(Sorry about the long delay between posts; I had a great deal of this one written a few weeks ago, but I forgot to save my work before my computer’s batteries ran out, and whenever that happens, it takes me a while before I feel like writing again. I am also planning to get back to posts that deal more with Asperger’s syndrome again once I’m done talking about my class trip. Anyway, thanks for reading my story; let’s go on!)
On Monday, we got on a bus and set out for Munich, which is about 350 miles south of Berlin. Some of my classmates were excited about the prospect of seeing the Autobahn, Germany’s famous highway system that has no speed limit under certain circumstances. (The speed rules on the Autobahn have gotten more strict in recent decades than they once were; it now uses electronic signs to adjust the speed limit and number of open lanes based on the amount of traffic and to warn of accidents blocking the road.)
As one might suspect, riding a bus on the Autobahn is not very different from riding a bus on a highway in the United States, except that the speed of the cars passing us may have been faster.
I talked with some of the other football fans in the class, sharing the results and scores of the games I could remember seeing the previous day. I observed that while obviously soccer is the most popular sport in Europe, Germany seemed to be the country most receptive to American football, based on the fact that all but one of the NFL Europe franchises had ended up moving to Germany. (NFL Europe no longer exists, though, so obviously it didn’t catch on that much. The teams were all pretty terrible anyway, being made up of players who were trying to make it onto an actual NFL roster.)
About 50 miles out of Berlin, we stopped at the smaller town of Wittenberg. It was there that Martin Luther, a priest and teacher of theology at the university, published his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 and started the Protestant Reformation.
I saw the church building where, according to one of his students, Luther nailed his document to the door so that everyone could read it. There was a paper printout of the Ninety-Five Theses stuck to the door still. Of course, it wasn’t the same door as was there in Luther’s time. In fact, the entire building had burned down and been rebuilt at some point over the intervening 500 years. I was reminded of the old story about the farmer proudly declaring that he owned the very hatchet that had once belonged to George Washington– only the axe head had been replaced three times and the handle four times.
Still, it was amazing to see the spot where such an influential moment in church history (and world history, really) took place. I thought about the story of Martin Luther’s life. After surviving a terrifying thunderstorm in which he cried out to God for help, he vowed to become a monk. But he found that nothing he could do– hard work, sacrifice, even punishing himself– could take away his fear of having to answer to a perfect, holy God. Every selfish thought, every careless word, every wrong motivation was an offense against God, who required perfect obedience arising from pure love. Luther would spend hours confessing his sins until his fellow monks were weary of him. He was terrified that he would leave some forgotten sin unconfessed, and the more closely he scrutinized himself, the more sinfulness he found.
Luther found comfort in reminding himself of Christ’s sacrifice for his sins. A Bible verse that greatly influenced his thinking was Habbakuk 2:4 (which is quoted in multiple places in the New Testament), “The just shall live by faith.” Luther could never earn salvation by trusting in his acts of repentance; rather, God had provided the perfect sacrifice in Christ and called Luther to look to Him in faith.
Years later in Wittenberg, a traveling friar named Johann Tetzel was raising money for the church by selling indulgences. For doing the good deed of donating money to the church, the purchaser of the indulgence received a guarantee that the punishment for his or her sins would be lessened. People could also purchase indulgences on the behalf of relatives or friends who had died, in order to shorten the time their loved one would need to suffer for their sins in order to become fit to enter heaven. Tetzel was a fiery preacher and a good salesman, and he was very good at stirring the emotions.
In his Ninety-Five Theses, Martin Luther argued that Tetzel’s preaching was in conflict with the teaching of the Bible. He didn’t disagree with the importance of repenting of one’s sins– in fact, he stated that “the entire life of believers” should be “one of repentance.” But Tetzel’s promises were leading people to trust in their own deeds and the effectiveness of the indulgences he was selling rather than in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Luther quite boldly took the leaders of the church to task in his document, accusing them of allowing Tetzel to preach these things because it was an effective way to raise money. His stand caused him to make enemies in the church, and it would end up putting his life in danger, but Martin Luther continued to write about trusting in God’s grace for the rest of his life.
Inside the Wittenberg church, our New Testament professor led us in singing Luther’s most famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” “I’ve always wanted to do that,” he said.
We made it to Munich that evening after stopping for dinner at a restaurant that had something similar to a buffet. The bread in Germany is so good! I used my nonexistent German skills to ask for food by pointing to it and saying “Das, bitte”.
I think I was trying to say “This, please,” but I may have been saying “The, please.” and I probably wasn’t even using the correct form of the article. My phrase book basically said “der, das, die— use whichever one you want. People will still know what you mean.”
Also, they will probably not confuse you for a native speaker of German! The servers were very kind, smiling when I would say “Danke schön.”