Monthly Archives: October 2014

Today would be a good day to be in Lutherstadt Wittenberg

This coming Friday, October 31, marks a special day. No, it’s not Halloween (we don’t generally celebrate that in Australia). It’s Reformation Day. This Friday it will be 497 years since Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg castle church, one of the key events that lit the spark of the Protestant Reformation of the church. I had the opportunity to visit Wittenberg (now officially called Lutherstadt – “Luther’s town”) about 4 years ago. I’m thinking it would be a nice place to revisit today and ponder the history that took place there.

Window in Wittenberg Castle Church
Window in Wittenberg Castle Church

I’m passionate about the church, and I’m pretty keen on history, so it’s no surprise that I really enjoyed visiting Wittenberg. I was in Berlin for a few days and was excited to discover it is only just over an hour by train to this delightful little town with its preserved artefacts of a remarkable life lived here nearly 500 years ago.

Martin and Katharina Luther
Martin and Katharina Luther
 What did I love about Wittenberg?

Wittenberg is a beautiful European town, and a great size for walking through.

street

As I found with Stratford-upon-Avon, however, taking a tour through this town is really taking a walk through the places of one man’s life. Coming in from the train station, I passed by this pretty park, which is also thought to be the site where Luther burned his papal bull of excommunication.

Park

Normally a statue of Luther stands in the centre of the town square, but it was being renovated when I visited and so was replaced with an art installation of 800 colourful miniature copies – quite a sight!

Luthers in the square

The former monastery where Luther studied and taught and which then became his family home is now a museum honouring his life and work.

Luther House

Here you can walk through the simple living room of the home he made with his wife, former nun Katharina …

Iving room

… and the lecture hall where he and others taught the Bible …

Lecture hall

… as well as see the impressive lectern from which they spoke!

Lectern

There is also the oldest copy of his translation of the Bible into German …

German Bible

… a 1533 hymnbook with his pub-tune song “A Mighty Fortress” …

1533 hymnbook

… and a printed copy of his 1517 “95 theses” laying out his reasons for disputing church practices which distorted the gospel and gave people false hope.

95 Theses

For this, he was excommunicated by papal bull, a document naming him a heretic to be shunned.

Papal bull

St Mary’s church, (or the Town Church) where Luther often preached, dates back to the 14th century …

Church

… as does the smaller Corpus Christi chapel in its grounds.

Chapel

But the church where Martin nailed his theses is the Castle Church (All Saints’) at the other end of town.

Castle Church

Luther’s grave lies underneath the pulpit inside.

Grave and pulpit

 What did I learn from Wittenberg?

The heart of Luther’s story really starts in another city: Rome. With the need to raise funds to renovate the dome of St Peter’s basilica, the church of the time began selling indulgences, promising forgiveness of sins for a fee. This practice might seem quite medieval to us now, but it reminds me how easy it is for wealth and greed to corrupt the truth of the gospel and God’s free gracious gift offered in His Son. There is a reason that Jesus warned about the dangers of money.

A certificate of indulgence
A certificate of indulgence

Luther wrote his sermon for Sunday October 31, 1517 (95 theses on the power and efficacy of indulgences) and then, as was the custom of the day, posted it (in Latin) on the door of the church. As a fellow preacher, I am reminded of the need to be faithful in speaking the truth of Jesus Christ, even when it might be unpopular, and of the call to be bold in making the message clear and open for all to hear, even those who might oppose it.

Castle door

I was really struck by this letter that Luther wrote explaining his actions after the Diet of Worms (NB: diet = a decision-making gathering of the Catholic church; Worms = a town in Germany 🙂 ).

Letter

While I can’t read all his words, I can only imagine they are similar to the ones he spoke before that gathering in April 1521:

“My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me.”

I hope that I might live my own life with the same passion and conviction for the truth of God’s Word.

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What might our response to Ebola have to say about what it means to love our neighbours?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the biblical principle of loving your neighbour and whether I really understand it properly, let alone put it into practice consistently.

Because I’m convicted that even our compassion and advocacy for others can sometimes demonstrate the insidious depths of our culture’s self-interest. When it comes to loving others, I’ve heard a number of people quote the principle this way “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” The problem is that is not actually quite what the Bible says. The command appears nine times in the Bible, but each time it simply reads, “love your neighbour as yourself.” And it got me wondering what the difference might be.

Does hearing “as you love yourself” feed into the self-focus, and even narcissism, of our modern culture? Would the ancient readers of the Bible even have had such a concept as “self-love”?

More importantly, does “love your neighbour as you love yourself” too often become “love your neighbour after you love yourself”?

Certainly I have heard it explained that way – that you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself. But is that true? Or does it too easily become an excuse for not caring for others because we haven’t got all our own issues sorted out first? Does it stop us from reaching out with compassion to those in need because we subconsciously see ourselves as a higher priority than them?

So, what might be the difference between reading the call as to “love as you love yourself” and to “love as yourself”? Some people might say there isn’t one. But I wonder …

The Hebrew preposition כ used in Lev 19:18 is found all throughout the Old Testament in comparisons, similes and metaphors. Could it be that the idea of loving your neighbour as yourself means actually seeing them as you? Loving them as if they actually were you rather than seeing them as “other” or “outsider”? Certainly Leviticus 19:34 seems to lead in this direction, where the same command is applied corporately to foreigners in the land of Israel – they are to be loved not as outsiders, but just as if they were native-born, insiders.

What would it look like to truly love those who we think are not like us as if they were us? And would that change the world’s response to what is going on right under our noses every day?

So what does all this have to do with Ebola? A friend tweeted me this graph yesterday about the number of people who have died in Africa over the last 8 months. I don’t know about you, but I find it very confronting.

