The command “Resist!” screams at me daily now from my Facebook feed. Since the election of President Trump, the word has steadily returned to our collective vocabulary. And there seems to be no end to the popular icons used to ask me to resist: Smokey Bear, Princess Leia, and Uncle Sam appear on posters under the same heading… Resist!
Which leads me in a roundabout way to Martin Luther. Until recently my view of Luther was an inspired reformer and resistance leader who took the indulgences and atrocities of the Roman Catholic Church to task with his 95 theses, fueling the Reformation. In other words, a very simplistic, generalized Protestant view. Last year, I expanded this view when reading the actual theses and some pieces of his other works at the Morgan Library’s exhibit Word and Image: Martin Luther’s Reformation. Viewing the sparring of Luther and the Pope through words and images (against my backdrop of the US election season) was poignantly timely. I began to see the human, culpable side of Luther… the other side of the coin. This expanded even further when viewing the Thomas More exhibit last month in DC. Viewing endless examples of anti-Catholic rhetoric and violence quickly turned the Reformation into a multi-faceted issue for me.
A few weeks later, when watching the documentary The Cross and the Star: Jews, Christians, and the Holocaust I heard Luther quoted “Next to the devil himself, a Christian has no enemy more cruel, more venomous and violent than a true Jew.” WTF? Next, I heard how Hitler used Luther as a German hero to support his rhetoric, and undermine the Confessing Church. So I checked out selections from Luther’s 65,000 words On the Jews and their Lies. Suggesting burning synagogues? Forbidding rabbis to preach? I’m led back down the rabbit hole of anti-semitism and Christian triumphalism from the mighty church fathers. Selected readings of St Augustine, John Crysostom, and Tertullian accompanied me back into the “Jews killed Christ” bullshit. Meanwhile, the news on my modern tv set seemed to scream “Make Christianity great (and superior) again!”
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe...
Then, in the February 1, 2017 issue of The Christian Century, I saw the above picture and the following headline: “A toy figure of Luther sparked accusations of anti-Semitism”. Playmobil’s fastest (ever) selling toy sold 34,000 copies, selling out within 72 hours.
The Luther toy had been created to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses. Yet, the script on the miniature Bible in Luther’s hand brought up the age old debate about the terms “Old Testament” and “New Testament” which are not friendly to those of Jewish faith. (The term Hebrew Bible is much more appropriate… hint hint… for all my Christian readers.)
Interestingly, Playmobil has listened to the criticism and is creating a new model that will remove the word “END” after Old Testament to try to address the issue. (I’m personally not sure it will, as “Old Testament” still appears.)
You betcha I ordered one on Amazon asap.
The day it was delivered there was a massive snowstorm and I couldn’t make it out to our mailbox. I waited with anticipation to see if I had successfully received the original design (with the offensive END). When we finally were plowed out the next day, I ventured carefully out on the road to find out the mailbox… was gone. Nowhere in sight among the six-foot-tall snowbanks on both sides of the road. The post was there, but the box had vanished. After quickly dismissing that God had vanquished an offensive Luther from my box, I felt a great wash of disappointment. And I wondered, why was I so excited about getting the mini Luther?
My righteousness. My bias. My shadow side wanting to point out that other people are (or were) more intolerant than I am. That my errors are not that bad… look what this guy did!
Then I recalled a piece I came across when writing my book. Catholics and Lutherans planned a shared liturgy to mark the anniversary of the Reformation. Their joint report, “From Conflict to Communion,” and their “Common Prayer” booklet emphasize the shared beliefs between the denominations, rather than the differences that split them apart five hundred years ago. The report passionately states, “We deeply regret the evil things that Catholics and Lutherans have mutually done to each other.”
And I was led back to Pope John Paul II’s 1998 work We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah which he hoped would “indeed help to heal the wounds of past misunderstandings and injustices.” Yet, many felt his statements didn’t go far enough, and still did not hold Pope Pius XII’s accountable enough.
Accountability... blame… apologies. Hurt and suffering abound. Is that what history is? Where one person sees injustice, another does not? What is the appropriate level of resistance through a non-dual lens… when I perceive injustice? During the horrors of the Third Reich, Protestant preachers Barth, Bonhoeffer, Bultmann and Busch (as well as the other preachers whose names did not begin with B in the Confessing Church) answered one way. During his day, Luther answered in his own way. Standing Rock protestors, the Women’s March, and myriad other protestors today are answering in their own way.
But I’m perplexed. How do we heal the divide when each side continues to point out that the other side is wrong? Many coo that love is the answer. And while I would love to agree (pun intended), humans can’t even agree on a definition of love… especially when in action.
What is the appropriate level of resistance… when using love as the tool? Youth pastor Wilhelm Busch had so many interactions with the Gestapo during the Nazi regime that on his twenty-fifth interview “he wore a black suit with a flower boutonniere. When one of the Gestapo asked in amazement what he thought he was doing, he said he was celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary.”*
Now that’s some classy resistance.
Postscript: I picked up a new mailbox. After my husband gets it in place I’m thinking about ordering some more controversial figures to see if it gets affected again. But I suspect the real person to blame here is the plow. Or actually the snow that made the blow come. Snow comes from weather, which is part of Creation. Creation is God. Holy S*#! God did vanquish Martin Luther… to under a snow mound. My husband did eventually find the mailbox. And mini Luther is ok, packaging and everything. Once again proving that God may smite someone, but always forgives them? And that I, as non-dual coexistence smited my own box, which is God’s mailbox, if the mailbox even exists at all. An excellent contemplation.
*From Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich edited by Dean G Stroud, page 171
Read more from Sarah Bowen in Void if Detached: Seeking Modern Spirituality Through My Father's Old Sermons.