Thursday, February 9, 2017

Readings on Martin Luther and the Reformation

A couple of months ago I started reading about the Protestant Reformation and discovered there are probably more books and articles about and by Martin Luther and the Reformation then just about any other figure in history.  Well, except Jesus, I guess.    Someone said that a list of the ten most influential people in history would certainly include Martin Luther. I am finding myself fascinated by medieval history and the many currents and personalities that led up to the reformation and made it not only possible, but inevitable. 

Wil Durant, in his 900 page book, "The Reformation" (not quite through with that one yet), wrote, "What circumstances of heredity and environment had molded an obscure monk in a town of three thousand souls, into the David of the religious revolution?"

The first 330 pages of Durant's monumental work gives the background leading up October 31, 1517 when Luther posted his 95 theses on the Wittenberg church door and ignited the simmering social, political and ecclesiastical bombshell. We are still living in the legacy of those reformers, Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin, and even before them John Wyclif in England and Jan Huss in Bohemia. 

My wife, Judy, and I read the novel, "Katharina and Luther", a fictional account of the relationship between Luther and Katharina Von Bora, a nun who escaped from a convent along with 11 other nuns and was taken in by Luther for protection until he could find appropriate husbands for them..  Eventually the 42 year old monk married 26 year old Katharina.  A fascinating story, though Judy thinks it is a bit too romanticized.... but reading other references about Katharina verifies the basic historical outline of the story.  She was a formidable woman for her time, and indeed, for any historical period. 

Judy has just finished "A Reformation Life: Katharina Von Bora" by Rudolf and Marilynn Markwald, a historical biography of that extraordinary woman.  Franklin Fry wrote in the Foreword that "We can learn much from her about the sacred character of our "ordinary" settings, relationships, and activities".  More about her in a later blog post.
Then I reread the English language classic by Roland Bainton, "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther', a book that came out in the 1950s and has been in storage or sitting on my bookshelf for the last 50 plus years.  Of course, the title "Here I Stand" refers to one of the famous statements uttered by a human, when Luther was brought before the Holy Roman Emperor and the representatives of the Pope and refused to recant - in the face of the treat of excommunication and a death sentence for heresy.  His full statement was: "Unless I am convinced by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other -- my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  God help me, Amen".  It is thought that he added "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise". though these words don't show up in the minutes of the meeting - probably because the listeners at the moment may have been too moved to write!

Another interesting book just published is "Here I Walk: A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther", by Andrew L Wilson.  We met Andrew and his wife Sarah Hinlicky Wilson in St Paul in December during a presentation about their 2010 trek from Erfurt, Germany to Rome, roughly trying to retrace the steps of Luther's 1000 mile walk in 1510.  This is a travel journal, with many reflections on faith, pilgrimage, the Reformation, and many sites that Luther may have visited, though some of the most interesting passages are about encounters with the land and people on that route today... Germany, Austria, Switzerland and
We will be leading a discussion with a group at Gold Hill Lutheran here in Butte using an excellent resource titled "Together by Grace: Introducing the Lutherans" edited by Kathryn Kleinhans ... with short articles on a wide variety of topics mostly related to the Reformation by over 30 qualified pastors, historians and theologians.  Hopefully, we will have a rich exchange of views and sharing of experiences by this group of  mostly life-long Lutherans.  Will be interesting to see if we gain any new insights. 

In this, the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation I plan to post a few blogs from my reflections, reading and attempts to understand the legacies of the Reformation for us in our day.  There are a couple of other books on my reading table, but enough for now. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

My Parents were Saints!

Last Sunday Lutheran churches took note of 499th anniversary of the date that the Protestant Reformation was launched by Martin Luther, meaning we are entering a year to commemorate the 500 years of the reformation.  Luther intentionally chose the eve of All Saints Day to nail those 95 thesis to the church door at Wittenburg to begin a discussion of needed reforms in the Catholic Church.    How wonderful it was to read that yesterday Pope Francis traveled to largely Lutheran (but secular) Sweden with the main goal of to help mend a rift dating back five centuries.

Then yesterday millions in the US, and now around the world "celebrated" Halloween with all its symbolism of death and spirits of the dark.  Originally, in the Christian tradition, it was a remembering of the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.  It seems to me that few of those who don costumes of ghosts and other phantoms to appear scary and go out to trick and treat these days would even know of this traditional connection. 

So today, November 1, is the actual All Souls' (or Saints) Day, an important Christian religious day that is dedicated to the remembrance of the departed. Celebrated under various names in different nations, this is an occasion that testifies to the fact that death can never lessen the love we have for our dear departed ones.

On a personal level, this is the time of year that brings to mind the passing of my parents…  they died just before All Saints Day, though separated by 15 years  - mom passed on October 21st, 1976, and dad on October 25th, 1991.

Over these last decades this time of the year has been for me a time of remembrance of those two saints as well as All Saints who have gone before..… knowing that we are eternally connected, not only to our loved ones who we now enjoy and are still with us, but more importantly today, with  those who are with us in eternity.  At the age of 78 I know that in a few short years I will be joining that "Great Host arrayed in White" as they are referred to in the Book of Revelation.  

