Sunday, January 23, 2005

Here I stand

"Martin, what is it you seek?"
"A merciful God! A God that I can
love! A God who loves me..."
"Then look to
Christ...bind yourself to Christ, and you will know God's love. Say to him, "I am Yours - save me!"
(Johann von Staupitz to Martin Luther, in the movie Luther)
I know that story.

It is my story, too.

When I first heard of Martin Luther's faith struggles in the classic book Here I Stand, I knew I had found a kindred soul. Like him, I felt driven to church by the pangs of guilt and shame, and the fear of hell. Like Luther himself, I knew that there was never going to be enough penance that I could ever do to keep myself clear of the flames. Like brother Martin, this revelation of Scripture hit me like a thunderbolt:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)
Do you feel like God's workmanship? I sure don't, most days.

Courtesy of a real winter storm this weekend, I had two complete days of freedom. I could have cleaned my room, and rearranged it the way I wanted. I could have read any of two dozen spiritual classics: everything from Luther himself, to Henri Nouwen, to Robert Foster, to Brian McLaren. My one selfless act of the weekend, shoveling out our building's front step and back-porch stairways, was obliterated less than an hour later by another wave of snow. The rest of the weekend was spent absorbed by the latest shipment from Netflix, including seven back-to-back episodes of Stargate SG-1.

My friend Chris over at Radio Rebellion wrote this little gem that convicted me in a big way. I, too, keep singing the song, "(I'm Coming Back to)The Heart of Worship," but so often I get derailed by my own desire to just walk away, to escape. I've done it with booze, with prescription drugs, with food, with work - hell, I've even done it with study. In the end, all I ever really want to avoid is the voice of judgement - my own voice - telling me what a failure and a fraud as a Christian I have been (and still can be). And in the end, all that I escape is the knowledge of God's love for me...which in the end is the only thing that can heal me.

That's why I've had such a love/hate thing with the movie Luther. This 2003 version of the story of Martin Luther's life has been on my desk all weekend, and yet somehow I watched all my other escapist sci-fi stuff before I even thought to watch it. Admittedly, I did ask several of my fellow students if they were interested in watching it with me...but all to no avail.

So finally, on Sunday night, I broke down and slipped it in - knowing full well that I would see myself in almost every scene. My struggles with the Catholic church (as I understood it, growing up), my struggles with the hypocrisy I saw in the church (that mirrored my own), my questions about God, and my calling (and my fear of God's answers to those questions) - it was all there.

I'm not sure I'd ever be as courageous under fire as Luther was. (And I'm very sure I'll never be as good-looking as Joseph Fiennes!...) But I know that I am not alone in my struggles - and that my solution, in the end, is the same one Martin found five hundred years ago. I may never again be a candidate for Lutheran pastorhood - but I will always be a minister in Luther's footsteps. Loud, brash, obnoxious - and driven forward by the lash of faith...with you, Br'er Martin, I can say, "Here I stand."

(And if you haven't seen the movie, do yourself a favor and see it. And then thank the good folks at Thrivent for making sure it got made.)


Poor Mad Peter said...

My wife and I screened at last week, and had mixed feelings about the film. While it showed the society of the time in incredible detail (Peter Ustinov's comments about "wearing curtains that weigh you down" was bang on), it glossed over some pretty complex theology and toward the end, when Luther encountered his future spouyse, they went from meeting to courting in such a short time, we wondered if we'd blinked once too often. Much of the film's action happened way too fast for us, in a sense, that we had no time time ponder people's motivations for doing what they did.

But Steve, when you compare yourself to Luther in terms of struggle (I liked Ustinov's statement about Luther being too good a Catholic to let the corruption go unchallenged), I'd say you're light years ahead of him in other ways. He was virulently anti-Semitic, for one thing, publishing books that would be classed as hate literature today.

I'd say you accept Grace far better than he did...

Steve F. said...

I agree - the jumpiness was evident from the very first scene, when we go from Luther having his lightning encounter as a late teen to being a university student. The fact is, they tried to make the best movie they could, but it would have taken three two-hour movies to do his life real justice.

FYI, if you're looking for more of the history of his theology, a much better movie is Martin Luther:Heretic, which is still available in videocasette.

Thanks for your words, brother.

Im A Foto Nut said...

I took you up on Crazy Faith tonight. While I waded through her archives I found out who will be Lord Volemort. . . It's Martin Luther's brother (Ralph Fiennes). I am not for sure but they do look a lot alike. I by the way have just received my copy of Luther, and am itching to watch it.

BTW according to Crazy Faith's links to links to links Goblet of Fire movie should be comming out this November.