Ebola stats
Image source

It’s confronting to consider the global panic over Ebola in comparison to other diseases and to ask the question, why? What makes the difference in what we choose to care about?

(It’s also confronting to be reminded that we somewhat condescendingly talk about “Africa” as one place with a single story rather than recognise the huge variety of experience within its 54 countries, but perhaps that’s a separate issue).

Could it be that our concern, fear and panic around Ebola is more to do with ourselves than those who are dying from it? At our core, are we afraid of Ebola because if we caught it, we might die from it, whereas the other reasons people across Africa are dying every day don’t bother us so much because we know they are unlikely to happen to us? Is this an example of “loving as we love ourselves” because subconsciously we know if we were hungry we would just eat, whereas if we caught Ebola we might actually have to confront our mortality?

Is this why the death of one person “like us” gets so much more attention than thousands who we see as “other”? (See Rob Oakeshott’s letter to Thomas Eric Duncan for some challenging questions about that)

These are just some of my questions. The more pressing ones are these: How can we respond differently? How do we overcome such deeply ingrained self-interest that it even comes out in the way that we think we are showing compassion and care for others?

We need a whole new paradigm. As a Christian, thankfully I remember that I already have one. Jesus doesn’t just affirm the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Jesus redefines who our neighbours are, and even calls us to love those we see as our enemies in the same way. And He sets a whole new standard for measuring what love looks like.

In the end, whether its “as you love yourself” or “as yourself”, using ourselves as the standard for how we choose to love others seems to leave us open to excuses and provisos. Jesus gives His disciples a new commandment, using Himself as the standard for what love for others is to look like. “Love one another as I have loved you.” Just imagine if we could begin to show that kind of incarnational, self-sacrificial, servant-hearted love – love that puts others above ourselves – in the way we respond to the every day tragedies of our world. How different might that look?

Today is a good day to be in Victoria Square/Tarndanyangga (Adelaide)

Fountain south

Like many people, I would imagine, I don’t tend to take photos of the places where I live, work, regularly shop and eat. But having recently moved from the suburbs into the city in my home town, I am trying to take time to appreciate it in the ways I do other places when I travel. Which has meant spending time just walking, observing, and enjoying the atmosphere.

Post office view

One of my new favourite places in Adelaide is Victoria Square. The very centre of our city, it has recently been redeveloped and with the beautiful spring weather we’re having, it is an amazing place to while away some time. Today is a public holiday, so all the better for wandering and appreciating the opportunity to take time out in the heart of my home town.

Fountain north 1

What am I loving about Victoria Square?

I love having a beautiful green space in the middle of the city. A public space that is open to all and for all.

Square north

I love the statement that the Australian and Aboriginal flags flying side by side makes about this land.

Flags flying 1

The redevelopment includes infrastructure that invites people to spend time together in the Square – sporting equipment available to be freely used, clean facilities, seats to relax on, fountains for children to delight in.

Facilities and box

I wish I had had my camera with me during lunch hour the other day when the totem tennis sets were being used by a group of men in suits who had just come out of the District Court!

Totem Tennis

Its great that there are organised groups using the space, as well as those who have just happened along.

Ultimate frisbee

I love that you can just sit back and watch the world go by.

Chilling out

It’s a great place to people-watch – from tourists taking in a new city, to business people taking a break from work, to parents and children letting off steam.

Fountain north

There are various events seeking to get people involved, including currently some kitchen garden workshops.

Community garden

During the week the northern end hosts different food trucks who provide a yummy variety of cuisines and also create a good buzz. I love that there is a live webcam you can check out to see what is available before you venture out! (and I’m really looking forward to the next “Fork on the Road” event this coming Friday night!)

Fork on the Road

And of course foodwise there are Adelaide’s iconic Central Markets just across the road, although that will surely be the subject for another Monday post!!

Central Market view

I love just watching trams depart in both directions from the Square, pointing outwards to the possibilities of culture, entertainment, nature, and beauty available in this my city.

Tram

What am I learning from Victoria Square?

Sitting and soaking up the Square, I see a really good model of both looking back and honouring the past and moving forward into the future.

Square sign

Modern conveniences sit side by side old statues commemorating days gone by.

New and old

Queen Victoria surveys her square between the flags, linking different pieces of Australian history together. It’s a difficult balance to get right, but too often we don’t even try and I’m reminded that it is better to have a go than do nothing out of fear of not pleasing everyone perfectly.

Victoria

Looking to the traffic and commerce happening all around, the Square is a reminder to slow down, take a few deep breaths, feel the sunshine on your face and just appreciate the opportunity to stop for a moment.

Heart of city

I need places like this in my life, both literally and figuratively, to remind me that the continued functioning of the world does not rest upon my shoulders, and that stopping my activity for a moment or two will not cause anything to fall apart … but perhaps sometimes will prevent me from doing so!

Relaxing

I’m also reminded by what the council is seeking to do in the Square that community doesn’t just happen. People can live side by side but never really connect. It takes effort and energy, it takes creativity and a willingness to give things a go to create true human connection. All the infrastructure and programs in the world cannot create community – we need to be willing to take that first risky step towards another person.

Seats and sandpit 9.02.11 pm

As I watch a young solo tourist half-heartedly swing at the totem tennis, these thoughts compel me to step in and make a connection, to pick up the other bat and bounce the ball back to her, to start a conversation, to learn where she is from and how she is enjoying her time here. It reminds me of all the times I have been the traveller, far from home, seeking to understand and enjoy what is on offer around the world, and the incredible privilege of just a moment of human connection from someone who takes the time to say hello, welcome, and we’re glad you stopped by to see our city.