Brother Martin

Martin Luther was one seriously miserable guy. He thought becoming a monk would alleviate his anxiety and depression—at last he would feel as if God were pleased with him—but even in his devout monastic life, he felt rotten.

My children’s book actually does an excellent job of conveying Luther’s torment. For the first half of the book, in every picture, the guy looks absolutely traumatized. He’s on his knees in a thunderstorm, woefully gazing at the heavens. Turn the page and he’s on his knees again, furiously scrubbing the monastery floor. The accompanying text reads: “Brother Martin was surprised and saddened that the harder he tried to keep God’s commandments perfectly, the more he felt like a failure.”

Then, in a quiet moment while reading the Bible, everything changes—such a simple and private act that it doesn’t warrant an illustration in my picture book. Luther suddenly understands that God’s love is free for all who wish to receive it. It dawns on him that nowhere in the Bible does it say donations of money are required, or that priests are necessary go-betweens. (Legend has it that this “Aha!” moment actually occurred while he was on the toilet, which is perhaps the best argument I’ve encountered for reading in the bathroom.)

He experienced elation at this realization. Of this moment, he recalled, “I felt as if I was entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through gates that had been flung open….”

He wanted everyone to go directly to the source and make this joyful discovery for themselves, so he personally translated the Bible into German and, luckily, the invention of the printing press helped him get the word out. Luther wished to empower people to develop their own relationships with God, and for churchgoers to form what he called a “priesthood of believers.”

Today, at the Lutheran church I’m visiting, this level playing field is apparent in the minister’s central location, his simple white linen robe, and his casual demeanor. He seems more like a master of ceremonies rather than a special conduit of God. No need for him to hear our sins and forgive us on behalf of God; he instructs us to take a moment to confess silently and then leads us in reading a prayer of forgiveness printed in the program. He hands the microphone to a young woman from the congregation who reads a passage from the Old Testament, and then to an older man who reads from the New Testament. He cues us when it’s time to recite prayers and sing hymns.

The kind of religious experience Luther was advocating sounds like it might be easier than what came before, but it wasn’t. A personal relationship means work: you can’t rely on priests to do it for you. You have to root around in your own heart and soul, an intimidating and messy prospect. Abandoning fear as a motivating factor seems almost ludicrous. Ever since Adam and Eve covered up their nakedness, part of the human condition seems to include a sense of doom, like our default setting is unworthiness. Attending church because we’re afraid of the consequences if we don’t is one thing, but it’s quite another to show up to be loved. Now that’s revolutionary.

13 thoughts on “Brother Martin

  1. Amen and Amen….How much I love your last line and the final sentence: “Now that’s revolutionary.” And, in my mind, that is one of the things you are seeking. Not necessarily a church, although you might find one, but the possibility that it is a simple revelation that occurs within you as you move through your journey. I liken it a little to standing in front of the Grand Canyon. The first time I arrived at its south edge and glared down into it I got goose bumps and felt a total sense of inspiration and revelation. It was as if seeing that view just took my breath away. I felt similarly when I walked the grounds of Fatima, Portugal where it is claimed that three young children saw the Virgin, Mary. I don’t know what they saw, it wasn’t my experience. But what I felt standing there, walking there….a sense of total peace an inner thought and feeling that something wonderful had happened here and that I was being blessed simply because I showed up there. I can’t wait for your next experience. I love your sense of wonder and objectivity at the same time.

    • ” (ditto mark) to what Frank said (except I’ve not been to Fatima). I think my Grand Canyon moment came many years after becoming a Christian, when I cried out to the God whom I’d still mostly seen as a God of judgment rather than love…What do you really think of me?…I was directed to Proverbs 3:11,12, especially the second verse: “For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” God DELIGHTS in me? Woof!

      • Ah…….”Woof” indeed. This is such a beautiful example to me of how to read scripture. It isn’t about the literal words but, instead, the truth story that’s in them and write a positive affirmation: “God DELIGHTS in me. Woof!” No question mark. Love it.

    • Love the Tao te Ching….the translation by Stephen…………oops..forgot his last time but it’s a tiny book I read a little at a time although it can be read at one setting. I find it better to read a little and meditate.

