Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Symbols and Signs

Five hundred years ago, a sea of words came to the world through the pen and the mind of Dr. Martin Luther. Parish priests didn't know the basic tenets of the Christian faith. Ordinary people knew even less and came to worship largely out of fear. Their fate was hell unless saved from it by the church--which needed their constant patronage of seven sacraments (well, last rites only came once, usually) and regular attendance at mass which was conducted in a language no one spoke but which only the highly educated studied in academia. Luther wrote catechisms and translated the Bible into people's daily language.

Luther found no peace for his conscience in the church that had been 1.5 millennia earlier the vessel of Good News.

Eventually he did find peace for that conscience in Scripture itself, specifically in the opening chapter of the letter to the Roman Christians. Light came to darkness.

And the world changed.

Luther had many words in his volumes of writings, aided in publication by the development of movable type printing, that would be useful for us to ponder today.

One insight today stands out to me. Luther said that we are tempted to follow many gods. Sometimes we become confused about which god it is we worship. Luther said the test is simple: that which we flee to and cling to in times of stress is our true god.

Having walked across the grounds of a Nazi death camp myself, I can understand perfectly the fears of modern day Jews and their comparison of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler and the Nazis of my own ethnic homeland. He has made numerous statements in abject denial of history and has called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth. When your people have had the experience of 20th century Jews at the hands of educated, intelligent, modern people, you don't dismiss such talk.

But for the life of me I cannot fathom the comparisons of our own president to Adolf Hitler. He's been called a dictator, someone who is trying to totally tear down all that has made America great. Really? Do people even know the conditions and the events of history to which they so readily draw comparisons? But fear doesn't require proof. Or intellectual honesty.

Hitler didn't stage a coup or a revolution. On January 30, 1933, Hitler became chancellor of Germany by entirely legal means. He was actually asked by the Germany's president to form a coalition cabinet because the two preceding chancellors were so ineffective at governing. The economy was in shambles following economic depression, and Germany was saddled with high reparations payments as part of the peace terms following World War I.

It was the economy and fear, loss of national pride, that led Germany down its dark path, dragging the world with it. Politcis and the economy failed. Dark times always send us looking for someone to blame. They identify the gods we cling to and worship.

Here in America we have lived with economic fantasy for over two decades. The full price has not yet been paid. It's not that government has lived too well. The people have lived far too well on debt that they thought would somehow disappear with future economic growth--despite the fact that we have been on a campaign of job exports for most of the past 30 years.

We haven't laid the groundwork for future energy or food security. We are defunding education. We are fighting wars on credit. Health care costs way too much. We are facing hard times and are no longer the world's leading manufacturer. We sense a loss of national pride, see dimmed hopes for the future.

What gods or God will we flee to and cling to in the days and years ahead? Will we take responsibility for a better response to our difficulties, or will we look to assign blame? These are serious questions to ponder, and for sure they must not be cast in comparisons that may be dead wrong. For God's sake, America, let's know history before we repeat it.

May God bless America with repentance, humility, honesty and love. May we be led by the better angels of the true God, not the angels of darkness and fear that have overtaken others in the past. Amen.


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