me ramble on and on, and I started to digress! Back to the story of this particular Lutheran church, any why it (and through it, Martin Luther) is significant to me.
This particular place of Lutheran worship still stands in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada. I don’t recall the church’s sermons themselves, but I do remember the building very clearly. I also remember the Pastor’s wife (who looked a little bit like Bea Arthur, but with more ostentatious necklaces) very fondly, and the Sunday school arts and crafts that took place after the service.
I remember the Pastor’s wife because I thought she had the most beautiful singing voice I had ever heard, and because she was so kind. I was only about 6 years old, but her kindness had made quite the impression on me.
I remember Sunday school first because I once got into trouble for suggesting that the bread in the story of feeding all of those people wasn’t really bread, but perhaps the bread represented something (looking back, I was one hell of a smart little cookie). Second, I remember the actual arts and crafts. The Pastor’s wife had taken me out of my group and put me in with the ‘big kids’ to do the more advanced projects. I was so excited to be there (!) – until I learned that they weren’t really more advanced at all. Sigh. Regardless, I really liked the idea that my ‘art’ was appreciated by someone who I thought of so highly. Feel free to roll your eyes here… I know I would.
So why is the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses important to me? Well, it isn’t. However, my brief time spent within the walls of a Lutheran church, which would not have happened without this event, taught me the following three very important life lessons:
1. As per my experience with the Pastor’s wife:
Kindness is something we should all appreciate in others and strive to find in ourselves.
2. As per my experience with arts and crafts:
No endeavour – be it personal, professional, academic, or what-have-you – is ever as ‘advanced’ or difficult as people like to make it out to be. This disappointments me more than I can express, because I wish people would challenge themselves more. The ‘average Joe/Josephine’ simply does not possess the faculties or the inclination to do or be anything more than what a very low bar demands.
Don’t ever let this make YOU become complacent! And for gawds sakes, don’t compare yourself with anyone else, for better or worse (because there will be both)! If you can ensure that what you are doing is challenging, even if this means forfeiting being the best at something at a lower level, then you are growing and learning. Pride can stunt growth in this way, because our pride is often better fed from being the ‘best’ at something than it is from leaving our comfort zones.
3. As per reprimand for expressing my take on JC feeding absurd amounts of people with one loaf of bread:
Stand your ground. Never forfeit your own truth or your right to independently question or critically assess something, especially out of fear for consequences (hence the title of this entry 😉). You will be punished for this by institutions, family, social circles, and maybe even the law. But so what? The reality is that discouraging critical thought places the discouragers in questionable territory – not you. I like to call these people the ants to the progress picnics.
When I think about events throughout my life, it is clear that these three lessons have been reitirated many times over in some way, shape, or form.
So, yeah. Thank you for losing your cool and inadvertantly starting the Reformation, Martin Luther. The chain of lives that your actions have touched has spanned centuries.