  2. Corinna, your journey is very interesting. Keep in mind that all men would desire to be immortal. Human philosophy and experience, regardless of how good it may seem ends at the grave. Only Christ gives life beyong the grave. Bill

  3. Love what you are doing. I’m surprised you haven’t had any from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons) comment (as far as I could tell…I just scanned through though.)

    Just a few thoughts from my from my faith:
    *Joseph Smith went through a similar journy and decided prayer was the only way to sort through all the confusion after reading James 1:5 in the New Testiment.

    *Beware of the philosophies of man, mingled with scripture.

    *I appreciate the words of one of the prophets that has recently lead our church when he was interviewed on Larry King Live: “Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.” (Aired September 8, 1998 – 9:00 p.m. ET)

    I know people will want to discuss/detract. I unfortunately will not have time to respond, but I encourage and invite you to see what you can learn from where a lot of questions are answered and you can chat with representatives.

    Good luck! It sounds like you are finding some great stuff coming from all these churches you are visiting. When I started reading your blog I hoped you would find some good, but I wondered if you were going to go in with a closed mind. I’m glad to see that you are open.

    • Nice moustache in your photo, Corrina!
      Great blog, great exploration, and from the perspective of one minister serving a year in Wales before returning to Vancouver, great insights!
      PS A recent translator of the Tao Te Ching is Stephen Mitchell, who has also translated several other scriptures (the Psalms, the Bhagavad Gita, Job, and has his own “Thomas Edison” version of the Gospels, all worth a read). Pob bendith! (every good blessing)

      • Dan. I love responses like yours. At one point in my life when I felt done with religion a middle aged Presbyterian minister who visited patients in the hospital I was working at, would stop in my office simply to say hello and chit chat if I had a few minutes. He was always kind, his words were gentle and most of all he seemed authentic. I often thought, “If I ever go to church again I will certainly visit his.” Your note reminded me of him. Unfortunately he got transferred to another state. Thanks for tickling my memory of him. Blessings on your work.

  4. I’m a young adult and a Lutheran (actually a Lutheran pastor now!), and I’m loving reading your experience of Luther and Lutheranism. Thank you so much for your insightful writing and clear eyes!

  5. Hello Corinna,
    I read your Dallas Morning News article the other day and I felt compelled to write you. I was born and raised Catholic and thought since I “believed in” Jesus and since I was a “Catholic,” I was a “Christian” who was heaven-bound.
    After years of going to Catholic school & church, when I reached my late teens, I fell away from attending church because I was so disenchanted with the “rituals” and “religious” beliefs which consisted of far too many: “thou shall” & “shall nots.”
    It wasn’t until years later that I felt a void in my soul. Steadily God put some interesting people in my life who had amazing testimonies of God transforming their lives by transforming their hearts. I finally realized that God was wooing me back to Him. Something that convicted my heart was when I heard a preacher say that even Satan “believes in” God…but that does not make him a “Believer.” I finally learned that what I wanted and needed was a relationship with Him–to know Him, not just know of Him.
    I am now a member at The Village Church, they do not preach “thou shall not”… (fill in the blank). They do not pass the collection basket nor preach weekly about collecting for…(fill in the blank). They teach gospel-centered worship, gospel-centered community, gospel-centered service and gospel-centered multiplication. They teach that we are saved by faith alone through grace alone by the blood of Christ and Christ alone. We cannot “earn” our way by our acts/deeds.
    If you’d like to take a look at our church website, you can link to it at:
    I’ve included a link of one of Matt Chandler’s sermons from May 20, 2012 entitled “Motivations (Fear or Love)” which is one of my favorites:
    God bless you on your journey. I pray that you find the overwhelming love, grace, and mercy that can only be found in His presence.

  6. I am reading your journey with the sense that you “get” God, but have not yet found a “home”. When you do, the people there will open their arms and take you in. They will be your friends and a different kind of “family”-the ones who know all the “stuff” about your mistakes and shortcomings–and love you anyway. You will find yourself going back time and after time–and not understanding why you are drawn. That isn’t to say that the circle you join will have entirely perfect people. We aren’t, but we know God loves us anyway.

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