Mom and dad died of cancer and they both suffered quite a bit in their last months of life…  but I believe they both knew who they were and Who's they were throughout their lives and at the end of it all.  
They were saints.. not in the way the Catholic Church understands Sainthood, but as Luther taught it… saints and sinners… redeemed by the blood of Christ..  just ordinary farmers, ordinary saints, salt of the earth….  And remembered by a few of us today..

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Sympathizer,’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Reading this book is to experience the extremes and complexities of the American war in Vietnam and its aftermath.   The NY times book review is a good place to get a glimpse into this highly impactfull novel.  I won't try to add to that good review, but wanted some of my friends who experienced Vietnam during that time, and others, (weren't all who lived through the '60s impacted by that war?) to look at the review and decide if you want to read this book..  You probably already have.  

Here is just a paragraph from the NYT review….  

"… this tragicomic novel reaches beyond its historical context to illuminate more universal themes: the eternal misconceptions and misunderstandings between East and West, and the moral dilemma faced by people forced to choose not between right and wrong, but right and right. The nameless protagonist-­narrator, a memorable character despite his anonymity, is an Americanized Vietnamese with a divided heart and mind. ­Nguyen’s skill in portraying this sort of ambivalent personality compares favorably with masters like Conrad, Greene and leCarrĂ©".

I am one who lived in Vietnam during some of the worst part of the American war ('66-68), who always felt the American involvement was a tragic and strategic mistake.  This novel gives the Vietnamese a voice and portrayal from multiple perspectives.  Nguyen was born in Vietnam and grew up in the US.  He certainly learned how to write well in English, while keeping both an American and Asian mindset. 

 As background, Nguyen read many of the books that dissected the war and post war periods and it human effects, including  the history of American torture methods.  There is more than enough gruesomeness and cruelty in the story, to make me wonder if some would be turned off by the inhumanity of it all.  But the novel follows an historical arc and we should not avoid a deeper look at its political, psychological and literary impact. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Feedback on my Book

I started this blog in 2012 after the publication of my book, "A Spirituality of Service". This is the 81st post.  One of the original purposes of the blog was to generate dialogue about the spiritual journey we all are on in one way or another. Over time I have received many comments and compliment, for which I am thankful, though not many written comments on this blog. 

The following are some comments from Gary Studebaker, a brother of Ted Studebaker, who served with Vietnam Christian Service and was killed in an attack on the village and house where Judy and I had previously lived in the highlands of Vietnam during the 1960s.  I wrote something about that in my book in the Chapter "Vietnam Revisited"...  

I am thankful for Gary's comments... He wrote....

"Just to let you know that I have almost completed reading your book, "A Spirituality of Service." This is the book I need to read. At this stage in life, I am ready to absorb a life of abiding in the spirit, obedience to the leading of Jesus, faith walking, finding ways to accommodate (a word I learned from you). 

The photo on the cover of your book says it all. I think we all long to be in the presence of such a scene. Nothing could be more endearing in my view; Three children joyfully connecting (probably with you) in this photo. Note: This photo was not taken by me but by my colleague Robert Engwall in the altiplano (high plateau) of Peru many years.

This week I bought a notebook as I've begun to do journal writing a few times each week regarding experiences that bring me in contact with spirituality living, The journal writing was another idea I got from you. The last time I did journal writing was in the mid 1960s when I served with International Voluntary Service in Southern Laos. This time however, the journal writing takes on more significance. Hopefully I have gained more appreciation for living a more useful life.

The way you've organized the book is quite practical and instructive to me with the topic followed by a reflection and several thought provoking meditation ideas or practices that we as asked to consider. I think we all need to get the point in life where we are challenged to question and probe our own life and find ways to become more faithful, useful or encouraged by allowing the truth of the scriptures to take root in us.

Your book, "A Spirituality of Service" would be a useful college course. I needed that course before I departed to serve in my agriculture project in Laos in the mid 1960s. I know it's not too late for me to pursue a spirituality of service even now. I have begun to do centered prayers during my quiet time when I first go to bed. I have been selecting theme words like God's love or God's mercy as the focus of my prayers. I also like discussing points of your book with Sue, my wife.

You described cultures where people do without basic necessities (no medical care, no legal help or justice, poor crops and food scarcity in a Bolivian mountain area. I learned from your writing that in Ho Chi Minh City, the Tin Lanh Church is not recognized by the government. They have to worship secretly, lack of freedom as you posed a question we all need to consider: 
               "How does the Word become known here? It is a question that stays with                 me for some days as we travel on to places from our past."

Your statement a few paragraphs later showed me where we all need to be as we see overwhelming problems in life:
                " Wherever it was possible our purpose was to be a healing presence                      amidst the suffering caused by war..." 

I write this to tell you of my appreciation of learning about a topic that you have made clear with the many examples you provided as you and Judy served the poor in many cultures around the world (to be a listening ear, to accommodate, to extend an act of kindness).
I was wondrous to learn that K'Krah survived after the war by moving with his family to the mountains to live until it was safe to return to Di Linh. I did not know that. 

The most endearing time in my life was when Doug (my brother) and I visited the Di Linh area in the homes of K'Kra and K'Lai and other areas of south Vietnam for one month in May of 2012. The VNCS house had been demolished a few months before we arrived however it was a treasure to walk the grounds where the VNCS house had been by the road (the American military at the top of the hill).

I thank you, Jerry for the things I've learned and continue to learn at a timely point in my life, from your writing. "