Growing up Lutheran I sometimes think I was raised loving Martin Luther more than Jesus. I would imagine him nailing ninety five theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. My great grandmother told me stories of her small Bavarian hometown not far from there. I heard about the centrality of the church, the castle on the hill, the children rolling down the hill on festival days. My grandmother gave me a copy of Luther’s catechism in old German script she used for her confirmation. My mother told me stories of Luther’s wife, “Kitty” von Bora, and gave me biographies to read. In my Lutheran elementary school portraits of Luther were displayed alongside the paintings of Jesus.
I revered Luther for his passion and his courage. “Here I stand!” became my personal mantra. As a third-generation German-American growing up a generation after World War II, I had pride in my heritage and, yet, a strong conviction that we have a responsibility to seek truth and speak out against evil … particularly when that evil is among us and within us. There are some things that are so important that we ought to say them no matter the personal cost. It should be no surprise, then, that after I converted to Presbyterianism and studied theology in seminary, another German Lutheran, Dietrrich Bonhoeffer, also became one of my ideological soulmates. Looking at the church, the world, and myself with an eye of criticism, a passion for truth, a fierce love of God, and a determination to do whatever is necessary to live into the conviction of faith is, clearly, in my blood.
When I speak out about the future of the church, when I point out that historical Christianity has been abusive … to women, to those who dare to question, to gays and lesbians and children who wonder about their differentness … when I argue that our culturally-Christian worldview is a privileged worldview complicit in racism, war, violence, and exploitation … when I point out that our beloved traditions may be idols, our music or worship may no longer be in the language of the people, our mission may, in fact, be more about our own good feeling than the good we do for others … when I do and say these things, I do so out of a deep love of who we are, whose we are, and where we came from. I do so with a “here I stand” conviction that transformation begins with a courageous acknowledgement of our reality and ourselves and is infused with the hope that in Christ all things are made new.
So on this Reformation Day I remember Luther and my German roots. I’ll sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” maybe, even, in Luther’s vernacular (yes, I’m just that geeky). More importantly, I vow to honor our Reformed motto of reformata semper reformanda. I will continue to seek truth, to say what’s real, to name the evil among us, but not without a critical gaze inward and a willingness to be changed.