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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why is Martin Luther Everywhere?

Me and Michael like Kate and Martin painted by Cranach
It seems everyday I open a magazine and see a reference to him, or in crowds and on the radio I hear someone speaking who refers to the brave outspoken instigator of the fifteenth century Reformation period. Politicians are mockingly illustrated in his monk robes, statues are built of his wife (a runaway nun), and all around I hear the hammering of nails to the establishment's doors. There could be comparisons of our own election-year cultural minefield of insiders and outsiders, politicians, the 1%, and talk show hosts to the medieval German theologian's times, of the serfs, the splitting papal powers, "table talks" and the rising land-grabbing nobility.

Luther studied to be a lawyer but had a sudden transformational calling to become an Augustinian monk. This did not please his parents, and soon became a problem for the church. He protested the "money changers in the temple", the selling of indulgences, as a misplaced moral commerce. As he called for a reformation of the Catholic church he also published at least 100 different pamphlets calling for political and social changes. He was very influential in unifying the German language with his translation of the New Testament into the common language of the people, (which he did, in 1521, in defiance while excommunicated from Rome!)
Luther broke down walls. He called for a more personal relationship with God and a humanist approach to life that encouraged women in convents to re-enter life in the communities. His own wife, Kate, snuck out of her convent with 6 other nuns, in the empty herring barrels delivered by a disguised priest named James Strauss. Twenty years younger than Martin Luther, Kate birthed 6 children and raised many more in their busy house. Luther's famous "table talks" supported social change that touched on sexual pleasure in the marriage bed and on financing local government through interest bearing loans. He supported usury, (charging interest), claiming that while no one could assume the faith of another, the risk of lending money could be real, and therefor the biblical injunction against it could be ignored. Gods law and the peoples law could be different.
Luther initially encouraged the Peasants War (1524-26) which he later had to condemn. The violence killed over 100,000 people and losses to libraries and architectural treasures was astounding. As the violence was quelled, The Reformation became less of a people's movement and more of a power surge for the nobility and local governments.

Are we in a similar time of change? People are yelling. Religious freedom feels shaky. The separation of the spiritual domain from our nationalist/capitalist ideology is murky. Corporations gain "person hood" with moral rights, and yet bear none of the blame for a shrinking integrity in the public sphere. Women lose rights of their womb to judicial gerrymandering. Wall street forecloses on the peasant and declares profits for the stakeholders.

The above painting is of myself and Michael as a twin to the painting of Kate and Martin, painted by a distant great (x15) grandfather, the amazing artist Lucas Cranach.

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